Often, when language learners or aspiring language learners are looking for some advice on how to learn more effectively, they can be disappointed to find most language learning bloggers and vloggers to be repeating more or less the same tips over and over again. Practice every day, start speaking early, consume content in topics you’re interested in. Anyone who has done research on language learning has probably heard these and other tips over and over again.
Some have even come to the conclusion that reading about how to learn better is a waste of time, and it’s better to pick any method and just start learning. There is definitely a bit of truth to this statement. There is a point where one is spending more time reading about how to learn than actually learning. However, it’s still not quite correct to say that learners should just pick any method and learn. Yes, as long as you study every day, you will probably make progress no matter what your methods are. However, having good study habits can definitely provide a huge boost and can drastically reduce the time spent learning to reach a particular level. As long as one puts ideas into action, the time saved by learner better can absolutely make up for the time spent learning about how to learn.
Any long term language learner who makes an effort to improve will learn a lot from experience. Those who have been adjusting their methods for years can share countless tips they wish they knew when they first started learning. This article will focus specifically on advice that is not often mentioned by language learning bloggers and vloggers. Some of it might even sound a bit counterintuitive. This is not a comprehensive guide, and different people might find that different advice works for them. However, anyone who plans to be into language learning for the long term can definitely find some ideas to try out and see how they end up working for them.
1. Make it a surprise
One unconventional tip often given to language learners is to have a “waiting period” before starting to speak. This prevents learners from cementing their own mistakes, which can make it more difficult to reverse them later. Instead, the idea is to spend some time focusing more on taking in the language during the beginner and lower intermediate phases rather than producing speech. Some might counter that whatever mistakes a learner makes already exist in the mind and no one is “cementing” anything. However, this ignores that, for humans, memorization is a process that happens over time. When humans start saying something incorrectly and persist, they train their brains that that’s the “right” way to say it, and it becomes more difficult to reverse the idea once a word or phrase becomes ingrained in the active memory.
As an example, beginner learner of Russian might not realize the importance of lexical stress. This means that in Russian, the stressed syllable can vary among words, unlike some languages, like Polish, where the stress is fixed. English also has lexical stress, however, in Russian it seems that it has a higher importance. Beginners might not give lexical stress much thought, and it can be easy to cement a word in memory with the wrong stress if one starts using it constantly. More experienced learners who understand the importance of lexical stress can pick up patters and learn to memorize the stress by default, making it easier to memorize words correctly from the beginning.
This tip isn’t too uncommon, but it can be taken a step further. When you start learning a new language, don’t even tell too many people about it until you’ve already been learning for a few months. People can be demotivating by being dramatic about how difficult the language you’ve chosen is, they can put you on the spot and quiz you on various words and phrases. They might immediately try to talk to you and ruin your waiting period. Be selective on who you tell about your new endeavor in the beginner stages. And even once you do get to a higher level, be humble about your level. It’s much better to say that you’re a beginner and impress than to gloat too much and disappoint.
2. Don’t give up on beginner resources too quickly
Consuming native content early on isn’t actually a bad idea. It’s very good to develop an ear for the language even if you don’t understand a lot of what is being said. So, this isn’t a tip meant to contradict that. Rather, this is something that you should keep doing in addition to that. Using beginner courses, vocabulary lists, applications, and the like does not necessarily mean you are still a beginner. The vocabulary they teach does not fully overlap, and they can be good for improving speed in the language and keeping topics you don’t discuss often in your active vocabulary. They can be useful well into the intermediate level, even beyond. So, if you’ve finished Duolingo, absolutely start consuming more authentic content and reading more in depth about the grammar rules, but, also, don’t feel bad about trying out a second beginner course or going through some more basic vocabulary lists for anything you may have missed. Language learners will often make simple mistakes even after years of using the language. A lot of these can be easily fixed just by not having too much pride to review some beginner materials at least once in a while.
3. Read about something you normally wouldn’t
One of the most common language learning tips that constantly gets repeated by every blogger and Youtuber as if it’s something new is to read about topics you’re interested in. Essentially, whatever you do in your native language, do that in your target language as well. That’s good and all, learners should absolutely do this as part of their learning routines. It’s just that it’s kind of obvious, and, if you’re looking for language learning tips, you’re probably looking for something a bit less obvious. Think of all the vocabulary you use in daily life that isn’t related to any of your interests. If you want to reach an advanced level in a language, you’re going to need to know how to talk about car parts, plants, medical devices, all kinds of items that come up in daily life. So, read some articles that you wouldn’t normally read. Watch a documentary on something you don’t know a lot about. Expand your horizons. You might even end up finding some new interests. This tip mostly applies to people already at the intermediate stage who are trying to get past the plateau, however, it can be useful at the beginner stage as well. Some categories of beginner vocabulary might not seem particularly interesting, however, they need to be learned as well.
4. Watch movie recaps
Those movie recap channels that have become popular on YouTube are a somewhat controversial subject. Some say they ruin the movie experience and are just spam to generate money for the channel administrators. One fact that is certain, however, is that they are great for language learning, especially for helping with the previous tip. Less popular languages might not have any recap channels, but the top ten languages by amount of speakers should have them, at the very least. I used to use these channels all the time for Russian, which has a good selection. With movie recaps, you can “watch” a wide variety of movies in a short time span, covering a wide range of vocabulary, and even targeting certain genres depending on where you think your vocabulary needs strengthening. Opinions about whether they ruin movies or not aside, these channels really are great for building vocabulary in context. Maybe even better than actual movies, given how easy it is to target specific areas of vocabulary in a short amount of time.
5. Don’t worry about immersion
Immersion is good and you should take the opportunity when you get it. However, there is nothing particularly magical about being surrounded by the language compared to just using the language wherever you are at the moment. In fact, some people take the idea that immersion is the best method to such an extreme that it essentially becomes an excuse to not progress in the language unless they win an all expenses paid vacation to a country where their target language is spoken. People ask questions about how they can learn a language if they can’t afford to travel at the moment. The answer is, you learn the language the same way you would learn it when you can afford to travel. Immersion is not magic, it just means that people will be having background conversations in your target language and you’ll learn some extra vocabulary by looking at signs on the street and labels in the grocery store. Many people every year go abroad and come back without learning anything because, in the end, the key is actually learning and not just waiting until you’re in the right place at the right time. You can already listen to authentic conversations. You can already put sticky notes with the language around your house, like some language learning bloggers suggest, and pretend your kitchen is a grocery store in a country that speaks your target language. Of course, it probably won’t do much, because there is nothing special about learning vocabulary in this format compared to any other, but, if you feel compelled to be surrounded by the language, you can do this.
Immersion is not bad or useless, it’s just that it’s important to be confident in your ability to learn where you are. You don’t need to go anywhere, you don’t need to cover your house with sticky notes. Plenty of people learn perfectly fine without going anywhere, redecorating their apartments, or switching careers.