Learning a language on your own cannot be improvised. After writing an article on how to learn a foreign language quickly, I wanted to write an article more specifically on this question, since I learned Spanish, Portuguese and Russian on my own. In short, a kind of feedback listing the best techniques and tips that I have been able to use, and that I have not already included in my previous article mentioned above.
My 4 tips for learning a language on your own
1 / Self-taught does not mean alone
Learning a language on your own does not mean “staying alone in your corner”. Loneliness is the worst enemy of those who seek to learn a language quickly: bad bases, bad reflexes, errors of comprehension, error of method, big misinterpretation, bad accent taken… The list can be easily apocalyptic and, like me, you can realize that you are making big mistakes from the start of your apprenticeship.
This is the reason why I highly recommend to start learning a language by taking intensive courses – even very short ones – in any institute or, better, with a private teacher (see next paragraph).
Cultural institutes, your best friends for learning a language on your own
Otherwise, go to specialized institutions: the Swedish institute or the Swedish church in Paris are full of classified ads offering private lessons or other activities with the Swedish expatriate community in France. Not only is this a great way to find partners to practice the language you are learning, but it will also immerse you body and soul into the culture and life of a human community.
Here are some avenues to explore:
– Learn Russian: Russian Center for Science and Culture
– Learn Chinese: China Cultural Center
– Learn Italian: the Italian Cultural Institute of Paris
– Learn Portuguese: Franco-Brazilian Institute (better than the Portuguese center Camões because many more activities)
– Learn Swedish: Swedish Institute, my favorite from this list
2 / Take a private tutor from the start, even briefly
I insist on the interest of having a private tutor from the start of your learning – even before buying a language method, before even opening any dictionary, before downloading a language learning application, even free. I know that this approach is not at all natural, and can put off more than one: fear of not knowing what to say to his teacher, of wasting his time or wasting his time to the other, of rush into the deep end without even having taken swimming lessons …
However, if you tell your teacher upstream, he should, if he is good, be able to offer you a basic conversation going beyond “my name is thing, I’m blah, I’m a teacher”. For example, when I started to learn Russian, my teacher launched me directly into a discussion about international news. We spoke in French but, therefore, in this way, he inserted words of Russian (often transparent) and made me repeat them: politika (политика), russie (Россия), etc.
Price of a one-hour lesson with a private tutor: from € 7
Words that are easy to remember, on which I had to have perfect pronunciation when I reused them in the conversation. Little by little, I would make simple sentences comprising two or even three words of Russian. My duty, to prepare for our next session, was then to write, in French, using google trad, a very short text, which summarized our first discussion. And, during the second session, he corrected all the mistakes in this text.
I don’t know if you can easily find such a good teacher. But a course is not very expensive: you can find a Italian private tutor with Preply at € 7 per hour, for one-hour private lessons via Skype to learn Italian. For each of the teachers, you can see the number of students they follow (do not choose those who have too many! The idea is to have a little personalized lessons), their skill level, their availability … what leaves you a margin to test several, and / or to offer them to do a similar thing. By the way, I’m talking to you Italian because I’m thinking about my next travel destination and Italy tempts me a lot – I imagine a gastronomic roadtrip between the Amalfi Coast and Calabria and, as it seems to learn the Italian as an autodidact is quite easy and rather quick, the idea of combining the acquisition of a new language with the happiness of the belly pleases me.
3 / Read the press. Everyday !
… Even if you don’t understand it. Try to spot a word you recognize, then two, then three. Then try to read the shorter articles. Then one a day. Then two a day. And when you are able to read long articles without glancing at the dictionary, you will realize that you are on your own, and that your level of comprehension has become mainstream.
The goal? Establish a daily ritual with the language, fundamental element for the regularity and success of your learning. Losing sight of the language you are learning is often the first step towards killing your motivation.
4 / Take a notebook and write
It’s a technique that is rarely used, but works like a charm: keep a diary or blog. Learning a language on your own has a major drawback: the lack of practice, if you do not take courses in parallel or if you do not have (or no longer) a private tutor. By keeping a diary from the start of your learning, you will establish another ritual while manipulating the language in a very personal way.
It is this personal aspect which is the most important, and which will allow you to assimilate the words that you learn, in order to reformulate them in your head, and to reuse them. Bonus: certain vocabulary words will be associated with certain passages in your diary, or your blog, or even associated with a date, the context in which you wrote, etc.
Learn a language on your own by writing a blog
Obviously, this is not about writing a work of art: a diary may very well consist of only a sentence or two a day. And, yes, it can be things as mundane as: “today, I ate an apple” or “tomorrow, I have a swimming pool”. These are the phrases that you are likely to use in everyday life, if you are going to travel to the country whose language you are learning!
Finally, the advantage of starting a blog rather than keeping a diary in a notebook is the ability to bring potential conversation partners to you. The “private diary” aspect is obviously optional: you can choose to talk about politics, current affairs, a topic that interests you, cats, cooking, sport, whatever else.