Language Learning Experts’ Favourite Strategies in 2016 7


language learning strategies

Language experts reveal their top language learning strategies in 2016

I can’t believe there are only a couple of days left of 2016! It’s been an interesting year in many different ways and I’m sure you guys have made a lot of progress in at least one area of your language learning.

What’s a better way to celebrate the transition to 2017 than to gather advice from some of the most interesting language learners and bloggers out there. I’ve asked 17 people what their number one language learning strategy was in 2016 and here are their answers!

Agnieszka Murdoch, 5-Minute Language

Agnieszka Murdoch

“That’s me! My favourite strategy this year has been using mnemonics. It’s really helped me with Japanese, which is the first language I’ve ever learned that doesn’t use the Roman script!

Mnemonics is a technique that involves comparing written signs to objects or even scenes. For example, the Japanese symbol for ‘fire’ looks like a bonfire.

You can use this method to memorise meaning as well as pronunciation. For example, the French for ‘cat’ is ‘chat’ so I can create a mental image of a cat ‘chatting’ with his friends online to help me with the memorisation process.

Through using mnemonics, you create logical connections in your brain and the words you learn are less likely to disappear from your memory.”

Make a good start in 2017 by downloading your free Learn Languages Like a Pro starter guide.

Anthony Metivier, Magnetic Memory Method

Anthony Metivier

“The most powerful language learning strategy I’ve used in 2016 is a morning ritual. The benefit of a morning ritual focused specifically on language learning is that I cover all of the ‘big five of language learning’ before I turn the computer on and get swept away with email and other online insanity.

As I talk about in Mandarin Chinese Mnemonics And Morning Memory Secrets, there are few feelings more positive than heading out into the day knowing that you’ve spent your best moments moving closer towards accomplishing the goal of fluency in another language. A morning language learning ritual is highly recommended.”

Agnieszka: I’m totally with Anthony on that – check out my blog post for some examples of how to create a morning ritual.

Angel Prétot, French Lover

Angel Pretot

“My all-time favourite learning strategy is habits and routine.

I stuff all the languages I study in all parts of my daily routine, until they become completely natural to me. It is the best way to ensure that I keep learning, even when I’m busy.

My YouTube subscriptions are full of channels in all languages I can (somewhat) understand; the same is true for my social media feeds. I make an effort to speak different languages with the people I meet (rather than always defaulting to English), I use cookbooks in three different languages, write and read emails in six languages, and so on.”

Agnieszka: Angel definitely has a good point there! For more tips on how to incorporate language learning into your daily routine, check out this post I wrote about how to truly ‘live’ a language, rather than just ‘learn’ it.

Angel has a free email course that will help you develop your language learning habits.

Brian Kwong, #Add1Challenge

Brian Kwong

“My number one language learning strategy this year has been to be curious in discovering ways of how to have the most fun while learning effectively at the same time.

You are the only person in the world who can experiment, test and discover the most effective and fun ways of learning a language that work best for you.

So I invite you to throw out what you know or how you should learn (especially if you are not happy with your results) and experiment, test and inquire on: How can I learn in the most fun and effective way possible today?”

Brian is the founder of #Add1Challenge.

Brian Powers, Languages Around the Globe

Brian Powers

“My number one language learning strategy in 2016 has been Memrise (a web and mobile app that helps learners identify new words and relate them to an image or sentence called a meme).

I know, it’s a bit of a classic go-to at this point, but since moving to Germany I’ve seen a significant increase in my German as a direct result.

I’ve been using Memrise for years, but this year I decided to apply SMART language learning goals to shorter-term tasks, such as completing a Memrise course in a month or two. These snackable learning goals were really useful and Memrise was the tool I used the most to maintain them.

The content in Memrise is user-made and courses in over 500 languages are offered, making it a must for those with interests in more obscure tongues. Memrise is a free service with a premium upgrade that I highly recommend.”

You can follow Brian’s work on his blog Languages Around the Globe, his Facebook page and on Twitter.

Chuck Smith, Amikumu

Chuck Smith

“I personally find that I learn a language best when I use exactly three resources. I find that if I have fewer than three, I get bored. If I have more, I’m overwhelmed by choice.

For example, to learn Swedish, I’ve been using:

  • Duolingo: Swedish for English
  • Pimsleur: Swedish
  • PONS Mini-Sprachkurs Schwedisch.”

Agnieszka: Language learning can be overwhelming when you don’t know what to focus on so I completely agree with Chuck’s point. My advice would also be to focus on fewer things but focus only on ones that have the most impact!

Chuck is the co-founder of a new app Amikumu, which helps you find foreign language speakers near you.

Conor Clyne, Language Tsar

Conor Clyne

“My number one language learning strategy of 2016 is going back to school (but with an informed strategy, unlike high school).

For my Learn Ukrainian Mission, I attended a language school in Lviv, Ukraine. It was the first time I had done so in over a decade. This time, the class was small (two students) and focused on getting me to speak functionally in Ukrainian in Lviv from the get go.

The results were tremendous and changed my opinion about learning in a more academic setting. I now plan to retain this approach with my future languages when I go to the country where the new language is spoken.”

Agnieszka: That’s an interesting one! Some learners find that self-study is the way to go but others prefer to study in more traditional ways. Do whatever works for you!

You can follow Conor’s language advice and adventures on his blog Language Tsar and his YouTube channel.

Cristóbal del Castillo Camus, Lingua Blog

Cristobal del Castillo Camus

“My number one language learning strategy in 2016 has been… creating habits.

This year has been wild and unpredictable. I went back to university, leaving me with little to no time available to continue to actively learn languages. However, I am very glad I have acquired great habits that have allowed me to use (in my case) Polish on a daily basis.

I’ve got used to reading news articles in Polish from my classes so much, that I keep doing it once a day while preparing my presentations or having to do an extra shift at work, and I listen to online radio or write to my friends in Polish.

Learning a language is a big step, but the biggest one which requires tons of commitment is to integrate it into your daily life. By doing that I feel I haven’t forgotten almost anything and I keep learning new things on my own terms.”

You can follow Cristobal’s language advice on his blog Lingua Blog.

Ellen Jovin, Words & Worlds of New York

Ellen Jovin

“My top language learning strategy over the past year was to get some freaking exercise again!

I spent more time off my computer (and also off my behind) and did more screen-free learning. I love doing audio lessons while walking; I did a lot of that in 2016.

I stopped staying up until 4am clicking buttons on online courses. I learned faster, learned more, felt better, didn’t get compulsively clickey, kept my head clearer, and experienced more linguajoy!”

You can follow Ellen’s work on her blog Words & Worlds of New York.

Gareth Popkins, How to Get Fluent

Gareth Popkins

“My most effective language learning strategy this year has been to get more done earlier in the morning before setting out to work.

I’ve taken to boxing myself in by booking online lessons well in advance (you could do the same with tandems).

Often, as my alarm clock goes off early, I feel mad at my past self. Afterwards, though, I feel like I’ve had a productive start to the day and I’m convinced that I’m a fine fellow after all.  Tough love and all that… and that includes getting to bed earlier!

I cover this in more detail and explain how it’s become part of a wider framework of logging and accountability in ‘Logging your language learning’ over at Howtogetfluent.com.”

Photo credit: Kris Broholm

Jonathan Huggins, Huggins International

Jonathan Huggins

“Recording yourself speaking with either your microphone or webcam is a great way to track your daily progress and it doesn’t have to take long. Even talking and making a recording or video for just 5 to 10 minutes each day can pay off in a big way over time.

The benefits are that practising in a calm environment gives your the opportunity to work on grammar, test your vocabulary, practise your pronunciation, and observe your body language and intonation.

Little by little your grammar will improve, you’ll gain more vocabulary, your pronunciation, intonation, and speaking speed will improve, and more importantly your confidence level will see a big boost.”

Jonathan has written a blog post about daily vlogging and its benefits over at his blog Huggins International.

Kerstin Cable, Fluent Language

Kerstin Cable

“My strategy of the year has been to study little and often. It’s what allowed me to make steady progress with my target language.

I spoke regularly by booking in little trips and lessons with a tutor, and I allowed myself to stray from the textbook to get more out of television, audio resources and my own notes.”

Agnieszka: I’ve written a blog post with a list of 10 language activities that take 5 minutes or less to complete. So, if you’re interested in mini-study sessions, make sure you check it out! 

You can follow Kerstin’s language advice on her blog Fluent Language.

Kris Broholm, Actual Fluency

Kris Broholm

“My number one language learning strategy in 2016 has definitely been to just use the language with locals, even though I knew I wasn’t very good.

Previously I had been shy and afraid to speak the basic Hungarian I had learnt, but then I just made a decision to just speak and see what happens, not afraid to make fun of myself or the situation if it failed.

The reason this works so well is that each little victory builds your courage and confidence to keep doing it, and if you approach it correctly, your failures will become victories too. Suddenly the language is in context, and when you’re struggling to put in the hours of desk time or study time you need, you can think back to how you were able to order your meal entirely in the local language for the last time.”

Kris has a new language motivation programme – check it out if you’re hoping to make your language learning resolutions last.

Lindsay Williams, Lindsay Does Languages

Lindsay Williams

“My one tip would be to make the most of social media for language learning.

If I were to ask you how much time you spend on social media each day, you’d probably say ‘too much’. What about if I asked you how much language learning you do each day? Did you answer ‘too little’?

It makes sense to combine these things to maximise social media for language learning.

It’s the most current example of language. Oh, and it’s pretty much always free.

You can use social media for both input and output. Try following a few pages or joining a few groups on Facebook about the language you’re learning, or try sharing your progress on video on Instagram. There’s so many ways you can get creative with this!”

Lindsay’s blog includes more tips on using Instagram and Snapchat for language learning.

Lindsay also has a course on using social media for language learning.

Olly Richards, I Will Teach You a Language

Olly Richards

“This year, I’ve been struggling at the ‘intermediate plateau’ in Cantonese, and I’ve been experimenting with lots of different methods.

In the end, there was one approach that really helped me make progress faster than ever before. What was it? Listening to recorded conversations with native speakers, and reading along with the transcript.

I had to create my own materials, because there’s not much available for Cantonese, but once I did, it was a game-changer! My process is:

  1. Listen to the whole conversation over and over without stopping or looking up words
  2. Add the text, and read along as you listen
  3. Study any new words or difficult parts of the text, until you understand all of it
  4. Remove the text, and go back to listening over and over

I would do this process over the period of about one week, and then move on to a new recording!

Follow Olly’s language advice over at I Will Teach You a Language.

Richard Simcott, Speaking Fluently

Richard Simcott

“My number one language learning strategy is setting clear and realistic goals.

This often sounds obvious to people, but so many learners I meet don’t do this properly and set themselves up to fail.

The reason? Well, if you put yourself in front of a mountain and say, ‘I want to learn German’, you are not defining what it is you actually want to learn, so your focus on how to learn German is scattered. You may compare yourself to learners/speakers of the language at all levels and feel frustrated. It feels like your Everest and the top is a long way off.

If you consider that your goal is to learn German to do something in particular, then you have something less frightening to aim for. It could be a holiday and you need to be able to talk about some basic things at a restaurant, buy tickets, talk about yourself, the weather, etc. These are all topics you can further breakdown into chunks, learn them and and know when you are able to use them adequately by testing yourself on them.

This process can be repeated throughout the stages of language learning until you really do speak German well enough to discuss all areas in conversation that could arise and interest you.

When you set goals that you can visualise, you make each individual goal achievable, give it a timeframe that’s in sight and avoid the pressure and stress of making language learning like climbing a mountain.

Good luck conquering your first foothill on the road to learning the language you want to speak!”

Join up with Richard on his Facebook page and on Twitter.

Seonaid Beckwith, Perfect English Grammar

Seonaid Beckwith

“I’ve really loved using Anki with audio this year.

I’ve finally managed to do Anki almost every day, and hearing and trying to repeat the audio every time that I review a phrase helps my pronunciation a lot.

It also helps the words to stick as I hear and read, and say the phrase rather than just reading it.”

Agnieszka: I love this technique too. Looking at language, hearing it and saying it at the same time really does help with memorisation and with consolidating newly learned language in your head. 

Follow Seonaid’s English advice over at Perfect English Grammar.

Shannon Kennedy, Eurolinguiste

Shannon Kennedy

“This past year, my primary strategy was to make language as much a part of my daily life as possible.

This doesn’t just mean that I studied on a daily basis (although I also tried very hard to do this). Instead, it means that I tried to do things that I was already doing in one of my target languages rather than in my native language.

So I spent time playing games in Chinese, reading books in French, listening to music in Korean, and even working in Spanish.

This made a huge difference in my progress because:

  1. The learning was more natural
  2. It didn’t take any extra time (I was just changing the language of things I was already doing
  3. It made language that much more fun (it didn’t feel like I was studying)

Plus, it made it so that the languages and the vocabulary were more relevant to me personally, which makes a significant difference in terms of retention.”

You can follow Shannon’s language advice over at her blog Eurolinguiste.


What’s your language resolution for 2017? Why don’t you join my free programme The Vocab Club? Click on the image below to find out more!

the vocab club

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  • Thanks Agnieszka for including me! What a great roundup of tips.

  • A great list Agnieszka, with very practical advice. Looking through them, I kept saying Yes! Yes! Yes! In particular, Chuck Smith’s comment jumped out at me – that he uses just 3 resources for learning a language. Less is boring, more is overwhelming. I’ve been doing that too for Spanish: an online program, Lingualia (which just uses Spanish), Duolingo (but I learn using Italian not English) and Ivoox, which has the recording of Zafon’s novel El sombre del viento (which I also have on Kindle and follow there).

    • Glad you found it useful Ulrike! Less is definitely more when it comes to language acquisition 🙂

  • Dave Clark

    Hi Agnieszka, you might find it interesting that Google Now just happened to recommend this blog post to me when I turned on my phone this morning. Great work and cool article! I’m currently working on a Master’s Degree in Language Pedagogy, and I was the former Director of the U.S. Institute of Language for 18 years. Thanks for sharing this! I’m currently working on a language-learning app and would love to get your opinion on it in the next month or two. Merry Christmas!

    • Hi Dave, thanks for your feedback! I’m glad you found the article useful. Your app sounds interesting – feel free to get in touch through my contact page on the blog. Best wishes and Merry Christmas to you too!

      • Dave Clark

        Thanks Agnieszka! just out of curiosity, what got you into languages?