Monday, 1 April 2013

My language learning methods....

No one has actually asked for this, but it may be of interest to some!

If you have zero interest in learning a language, this post will BORE you, so please skip it!

First of all, what are my observations on learning my first foreign language?

  • It's VERY rewarding. I was chatting to a French guy in Spanish the other day - a great feeling!
  • Doing it in your 30th year is not too late. I hope to continue learning languages now and I have no concern that I'll be in my 30's.
  • I believe anyone can learn a foreign language, if they genuinely have the desire to do so. I failed my French G.C.S.E at 16 getting a 'D' grade, so I'm not a naturally gifted language learner. I've just found a better way!
  • If you use the right methods, you can develop incredibly quickly. You'll surprise yourself and wonder why you didn't start doing it years before......
  • I assumed listening would be easier than speaking, but for me, it was the other way around. However, it varies from person to person. My friend who's learnt Norwegian finds listening easier, which suggests to me it's got a lot to do with personality type. When I chat to him on Skype, I'm the one talking too much and he's always listening!
  • In my case, learning a language didn't just happen, I had to put a LOT of time into it. I haven't studied this hard for anything in my life, it's taken a lot of effort. This makes it all the more rewarding however. Even though I can speak Spanish, I still feel I have so much more to learn and I'm still spending hours EVERY day to improve my level.


For anyone who's interested in learning a language, perhaps a little info on what I've done would be of help. It's well worth mentioning that people have different ways of learning, so some of the things I've done may not be quite so effective for others. I'd
 be surprised if the majority of people didn't find the following quite useful however.

The internet is full of resources, mostly free, that allow you to learn a language far more effectively than you ever did at school.

  • For Spanish specifically, 'Synergy Spanish' ( was a fantastic foundation for my language learning. Every school should buy it and watch their students learn more in weeks, than they've ever done in years.
  • Put your phone and computer into your target language, to help with immersion.
  • For inspiration, you don't have to look much further than Benny Lewis at Fluent in 3 months. He only spoke English at 21 and had difficulty with that growing up, requiring a speech therapist at one stage. He's since learnt about 15 languages before his 30th birthday last year - he maintains 8 of them. He has a 'Language hacking guide' that's great for explaining how to learn languages in general. More than anything, Benny and his guide are very motivational!
          Benny talking at a TED conference about his language learning (17 minutes long).
  • The resource I've used the most, is an smart phone application by MOSAlingua. I can't praise this highly enough, it's the best language learning app I've found and I've tried a lot! It uses the well known spaced repetition system (SRS), to show you words and phrases on a regular basis. If you remembered the word easily, you can select the required button and it'll ask you again in a week perhaps. If it was harder, it'll ask you in 24 hours. It's designed to keep jogging your memory before you forget a word, which quickly adds it into your long term memory.

A rare feature in language learning apps is that MosaLingua allows you to add your own cards, with things you need to say every day (I've created 1200 personal cards so far!).

Creating phrases allows you to learn grammar, without actually studying it. I've not touched a grammar book, yet my sentence construction is quite good (so I'm told!).

It's only £2.99 and in hindsight, it's been worth 100x that to me. I've already downloaded the German one for my next language challenge....!
  • Speaking to natives in your target language: one of the best ways to do this is to sign up for free at The Mixxer.
You state on your profile that you're a native speaker of language X, looking to learn language X. You can search other people and they'll search you - you then swap Skype details.

I regularly speak to a guy called Rafa in Barcelona and now also to his friend Raquel in Seville. We speak in English for 30 minutes, with me correcting their mistakes and then 30 minutes in Spanish with them doing the same for me. Using Skype, I've spoken to people from Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Spain and Argentina. This allows you to hear different accents, which can vary a fair bit.

  • TuneIn Radio is a free app for iPhones, iPads and Android devices. You can find radio stations around the world, making it easy to listen to your target language on the go.
  • Coffee Break Podcasts, with Spanish, French and German available. This is a great Podcast series that's free to download. Again, great for when you're commuting etc.
  • Buy Spanish speaking films for the cost of a beer on Amazon and turn on the Spanish subtitles. This allows you to follow along and match the sounds with the words. I still need to do a lot more of this!

OK, so that's enough waffle for now, but hopefully helpful to anyone having a crack at their worth while language learning project!

Some other useful sites: 

Lingq. Good for listening practice, where you can follow the text as you hear someone talking.

How to learn any language. I found this extremely interesting, with information on how languages are similar or different and which methods people find most useful.

Memrise is useful for those who don't have an iPhone/iPad/Android device. It's like MosaLingua in a sense, but without the portability.