How do you learn a language on your own?
Well, I can tell you, it isn’t easy. Sure, there are many online resources, apps, and audio-books that'll help, but the reality is: learning a language on your own requires much more. I can attest to that.
I remember the excitement when I decided to learn Spanish. I downloaded a language learning app that combined visual, audio, and written exercises to learn the language. It took me through various levels and as you mastered the levels you unlocked new ones. The app would send me daily notifications to remind me to practice. This made sense because learning a new language requires a devotion of time. If you don’t put in the hard work, you can’t expect big results.
I also recall downloading podcasts and subscribing to an online resource that offered basic and advanced exercises. I used these resources for a month, before losing motivation, and stopping altogether.
Have you experienced something similar in your efforts to learn a language on your own? Maybe you’re here because you're contemplating learning a language for the first time? Regardless, learning a language on your own requires a plan, building a support network to keep you motivated, the right materials, and knowing what learning methods work for you. In this post, we provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to learn a language on your own. And it starts with understanding your motivations.
Decide what your motivations are
We are all human and staying motivated isn’t always easy. But having clarity on why you're doing something, to begin with, can rekindle your motivation. For example, when I lose motivation to write I remember the reason why I'm doing it: I'm my own boss and can work from anywhere.
So, consider why you’re learning a new language. Is it because it’s a nice-to-have? Is it to broaden your job prospects? Or is it because you want to hold a conversation with a native speaker, broaden your cultural understanding, or get out of your comfort zone?
Once you understand why you’re doing it, it’s time to understand what your language learning goals are.
Decide if you want to write or speak the language (or both)
The ability to converse in a language is very different from the ability to write. So, it’s important to decide what your end goal is. In his article, “How to learn a language in less than 3 months”, Tim Ferris says the following:
“Grammar can be learned with writing exercises in a class of 20, whereas “conversation” cannot be learned in anything but a realistic one-on-one environment where your brain is forced to adapt to normal speed and adopt coping mechanisms such as delaying tactics (“in other words,” “let me think for a second,” etc.).”
So, what is your language learning end goal? Once you're clear on this you need to consider what learning methods suits you best and what content to read, watch and listen to.
Choose your learning method and content
Your choice of learning method and content are part of the adherence principle, that is one of three pillars needed to learn any new language. It suggests that if you have the right motivation, you can achieving anything. And finding the right motivation starts with choosing the learning method that suits you.
Everyone learns in different ways:
- Are you visually driven? If yes, learn with visuals.
- Do you learn better through listening to audio? If yes, then learn through podcasts.
- Do you learn better through writing? If yes, then write in the foreign language.
- Do you enjoy reading? If yes, then read books in a foreign language
- Do you enjoy human interaction? Then consider using a language coach, finding an accountability partner or immersing yourself in the culture. Aside from learning method, your content choice is important.
You need to expose yourself to topics you enjoy reading about and watching in your native language. It doesn’t help to read content in a foreign language about a topic you don’t enjoy. You’ll lose motivation, and motivation is essential in learning a new language. So, if you enjoy reading about a particular sport in English, start reading about the sport in the foreign language you want to learn.
Consider your budget
You also need to consider how much you have to spend on your language learning. Your budget, whether you want to write or speak the language, and your choice of learning method and content will dictate what resources you'll use.
Choose you resources
Choosing resources is part of another principle for learning language i.e. the effectiveness principle. If you choose the wrong materials it won’t matter whether you study, how much you study and how you study as the material will be ineffective. So make sure your resources are in line with your learning methods, content choice and your goal of writing or conversing in the language.
What I recommend is that you don’t pick too many resources as this causes overwhelm and you may not know where to start. In my case, one of the reasons I stopped learning a language was because I chose too many resources. I wasn’t sure what resources to prioritize and which were the best allocation of time.
So, pick a couple, you can always choose more resources with time. There are plenty of apps to guide you like DuoLingo and if you need more human interaction, Rype will prove beneficial in supplementing your self-learning with a tutor. Now you should be all set to start learning. The next step on how to learn a language on your own is to set goals and deadlines.
Set goals and deadlines
Learning by yourself requires you to set goals for yourself so that you have something to aim for. Ask yourself this question: “How long do you want to take to master the language?"
In a previous article, we detailed, "How to Learn Any Language in less than 90 Days”. 90 days may be difficult to commit to, but it’s important to set a realistic date for yourself as it gives you something to work for. Not setting a date gives you more time to procrastinate. Once you know your deadline, it’s time to allocate and schedule the time to achieve it.
Allocate and schedule your time
Based on your goals and deadline, how much time are you able to assign to learning a language? Bear in mind this ties in with setting goals and deadlines. If you have a stringent deadline e.g. 3 months, you'll need to dedicate more time.
Also, they say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. So, whatever time you decide to set to learning a new language, try to commit daily, for 21 days. Even if it’s only 15-30 minutes a day, it’s better than nothing. Over a month this quickly adds up. Consider using Google Apps to schedule a time each day and once you’ve scheduled the time you’re ready to start.
Find an accountability buddy to keep you motivated
As you start learning there will be times when you lose motivation. That’s why it’s important to enlist an accountability buddy to help you stay motivated to meet goals. Also, if possible find a partner who has experience writing and speaking the language as so you can immerse yourself in the language.
Aside from finding an accountability buddy who speaks the language you can also immerse yourself in other ways. While the best would be to travel to the country whose language you want to learn, not everyone has the money and that privilege. Instead, you can watch television in the foreign language, read newspapers, listen to podcasts, watch movies etc.
But remember the concept of adherence.
If you immediately start doing something that falls out of your daily routine, you may find it hard to learn. For example, if you don’t read a lot, it might not be the best idea to commit 60 min a day to reading to start. See how you can fit things into your current routine.
The key: build your language around your lifestyle, rather than build your lifestyle around your language.
Feel free to speed up the process
If you feel like speeding up the learning process, go for it! The reality is: sometimes people lose motivation and stop learning because they aren’t getting results quickly. While I recommend patience there are ways to speed up the process, whether your goals are to speak or write in the language.
There are certain words or phrases most widely spoken and written. You can study these phrases to reduce the language learning curve. For example, in a previous article, we detailed 100 of the most spoken and written words in English. The 100 words for writing comprise half of all written materials. And if you’re able to remember the 100 most spoken words you’ve covered half of what you need to hold a conversation. Crazy right?
How to learn a language on your own
Whether you decide to speed up the process or not learning a new language requires you to go beyond the resources. There's much more at play like understanding your motivations, goals, preferred learning method, and content, as well as budget considerations, all of which dictate your choice of resources.
It’s then time to implement through setting deadlines and scheduling time each day. Forming the habit is as much about implementation as it’s about motivation. So, to sustain the motivation find an accountability buddy and immerse yourself through the content and human interaction. That's how you learn a language on your own!