How To Learn A Foreign Language

My Dearest Mad-Readers,

It is well known that mastering a foreign language is key to thoroughly understanding its culture and, if you intend to stay abroad for a long time, you definitely want to consider learning the local language. If you still need to be convinced that learning a foreign language is in your best interest, I recommend you read up this article. If you have not decided which language is right for you, then this article may help you out.

Let’s Deal With The Obvious

Before digging into the material I wish to offer you, I would like to point out something obvious. That is, learning a language can be broken into several skills :

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing

Your level in these main 4 skills will vary depending on :

  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Phonology / Pronunciation

All these skills need to be developed equally, although I would argue that each individual will always be better at one (or several) and worse at another. This is how nature works. Everyone has a different character, meaning some will be more fond of writing, whilst others will be better at speaking. Some have amazing ears, others have powerful eyes. This is how it is and, the sooner you accept it, the better.

Another obvious matter I wished to briefly discuss is that you need to keep having fun. Do not compare learning in a classroom to the world of possibilities you can have on your own. If you wish to learn Swedish with sports videos, be my guest! Have fun! This is the most essential part. Having fun, however, requires one thing : you need to vary which skill you work on. If you wish to efficiently progress in a language, you have to work on all your skills. Meaning if you write something one day, it would be ideal to listen to a podcast in the morrow, or to practice more actively and speak with somebody in your target language. Of course, you are free to design your path as you fancy.

Dictionaries

Some primary tools cannot be overlooked when making your first steps on such a journey, and the right dictionary is one of them. There is such a thing as a wrong dictionary, for those of you who were wondering : google translate. Do not boycott it entirely, but be careful how you use it. The mistakes you will make with it should be as great as the power it has.

If you want a quality translator, I recommend : DeepL. It is excellent, purely and simply. As excellent as Linguee, its fellow partner in crime. Another dictionary that I am quite fond of : wordreference. Check these 3 out and, if you are learning English, do not forget the Urban Dictionary (Use it correctly and it will always serve you right).

Along with dictionaries, do check out conjugations websites, especially when learning a Latin-rooted language : French, Spanish, Italian… These guys would make you cry much more without the-conjugation.com.

Courses

If having a more academical structure is reassuring for you, you have the option of signing up for online courses. It can get a little expensive, but a teacher, or mentor, will be there to help you step by step. Be careful however. Having a mentor does not mean that you do not need to put in the work anymore. No, it has the potential to give you a significant advantage over self-taught individuals, yet only if you do it correctly.

Here is a list of online platforms :

I don’t have much experience with these platforms, since I have always preferred learning on my own. However, the experience I have had with them would convince me enough to recommend them to you. Many YouTubers I believe in, such as Lucy from English with Lucy, or Emma from Hmm English, recommend Lingoda and Italki regularly. As for Tandem, you should give it a try if you wish to have a native language partner. Same as Italki, you do not have to pay to speak with others, but only if you want private tutoring.

Vocabulary

I have several methods to build up my vocabulary. Generally, I work on my vocabulary with something else, such as a book, an extract (from a book or movie), a YouTube video… I also enjoy going outside and playing a game I like to call “What is this?“, which basically consists in asking yourself the name of all the objects you come across and learn their names whenever you do not know. It is extremely effective but you better take notes quickly, especially when you are a beginner or an intermediate, because words can add up amazingly fast.

If you wish to be efficient, reading a word one time cannot work. You need to repeat it a lot of times, hear it and, if possible, visualize it. For that, there is nothing better than flashcards app. You can find a whole load of them on Android Play Store, but this is not what I would recommend the most. Surprisingly (because it is a program I have kept away from for a long time), I would seriously recommend Anki. With it, you can create your own decks of words and customize them as much as you can fancy. You can also follow your progress day by day with precise charts.

As a word of warning, I would just tell you not to spend too much time on it. The aim of a language is to communicate, not to lock yourself up into your bedroom and become antisocial. Do not exceed 10 minutes to an hour a day, it is already more than enough, in my humble opinion.

Learn With Books, Videos & Games

This one may be my personal favorite. I love movies, Japanese anime, cartoons, American TV series, video games… Needless to say it is rather time-consuming. This is why, one day in a long-forgotten past, I decided to turn these passions to my advantage. Thus I stopped watching anime with French subtitles and replaced them with English subtitles. I gave up on playing Nintendo DS games in French to play them in English. I drastically reduced what French book stack, and began reading almost exclusively in English.

This is how I created, day after day, an environment to study my target language. Today, I am striving to do the same with Italian and it is a struggle, because I have given so much of my life to English. Even switching from English to Italian on my smartphone was a dilemma when I arrived in Italy, but I forced myself to do it, because I knew I had to give space to Italian to truly learn it in depths.

Here is a list of online platforms you could use :

  • Fluent U : Language app to learn with movies.
  • Netflix : Even better than Fluent U to learn on your own.
  • Youtube : Should I say any more ?
  • Lbry : A YouTube equivalent.

For games, emulators should do the trick :

  • Desmume : Nintendo DS
  • VBAM : Game Boy Advanced Games
  • PPSSPP : PSP games
  • Mupen64plus : Nintendo 64
  • Dolphin : Wii-U, Game Cube

Podcasts & Audio Books

Podcasts are most trendy these days, as one must be aware. I must even confess I have several times reflected upon the topic, considering having my own. What it would be about, that remains a mystery still.

If you wish to work on your listening skills (and vocabulary, by extension), these 2 new buddies are ideal :

You may also check out Audible, if you are into Amazon products. On YouTube, you will also find audio books and podcasts. Just type the name of a book you are fond of in the search bar (such as [Harry Potter + audio book]) and see what you get.

Practicing

Last but not least, I do not know why I left this one for the end. Do not ask in the comments, please (yep, I’m doing reverse psychology).

I know several ways to practice, and I have used all of them. Having a pen pal, also known as a language partner, is an amazing experience. You have to find the right person, and it may be tough, but everyone should give it a shot. It is most enjoyable and enriching. In case you would be interested :

If you merely wish to chat with someone, I have got you covered too :

  • Discord : Especially the language sloth server.
  • Other social networks : Enjoy it, I don’t recommend them very often. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… They are here to serve you, not the other way around!
  • Speaky : A language community especially revolving around chatting.

All of the above are great resources to practice writing, but also speaking. If you need a place dedicated to improving your writing : lang-8 is here for you. To digest vocabulary or learn new items, Duolingo is not so bad at all. It even is pretty good…

2 more magic tricks :

  • YouTube : You can practice in the comments of videos, on channels such as English With Lucy. Just find a channel for your target language and get to know the people watching the same content as you in said-language.
  • Movies : Listen and repeat what the actors say as well as you can. This is more effective than learning the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), although I would still recommend you check that thing out at some point.
  • Songs : Learn how to sing. Yes, you may make it rain a few times before you get around to it, but it is more than worth it. Sing in your target language to improve your pronunciation and accent. I do it, I know others who did or have done it, and it does work. True story.

Ending & Sign-Off

I hope this article was helpful. I have uncovered a lot of my secrets to learn a language. In the end, I just do whatever I feel like doing everyday. My goal is to practice everyday as much as I can and seize all the opportunities I have to learn something. Some days it works better than others, but it is rather efficient for me. If you need to be more organized, you can still have a notebook to organize each day of your week with the skill you want to focus on each day. Same for vocabulary items, you can have a notebook for them.

I have a notebook for Italian, which I use both for grammar and vocabulary. You may want to separate them but, seriously, it really is up to you! Remember that no method works better than your own, which you have built with your experience!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post! If you liked it, feel free to let me know via email, by subscribing, liking, and/or commenting. You may also check out some more of my work. I also have a Patreon page, a YouTube channel, if you wish to support me there, and a GoodReads account.

Take care of yourselves,

Phil.

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6 thoughts on “How To Learn A Foreign Language

  1. Thank you. I used Italki to learn English writing when I was a college student. It’s definitely a recommended online platform to learn a foreign language because when I wrote a post there, there were many people correcting my writing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, I did not. I could not manage my schedule to learn English full time through Italki that time, and I was not sure if I could attend an online course on time because I did not log in to Italki very often.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s understandable 😉 It’s good to know you had a nice experience with Italki though! I’m thinking about using it more myself, but for now I’ve taken advantage of other tools, such as discord.

        Like

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