The following tips for learning a foreign language are aimed at people who wish to learn autodidactically, that is, through the art of self-teaching, and, more specifically, those who have not had much experience or success with learning languages in the past or have little idea where to begin.

How to get started learning a foreign language:

1. Choose the language you want to learn wisely.

This one may sound like a no-brainer, but before you jump into the language matrix, you should probably ask yourself a few things:

  • Why do I want/need to learn?
  • How much time do I have?
  • How intensely am I willing to study?
  • What is my end goal?

If you wanted to pick up some conversational Portuguese because you would be visiting your bud in Lisbon over the summer, you would probably go about language learning quite differently then you would if you were, say, fascinated with Tolstoy and interested in exploring the Russian urtext of Anna Karenina.

2. Listen to the language.

Music and animated cartoons have just become your new best friends. It doesn’t matter if you understand them at first. You’re ears are learning to recognize language-specific sounds, words and linguistic rhythm. Not only that, but you’re also exposing yourself to basic grammatical structures, verb endings, word gender, pronouns, prepositions and other syntactic features. You can start practicing your listening comprehension skills before you’ve even opened up a textbook.

3. Learn the basics.

The basics encompass everything from “Hi my name is,” to “Yes, I would like fries with that, sir.” If you’re looking to do more than help Yiayia whip up her mother’s paximathia recipe, the basics also include the rules of basic grammar: where the verb comes in the sentence, how to use pronouns and prepositions correctly, grammatical case rules, parts of speech, conjunctions and the like.

4. Increase your vocabulary.

If you’re a memorizer, memorize. If you’re not, don’t. There are many different ways to learn new words that do not involve hours of flashcard sorting. If you start reading texts or watching shows in a language, you will learn new things both 1. in context, and 2. by looking them up — but please, do not look up every single new word you come across: IT IS IMPRACTICAL.

5. Speak aloud.

Get used to interviewing yourself in the bathroom mirror. Or in the shower. Or the car. Just make sure you get used to talking in the language. If you know someone else that speaks the language, ask them if they’d be willing to help you practice your conversational skills. If not, you could always look for a local tutor, or an online tutor at a valid language learning website.

If you have any questions about any of the points above or have any specific questions about how you should learn a foreign language in your current situation, feel free to leave a response and I’ll be sure to get back to you.