How to learn languages with different word orders

How to learn a language that has a different word order than you’re used to

It’s always a challenge to learn a language with a word order different from the one you’re used to. Here are some practical ways to get over this language-learning hurdle.

4 ways to learn a new word order in a language

Listen, even if you don’t understand everything

Read as much as you can

Study the grammar and word order

Practice by writing

Color coding

Listen and read

Listening and reading will help a lot! Hearing/seeing the natural order and structure of sentences will hopefully ingrain it into your memory and things will just “sound right” eventually. Remember not to rush the process – it took me a long time to get the word order in Korean right and it only got better once I started practicing a lot by speaking to Koreans.

Try to immerse yourself in the language by listening to native speakers or podcasts, watching TV shows or movies, and speaking with native speakers. It will help you get used to the language’s rhythm, intonation, and word order.

And yes, I really believe you can learn a language by watching TV! Read more about it here. 

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Practice by writing and color code your notes

Another thing you can try is to write sentences in a notebook and highlight the different parts of the sentence in different colors, or write them in different colored pens. For example, verbs in pink, nouns in blue, subjects in green, whatever. That way, you can start seeing a visual, colorful pattern of how things work and perhaps your brain works that way that the color cues will help you when speaking, too.

Pay attention to grammar and word order

When learning a language with a different word order, it’s important to focus on the sentence structure. Pay attention to the word order, and practice constructing your own sentences in this format. You can also break down sentences and analyze their structure to better understand how the language works. What I like to do is to make a list of nouns, a list of verbs, and a list of adjectives and pronouns, and then combine them together once I know the word order. For example, Korean has a SOV (subject/object/verb) order, and English has a SVO (subject/verb/object) word order. By separating the subjects, objects and verbs on different pieces of paper or lists, I can use them like puzzle pieces to create new sentences and get used to the word order over time.

Accept that it will take time

The key factor here is time. New language learners, who have looked up to established polyglots or people fluent in their target language, often think language learning is a quick process with lots of “hacks”. There is no “hack”. There are tips and tricks, but most importantly, discipline, consistency and dedication will get you far. You won’t learn the natural structure overnight. Be patient with the process. Learning a new language takes time and patience. Don’t get discouraged if you make mistakes or don’t understand everything at first. Keep practicing, and you’ll get there eventually.




2 responses to “How to learn languages with different word orders”

  1. Cassandra Avatar

    Great tips. I love the color mapping idea. Growing up, I had to do sentence diagramming. The technique has fallen out of favor, but I found it useful. The visual approach can be very helpful to see patterns more quickly. I would probably do it similar to the diagramming coloring clause types… But maybe who, what, to where, where kind of thing…. Depends on the language logic.

    1. michellemb72 Avatar

      We learned how to diagram sentences too! Way back in the 80’s. 🙂 I used to love doing it.

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