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Learning a Second Language Depends on Your Short-Term Goals

Do you want near-native fluency? That’s a lofty goal to reach and may never be achievable depending on your circumstances (i.e. lack of time to study and/or lack of exposure to the target language).

Why not settle for a specific level of proficiency that will best meet your short term goals? You can always improve to a higher level later.

5 Steps to Learning Your Second or Third (etc.) Language:

1. First, decide what your immediate goal is. Do you want to be able to read in the language only or speak it only or both? Which is more important to you now? Maybe you want to pass a challenging test like the TOEFL to gain admission into an American university? Or do you simply want to communicate with your child’s teachers at school? To be effective, your study plan must be developed according to your specific goals.

2. Then, decide what level you need to attain and how many learning hours will be necessary for the bare minimum to reach that level. You may have to research this a bit on your own by asking others who’ve studied and attained the proficiency you want, asking a teacher of that language; or googling ‘minimum hours required to learn x language’ to find more information.

3. Next find your method. If you are a beginner and this is your first “second language” you’ll probably need a teacher or a class for a little while. If you have already learned a language different from your own, sufficiently – meaning you can identify common linguistic and grammatical patterns and rules relatively easily and work within that framework comfortably – a teacher may not be necessary. However, never discount the value of a good teacher as he or she can dramatically reduce the time it takes to reach your language goals. Don’t overdo it; or you will burn out and ultimately find a reason to give up entirely. Learning language is a marathon not a sprint. If you study consistently the right way, you should be able to speak or read any language with basic proficiency in 6 months or less. If it takes longer than that, re-assess your method.

4. Schedule your learning and study time for times you can commit to without any interruption. Don’t overdo it; or you will burn out and ultimately find a reason to give up entirely. Learning language is a marathon not a sprint. If you study consistently the right way, you should be able to speak or read any language with basic proficiency in 6 months or less. If it takes longer than that, re-assess your method.

5. Finally, and above all, REMAIN FLEXIBLE. You can change your goals. You can take a break and come back to your studies. (You’d be surprised how helpful this latter tip is.) You can change your thinking about what a difficult grammatical concept is and what it isn’t. Exceptions are everywhere, just accept that fact. And never try to understand everything at once. Absorb pieces, here and there, until you can put the entire linguistic puzzle together later. If you take this attitude and remain resolute and diligent in your learning, you will progress and, eventually, meet your goals.