The internet and technologies have made learning a language from home tremendously more realistic.
Studying a language from home for many is a preference.
Traditional courses are often seen as unproductive and their teaching methods outdated.
Nowadays you can connect with speakers of foreign languages around the world and the resources available to study some languages can seem infinite.
Navigating all of these resources, however, can sometimes be a challenge.
I hear about online English schools that are new to me on a regular basis and the most well-known language learning resources, more specifically popular apps, typically don’t carry you past an advanced-beginner (A2) proficiency level in the language.
Don’t get me wrong, apps like Duolingo and Memrise can be great resources to start with but they lack the depth that’s necessary to learn a language to a high proficiency level.
While analyzing all potential resources to use we can sometimes get analysis paralysis trying to decide what tools are best. It’s like perusing through Netflix trying to decide what to watch and after 30 minutes of searching you just give up or become distracted by something else.
Balancing the use of these modern resources can be inconspicuously difficult, that’s why I came up with 5 great tips for studying a language from home, plus a bonus tip at the end.
1. Set Long-Term Goals
This is the first tip because it’s essential to long-term progress. First, ask yourself “Why do I want to learn this language?” It doesn’t matter what your motivation is as long as it’s genuine.
Are you learning Italian because you’re going to travel to Italy next summer? Learning a local language is a great way to enhance your travel experience.
Do you want to teach foreign languages someday? Or work as a translator? People that work in languages are some of the most passionate professionals that you will meet.
You could have a spouse or significant other that speaks a foreign language as a native. One of my Portuguese tutors once told me that 90% of his students learn Brazilian Portuguese because their significant other is a native speaker.
Learning your spouse’s native language is a great way to understand them better and connect with their family if they don’t share a common language with you.
Now that you have a defined motivation use it to set long-term language learning goals.
If you’re making that trip to Italy in a year, set a goal to be conversationally fluent in the language by the time you go.
I was conversationally fluent in Brazilian Portuguese after roughly the same amount of time, a year, and I understand Italian to be of a similar difficulty. If you already speak Spanish, even better, you can get to the same level of fluency within 6 months, in 3 if you really work at it.
Let’s say you want to work as a translator of multiple languages. You will need to master your languages inside and out. The time it takes you to learn each language will vary but mastering a language every two years on average, if you want to work with multiple languages, is a realistic goal.
These examples should bring home my point. Determine your motivation and set realistic goals.
2. Find a Resource that You Love
As I implied in the intro, picking resources nowadays is particularly challenging. You have many options to choose from in popular languages, English and German are notorious for having a plethora of resources available for studying.
This is even more challenging if you’ve never learned a language before because you don’t know which methods and learning styles suite you best.
My advice is to experiment with tools and resources.
For example, say that you’ve heard Duolingo, YouTube, and flashcards are all great ways to learn a foreign language.
Take these three resources and come up with a plan to use them to study.
For instance, use each of these three resources 30 minutes a day for three separate weeks. The first week use Duolingo, the second YouTube and the third flashcards. Don’t use them just one day then stop, give yourself a chance to become accustomed to them.
What would be even more ideal is to study with all three resources at the same time for 30 minutes a day an entire month to get a sense of not only how much you enjoy them but also how effective they are for you.
However you go about trying new resources, make sure that you do it in a systematic way.
Why am I rambling on about this? Because once you find a resource that really clicks for you, studying becomes much easier.
When it’s time to study you don’t think twice about how you’re going to do it, you just open up that favorite tool and the process of starting will be seamless. But to get to that point you need to do some work before you know for certain what your go-to resource will be.
For me that resource is LingQ. The platform has all of my foreign languages and when it’s time to study, I go straight to LingQ.com.
3. Minimize Distractions
This one is straightforward.
We all live in the modern world and know how distracting our smartphones can be. When you go to study set your phone down somewhere you can’t immediately reach it, even more ideally, before putting it somewhere out of reach, turn off notifications or turn on airplane mode.
In order to get absorbed in the content you’re engaging with it’s important not to get distracted by the sound of notification dings going off on your phone.
This is even more important for those beginning to learn a foreign language for the first time because studying isn’t necessarily second nature for you. You have to engrain healthy study habits and distractions can be big inhibitor of this.
4. Make Good Study Habits
A successful life in general is about good habits. The people we decide to spend time with influences the way we think and what our goals are. I’m not telling you to ditch all of your friends that don’t like studying languages, but rather that your habits will determine your success.
Once you develop good language learning habits, studying languages will become a part of your daily life, this will make it much easier to sit down and study every day.
What do good study habits look like?
It will depend on what your short-term goals are for the language, but a good general rule of thumb is 30 minutes a day with your favorite resource and a one hour conversation class each week with a native speaker on italki or another tutoring platform. This is a formula that I’ve followed for several years with consistent success.
Useful articles related to speaking a foreign language:
5. Connect with Native Speakers
This tip will be essential in the long run.
Websites like italki make for great resources to find native speakers. If you’re looking for a seamless experience than I would recommend paying for a tutor, there are affordable tutors available for most languages.
Connecting with native speakers is often the primary goal for those learning a foreign language and if you practice speaking with native speakers it’s more likely that you’re receiving a more relevant learning experience.
Not only is the experience motivating but it’s essential for picking up cultural aspects of a language.
Learning the culture behind the language will be necessary if you want to master it someday.
If and hopefully when you go to a country where your target language is spoken, you’ll come to see that knowing words isn’t necessarily going to help you know when and how you should use them.
I explain what I mean by this in detail in my article: Do I Have to Live in a Foreign Country to Learn a Language?
The modern world affords us the ability to learn a language from the comfort of our own home, but ultimately connecting with new people abroad and exploring new cultures are the most rewarding parts of learning.
For now, keep studying and when the opportunity arises get out of the house and go travel to the country where your target language is spoken, you won’t regret it.
Bonus Tip: Make Sure Your Tutor Speaks in Your Target Language
One aspect of practicing with a tutor is focusing on your target language in the lesson. What I mean by this is that if you’re studying French with a French tutor but that tutor also speaks English, it’s important that both of you focus on practicing French.
Sometimes tutors will start speaking in a language that you already know, typically English as it’s the world’s primary lingua franca, to explain something to you and they “get stuck” in that language.
This can be frustrating as a learner, especially if the tutor makes a habit of it. If it’s a problem, and it’s probably going to be a problem before you recognize it as one, bring it up to your tutor.
In the case that the problem persists then find another tutor. Unless you’re at a very low proficiency level, A1 or lower, then your tutor shouldn’t be speaking in English the entire class.
Even at an A2 level your teacher should keep use of English or any other common language to a minimum.
There you have it, 5+ bonus tips for learning a language from home. What I want you to take away from this list is that learning a foreign language is a complex task.
In order to manage this complexity, it’s necessary to simplify the process.
Know what your goals are and figure out your favorite methods to study.
Remember that you’re working towards a very long-term goal, stay focused and make good study habits.
And lastly, engage with native speakers, they will ultimately be your greatest asset for becoming naturally proficient in the long run.