Simple Methods for Language Learning - Intentional Travelers
Simple Methods for Language Learning

15 May Simple Methods for Language Learning

This is a guest post by Karen Bortvedt. Karen is a long-term volunteer with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Cambodia. You can learn more about her daily life and work on her blog.


Learning a new language, especially one with a completely different alphabet, involves a whole lot of closely watching someone’s mouth … and then KISS.

While, yes, rumor has it that finding a significant other who is a native speaker of your new language can be very helpful, I am referring to the Keep It Simple Stupid acronym.  I should probably get that tattooed somewhere, due to my innate ability to do the exact opposite. But when learning a language, simple is definitely the solution (though, calling yourself stupid may not achieve desired results).

Simple Methods for Language Learning

The Basics

Time, practice, reverting to elementary-school-level basics, and “just doing it” were incredibly helpful to me as I recently began my study of Khmer (that is the language they speak in Cambodia). And, literally watching the teacher’s mouth to see from where the sound is coming, where the tongue is placed, and the correct shape of the lips. After that: the KISS.
Yes, it takes the time to dedicate to learning. Initially, I studied, with a private tutor for four hours per day, five days per week. Then, I would go home and revert to those elementary school basics: flashcards, drawing pictures, labeling everything in the pictures, writing basic sentences, talking to myself (must be in the language you wish to learn, or it does not help). There is something to be said for just putting in the time. If flashcards aren’t helping, try a different approach. Simple being the key.
Simple Methods for Language Learning

Practice was also key. For those first classes, I would literally tell my teacher what I had done the previous day (it was usually the same as the week before, and the week before that). This really helped to build that basic, conversational vocabulary. And, I would often try to add details each day, just to keep the story interesting. This required new vocabulary. Thus, a new teaching/learning opportunity.

Conversation Partners

Since conversation was the goal, I found a language exchange.  I had done this when learning Spanish and, though not normally part of the study of Khmer, I insisted. My language partner is a college student who is learning English. So, about three weeks into learning Khmer, we started meeting once per week and would speak half the time in Khmer, half in English. Sometimes I had no idea what she was saying, but I powered through, asked questions, and got really good at following body language. Plus, I learned to understand the way people actually talk, not the textbook version.

Push Yourself

Even with all of this, the most important part of KISS is to not over think it. And, since I was living in Cambodia, that meant walking out my front door.

Literally, the dialogue in my head went like this: “Ok, all you have to do is walk out that front door. Walk down the street and enter the market. You need food anyway, just pointing will get you through. You can do it.”  This process may have been repeated for a good hour before I got up my courage and left the house… I have never been more proud to come home with vegetables. They even made it in my blog.Simple Methods for Language Learning

Another KISS moment was talking on the phone.  There are certain tuktuk drivers that know all the places I would want to go. The catch is, one must make a phone call to arrange a tuktuk. Everyone said talking on the phone is the hardest part. “I have been here years and still don’t understand  people on the phone.”

So, KISS. I started picking up that phone a couple of weeks in and have been able to have conversations to a more and more detailed level ever since.

What tricks have you discovered for learning a new language? What are other ways you push yourself to practice speaking in real life?

Get our best tips and resources for transformational travel


Subscribe now to get our free Checklist for International Travel, plus other exclusive content about how to travel more, save money, and enjoy transformational experiences around the world.

Powered by ConvertKit

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: