How I've learnt

How to learn languages

How did you learn English / German / Chinese and further on the list?

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

How long did it take you? What materials did you use? Did you learn it with a teacher? With a native speaker? And so on and so forth. This is roughly the questions that are asked to those who have mastered a foreign language above average, speak it with a fair amount of fluency and able to understand native speakers correctly. Here I have compiled more or less general recommendations from stories of the language learning experience of bloggers on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, etc. So, how to learn a foreign language on our own?

  1. Organise it. If we really want to get serious about learning a new language, we need a plan. How many hours will we spend on it? What time of the day? What resources will we use? How much of the material do we need to cover in a week or month? How will we test ourselves? How will we practice? Answering these questions will first and foremost help us to have a clear idea of what and when exactly we will be doing to achieve our goal in the language. More specific steps — less fuss in the process.
  2. Pick up the materials. Perhaps one of the most difficult steps in the organisation that willtake some time and effort. Browse through thematic websites and blogs with recommendations. Look closely at textbooks and reference books and think about how their structure would suit us personally to use them for self-study. Find a dictionary, or better yet two: one explanatory in the target language and one bilingual with translations into our mother tongue or another language we understand. In doing so, don't overload ourselves with dozens of completely different manuals, but choose one-two-three and concentrate on working with them in detail.
  3. Select a mode. Traditional hourslong studies and/or entertaining games. Numerous language applications are also an option if analysing grammar or repeating cards isn't for us. Gamification in learning is rapidly gaining momentum, so today's market for interactive language learning applications can offer many interesting and effective options. Good old Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise and Busuu. A little younger Drops and Lingvist. Or something else that will attract our attention in the smartphone app catalogue.
  4. Feel the language in life. Even if we don't live in a language-speaking country. Keep a dailyplanner in the language. Make to-do and to-buy lists in it. For the more sophisticated, keep a personal journal or run an internet blog (like Instagram or Twitter with short text posts), and follow blogs by native speakers. Switch the phone menu to the target language and make surethat the habit of using approximately the same set of keys and commands helps to learn a few more useful words intuitively. Finally, play computer games in the language (an interesting example, try playing Sims as an introduction to the everyday vocabulary and learn to understand the specific humour of the game in another language).
  5. Listen. Listening is a cornerstone of learning any language and the other day we will definitely talk about listening more in detail. Thanks to the internet, there are a lot of things that we can listen to in free access. Podcasts, audiobooks, public lectures, news, vlogs, films and TV shows — keep going. All of this is a completely authentic and real language. Even if at the current stage we are incredibly far from perfect comprehension, listening is still an excellent exercise to get used to the intonations and subtleties of pronunciation and learn to listen and hear the language.
  6. Speaking. From simple to complex. From talking to ourselves (where we can always agree on everything; for example, talking about what we are doing at the moment, what we see and feel) to speaking clubs. Strive to communicate with live chat rooms, forums, skype / zoom / discord calls, etc. Get a language partner or partners on Italki, Hello Talk or Tandem, for example, a native speaker of the language you are learning who is/are learning your mother tongue as a foreign language.
  7. Rely on yourself and accept feedback. Language proficiency (especially literate one) is our engagement and effort. Remember that even the most talented teacher, tutor or native speaker won't be able to help if we aren't ready to invest ourselves in the process rationally and emotionally. Observe the progress and motivation (having read our article on engagement). Correct the mistakes and work on the difficulties.

As you can see, the list isn't that long. But full implementation of it can be not so easy and... not so necessary. Going back to point 2, an abundance of sources and practices may quickly become tiresome. So we choose what we need most at this stage of our study, depending on our goal or our interest. Of course, focusing on one skill only won't be productive for language proficiency in general.

Therefore, have a good balance and... good luck!