Language Learning Tips and Advice




Language learning tips and advice can really be summed up with one simple word - practice! What kind of study materials you use is not quite as important as how or how often you use them. If I may paraphrase Barry Farber in his book 'How To Learn Any Language' - "if you master every word, every phrase, every pronunciation, and every grammatical point contained in even the simplest language learning method, you can consider yourself advanced." What he means is simply master every bit of whatever language method or tool you are using or studying. Your determination and perseverance will go very far indeed. Which brings us to the two most important language learning tips.

Choose a language learning method that is right for you. The method you use is going to be the core of your study, so make sure you are getting a language learning method that suits your learning style. I can't emphasize enough that the method must have an audio component, even one or two cassettes or cd's, but the more the better. Check the Language Learning Methods page for a more in-depth look at available methods for learning languages. You can choose a method and also supplement it with other learning tools or even another method if you like - the more sources you have to learn from the better. Keep in mind what tools might be complementary to your method as you look over the language learning tips on this page.

Daily contact. You must work at your new language every day, even for 5 or 10 minutes. Ideally, you should study an hour or more every day, but this is just not practical for most people. If you can get at least a half-hour of study time once or twice a week, that's pretty good too. But here is the key - make sure you get a little review and study time every single day, even if it is for just 5 or 10 minutes. There are a number of language learning tips and tools below that you can use that will maximize your time and squeeze out a few more minutes of language study every day. This way your mind will not lose the thread of your ongoing study, and in time your ability to learn new words and concepts will accelerate. Not using your new language is the best way to waste your time and lose the thread.

If you have a decent language learning method and you work at it every day, you will have a good basic knowledge of your target language in a reasonable amount of time. Your knowledge and ability will increase and improve depending upon what other tools you use and what kind of experiences you have using your new language.


Going beyond the method


Here are some other language learning tips and tools that can help you learn your target language. Some are common sense, others have been learned through trial and error by myself and other language learners, some come from Barry Farber's book and other books on learning languages. Not all of them may be perfect for you, but I do recommend that you try many different approaches, you may find that something works very well for you that you did not expect.

(If you'd like to see some additional language learning tips from other visitors to this site, or even add your own language tips, then click here!)

You will find that many of the learning tools and language learning tips reinforce and complement your core language learning method and each other, and the synergies that kick in can be very rewarding!


Language Learning Tools


Grammar Book . A good old-fashioned grammar book may be boring but they are a great way to really iron out the details of the language. My favorite grammar-style books are the old Teach Yourself series. Not the new immersion-style version with cd's or cassettes (which are a pretty good and inexpensive language method by themselves), but the old blue and yellow versions printed in the 1950's and 60's in Britain. Wonderful, grammar-heavy little books with lessons and lots of little exercises. I get them in used book stores for $4 or $5, or online at ABE Book Exchange.

Phrase Book. Small but useful little books. They usually have a pronunciation guide and short dictionary, but they are loaded with lots of the most useful phrases and idioms. Always a nice supplement to your chosen language learning method and they are convenient and cheap. Farber recommends the Berlitz series, and the few that I have have been helpful.

Dictionary. Absolutely necesary in the long run. A good method will give you the basics and only the most common or useful words. You must have a dictionary if you wish to expand your vocabulary, and you will need one in order to take full advantage of many of the language learning tips and tools on this page. Make sure you get one that goes both ways like English to Spanish AND Spanish to English, for example. Also, try to get one that has a lot of idioms, those quirky little phrases that don't translate well but are so common and useful in every language. As an example in English - 'to give the cold shoulder' or 'it's a piece of cake!'

Flashcards. This is a great idea that I never tried until I read Barry Farber's book. It's a simple language learning tip, but a very effective way to review, refresh your memory and expand your vocabulary. You can buy flashcard decks or you can make your own. I cut business-card sized cards out of heavy cardboard-stock printer paper. I then put five or six words or phrases on a card and its' English equivalent on the other side. I keep them with me at all times, in my pocket or in my car, and look at them for a quick review or language lesson at every opportunity. I get great mileage out of them, they are very convenient.

Audio Cassettes/CD's. Your language method ought to have an audio component. You can use them away from your books as well, just listening to audio to test yourself or work on your accent while you are on your morning jog or in your car. In addition, you can go ahead and get some audio-only products or drills to work with to supplement your method. The more sources you have to learn from, the better.

Newspapers/Magazines. This is an inexpensive way to get into real life vocabulary. This is not the classroom vocabulary of your grammar or language method textbook, this is the real deal, what the natives are using on a daily basis. Many large cities have newsstands that carry foreign language papers and magazines, and some large bookstores, like Barnes and Noble. And don't forget the internet - there are lots of newspapers and magazines that publish websites.

Books (in your target language!). Books in your target language might be hard to come by. I've found Spanish sections in larger bookstores here in the US (where I bought JRR Tolkiens The Hobbit and Cervantes Don Quixote!), but your best bet is probably the internet. Barnes and Noble, Amazon, ABE Books (where you can get used and out of print books), or even eBay, where you might be able to get a bunch in one shot cheap!

Dual-Language Books. Dual language books are convenient because they have the one language on one page and the translation of the same text on the facing page. This makes it unnecesary to constantly look up words you are unsure about in a dictionary. I have a few dual language books published by Dover and Bantam. Look for classic literature in dual language editions.

Tape Recorder/Mini Disc. Here is a fairly crazy language learning tip that comes from Barry Farber. When you have some understanding of your target language and your pronunciation is ok, actually record yourself reciting vocabulary and phrases you are learning. It is an audio flashcard. Then, when you are away from your books and other materials, play back the recording and review. It's like having an audio drill of exactly the material you need to study now. It's also a great way to analyze and perfect your pronunciation and accent. You can also record one half of a scripted conversation, and on the playback you play the role of the other half and have a practice conversation with yourself!


Language Learning Tips


Talk to yourself. It may be obvious, but the best way to get better at a language is to speak it! Even if there is no one around to speak to, talk to yourself. Name things as you pass them in your house - chair, television, cat. Name things as you pass them in the car - automobile, tree, school. Read license plates aloud, translate street names etc. Learn basic phrases like - 'it is cold today' or 'it is sunny today' and use whichever is appropriate when you first look out the window. This simple language learning tip will help this everyday vocabulary sink in and become second nature.

Talk to friends. This is going a step further than talking to yourself. Even if they don't speak the language, talk to the people you know in your new language. Warn them in advance that you are practicing your new knowledge and they'll know what's coming. Even a simple 'good morning' or 'see you later' in your new language will make those phrases more natural to you. Your friends may even start to pick up a few phrases as well!

Listen to music. Listen to music in your new language. You'll hear the language used in a real context and this will help you pick out the rhythm and pronunciation even better. You will also come to further understand and better appreciate the culture behind the language. Music in some languages might be easier to find than others, but Amazon.com or eBay and many other global websites will enable you to find music in many different languages.

Penpals. This language learning tip is a great way to begin using your new language. You'll be forced to move away from canned phrases and start using the language creatively, without the pressure of coming up with an instant response. It's a conversation at a pace you're comfortable with. You can use the old written (snail-mail) penpal method or the much quicker and easier e-mail method. Many sites devoted to your target language may have a penpal feature or you can find language penpals for any languages at Language Penpal Resources

Internet Radio. Another great and simple way to hear your new language in real-life use. There are internet radio stations for every major language and most minor ones as well. Just search internet radio and put in your target language and you'll be amazed at how many stations there are, and all over the world!

Make Mistakes. The easiest language learning tip to try! Go ahead and speak and write and don't be afraid to make mistakes, because I guarantee you will! In fact, you will learn as much from your mistakes as you will from your triumphs. Many people study and learn a language but won't speak until they are comfortable or fluent. But how will you ever get to be fluent or even comfortable with a language without speaking to anyone? If fear of mistakes held us back , no one would ever open their mouths. How long have you been speaking English and you still make mistakes, don't you? So go ahead, blab away in your new language. The more you speak the better you will get and the sooner you will be comfortable and even fluent.

Language Club. When you are ready, try to find a language club in your area. Speaking with other people who have already gone through or are still going through the process of learning the language can be extremely helpful. They will give you lots of language learning tips and helpful advice. This will give you an opportunity to use the language in a supportive environment on a regular basis. Try searching in Yahoo Groups or go to Meetup.com for language groups!

Finding time to study. In our busy lives, finding enough time to study can be difficult. If you can get one good block of half-hour or hour of uninterrupted study time per week, you can supplement that time in lots of ways. Barry Farber's flashcard idea works really well. He recommends taking them with you and bang out a few words or cards every chance you get - in line at the bank, at the grocery store, waiting rooms etc. I spend a lot of time in the car and traffic lights never looked so good! If you have an audio component to your learning method (and if not you should add to it with another all-audio method), you can add more study time in the car. Try adding in some of the other language learning tips at these normally unproductive times. All these little bits and pieces create a synergy that will accelerate the learning process.

Talk to complete strangers. Put yourself in situations where you will have the opportunity to speak the language you're learning. I am currently learning Spanish and I live in the New York area. Obviously the opportunities to speak Spanish are all around me - I use it every day even if it is just a little 'buenos dias' to someone. But there are lots of possibilities for many languages. How about going to a restaurant? If you are learning Thai, find a Thai restaurant. Try to read the menu, try to order something or just say hello to the people who work there. You will probably find them to be very helpful and you may even make a few friends out of it!

Television. If possible, watch tv in your new language. In the US, we have lots of Spanish language local stations and even a couple of networks (Univision and Telemundo), but I have also seen news shows in a number of languages on public television and public access cable. Chinese, Russian, Polish, Korean, French and others. Look through your tv or cable guide.

Audiobooks (in your new language). Listening to audiobooks in your language might also be a great way to help pick up the rhythm of it. And you can use this language learning tip at those normally non-productive times like driving, or housecleaning. If you can get a written copy of the book, that might help you as well. You can review what you've heard and it may help you pick out a few more words and details.

Memory Techniques. This is another of Barry Farber's language learning tips. Try using memory techniques to help memorize words and phrases. It can help speed up the time needed to learn. Look for memory training tutorials and language tips at the Memory Page.

Movies. Try to watch movies in your new language. Much like listening to music, watching tv and a few other language learning tips, movies will give you a real-life context to test your knowledge of the new language. You'll get a good idea of where you are in your study and what else you need to work on. Try renting foreign films from Blockbuster Video or you might even find some on cable.

More than one new language. Many people mistakenly believe that they can't learn two or three more languages and that is simply not true. You can't 'fill up' your head. In fact, once you start studying a new language, you will be learning and sharpening a whole new set of skills and abilities. In effect you are learning to learn languages. There is no reason why you must stop at just one new language. The only constraints are time, money and your desire. If you want to learn a third or fourth language, then do it because you can.

Language Families. Don't forget that many languages are related to each other. If you already have some experience with a language, then you already have a head start learning another related language. Much of the grammar and vocabulary may be very similar. For instance, if you know some Spanish and you want to learn Italian, you will have a much easier time of it than if you didn't know any Spanish at all, because these two languages are closely related. And don't worry that you will constantly confuse the two languages. There may be some at first, but keep practicing and you will find that each language has a different 'feel', and you will confuse them less and less.

Lifetime commitment. Keep in mind that learning a new language is really a lifetime commitment. You will never really know a language. Even if you have a several thousand word vocabulary and can comfortably converse, read a newspaper or book, or watch a movie and understand everything, there will always be new words to learn, new phrases and idioms to pick up and new dialects to explore. Use some of the language learning tips and ideas on this page. You may find some of them very useful, and they will help keep you using your new language every day, long after your first language learning method has been completed and mastered.

Teach someone what you have learned. Maybe you have a friend or co-worker who has an interest in the language you are learning, but won't take up full time study on their own. Share with them phrases and words you have learned. Teach them little bits and pieces of the language. Teaching others is a great way to solidify concepts in your own mind, increase your confidence with the language and may even give you a new speaking partner. Also, try sharing new words, phrases and ideas with pen pals.

Reader. Another of Barry Farber's language learning tips. A reader is a book usually for young people learning a language. The advantage of these for anyone learning, including adults, is that the grammar is simplified, the vocabulary and idioms are more basic. You don't have to worry about advanced subject matter or complex grammar. They are usually for learners at an intermediate level of study. A very effective language learning tool, if you can deal with the childrens subject matter.




More Language Learning Tips



The Language Learning Tips Page is here for self-study language learners who want to go beyond the off-the-shelf language learning methods. Our goal is the most complete and satisfying language learning experience, and we are not content with just a single source to learn from.

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"Little by little, one travels far"

- JRR Tolkien