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How to Learn a Language By Yourself: More Effective Than Schools?

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced most of the planet to stay indoors and limited language learning to independent study without schools or in-person teaching.

But, is that necessarily a bad thing for language learning?

I don't believe so. In this post I'm looking into some of my favourite techniques of how you can learn a language by yourself, and a few myths of adult language learning as well.

Table of Contents

Before we get into the meat of this issue of learning a language by yourself, I wanted to just answer a few common language learning myths that are holding a lot of language learners back.

Language Learning Myth-busting

“Adults can't learn a new language!”

This is quite a persistent myth, where people believe there's some cutoff age for where foreign language learning is NO LONGER POSSIBLE.

(Complete nonsense, of course.)

Adults are actually way better language learners than babies and children, and have a lot of advantages over younger people!

First, there's experience.

You know what you're going to talk about, and because you speak another language already, you can be smart about what you learn and when.

Adults are also a lot more efficient.

Think about, kids spend all day every day absorbing language and it still takes them YEARS to develop actual speech!

Puts it into perspective doesn't it?

There are also a ton of examples of adult learns on the Actual Fluency Podcast.

People of all ages can learn a language.

So just get started!

“It costs a lot of money to learn a new language!”

Absolutely not.

There has never been a better time in human history for learning a foreign language.

High-speed internet access is almost global, and there are more free language learning resources available at your fingertips than ever before.

When I interviewed Dr. Richard Benton on the Podcast he was telling the story of how he had to buy a month-old Swedish newspaper to get any kind of Swedish content a few decades ago.

Now anyone with a smartphone can just log onto YouTube and immediately find decades of Swedish materials (and lessons!) available.

Libraries are also still well-stocked and worth a visit if you want to learn a language.

And with Skype/Zoom and tutoring platforms like italki.com you can have a PRIVATE tutor for just a few dollars per hour.

That's NIGHT and day different to the old-fashioned language schools that can charge 5-10x this per lesson, and put you in a group with a ton of other learners.

So, no. Learning a language is cheap – and has never been cheaper!

“You have to go to the country to learn a language!”

This myth is slightly connected with the money above.

Some people think the only way to learn a language is to move to a country where the language is being spoken.

I tried that – it wasn't easy!

Why?

Because you have so many other things to deal with!

Yes, moving to the country is a great example of immersion and if done right can definitely boost your language learning progress.

BUT, not having it doesn't mean you can't progress at home.

And, you can still get a tutor for a few bucks to come through your computer screen like I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

There are also a ton of ways of creating immersion at home, and endless content available to enjoy in all sorts of languages by going to Netflix, YouTube, and many other places.

Plus, when you're studying at home you have more energy and a better routine to be studying the language without any stress.

How to Learn a Language by Yourself?

With those myths busted we can finally get into the meat of this article.

How does anyone learn a language by themselves?

I would say learning by yourself is one of the most effective methods of learning a foreign language.

Why?

Because you're not dependant on other people and their progress before you can progress yourself.

But how to actually do it?

Let's explore a few different methods anyone can use.

Some of the most effective language learning techniques for learning by yourself

YouTube and Podcasts

If you want to save money, then I would immediately look at YouTube and podcasts to see if there are any free podcasts or channels in the language you're trying to learn.

Usually there are a ton of them, so just pick one you like that seems active, or has a big backlog of content you can watch.

Flashcards

Something that also works really well for some people are flashcards.

I used to like Memrise.com a lot for these, but some people swear by Anki as the go-to for Flashcards. In recent times new players such as Quizlet has also arrived.

One big thing to look out for: Make sure you find flashcards that use sentences to learn with. You don't want to be learning too many individual words out of context (as that's not how we learn a language naturally!)

Tutoring

By far the biggest leverage and boost to your language learning.

I constantly have to repeat this point, because it's so effective.

You can hire private tutors for as little as $5 per hour on sites like italki.com!!

Think about that for a second, you get 100% undivided attention from a native speaker to correct your mistakes and teach you new things….

…and it costs less than a McDonalds meal!!

If you can't afford a tutor

I appreciate that, even at this low price, hiring a tutor might be out of the question for some people.

Maybe you just don't have any funds available, or you're a bit anxious about speaking with a stranger over Skype or Zoom.

If it's the money, then I would look for conversational partners instead.

This is where you teach someone your native language, and they help you with theirs.

Just be sure to set rigid guidelines (30 minutes of language A, an then 30 minutes of language B) or you can get into some pretty bad habits and speak English for 95% of the time because you're too polite to switch.

For that last bit about anxiety I can comfortably say – just do it! – I used to be scared of doing Skype lessons in the past, but once I bit the bullet I never looked back)

In fact, I would often get huge bursts of adrenaline and even goose bumps from completing the lessons.

Even today, years later, I still get a bit of butterflies in my stomach ahead of an online lesson – that's absolutely normal, just roll with it!

Learn a language without going to school

These days I find language schools, and language classes as part of mandatory school very ineffective.

The teacher's attention is divided into many students, and you're always progressing at the pace of the worst student.

Plus, it's usually more expensive to go to language schools!

So, save your money and learn a language by yourself instead.

You can do this!

You can do this.

That's the first point you have to realise.

None of the above tips and strategies will work, unless you do too.

So, put in the time every day and you'll quickly see results. Without going to the country, and without enrolling in language school.

If you're still curious about independent languag learning, check out this post here.