The best way to study a foreign language

When studying a foreign language, one thing to note is that there are no right or wrong ways to study. There are good ways, great ways and ways that work best for you as an individual. You need to figure out what works for you and try to incorporate some basic things such as grammar along with it.

My first recommendation is to understand some basic grammar. Without understanding sentence patterns, for instance, having a big vocabulary is essentially useless. Knowing how to use the words, and in what order, is important, because otherwise you are pretty much just talking gibberish.

The next suggestion is to dedicate a set time each day or week to studying. One thing to note is that length of study is very important. Practicing for thirty minutes will not give the same results as practicing for an hour to two hours. I recommend a 2-hour practice session each time. This is because it allows you to fully focus on the lesson and gives time for repetition. Not much repetition can be done in an hour. Repetition is an important tool in language learning. It increases speed, accuracy and confidence. For instance, if you played the piano and were learning a new piece, you would practice for several hours a week, if not daily. Why is this? This is because you want to become better by increasing your speed, flow and naturalness. It is the same approach that should be taken when learning a language.

Another thing that works is taking structured lessons, be it with a private tutor or a group lesson. Having a private tutor means that the focus is only on you and your weak areas. A drawback to this is that you can afford to go at your own pace, which can lead to you slacking off. With a group study session however, the lesson is usually done at the pace of the slowest learner and there is a teaching plan that is followed, which may not necessarily meet your areas of need. However, you may feel more motivated to work when in a group because you have to keep up with the rest of the class. The key is to figure out which option is better for you.

Keep a vocabulary book and write a weekly list of words that you will focus on. Try to know the meaning and usage and use these words as often as possible. The key to remembering vocabulary is repetition. As mentioned before, repetition is an important part of language learning. The more you use the words, the less likely you are to forget them.

In this current technological age, we have access to a lot of online resources and applications. Sign up for an application or website where you learn a new word each day. The beauty of this is that you will be given words at random. You never know when they will come in handy. But keep in mind that this is not your main vocabulary study; this is just supplemental.

Another thing I’ve found to be very effective is practicing in my head. I know this might sound strange but it’s very effective. When you think of something you are going to buy for instance, try to think of the vocabulary in the language you are studying. Then go a step further and try to make a sentence or asking for help at the store. By doing this, you reinforce what you know and it will bring awareness to what you are lacking. So, always practice in your head.

Using audio, video lessons or shadowing a native speaker is a perfect way to practice pronunciation and intonation. While you may not understand all the words, you are able to practice speaking naturally. I do however recommend practicing with recordings where the translation is made available simultaneously in your native tongue.

My final advice is that you cannot be afraid to speak the language. Learning the grammar, practicing at home, and having a wide vocabulary will prove futile if you do not practice. We don’t like making mistakes and we don’t like sounding silly. We have to try and overcome this fear. Making mistakes is inevitable when learning a new language, or any new skill for that matter. Making mistakes is a part of life; that’s how we learn and grow. That’s how we can learn the language.



gibberish (noun) - meaningless or unintelligible talk or writing
slack off (phr. v) - to do something with less energy or effort than previously; less active
supplemental (adj.) - provided in addition to what is already present or available; to complete or enhance something
simultaneous (adv.) - at the same time
futile (adj.) - incapable of producing any useful result; pointless
inevitable (adj.) - certain to happen; unavoidable