Want to learn a foreign language but not sure where to start? From apps to audiobooks and little-known hacks, my beginner’s guide to language learning will show you how step-by-step.
When it comes to learning your first foreign language, there are a lot of unknowns. You don’t know what resources you enjoy, what methods resonate with you, and chances are you probably don’t even know what a verb is, let alone how to conjugate one.
But for all the unknowns, there are hundreds of books, tools, tips, and techniques that can help you learn your first, second, or third language. Getting started with learning a foreign language is actually very easy. There are so many free language apps, online tools, YouTube channels, podcasts, and resources to choose from that you’re literally spoiled for choice. The hardest part is knowing what you like and works best for you. The only way of knowing that is with trial and error. It’s a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.
To help you navigate through the plethora of resources and get you off on the right foot, I’ve cherry-picked the very best tools, tips, and techniques. These eight strategies are favourites amongst polyglots (and yours truly) who continue to employ these as part of their language learning.
With that in mind, let’s get started!
Here are 8 tips to help you get started with learning your first foreign language.
A great way to kick off your language learning is by having a teacher. A teacher will keep you accountable and will being the language to life. Either sign up for classes at a language school like I do (I’m currently learning Norwegian at Cactus Language School) or use iTalki (an online teaching platform) to book a lesson with a native speaker. iTalki is great if you’ve got a busy schedule and need to fit in a lesson where you can. Personally, I prefer group language lessons after work. I love the social aspect and I’m made many lifelong friends this way.
If you have a full-time job and find it hard to “do it all”, watch my video for tips on how I learn languages with a full-time job and whilst running a blog.
2. Listen to Podcasts and Music
Listening to podcasts and music are great ways to tune into the sound and flow of a language. This technique is perfect to adopt when you’re waiting in line, commuting, or doing housework. Aim to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day (or more if you have time) to listening to content in your target language. Create a Spotify playlist and start adding music you like and podcasts that talk about subject you’re interested in. If the content bores you, you’re not on the right track. Remember, language learning should be (and is) fun and enjoyable. Only listen to what you like.
3. Get Hooked on Audio Courses
For more structured audio learning, you can’t beat audio courses. My absolute favourite are the courses by Michel Thomas. In a very short amount of time he will have you speaking and forming your own sentences with ease. Michel constantly introduces new aspects of the language whilst revising what you’ve learned.
Other famous audio courses include Coffee Break, LanguagePod101, and Rocket Languages.
4. Follow Along with Easy Audiobooks
A great way to familiarise yourself with the intonation of a new language and the correct pronunciation of certain words, listening to audiobooks is an excellent method. But don’t go out and buy every single Harry Potter audiobook and expect to understand everything just because you know the books inside out. You’re going to need a little help, otherwise, the words will just wash over you.
Apps like Beelinguapp show the exact same text in two languages; side by side which you can read as you listen. Think of it like karaoke for language learning. Fun! Beelinguapp has numerous texts available in 13 languages including, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, French, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Turkish, Chinese.
Download Beelinguapp for iPhone and Android.
If you prefer using a book, the large publishing houses have some excellent self-study courses including Colloquial, Teach Yourself, and Assimil. Do as much as one chapter per day or as little one page. There’s no shame here. Do whatever you can, just do it consistently.
If you’re interested in learning Italian, be sure to check out my 5-star rated book on Amazon.
6. Discover the world of Anki
I’ve got two words for you – spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is a learning technique that progressively increases the interval of time between previously learned material in order to help you learn faster. That’s Anki in a nutshell. If you’re wondering, “Anki” is the Japanese word for “memorisation”.
Anki is free desktop application that helps you memorise your study material (which could be anything you want to learn, not just languages) by spaced repetition of flashcards. Once you set up your flashcards, you’re good to go. There is also a paid mobile app you can use which syncs all your flashcards to your phone or tablet. It’s available on both iPhone and Android device.
7. Have fun with apps
Supplement your learning with some fun language apps like Mondly (available on iPhone and Android), Duolingo (available on iPhone and Android), and Drops (available on iPhone and Android) . While these apps won’t make your fluent, they are great at gamifying the learning process and sending you push notifications to remind you to complete daily lessons. I use these apps solely for learning vocabulary then I put them in Anki or Quizlet to revise later.
As a reader of this blog, you get an exclusive discount on Mondly’s with access to 33 languages.
8. Learn with Netflix
If you’ve got a Netflix account make it work in your favour. If you know how to use it right, Netflix can quickly become one of your favourite study resources as it will help you learn your target language effectively and enjoyably.
To get started, access Netflix on your desktop using this link this will be quicker and easier than using the TV remote to navigate around.
Here are a few ways to search for interesting things to watch:
- For Toggle the language in the audio drop and locate your target language, then in the Sort menu, choose, A-Z so you don’t get a bunch of films made in English. Browse the list then simply add these to your watch list.
- To find programmes with subtitles it your target language, head back to the “Audio” drop-down and choose “Subtitles”. Then repeat the steps as above.
- Type in the name of your target language in search and you should see a whole bunch of results. Add the ones of interest to your watch list. You can take this a step further by clicking on the options next to “Explore titles related to:” for even more results.
- A big part of language learning is also learning about the people who speak it, their culture and country. To find this sort of content, simply search the country name where the language is spoken.
I’ve kept this list to short so you’re not overwhelmed by choice. I recommend picking one of these techniques to get started with. Ease into it. Try it on and see how it feels. Don’t rush it. Ask yourself, do I like this technique? Am I enjoying it? If the answer is no, then move onto another strategy. Rinse and repeat.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to learn a language since we all learn in different ways. Once you find which language tools and learning strategies you enjoy the most, start to mix up how much time to spend with each of them.
Whichever method, tool or technique works for you, be sure to do dedicate even just 15 minutes to language learning every day and you’ll improve a lot quicker than if you cram in a 2-hour study session per week.
As you continue with your study, ensure you’re not focusing too much on one aspect of the language, for example, you might be a grammar rock star but can you confidently string a sentence together when speaking? If not, look at how much time you spend on reading, writing, listening and speaking and focus on giving each skill equal amounts of attention.