Start Learning a Language!
I’ve always been interested in languages, and I always told myself someday I would learn a new one. I started several times over the years but always quit when it became too difficult and I had no opportunity to use it.
Until last year, that is.
In May of 2021 I decided to take up American Sign Language. I’d learned a little ASL growing up, and I'd tried and failed to learn it in the past. But I wanted to commit to learning enough ASL that I could have a basic conversation with someone if I ever needed to.
I searched for an ASL curriculum that would work for me—I was tired of courses and books that were slow and seemed to be no fun. I stumbled across the YouTube channel of Deaf ASL teacher Bill Vicars. Dr. Vicars is a college instructor who records all of his classes and uploads them to YouTube. His videos are amazing because they’re immersive (there’s NO sound/speaking during the lesson), funny, and they encourage you to communicate in the language right away.
For several months I spent at least an hour every day watching Dr. Vicar’s YouTube videos and, beyond that, watching deaf/hard of hearing vloggers on YouTube. In three months I reached an intermediate level and could have basic conversations in ASL.
Watching Dr. Vicars’s videos made me realize… learning a language could be fun, if done right. I just had to find the courses and systems that worked for me personally.
So, while continuing my pursuit of learning sign language, I added a new language to my schedule. French.
It's probably not the smartest idea to study two languages at once--it definitely takes a lot of time and brain power. But I’ve progressed fairly quickly in both languages, so I want to share some things I learned so far in the process, in case you have been considering taking up a new language!
(Most of the tips below relate to spoken languages [in my case, French]. Learning sign languages are a completely different experience, but YouTube is always a great place to start!)
Duolingo is a great app for beginning a language-learning journey (though, of course, if you’re wanting to become fluent, it’s not the only resource you should use). It presents new information and vocabulary in bite-sized pieces with a variety of exercises to improve your speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills. There are also short stories and audio lessons available, and you can set your own goals depending on your schedule.
I used Duolingo exclusively for several weeks when beginning to learn French. I had no prior experience with the language and used the app to become familiar with pronunciation and basic vocabulary and grammar. It's important to complete all levels of each skill, as the repetition is extremely helpful and the exercises get more challenging as you level up. I haven’t completed the entire language tree yet, but I'm slowly working through it as I have time.
Reading Quotes in Your Target Language:
Early on in the process, I began looking up quotes from French-speaking people, or quotes that had been translated into French. I knew enough basic vocabulary that I wasn't completely confused by the quote, and I looked up each new word that I didn’t know. I made flashcards for the new vocabulary, and I found that I was able to remember those words fairly easily because I learned them in the context of a quote. Quotes are a great starting point because they’re usually only a sentence or two long, which is less overwhelming than an entire song or short story.
Find Resources on YouTube:
Listening to your target language early on is very helpful. I started by listening to Martine and The Adventures of Tintin, two French children’s shows on YouTube. I turned on French subtitles but not English subtitles. So I had no idea what was going on, but subconsciously my brain was making connections between the words spoken and the events happening. It also really helped me become familiar with the cadence of the language and know where word breaks are.
A couple of months into learning French, I started watching French vloggers who made videos specifically for French students. They speak a little slower than usual to aid in comprehension, and they usually discuss everyday topics with vocabulary that will be used frequently. Many of them also have transcripts of their videos available (by the way, French TED Talks also have transcripts), which are extremely helpful for learning new vocabulary, phrases, and grammar. I print out the transcripts and highlight all the words I don't know—I use one color for words that I can figure out the meaning of using context and another color for the words I don't know at all. Then I make flashcards for all the new words. After studying them for several days, I go back and re-listen to the video and see if I am able to pick up on anything I hadn’t during the first watch.
Some of my favorite French YouTube channels are Piece of French, French Mornings With Elisa, InnerFrench, and EasyFrench.
Listening to songs in your target language can help with memorizing vocabulary, learning grammar, and improving pronunciation. You can also listen to songs in your target language that have been translated from English (for example, I like learning Disney songs in French).
Communities and Courses:
While I haven’t yet taken any French classes (in-person or online), I know there are a ton of great places to find courses and teachers. On iTalki, you can find a language tutor for one-on-one practice. Many YouTubers (including some of the ones I mentioned above) offer courses, ebooks, and community forums. Some even utilize Patreon, where for a small monthly fee you can unlock study materials for their videos.
Try to find a language partner (using an app like HelloTalk, or using connections through friends or on social media). Communicating with others in your target language is so, so helpful!
Even if you find the best resources and absolutely love your target language, learning it still won’t be a walk in the park. It can definitely be discouraging at times. Though I’m still new to the languages I'm learning, I can still look back and realize how much more I know now than I did a month ago, or two months ago, or when I first started learning.
Perfection is not the goal. Progress is the goal. And that’s harder for me to remember that most of my new vocabulary. 😉
How many languages do you know? Are you currently learning any? Let me know in the comments—I’d love to hear about your language journey!