Independent Language Learning 101

Learning a foreign language is amazing. Unfortunately most people incorrectly believe that it's impossible for adults to learn a new language, or they believe that the only way to learn is by enrolling in a language school or university.

Both of these beliefs are demonstrably false, and that's why I started Actual Fluency. To share just how accessible and amazing language learning is today with modern technology and innovation. Even if you consider yourself a bad student, old, or bad at remembering.

You might be dreaming of speaking one or more foreign languages, but you're not entirely sure how to go about learning them. This page is a thorough introduction to the art of independent language learning. Enjoy!


Why learn a language independently?

You might be wondering, “In a world that has language schools, university programmes, and other language projects – why should one learn languages independently?

Here are some of the main reasons:

  1. It's more efficient – you can progress at your own pace, instead of having the pace dictated by a teacher, syllabus or worst of all: Other students.
  2. It's more specific – If your work is in Engineering, it would make a lot of sense to learn vocabulary and phrases related to Engineering and not 10 different species of fish.
  3. It's cheaper – Language schools and university programs can be really expensive and may require pricy textbooks or travel to complete. Personal 1-on-1 tutoring over Skype can be found for as low as a few bucks per hour. This is crazy value!
  4. It's more flexible – You're free to change books, methods, software, methods or even languages(!) whenever you feel like.

How Independent Language Learners learn languages

Courses and entire books have been written on this topic, so this is the super short version of how most independent language learners actually learn languages on their own time and premises.

The most important factor of success in independent language learning is obtaining a lot of input. Try to listen or watch as much content in your target language as possible to learn faster. As you're exposed to the language more and more your comprehension, pronunciation, and production greatly enhance.

Example “recipe” for independent language learning

Note: For resources and methods please be sure to check out my resources page for a constantly updated list of the best tools. There is an infinite amount of content and materials available to learn languages with, be sure to experiment a lot to find your favourites.

  1. Guided textbooks/Courses: Assimil, Teach Yourself, Colloquial etc.
  2. Vocabulary Apps: Memrise, Duolingo
  3. Podcasts and Videos: Coffee Break series, Easy Language series, Pod101 series
  4. Personal 1-on-1 Tutoring: italki (all languages), Baselang (Spanish)

How Actual Fluency helps independent language learners

Actual Fluency's main job is to encourage and support independent language learners on their quests towards fluency. This is accomplished through three main ways:

  1. Awareness – By showcasing success stories and guides I show everyone that independent language learning is possible for everyone. Before you do anything you must believe that it can be done.
  2. Regular inspiration and Motivation – On the podcast and blog I feature interviews and stories from vastly succesful independent language learners, and I also describe my own journey. This helps learners to not give up and keep going.
  3. Reviews and Case studies – I review many services, tools, and courses to determine which are most efficient in learning foreign languages independently. This helps you from signing up to overpriced or bad services.

The Polyglot Community

Sometimes I, and many other independent language learners like to use the expression: The Polyglot Community to describe the group of independent language learners, who not only learn languages independently mostly for their own fun – but also frequent events such as conferences (Polyglot Conference, Polyglot Gathering, LangFest Montreal) or local meetups and workshops.

The reason I like this group of people is that although there is such a spread of backgrounds, cultures, and even languages they all share that same passion for languages, and the openness and tolerance for anyone expressing an interest in the area.

Even if you only speak English you'd be more than welcomed, and I promise you that your 2nd language would not take you long with the support of the community.

What is a polyglot anyway?

A polyglot is traditionally somebody who speaks a lot of languages. The root of the word is from greek “poly” meaning many, and “glot” meaning tongue – so a polyglot is a speaker of many tongues.

In common language I'd say a polyglot is someone who speaks more than 4 or 5 languages. However, I don't personally like to use the term a lot, and I'm not myself a polyglot yet as I only really speak 3 languages. The rest are of such questionable quality that I don't consider myself a speaker just yet.

The problem with the polyglot word.

There are two issues with using the word polyglot.

  1. It can seem (unintentionally) elitist – Look at us, we speak many languages!
  2. Outsiders have no idea what it means and may steer clear of content labelled polyglot-anything. This prohibits people to discover the wonderful world of independent language learning, and leaves so many more languages unlearnt.

Unfortunately the word is just great for describing someone who loves languages, cultures, and people from all over the world. Being a polyglot in our little community is not about how many languages you speak – it's about your mentality and desire.

The next step for you

I hope this page has been useful for explaining the basics of independent language learning, being part of the polyglot community, and given you some actionable ideas for how to continue your multilingual journey.

If you're not already part of my email club I highly recommend you sign up here. I'll send you a copy of my little ebook that gives even more advice to new independent language learners, and I also share my story of how language learning became an escape from depression.

Other than that, I wish you best of luck and I hope you enjoy this amazing journey.