At My Private Professor, we receive many requests for students seeking one-on-one tutoring for foreign languages such as Spanish, French, and Mandarin. We meet students where they are. Whether you’re starting in French 1 or trying to ace AP Spanish, there is a tutor who can fit your needs. We understand that learning a foreign language is tricky, but in a way you’ve been doing it all your life. For every subject, you learn new vocabulary and adjust your vernacular to form more elevated and academic forms of speech. Instead of “idea” you might use the word “hypothesis”, and that feels completely natural in a science lab. Though, outside of that room it might feel strange to casually say. This is because our brain associates particular forms of speech with our surroundings and conversation partners. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to “turn off” your sailor mouth and adolescent slang in front of your parents or pastor? This same concept often applies for bilingual students who flip between completely different languages at home and in school. This is why many foreign language teachers make their classrooms “English-free zones”. This method of learning by immersion is one of the best ways to learn a language, but it might not be as helpful if the teacher only gets to see their students for a short period of time each week. If you find yourself falling behind or feeling terrified in an immersion class, here are some quick tips from our tutors to you.. 

1) Fully Immerse

If you are allotted any time each week where you are expected to only speak your target language, then don’t cheat! Genuinely try to speak only in that language, and if you don’t know a word try to use other words to describe it. You will make mistakes, but anyone can respect a well intentioned attempt. Having a mistake corrected is a beautiful learning opportunity. Commitment is huge in trying to learn a language, but the reward is well worth it. Language is tied in with culture, so there is a lot to learn from diving deep and welcoming every opportunity that comes your way. 

2) Discover Your Learning Style

Everyone has a preferred way of studying and learning. Maybe flashcards aren’t your thing, but you’ll soon discover that there are hundreds of ways to learn a language. Think of your favorite activities to do in English and reimagine them in a foreign tongue. If you’re a bookworm try reading your favorite books in Spanish or French. Most libraries will have a foreign language section that you can borrow books and magazines from. This is the perfect activity because if you’re reading your favorite book then you’ll already have an idea of what’s supposed to be happening in the, so you can really focus on learning vocabulary. Additionally, you can watch your favorite TV shows dubbed in another language. This will introduce you to different accents and natural pacing. The key part is to do what feels natural.

3) Address All Aspects

There are different aspects to learning language, and you might find that you are further developed in one over another. Perhaps you really understand when people are speaking to you but fumble to generate a response. Maybe you’re the opposite and can only speak in your target language, failing to write or read. Generally, it is best to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

4) Developing Listening Skills

Listening is an interesting skill to develop because you can control how immersed you are. There is lots of material to listen to especially as American pop and rap music continues to sample Spanish and French songs. Casually listening to music in your target language may be helpful over time, but active listening will get you faster results. To actively listen, you can take a podcast or song in your foreign language and really try to understand each word and phrase. Without looking at a transcription, try to write down the words you hear, and see how much sense you can make of what is said. Experiment with different paces and accents. There is no shame in replaying clips or playing them at half speed; it’s far better to genuinely learn the content rather than speeding through it. 

5) Practice Speaking

This is the most direct skill to build, and whether you like it or not, there’s not much variation. Speaking skills are developed by talking. Sometimes it’s easy to find people who speak your target language. For example, there are many Spanish speaking communities in Florida and tons of native French speakers in Louisiana. If you happen to have a harder time finding people to talk to in person then you can always resort to online tutoring services to help you out as well. Conversation is a quick way to throw yourself into language, but if speaking in your target language makes you feel embarrassed, then try practicing by yourself first. Repeat phrases and work on your pronunciation. Try to genuinely understand how the vowels sound in your foriegn language, and look up common mispronunciations. This will be far more effective than trying to imitate an accent you hear. If you ever need to test your pronunciation, change the language for Siri or Alexa and see if she understands you. 

6) Find Reading Material

I touched on this earlier by mentioning how effective it is to read your favorite novels in a new language, but there are a million more possibilities when it comes to reading. Track the type of material you read each day, and try to find those styles of writing in your target language. If you text a lot, look at memes, or spend hours on Twitter, then you are in luck because all of these things have also been created in the language you want to learn. Not only will this feel natural to you, it will introduce you to different aspects of culture and comedy within that country. The same can be said about articles and newspapers. Take a look at all of these things because even if you “don’t read” there are tons of short and accessible ways to consume text.

7) Write Like Crazy!

When you write in your foreign language you are creating a tangible way to measure your growth in that language. Try writing in a journal and simply responding to your day and feelings. You’ll quickly discover which commonly used words you don’t know, and you’ll have the chance to really practice creating content in that language. Writing in a language with different characters such as Hindi or Mandarin will be challenging at first. Instead of writing journal entries, you can try writing out a special “word of the day”. TAs you get better you can try writing a “sentence of the day”. Writing will force you to look at the words you use and understand how they are spelled. This will make you more comfortable using those words and it will give you a clearer idea of how to pronounce them. 

8) Have Fun

The last tip is the simplest. You have to make language acquisition fun! It requires an insane amount of commitment and focus, but if it’s something that you enjoy then there’s no doubt that you’ll make it happen. 

Janine Leslie is a tutor at My Private Professor, which provides individualized online & in-person tutoring to students in all subjects, including K-12 math, science, language arts, history, foreign language, AP exams, test prep, essays, & college counseling, by top tutors from top universities.