Updated: Apr 28
It’s been a couple of weeks since COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown have started. I bet you’ve already read loads of motivational articles and posts about how you should learn a new skill, be more productive, read books and come up with a side hustle during this time.
But then, you’ve also read and heard that you shouldn’t stress out, multiple times. You should relax and just make sure you’re okay, because these are tough times. And we don’t have to put too much pressure on ourselves.
I’m not here to tell you what you should or should not do during lockdown. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it anyway. But if you have started learning a new language and are looking for tips on how to make it easier – whether during quarantine or not – you’re in the right place.
I speak 4 languages and planning on learning another one in the near future, so a lot of my tips are from personal experience.
Here are my best language learning tips and tricks:
1. Keep your motivation alive
Remind yourself why you’re learning a new language.
Maybe because it’s your partner’s native language?
You need it for work or for university?
Did you promise yourself to learn a new skill or even this particular language this year?
Reminding yourself of the motivation behind the action can be difficult. But not impossible.
When you work out and you’re out of breath while your legs and arms are shaking, what is the reason behind pushing another repetition? What keeps you going and not dropping the weights?
Why do you keep filling out an application form for a new job? Why don’t you just give up on the 3rd page and apply for something that’s easier and doesn’t take as long?
Keep your “why” in mind, especially when you feel lazy or barely see any results.
2. What exactly do you want to learn?
You can be reading and Googling “best language learning techniques” forever, but it’ll just be a waste of time, if you don’t know what you’re expecting to learn.
A lot of adults just want to learn how to speak a new language – that’s because it’s relatively fast.
If you don’t necessarily need grammar and writing skills and just want to learn another language quickly, your goal is to speak.
But if you need the language for a new job, citizenship or school, then, well, you might need to expect to spend considerably more time on learning every aspect of it.
Just make sure you know what exactly you want to learn and what you need to learn before you start.
3. Find a conversation partner
This might not be easy if you’re learning during quarantine and, let’s be honest, it might not work for everyone.
But if you want to learn a new language, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone and speak.
Conversation partner can be a friend who’s learning with you.
Or even better, a native speaker, if you have a chance to find one.
But in the age of digital technology, I’m sure you can find lots of native speakers and/or conversational partners online.
Once you do, work around your schedules and have a (virtual) coffee where only speaking in the target language is allowed.
4. Think in the language
When I first realized I started to think in another language, I was really happy and proud of myself. It’s happened to me with different languages – depending on which one I was using the most.
I was using it every day, in my free time – in my head, without even trying, how great is that?
But if you’re a self-learner and don’t spend great amounts of time learning or living in another country, it might be hard to incorporate it in your life this way.
My advice is simple – try to consciously think in that language.
For example, when you notice that your mind is running around, when you think about what you have to do today or day dream, realize what you’re doing and switch to the other language.
Do it as often as you can and you’ll notice it becoming natural.
5. Speaking over grammar
Don’t worry about incorrect use of words and grammar too much (at first).
It’s important to learn patterns of the new language as soon as you can.
How do their verbs change depending on person?
How are their nouns formed? Can you predict it based on what you already know?
And when you have a basic grasp of this, speak.
It’s hard, I know. Especially not knowing a native speaker or living in a country where you don’t have to speak it.
It might also get super uncomfortable.
But go back to point 3.
You can find thousands of native speakers on the internet. You can chat to them, write them, speak to them, and learn with them or from them.
And, although it’s hard for me myself to admit it, without leaving your comfort zone, it’s going to be hard to learn and achieve anything.
Flashcards are a supporting learning tool to help you with a new language.
You probably won’t learn all you need from flashcards.
But they sure can be useful, especially in the beginnings of your studies.
You can make some yourself or buy/download/use online pre-made ones.
Flashcards consist of two sides – one (front) has a question and the other one (back) an answer. In other words, in your case, you can write down an English word on one side and a translation of it on the other side and test yourself this way.
7. Invest time
It’s no surprise that if you want to learn something, you need to invest time into it.
You might find “magical” courses online to help you learn a new language in 2 weeks, but it might not be what you’re looking for, if you take it seriously.
Everybody learns differently, but from my experience, a general rule of thumb is: You can learn to speak and have a more or less basic conversation in a new language in a couple of months.
If you want to learn grammar, all the tenses etc., expect to keep learning more than a year.
Of course, this all depends on various factors: how similar the language is to the ones you already know (for a European, Chinese will be more difficult than Italian), how difficult it is in general, etc.
But to learn as quick as possible, invest time in learning. Learn every day, and preferably set a time frame for each day. And stick to it.
8. Be organized and plan to learn
Jorden Makelle, a writer, marketer and the leader of Creative Revolt, once said that we don’t need more time, we just need more self-discipline.
And it’s true. Being organized and a planner can be a bit annoying sometimes, but it sure has its perks.
If you plan out your day and stick to it, you’ll see results quickly.
Be consistent, push yourself even if you’re not feeling your best (but be nice to yourself, too) and make specific plans and goals.
For example, plan for 30 minutes Monday-Friday after 6 PM to spend on your learning.
Mondays for vocabulary, Tuesdays and Thursdays for speaking, etc.
Stick to it.
9. Repeat what you learned
This is a very important point and it’s worked great for me, no matter what I learn.
Each day, before I start with a new lesson/activity, I repeat to myself what I’ve learned.
That way, I have it fresh in my memory all the time and, even if it means I spend more time on going back to what I don’t remember as clearly anymore, it makes my learning more effective.
10. Movies, music, games… entertainment in another language
I have to be honest about this one. I speak 4 languages and this method has been effective for me only with English.
English is my second language, and so watching movies and listening to music in English wasn't natural to me at first.
But Spanish, Mandarin or different languages are harder to learn or practice this way, because there might not be enough sources, or easily available, or you simply are not entertained by them.
But if you can, give it a try, it might work for you. Watching movies in a different language, especially when you enjoy them, can help you understand how native speakers use words and phrases and you’ll catch their accent, too.
Use subtitles (in the new language, preferably) to help you learn.
11. Read a book – start with a kid’s one
Reading books in any language can enhance your language skills and knowledge and extend your vocabulary.
If you’re only starting to learn a new language, you might find it useful to get a kid’s book – simple sentences and often pictures will help you orientate yourself more easily.
12. Hire a tutor
We’re so busy, always rushing, and prefer to have all we need in one place without having to research, buy, rent and gather resources all the time.
So if you can, hire a tutor.
There are face-to-face tutors almost everywhere now, but during quarantine, or depending on your preferences, you can hire an on-line tutor, too.
Spend some time on researching a good teacher for a price that suits you and build a plan with him or her.
13. Learn words in context rather than on their own
When you’re first starting learning a new language, you might need to learn vocabulary, because, of course, it’s hard to speak and speed up the learning process, if you don’t know the foundation of the language.
But as you learn, try to remember phrases or words in context.
For example, when do you use the word “language” and when do you use “tongue”?
When to use “lenguaje” and when “idioma”?
14. Let go of translation at some point
With time, use translation less and less. When you constantly try to translate sentences word by word, it might not be accurate.
A lot of times, it doesn’t even make sense.
As you start to recognize patterns and rules of the new language, try to test yourself by forming and guessing words and sentences.
15. Go to where the language is spoken
Yes, Covid is making this a bit difficult for us.
Points 3 and 5 can help you with this.
Okay, you might think, finding a conversation partner, or even a tutor, online doesn’t have to be as difficult.
But visit a country?
Well, it is possible. Multiple companies have made the possibility to virtually travel around a country, and you can, too.
Google “virtual travel” and mix it up with your native speakers online.
It would be ideal to travel and speak, but if you can’t do it at the same time, do it online and separated.
We have to be creative now, more than ever.
16. Incorporate studies of culture
If you have time and if you’re interested, learn a bit about a culture of the native speakers.
It will help you understand better the way they speak, what to be careful about and how to avoid a faux pas.
For example, Chinese 死 (sǐ) – “dead” is pronounced similarly to 四 (sì) – “four”, and so for Chinese people, 4 is the unlucky number.
17. Keep it interesting and don’t stop when it gets hard or boring (or you get busy)
As a self-learner, things might get a bit boring with time. You basically keep doing the same thing and there’s nobody to control you, examine you or study with you.
It might also get harder, or you get busier than usual, and since you don’t even have to give anyone excuses, you’re more likely to just stop.
To ensure you don't give up when things get busy or hard, stick to your schedule and plans, always.
Change it up a little. When you get bored, try different tips I gave you and see what keeps you interested.
18. Use your phone but don’t download too much
It’s probably obvious, but you’re going to want to use your phone (or other electronics) to learn.
As you choose what apps, flashcards or games to download to help you learn, be picky.
Don’t download too much, as it can get overwhelming and you probably won’t use it all anyway.
Resist the urge in the beginning; the beginner’s motivation is most times much higher than it will be later on.
Especially if your apps are paid, think twice about what you go for.
Make sure you know what you need from an app or a course; for example, dictionary app for languages like Chinese or Japanese should have a handwriting option on top of other functions.
19. Keep it practical
“Unnecessary” vocabulary can be left out sometimes.
Depending on your goals and time, you might want to leave out certain lessons.
If you just want to make sure you can hold a light conversation, feel free to leave out more difficult and non-daily-use parts of learning.
20. Use it in your free time/outside of your learning time
Incorporate language learning in your daily activities that don’t require your focus as much.
Browse news in your target language, read forums, or watch short videos while waiting in line or during commercials.
21. Listen – it helps to understand
And I don’t only mean to listen to native speakers or to music in your chosen language.
Learn how to be a better listener in your daily life.
Try not to interrupt the other person, focus on what they’re saying instead of planning what you’re going to reply in your head, or even worse, planning what you’re going to have for dinner.
Learning how to be a better active listener can help you understand and learn a new language, and the reason is simple.
As you listen to people, they’ll tell you what they want, and even better, they’ll use all the patterns I recommended you to observe earlier in this article.
Being a good listener also means being aware of other people’s culture, what they appreciate and what offends them, including language usage.
22. Set goals and reward yourself
As I mentioned earlier, you need to set goals in order to achieve them.
If you want to be really organized, set yourself SMART goals.
SMART goals are amazingly specific, which makes is easy to know when you achieve them. And that’s important, because (among other reasons, of course), you can reward yourself.
23. Tell someone you’re learning
If you share your goals with other people, you’re more likely to stick with them for longer.
Let others check on you; you might even expect that they’ll ask without your encouragement.
“So how is French going?”, “Are you still learning Korean?”, “I found a great soap opera in Spanish, do you want to watch it with me?”, “Can you please help me translate this from German?”.
They will check up on you, encourage you, be happy with you.
And if nothing else, you might be a little embarrassed to admit you stopped or haven’t learned anything since last May.
24. Change ways of learning
Like I mentioned in point 17, it’s always good to change it up a little.
If you know you’re a visual learner, stick to videos and flashcards, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But to keep your studies exciting and productive, you’re going to have to find ways to do so.
Lucky for you, there are tons of online resources for learning new languages nowadays, you just need to find what’s right for you.
And even if you like your ways of learning (don’t change them), maybe mix it up with an occasional YouTube video, short webinar or a blog.
25. Give yourself time
It’s important to understand that everything that’s valuable takes time to achieve.
Be real with yourself and don’t expect to be fluent in 10 days.
You’re only going to be disappointed and more likely to stop learning if you don’t see results fast enough.
If you don’t have much time, cut out grammar, workbooks, videos, movies… and just prioritize speaking over anything else.
Learning a new language is a challenge. It doesn’t have to be hard when you have the right mindset, goals and don’t overwhelm yourself.
Be sure you pick the most effective and useful tips for you and follow them on your way of being fluent in another language.
Let me know what language you’re learning and which tips you find useful in the comments below.