How to choose a language to learn

Which language should I learn (next)? – Every polyglot, like, ever.

It’s always exciting learning a new language, but choosing one feels like a huge level of commitment… as much as you have the motivation to learn a new language, you just can’t bring yourself to choose one to start with! It makes sense: language learning is personal. Your life, choices, thinking, entertainment, and hobbies will all be affected by the language you learn if you immerse yourself in it enough. The reason you decide to learn a language should become the motivation for you to continue.

I cannot tell you which one to learn, but I can help guide your decision-making process.

Reasons to learn a language

1. Which languages do you already speak?

This is a great place to start. If you speak Dutch, learning Afrikaans will be a breeze. Likewise, having a background in French will make learning Spanish easy. If you’re looking to add to your list of spoken languages, consider learning one that’s from a similar language family of a language you already speak. This being said, if you’re only a beginner in Korean, for instance, learning Japanese might be a challenge. Although it has similar grammar and vocabulary to Korean, it might be these similarities that cause you to confuse the two. I suggest learning one to an intermediate/advanced level before you start learning another.

Be careful not to just learn a language without being genuinely interested and passionate about it. For years I was not interested in Spanish in the slightest. It would have been so easy for me to learn it since I speak French, but I knew I wouldn’t have the motivation to continue past beginner. It was only this year that I started becoming more interested in Spanish from a cultural perspective. It became less about ‘adding a new language to my list’ and more about ‘I am learning this because I’m genuinely interested and want to know more’.

2. Which language makes you excited when you hear it?

Sometimes just the sound of a language is reason enough to get interested in learning it. So many people agree that French is the sexiest language in the world. For me, I really enjoy the sound of Vietnamese. I discovered Vietnamese music a few years ago and have since then been dabbling in the language. Years later, I still get butterflies when I listen to Vietnamese music, and each time I hear it, I get reminded how much I want to improve and continue learning. If you don’t like hearing a language, you won’t want to study it.

3. Which language do you see yourself using in future?

Can you see yourself using this language for the rest of your life? Is it important to invest a lot of time in the language, or is it a short-lived phase? My parents moved to Japan when I was in my first year of university. As a design student, I knew how prolific Japanese graphic design is and used my goal of working in the design field in Japan one day to motivate myself to study the language more. In my third and fourth year at uni, I did internships at Japanese design companies in Tokyo. If I hadn’t started learning the language in my first year of uni, I wouldn’t have been able to reach a working-level proficiency by the time of my internships. Currently I live in Singapore. A lot of my colleagues speak Mandarin, and my office has a branch in Indonesia. If I see myself working here for the long term, it might be a good idea for me to brush up my Mandarin and Indonesian too. Consider where you see yourself in a few years and which language will be most beneficial to your future.

4. Resources and likelihood of interacting with native speakers

Ask yourself for which language you can most easily find native speakers and resources right now. (Read further to find my resource list for various languages!)

Are there tutors online?
Courses you can take?
People near you who speak the language?
Language exchange events near you?

You can consider looking at how widely-spoken the language is. If you’re looking for business opportunities, lots of resources and a huge likelihood of meeting native speakers, you can pick up a language like French, German, Arabic, Spanish or even Japanese. If there’s a language that tugs at your heartstrings that isn’t widely spoken but you really want to learn it, do it anyway! Every language is valid, useful and will open doors. Language learning is allowed to be a hobby and just because you’re not using it with native speakers every day doesn’t mean it isn’t bringing you joy.

5. Cultural reasons

Is there a particular culture that you are interested in, respect, and feel like you could adapt to? Perhaps the structure, politeness and perceived rigorousness of the Japanese culture is something you find stability and order in. Or maybe you’re not afraid of straightforward conversations and saying things as they are – then maybe Korean is for you as Koreans are more direct than the Japanese. Maybe you’ve been watching traveling to France since you were young. Enjoying the culture of a language will help create unique learning opportunities and keep you interested in the language.

Bad reasons to learn a language

  • To impress people. They’ll get bored eventually and you won’t have a solid foundation to stay motivated with. Language learning is personal and if your motivation is an external source, you’ll lose hope soon. Do it for yourself and don’t compare yourself to others!
  • Only to look good on your CV. I know people who study a language for work reasons but absolutely despise it. If you dislike learning a specific language, of course you’ll want to spend the least amount of time on it and begrudgingly go trough your lessons. You won’t advance as quickly as you would if you were passionate about it!
  • A boyfriend/girlfriend unless you’re serious about staying together for the long term. Many people have told me after they break up, they have such a negative feeling towards a language and don’t want to continue at all. People and situations change, and you need a more sustainable reason to learn a language than romance. This is up for debate though. I started learning Hungarian because of a guy and even though we don’t talk anymore, I still love the language very much. Everyone reacts differently to breakups, so decide for yourself!

Getting started once you’ve decided

Language tutoring vs self-study

The benefits of having a tutor are one-on-one guidance, receiving homework and corrections, and having someone keep you accountable for your progress. If you can’t find a tutor in your area, you can take lessons online, on a site like italki. I’ve used italki for Chinese but the variety of teachers for each language is great. You can choose a tutor based on their prices, experience and availability. Something I really enjoyed about having a tutor is that my instructor would make Quizlet flashcards for me at the end of each lesson based on the new vocab we learnt together (something I was too lazy to make myself but felt obliged to use!).

Get $10 free credits with your first italki lesson purchase!

There are also fabulous reasons to study on your own, like setting your own pace and goals and not being bothered by fellow students’ lack of progress (or faster speed). Self-study means you can decide when you want to learn and how much you want to learn at a time. It doesn’t mean you need to be completely on your own though! There are excellent apps and resources to help you get kickstarted.

Learning more than one language at the same time

“Is it possible to learn more than one language at the same time?
This is a question I get asked almost every day. If you balance your time well, it’s definitely doable. If this sounds scary but you still want to learn many languages, then start with one language and learn it to an intermediate level, and then learn another language through it! A lot of the Japanese resources I’ve found most useful are books written for Korean learners of the language (i.e. A Japanese textbook written in Korean. I’ve found this particularly useful because KR/JP grammar is so similar. It makes it a lot faster to understand new concepts when my mind is already in a language that shares similarities with Japanese. Here’s are two videos that you might find useful. The first one is about learning Korean, Chinese and Japanese at the same time, and the one below it is about how it’s possible fo polyglots to learn multiple languages. (Excuse the weird transition from very long to very short hair lol).

Language resources

I’ve created resource lists on this website that might help you.
I currently have pages for the following languages:
Korean
Japanese
Chinese
Hungarian
Spanish
Afrikaans
Tagalog
Malay
Vietnamese

An app I recommend for self-study is Lingodeer. They started out with Asian languages but have since expanded their collection to include Portuguese, Spanish, Russian and more. Unlike Duolingo, Lingodeer has a holistic approach and delves more in depth into grammar. Chinese characters are also taught more intuitively, and you can switch between Traditional, Simplified and PinYin! The app is free up to a point and thereafter you need to pay to unlock the rest.

For readers of this blog, you can use my discount code LINDIE15 to get a 15% discount on any subscription made through the Lingodeer website. It’s really affordable for a year and will kickstart your language learning. You don’t even need to buy a textbook. Just use Lingodeer and make sure you’re immersing yourself in the language outside of the app too, and you’ll improve in no time!

That’s it for now!
I want to remind you that no one can make a decision for you and whatever your motivation is for learning a language, that’s unique and special to you. Keep going!

You can follow my language journey on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.

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Tutoring a language: All you need to know

MY BACKGROUND IN TUTORING
I started tutoring when my mom, an English teacher, moved to Japan and passed her students on to me. I mostly learnt from watching her give lessons. It helps if you’re a language learner yourself – you’ll figure out what the best way to learn a language is, and then use that way to teach.

CAN YOU TUTOR A LANGUAGE THAT’S NOT YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE?
Of course. I’ve found that in South Africa, Korean schools and tutors are extremely sparse and difficult to find. For that reason, many people started approaching me personally and asking for lessons. When I realized the demand was there, I started selling myself as a tutor, but I always provided a disclaimer that I’m not a native speaker. In this case, always tutor BELOW the level you speak. Don’t attempt to tutor someone who’s as advanced as you are – you don’t want them to be correcting you! If you’re unsure about a topic before teaching it, be sure to do your research beforehand.

WAYS OF TUTORING & FINDING STUDENTS

  • You can register at a language company or school near you. You may need certifications, though.
  • You can start your own tutoring side business. You don’t need a degree or a physical location. You can either tutor at home, at the home of your student, or on Google Hangouts and Skype. I started a Facebook page for South Africans learning Korean and once the group grew, I started posting that I teach Korean too.
  • You can also register on websites like iTalki, but remember that the website will take a fee of your earnings. 
  • One-on-one tutoring is the easiest for me because I can focus all my attention on the student’s requirements. I’ve tutored a married couple before, and as much as it was wonderful to have them participate in games and discuss topics with each other, their levels were different and I often had to focus more time on one student.

YOUR FIRST LESSON
You might feel nervous for your first lesson. What if the the student’s level is higher or lower than you expected? What if they don’t talk? What if they don’t like you? All of these questions are normal, so don’t worry. Remember, your student is here to learn from you and they’re probably more intimidated than you are! Treat them like a friend. Get to know them and their language goals first before you dive into lessons. Give them equal time to talk and don’t jump in immediately to correct any mistakes they have. Be gentle when they do have a mistake, and try and allow them to fix the mistake themselves first.

For your first lesson, it’s a good idea to do a casual level test. You don’t need to prepare a difficult exam per se, but try and get a mix of speaking, reading, writing and listening to gauge where your student is at. You can be really creative with the activities. Don’t put pressure on them to perform – you can try having a conversation with them, have them tell you in their target language why they want to learn the language, and so forth.

TUTORING TIPS
Firstly, I don’t use lots of textbooks, but if you’re just starting out it can be beneficial to purchase (or have your student bring) a textbook that you can guide them through. Some students may interpret this as you not taking enough initiative, whereas others like the structure of working through a book.

Personally, I prefer to make weekly lessons, as I can adjust this to the student’s interests and levels. I use various sources, textbooks and games to compile my own lesson. I’ll include their name in example sentences as well, which is always a nice surprise for them to see and shows that you put effort in as an instructor. I’ll often reuse lessons for students and just change their names if I’ve included names in the example sentences.

My favorite activity for sentence building is to write different words on flashcards in various colors, and then have the student build sentences. For example, I’ll write verbs in red, nouns in green, locations in blue and time words in purple and they have to take one card from each pile and make a sentence with all of them. For more advanced learners, you can make them take 2 cards from each pile to create complex sentences. I also give them the flashcards to take home and keep.

I also make board games for my students. These make excellent warm-up activities. I’ll either write in English or in their language, and have simple prompts for conversations. It works kind of like snakes and ladders, so just a basic game with a die and place markers. I’ll add stuff like “what are you afraid of?” “tell me about your best holiday” “who’s your best friend?” “pretend you’re at a cafe ordering a coffee with me” and so forth. This gets them comfortable to talk and you can teach grammar and vocabulary at the same time without actually having to go into detail preparing a lesson.

I also don’t give my students lots of tests, but you can choose to do that as well. The only time I did test my students was when I was doing an intensive JLPT bootcamp to prepare for the JLPT exam.

Finally, be open with your student and allow your teaching methods to change and adapt over time based on what you experience with your students. Let them give you feedback on your teaching style so that it’s a mutual positive experience for you and your student.

ADDING PERSONAL TOUCH
Branding: It’s not necessary, but you can brand your worksheets by adding a footer with your website or contact details. This helps get new students if your student ever lends their worksheets to someone else.
Snacks: If you tutor in person, provide your student with tea and cookies! It warms up the atmosphere shows your student that you care about them not just as a student but as a person.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU TEACH?
It’s best to check with your student what their requirements are. I’ve had students who want lessons 3 times a week, whereas others were more than happy to casually have 2 or 3 lessons a month. Chat to your student about their needs. Do they have an exam coming up? If so, more intensives lessons are necessary. Remember to give them homework and assignments so that you can check their progress and keep them studying when you’re away.

KEEPING AND LOSING STUDENTS
Manage your students’ expectations in terms of pricing and hours. You might be more comfortable having your student book and pay for a month in advance, whereas I prefer payment after each lesson to avoid having to pay a student back for a cancelled lesson. Remember to treat your student like a friend and a learner. Being warm and helpful goes a long way and will ensure your student will come back to you. Finally, don’t be upset when your student decides to end lessons. It might not be a reflection on your tutoring style – it could just be that they have other priorities or troubles with finances.

All the best with your tutoring activities!

Love,
Lindie