Helping yourself to learn a language

Before launching into an ‘only teacher knows best’ tirade, which would sound incredibly biased as I am a language teacher myself, I would like to open with the statement that self-study is an essential part of learning a language. What happens in your classroom or with your private tutor is a good start, but anyone who tells you that this is all you have to do to learn a language is telling you a lie. Sorry about that.

Self-studyClasses are a great experience, yes, but like any new skill you want to learn, it is best to approach learning from many angles. There is no point having one lesson a week and then doing nothing at all, or, even more sinful, leaving that homework you promised yourself you would do until the night – or hour – before your next lesson. You are wasting your time and money, and yes. Us teachers can tell.

Having gone down the self-learning route myself, I’ve come across some resources I’d love to share with you.

Take for example things like Livemocha. A good all-round resource that is set up to partner you up with other language learners through language exchange, short online lessons, and lots of forums. It’s interactive, there’s always something new, and it’s free. What’s not to love?

If you don’t want to concentrate specifically on language learning and are looking for more of a language exchange/international vibe, Interpals could be the place for you. This site is a bit like a mix between Facebook and InterNations, so treat it with the same joy or disdain you do either of them. There are amazing connections to be made out there but then again there are also many to sever. Choose your friends wisely and never be afraid to use the block button with flair.

Not sure you’re ready for full-on instant message conversations just yet? Something like might be what you need. While both text and voice chat options are available, what I really like about this is the penpals who are happy to write either by email or even by traditional snail mail. Gifts in the post. Need I say more?

Another tool that is well worth trying is EuroTalk’s interactive series, Talk Now. This is a really easy way to pick up a good vocabulary base and I like the exposure to a lot of different accents. Yes, it is ‘staged’ because it’s a course, but if you’re concerned about who you’re speaking to out there or want to get confident first so that you can tell those with ulterior motives to ‘go away’ with perfect pronunciation, it really is a good investment.

As far as mobile apps go, I like Memrise for its simplicity. It’s sort of a drip-feed method of learning: you learn a series of words and there are ‘helpful’ memes sent in by users – I say ‘helpful’ because some really are helpful, some are hilarious so they just make you giggle, and some make you question the human race.

uTalk - Learn a LanguageFinally, there’s uTalk. This is a great time killer. All those moments sat waiting for the metro or in my case, waiting for students to finish their meetings when our lessons are due to start, can now be filled with quick and easy games to help you learn your desired language. Put down the Candy Crush, step away from the Jurassic Park Builder and pick up some new words!

Now, all these resources are tailored specifically towards learning a language. But there are other, more natural ways of learning.

Watching films in your target language but with English subtitles is an excellent way to learn, as is listening to real local radio – TuneIn is fantastic for this as it lets you search by locations the world over.

Find out about typical newspapers. In my case I used Helsingin Sanomat and found this from a quick Wiki search for ‘popular newspapers in Finland’. There will likely be an online version of your chosen paper and if you get stuck with translating you can either translate the entire page depending on your browser choice, or copy and paste the article directly into Google Translate.

Translate Eurovision entries, listen to commentary of your favourite sport in another tongue, embrace the possibility that there are songs out there in other languages that you will love – then translate and learn them by heart.

Changing the language of your social media and phone will also help, but that is for the brave and sure. Do this only if you’re confident you know enough of the language to avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Last of all, if you get the opportunity to speak, speak. If you overhear someone talking in the language you are learning, don’t be afraid to go over and say hello. Yes, perhaps you’ll startle them. But in my experience, it is just shock that a native English speaker has taken the time to bother to learn their language at all. Their first question to you will probably be ‘why are you learning…..?’

There are a million ways to learn. Try some 🙂



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