Tips For Learning A (Very) Foreign Language

This post is by Jessica Tiare Bowen, one of our contributors.

I’ve always been attracted to the idea of speaking a foreign language: the mystery, the intrigue, not to mention the romance. Unfortunately, the reality always consisted of much less appealing learning methods like long classes, repetitive flashcards,  and difficult conjugations.

That is until I met a foreign beau. Not just your typical Spanish, French, or Italian beau. No, that would be too easy. My beau happens to be Bosnian. Translated to: there is virtually no opportunity to learn this mysterious new language in a classroom even if I wanted to. And, get this, I actually want to!

So I decided to make learning Bosnian my passion project, and due to lack of resources, was forced to get a little creative.  Here is my guide to learning any language you won’t find offered on Rosetta Stone.

1.)  Identify why you want to learn a new language. Will Bengali help you succeed in your career? Maybe you’ve always wanted to travel abroad to Hungary and sound cool doing it? Perhaps you want to learn Bulgarian to ask out the foreign exchange student that just moved next door? No matter the reason, it has to be motivation enough for you to not only want to learn, but to put in the time and effort needed to master these skills.

2.)  Get a Dictionary. Even if your learning a not-so common language, Amazon hosts a myriad of dictionaries available for purchase. Once this dictionary has been delivered to your home, crack it open and put it to good use. I started by listing the top 20 words I use in every day conversation in English and then began translating them into Bosnian.  Once you have those words committed to memory, pick 20 more, and so on.

3.)  Download a free program from Byki. While Rosetta Stone may not have every language available to download quite yet, Byki sure does. And even better…it offers a free (and quite comprehensive) sample of the program! If you find you enjoy it, a whole program can be bought for a fraction of the cost of Rosetta Stone, and it even comes with audio downloads so you can learn your new language on the go.

4.)  Make a new friend. There is a plethora of pen-pal services that will connect English speakers to people all over the world, such as Conversation Exchange.  Through this site, you can easily connect with native speakers and practice both written language skills through emails, snail mail, and instant messenger services, or focus on your oral language skills through Skype. Not to mention, when you finally get to visit your country of choice, you’ll have a new friend waiting to meet you!

5.)  Practice 15 minutes a day. Like most things in life, if you push too hard, you’ll burn out quickly. On the contrary, if you do nothing at all, you’ll learn nothing quickly. I’ve found that sticking to the practicing-for-15-minutes-a-day-rule has kept me from getting bored and frustrated. By picking up at least one new word a day, you will feel more motivated to keep learning.

6.)  Listen to the radio.  Find an internet radio station that is hosted by the country of your choice. Whenever you’re cleaning, cooking, exercising, or just want to have a dance party in the living room, crank up the volume. After a while, you’ll begin to identify words in the lyrics, announcements and commercials.

7.)  Have an end goal. You’ve identified your motivation, put the effort in, but now what? As with anything in life, I work better if I’m working toward a specific goal. I’m aiming to speak Bosnian well enough to be able to travel there next summer, and to be able to have a real conversation (however butchered it may be!) with a local. Whether your end goal relates to travel (hiking to the top of Mt. Fuji with the natives), business (impressing the pants off your French editor during Fashion Week), or personal (showing your Jewish significant other’s mom that you can, in fact, read Hebrew), you’ll be more likely to put the effort in if you have a timeline to stick to, and goal to accomplish.

Photo via lethaargic‘s flickr stream

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Hi! I’m Megan,

a Scorpio sun and Libra moon who left her job in the music industry to travel and write full-time. Since then, i´ve explored more than 60 countries in the hopes that you will, too.

The world is made of magic and so are you!


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