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Learn A New Language Through Self-Study

Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” ‒ Flora Lewis

We all learn languages at different speeds and use different tools and methods to become fluent.

The author gives some suggested methods to learning a new language through self-study

Self Study Approaches For Learning New Languages – By Avery Parker

girl self-studyingLanguage classes are structured backwards for the way many people learn languages. When we’re learning our first language we don’t study grammar and verb conjugation. Instead our parents and early caregivers teach us vocabulary and lots of it. As a course of our learning, we misuse the language and are corrected and the grammar is sculpted and molded as we improve our use of the language.

When I set out to study new languages on my own, I tried to emulate this model. I put myself in the point of trying to absorb lots of vocabulary first and then try to learn grammar by hearing correct grammar rather than reading a book about grammar. I many times will pick up a general guide to a language so that I can learn some basics. Most books or book and audio courses though only give you a structure to work from, you have to fill in a lot of the rest of the work on your own.

One of the most important things you will need to undertake is learning vocabulary. When I initially started my self study process for studying languages I focused on TV content and reading. I tried not to get slowed down with words I didn’t know, but would pick a book that I was familiar with in English. Over time I started to learn meanings for words just by their usage. I forced myself to continue and managed to learn quite a bit of vocabulary this way.

If I were starting out again however, I would have been making use of spaced repetition software all along. Spaced repetition software is also known by the initials SRS. This is essentially note card software. I’m sure that you remember making use of note cards in school to memorize facts for tests. Well, the SRS software is more sophisticated than that, but it builds upon the same principle.

Scientists have learned a lot about long term memory and short term memory. The key to the note card software is moving information to long term memory through a process called spaced repetition. In other words seeing a fact once today puts it into short term memory. Seeing it again tomorrow reinforces that and the next day, then two days later. At this point, it’s starting to be made long term. Finally the spaces between seeing facts are gradually spread out. It’s said that it would then only take seeing some given fact like a vocabulary word once in five years to keep it fresh for another five years.

Popular titles of spaced recognition software are Mnemosyne and Anki. I personally use Mnemosyne more and have a database with a few thousand words in it. Each time now that I read in a book or newspaper or hear a new word on TV I will record the word with it’s definition in the database and that way it gets added into my routine for learning.

Since I’ve added the spaced repetition software into my routine I’ve noticed my vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds. Now, I’m comfortable that I know multiple ways of saying some of the same things. I have made use of Mnemosyne primarily and in addition to seeing the word in my second language and having to produce from memory the translation, you also see the word in your language and have to produce the word in the language you are studying.

Studying a new language is not something you do in one weekend and then you’re finished. Studying a new language is a long term goal. I set five years for myself to spend looking at one language. I feel as though I’ve achieved a decent level of fluency in that language after five years. It is something that you have to commit a consistent amount of time to on a daily basis though.

Since there is a great long term time commitment you should have very good motivation for learning a language. Otherwise, you may set yourself up for failure out of the starting gates. Don’t build up obstacles for yourself like “I never learned it in High School so I just can’t learn another language.” Anyone is capable of learning a language if they’ve first learned their native tongue.

Once you’ve made a certain amount of progress in your vocabulary, try to branch out and find more materials in your new language to start testing and improving on what you have already learned. Keep practicing your skills in as many ways as you can. This is part of the key to making what you have learned a part of your long term memory and really becoming confident and fluent in your chosen language.

If you continue to follow this guide you will become more fluent in your chosen new language. Good luck!

Avery Parker has been interested in languages for most of his adult life and maintains a site at where he has listed many of the great online resources for assisting in language learning. This interest in languages has also been fueled by an interest in Radio and TV and of course, there are many online resources that can be used for language learning. You can learn more at

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