How to Learn a Language on Your Own

Ever wanted to learn a foreign language, but been put off by expensive and ineffective classes and tutors? Well, the good news is that, with a little guidance, you can learn a language on your own, to fluency, whilst having fun and without spending too much money.


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    Select your target language carefully. There's no use learning a language you don't like, one that you don't enjoy speaking. The more you enjoy your language learning, the more of it you're likely to do. Also, it's worth thinking about the difficulty of your target language in relation to your native language. Whilst it's possible for anybody of reasonable intelligence to learn any language they like, languages that are similar to your native language will take less time to achieve fluency in, and languages that are spoken in countries near to yours, or in large immigrant communities in your country will be easier to find resources for. For your first language, I recommend you chose something fairly close to your native language, and not too obscure (for example, Spanish rather than Swahili if you're a native English speaker) just so you're not faced with too much of a challenge.
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    Learn to read and write. You will never progress very far in your target language if you are illiterate , so this should be the first thing on your list. For some languages, this is just learning to pronounce your own alphabet slightly differently, but you may need to learn a whole new alphabet, for example in Russian, Greek or Arabic. If you plan to learn Japanese or one of the Chinese languages, learn your kanji/hanzi! You won't get very far without them. Don't obsess too much over pronunciation, you're much better picking that up naturally later, but know how the letters sound.
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    Gather materials in your target language. Books, films, comics, CDs, podcasts, newspapers, DVDs...everything you can. As long as it was made for native speakers of your target language, it'll be useful to you. The key here is finding material that interests you, and that you enjoy. This way you'll actually want to use it.
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    Use flashcards or an SRS (spaced repetition system) to learn sentences (not words, you'll remember better this way) in your target language. Use simple sentences, e.g. 'what's this? it's a book' or 'yesterday, I went to work' along with their translations at first, but as you get better, don't translate them, and use more complex sentences. Take all your sentences from your material in your target language. Try to use a variety of sources. To make sure you take in some grammar, get a grammar book, but don't read the explanations, just learn the example sentences. This is a lot more effective than learning hundreds of rules that you won't remember anyway.
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    Be exposed to your target language as much as possible. Listen to music and podcasts on the way to work or school, read books before you go to bed, read the news online, watch films and TV programs. Focus on short bursts of your target language with short gaps in between them, rather than the marathon textbook and grammar sessions that are advocated by most language teachers. One reason why classes or school teaching usually doesn't result in fluency is that students barely spend any time exposed to their target language. Constant exposure means you pick up words, phrases and grammar, as well as improving your accent, and listening and reading skills without even realising it, the way children learn their first language.
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    After about six months or so (this varies by person and language), start speaking. Find native speakers, get a tutor if you can afford it and possibly visit the country where your target language is spoken. The reason you should wait until you have a decent command of the language before you start speaking, or even writing your own sentences (writing other people's sentences out is fine, and helps you with foreign alphabets and spelling) is that if you make mistakes, they often won't be corrected, and therefore bad grammar and pronunciation will be reinforced in your mind, and it will set you back. Make sure when you do talk to native speakers, you get them to correct your mistakes, even if it feels a bit awkward at first. (But find a patient person, and be patient with them in return, as they're probably not getting paid to teach you their language.) You'll be grateful for this later.
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    Keep going until fluency occurs. After about six months you should have an intermediate level of the language, with okay pronunciation. After a year, you should be upper intermediate to advanced, and after a year and a half to two years you should be near fluent with a native sounding accent. Basically, the more exposure you have to your target language, the quicker you progress.
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    Once you reach fluency, keep going with your target language. If you go more than a couple of months with no exposure at all to your target language, you will start to lose it. Not completely, and it's always easier to relearn a second time than the first time, however it's even easier not to forget in the first place.
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    Enjoy. Enjoy all the places you can go to, all the people you can now talk to, all the great films you can watch, and truly understand, without relying on subtitles. Also enjoy the endless career benefits that knowing a foreign language brings.


  • The key is to enjoy yourself, so you want to keep learning a language.
  • Learn about the culture as well as the language of a country. This way you're getting the full experience.
  • Make use of the many free sources of material such as your local library and the Internet. Libraries in big cities tend to have better foreign language sections than those in small towns. Some useful websites for language learning are:,,,,,,,, and


  • If you fall out of routine and stop learning your target language for a couple of days or weeks, DON'T attempt a marathon study session to make up for it. Chances are you'll get bored, your opinion of your target language will be even worse, and you'll just set yourself back even further.

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Categories: Multiple Language Guides