The most successful strategy to learn a language by yourself is called immersion. Surround yourself with the language and allow it to seep into all areas of your life. And integrate it with your other interests and hobbies. In this post, you’ll learn 7 techniques to do just that.
To be able to start to speak the language quickly you should forget about the grammar!
Well, at least in the beginning.
That’s how they teach in the class and that’s ok when someone else is teaching you in a steady, structured, and slow way. But when you’re learning by yourself, you really only want to be able to start speaking as soon as possible.
Learning a language through grammar makes learning seem like tedious and hard work. Learning should be as enjoyable as possible. Because when you enjoy the process your brain is much more receptive to new information and creates stronger connections. When you have the motivation and enjoy the process you can learn any language by yourself.
Take it from the best language learners in the world – babies. They approach the learning process with curiosity, they practice sounds and words and rhythm of the language. They repeat words and practice building sentences fearlessly and stubbornly. What sounds like babbling to us is actually learning to them. Now, you can take their approach, minus the babbling, and expand it to fit your grown-up brain.
Before we go into the techniques, let’s cover the two most frequently asked questions. Is it even possible to teach yourself a language and how long will it take?
Is it possible to learn a language by yourself?
Yes! It’s absolutely possible to learn a language by yourself. Teaching yourself a language is a personalized, flexible, and cheap way of learning a language. You have the flexibility to learn as fast or as slow as you need and to focus on topics you’re interested in.
What differs self-learning from learning in a classroom setting is that you have to make a language you want to learn a part of your everyday life.
The only stumbling block on your way might be the lack of motivation. When you’re paying for a class, then the thought that you paid a lot of money for it motivates you to keep going, even on lazy days. And this works because money is a strong motivator. So to succeed in learning a language by yourself you need to find something that will keep you motivated. Some people are motivated by reminding themselves why they want to learn the language, others by rewards they give themselves for every milestone. The point is, be prepared, find what motivates you before you start, make a commitment, and go for it.
How long does it take to learn a language by yourself?
How long it’ll take you to learn a language on your own depends on you and your situation.
The fastest you can learn a language enough to communicate on the basic level is 2 months. Given that you learn most of the day, every day, or are living in a country of a language you’re learning and you’re exposed to the language all day.
If you spend 1-2 hours a day learning a language with techniques described in this post you will get to the same basic level in 3-4 months.
And if you spend 30 minutes a day then expect to reach that basic level in 6 months.
Then, of course, it also depends on the language you’re learning. Some languages are easier, some more difficult to learn. For example, it’ll take an English native 3 times longer to learn Korean than it’ll take to learn Spanish.
The bottom line is, put in the continuous effort and you’ll be speaking in a new language in no time.
7 techniques to learn a language by yourself
Learn 20 new words every day
Building a vocabulary is the first thing you should focus on when starting to learn a language. Because that’s the way you learned your first language. Every day you would learn 5-10 new words so that by the time you were 3 you knew more than 1000 words. Of course, all of it happened unintentionally. But, you can emulate this by intentionally learning 20 new words every day.
To start find the 1000 most common words in your target language. Then make 50 cards with 20 words on each. Every day pick a new card and memorize all 20 words from it until the end of the day. The easiest way to do this is to read the words few times in the morning. Then once every 1-2 hours repeat the words, checking the card if needed. By the end of the day, you will know all 20 words by heart.
In less than two months you’ll know enough words to understand basic everyday conversations, read the daily news, and pick up more new words from context.
Gamify the learning process
Apps like Duolingo and Mondly are the perfect example of how learning with a game-like approach can make learning and memorizing really easy. These apps will help you to quickly and seemingly effortlessly expand your vocabulary and gain a feeling for the way sentences are being structured. Short lessons cover reading, speaking, and listening skills. Lessons are then divided into levels and each level has a theme or a topic it covers.
Lessons are engaging, dynamic, and really fun. Although you can’t reach a level of proficiency you will get a good basis on which you can further expand with the techniques you’ll read more about in the remainder of the post.
Start using apps from day one, they will make the whole thing a lot easier and quicker.
Read children’s books
When you’re learning a language by yourself you must read a lot. By reading you’re at the same time getting the feeling for the grammar, for the way sentences are structured and you’re expanding your vocabulary. This is the way you learned your first language, not by studying it but by using it. You can learn to speak with perfect grammar without ever actually learning the grammar, but only if you read books.
Children’s books are ideal for new language learners because they are written with the intention to help little ones develop vocabulary. Children’s books are written in simple language using the most common words. You can find a lot of free books to download there is no need to buy them. Once you outgrow children’s books you can move on to fairy tales and other short stories.
Through stories, your brain will make connections much faster and you’ll naturally develop the intuition for the rules of the language. Meaning you will instinctively know how to say something grammatically correctly without consciously knowing the grammar.
Talk with yourself
As you grow your vocabulary and learn how to make simple sentences start thinking and talking with yourself in the language you’re learning.
There are few ways you can use the “talking with yourself” technique to practice the language. While walking around, either outside, at home, at work, or in the store name the things you see.
Another thing you can do is narrate what you’re doing, make plans for tomorrow or recount to yourself what happened in the past. Don’t bother yourself if you don’t know every word, use your own language to fill in the blanks, or if you can, look it up. This way you can really focus your learning on the words you use in your daily life.
Talking with yourself will also show you where there are gaps in your knowledge so you know what to work on. There is no use in learning thousands of words you’ll never use. But knowing even hundreds of words you use to express yourself and describe your interests will make a world of a difference.
Keep a diary
Learning how to write in a language is equally important as learning how to speak. Once you learn how to construct simple sentences you can start writing practice.
To practice writing, you can keep a diary in the language you’re learning. Write about your day, plans for the future, about your hobbies and interests. Maybe make up a short story. Write freely and as best as you know without looking up words and grammar. After you finish writing check your spelling, grammar, and translate the words you didn’t know using a dictionary or online tools. Sentences where you found mistakes rewrite 3 times.
This way you are again directing your focus on the words you are using in your daily life. You’re learning the words you’ll actually use instead of filling your brain with countless words you’ll never have real use of.
Make it a part of your life
Immersing yourself in the language or immersing the language into your life as much as possible will speed up your learning process. Learning a language through your interest and hobbies is the ideal way to become fluent.
Find books on topics you’re interested in or hobbies you’re pursuing written in the language you’re learning.
Watch YouTube videos, like tutorials and informational content you have an interest in, made by native speakers of your target language. Also, watch language learning videos made specifically for language learners. This will help you develop an “ear” for the language and improve your pronunciation.
You can try to find an answer to a question by first figuring out how to formulate the question and then by finding the website with a correct answer.
Some people will even change the language settings on their phone and computer so everything is written in the language they’re learning.
Another thing you can do is to read literature originally written in that language. This way you’re learning the language while also learning about a new culture.
Video chat with natives
Once you made a progress with the other six techniques, it’s time to start putting it all to use. Chances are you don’t have much opportunity to interact with others in the language you’re learning. So finding a native speaker to talk to will be important. Having a language buddy whose mother language is the language you’re learning will speed up your progress to fluency.
You can either pay somebody or you can look for somebody on language exchange sites or in many language groups and forums. There are many language exchange platforms where you can go to find natives to speak to, like this one here. But you should know that this is different than paying somebody to chat with you because the other person will also want to talk to you in your native language.
Learning a language by yourself is not only doable but it’s possibly a superior way of learning. That’s because you can go from zero to being able to participate in a basic conversation quicker than if you were learning in a class.
Try to do as many fun and engaging activities in the new language, this will greatly help you to learn and retain the knowledge. Be comfortable in your role as a newbie and don’t be afraid to make a mistake, say the wrong thing. Nobody will judge you. The more confident you are in this phase of your learning journey the more you will learn.