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Best Advice for Learning a Foreign Language

Science of Second Language Acquisition

Learning another language is extremely difficult, let just as beneficial if you can manage it. While you may be searching for specific advice about how to learn Spanish, or how to learn French, or how to learn Japanese, there are a couple of principles in the science of Second Language Acquisition that can come in handy.


1. Engage


You will never get fluent in another language if you only learn the least engaging and most passive things. Learning to read and write and pronounce things well is all well and good, but really learning to speak a language requires talking to people who know it, and above all else, not being afraid of looking dumb.


The instinct to shut up and not engage is powerful when you do not know many words and you don’t know what other people are saying, but you have to try your hardest. The more you try and fail, the more you try and succeed. That ratio only continues to grow in your favor the more times you do it.


2. Immerse


If you are super good about being outgoing and talkative in class or out in the world, but then come back to your cave and sink into the comfort of your first language, this is simply not as effective as full immersion. If you are learning another language, change your phone’s language setting! Change the language settings in your video games or subtitles on TV!


In the beginning, this can be overwhelming. Things are hard to read, harder to understand, and after a long day of work, your brain can feel like it is melting. In time, though, you will adjust, and the results will be undeniable!



Ortega, Lourdes. Understanding Second Language Acquisition. London and New York, Routledge, 2013.

Wei, L. (ed.) (2000) The bilingualism reader. London: Routledge.

Achugar, M., and Colombi, M. C. (2008) Systemic Functional Linguistic explorations into the longitudinal study of the advanced capacities: the case of Spanish heritage language learners. In L. Ortega and H. Byrnes (eds), The longitudinal study of advanced L2 capacities (pp. 36–57). New York: Routledge.