How to learn a foreign language: Introduction

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

It has been only a few years that I became interested in learning foreign languages. In high school, I had classes in English (which I managed somewhat effortlessly) and in French (in which I hadn’t learned more than basic phrases and quite a lot of grammar). There were two reasons I hadn’t learned a lot in Frenchfirst, I didn’t enjoy the process of learning in school, so I didn’t put much effort into it; second, although the learning method we used was a common one, it was simply not good (we learned using a French-only textbookhow were we supposed to learn a language we didn’t understand if all we had was a textbook written in that very same language?).

Over the years, my enthusiasm for learning languages grew because of the possibilities it offers; it is a great feeling to read a book or watch a film in its original language and actually understand it. I have tried many different methods of learning; some of them were horrible, some of them worked great. In this article, I’d like to tell you which methods work for me.

I divide learning of languages into four different stages; each one uses different approaches and is ‘designed’ to achieve a particular goal. You may also want to read my article entitled ”The single most important thing to realize when learning foreign languages” first, in order to understand how to approach a foreign language in general.

Familiarization

Using this method, you familiarize yourself with the writing system of the language, the sound of the language and some basic vocabulary and grammar of the language. It is useful for very distant language, like Chinese, Japanese, or Russian (if you do not speak a Slavic language yet). It is inadequate for languages closely related to a language you already knowsince you already understand English, if you want to learn, for example, Spanish, French, or German, what you need is a method I call “skimming”.

Skimming

Skimming is a method used to learn languages closely related to a language you already know (such as Spanish, French, or German in the case of English). Thanks to that language, you already know great deal of your target language; there will be hundreds, perhaps thousands of words resembling words you already know, grammatical similarities (such as the system of tenses), and more. Thanks to skimming, you can learn much faster then you would just using traditional learning.

Learning

This method is what its name saysgood ol’ learning, and comes after familiarization or skimming. This, however, doesn’t mean that you should just buy a textbook and spend hours just by doing exercises. There are still much more effective and fun ways to learn.

Mastering

After you have reached about the C1 level of CEFR, traditional learning is no longer required. You need mostly to practice your pronunciation and speaking abilities, and to expand your vocabulary. If you want to find more about what’s appropriate at this stage, click on the heading above.

By the way, I have written several educational ebooks. If you get a copy, you can learn new things and support this website at the same time—why don’t you check them out?

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