I’ve studied several languages on my own and I’ve found certain strategies to be more helpful than others so I have decided to write about which strategies I found worked for me and which didn’t. Each person is unique in his or her learning experience, however, I have found that most people respond well to the strategies I have suggested.
Personally, I have a really difficult time learning a language in a classroom setting. The teaching/learning style rarely meshes well with my own and I find myself more frustrated than anything. However, it is helpful to have a native speaker be able to correct your mistakes in real time and help you with your pronunciation difficulties. On the other hand, most classes grade your progress with tests which are rarely a true method of determining your progress and understanding of the language. I think the best tests would be real life examples; such as whether or not you can order a meal at a restaurant or if you can read/write letters to your friends or if you can have a conversation with an acquaintance. Classroom language learning is too often set up as an academic pursuit and that does not facilitate learning the language and using it in real life situations.
Language tutors are an interesting approach to language study because they give you the benefits of a classroom setting (speaking with another person in the language, correction in real time, etc.) however they have the added benefit of providing you with very individualized learning opportunities. A tutor devotes their time to you individually so you can progress at your own speed and comfort level without fear of falling behind or being too far ahead of your classmates. Often you can hire native speakers as tutors for very reasonable prices.
Putting yourself into an immersion setting is another good way of learning a language. This could be done by studying or working abroad for a few months or years in a country that speaks your target language. Also, you could participate in events that are hosted by people/groups who speak that language or you could simply become friends with a group of people who are willing to speak with you. They say one of the fastest ways to learn a language is to have a boyfriend/girlfriend who speaks it.
If you’re planning to do self-study of a language, you should have a few things. Flashcards for learning basic words and phrases, a grammar manual of the target language, and possibly a phrasebook if the manual doesn’t include basic conversation and vocabulary. Another very important aspect of language learning is listening comprehension which will also improve your speaking skills. For this, you may want to purchase language software for use on your mp3 player or computer. However, I would suggest researching the software you wish to purchase beforehand and ask people who have studied the language and used the software what they think about it. I have often found this type of software to be very basic and unhelpful except for learning basic phrases and vocabulary, however, some are extremely informative and worth the money. A better option would be if the grammar manual had listening CD/DVDs to go along with it as you will be able to match the grammar with real life situations in which it could be used.
Once you have started learning a new language, there are several things you can do to practice the new grammar and vocabulary. You can make flashcards and practice whenever you have a few minutes to spare or make sticky notes of the new vocabulary and place them on household objects so you can practice saying what they are and using verbs to describe your interactions with them out-loud. You can read newspapers or literature, watch television or movies, converse with a native speaker or listen to the radio in the new language. Hearing native speakers interact and reading the grammar you have practiced will further instill the concepts in your mind. Once you have reached an intermediate or advanced learning stage, these things will help you to learn new vocabulary and grammatical structures.
It is very important that you use an intelligent method to study a new language in a way that makes sense. You should begin with basic conversation, basic vocabulary, and simple grammar, and then build on it. You should study no more than 2 hours per day or you will forget most of what you have learned by the next day. Practice using the language in daily life, such as describing your actions or thoughts aloud or watching television and movies and reading newspapers in the new language. It is usually best to attempt to learn no more than one language at a time as you will become confused while studying two (or more) and find it much more difficult to become good at either language. Most importantly, remember that you never “finish” learning a language. There is always more to learn no matter how “fluent” you think you are.