Learning a language on your own is not easy. But it is possible with the right strategy.
Over the past few years, we’ve heard from many of our student who have tried learning a language on their own. They’ve shared from their own experience what they wish they would’ve done differently.
Know how you best learn
This is the single biggest feedback we’ve gotten from people who’ve taken the solo learning path. It turns out that some people are designed to learn new things on their own, while some of us are the contrast.
For example, some of us learn best by listening, while others retain more information when reading something (check out the 7 major learning styles). You have to reflect on your previous experience to understand how you’ve best learnt new skills in the past.
Unfortunately, most of us have been forced to learn via a limited learning style because of the traditional education system we grew up with. In short, not everyone is designed to learn new skills on their own. And by being self-aware of your shortcomings upfront, you can save yourself a lot of time, stress, and hassle.
Know why you’re learning a language
If you have decided to learn a language on your own, the biggest obstacle for most people is persistency. In most cases, learning anything on your own will take much longer than getting professional help and guidance from someone who’s done it before.
This is why you need to have a strong inner purpose of why you’re learning a language. Maybe your family speaks another language, and you want to feel a deeper connection with them. Perhaps your spouse comes from a different culture, and you want to be able to communicate with his/her family.
Understanding why you’re learning a language is what’s going to inspire you to go through that lesson manual, attend those language exchanges, and to continue grinding it out when things inevitably gets tough.
If you’ve attended our free language masterclass, then you know we’ve discussed the cycles of the mastery curve. In case you missed it, the process of mastery is never a straight upward curve, no matter how talented you are. It’s a series of ups and downs, with many plateaus that come with it.
Have a firm end-goal in mind
Once you know why you’re learning a language, you must have a firm end-goal in mind. Otherwise, you don’t have a target that aligns with your purpose.
Is your end goal to reach conversation proficiency? Or perhaps you want to become a fluent speaker.
But that’s only the first step. We also have to know in what timeframe we want to achieve our goals. If you have an overseas trip coming up in July, you may want to aim to hit your goal by May or June. If you’re learning for fun, you can be a little more lenient, but you still want to have a specific deadline.
Why do we want to do this? Because of Parkinson’s Law, which states that the amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task. This means that often when we give ourselves 12 months to learn something, we’ll subconsciously spend 12 months learning it. Versus if we gave ourselves only 7 months, we’ll force ourselves to learn within that timeframe.
Now that we have our prerequisites, we’ll share our step-by-step process on how to learn a language on your own.
1. Find the right language tools
If you wanted to become a musician, you’ll need an instrument. If you wanted to get in better shape, you need weights and equipment. Learning a language is no different.
Language learners today have a plethora of tools and resources that we can leverage to learn faster. From mobile apps to podcasts, your options are limitless.
Check out our list of recommended language tools to get new ideas.
2. Design your environment around your language
The second is to design your environment around your language. The reason why this is powerful is because there’s two main ways to learn something: actively and passively. While active learning is more impactful, we only have so much time in the day to actively learn a language.
Examples of passive learning includes:
- Changing your electronic devices to your target language
- Reading the news in your target language
- Watching shows and movies on Netflix in your target language
- Labeling items around your house in your target language
3. Track your progress
What doesn’t get measured, won’t get better. This applies to our health life, business life, and others.
The mistake that most learners make is to measure progress in large milestones that are too far to imagine or track. Instead, we should focus on weekly, if not daily goals.
Here are a few ideas we suggest:
- Keep a daily journal (in your target language): this will allow you to see how your writing skills have improved
- Record yourself speaking every week or two weeks
- Schedule your learning times
- If you’re not seeing the results you want, you can reflect to your schedule, and judge whether you should be putting in more time
4. Find accountability partners
Having the right tools and strategy is only half the battle. Staying persistent and accountable is just as important, because learning a language is a marathon. It’s easy to say now that you’ll be able to put in an hour everyday, but unexpected events and emotions will always come up unexpectedly.
Research by professors Robert Cialdini and Tim Church states that finding a buddy that keeps you accountable is one of the best ways to motivate change. It has even shown to be more effective than finding a mentor.
An accountability partner can be a friend who’s also learning a language, a teacher, or anyone that you trust and see often.
5. Leverage the shortcuts
When learning anything, there are shortcuts that you can leverage, including languages. There are polyglots, linguists, and researchers that have laid out multiple language hacks that you should use.
Here are some that we recommend:
- Learn the 1,000 most common words: This will allow you to become familiar with 88%+ of your target language.
- Use the 8 golden sentences to master grammar
- Make cognates your best friend
6. Find time everyday to learn
Daily immersion has been proven to be powerful. It’s much more effective to learn 15 minutes a day, than to learn for 3 hours a week. And it’s much more powerful to learn 3 hours a week than 10 hours a month.
This is because consistency trumps quality, and small achievements accumulate over time. The way to do this is to find ‘hidden’ free times in your day, and schedule learning time. It can be as little as 30 minutes or even 15 minutes.
The reality is no matter how busy we think we are, there’s always empty 15-30 minute slots in our schedule. Here’s an article we wrote on how to find more time in your schedule to learn anything.
Follow up resources we recommend: