People often ask me how I go about learning a language. Sure, communication with speakers of my target language plays an obvious and significant role, but studying on my own is also vital. One needs some quiet time in order to learn and understand the grammar and vocabulary before they are practiced in real-world situations. So how can you study alone as effectively as possible? The answer is to redefine your leisure time.
For many of us, leisure time no longer means recuperating from a week’s physical labor. Spending 40 hours a week in an office means we want to be out and active and engaged in our free time: pursuing sporting activities and remaining fit, or indulging in other kinds of self-improvement. With technological advances, more and more companies and products are catering to the desire for staying in shape, both mentally and physically. In this landscape of ever-evolving demands and modes of supply, how can one ensure the most effective and lasting gains? Here are my 7 top takeaway tips from a workshop I did in San Francisco to address this very question:
Tip 1: Make a plan
#1 Make a plan (and stick to it): Make sure you know when (and why!) you’re learning. Keep it simple but make it stick. #lovelanguages
— Matthew Youlden (@MatthewYoulden) January 6, 2016
Set aside time to learn every day — even if it’s only ten minutes in the morning, ten minutes in the afternoon and ten minutes before bed. It’s somewhat tedious at the beginning, as there’s always the nagging desire to jump straight into the language and get learning. You’ll save yourself loads of time if you plan your process and note milestones and potential rewards on the road ahead.
Tip 2: Organize your time
#2 Organize your time: Make sure you’re using your time to actually #learn! Use that coffee break/power nap/commute to fit in a session!
— Matthew Youlden (@MatthewYoulden) January 7, 2016
We often don’t realize that we actually have much more free time than we think. We say things like, “I’m already so busy. How can I possibly find time to learn?”, but even the busiest schedules have pockets of wasted time that can be spent exposing yourself to the language you are learning. You don’t need to spend six hours a day interrogating grammar books under a bright desk lamp. The intensity of your learning schedule can ebb and flow. Make things flexible, be aware of the time you actually have and organize it according to your language journey.
Tip 3: Keep it regular
#3 Keep it regular: Learning (even a bit) every day helps to integrate the language into your everyday life and to retain it. #lovelanguages
— Matthew Youlden (@MatthewYoulden) January 8, 2016
Make sure you dedicate some time every day to language learning. This is really important — not only will you make progress every single day, and enjoy the feeling of achievement that comes with that, but you’ll also actually retain what you’ve learned. If you learn ten new words on Monday, review them on Tuesday for a few minutes, then learn ten more, and review those on Wednesday… slowly but surely the information will stick in your head, and you’ll feel much more comfortable using it. Don’t let this routine slip! Even if it’s only an online lesson over breakfast, or a podcast on the way to work, maintaining and sustaining a connection to the language is vital!
Tip 4: Make it fun
#4 Make it fun: Keep demotivation and discouragement away by making the #learning process fun. Books/sport/films/anything you can think of!
— Matthew Youlden (@MatthewYoulden) January 9, 2016
Variety is the spice of life. You don’t limit the way you receive information in your native language, so why limit it in another language? Dive into the diverse world of the language you want to learn: watch your favorite sports team with the commentary in your target language; listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks; watch foreign films with subtitles; surf the web in the language… Anything you can do in English can be done in another language too.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand things immediately. After a couple weeks of supplementing your studies with the activities above, your ear will be better tuned, and some of the things you hear will start making sense.
Tip 5: Try it out, make it stick
#5 Try it out: Make it stick; put the new language into practice constantly. Speak or write to others, even yourself, in it! #lovelanguages
— Matthew Youlden (@MatthewYoulden) January 10, 2016
There is no point in learning a language if you’re not going to use it. Find a way to put this language into practice because, if you don’t use it, you are defeating your own objective to learn. Even if you are just speaking to yourself, it’s better than not speaking at all. Go ahead, make mistakes — it doesn’t matter because the name of the game is to use what you’re learning. This is the best way to retain the information and become comfortable speaking. It’s no use only having it in your head. When you put what you’re learning into practice, you’re using several different techniques at once: speaking, listening, getting immediate live feedback (which will usually be positive), and immersing yourself in the language and culture. Force yourself out of your comfort zone to reap the rewards.
Tip 6: Stay focused
#6 Stay focused: Don’t lose sight of your ultimate #learning goal – put in the work, believe in yourself and the results will come.
— Matthew Youlden (@MatthewYoulden) January 11, 2016
Keep referring back to your initial plan and the objectives you set for yourself. Why are you learning a language again? Ah yes, of course, because you’re splendid. But you still have to train for it like anything else, be it sport, music, a hobby or a new career path. If you put in the time, you will be able to do it. The more you believe in yourself, the more you remain focused. And it’s brilliant: once you reach your goal you’ll be able to speak another language. Everything will fall into place. It won’t always be easy, but there’s a bigger picture, so just go for it.
Tip 7: Reward yourself
#7 Reward yourself: Recognize your #progress & treat yourself to a fancy dinner or weekend break where you can use your hard-earned skills!
— Matthew Youlden (@MatthewYoulden) January 12, 2016
It might sound a little bit indulgent, but you deserve it! When you stick to your plans and work towards that ultimate goal, there’s nothing wrong with patting yourself on the back now and then. It takes hard work and commitment, so in order to stay focused pair your short-term goals with rewards that are linked to the language. You’ve earned these language skills, so why not enjoy them?
For more in-depth instruction on how to guide your own learning path, check out my 41 video lessons on independent learning methods, recorded at CreativeLive in San Francisco.