7 Steps to Learn a New Language | Top Universities

7 Steps to Learn a New Language

By Guest Writer

Updated January 9, 2024 Updated January 9, 2024

Guest post: Luna Checchini

1. Write things down (by hand)

Despite the fact that constant progress in technology seems to make handwriting a thing of the past, do not underestimate the power of writing things down to stimulate your memory! Whenever I start learning a new language – I'm trying Croatian at the moment – I keep an old-fashioned notebook where I can write down all the new words and the main grammar points. The physical effort to actually write the words down helps me to memorize them better, and using different colored inks makes it even more eye-catching.

2. Get musical

The learning potential of songs has been universally recognized, and I can confirm it from my own experience. My main reason for starting to learn new languages was indeed the desire to understand what Mariah Carey kept singing from my stereo. My advice in this case would be to not be discouraged by complicated lyrics – take small steps, learn the chorus first and then move to the rest. But also, do not be disappointed when you find out that a song has a completely different meaning from what you had imagined – at least, you have learnt enough of the language to realize it!

3. Watch TV in your new language

These days, it's extremely easy to access to TV series and movies in the original language, no matter where you live or what new language you are going to study. I would recommend to stick to short episodes at first, in order to be able to watch scenes several times without being discouraged. First, watch without subtitles (or with English subtitles); then, switch on the subtitles for your own native language and check your understanding. Take notes of idiomatic expressions or particular words that you didn't know in your notebook. Beware: I often hear from students things like “I should watch a cartoon, it's for children so it must be easy!”, but keep in mind that cartoons are made for native speakers, and often use language appropriate for children, which is not necessarily easy or useful for you to learn!

4. Connect with language learners and teachers online

If you have access to a good internet connection, you can look for language classes with native speakers through programs such as Skype or FaceTime. You can use this not only for conversation classes, but also grammar and writing classes, since the chat works just like a common white board! You can also find many online platforms where you can offer language exchanges with users who are interested in learning your own language... a great way to make new friends, too.

5. Change the language settings on your social networks

One of the first things I always recommend to my students is to switch all their devices and social networks to their target language. It isn't easy at first, to scroll through posts, read messages or even make a call when you are not sure about the words you read on screen – I still open an online translator when I need to download something from my Croatian-speaking Facebook – but you will see that in no time you will get used to verbs such as “share”, “like”, “cancel” or “read” that may be very useful when traveling or reading business emails!

6. Travel

Obviously, everybody will agree that the single best way to learn a new language is traveling to the country where the language is spoken. Although this is certainly true, it is not enough to just book a trip to the destination if you don't try and get to know the local culture. Moving further and further away from your comfort zone will allow you to meet new people and new cultures, discovering the authentic spirit of the language you are learning.

7. Open your mouth and have a go

Speaking of comfort zones, you should never be afraid of speaking the target language. First of all, native speakers are usually flattered to see that somebody is making an effort to make themselves understood. Secondly, as someone said: “never make fun of someone who speaks a broken English. It just means that they speak at least another language” and this is true for any language. Finally, when you can't get your message through or cannot understand, it just means that the communication goal has not been reached; you should still give yourself another chance, and just relax. Remember it is not necessarily due to your language level, so breathe, try again and it will definitely work out alright!


Luna Checchini
After graduating from Ca' Foscari University in Venice, Italy, Luna Checchini lived in Toronto, Canada, where she completed the CELTA course to teach English as a foreign language. After working one year at Colgate University in Upstate NY, she chose to go back home to Venice and opened the “Associazione Libellula” language school with two colleagues in 2013. Three years, 13 languages and more than 1,000 students later, Luna, Laura and Eleonora keep planning new projects and spreading their love for languages and cultures.

This article was originally published in July 2016 . It was last updated in January 2024

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