There are few intellectual pleasures comparable to finding yourself reading in a foreign language and realizing that you understand much more than you would have expected. However, foreign languages do require a consistent amount of effort, an effort which most people in adulthood are not willing to undertake. Learning a new language means beginning everything right from the start and it requires a large, very large, dose of modesty, an ability to easily get over frustrating situations, because there will certainly be a lot of frustrating situations, and the willingness to accept that often you will just feel like an idiot and probably other people will think that you are an idiot too. If you are willing to accept this, fine. Otherwise you can always say: I have no talent/time for languages. You will be missing a lot though, please this be known. Overcoming frustrations will also turn out to be a very useful survival skill in life.
Here my pieces of advice:
1. Many people around you, often the people who are the closest to you, will not understand why you need to do this and sometimes might indirectly actively discourage you from learning a new language, especially if they have no knowledge of the language you are learning. My advice is to ignore them. There is no other way unfortunately and this is a necessary and fundamental step. People do not like see us changing, but changing is the base of self-development and study.
2. Don’t try to learn everything at once. You may have started to study a new language in a bout of enthusiasm after having visited a country which you particularly liked. However, after the first couple of weeks you may realize that you have not learned as much as you expected and when confronted with native speakers or real life language encounters, you may experience difficulties and embarrassing situations. Well, first, as for language learning, a couple of weeks is nothing. Even the first couple of years is nothing. It takes a child many years to take a decent level of proficiency, and that is basically what they do full time. Give yourself time and study regularly.
3. Read comic books. They might not so exciting if you are not a fan, but there is almost nothing comparable to the immediacy of this reading. The pictures will help you understand words just from the context, the language is colloquial and generally up-to-date with the contemporary language actually in usage. It is not Shakespeare, but it is more useful for your learning. Exactly people who start studying language in a very formal context like a university and other intellectual smugs may look down to this approach, but they are mistaken. Tabloid press may do just as well.
4. Grammar, exercises and memory cards are fine but a more effective method is to read stuff that you are really interested in. You love that Paulo Coelho’s novel and you have read it ten times in translation? Pick up the original Portuguese. Knowing the translation will help, however try not to go back to it too often. You are interested in marketing or football? Read articles about marketing or football in your target language.
5. Speak, speak, speak. A language is mainly a verbal activity. The school approach to learning a language is guaranteed to bring you almost nowhere. You will know some grammar rules sometimes better than the native speakers in theory, but the native speakers will not understand you when you speak to them. Listen to the radio, get an MP3, download some podcasts and listen to them even multiple times. Your tolerance for boredom must be high. But everytime you will listen once again to the same podcast you will feel that you understand more and that you have learned something new. Find some people who share your language learning interest and engage in interesting conversations with them. Your efforts will pay at some point and one day you will experience the pleasure of realizing you really know this language and it will feel like a little awakening. There is almost nothing like it.