You might not believe it but you can learn a language by yourself. In fact, there are a lot of language learning myths out there that feed into the idea that it is hard to learn a language by yourself. Well, it’s not.
People do it all the time and have done so throughout history. Moreover, it is easier to do it today than at any other time in history because of the magic of the internet.
The best way to learn a language by yourself
- Focus on communicating by learning what you need to know
- Avoid grammar and start speaking right away
- Say what you can say with the words you know
- Practice daily but space out the practice
- Think about the words you’re learning visually.
These five things make up the 5-part language learning formula that I use when learning a new language.
Language is for communicating
When you switch your focus from learning a language to communicating in the language, what you learn and how you learn it changes. It means:
- Learning the right vocabulary
- Eliminating grammar
- Understanding word order
The point of language is to communicate and communication comes by knowing the right words.
Choose words and phrases you use daily in your native language. Right now start to be more aware of the words you use throughout your day. You will be surprised how often you say the same or similar things.
Make a list of the things you say repeatedly. Learn those words and phrases because the way you speak won’t change, only how you communicate them will.
When you start to make a list of words and phrases notice the different ways you say the same thing.
Do you say:
- I want a coffee
- I’ll have a coffee
- I’ll take a coffee
- I would like a coffee
They all say the same thing, but you don’t need to learn all the ways to say it. One will do. The point being is you need to learn only one of these phrases when you begin your language journey.
Also, begin to think about words and phrases that are launching points. For example, knowing “I want” covers a lot of ground.
Once you know this phrase you can fill in the blank easily, “I want _____”, by
- Learning the words for your favorite foods and drinks
- Knowing how to say ‘this’ or ‘that’
- Translating just a single word.
Then add “to go” to your list and again fill in the blank, “I want to go _____”.
Again learn the words that fit your needs:
Many times when I begin to learn a new language, I start with the same 11 words and phrases. It helps me get to where I want to go and helps me feel a little more comfortable in the country I’m visiting.
Skip the grammar
You don’t need much grammar in order to communicate. “You go cafe now?” works just as well as, “Are you going to the cafe now or later?”
There really is no need for the complexities of the helping verb, -ing ending, preposition, and article – especially when you are first starting out.
I promise if you say ‘la’ instead of ‘le’ in French you will be understood. You might get a disapproving look, however.
A needed part of grammar
One part of grammar that can be critical is word order.
Just as word order can change the meaning in English, it can change meaning it in other languages too.
“I live in a house red” is understandable but if you are going to the beach and your friend is going to the club, “I come with you” is very different than, “You come with me.”
Start speaking on day one
Language is like a sport.
You can learn as much as you want from a book or a class but if you want to get good you have to play. Apps and programs are great but most language learning apps fail because they don’t provide enough opportunity to speak.
If you are learning communication words and not grammar then speaking is possible from the first day. You might not be speaking correctly but you will be understood.
Get on an app like HelloTalk and spend 2 minutes speaking to a native speaker. It will get you over the fear of speaking, you will improve rapidly, and you will start to pick up the grammar.
Here’s how it works. If the foreign speaker asks “where you work?” you, of course, understand what they mean even though the grammar is incorrect. After you answer their question you would ask “Where do you work?” Now the foreign speaker has heard and knows to use ‘do’ to form a question. When the foreign speaker hears this often enough he or she start to use it. And the same principle works for you learning a new langue.
Practice, practice, practice
You need daily contact with the language. Set a time to practice every day and don’t skip it. If you do skip it, find time later.
You will remember more if you study for small amounts of time throughout the day rather than a long time only once.
I love this because I can look at my words for the day while I’m brushing my teeth.
Review them after I shower and I’m combing my hair.
Review again at the stoplight, again while I’m waiting for something to download, you get the idea. Ten 1-minute reviews like this are far more effective than one 30 minute session.
There is no substitute for time
It takes time to learn a language.
Staying motivated over time is the key to success. If you are learning words for communication and making progress speaking you will be far more motivated than leaning grammar and getting bogged down on whether to use La or Le.
If you are learning the right words the time needed to hold a conversation will be less and you will be motivated by the progress.
If you are speaking with a native speaker and he or she understands you more and more each time you speak together and you understand them more and more each time, you will want to keep going.
Yes, you can teach yourself another language. More than half of the world’s people speak two or more languages. In fact, our brains benefit when we learn a language. Just choose the right program that follows these steps and you will be speaking tomorrow.