Five Principles for Learning a Language (Part 1 of 2)


For the last five months, we have been fully-focused on the task of learning French. I would like to think that it is going well so far. So that you can gauge our progress, at the beginning of 2017 I could not count past 13, pronounce the letters to the French alphabet, or properly describe that I was from America. Jessica had studied French in high school, but the passage of time had left her not far ahead of me. With that in mind, this past Sunday I held an impromptu conversation with a fellow church member for about 25 minutes without switching to English, and Jessica has just started speaking with a language partner for an hour a week. While we have a long way to go, these tasks are becoming easier for us, and we are quite thrilled with the progress.


Even so, we are FAR from being experts on language acquisition, but our current experience and our conversations with others at the language school has led to us having some principles and/or ideas which can help you learn your second language.

1. The best method for learning a language is…

Nope, sorry, there is none. You must look in the mirror and figure it out. Is it a big class, a little class, a private tutor, language partners, a harsh teacher, an encouraging teacher, role playing, visual aids, videos, oral or verbal repetition, being out with “the people,” reading books, online tools, or sleeping on a grammar book at night? I do not know. It depends on you. This is important, though. If you try one thing and it just is not working, this does not mean you cannot learn a language. It probably just means that there is a better way for you.

So, no, there is no best method. I am convinced of this.

2. Start when you are young

This is probably obvious, but let me do a little debunking of this notion. Clearly the younger we are the more our brains are fashioned to absorb mass amounts of info needed for learning a language. It is more than this, though. Language shapes and molds who we are, and it is harder to change as you age. When learning a language later in life it is more difficult to remold yourself.

With all that said, many people think of children as these special language-learning prodigies. Are their brains better equipped to learn a language? Yes, of course, but wisdom and personal discipline and proper life priorities also are very valuable for learning a language, so it balances out quite a bit. When you were younger you were also much-better equipped physically to work out and stay in shape, but maybe you are more disciplined now due to your maturity. It’s the same notion.

In the end, we have classmates in their sixties at our school, and they are doing well. You can learn a language at any age, if you truly want to do it.

3. Do it full-time

In looking at the first point above as there is not necessarily a perfect method, but this is a perfect principle. If you truly want to learn a language, there is no substitute for focusing on it full-time. In doing so, you will be surprised how much you can learn in even a few weeks, let alone months. Thankfully, there are a lot of options for this, especially in major cities in the U.S. So, if learning that language is your dream, have a conversation with your boss, do something crazy, and go live the dream.

You should keep this idea in mind as you consider that…

4. The beginning is the hardest

In the beginning, it is so much more than learning vocab and verb conjugation. You must learn the paradigm through which the people of another language approach speaking, thinking, writing, and listening. Before we came to France, I had spent hours upon hours on Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, but I still felt like I did not know French at all upon arrival. The reason is that language is so much more than what is on the flash cards. After about a month of learning in a classroom, I found that online tools were much more useful than before, because I had a better context for understanding what I was learning and memorizing and why.

So, with this in mind, let’s think about the previous point together on this. Can you devote a year to learning a language and getting to a reasonably high level on a full-time basis? Perhaps not, but can you maybe find a month or six weeks to get you started. That might be more possible, and it would make a world of difference in your language journey.

5. Use the Bible

Clearly spending time reading a language can be useful for learning grammar. It is a great, personal way to set your own pace and absorb language both actively and passively. Reading in another language is even more useful as a beginner if you already understand what you are reading about.

As such, the Bible has been useful for us in the past few months. First, we can access French Bibles for free through various Bible apps, so it is easy and cost-effective to read the Bible in another language. Second, we can focus in on books and/or passages that we are particularly familiar with when we read sections of scripture. If I know what a verse or story is supposed to say in English already, I can learn more clearly learn how the grammar works and pick up useful vocab while I am reading in French.

I hope that these five principles have encouraged any of you who have been thinking about learning another language. Next week I will post my final five principles, and I hope you will share with us your thoughts and ideas after that as well. We are still in the midst of our French language journey, and we can use the help too!

Until next time…Bonne Journée, Au Revoir !