It's 2023, and with the slew of new years resolutions, the commitment to learning a new language is bound to cross our minds.
Maybe you live in a country where more than one language is spoken, or you plan to travel abroad with your kids sometime soon. Whatever your reason may be to learn a particular language or teach one to your child, speaking two languages is awesome! But how to become bilingual? Depending on your goals and the timeline, there are multiple ways to become bilingual. Here's how.
A person who can speak two languages is considered bilingual. This means the person needs to learn two languages, from basic usage to advanced grammar rules and, lastly, the communication style. This includes understanding changes in voice and tonality to determine the emotion behind what's being said. After all, we all know the difference between wow and waow.
The best way to start learning a language is to start young. The earlier you start learning a second language, the better. Young language learners are far more likely to pick up compared to adults. It's because young children have a different learning process, one where they learn through sounds rather than letters or characters making a word. A child can speak "mama' or "dada" but can't spell either.
Children, especially babies and toddlers, have no biases in language usage either. This means they don't have a preference based on proficiency or language skills. As long as you consistently provide quality input in a different language, they will pick it up. While adults might default to their majority language, a young child won't have those biases.
Lastly, research into language learning patterns has also concluded that our brains develop up to 50% by age 3. This means the sooner a child starts hearing words in more than one language, is likely going to result in fluency at a later stage. These are also the foundational years when they learn how to learn (learn anything), so if they are a bilingual child, it's relatively easy for them to pick up more than two languages.
In summation, the earlier one starts to learn a language, the better because language acquisition is much easier for a younger mind because children learn through sounds, not words. Due to a lack of proficiency in any language, they don't have learning biases. Children's brains are also more suitable for learning two languages as they are still developing, which also sets the foundation for language learning.
Start with vocabulary
When learning or teaching a new language, start with the vocabulary. This primarily helps when learning a second language because one can compare words in one language to the other language. Banana in Spanish is plàtano, car in French is voiture, hospital in German is Krankenhaus.
Start small and add a few new words of vocabulary every single day. Most European languages have the same script as the English language. So if you speak English, adding a dozen words every day is very easy. Learning vocabulary can also be helpful when learning a native language other than English because when we learn everyday words, the material often teaches new articles and adjectives. Soon you start forming basic phrases without any formal grammar education.
Once you have a decent foundation with vocabulary, you can start making sentences with the help of grammar rules for your target language. Becoming bilingual, in some sense, is similar to being monolingual. You learn a language twice. The steps remain the same, and the number of languages goes up!
Enrich the quality of input in the second language
When learning a second language, try to find language-learning books, foreign literature, and movies in the target language. Most countries have a thriving movie industry, so if you wish to learn a foreign language, you can find a movie with subtitles on Netflix. You will start to recognize words and speech patterns, increasing language relevance in your mind and teaching you sentence structure and pronunciation.
Language learning books and foreign literature are also good ways to enrich the quality of input in the language you are trying to learn. Books teach sentence structuring and new vocabulary words while providing an emotional context for written words. You can have a foreign language dictionary handy when reading such books.
While foreign literature might require advanced language skills, language learning books are comprehensive. Language learning books like our A-Z Creatures book provide translation and pronunciation of words with visual cues for early learners. It's also a great resource to understand basic sentence structures. What's better? Our books can be customized to your preference, making learning fun and stories more relatable!
Find an accountability partner
Seeking and finding an accountability partner learning the same language as you is extremely beneficial. This can be the difference between learning a new language or simply giving up too soon.
An accountability partner can be a friend, family member, or colleague with whom you can take this language-learning journey. You can conversate with each other to practice your new skills and also show off any new words you've learned. They can also provide you with material or learning resources and vice-versa. You can also discuss doubts and find solutions to problems together. If the need arises, and one of you falls back or feels demotivated, the other person can provide the necessary support and motivation. Having an accountability partner can be highly empowering for new language learners, and if possible, you should find one to begin your language learning process with.
Get professional about it
If you've been speaking English all your life, it might be difficult to remember how you learned everything about this language of yours. Most of us grew up with professional teaching in the language. Through different grades, we developed proficiency in different parts of the language. Vocabulary in nouns, pronouns, verbs, numbers, and so much more is followed by grammar rules.
To be fluent in a foreign language at the same degree as your native language, you will need to study professional sourcebooks. You would also have homework and class presentations. These professional language learning courses are what some would call the final steps toward learning the language.
If you are looking for professional language learning support for your child, you can seek two-way immersion programs at your local school. There are multiple private tutors, group classes, and online teaching options for adults. As someone who has learned the basics of a language through the resources mentioned, this is the next logical step and is highly recommended.
Práctica, practice and prática
Practicing a language is the best way to master a language. You get to use the language in a practical manner with other speakers, learn the faults in sentence structuring or pronunciation, and then fix them.
Books, movies, and coursework provide you with passive learning, but practice provides the element of active learning. The more you use the language, the more you uncover. You get conscious of mistakes, pay attention, so you don't repeat them, and slowly progress towards proficiency.
How you choose to practice is up to you. Some great ways are downloading conversation apps or language learning apps like Duolingo, which help you practice reading, writing, and speaking a language. You can work with your accountability partner or teacher as well. Seek opportunities in the daily world, like speaking to your barista or bank teller in their language. Opportunities are abundant. You have to seek them.
Being bilingual takes a lot of work, certainly more than doing a few short courses and calling it a day. The best time to start is as early as possible. If you have missed that time but are still an aspiring learner, there are still opportunities and resources to support you on your learning journey. Start with the vocabulary in the target language, and enrich the quality of input with movies, books, and literature. Find an accountability partner to keep your learning in check, and reach out when you need help. Once you know basic words and phrasing, move into a professional learning environment. Lastly, practice, practice, and practice as much as you can. Learning a new language is truly awesome, and with the right steps, applied consistently, you can ensure that you become a fluent bilingual.