7 tips to help you learn a language from scratch

Have you ever dreamed of learning a language but never had the opportunity? Perhaps your last language-learning experience was a very long time ago but you’ve always wanted to reignite your love of languages. Knowing where to start and how to study in order to achieve your language-learning goals can often seem like an insurmountable challenge. With this in mind, we have developed a list of 7 top tips to help you start learning any language from scratch. Whether you’re learning with our materials or not, the tips we’ve listed below should help you get started. Good luck!

1. Find your favourite method

There are thousands of resources available to help you learn a language, from the traditional textbooks and language exchanges, to apps and, of course, our series of podcasts. Sometimes, the sheer number of different resources that are out there can be quite overwhelming, as it’s impossible to try out everything before getting started. While many people prefer taking face-to-face classes, others work better at home using resources which guide their learning in a certain direction. This allows people to soak up information, without having to worry about what to learn next. Once you’ve decided which method works for you, the fun part can start: you’ll need plenty of colourful pens and notebooks to practice your writing skills and learn your vocabulary.

2. Understand the language-learning lingo

Most people first come across terms like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs when they’re learning English as a small child. Although they don’t tend to come up in everyday speech, these terms are at the very foundation of learning a second language. Even though everyone has heard of these words before, it’s a good idea to have a look over their meanings before tackling a second language:

  • Nouns are “things”
    • E.g. the table, the wall, or the dog
  • Verbs are “doing words”
    • E.g. running, jumping or getting dressed
    • The infinitive form of these verbs would be ‘to run’, ‘to jump’ or ‘to get dressed’
  • Adjectives are “describing words”
    • E.g. blue, waving, happy or slanted
  • Adverbs describe the way someone does something
    • E.g. quickly, angrily, softly or sleepily
  • The subject is the person/thing conducting the action of the sentence
    • E.g. he, she, Sophie, the team

You’ll come across a lot more technical lingo during your language-learning journey, but this is a good place to start, and you’ll learn as you go!

3. Keep a vocabulary book

No matter which new language you’re learning, you will no doubt feel overwhelmed at some point when confronted with all of the new vocabulary that comes along with it. As it takes time to learn words, and even longer to retain them, it’s a great idea to keep a book in which you can record any new words you learn. To take the traditional route, take a small notebook, fold each page in half lengthways, and write the English on one side and the corresponding word in the language that you’re learning on the other side.

If you’re more technologically-minded, you may prefer to use a notes app to keep track of your words. Additionally, these apps often have a search feature, so you can look up words quickly and easily, making your language-learning more efficient. Spending just 5 or 10 minutes of a coffee break or a bus journey recapping words you’ve already learned goes a long way to helping you progress in your language-learning!

4. Visual or audial?

Similar to tip number 1, this tip is all about finding the most efficient way to learn, based on your personal style of learning. Many people are visual learners, meaning they need to see things written down to retain them. These people tend to learn vocabulary best by repeatedly writing or typing the words that they’re trying to remember, for example. Visual learners can also benefit from using colours and images, or even watching films.

Others are audial learners, and can best memorise points and words by saying and hearing the words over and over again, or by listening to podcasts, for example. Try out a few different techniques to find out whether you are a visual or audial learner. When you know what style works best for you, you’ll see your efficiency vastly improve!

5.   Get your pronunciations right

The alphabet of the language you’re learning may or may not be the same alphabet as English. Even if it is, beware that the pronunciation of each word could differ from the way in which you would read it if it were a new English word. Some languages – such as Spanish – are pronounced as they’re written, but others – like French – are not. For example, the French word “chose” is pronounced very differently to the English word “chose”, beginning with a soft “sh” sound rather than a hard “ch” sound. For this reason, it’s important that you hear how the words are said when you’re learning them. And, of course, there are many languages which don’t use alphabets at all: some languages use characters which can prove challenging for a learner. Using listening resources as as the base of your learning ensures that you always learn the correct pronunciation. It’s difficult to ‘un-train’ your ear and start using the right pronunciation of a word once you’ve learnt it with the wrong pronunciation, so try to get it right from the start.

6. Use a dictionary app

Every language teacher will advise learners to get a dictionary to use during their studies, but lugging around a chunky book is often impractical. At Coffee Break Languages, we champion language-learning anywhere, at any time. To enable this, it is often incredibly useful to have a dictionary app on your phone, especially if you live in the country where your language is spoken and often need to find out the meaning of a word very quickly.

Of course, in addition to a dictionary app, it’s good idea to have an actual dictionary at home. It should also be pointed out that, although translation apps and websites are constantly being developed and updated, they often can’t beat a good old-fashioned dictionary.

7. Be patient!

Here comes the serious stuff: learning a language to an advanced level can take a very long time and is not easy. This said, it is possible to make progress quickly, especially at the early stages. Constantly keeping in mind the reasons for which you’re learning your language and keeping track of the progress you’ve made will help you to stay motivated, so that you can still pick up your notes or vocabulary book during a well-deserved coffee break, or in the evening after a long day’s work.

Speaking positively about your language-learning to those around you, and using upbeat and cheerful learning resources will also help, as will setting and achieving your language-learning goals. Here at Coffee Break Languages, we believe that everyone has the ability to learn a language, so stick at it and be patient!

Over to you

We hope these top tips have inspired you to get started in learning a second language for the first time and that they will help you start making quick progress! To find out more about our language courses, head over the the Coffee Break Academy and search for your chosen language. Let us know whether you found the tips in this article useful by leaving a comment below!

One Comment on “7 tips to help you learn a language from scratch”

  1. Good summary of tips! I would like to add one: For studying vocabulary, I like to use a flashcard app / website with built-in SRS (spaced repetition system). There are several out there for free. Great to use on the commute for example, without having to carry your notebook around.

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