Learning a language – our top 10 tips

We all know learning a language is a great idea, but sometimes it can be hard to get motivated or to find the right way to learn. Here are our top 10 tips to help you get started.

1. Tell everyone you know that you’re learning a language.

This way, when you’re tempted to give up or chicken out, you might think twice knowing they’re all expecting great things from you. I call this ‘the biscuit tin method’; if you tell everyone you’re giving up biscuits, you’re a lot less likely to cave, just in case you get caught with your hand in the tin. It worked for me – I haven’t had a biscuit in years. Well, not out of the tin, anyway.

2. Start with the basics.

We know you might be learning French for an important business meeting, but you may not get a chance to show off the fact that you know how to say ‘Sales in the retail sector are growing steadily’, if you’ve not yet learnt how to say ‘hello’.

3. Don’t be scared to talk to people.


You might get it wrong sometimes, but if you don’t try, you’ll never get it right, either. In the immortal words of Richard Branson, ‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and falling over.’ Learning on paper is all well and good, but talking to people and making mistakes is the best way to pick new things up. And you’re more likely to get it right next time, because you’ll remember the situation you were in as well as just the word or phrase.

(This works both ways, actually – if you know someone who’s learning your language and they say something incorrectly, let them know about it. Not in a mean way, but in a helpful, constructive way so they understand where they went wrong and can get it right next time. And you’ll probably find it helps you understand your own language better, too.)

4. Don’t worry too much about grammar to begin with.

Yes, it’s important, but if you’re making the effort to talk to someone in their own language, as long as you can make yourself understood, they probably won’t mind if you get your verb ending wrong. So get your basic vocab and some stock phrases down first, then you can start learning some basic grammar to help you create your own sentences and take your study of the language further.

5. Make yourself some flashcards.

Or use a computer program or mobile app. (We hear uTalk‘s quite good…) Introducing an element of competition can be a good motivator, so see if you can team up with someone else who’s learning the same language and test each other, or compare your online scores. If you don’t have time to sit down and make flashcards, you could try labelling things around your house or workspace, so you see them all the time and the vocabulary will start to sink in without you even realising.

6. Find someone to talk to.

If you’re learning for a trip, then this is easy; there’ll be loads of people to chat to when you get there. But if you’re just learning for fun, try and find someone to practise with. A lot of the world is so multicultural now that it’s possible to find a native speaker of just about any language living just down the road. But even if you can’t, there are loads of websites where you can find someone to Skype with, even if they live on the other side of the world. For instance, italki is free and lets you connect with language teachers and native speakers around the world. The best part is, you might make a new friend, which can only mean one thing – cheap holidays…

7. Read, watch and listen to anything you can find.

If you’re at home, this could be newspapers, books, movies, music or websites. Or if you’re travelling, look at signs, menus or product packaging. If there are words you don’t understand, make a note of them and look them up later, or ask someone. You’ll probably be surprised how much you can piece together on your own, and that’s a great confidence boost.

8. Go to the country.

Even if you’re just learning for fun, there’s no better way to learn a language than to immerse yourself in it. Plan a holiday – if nothing else it’ll give you something to look forward to and will motivate you to keep learning. Visiting a country also means that you’ll learn the ‘real’ way of saying things – you might have learnt the correct way but when you arrive, you’ll find nobody actually talks that way.

9. Don’t give up.

It’s not easy to learn a language, but we all have the ability. There really is no such thing as someone who’s bad at languages. So if you’re finding it difficult, hang in there; it’ll be worth it in the end. And keep practising, because you may find all that vocab you spent ages learning will drift away if you don’t. Which seems like a shame.

10. Enjoy it.

We all remember our school days, studying French verbs and monotonously repeating meaningless sentences about your cats on tables. But learning a language can open up a world full of opportunities, new friends and different ways of seeing the world around us. So why make it a chore? Be creative – everyone’s different so do whatever works for you. You could try singing, for example. Or blogging about your learning journey. Try different things and see what works. And then tell us about it – we’d love to hear from you 🙂

Good luck!

Liz (with contributions from Alex and Nat)

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