by Khairy Farhan

Learning a language is really one of the most difficult things to do.


You’ve got symbols (letters, handwriting, fonts) and their combinations (words, phrases, clauses, sentences).

Then you have the meaning of the combinations and what they refer to (conceptual and associative meaning).

To make things even more difficult, some languages have proverbs that were made thousands of years ago or influenced by other cultures.

Additionally, specifically the English language, has many inconsistencies. It has both general rules as well as exceptions. For example, the past tense of ‘punch’ is ‘punched’ but the past tense of ‘fly’ is ‘flew’. So what’s the past tense of ‘cut’?

Having attempted, and still trying to, learn other languages, presently German, Japanese and Arabic, these four points are what I’ve discovered if you’re serious about learning a language:

1) Interest, Curiosity, Purpose.
Make sure you have at least one of these. For me, I was curious about German because someone I liked studied German. Japanese was out of interests and I enjoy watching Anime. Arabic was so that I could understand my religion a little more. There must be a reason behind your mission to learn or it will just fade out after a while. Make sure that this is something you feel strongly about.

2) Reserve Time.
Language learning needs a huge investment of time. There are some shortcuts to conversational levels of a language, but if you’re talking about academic purposes, you would definitely need to commit a large amount of time to the subject. I used to spend the time on the way home on the train revising my japanese vocabulary using the app, Memrise. There are many apps out there which could help you revise and customize your own content.

3) Creatively Connect.
The story that I always tell my students is about a Japanese word I was struggling with: Magaru (まがる) which means ‘turn’. So I used my native language (Malay) to create a funny story. In Malay, ‘mak’ means ‘mother’ and ‘garu’ means ‘scratch’. So I created the new connection of the 2 Malay words and the Japanese word I was trying to learn, “Mother, Scratch” and so I turned to let her scratch me.

4) Use Often. Seek Help.
If you wanna be good at a particular language, you’ve got to use it often. I used to write German sentences just to learn how the syntax worked and read the discussion forums on the website I studied at (duolingo.com). It would be really good to learn from others and ask them to check your progress. This could be teachers, friends or tutors. But the key ingredient is you!

So that’s all there is to it. Have a Purpose, Reserve Time, Connect Creatively and Use it Often! All the best with your language learning!

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