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7 Things You Can Do Today To REALLY Learn A Language

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REALLY learning: with any language, it can get equally hard.

Posts like these are dangerous. They invite you to click through, promising something big – and end up directing you to websites you’ve tried and didn’t like. Can you say “anticlimactic?”

So this one will be different. In fact, I’m not planning to include too many links in here – mainly because of the word “REALLY” in the title of the post. Let me explain.

By “REALLY learning,” I mean “learning to master.” There’s a huge difference between being able to say “I’ve read seventeen blog entries about Hungarian today, so yeah, I’ve been learning,” and being able to say “I’ve gone through seven pages of exercises, and now I REALLY understand German past tenses.”

REALLY learning involves legwork and elbow grease. It begins where your comfort zone ends. REALLY learning means being busy. Which is probably why it’s not as “cool” as the all-in-one solutions which promise to teach you things without you having to work.

The good news is: there are many ways in which you can start REALLY learning. Today, I’m going to list just a few. See if you can add more in the comments.

Happy Flickr Anniversary to me!

It's really hard to find SFW pictures of librarians on the internet these days.

1. Go to your library. Even in the golden age of Internet and instant access to information, libraries have two things that the Intertubes won’t provide. The first one is decorum: surrounded by books and study terminals, you feel like you should be finding stuff out. The second one is real experts: just speak to your librarian and explain which language you want to study. They will be more than happy to help. These two things will keep you coming back, guaranteed!

2. Start a word bank. This is as simple as it gets: take a brand new notebook, write “My X-ish / Y-ese Word Bank” in big letters on the front page, and you’re done. And you know what happens next? You’ve got the urge to fill this shiny device with words. Good! Don’t fight it. Go and find some words to write down. Just remember to make the notebook small enough to carry with you!

3. Figure out your motivation. This one might look like doing no work at all, but don’t be fooled: motivation is actually one of the most crucial aspects of learning languages. How to go about it? Simple: get a blank sheet of paper / open a text document. Start your sentence: “I’m learning X-ish because…” – then think of as many ways of finishing this sentence as you can. Don’t hold yourself back: stupid reasons may turn out to be the best ones! When you’re done, underline the ones you feel are important. Keep what you did: it will be useful when motivation is gone.

4. Check out your community centre. Sometimes, you can combine this with your trip to the library – but if not, make sure you get there sooner or later. Community centres may not have as many experts and books on your subject as libraries – but they serve a completely different purpose: they connect people. If you ask long enough, you will probably find a teacher for your language – or someone else who wants to learn the same things.

Adverbs MyThoughts Mind Map

Mind maps make you care more. This person cares about adverbs!

5. Make a mindmap. “Oh, come on. Really?” Yes, really. I believe mindmaps work – but not necessarily for the reason Tony Buzan gives (the neurons-hemispheres-symmetries thing sounds far-fetched). Mindmaps, to my mind (heh) work because they make you care more. So go ahead and start caring about your favourite language.Your mindmap could include information about people who speak it, places where it’s spoken, festivals / ideas associated with it, even funny words you already know! Do what Mr Buzan ordered, and make it huge, colourful and spectacular. This – along with your motivation exercise from step 3 – you should keep for these depressing, demotivating moments.

6. Imagine wild success. Here’s a serious question: what’s the point of doing anything without hoping for success? More specifically, what is the point of learning a language without knowing – or at least imagining – what it would be like to master it? Let’s get to it. You don’t need to write anything down (although many coaches recommend saying your ideas aloud and recording them). Imagine what it would be like to be wildly successful – highly proficient in X-ish. Imagine yourself as that kind of person. Where are you? What are you doing? How are you doing it? This is not just daydreaming, so pay attention: be as specific as you can. Imagine details, so instead of “I’m, like, able to tallk to people,” think “I tell my business partners, politely but firmly, what our position is. And I’m able to argue my case. And throw in a back-handed compliment.” When you’re done – try to remember how you felt. I hope to get back to this in further posts, for now let’s just say this: when you reach a milestone in REALLY learning, you will know it – and look forward to it.

7. Tell somebody. I told my wife some time ago that I wanted to learn Welsh. It seemed like a good idea – perfect, in fact: we’re in Wales, Welsh is a language, I love languages. Since then, my workload has doubled, my energy waned, and my enthusiasm for this project got a bit weaker. And then, guess what happened? She asked “How’s your Welsh coming along?” – just a simple question. Here’s what she really did, though: she made me ambitious again. I told her I was going to do this. Now either I go on to do this – and enjoy it, once the laziness subsides – or I bail, and deal with the guilt. Telling somebody that you’re planning to learn a language is like telling people about your other resolutions: you’re making it public, so make sure you don’t let your folks down.


These 7 ways are not your usual solutions. They’re analog, off-line and sometimes quite quirky. For many people, they may seem off-putting and not worth the hassle. I’m hoping you’re not one of them.

Try out some of these – and share more in the comments below!

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