One of the things many people have on their life list is to learn another language. A few people mastered it in school, but the school method of learning a language doesn’t work for most.

Combine this with the fact that taking a foreign language isn’t a requirement for most university programs and the misbelief that independent study doesn’t work, and you can see why a great deal of these people never actually learn the language they intended to.

Here are five common questions people ask about how to learn a language.

1. Are the only people who can learn a language the ones who did well at it in school?

There are plenty of methods of learning a language that are very different from the “school way” which so often consists of rote memorization, repetition, and group practice sessions based on specific phrases you’ll never use.

Some people get textbooks and teach themselves at their own pace, while others listen to audio tapes, podcasts, or CDs of the foreign language. One of the best ways to learn to speak a language is to converse with native speakers. If none are in your area, you can find websites that allow audio chats and facilitate the exchange of Skype ID’s between people who want to practice speaking or mentor someone learning to speak a language.

You can also learn a language through an immersion environment, though simply being around it isn’t enough to prompt you to thoroughly learn it. You also have to make an effort to get out and practice speaking, reading, and writing the language if you want to learn it by moving there.

2. Which materials are necessary for learning a language?

Nothing tangible is absolutely necessary when learning a foreign language, but having the proper materials can really help you out and speed up the learning curve significantly.

First, in order to learn how to read a language, it can be useful to have a textbook, or at the very least, some easy novels that are designed for beginners or children. Index cards can be bought very inexpensively and used as flashcards, with a symbol (if the language isn’t based on the English alphabet), sound, or word on one side and the English translation on the other.

To learn how to write a language, you may need specially-lined paper (depending on the language, of course). If not, you can just get any old notebook from a dollar store to practice writing in.

Listening to a language doesn’t necessarily require special materials, either. You can often buy CDs designed for language learners, but you can also download free podcasts in a variety of languages or listen to radio shows, for example. Listening to people is the best way to learn, however, and holding conversations will help correct any misunderstandings you might otherwise have.

Speaking only requires the confidence to get out of your shell and just try. You could try competing with yourself to see how many mistakes you can make and be corrected on in half an hour, for example, or be determined to speak with a native for ten minutes a day minimum. You’ll make mistakes, but in so doing, you’ll progress much faster through your learning!

3. How do I choose a language to learn?

This is a very personal decision that some people make based on feelings and other people make based on sheer logic.

You might decide to learn French based on the fact that it’s “the language of love” and no more, or you might look at the number of countries that primarily speak French and the percentage of similarities between English and French and decide that it’s statistically a good one to learn.

Similarly, some people decide to learn Mandarin Chinese because they’re interested in Chinese cinema, while others learn it because it’s the primary language of one of the world’s superpowers and very useful in business settings.

Only you can make this choice, and no language is “better” than another to learn. Some may be more practical (such as Esperanto, which has been proven to help English learners speed up their learning time of the next language they learn), while others more fanciful (dead or dying languages, as well as those spoken in only one or two countries), but every language has its own value.

4. How do I deal with the odd little quirks that every new language has?

There are all kinds of quirks buried in nearly any language (the exception being languages specifically created to avoid this, such as Esperanto). The trick to overcoming such quirks is to see the good side of them.

For instance, if you see the multiple alphabets of the Japanese language as being beneficial, because they allow for small children to read and write the complicated language very early (without learning the kanji immediately), you won’t be so annoyed by having to learn them all.

5. How do I keep in practice when I don’t know anyone who speaks it?

Every language learner struggles with this issue at some point. Keeping in practice is much like learning the language in the first place. The more exposure you have to the language, the better!

Watching movies, listening to podcasts and radio talk shows, listening to music, and reading books and newspapers are all traditional ways of staying in practice. They are also passive ways, however, so you could find that you still understand the language reasonably well but don’t speak it very well if you don’t actively practice speaking.

Meet-up groups with people learning the language, guiding travellers from countries in which the language is spoken, or holding Skype calls with friends and strangers who speak the language will all force you to stay in good linguistic shape.

Learning a language is a challenge for anyone, but it’s not impossible by any stretch of the imagination. Bilingual people and polyglots (those who speak several languages) aren’t really that much smarter than the rest of the population… they just figured out how to effectively study languages!

Have patience and persevere. Language learning will open many doors, but none of these opportunities come easily. When you can hold a conversation with a native speaker without feeling intimidated, you’ll thank yourself for going through the trouble.