How to Learn a Language
Interested in learning a new language, or multiple languages? If so, you’ve come to the right place! I hope this article will be useful to you whether your goal is to learn one or several languages, and whether you’re new to language learning or have dabbled in it before. Maybe you have a resolution to learn one or more languages for the New Year. Or you just felt inspired some other time of year. Either way, you’ll find tips to make the most of your language learning experience right here. Congratulations for embarking on your exciting language-learning journey! So, without further adieu, how to learn a language! (Some links are affiliate links I may earn a commission from at no cost to you. 100% will be used to support this site.)
The VARK Model
Your first objective should be to figure out what type of learner you are. This will help you determine what approach to study is best suited for you. That way, you can learn more efficiently and get more enjoyment out of the process. Perhaps the best model for determining your learning style is the VARK model. This model was developed by Neil Fleming. There are four learning types in VARK’s model: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Fleming also indicated something called “multimodality” may be present. That’s when a person could have a mixture of these methods as their preference. You can take the VARK questionnaire here to help you determine your learning style or styles! Remember, you may not want to learn exclusively through one method, but instead prioritize. Variety is good!
Visual learners are the first type. They prefer visual stimulation and graphic depictions. This includes not only photo and video, but graphs and charts. I’m mostly a visual learner. I have a short attention span, and find it easier to maintain my attention while watching or looking at rich visual content. Sound familiar? Visual learners also tend to enjoy keeping eye-candy rich notebooks for their notes and writing practice. If that’s you, you may want to invest in some colorful pens and markers and go to town in your notebook!
Visual Learner Study Tools
Fluenz is an excellent program for visual learners. It’s loaded with visually appealing interactive activities and spectacular photography specific to countries in which your target language is spoken. There’s also a video tutorial with an instructor in each lesson. Visual learners will also really love FluentU, chock full of videos to watch with accompanying quizzes and activities to help reinforce the content. I also recommend Innovative Language, which has plenty of video-based content. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention language learning videos on YouTube!
Auditory learners learn most effectively through sound, both listening and speaking. For some, the material is best picked up and reinforced through audio means. This complements language learning very well, since listening and speaking are high priorities for the majority of language learners. And as a hands-free learning method, it’s easy to multitask and fit these study sessions into your busy schedule!
Auditory Learner Study Tools
There’s many good tools for auditory learners. ITalki is a great way to learn through listening and speaking, while working with your own personal tutor selected by you. A lot of people swear by Pimsleur, where you’ll learn practical conversation through listening and repeating what you hear. Innovative Language has a vast library of audio podcasts as well as videos. And finally, international podcasts are great to listen to on your commute, or while your jogging, walking, or doing chores!
Next there’s reading/writing learners. They learn best through the written word, whether they’re reading it or writing it. These folks will especially appreciate the beauty of some writing systems. They may have a particular interest in languages that use different writing systems than their home country. And they’re likely to enjoy reading a good book. They’re also the most likely group to enjoy taking copious notes.
Reading-Writing Study Tools
There’s lots of great resources for reading/writing learners. Textbooks, especially those that come with workbooks, are especially good. Look for one that has an audio component available either on disc or online so you can hear correct pronunciation. Reading foreign language books or magazines can be fun, and as a bonus gives you some cultural immersion. You could browse foreign language websites and participate in foreign language chat rooms for great reading and writing experience! You’ll need to set up your computer to have access to a foreign language keyboard. You can use Gboard for Android or Apple, or go into your computer settings to add a language. Linq is completely focused on digesting written content. I also really like LinguaLift, which is text-heavy but fun and engaging!
Finally, there’s kinesthetic learners. These people enjoy learning through hands-on experiences. Examples of this include a classroom environment with activities where you interact with classmates, and immersion techniques where you envelop yourself in the culture, or dive in head first in the foreign country! Kinesthetic learners enjoy figuring things out on their own rather than having everything explained. And they benefit most from stimulating all of their senses. This can be accomplished by using a wide variety of tools.
Kinesthetic Learner Tools
Kinesthetic learners have many study tool options. ITalki is great, because of the personal interaction and unlimited options your tutor has for instruction. Classroom instruction will allow you to engage in activities with classmates. Immersion techniques, like visiting the country, will stimulate all your senses and fully engage you. Textbooks with online lessons will give you a variety of different interactive activities to complete. But I think the best approach for Kinesthetic learners is the use of multiple tools.
The next consideration is what language or languages you want to learn, and why? This may be an extremely tough, or an extremely easy decision for you depending on your motives. So know “why” you want to learn a language first. When you have a “why” to bear in mind, you’ll be more motivated to keep up with your language learning schedule, and it will feel more rewarding for you. Maybe it will help you choose your language, if your reason is something like a plan to move to a country, or having a significant other that speaks a particular foreign language. On the other hand, it may be extremely difficult to decide. Like if you enjoy language learning in general or are interested in a variety of foreign cultures. I feel your pain! But I have some things to think about to help you decide.
Factors to Consider
The possibilities seem endless, triggering the “paradox of choice” effect. This happens when you have so many choices you experience decision paralysis. Some of the factors I recommend considering include:
Difficulty – how challenging is the language? Does it have a different writing system from your own? Is it a member of the same language family as your native language? You may want an easier language, or you may want more of a challenge. Either way, there’s sure to be a language or languages that are right for you!
Cultural interest – is there a particular foreign culture or cultures you’re particularly interested in? Do you love K-Pop music, Japanese video games, Swedish films, Brazilian soccer, or Italian food? Enhance your experience with language! Like to visit a particular country a lot? Bonus!
Practicality – Do you have time for this language, based on difficulty level? Be honest with yourself. If you think you only have 15 minutes per day, it would be very difficult to learn 4 languages, and you may want to stay away from one like Japanese that has multiple writing systems. Do yourself a favor, if you can, and have time for each language every week. Otherwise you’ll get rusty and have to waste time re-learning material you’ve already covered.
Resources- Are a lot of learning resources available for your language? If you’re learning something like Spanish, French, or Chinese, you’ll have an abundance of choice. But if you want to learn something like Georgian, Pashto, or Icelandic, finding a good supply of learning tools will be more challenging. This doesn’t mean you should rule out less common languages. In fact, sometimes these can be the most rewarding to learn. But make an informed decision based on what tools are available.
Scheduling Your Study Sessions
The next step will be to consider your schedule and when you will learn. Different schedules will be suited to different people. I suggest that you learn your language, or each of your languages, at least twice per week so you don’t lose progress. If you’re learning multiple languages simultaneously, you may choose to learn a little of each every study day, or dedicate specific days of the week to specific languages. Take a look at your schedule and your other responsibilities and see what days and times best work for you.
Time Management Apps
I find time management resources extremely useful when it comes to language learning. Some of my favorites are Google Calendar, Notion, and ClickUp. Notion is awesome for keeping most of your language learning tools, with the exception of textbooks, at your fingertips. It’s a great place to keep links to your favorite online applications and websites, notes, your study calendar, your study log, and so much more. I’m planning a post dedicated to using Notion for language learning, so stay tuned if you want to hear more about that! ClickUp is another favorite of mine for keeping up with everything in my busy life, including language learning. It’s so visually appealing I actually look forward to something as tedious as planning my schedule!
Language Learning Resources
Next on the agenda is choosing your language learning resources. With so many choices, depending on what language or languages you’re learning, this can be another daunting decision. I think the best guide to help you in your decision is your VARK learning style, as discussed earlier. Other considerations include your budget, how others have reviewed the product, and whether you have access to the resource. There’s classes, books, online apps, mobile apps, audio programs, and more. There’s a seemingly endless supply of resources out there, depending on the language or languages you’re trying to learn. I recommend doing your research and learning a little about each program to see what might best suit your needs. I’ve got a language learning playlist on my YouTube channel with language learning program reviews, and I plan to add many more in the future!
Whom Will You Study With?
The next question you’ll need to address is whom you’ll study with. Social learners prefer to study with others. iTalki, classroom instruction, and immersion techniques, like talking to native speakers, are good for them. Solitary learners prefer to study alone, and will appreciate programs and textbooks that give them the peace and solitude that helps them focus and thrive.
So what are your long and short term goals? So what’s the best way to look at goals? They should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. If they aren’t all of these things, you may be setting yourself up for failure. If your goals are too vague, it’s an invitation to cop out, give up, or change your intention. If the goals are not measurable, you won’t be able to guage whether you succeeded or not. If your goals are not achievable, you’re self-determining failure before you even get started. If they’re not realistic, you won’t have the tools you need to succeed – whether that means learning resources or time. And if they’re not timely, there’s no incentive to keep up with your studies, because you have no deadlines.
Finally, consider how you’ll incorporate FUN into your studies! This will help keep you motivated and inspired to learn. There are many resources online to watch foreign tv shows, movies, and music concerts and videos. Viki.com has dramas from Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. Arte.tv has shows in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Polish. Sling International offers nearly 20 languages. And the Language Learning with Netflix chrome extension has a nearly unlimited supply of languages to choose from! Of course, there’s also always YouTube. And language learning apps can be fun too, bringing us to the next point…
Make Use of Dead Time
Finally, consider how you can incorporate language learning into your “dead time.” The next time you’re in an ethnic restaurant, try chatting with the staff. Talk to Uber and taxi drivers in their native language. Download a flashcard app on your phone to practice with in the checkout line. Use audio resources while commuting and doing chores. For most of us, time is the biggest challenge to learning another language or other languages. Multi-tasking will help!
Language Apps: Great for Dead Time
Apps you can download for your smartphone or tablet are great on the go, or when you only have a few minutes for a quick session. My favorites are LingoDeer and Drops. The reward systems deployed in these apps can also be highly motivating, as well as their fun factor. But I would urge you to compliment your study plan with these apps rather than attempting to learn with them exclusively. They don’t tend to be as good at “covering all the bases” as online programs and textbooks, which have the added benefit of encouraging you to make at least some of your sessions last longer. Flash card apps like Anki are also great for utilizing dead time to help reinforce your vocabulary skills. If you’re on a tight budget, Duolingo gives you access to most of the app for free (ad supported.)
For more motivation, check out my language learning video playlist on YouTube! I also recommend my review article on iTalki here! Whatever your motivations for learning a new language, or multiple languages, it’s an admirable goal. Studies consistently show that language-learning is great for improving your memory and other cognitive skills and staving off Alzheimer’s later in life. And that’s on top of the travel and cultural benefits! Best of luck to you in this exciting endeavor. I hope you’ve found some useful advice on how to learn a language in this article!