There are a lot of different reasons for wanting to learn a language. Maybe you’re just looking for a new activity or maybe you need to boost your language skills for a job. Or you might want to be able to read books and watch movies in their original untranslated versions.
Whatever your reason, learning a language can be very useful and rewarding. But before you start, it’s important to consider a few things so you don’t end up frustrated and wanting to quit.
5 questions to ask yourself before you start learning a language
1. Why do I want to learn the language?
Let’s start with a pretty basic question: What is your reason for learning a new language? Do you want to use it for travel purposes? Do you want more career opportunities? Knowing why you’re interested in speaking your language of choice will help you focus and set goals.
Imagine that you need some basic language skills so you can travel around a certain country for three weeks. You’ll probably want to learn specific vocabulary to ask directions, order food, take transportation, etc. On the other hand, if you’re starting a new job where you’ll regularly speak with clients in business meetings, you’ll need business-focused language as well as a higher level of fluency.
2. What are my language goals?
As we mentioned above, your reason for learning a new language will help you figure out what and how much you’ll need to learn. But what if your reason is more general? What if you just want to know a new language for no particular reason? Even if that’s the case, you should still take the time to think about how fluent you want to be. Would you be happy just knowing enough to order food at a restaurant or understanding a foreign language TV show? Or are you hoping to have enough language skills to be able to chat with native speakers in any situation?
It’s useful to decide on some general language goals. That’ll help you monitor your progress, make the necessary time commitment, and figure out how long it will take you to reach a level you’re happy with.
3. How fast do I want to reach my goals?
This question definitely ties into the first two. If you have a really specific purpose for learning a language, you might also have a very specific timeframe in mind. If you’re hoping to get more job opportunities to build your career, fluency might be a longer-term goal. However, if you’ll be on vacation in a foreign country in two months, you’ll have a much shorter timeline. Knowing how fast you want to learn will help you plan your learning schedule.
4. How much time can I commit?
Obviously, the amount of time you can spend learning a language every week is a big thing to think about. The number of hours you have will affect how fast you can meet your goals. When you think about this, be realistic: As well as determining how much space you have in your schedule, you should also consider how much energy you’ll have to practice effectively on a typical day.
5. What kind of learner am I?
To be successful at learning a language, it’s a good idea to know your learning style. Knowing how you learn best will help you stay on track and avoid wasting your valuable time. For example, if you’re an auditory learner—someone who learns by listening—you may find that listening to songs, podcasts, or audiobooks in your chosen language can help you practice. However, a visual learner (one who prefers to see words on a page) would find it more useful to read a blog or write in a journal.
Ask yourself the right questions
Deciding to learn a language is a big decision and it can bring some challenges. Thinking about the things we discussed above is the first step in becoming a successful language learner no matter what your goals are.