There's nothing like stepping off a plane into a new country and not being able to communicate with a single soul around you. Unless you're fan of charades or amateur miming, but that gets old pretty fast.
That was my reality two years ago when I flew to Rome. Italy had always been a must-see destination for me, but the language barrier was, naively, something I hadn't really thought about ahead of time. (Luckily, I flew out there with equally language-challenged American tourists, so we mimed everything at the locals together.)
Only now, back here in my native English-speaking Chicago, am I finally learning to speak Italian. That's pretty bass-ackwards, I know, but better late than never, right?
If you've been thinking about learning a new language, I can't recommend it enough. But, to state the obvious, it's Hard with a capital H. With a little luck-- and my handy tips below-- you'll be renewing your passport in no time!
1 - Embrace feeling completely foolish.
You know how cute two-year-olds sound when they learn how to say "banana" for the first time? Yeah, learning a new language is a lot like that, only more embarrassing because now you're an adult. Mark my words, you'll curse your tongue for being a useless wet sponge when it comes time to roll those R's. My tip? Get over yourself. Say the words out loud, and so what if you sound ridiculous? Before you know it, the accent will come naturally to you and the new arrangements of letters won't look so intimidating after all. The sooner you feel comfortable with these new words flowing out of your mouth, the easier it will be to learn them. ("Banana," by the way, is the same in English and Italian. Bonus!)
2 - Create a schedule.
The only way to make any new hobby a part of your regular routine... is to actually make it a part of your regular routine. Carve out some time each week and dedicate it solely to learning whatever new language you fancy. And then stick with that schedule. You don't have to practice every single day-- though that wouldn't hurt-- but have a block of time set aside each week for language learning. Set a reminder on your phone to help you stay on track. Or siphon off ten minutes of your daily lunch break to practice. Do whatever you have to do to create some time and before you know it, studying a new language will be as normal an activity as brushing your teeth.
3 - Be consistent.
You can't have a solid week of language learning and then take a month off. Once you find the perfect schedule, keep at it! Otherwise, all that hard work will be for nothing. Remember how much of what we learned during the school year would melt away during summer break? The last thing you want is to study your butt off for a month then forget 90% of the words you learned because you fell off the wagon. I'm not saying you should never take breaks-- we all need some downtime-- but too many extended vacations from your language lessons will make it really hard to remember anything, and then you'll get frustrated and abandon learning a new language altogether.
4 - Do your homework.
Just because there's no teacher doesn't mean you shouldn't have homework. In all honestly, that's where the real learning takes place: when you quiz yourself to see how well you remember the latest lesson you studied. Saying the latest batch of words and phrases out loud when you're not looking at that language learning app is when everything will really start to stick. So, after you complete a lesson, practice what you learned!
5 - Get ready for flashcards to be your new best friend.
A great way to do said homework, is by making flashcards and quizzing yourself. Or put post-it notes all over your house or office to label everything in your new language. If you see "porta" every time you walk out the door, it'll be a lot harder to forget what that word means. Or, if going crazy with a label-maker doesn't sound appealing, just talk to your cat using the new words you're learning. Or your dog, or neighbor, or yourself-- anything to get you to say the words out loud. I can't tell you how often I narrate what I'm doing in my apartment in Italian as my cat listens to me in judgment while I jabber on. But it helps tremendously because it makes speaking a new language part of my everyday life, even if it's on a really small scale.
With these tips, you'll be bi-lingual in no time! So, what do you think? Will you be learning a new language any time soon?
Laura Botten is a voice actor and producer who is currently working on her first book Spaghetti Friendship: A Reunion in Rome. Get a FREE "Taste of Italy" when you sign up for her monthly newsletter here.