So you want to learn a new language?

Learning a language is hard. One aspect I appreciate about living in Europe is the wide variety of cultures and languages from different places. I thought it would be useful to post some tips that would have helped me when I first started learning German and discovered over time.


  1. Have a good reason – Learning a language, at least for me, is hard. You are never really done, and there is always something to learn as languages evolve and are used in different places. It is helpful to have a very good reason to learn, something that won’t change over time to help motivate you. I met many people who wanted to move to Germany for job opportunities, for love interests, or just because they really like Germany. Remember this reason to help motivate you.
  2. Register for some structured learning – I signed up for a language class rather late in my learning cycle, and I think it would have helped doing it much earlier. Having a teacher that you like and respect is a key enabler, but the face-to-face time and the structured nature is particularly helpful in the early stages of language learning.
  3. Make use of software tools – There is so much software for learning languages. Classic language learning tools like Rosetta Stone, audio guides like Pimsleur’s are great starts. The internet offers many more options like Duolingo, Memrise and Anki are great tools for helping you build vocabulary. I used to practice my writing skills and recently came across Livemocha.
  4. Make time for unstructured learning – A problem with class-based teaching, or any software system is that you will be limited by the topics and themes previously chosen. It’s nice to have unstructured learning, like reading a magazine, or a website in a topic you are interested in to make it more engaging or to go to a place whether there are other people learning the language where you can practice.
  5. Interact with native speakers – You will learn everyday phrases and slang much faster when you talk with people who are native speakers, and is often not covered in typical language courses.
  6. Practice doing activities you enjoy doing – A lot about language learning is repetition, building vocabulary and practicing until you become fluent. You can make it a lot easier but doing it at the same time as another activity that you enjoy.
  7. Live in the country – Not always possible, but highly recommended. I know a number of people who have taken vacations in countries where they want to develop their language, where they could not live in the country.
  8. Find a tandem partner – A tandem partner is a person who is fluent in the language you are learning and would like to learn you can speak. Where you are not local to the country, you can try remote calls or video conferences with people on the Internet. You can use sites like to find matches. A typical arrangement is to spend time talking in one language, and then to swap to the other.
  9. Be okay with not being perfect – I realised that a goal like “speaking German fluently” was a pretty poor goal, because “fluently” isn’t very specific. Although I am comfortable speaking to natives in everyday conversation, I know there will be situations where I do not have the vocabulary or it would take me much longer to explain what I would like to. This happens in every language and it’s okay. So what if I can’t explain situations in medical terms in English. Relating this back to the first point of having a good reason to learn will help you.
  10. Benefit from your investment – Do something with your language skills. Use it when you travel. Use it to surprise a native speaker. Celebrate the fact that you are learning something and this will help you keep learning.

Moving Abroad

It’s almost the end of the year, and now is a good time to reveal some plans I have for next year. I am taking the whole year off from work, and I’ll be moving to Berlin for the year. The timing works out well. With work, I get a sabbatical and we negotiated that I could take the rest of the time off (without pay!) and return to work in 2015.

What would you do with 3 months off?

Many people say travel, but I do a lot of travel already and while there will always be places to travel to that I am yet to go to, I always feel the need to do something productive. Instead, I want to try living in Berlin for a year, where I will be hopefully becoming fluent in German.

I will probably post even less often here, where I will be focusing on practicing my German on my new blog here. You can follow “derkua” here but be warned it will be in German.