I’ve just started learning Lithuanian, a Baltic language similar to Latvian and Old Prussian (now extinct). I have never learned a Baltic language before, and am totally new to the history of the language and the linguistic group to which it pertains.
I found a tutor, a great friend of mine and fellow teacher called Ieva, and have sourced a few online resources that will help me begin my learning (see the Eye on … Rarer Languages page for more details, if you too are interested in learning Lithuanian).
I put together a series of suggestions below on how to set about learning a language from a linguistic group with which you are not familiar. I hope you find it useful; as always, please get in touch if you would like to add to my suggestions or share your thoughts.
I began with the Lithuanian alphabet, and was given a few key words corresponding to each letter by my tutor. A lot of the new words looked familiar, but when I guessed at their meaning using the reference points I had through other languages, I was entirely flummoxed. Almost none of the words related to any of the languages I know, and it felt very counter intuitive to abandon the benchmarks I have and embrace a totally new language.
Though the odd word was similar to its Russian counterpart, it was great to abandon all past baggage and reconnect with what it feels like to learn a language completely from scratch, without any cognates or familiar elements!
1. Find a tutor, and someone to practise with
It’s great if you can find someone, either online or locally, with whom you can practise you new language, as this will give you the chance to vindicate your learning outside the familiar setting of your lessons. It will bring you out of your comfort zone and enable you to assess how far you are coming along.
2. Research the language group to which your language relates
It can really help to have a background knowledge of the origins of your new language. This will help you discover related languages that you may fancy going on to learn; Latvian, for instance, belongs to the same linguistic group as Lithuanian, and were I to start learning Latvian, my knowledge of Lithuanian would speed up the process considerably.
Likewise, if you were to learn German, you would have a head start if you decided to take up other Germanic languages such as Swedish, Dutch and Afrikaans.
3. Make sure you hear the language you want to learn
It isn’t enough to learn an entirely new language from a book. Rather, you ought to hear it spoken, and this, in my view, means going beyond listening to the pronunciation of individual words on Google translate.
To listen to a new language in action, try and find radio stations that broadcast in that language, or Youtube videos, and even songs. That way you will pick up on the language’s intonation and pace, as well as the pronunciation of new words that you may have learned.
4. Think about your goals
When it comes to learning any new language, I always think that it’s important to be upfront about your goals. My personal goals aren’t always about fluency; sometimes, I’m only interested in learning the basics of a language in order that I can hold a simple conversation, or get to grips with key words from a linguistic group with which I am unfamiliar.
Once you are clear on your goals, it may be worth considering a rough timetable. This way, you can map out the progress you want to make, and by when. You could also use this as a way of earmarking days for different skills, for example, a day for listening and reading, a day for grammar, and a day when you perhaps meet with your tutor and focus on speaking.