Learning a foreign language need not be a difficult task and it has its benefits too. If you wish to speak a language other than your native tongue, there are a number of ways that you can go about becoming more competent. Many people wish to learn a foreign language if they travel or work abroad. Others wish to better understand literature or films from other cultures. Depending on how committed you are to learning a foreign language, there are a number of options at your disposal.

I’m not a natural at foreign languages so I have to work quite hard at them. Some people have a knack for them and pick them up easily. I learned French at school and was surprised at how much I had retained, when I went on vacation to France. I’ve dabbled at Spanish and Italian but not got very far. Learning a foreign language does seem difficult for us Brits, or is it just that we’re lazy? I have to admit that British tourists do expect everyone to speak English wherever they go. They seem to forget that the older generation and those people in rural areas will not necessarily speak English or may just know the basics.

Language tapes (or CDs) are a great way to tune the ear to the correct accents and pronunciation of the language. They are convenient too- and can be used while driving to work or in bed before going to sleep. Often tapes are accompanied with a book to follow, and are very helpful if you are learning a foreign language on the go.

Some languages are easier than others of course. I can’t imagine ever mastering Russian or Mandarin. If learning a foreign language means using the alphabet I’m used to, then I’m off to a better start. When I go on vacation, I do at least try to speak some basic phrases. People are generally pleased that you’ve tried to speak their language, even if you do it badly. On a recent trip to Japan, I found the Japanese very friendly and eager to help. They beamed when my husband and I spoke to them in Japanese. We were staying with an English friend who lives in Tokyo and he introduced us to his Japanese friends. They are happy learning a foreign language, especially English but are very nervous about trying it out in front of British people because they are shy and hate being embarrassed when they make a mistake.
If you are travelling imminently, and need a crash course in learning a foreign language before you leave, intensive language classes are offered in most cities. These classes can vary from one week to several months, and will range from beginner to advanced levels. They are often not cheap however, but are effective if you need to brush up on a language or get a handle on the basics before travel.

If you are planning for a trip in the future, or are merely interested in learning a foreign language at your own pace, taking year-round language classes are a popular choice. These are normally offered at foreign language centers, community colleges or university centers. A benefit to these classes is that you can see your gradual improvement over time, without the added stress of attending classes and submitting homework five days a week, eight hours a day. The classes will give you the opportunity to meet other people at your level with whom you can practice with.

Another recommendation for learning a foreign language is to expose yourself to the language whenever you can. Read foreign books with a bi-lingual dictionary by your side, and try to watch foreign films with the subtitles in your language. Tuning into news on the radio, listening to music or watching television in another language is a great way to become better accustomed to the speed and pronunciation. It will help you be less intimidated when the language is spoken to you by native speakers.

Some ways to truly come to grips with a language is to live in the country where it is spoken. Immersion is a key way toward learning a foreign language quickly and fluently. Living in a foreign country, or attending a ‘language holiday’ where classes are intermingled with cultural excursions, bring the language off the page and into real life. You may also find a language partner on your trip too- someone who is also interesting in learning a foreign language and in exchange for teaching you their mother tongue.

Lastly, if you have neither the time nor the inclination to take classes before you go abroad, quick language reference guides will be packed with relevant phrases and words for your trip. Usually compact, these handy guides will help you communicate basic needs, such as ordering food and drink, negotiating prices in a market, or organizing transport. Whichever route you choose, learning a foreign language has never been easier

Language is part of a country’s culture and I think it’s one of the most interesting differences we have. I’m glad Esperanto wasn’t taken up, it would be boring if we all spoke the same language. Learning a foreign language may be a hard challenge but it’s worthwhile. It’s not just a set of grammar rules or vocabulary. It’s part of poetry, literature, folklore and song. I’m glad to see that the Welsh language is being kept alive, with Welch being taught in schools, at least in North Wales. I wish the same could be said for Irish and Scottish Gaelic. When a country loses its language, it loses a part of its soul.

The Welsh experience is a good example of a small country determined to hang on to its unique culture. The latest Big Brother series in the UK showed two contestants happily conversing in Welch. Some years ago, the Super Furry Animals, a successful Welsh indie band, took a bold step and released an album entirely in Welch. That inspired me to carry on learning a foreign language. I think I’ll have a go at German.