Top tips for learning languages: Q&A 1

top tips for learning languages Q&A

I’ve asked you guys (on my Facebook community page) whether you have any questions about language learning that I could answer. Thank you to everyone who submitted their questions!

They’re exactly the kinds of questions I often asked myself when I first started learning languages. I’m going to answer them below, space permitting, but if you’d like me to provide more detailed answers, please let me know in the comments below. Let’s get started!

What are your favourite techniques for learning vocabulary?

My two favourite techniques are probably learning vocabulary in context through reading, and mnemonics.

I tend to read a lot in the languages I’m learning. When I do this, I like to highlight the words or phrases I don’t know, work out their meaning from context or ask my language exchange partners to explain their meaning in my target language. If I really can’t figure out the meaning, I will look them up in a dictionary (monolingual first and bilingual as a last resort!). I then keep the texts with highlighted vocabulary and go over them regularly – not just looking at the highlighted words but reading entire sentences to make sure I know the context each word should be used in.

I use mnemonics when I try to memorise words which are quite difficult to remember. Another one of my posts explains how to use mnemonics for memorising vocabulary in any language.

Please make sure you also check out my blog post about the most effective techniques for learning vocabulary! And remember that the most effective technique is one that works for you and not for some language blogger you follow online 🙂

How do I stay motivated when learning languages?

This is a great question and one where the answer will depend on what it is exactly that motivates you. We are all different, and we all have different ways of learning and different aspirations.

I would encourage you to start by asking yourself what your biggest dream is when it comes to the language you’re learning. And don’t just say ‘I want to speak Spanish’. What is it specifically that you want to be able to do? Can you visualise it? Can you picture it in your head? The more detail of your dream you can see, the more ‘real’ it becomes.

language learning motivation

Image: Oklanica

Once you’ve got that vision, don’t let it go away. Keep reminding yourself of it whenever you’re learning something, no matter how small it is. Learning grammar, for example, can sometimes feel demotivating, trivial and repetitive. If you keep the vision of your dream in your mind, though, you begin to realise there’s a higher purpose to your learning!

My other tips would be: set yourself SMART language goals and celebrate success frequently. There’s nothing more motivating than seeing your own progress, however small it is. It makes you believe you’re moving forward every day, closer and closer towards your vision.

This is something that keeps me going but for you it may be something completely different. Check out my other blog post listing 12 different tips for how to stay motivated when learning a language. I hope you will find there something that works for you!

Have you ever stopped learning a language because you grew to dislike it?

I have! This happened to me with German when I was about 19. I think I started to dislike the process of learning it rather than the language itself. I found it difficult, I couldn’t get over the obstacle of learning conjugations and simply gave up.

I did come back to it and I’m now really enjoying learning it! I went to Berlin for the Polyglot Gathering this year and promised myself I would speak German when I go back to Berlin next year!

If you feel like you’re growing to dislike a language you’re learning, I would encourage you to ask yourself what it is specifically that you dislike about it. Drill down to the details. Is it the sound of it, the fact that you don’t like writing in the language or maybe you know a person who can speak it that you don’t get on with particularly well? You never know what you will find out when you ask yourself such questions! Once you get to the bottom of your negative attitude, you may be able to decide with more confidence whether it’s the language you dislike or something about the learning process.

How important is it to you to learn about the culture and not just the language?

I must say that I’m interested in languages more than I’m interested in cultures. Perhaps this is because I really like to learn about linguistics and the origin of words. Having said that, I do enjoy learning about different cultures. I think the way we use language is very much linked to a number of cultural norms and I find learning about those very exciting.

How important is it to you to learn about the culture of the country whose language you’re learning? Let me know in the comments below!

Do you study the linguistics of the languages you learn?

Yes. As I said in the answer above, I really enjoy learning about linguistics and the more technical aspects of language. However, this is not something that I see as being part of ‘language learning’. I think you can perfectly learn a language without knowing anything about linguistics. I simply read about it occasionally because I find it interesting!

How can I learn three languages at the same time?

This is a great question, which I’ve devoted some time in another of my posts on how to learn multiple languages at the same time. Make sure you check it out for some tips from me and other language enthusiasts.

If you’re learning more than one language at the same time, it’s useful to have a routine. I personally don’t learn more than one language at a time but I of course need to maintain the languages I already have. When I do that, I don’t like to practise more than one in any given day or week. I like to have ‘French weeks’ or ‘Spanish weeks’ when I just practise that language (in addition to learning another one).

I think this topic deserves a blog post of its own so perhaps I’ll do that soon!

How much time do you spend learning languages per day or per week?

I work full time so I don’t have hours every day to study languages. I do have some time, though, and I try to incorporate language learning into my week as much as I can. I tend to focus on one language at a time and ‘live my life’ in that language as much as possible.

For example, whenever I want to find out what’s going on in the world, I read the news in my target language. When I work out, I try to find an exercise tutorial in my target language on YouTube.

I honestly don’t know the average number of hours I spend learning languages per week. For me, it’s the quality of the stuff I do that matters more. I do set myself targets – for example, for vocabulary. I could have a target of 20 new words this week, for example, and it can take me 10 minutes per day to learn them if they’re pretty easy, or even 30 minutes per day if they’re really difficult ones.

So, the answer is: it depends!

How much time do you spend on reading, listening, speaking, and so on?

I like to devote equal amounts of time (more or less) to the different aspects of learning, such as listening, vocabulary, pronunciation, and so on. The way I like to do it is in stages. So, for example, this week I’m only focusing on learning and pronouncing new words (listening practice comes into it as well). Next week, my focus will probably change to reading as I pick up a new novel in my target language.

The key is to have specific goals for each aspect of the language you’re learning. That way, you won’t ‘forget’ to practise your writing (as long as you keep a record of your goals!) and it doesn’t matter if you only practice it every other week or once a month, as long as you’re working on another one of your goals in the meantime.

My upcoming language course, which will be available on the 5-Minute Language site, is going to look into how to structure your learning to make sure you meet your goals. Sign up for my free newsletter to find out more!

What would you learn if you only had 10 minutes per day?

10 minutes per day may sound quite extreme but 10 minutes is better than nothing! If you add it up, it’s over an hour per week and around 5 hours per month.

If I had 10 minutes every day, I would probably look at learning new words every other day, look them up to see how they work in context and then give a mini-speech using them during the time that remains!

Do you think travel opens your mind to learning languages?

Absolutely! Although I don’t think you need to travel to learn a language, travel in itself opens your mind and shows you new possibilities. It makes you more curious and excited about wanting to communicate with people on a deeper level. And that’s what language learning is for!

top tips for learning languages Reichstag

Me visiting the German parliament building.

Don’t be discouraged, though, if travel is not an option for you at this stage of your life. I personally didn’t go to England until I was 19 although I’d been learning English for many years before. I only went to France after 3 years of studying the language and I still haven’t been to any country where people speak Arabic although I’ve had a go at this language before.

Who is your favourite polyglot and why?

I don’t think I have a favourite polyglot. I really admire a lot of people in the language learning community – those who are in the public eye because they may have a blog or are active on social media, but also people I know personally who are just learning one or two languages. I take inspiration from so many different people that it would be unfair to name just one of them!

All of you are also an inspiration for me. Whenever I read the messages you send me telling me about your struggles and successes in language learning, I feel this amazing positive energy coming from them! Keep on inspiring me and other people with your language learning passion!

Where should I start if I want to learn French?

I would certainly recommend DuoLingo if you haven’t learnt French before. It will give you a bit of a taste of the language and teach you some basic rules.

You can then get a little bit more of a taste with Comme une Française and start reading simple books such as Le Petit Prince or other children’s books. Learning French vocabulary is pretty easy when you know English already!

Where should I start if I want to learn Mandarin?

You could start with this article, which gives you an overview of the writing system and helps you understand how the language works. You can then check out the Sensible Chinese website, which is a great resource for people who are learning this language.

Thank you for your questions!

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted their questions! I really enjoyed answering them for you and sharing with you some of my top tips for learning languages! If there’s anything else you’d like more detail on, let me know in the comments below!

Take care and good luck with making your language dreams come true!


P.S. My new course is going to look into how you can structure your language learning to ensure you meet your goals. If you’ve got a busy lifestyle, you’ll find it particularly useful! To find out when it becomes available, make sure you sign up for my free newsletter by entering your email in the form below! 

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  • Great post, Aga! It’s nice to read your advice in this format! I’ve been thinking of doing a Q&A over on YouTube! Waiting for the next milestone in subscribers to do so! 😀