10 Strategies To Learn a Language After College


Congratulations! You’ve finished studying for all your classes, passed all your tests, and for many of us, completed your formal education for good (some of us are nerds and will go on to other degrees, but most sane people are finished). Many of you have embarked on a new career, moved to a new city, or just started a different, full-time work schedule. But wherever you are, it’s time to learn something new. That’s right, it’s time to learn a second language. “But why,” you moan. “I’ve finished studying, and I already speak one language fluently. I don’t need waste time learning a second one!” Well, I’m here to change your mind and show how you can successfully learn a second language. So, why should you bother to learn another language? Primarily, it can be useful in the workplace. Increasingly more companies are reaching international audiences and serving customers from around the world. If you can show fluency in a second language, your chances for hire or promotion could increase. Learning a second language can also keep your mind fresh; studies like this one show that bilingualism or even multilingualism develop the task-processing parts of your brain in ways that few other mind exercises (like crossword puzzles!) can. Lastly, learning a second language is fun! It’s learning something new, and who can deny the coolness factor of being able to communicate to someone in a different language? So, without further convincing, here are ten different strategies you can implement into learning a language in a way that works for you and your post-college schedule. HOW DO YOU MAKE TIME? As graduates, we all have busy schedules and often we’re trying just to balance work, hobbies, family, and friends, let alone adding something else to the list of events we’re juggling. However, finding the time to tackle another project can be easier than you’d think. While cramming on a topic might be the de facto study strategy for college, research done on learning strategies recommends that you study in half hour intense study sessions, instead of dedicating two hours to examining a subject. During your day, how often do you have an extra thirty minutes to kill? It’s probably more likely that you have a free half hour to study than a full two or three hours. If only thirty minutes a day seems a little small to you, that’s because it is – but keep in mind, you’re out of college! There’s no need to treat it like you have a huge test on the subject in two weeks; the important thing is that you get into the habit of learning and studying regularly. STUDY TIMES 1. Study after breakfast but before you leave for work I don’t know about you, but I’m not a morning person. But here’s why studying in this morning segment can work for even night owls. Studying in the morning and after breakfast puts food (and caffeine) in your body, which helps it to fully wake up and focus, in addition to preventing any early morning lightheaded-ness. Waiting until after breakfast can give you enough time to fully wake up if breakfast is your last step before leaving the house, and applying your mind to drills, grammar, or just new information can give you the mental wake-up call you need before you commute to work. 2. Study during your lunch break I know, it can be a great time to get away from the workplace and recharge, or just a way to read the last few chapters of that new book but bear with me here. For those of you who are perpetually sleepy and are only really awake during the noon hours, this is the perfect time to study. It gives your mind something different to focus on with a separate set of tasks, and you have the benefit of having a very fixed amount of time to study – after all, you have to work again in the afternoon. Also, after finishing everything you could possibly need to do that day at work, you can just go home and relax. Definitely a win-win situation! 3. Study after dinner but before you watch another episode of the Crown This provides a couple of benefits; you get to come home, relax a little by making (or reheating) dinner and then dig into thirty minutes of studying with a reward in sight: Netflix, in its’ many forms. A word of caution for the overachievers among us; be careful not to study for too long – just because you technically have the entire evening ahead of you it doesn’t mean you should study until 11 p.m. that night. It’s quick way to burn out and lose the motivation to study daily if mentally you’re preparing for over three hours of studying each night. 4. Take one day off each week In an article about studying tactics this might seem odd but taking a break can help the information you learned that week to actually sink in and give yourself to feel fresh and ready to tackle another week of studying. The technique of taking even, scheduled breaks in between study sessions is called “spacing”, and it goes hand-in-hand with improved material retention. It also gives yourself time to catch up on any responsibilities you may have missed or simply to spend time with family. Rest and recharging is important! RESOURCES I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention resources at some point. While language learning resources are easy to find with a couple of google searches, there’s a difference between just knowing that there are resources out there and actually taking the time to use the resources available to you. 5. Language-learning apps These are the really obvious ones that online learners like us are particularly familiar with. Duolingo is probably the most well-known, with a fairly extensive library of language courses. They even recently added Klingon, if you’re looking to become fluent in science fiction as well as another language! Apps like Memrize and Quizlet let you build flashcards and memorization strategies for vocabulary, and even apps like HelloTalk let you practice your target language with native speakers. Resources like these are really the building blocks of developing a practical language learning strategy – they’re portable via your phone and with dedication you can see payoff, as long as you balance studying vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, and speaking across the week. 6. You can look in your community or online for a tutor This can be particularly valuable for gaining speaking experience and a level of confidence; there’s nothing quite like looking someone in the eye and asking “Quelle heure est-il?” Other benefits are accountability and reliable answers to tricky grammar questions. This is one of the resources that aren’t completely free; while rates and frequency determine how much a tutor can cost you – an experienced, doctoral-level tutor is going to cost more than a substitute teacher with a bachelor’s in French – it’s definitely worth investigating. 7. You can actually just go back to school Yes, this article is technically about post-college ways to learn, but community colleges often have cheaper classes that you can attend or audit, although the language selection is usually slimmer than a university or dependent on what countries or language groups are closest to you. The community colleges near me (in the rural Northeast) tend to offer only Spanish and French, but check in your area to see if schools near you offer different languages. 8. You can enroll in night classes (Adult Ed) or a language school If you’re in a larger, more urban area, you probably have access to these. Often, they’re cheaper than a regular college class but still offer accountability, speaking experience, and instruction. They’re usually designed to fit into a working adult’s schedule where most college courses are not, e.g. 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. classes. With language school classes you generally have the widest amount of options in terms of language choice, which is incredibly exciting – Farsi, here you come! 9. Your coworkers or your friends As any good International Studies major will tell you, globalization is rapidly changing the world, and the chances that your coworkers are fluent in a second language are more likely than they ever were. While how well you get along with said coworkers is another thing entirely, but if you’re actually friends with the people you work with this can be an opportunity to gain speaking experience, and for them to maintain their language skills as well! Carving out a half hour every couple of weeks to meet and chat in your target language can be beneficial not only from a fluency standpoint but also from a relationship standpoint as well. But what if your coworkers aren’t an option? No problem! Your friend who double-majored in Biology and Spanish is probably looking for an excuse to keep his skills fresh as well. SETTING GOALS – THE TENTH STRATEGY I can’t round out an article about learning a language (or learning anything for that matter) without discussing the importance of setting goals. Big goals, little goals, or lists for what you want to accomplish that week, it’s all important in your language learning journey. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything if you haven’t set out to accomplish anything in the first place. While most of the resources discussed here have ways of setting goals for you (Duolingo has their own milestone setup and classes will have learning goals), it’s important that you set personal goals as well. While you might not be fluent by 2019, could you aim to watch a TV show in your target language without subtitles? Or to hold a fifteen-minute conversation? Get excited about learning a new language and setting your goals! CONCLUDING THOUGHTS There are many ways to learn a new language, both in and out of school, but with the post-college I-don’t-want-to-look-at-a-test-again mental state it can be hard to get back into the discipline of studying. When you set achievable goals and keep your focus on the bigger picture – the advantages to your career, the potential to help someone at work, the general coolness factor – learning a language doesn’t have to be so hard; in fact, it can be fun! There are so many exciting things you can try after you graduate with your degree, but I encourage you to give learning a new language your best efforts; because at the beginning of your career (and the rest of your life) who knows where it will take you? Written by Sonja Haakonsen