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Start Learning a New Language by Yourself

***In full disclosure, I have placed some affiliate links in this article. As an Amazon associate I make a commission based on recommendations that are purchased, but at absolutely no extra cost to you.***

As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, learning a language can be a rewarding endeavor.  There are many benefits that you can get from learning a new language.  Let’s say you already agree with this idea and you want to start learning a new language.  How can you start?  Maybe you can register for a course at a school.  You also could find a teacher online to help you out.  Or, you could join a language study group that meets at your local café or library.  I’m going to take a different position and suggest you don’t do any of these.   Instead, I think you should start learning a new language by yourself.  Yes, you’re reading that correctly.  I think you should start learning a new language by yourself.  I know that learning languages is a social affair and it gives you the chance to meet new people.  You’ll also have a teacher who can correct you.  Perhaps even classmates who’ll encourage and motivate you to keep pushing through, perhaps… However, let me give you give you some reasons why it’s better to start learning a language by yourself instead of in a classroom.  If you keep reading after these reasons, I’ll even give you some ways to make it happen.  

Why should you start learning a language by yourself?   

It’s cheaper

Unless you’re learning a language with volunteer teachers, or you have a scholarship, your courses are going to cost money. Depending on the language, it can cost a lot of money.  If you learn independently, you can get away with doing it for free, but if you want quality, you should expect to pay some money.  However, you won’t be paying per hour.  Many of the materials you’ll be using will be yours to own, or at least you’ll have unlimited access to them. Why pay an arm and a leg just to learn basic vocabulary and to conjugate them from the present to the past?  Save that money for a higher-level class where you’ll get more bang for your buck.  This leads us to our next point.   

Enter at a higher level

If you start learning a new language by yourself, you may end up being exposed to richer materials and more words than you would in a traditional classroom.  You won’t be constrained by a curriculum (for the most part).  There won’t be limitations because of your classmates.  You might also be willing to push yourself more than you would in a class.  The topics you expose yourself to will (hopefully) be interesting and that will pull you more deeply into the language.  The more interest you have, the more the likelihood of increased exposure. The more exposure you get, the more growth you’ll experience.  Once you have the basics down, a solid set of vocabulary, and you’re able to communicate to some extent, you’ll be ready to enter into a classroom environment with some tools at your disposal.   

A stronger foundation

Having a stronger foundation in the language you’re learning, you’ll be able to bring more to the classroom.  Now, you’ll be able to understand more of what your teacher has to say.  You’ll also have the ability to communicate more readily.  You decided to start learning a new language by yourself, and while you have grown, there are some things that aren’t very clear to you. You’ll come to class with curiosity, filled with many questions to ask your teacher about those unclear parts of the language.  This will lead to a richer experience in the classroom environment compared to if you had entered as just a blank slate.  Your foundation is solid, and now your role and that of your teacher is to build on what you already know.  The two of you can now work on pushing you to the next level of your language journey. 

How can you start learning a new language yourself?

If you decide to start learning a new language by yourself, what products or materials are available to help?  There’s a plethora of YouTube channels available.  There are also an endless numberof blogs out there.  None of these will be recommended because for the most part, they’re limiting. Unless you don’t mind spending 15 minutes to learn how to say a single word or to say “good morning”.  (Note:  I’m talking about channels and blogs dedicated to learning specific languages. When it comes to the topic of language learning in general, there are many extremely useful ones out there.)  Below, I’ll give you four ways to start learning a new language by yourself.  

Pimsleur  

Although in recent years Pimsleur has started to promote their “premium program” which includes things like reading lessons, digital flash cards, and games, I’ll be talking about their classic program.  The Pimsleur audio program has 30 lessons that are around 30 minutes in length.  The lesson starts off with two people having a conversation in the language that you’re learning.  Then, step-by-step, you’re introduced to new words and phrases. You’ll be asked “how do you say ‘xyz’” and you’ll have to answer out loud.  By the end of the lesson, you’ll be having a conversation with the recording.  You’ll also be able to understand the conversation that you couldn’t understand at the start of the lesson.  Using Pimsleur as you start learning a new language by yourself does many things.  First, it helps to build your vocabulary.  You’ll be exposed to common words and phrases and that’s a great thing for your lexical foundation.  Second, your listening skills will develop and improve over time. Since the program is a strictly audio one and has nothing to do with writing or reading, you’re forced to listen. Finally, your speaking skills will improve as well.  Maybe you won’t be fluent, but you’ll be able to communicate to a degree.  Many people who have used it (myself included) have had the experience of people saying that their pronunciation is great and very clear.  The take away.  The classic Pimsleur program will have you speaking from the very beginning.  You’ll gain vocabulary and your listening skills will develop as well.  Whether you’re at home, driving, walking, or doing anything else, you’ll be able to use the program.  Currently, there are more than 50 languages and language varieties available.  Some languages only have one level available, while other more popular languages (such as French, German, and Spanish) have 5 levels.  Stick with the program and follow the learning instructions and you’ll be sure to see some progress.  The Pimsleur program is available on their website as well as on audible.com.  I’m not sure about other countries, but in the United States, many public libraries have the program available.  If your local branch doesn’t, you can ask them if they can have it sent from another branch.  

Reading*    

Reading is one of my favorite ways to start learning a language.  By reading, you can become exposed to vocabulary, sentence structures, and more. Through books or novels, you’ll experience repeated exposure and repetition will help things to stick. 

So how does this work?  Let’s assume that you’ve already done two levels of the Pimsleur program. Now you have some vocabulary under your belt.  You can now try to increase your vocabulary by getting your hands on a very easy book. There are two kinds of books that you can look for.  The first are children’s books.  If there are illustrations in the book, that would be even better to help with comprehension.  The second (and my preferred kind) are graded readers.  These books are novels that have been simplified and made specifically for language learners.  I enjoy them because they’re repetitive (again, more exposure) and they also give you a gauge of your language level.  Graded readers are generally available from level 1 (absolute beginners) to level 6 (advanced learners).  

*If you’re learning a language that uses a different writing script than you’re used to, you’ll first need to find a book or instructional guide that can show you how to read and write the script of your language.

Podcasts and Cartoons

So you’ve completed some levels of Pimsleur and you’ve completed some books.  Now what? You can move on to podcasts and cartoons.  Both of these are free for the most part and you’ll get a lot of exposure and listening practice.  Cartoons are great because the characters will generally speak with a clear voice. If the cartoons are popular, there’ll be many episodes and seasons available to watch.  That gives you a continuing storyline and with enough time, you’ll know the characters, the situations, and what’s happening in each show. The more episodes you watch, the more you’ll be able to pick up with time.  Additionally, many cartoons have been translated into different languages. Are there cartoons that you enjoyed watching as a child? Search for them and see if they’re available in the language that you’re learning.  Podcasts are also similar and they can help you to learn about the culture and ideas of the people who speak the language that you’re learning.  You’ll get a lot of insight from them. 

Practice Makes Perfect

You’ve spent some time building your vocabulary and speaking skills with Pimsleur.  You’ve been reading books.  You have your favorite cartoons and podcasts to help you with listening and understanding. Now you might want to work a little bit on your writing and grammar.  The book series Practice Makes Perfect is great for that.  They have books that give you explanations for grammar points followed by pages upon pages of exercises.  You can practice on and solidify your understanding of things like tenses, subject-verb agreement, and more.    

Concluding thoughts

It’s not impossible to start learning a new language by yourself.  In fact, you can accomplish a lot by starting on your own.  To sum up the above information, you can begin your own independent learning program by doing the following:

  1. Pimsleur audio program (Months 1-2 [or up to 5])
  2. Reading (Months 2-5)
  3. Listening to podcasts and watching cartoons (Months 3-5)
  4. Practice Makes Perfect for grammar and writing skills (Months 3-5)

Just to make it clear, if I were to start learning Spanish in the year 2020, here’s what I would do.  From January until May, I would work with Pimsleur.  In February, I would start reading short, easy books.  I would continue reading until May.  In March, I would start listening to podcasts and watching cartoons.  I’d also start working with grammar or exercise books.  All of this would be done until May.  The grammar books, I’d work with only once a week, but everything else, I’d try to do daily if possible.  Pimsleur would absolutely have to be a daily activity because that’s a requirement of the program. Once May came around, I’d begin to work with a teacher to iron out any mistakes I’m making, but also to push me to the next level and closer to fluency.  

After four or five months of consistent practice and learning, if you decide to take more formal lessons in a classroom setting, you’ll see that you’re no longer a beginner.  Now you’ll be able to continue with your language learning journey and at a much higher level than if you had joined a class at the very basic level. If you want to start learning a new language, you should start.  Don’t let an absence of schools or native speakers stop you from reaching your goal and pursuing your desire.  

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