How to learn a language by yourself
Now you’ve probably found this as you’re either trying to learn a language by yourself and having trouble or you’re about to start your language learning journey and you’re looking for tips on how to get started with a few easy wins.
Let’s just preface this with a bit of a disclaimer which you are probably already aware of, but useful nonetheless.
LEARNING A LANGUAGE IS DIFFICULT AND YOU SHOULD GET AS MUCH HELP AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN. DON’T GO IT ALONE!
What we’re saying here of course is don’t go it alone. It can be a surefire route to endless difficulties, becoming discouraged and eventual burnout and failure.
If you’re in the UK and looking to learn German you should seriously consider taking some private German lessons in London or online if you’re not in London to ensure you’re not going it alone.
Right, so we’ve got that out of the way and you’re aware you need to get outside help with your language learning, be that lessons, informal conversations with friends/relatives or some other kind of help so now we can move on to what you’re here for.
How to learn a language by yourself.
The key to successfully navigating yourself through the weeds of self-study in another language is to literally trick yourself into staying motivated. You can do this in a few ways.
We polled our language teachers on this and here are the results, in no particular order.
Use Duolingo (Recommended for all levels)
If you haven’t got this on your phone or device download it now!
It has its limitations in terms of how much progress you can make, but it does a fantastic job of gamifying the language learning experience.
This can often be the difference between working on your language or not. If you are going to attempt learning a language by yourself you are giving yourself a better chance using this.
Use Youtube (For higher-level learners)
Another fantastic free internet resource (probably the best for higher-level learners) is Youtube. The monster video search engine from google. As mentioned, this is perhaps best used as a tool for higher level learners.
For lower level learners there is still a lot of content on there. A search for “beginner German lessons” or your language of choice, will be a good place to get started. These lessons will be much more structured and not much different to working through a book yourself. The added bonus here is that you can search for the exact thing you are struggling with at that point. Be it vocabulary, a specific grammar point, or how to pronounce a certain sound – very popular.
For higher levels, type in some keywords on a topic you are interested in in your chosen language and you’ll get tens of thousands videos of varying lengths on a subject that interests you, in that language. Interested in global politics? There’ll be videos on there in the target language. Or perhaps video game longplays in your chosen language with commentary are more your thing, they’ll be on there as well.
Bonus tip: If you are a higher level learner (B1 intermediate or above), discovering subject-matter that you are interested in to read/listen to can help keep you motivated long after others have given up.
This doesn’t just apply to watching Youtube, use the internet as your own personal library. There are podcasts, blogs, videos, music, forums, social media groups, take your pick, there really is no excuse to get bored while learning a language ever again. It’s a secret weapon in the arsenal of a lot of successful language learners and polyglots.
Buy a self-study book (for lower-level learners)
You can absolutely learn a language up to a certain level by yourself if you are disciplined and are able to maintain your motivation through the hard times (of which there will be many).
Removing yourself from a screen and buying a physical book that is specifically designed for self-study can be an incredibly useful tool.
A search online for [your language] self-study textbook [+your level] will bring up some good ideas.
Remember, you need a book designed specifically for self-study. Just any old textbook won’t do. Often they are designed as a book to accompany a taught course or just a workbook. These can often be quite dry to go through alone. The key here is to maintain your motivation.
Use flashcards to skyrocket your vocabulary (Recommended for all levels)
A fantastic tip that comes up again and again when we give advice on language learning is using flashcards to learn and memorise vocabulary. It can be one of the fastest ways to learn a language.
There is an app called Anki which does this on your favourite electronic device, but we recommend using actual physical cards.
A search online for how to use flashcards for learning vocabulary is a must here. We’re not going to go into the steps here but suffice it to say this is probably the number 1 most recommended tip for learning a language that we have come across in over a decade of speaking to language experts and giving out language learning advice.
So to conclude then, although we don’t recommend embarking on your language learning journey alone, we understand that you’ve got to start somewhere and it’s often just not possible/feasible to get outside help in the moment. If you’re taking the step to learn a language alone you need to use all the above tips and strategies as well as anything else you can think of to keep your motivation up.
It really all boils down to your personal motivation at the end of the day.
99% will fail.
Be the 1%.
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Founder of the UK Language Project and avid language learner.
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