Tips for learning a second language

Maybe it’s because my classes have yet to begin, but my study abroad program has thus far not felt like another semester of school, but rather a comprehensive learning experience in my second language of Spanish.

Anyone who has ever attempted to learn a second language or is multilingual can attest to the difficulty of not only getting down the reading speaking and listening components, but also assimilating to and understanding a culture different from your own-it is no easy task. Even in just a little over a week under the Spanish sun here in Madrid, I have already discerned what will enable me to take my language skills further and what will hold me back, and in sharing, I hope that your travels will lead you to grasp a second language and open yourself up to a new world.

1. Never be afraid of looking or sounding “stupid”

This one is so imperative, and if you cannot consistently move past the fear of mispronouncing words or phrasings and staring with a blank face at someone speaking to you, you won’t be able to learn from these mistakes and improve.

E.g., When I haven’t understood something, it’s much more beneficial to myself and to the other person to ask for clarification instead of just saying yes, yes.

2. Use your mistakes to your advantage

Making a huge faux pas or butchering a word or phrase can be a blessing in disguise because it’s likely your awkward or confusing encounter will lead you to remembering the correct usage of your intended message. So, make lots of mistakes and learn from them!

E.g., After calling my umbrella by the name of the country of Paraguay multiple times, I’ve finally gotten down the correct, actual pronunciation and word for umbrella.

3. Ask about and clarify everything

If you don’t understand why or when a phrase is used, ask ask ask. The more you question and seek the help of others on how to say something or comprehend something else, the better off you are! From a cultural aspect, when you see something that makes you wonder why do they do that or what is that for, ask anyone about it! People will more than likely always be happy to explain aspects of their culture.

E.g., I kept wondering why everyone uses WhatsApp to communicate in Spain, until my Spanish friend explained not as many people have iPhones and it’s an easier way to talk in chats.

5. Make lists of new vocabulary words and phrases

Whether it be with pen and paper or the notes on your phone, write down new vocabulary words when you hear them! This will help you not only remember, but chances are you use this phrase or word often and didn’t know it before.

E.g., For someone like myself who eats a lot of bananas every day, not knowing the immediately word for “bananas” made it difficult to explain to my señora what I wanted to eat with my breakfast.

6. Lastly, try new things!

This sounds like a no-brainer when it comes to learning about another culture, but the more activities you try and become involved with, the further specialized the depth of your vocabulary knowledge becomes as you learn new words and phrases for your activities.

E.g., Opening a gym membership requires a bit of work to explain some pretty technical and contractual information, and you can use these new vocabulary words in the future.

Photo by Morgan Winston