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How to learn a foreign language without leaving home? (Part II)

The first part of this article analysed what you needed to consider before you chose a language learning method which was right for you. This part is devoted to the methods that may help you to attain your goal.

A popular method in the context of self-directed language learning is immersion, or partial immersion in a language. But how to achieve immersion without leaving home? Watching a film or TV series with subtitles is an example of immersion applied by many people. But you can go a step further, for example by switching the language of your phone from Polish to a chosen foreign language, or by changing language settings in your favourite apps or games. Similarly, listening to music can be immersive if you choose songs in the language you want to learn.

a fragment of a language dictionary

However, it is important to remember that this method is not suitable for complete beginners. Indeed, listening to music in a foreign language from the very beginning helps you to get used to the sound of the language, but changing your phone settings, for example, will only cause stress and reluctance to continue your language-learning efforts. Every method may and should be adapted to your level.

Vocabulary. Who of us does not remember a list of words to memorise for a test or a midterm exam at school? And how many of us actually remember the vocabulary we had to learn back then? I assume that almost no one does. Knowledge is not something to be crammed and vocabulary learning requires two things: a  context and repetition.

Context is crucial for any learning, because our brain likes to make connections. 

Therefore, instead of individual words, it is recommended to learn phrases or sentences. It is more difficult to permanently memorise, for example, a list of vocabulary items related to home, but if, instead of cramming such words as ‘carpet’, ‘bedroom’, ‘kitchen’ or ‘plate’, you create a sentence such as ‘I was walking from the kitchen with a plate in my hand and I tripped over the carpet on my way to the bedroom’, your brain will learn it much faster.

Making associations and writing stories is a much more interesting and effective form of learning than memorising individual words, and the funnier or more surprising the stories, the better.

This brings us to another important point, which is active content processing. Passive reading of a text once, twice or three times brings little benefits. Highlighting parts of the text, contrary to common practice, does not help either. In order to better assimilate information, you may try to bullet point it, summarise it, rephrase it, invent your own examples and create graphics or your own definitions. Transform it into something of your own, with your own associations and emotional overtones and then explain it to someone (or even to yourself) as saying it out loud consolidates what you already know even more.

As I have already mentioned, two things are crucial for vocabulary acquisition: a context and repetition. If anyone was hoping that there was some method that did not involve the repetition of the material, then I must disappoint you. It is an integral part of the learning process. But there are different kinds of repetition. Reading a list of vocabulary items for the tenth time will not help much, but making flashcards with sentences which you will repeat at certain intervals will produce a better result. You can prepare them manually or in an application, such as Anki or Quizlet, which offer various forms of revision and tests to facilitate your remembering.

Testing yourself is another important learning method. Try to write a few sentences with words from the previous day using the grammar rule you have learned. Repeat the memorised words or sentences out loud. Find exercises on the Internet on a particular topic and see how well you do. Go to a meeting with an international group of students and talk to someone whose mother tongue is the language you want to learn.

Another important way to learn is to use what you like and what interests you. If you are interested in ecology, watch a documentary about climate change in the language you are learning. If you are curious about technical innovations, find a YouTube video on the topic. Follow Instagram accounts of people from the country whose language you want to master. The Internet is an almost infinite treasure trove of knowledge – you will certainly find something for yourself.

The last thing I will mention here is habit formation. No, you do not have to spend two hours a day studying, but you can always find fifteen minutes somewhere on the bus, in a checkout queue, when preparing a meal or hanging up the laundry. If you persevere in your daily study habit, the results can surpass your wildest expectations.

The tips and methods listed here do not exhaust the subject of independent language learning, but I hope that everyone can find something for themselves. Remember, there is no one best method for everyone, but there are methods which are best for you!

Good luck!

Reference literature:

Botes, L., Making time for languages in a busy day, 2020. Source:  (access date: 15 September 2020)
Kotarski, R., Włam się do mózgu. Warszawa: Altenberg, 2017.
Nęcka, E., Orzechowski, J., Szymura, B., Wichary, S., Psychologia poznawcza. Wydanie nowe. Warszawa: PWN, 2020.

About the author:

Marta Kubisiak is a psychologist and crisis interventionist. She works at the Student Centre for Support and Adaptation (SOWA) at the Jagiellonian University. In her free time she likes to travel and learn foreign languages.