6 Steps to Learning a Foreign Language

Photo by Joshua Fuller

Over 40% of the world’s population speak at least 2 languages fluently. 13% are trilingual — meaning they can speak 3 languages.

Have you ever wished you spoke more than one language? More than two? Same here. Ever since I was a little girl, my biggest dream was to move abroad. I had family all over the world, including some in the U.S, and I thought it was so cool that they could speak both French and English. I was envious!

Luckily, in France, we start learning a foreign language toward the end of elementary school. In middle school, we start a third language, and if we want to, we can specialize in those languages in High School. I was so passionate that I even went further…

Today, I live abroad for the third time, I speak 2 languages fluently – French and English -, and 2 others on a good level – Spanish and Portuguese -, and have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Foreign Languages.

I even took some Swedish and Hawaiian classes at some point. I know, random. But that’s cool!

I currently have a job in which I speak 100% English. I am married to a man who doesn’t speak French. I am a content creator and blogger solely in English. 

Now, I’m aware that I probably make mistakes from time to time, but overall, I can confidently say that I am fluent in English. And I was born and raised in a small town in the French vineyard

When I tell you that you CAN learn a foreign language, I mean it.

School taught me the basics — how to structure a sentence, conjugate verbs, and vocabulary.
I taught myself how to speak properly — have a real conversation, make people understand me even with my French accent, and much more vocabulary than I learned in class.

Want to learn how to do the same? Keep reading. 

First of all, if you still haven’t started learning another language than your mother tongue, I bet you have this limiting belief — You think that if you don’t start learning a foreign language from birth or school, you never will. Well, I’m here to say that it’s NOT TRUE! 

Speaking another language might seem hard, and it is, but it’s also really doable and will bring you places you’d never expect. Never did I think I would take a solo trip to Mexico for 2 weeks, yet I did. And even if it was over a year after I finished school, I was more than able to speak Spanish with everyone. Speaking a foreign language will give you so many opportunities, make you comfortable when traveling, make you meet people from all over the world, and let’s face it, it’ll make you seem cool.

Do you know why? Because it is, cool. 

The truth is, Yes, School helped me. But it only taught me so much. I really learned how to speak English by watching movies, shows, and videos as a teenager. Then, I started traveling. And then, I met my husband. I also moved abroad several times.

Now is the time to get rid of your limiting beliefs and get out of your comfort zone. 

There is no age to start. There is no limit to how many languages you can speak. There is no shame in having a strong accent or making mistakes. The shame is wanting something and not doing anything to have it.

Disclaimer — I am not a professional, but I do speak 4 languages so I know what I’m talking about. You can definitely take classes with professionals and I highly encourage you to do so if you can. It will save you time, but it is pricey if you’re not in school! And even if you decide to do so, I highly encourage you to refer to this blog post, as it will really strengthen and accelerate your learning process.

1. Download a Language App 

Download a language teaching app such as Duolingo or Babbel to learn the basics. I personally don’t believe that you can become fluent nor have a deep conversation if you only use a teaching app – I’ll be happy to be proven wrong! – but I think it’s a really good place to start. 

Languages apps teach you basic wording, sentence structures, and will help you learn proper pronunciation. 

You will be able to do a lot of different things such as reading, writing, listening and speaking. Some apps even offer conversational learning with a study pal or an AI. 

However, if you don’t pay for the premium features, you can easily get “stuck” and not learn at the pace you would like.

2. Find a cultural interest

This is how I learned most of my English. Find a cultural interest in the language you want to learn and research it.

Take a singer or an actor, for instance — learn the lyrics, watch the movies with the original audio, watch interviews, vlogs, read their books, etc. You can also add subtitles to most videos on YouTube! I recommend starting with subtitles in your mother tongue, and then when you feel more confident, switch to subtitles in the foreign language.

E.g. as a teenager, I was a huge Justin Bieber fan. I used to spend hours watching movies about his tours, learning his lyrics and their meaning by heart, watching countless interviews on YouTube, and being a true fangirl on Twitter.

Am I proud? Heck yes. This taught me so much more than school. I personally know people that learned English from the internet only. 

Now, I mostly talk about learning English because I’m French and I’m now fluent in English, but it really applies to any language you want to speak. 

3. Watch original movies and shows

Many people claim to have learned a language only by watching movies and TV shows in it. And you know what? I believe them.

This is an extremely powerful way to learn. It gives you context, pronunciation, accents, slang, and how a language is actually spoken.

E.g. In school, I have always learned to say “have you got…?” and when I told my husband this a few years ago, he laughed. “Why are you talking so properly?”. Well, because it’s how I learned it in school… People actually say “do you have…?”.

My point is that movies and shows will provide you with context and culture.

At first, I recommend you watch them with subtitles in your mother tongue, and when you’re a little more advanced, add them in a foreign language. But always, always, ALWAYS, watch the with the original audio. How many times have I watched an American movie with French subtitles and realized that the translation wasn’t accurate at all? So many jokes and important lines were ruined…

There is NO shame in watching with subtitles. I am fluent in English, live in the U.S and my husband is American, yet I still watch every single show and movie with English subtitles. It makes it easier for me to focus and understand different accents and slang.

4. Read in the foreign language

Did you know that if you read 1 hour each day in a foreign language for 7 years, you will be 100% fluent? And that is by reading ONLY.

Now, the point of this blog post isn’t to make you learn in 7 years, but in a much shorter period of time. However, if that doesn’t show you the power of reading, then I don’t know what will. 

Reading in English is what gave me the tools, competency, and confidence of launching my website and my blog. 

You don’t have to research every single word you don’t know. To be honest, on a book page, there are usually at least 10 words that I don’t know. But as long as it doesn’t affect the story, I don’t look up their meaning. Most times, I actually understand what they mean just by the context.

5. Find a Pen Pal

Being able to speak to someone whose mother tongue is the foreign language you wanna learn is a great privilege and often a two-way street. 

There are several ways to do so:

• Use an online Pen Pal platform such as Pen Pal, PenPal World, Global PenPal , or any other!

• Find people with the same interests as you on Social Media — like me on Twitter during my Belieber years, or even now on Instagram as a Travel Blogger!

• If you’re in school, ask a teacher if there is an international exchange student that speaks that language fluently. I promise you, they want to talk your language! It would be a great way to make an international friend, learn their language, and teach them yours. 

• Check out events in your city! Where I’m from – Nantes, France – there were “English nights” organized by British and American people living here for work or school. We would all meet up in bars once a month and play games in English, and overall speak English together while drinking cheap beers. What fun memories!

Remember to stay safe and don’t overshare with strangers. These 7 tips on How to Stay Safe Talking to Strangers Online are a great resource to make sure you protect yourself on the internet and in real life. 

6. Travel

I kept the best one for the end: Travel.

At the end of the day, what will truly make the difference in your proficiency to speak a foreign language is how you can connect with locals abroad. It will force you to get out of your comfort zone and get out of your way to understand them and be understood by them.

So, visit a country where the foreign language you wanna learn is the official language. This is the best practice.

When I was 15, I thought my English was SO good because I was one of the best students in class, and I knew all of Justin Bieber’s songs by heart. Then I went to London. And I could NOT get them to understand me to save my life… It was a real bummer and an eye-opening experience that gave me the strength to go out of my way to learn more by myself!

Bonus — Remember that new friend you met in the previous section of this post? You know, the international student in your school! Well, now that they’re back in their home country, might be a great time to think about visiting them, don’t you think? Not only will you get to speak the language, but you will do so with them, their friends, and their family! They will show you their culture, their traditions, their country, and their city. What a great way to learn about a culture and practice a language!

And, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention it in this post… 

Consider moving abroad!

It doesn’t have to be forever. It doesn’t even have to be for a year. You can spend 6 months in a foreign country for a semester abroad, an internship, a work-holiday visa, you name it! Research it and figure out a way to spend a significant amount of time in a foreign country. It’s doable – I did it 3 times – and the experience of a lifetime!

Once again, thank you for reading me, trusting me, and allowing me to share my voice online. Let’s connect on Instagram and be friends!

What’s the one foreign language you really want to learn how to speak? Let me know in the comment section below!

Published by Romane Drake

French 24 year-old living abroad in Las Vegas, Nevada. I teach others to take the leap of faith and live their most extraordinary life. My mission is to guide you and inspire you to travel, get out there and explore.

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