Interested in learning a language but think it might be too hard?

Planning a holiday or meeting people from abroad? Learning French in Le Lavandou, Provence

It annoys me that language teaching is so bad in this country that it puts people off.

Of course, most people in the world speak English don’t they? But many don’t.

I’ve learned over ten languages, varying from fairly fluent to just about able to order a beer and found most people are flattered if you try even a few uncertain words.

Added to which, learning a language is good for your memory, sharpens your awareness, helps you understand other cultures – and I’ve even seen it promoted as a way of making you more efficient at work and in time management.

So here are my 12 top tips for making learning a language easy, quick and fun. Despite the teachers.

1. There is no wrong

Bad teachers do one dreadful thing that ensures students hate languages. They criticise the wrong things.

Correct grammar, vocabulary, accent, they’re all fine in due course, but the first job of a language is to communicate. Nothing more or less.

If you ask for a beer, with incorrect grammar, awful accent and the wrong words and you still get given a beer – then that’s a success.

Ditch the critic. Slap yourself on the back. You communicated.

2. Act like a two-year old

My two-year-old grandson speaks awfully. He only knows one, two or three word phrases. Gets words wrong. Enunciates badly. Has hardly any grasp of grammar at all.

And his parents applaud him! Because he’s only two. That’s how people speak when they start a language – even their own.

So act like a two-year-old. Dive in and get it all wrong.

3. Jump around

There’s no wrong way to learn. Do whatever appeals.

The world is full of ways to help you in learning a language today and nobody cares if you learn vocab first or grammar, how to listen or how to speak.

We have the old ways – classes, books, CDs and DVDs – and new – computer programs and online courses. YouTube is full of free videos made by helpful people in just about every major language on earth.

There are even web-sites where you can talk to native speakers in real time.

Try them all and use what works, in any order you like.

4. Repeat and vary

Language is made up of repeated patterns. Repeat them out loud as much as you can and they begin to stick.

But don’t just repeat, vary.

Suppose you learn a relatively complex phase that means “My husband would like a glass of water.” Change “husband” to “daughter”, “friend” and “dog”. Change “glass of water” to “bone,” “new job,” “plate of live worms…” Play around. Be silly.

Soon you’ll find the pattern has fixed itself and will trip off your tongue.

5. Submerge yourself

Children are surrounded by their native language. Do the same with your new one.

My Italian raced ahead when I watched “Inspector Montalbano” with subtitles. TV imports are a great gift.Try Inspector Montalbano for learning a language like Italian says Charles Harris

We have so much available – use it all. Watch movies (with or without subtitles).

Find an internet radio station in the language. Listen to discussion programmes, soaps and game shows.

Buy magazines and find native web-sites, especially in a subject area you know about.

6. Get confused

If you do 5 well, you won’t understand much of what you hear, but that’s OK. You’ll be developing your ear.

And as you go, you’ll start to detect patterns. And will start to learn what they are.

It’ll only happen if you stop playing safe and allow yourself to plunge in and get confused.

7. Speak and write

We learn by doing. Start chattering in your language – preferably when there’s no-one to judge you. Make things up. No matter how silly (or wrong).

And write things down. Buy a cheap notebook and write down words as you learn them along with their definitions. Test yourself when you’re, say, waiting for a bus. Cover up the words and see how many you can remember from their definitions. Or the other way round.

8. Sing a song

Songs are great ways of learning, as the tunes help stick in your head. Poetry and folk sayings are also good.

My French teacher at school began our very first lesson by teaching us Frère Jacques. It’s full of useful vocabulary and grammar points.

And I still remember it. Download some catchy songs, with the lyrics, put them on your iPod and start singing along.

9. Make stupid pictures

We remember through pictures. This trick lies behind most famous memory feats.Japanese men playing go to help learning a language with pictures

If you want to learn a word, turn it into a picture. The more vivid, dramatic, stupid (or rude) the better.

Say you’re trying to remember the Japanese word for room number – go-shitsu. Go is the word for number – so I imagine some smartly dressed Japanese men in a room, playing go and arguing like mad because they disagree about the number of “goes” someone has had. (You can probably tell I don’t know the game at all).

And as for shitsu? I’ll leave that one to you. Maybe they have to deal with a shih tzu dog… or something ruder…

10. Old friends (and false ones)

Search out words you know already. English is so eclectic that there are bound to be words in your new language that are similar. Or at least sound similar. There may also be words you’ve already heard.

The German for man is Mann. Boy is Junge – close enough to the word “young” for me to remember it.

But beware of “false friends” – words that look the same and aren’t. In 2001, Gérard Depardieu found himself in trouble because people thought he said he’d “assisted” at a rape. But the French verb assister doesn’t mean “help.” It means “to be present.”

He was actually saying he was a witness.

11. Start early and be kind to yourself

Getting able to stumble along can be very quick, but learning a language in depth takes time. Don’t expect that after two months you’ll be talking on TV and reading War and Peace in the original Russian.

Start early – which means now – and do it often. Ten minutes every day will be much better than four hours once a month.

Keep it fun and you’ll be amazed how much you learn.

12. Play the fool

Inhibition is a killer. Stop worrying about being you and become a different you, who speaks this new language.'Allo 'Allo - not a bad way to start learning a French accent

Be a mimic. Many people say they can’t speak with a French accent, but can mimic a cliché Frenchman – such as in Allo ‘Allo!

Every language has its own music – and acting the cliché can often unlock it.

In short

Dive in and enjoy yourself. Tell me how you do and I’ll keep you updated with my new goal of learning Greek before the end of June.

And tell me if you have any tips of your own.  Email me or post them below.