How to Learn a Foreign Language (By Yourself!)

By: Jackie Thompson

Foreign languages are becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s education system. Most students are roped into some sort of foreign language requirement whether in high school or beyond. Here are a few tips for struggling foreign language students and aspiring polyglot alike:

  • Free language resources galore: There are tons of apps on the market devoted to foreign language learning. Duolingo is a great resource; it offers 17 languages for English learners ranging all the way from Spanish to Welsh. Busuu is a very similar app that offers lessons in languages that Duolingo lacks, such as Japanese, Arabic, and Chinese. Memrise is another great app; its only drawback being that users with the free version can only learn one language at a time. Local libraries offer a variety of reference materials that can be used in conjunction with or instead of these apps. www.edx.org is another great alternative; it hosts free online courses from some of the nation’s best universities in a number of subjects.
  • Be realistic: Create a manageable study schedule. Grandiose plans to complete a semester of French over the summer do no good unless they’re actually followed. A good rule of thumb is to practice 30 minutes each day. If that’s unmanageable with your schedule, feel free to amend it as you see fit!
  • Learn the pronunciation: Speaking is paramount in the study of foreign languages. It’s more important than spelling, grammar, or vocab. If you don’t feel comfortable with pronunciation, then you’ll never feel confident speaking. forvo.com is great resource for language learners. It features pronunciations by native speakers of most words you can imagine spoken. When studying, speak the words or phrases while looking over them to cement the pronunciations in your mind.
  • Practice, practice, practice!: There are many ways to study; it’s just a matter of finding what works best. Flashcards are a tried-and-true method, whether through a service like Quizlet or writing them by hand. Flashcards are great because they can be used virtually anywhere, so you can study whenever you have a spare second. Another great study method is to simply practice in your head. For example, let’s say you’re working at your summer job, counting down the minutes until your shift ends. Rather than simply stare blankly at the clock, look around you. Try to name the word in your target language for all the things you see. Or alternatively, run through a pretend conversation using the phrases you’ve learned.

 

  • Study the culture: This is optional, but arguably essential to the learning of a foreign language. You cannot truly master a language without understanding the social and cultural context in which it exists. Without knowledge of the customs, values, and practices associated with the countries who speak your target language, your language skills will always be lacking. Luckily, there are tons of online resources that provide authentic materials for studying culture. Try perusing travel websites, language-learning sites, or blogs of people living in a country that speaks your target language!
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