Top tips for learning a language

Before joining Capita TI, I taught Spanish and German to 11-18 year olds for five years. From my point of view, teaching is the most challenging profession out there, particularly when it comes to languages, and therefore requires a lot of patience! Great Britain does not have a good reputation for learning languages. I’ve lost track of the number times I’ve been faced with the question “why do we even need to learn a language when everyone speaks English?” On the flip side, I was also approached numerous times to tutor adults because they only realised on leaving school that actually, learning a language is really useful!

Whether you have a child that’s learning a language or are embarking on learning yourself, here are my top tips (after a lot of trial and error) for learning a language [successfully]:

1. Keep it relevant – remember when you were learning about the terminology for your daily routine at school in French, and you just couldn’t see the point? Make sure that you know why you’re learning a language and focus on what you want to know; what is the end use? Do you need to learn formal language or is it more relevant to learn slang terms and colloquialisms?

2. Don’t be scared – the number one reason that children fail at languages is that they’re scared of getting things wrong. What children don’t think about is how often they have to correct themselves in their use of English every day. We make mistakes. It’s ok.

3. Go all in – Absorb everything you can. Visit the country of the language you’re learning because immersion is the key to fluency. When I was learning Spanish, I couldn’t afford to get out there all the time so I listened to as much Spanish music as I could and watched ‘La Liga’ on a Sunday; every little helps!

4. Have fun! – You don’t have to use text books all the time like you did at school. The internet will help; there are so many different mediums that you can now access to make learning varied and more interesting. Podcasts can be daunting but are a fantastic way to access things that you’re interested in.

5. Don’t give up – It’s hard. Another reason that young people tend to shy away from learning a language is that it doesn’t come easily. (Arguably we start learning them too late in this country because we can’t decide on which one to go with so we’re already at a disadvantage.) Think about how long it took you to fully grasp your mother tongue; it’ll take longer to master yet another language! Languages are always adapting and developing so they’ll keep you on your toes and there’s nothing like the feeling of being able to understand and communicate in another language!

And just in case you’re wondering, English is the third most spoken language in the world with approximately 5.52% of the world’s population speaking it as their native language. Whilst 340 million speakers are native, the number of people who speak it as their second language is 510 million which isn’t that many more…


Steph is a Project Manager mostly in the Legal and Financial vertical at Capita TI, having been a Spanish and German teacher at Secondary and Sixth Form level for 5 years. She is also the Service Delivery and File Engineering representative for the Employee Engagement Group. When not at work, she’s usually doing sport.

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