Learning a new language by ourselves can seem pretty discouraging when we do not know where to start. Should I start with the grammar or most used sentences? How much time per week should practice in order to achieve my goal? These are some of the questions that you might ask yourself when deciding to learn a new language.
Foreign languages have always been one of the main passions. I started with English in primary school then discovered Russian and German in high school. Now I am studying in an English-language Cegep, I am still learning German, and I have just started Norwegian. Therefore, in this post, I will present you my 5 personal tips to learn a foreign language that I have discovered with time, and some that I wish I had learned sooner! At the end of this post, you will find my favorites resources (books, apps, website) that I use to learn and practice a foreign language, and that could help YOU as well for your target language. Let’s start!
1- Focus on VOCABULARY ✅
One of the mistakes that I made when starting to learn a foreign language by myself was to not focus enough on vocabulary. I started with the main rules of grammar and how to conjugate each pronoun, but I had no words to connect with! However, with time and by doing some research about the most effective ways to learn a language, I discovered that learning vocabulary is the KEY to learn every language.
Learning vocabulary can be done in various ways, but what I suggest you is to always have a pen nearby. Tap on your search bar what are the 100 most common words of your target language or go by categories such as people, family members, reading and writing, numbers, etc. I love the website 101languages.net because they offer very great vocabulary lessons and for so many languages, and it is free! For most languages, the website also displays a list of the 1,000 most common words with audio for the pronunciation. I suggest you to write them down in a notebook, and this will be your vocabulary notebook!
2- Do not underestimate the power of Duolingo 💚
Duolingo is my key resource for learning German, and it could help you progress A LOT in your target language as well. Duolingo is an online language-learning platform that offers 38 different language courses. The access to lessons is free, but there is also a premium version for $6.99 USD/mo that offers offline access, ad-free, and more.
Why should you use Duolingo to learn a foreign language? Because it practices EVERY aspect of the learning process: writing, speaking (and pronunciation), listening, translation, associating pictures with words, and more! The learning is also very personalized as it allows you to perform a level assessment test at the beginning and has a specific section where you can reinforce your weaknesses.
3- Write, write, write, and write again! 📝
They are many learning techniques, but when starting to learn a new foreign language, I believe writing down what you read is the most effective way to retain the information. When writing down the information, your brain takes a picture of the information. The more you write, the clearer the picture is. For more information about the relation between writing and remembering, here is a great article from the Lifehack blog.
As mentioned earlier, writing down vocabulary is a very effective way to learn. When you have enough words and verbs to do so, try writing down sentences and small paragraphs. Then, correct yourself and re-write the parts where you made mistakes.
Writing is even more important when learning a language that has a different alphabet. When I took a Russian class, the teacher gave us a lot of writing practice sheets because the best way to learn the 32 letters was to write them down and repeat their sound out loud.
Finally, another way you can learn your target language via writing is to translate short texts or songs (with a dictionary, of course!). This type of exercise is a 2-in-1 as you learn new vocabulary, but it also practices your listening skill.
4- Speak, speak, speak, and speak again! 📢
One of the main difficulties faced when learning a new language is to find opportunities to speak. The more you speak, the more confident you are. I took English classes for almost ten years, but the moment I took confidence in my speaking was when I spent five weeks in another province with people that did not speak a word of French! With the current pandemic, to do a language immersion is not the safest way to practice your speaking skill, but good news, they are plenty of at-home resources!
The first one I suggest to you is the app HelloTalk. This free language learning app allows you to practice with a native speaker of your target language. You can text, make voice messages, and even video call if you feel comfortable. When texting, you write what you think is the right way, and then the native speaker can use the correction tool to correct your mistakes! I used this app when learning German, and I definitely recommend it. The best is to find someone that speaks your target language and that you speak his/her target language so both of you can improve! Who knows? Maybe you will also make a friend!
5- Facebook Language Learning Groups 📘
Facebook language learning groups are my latest discovery related to language learning, and I wish I would have found this sooner! Tap in your Facebook search bar keywords such as “German learning” for example, and you will find a great variety of groups of people that all have the same goal as you: Learn your target language. For most of the groups, you will need to make a demand for adhesion and wait until you are accepted (which does not take long!). Some people post some exercises that you can answer in the comments section, and some share their resources for learning the language.
The Foreign Language Collective is another Facebook page and blog! that I follow, and that I suggest you to follow as well. For this one, you simply have to like the page if you want to have its publications in your feed. The page displays funny jokes about language learning, movie lists for specific languages, and a place where you can exchange with other people. Via this page, I found a German speaker that wanted to learn French, so we both helped ourselves with the pronunciation and writing, which was very great! Not everyone is comfortable with speaking with strangers (which I completely understand!), but I can tell you that I always had a positive experience as those platforms are safe, and the other person has the same goal as you: learn and practice the language!
This is is for my 5 tips to learn a foreign language by ourselves. I hope you appreciated it ! As a final word, note that learning a new language is about consistency in your practice sessions and a lot of repetition! However, all of the hard work is worth it. Learning a new language is a beautiful thing as it allows you to discover a whole new different culture and gives you a new perspective on the world. As Nelson Mandela beautifully said…
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”– Nelson Mandela
My favorite language-learning resources
Note that the books are in French, but as they are language-learning book, it is pretty easy to find an equivalent in English;)
- Les cahiers d’exercices Assimil – Allemand Débutant et Faux-Débutants
- Music : Cro – Wise Guys – Glasperlenspiel – Philip Dittberner – Namika
Norwegian and more!