Learning a language on your own could prove to be overwhelming since there is so much to learn. Without a set structure, you could find your energy spread all over the place….and ultimately stunt your progress.
I find that it helps to take an organic approach; where you move from one level of comfort in the language to another while you learn. Ultimately you have to listen to yourself and figure out what your level of comfort is and how best you learn.
Here are a few self study language learning tips that I found have been very useful to me in my own self study language learning experiences. They can be applied to any language and combined the way you feel is necessary according to how you learn.
Define Your Purpose
Know why you are learning the language and what your goal in that language is.
If your main purpose for learning the language is to be able to speak it with native speakers in the countries that he language is spoken – then be sure to focus on learning concepts that align with your purpose and would serve you when the time comes for you to actually use the language in your life.
Lay a Solid Foundation
For complete beginners, or those who have taken one or two classes in school. It is so necessary that you build a solid foundation in the language that you are learning as this will influence the way the entire learning process evolves.
All languages have a framework on which their unique intricacies are built upon. You need to get familiar with this framework so that further along the line you will have less limitations within the language and can give yourself a real shot at being able to express yourself in a sophisticated manner in the language.
You must take this seriously. However you decide to do it, is up to you and how you feel that you learn best. But I would suggest that no matter the method that you see the importance of grammar. It enables you to make yourself efficiently understood and provides you with the tools to communicate in a polished manner which, in turn, will determine the image that you put out there while you speak the language.
As fa as grammar goes, focus on the major rules of the language and the basic verb conjugations.
I suggest that you learn how to speak in (basic) present, past and future tense of certain key verbs:
To Be, To Have, To Do, To Go, To be able to/Can, To Need, To Come, To Eat, To Speak…. for example.
Depending on the language, there could be other necessary verbs particular to the language eg. in French Falloir. And there could be many other tenses that are a bit more complex,).
But to start off and to be able to communicate instantly if you are learning the language in a country where it is spoken and need to be able to communicate from the get-go, you wont go wrong if you acquire this basic knowledge.
Tip: Long (and often useless) vocabulary lists are unproductive. Many lists are just awful and include words that even native speakers don’t know or use, and that you most likely will never ever use to the end of your days neither in the language that you are learning nor in your own native language!
I prefer to build vocabulary by using the language and noting which words I use often that escape me; making sure to create my lists that way. Therefore, each word is truly useful to me.
Use the Language
This is so key. Remember, we don’t just study a language but we actually should live it! This means – put it to use by live practice, and above all, making it a part of your everyday life. I think in order to start integrating the use of the language into your life, it is better to do so organically so that the self study language learning process remains fun and is not too overwhelming.
=> First, Get A Penpal
Put your foundation to work. No more exercise drills! Start trying to communicate in a more personal real-life context. Get a penpal and write to her/him about an array of topics. The process of writing and reading these letters in the language is so useful. You get to apply the concepts contained in the foundation that you have acquired by formulating meaningful sentences. It will enable you to see where you might need more work and reinforce concepts that you already have a good grasp of. What’s more, I am a firm believer that if you can write it then you have a better chance of being able to say it.
=> Second, Chat Away
The next phase builds upon the first. When writing a letter, you can take as much time as you need to in order to look up the meanings of words, remind yourself of how to conjugate a particular verb etc. That is great when you are first starting to communicate. But now! Let’s graduate to more live instant communication status. Start chatting! Conversations over instant messenger are handy because you get to exercise your brain in responding in the language in real time. An added plus is that you get to see what you type and correct it yourself (also instantly) which will affirm your learning. The person with whom you are speaking will also be able to correct you in this way and this does not even have to stagnate the conversation!And to boot, since it is over instant messengers, you still have the liberty to look up words and conjugation stems if you absolutely have to.
=> Three, Go Hard!
And yes…now you are ready for the real deal! Go out there and mingle. Start speaking the language. Go out and live in the language. Go shopping and ask for help even if you don’t need it. Read menus out-loud (without being annoying) when you go to restaurants, make friends with native speakers, share an apartment with locals….get a romantic partner who is a native speaker of the language (oh!)! Just put yourself in positions to speak the language on a regular basis – and don’t cheat with those who speak your mother tongue!
I also suggest that you incorporate language exchange (at least twice a week) into your regular activities whereby you interact with a local who is aware that you are still learning and can have the patience and emotional intelligence to be a positive support system.
Speaking the language (however badly at first), will enable you to really seal the deal and improve upon everything that you had been learning prior. Mixing with native speakers in the best way to be sure to learn to speak the language as the natives do.
Tip: If you are still a little hesitant, you can start out with video chat where you still have the liberty to look up words and receive typed corrections of any mistakes you make – but you MUST speak, don’t type! And eventually you will need to conquer your fear and throw yourself into the language in the real world. Go out there and make yourself heard.
Now, I dare anybody to tell me that they tried any one of these and saw no results. I just dare you.