How to Learn a Language On Your Own
This post is a transcript of a video on my YouTube channel.
Studying English? Here’s the transcript as a lesson to study on LingQ.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re at a school or entirely on your own, to my mind, to be a successful language learner you have to be independent. It is you and the language.
I think the first part of learning languages on your own is to have that independent mindset. I’m going to learn this language, so that it’s my responsibility. All the things that happen during my journey to fluency are going to be dependent on me, the learner. I think that’s the first thing that’s very important, to be independent.
So this is going to affect the language learning materials that you search for their grammar rules that you look for explanations about whatever you do. It’s going to be dependent on you, the learner. And remember, I’ve mentioned this before the sort of three keys to language learning that I once heard from a professor at San Diego university in the States language learning success depends on three things:
- Your attitude
- The time you spend with the language
- Your ability to notice
Now, the ability to notice will develop on its own if you have the right attitude. And if you spend enough time, so enough of the theory, and I should say too, that the importance of being independent and responsible for your own actions, doesn’t just apply to learning languages. It applies to so many things in life. You have to take charge, whatever happens to you are things that may be beyond your control, what is within your control is how you react to these things. And so with language learning it can be lonely. It can be a bit frustrating, therefore, anything that makes it easier, obviously that’s a good thing. So I want to digress a little bit by mentioning how LingQ helps me be an independent language learner. One feature is the playlist or in my own case, I tend to go to listen to the course audio so that I always have the audio of whatever course I’m on with me.
I can be listening in the car on sort of Bluetooth through my car radio. I can be listening on my AirPods while I’m working out, while I’m doing the dishes. So it makes me sort of my own language lab with me all the time. I think that’s important. Okay. You may want to say, well now how do I get started? I know nothing. I know don’t know the language. I know nothing. Well, because you’re going to be an independent language learner, you have to make investments. So you are going to invest in books. At least I do. So I have not ever tried learning Dutch. We have Dutch at LingQ. One day I think I will tackle Dutch. And so I saw this book. Essential Dutch Grammar. It’s in the Dover, I believe, series. And these are excellent grammar books because they’re very small, very thin, no exercises, no drills, which I avoid, like the plague. I just want a brief overview initially of the language, which I can flip through. And then I need this as a reference from time to time I go back to it.
So that’s one investment. You can also invest in starter books, which also will give you a bit of an overview of language and some sort of, a bit of content. Second thing about language learning is the need to find content all the time. Major activity is looking for content. When I was a language student in Hong Kong, I spent a lot of time in the bookstores and in behind me here, lots of books, Chinese books, Chinese with glossaries after every chapter. But I was constantly looking for new material, even though I had material already, I would buy stuff that I think I’m going to need in the future because you can never get enough content. In terms of starter books. To me, it almost doesn’t matter which starter book you use. You can use several starter books.
One common theme as an independent language learner is it’s good to cover the same material in different books. It’s good to cover, sort of grazing, interleaving. Typically these starter books have you at the restaurant and the post office and stuff like that, do it in different books. And this is again, it’s true for studying anything. If you’re doing history, you’re better off to read three different books about the same period in history. In order to finally have the, sort of get an understanding and remember some of the key events and so forth, if you’ve covered them from different perspectives.
The same is true in language learning. Now I have a preference now for our mini stories, but I do believe that they’re typical of the kind of story that is a great way to get started as an independent learner. But if you’re learning Polish, you could use a Piotr’s material that realpolish.pl if you’re learning English, AJ Hoge is a wonderful source of these kinds of stories or content with. Different points of view, circling questions, lots of repetition. You’re listening to it over and over again. It becomes almost hypnotic. You’re listening to it. And slowly this material is washing over your brain and getting the brain used to the language. You’re not worried about writing exams.
You’re not worried about doing drills, answering questions. You’re just letting the language come in, listening and reading. Every so often if you’re curious about a point of grammar, you can look it up. You can Google a conjugation of a particular verb. If you’re on LingQ, you can, when you look up the word in the dictionary, we also have a conjugating dictionary.
So you can look at the conjugation and then forget it. Don’t try to ace anything or master anything, or remember anything, just keep letting the language wash over you. So as an independent learner, that’s sort of the initial period. Now, if you, if you are in a classroom environment, the learning still is done by you as an independent learner and what you do outside the classroom is at least as important as what you do inside the classroom, because inside the classroom, the teacher decides what you’re going to study. The teacher decides what they’re going to teach you. You may not be interested in what they’re teaching you, ready for that particular point of grammar.
As an independent learner, after the classroom, you go home and you’re curious about a certain tense or a certain declension you can look it up. So the attitude of an independent learner. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t in a formal class. It just means that you are determined. You have made the decision that you are going to learn this language.
So the initial period, I definitely recommend, repetitive listening to relatively simple stories with high frequency vocabulary. Now the next stage, and I’ve said this many times is to find material that is now interesting, authentic, but not too difficult. There is a shortage of that kind of material, but it does exist. And so here again, you’ve got to look on the internet search for the material. You can get on our forums, at LingQ and see what other people have recommended very often anything that’s of a conversational nature, podcasts, these kinds of things are going to be easier than more formal material like a book or something.
And even when you move towards authentic material like books, I have found, because I’m interested in history, non-fiction for example, history is easier than literature. I’m more familiar with the subject matter. The vocabulary used is sort of more relevant to things that are of interest to me than more literary language. But as an independent learner, you have to move from the sort of relatively easy call it sheltered, protected material with lots of repetition. You have to move from that to genuinely authentic material where you are going to be driven more by your interest in the subject matter than to learn the language after awhile.
You’re not saying I want to learn the language. I want to learn the language, which is how you’re motivated at the beginning. But rather I’m interested in what they’re talking about. And therefore I am learning the language because I am pursuing my interests. Now, learning a language can be a lonely activity. It can be all consuming. If you are spending an hour a day, it’s not too bad. If you’re spending two or three or four hours a day, you get consumed in this thing and it starts to take a space in your brain, which can lead sometimes to a sense of frustration. And so you, sometimes you have to take a break from it.
It also helps in my view to have some sort of very specific goals like here, again, at LingQ, we have goals in terms of number of, of LingQs created in other words, number of words, you have saved, number of words, you have learned, number of words, you have read. So that as you’re in this fog of trying to come to grips with this language and sometimes feeling as if you’re not making progress. If you can see that, actually I have read so many words. I have learned so many words, these very concrete goals or milestones can be motivating and help keep you moving when you’re in the doldrums. And make no mistake that there will be periods as an independent language learner where you’re doubting yourself, doubting your ability, feeling a sense of frustration, and you just have to persevere. You have to keep going through that. And that’s where obviously your original commitment as well as your interest in the subject matter. So it doesn’t matter if I’m improving because I’m enjoying what I’m doing, but also some of these specific concrete goals can help you.
Okay. I’m kind of, I’m fighting the language right now, but at least I. I saved a hundred words or I, I read so many words or these kinds of things that can kind of confirm to you that you actually are moving because make no mistake as long as you continue to spend time with the language, listening, reading, speaking, writing, and if you’re remain motivated and even if the motivation flags a little bit, the more time you spend with the language, the better you are getting the brain is absorbing all of this stimulus and forming patterns out of it. And sometimes you have the impression that you’re not making any progress and all of a sudden, surprisingly three months later, certain things come together for you. So to that extent, I think being in a classroom can be motivating. Because you’re with other people, you have a teacher, hopefully stimulating you, you have other people that you meet.
It’s a social, it’s a get together opportunity, a learning entirely on your own, for some people can be a bit of a lonely experience. Although I think it’s the more efficient way to learn is to do it on your own listening, reading, writing, and then getting online. If you’re not in a classroom, I mean, eventually you have to speak, but you can find people online. There’s italki. And or at LingQ we have tutors, so you can get on and talk to people. Because every so often you can’t just be listening and reading totally in your own little cocoon. You, you want to connect to people. You want to see what you can say, get some reaction from other people.
And so therefore I think it is important to connect with people online. In my own case, two or three times a week would be a lot. And then I get of course, the reports from my tutor, which I analyze and slowly I improve my accuracy in that language. So within the limits of this video here, I just wanted to touch on, on what I consider to be some of the highlights of learning a language on your own.
I have done other videos on a similar subject and I would offer these to you as further discussion of the same subject. I don’t remember quite what I said. There may be. I repeat myself, but one is called, become an independent learner. And the second one is called learn languages for your own reasons.
So I invite you to go and look at those two as well. Thank you for listening. Bye for now.