Five Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

2006-04-11.gif— by John Andersen.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  (This article originally appeared in the June 25th, 2002 issue of Bright-Kids ezine)

Mastering a foreign language can be a formidable task, particularly if you start as an adult. But it can be done, and it’s well worth the effort. So how does one do it?
Here are five suggestions:1) Learn the basics of grammar and build your vocabulary in the target language.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this. You might get a good grammar book and do it on your own. You might enroll in a college course. Or you could borrow an audio program from the local library.

This needn’t be an expensive venture, particularly if you are disciplined enough to chip away at it on your own. And it doesn’t need to be a drudgery. You can make it fun by labeling household items in the language. Or perhaps every night before bed, you could listen to foreign radio broadcasts with a shortwave radio or on the Internet.

2) Join several e-mail discussion lists in the target language.

If you’re just starting out, look for lists which have native speakers. At the beginning, you might help them with their English. As you progress, you should be able to write more and more of your messages in the foreign language.

I can’t stress enough the importance of daily e-mail correspondence with native speakers. Not only will this give you regular opportunities to read and write the language, you will also gain invaluable contacts, and learn fascinating things about foreign cultures.

3) Join a language club.

You can sometimes find these at local colleges. I attended a university which had weekly “coffee hours” in several languages during which learners and native speakers could get together and chat. From time to time people from the local community would join us.

Take every opportunity to speak the language. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Just open your mouth and let it come out. You’ll gradually get better at it. Nothing builds confidence more than discovering that you can successfully converse with people in a foreign language.

4) Consider taking a total immersion course.

These are offered at many universities usually during the summer. You can find out what’s available by doing an Internet search or consulting a college foreign language department.

5) If you can’t move to the target country, try to visit often.

These days, international travel is within the reach of more people than ever. If you have limited financial resources, you might consider finding a job in a restaurant, hotel, or on a farm in your country of choice. You may learn about these opportunities through regular e-mail correspondence with native speakers. Such working arrangements can provide enough income for room and board. All the while, you get your golden chance to immerse yourself in the culture.

If working abroad is impractical, try to save a bit each month, and then travel to the target country for a couple of weeks each year. Once you get the travel bug, and truly commit yourself to learning the language, you will likely need little motivation to put away the money for your annual jaunts.


Few pursuits in life are more intellectually stimulating, and mind-broadening than that of learning a foreign language. I like to think that one of the best ways to understand yourself, your background, your culture, and your own country, is to see it through the eyes of an outsider.

Learning a foreign language is an excellent way to develop that sort of vision. I recommend it to everyone.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:–John Andersen is a self-employed carpet cleaner in Portland, Oregon. In his spare time he volunteers as a tour guide on a submarine. He grew up in Southern California. During college, he took an eighteen month break to work in Germany. Later, he spent four years in England as an aircraft maintenance officer. After that he moved to Indiana where he taught several college level German courses while working on a graduate degree in literature. John and his wife, Mandy, homeschool their two children.Be sure to check out John’s website at:


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