The best language learning methods
There are many methods and approaches you can use to learn a language. Some of which have been backed up by scientists. But which of these are the most effective?
Before having a look at the methods let’s just break things down into 2 categories. External methods and internal methods.
- External methods: Learning methods that require others to participate with you in your learning.
- Internal methods: Learning methods that you can undertake by yourself.
The most effective external methods
#1 Total immersion
Imagine if you could be helicoptered into the centre of a town in a country that speaks the language you wanted to learn, nobody spoke your language, and you needed to get yourself sorted with accommodation and food.
Now that’s total immersion. You’d have no choice but to at least attempt rudimentary conversations.
This is by far the most effective way of learning any language. When it is an absolute necessity and you are forced to learn and use the target language.
Our example here is pretty extreme. But you can take advantage of this by visiting a country where your chosen language is spoken and going off the beaten track to places where English or your language isn’t as widely spoken and you need some local language skills to get by.
You can even make use of this by insisting to friends and colleagues who speak your target language that you only speak in that language with them. This can create a kind of ‘total immersion light’, where you get the benefits of total immersion for a short time.
#2 Taught lessons
Another incredibly effective method of learning a language is to attend classes, either private classes or group classes. These will be lead by a teacher who will have prepared a course based on your level and will generally follow a syllabus.
If you’re in the UK and learning German for example, our teachers can deliver private German lessons in London and other cities.
Lessons are a solid, time-tested method for learning a language and improving your skills. Not all teachers are equal and not all courses are the same. So it is very important to look around to see what’s available and get clear with yourself as to what kind of lessons would best suit you given your budget, time available and learning preferences.
#3 A mix of immersion and taught lessons
Some kind of balance between these 2 methods will work wonders for your language skills. It’s up to you to decide how and how much time/money you are prepared to invest to get to where you want to be.
The most effective internal methods
Although these methods will have a significant positive impact on your language skills you will need to remember to have some kind of outlet for all this learning.
Without regular practice and use of the language you may find it hard to maintain your motivation and to really feel like you’re making any progress.
These methods should always be used in conjunction with the external methods mentioned earlier.
#1 Listening and reading
This can be done alone. You really have no excuse. An internet connection will provide you with all the reading and listening material you could ever need.
If you’re not a fan of sitting at your computer screen / electronic device for hours on end reading, then print off sections of material to read at your own leisure.
Bonus tip: take a highlighter pen or pencil and make notes on what you’re reading to aid learning.
Listening is similar. Podcasts and internet radio are a fantastic way to practice your listening skills. Again, the internet is a gold mine of potential material. The advantage of these is that you can pick and choose things to listen to and read that interest you.
No longer do you have to just make do with dry reading material from a text book.
Speakers of your chosen language are writing and speaking about the topics that most resonate with you.
You just have to go out there and find them.
There really is no substitute for a bit of self-study every now and then.
How you go about it is up to you. But if you are looking for some advice there are really two ways to go about it.
The ‘Just in time’ method
This is excellent for learners at intermediate level and above, though learners at any level can make use of this method.
Let’s say that through your practice and previous learning you’ve figured out that you are particularly weak at the past tense in German. It just isn’t clicking. At that moment you dive online and spend a couple of hours doing an online lesson on youtube on the past tense and completing some exercises to test your knowledge.
This is an incredibly powerful way to improve quickly, as you are making very effective use of your time, only learning what you need to learn, when you need to learn it.
Again, another secret used by polyglots and successful language learners everywhere.
The textbook method
This is a perfectly solid method as well, though a little more structured and perhaps inflexible for some. Perfect for beginners and lower levels.
If you buy yourself a self-study text book and just spend time each day going through the chapters you can bring your learning on fairly quickly. Choose a book that is specifically designed for self study though, as it will need to be written in such a way as to keep it engaging without a teacher to deliver the subject matter.
There is a big difference between at textbook designed for classroom teaching and a self-study textbook. Do your research beforehand.
Hopefully this has helped tease out some of the most important methods of learning a language for you to try. Good luck, don’t rush things and most importantly, never give up and you’ll get there.
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Founder of the UK Language Project and avid language learner.
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