It is probably safe to assume that most people in Luxembourg have had at least some experience with trying to learn a new language. While it can be a confusing and overwhelming process, a few tips and tricks can help you out greatly on your journey to multilingualism.
One thing Luxembourg is notorious for is its complex, and sometimes frustrating, linguistic landscape. With three official languages and numerous others buzzing through the streets and alleys of the tiny country, the Grand Duchy is somewhat of a paradise for language nerds.
As such, learning a new language is a rather important skill, both for native Luxembourgers and expats. However, once you set out to do so, you may notice that especially as an adult, becoming proficient in a new language is anything but easy.
So, before blindly diving into the challenge, maybe it is a good idea to take a moment and set realistic expectations. DON'T expect learning a new language to be easy. Despite what the excellent marketing teams of popular language learning apps – we will talk about those in a bit – might lead you to believe, it is highly unlikely that you will master a new language in a short amount of time. Learning a language to a point where you can understand and communicate somewhat well takes months, or even years, of consistent practice.
However, having said that, DON'T be intimidated either. While it is a challenge, language learning has one of the best payoffs of any skill. Anyone who speaks at least two languages knows how much it opens up our eyes to an entirely new world, allows us to connect to so many more people, and broadens our experience as human beings. Learning a language is also one of the best exercises for your brain and, despite all of the frustration, is often just plain fun too.
As a first step, DO set out a plan. There are a variety of ways to learn a language, which is great because everyone learns differently. The first question you might ask yourself is: Do you prefer joining a course and have a teacher guide you through the learning process? Or do you have more of a "self-taught" approach to acquiring new skills? Both approaches have their pros and cons, and none is really "better" than the other. Remember that a traditional course is usually the more expensive option.
If you want to go with a traditional course, DON'T just go with the first option Google spits out after a quick search. Take your time and look at the different offers available, if possible, see if you know or can get in touch with someone who has already taken a course you are considering. Face-to-face classes really stand or fall with the teacher. A good teacher can make language learning fun and efficient, while a bad teacher can, in the worst case, put you off language learning for the foreseeable future.
For those with a bigger budget, the National Institute for Languages (INL) is a good choice. The fee for a single course is around €200 and the INL is currently offering courses for nine languages (Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Luxembourgish, Portuguese, and Spanish). However, there are also numerous local associations across Luxembourg who offer similar courses for often half the price, so you may want to do some research to see what is available near your home – some secondary schools also offer evening classes, so be sure to look into this option as well.
On the other hand, if you want to teach yourself a language then DO be prepared for a whole lot of self-discipline and organisational work. Being your own teacher is not for everyone and requires you to have reached at least some level of control over your inner procrastinator. If you choose this approach, DON'T just buy a book or download an app and start thinking you're "nearly there" just because you can now say "Hello" in your target language. From personal experience, I can tell you that this usually always ends the same way: a burst of manic motivation for a few days, maybe even the first month, just to then completely abandon the project as soon as the first grammar element is introduced. Instead, DO make a plan and a learning schedule. Ideally, you would allocate some time for language learning every day, but if this is really not possible then choose one day a week to properly work with your target language, at the very least for one hour each time.
Okay, now let's talk about these ubiquitous language learning apps. Contrary to what some may think, they are actually not totally useless. However, DON'T rely solely on them to teach you a new language. See them as one of a number of tools on your language learning journey. One thing these are really good at is "gamifying" the learning process. A lot of them make use of elements usually associated with video games, such as streaks, achievements, and scoreboards and what this does do really well is make learning motivating and even a little bit addictive. So, while they may not teach you a whole lot about your target language – many completely ignore grammar and purely rely on teaching you phrases – DO feel free to include them as a way to engage with your target language on a regular basis.
Regarding the actual learning process, here are some more practical tips:
Especially at the beginning, DO put an emphasis on vocabulary. One of the best things to do as a beginner is start building up your vocabulary as soon as possible. And in that context DO make use of modern technology: One of the greatest tools for learning vocab, and really anything you need to memorise, is Anki. Anki is a free-to-use, open-source flash card programme that uses an algorithm to help you actually remember what you are learning. It takes a bit of getting used to, as its design is a bit rudimentary, but from my own experience as a student, I cannot stress enough how much of a game changer this simple programme was. Just remember to be realistic and DON'T go overboard with flashcards. At the beginning, you may think you can easily manage to add 20 new flashcards each day but remember that the old ones will be repeated on a regular basis.
Even if it is dreaded by many, DON'T avoid grammar. Vocab and grammar are the pillars of language learning, and grammar is the set of rules that will actually grant you the key to language proficiency. So, DO take your time with it and if you struggle with a specific point, try and look up other explanations online or in different grammar books. There also excellent communities of learners online, on platforms like Reddit for instance, where you can easily get help and feedback on particular aspects of language learning.
Finally, perhaps the most important point: DO immerse yourself in your target language. Ask yourself, how did you learn your first language as a child? You did not really have a choice and just learned by imitation and jumping right into it. And while yes, children do have a bit of an advantage when it comes to learning a language, we can at least simulate this experience in some form as adults. Especially if your main focus is on speaking the new language, then there really is no way around just… doing it.
Best case scenario, you know someone who speaks your target language. If not, DO make use of the "tandem" system. There are a lot of great platforms on the internet that allow you to connect to a native speaker of your target language, get some real-life experience and maybe help them out with a language they are trying to learn too.
No matter what you do though, stick to it and be proud of yourself for doing so. Speaking multiple languages is one of life's most valuable skills and who knows, you might be surprised by the new paths, both in your professional and personal life, that suddenly open up for you.