15 Language Learning Tips For Self-Study

One of the key milestones in any man’s development is the mastery of one or more foreign languages.  Unfortunately, like so many critical skills, there are great differences of opinion regarding how to go about accomplishing this goal.  There are many purveyors of theory, but relatively few who have actually rolled up their sleeves and mastered the art of  learning a language through a systematic and focused application of willpower.

Many men have convinced themselves that the goal is beyond their reach, when in fact they have not been pursuing their goal in an efficient way.  Like all limiting beliefs, it is one that must be shattered.  I wanted to share my own tips and thoughts on what has worked for me over the years.  The paragraphs below offer my own thoughts and suggestions.

No one is going to help you.

There is a pervasive myth that being around native speakers will somehow enable you to learn by osmosis.  Or, men think that a native speaker girlfriend will solve all their problems.  This is not the case.  Native speakers are not your security blanket.  You have to do the grunt work yourself.  Native speakers, even if they’re your friend or lover, often don’t have the patience or inclination to listen to you flummox about in their language.  And in many cases, when you are living abroad, people will be more interested in pimping you out for English practice.

Of course, interaction with natives is critical, but you need to be realistic about what it will and will not do for you.  Success comes when you realize that you have to fight for your goal of fluency alone.  A good rule of thumb is:  do the grunt work yourself, and use native speakers to test what you’ve learned, or polish what you know.  Expecting more from other people is setting yourself up for frustration.


She’s into you, but she can only help you so much.

Conventional classroom language classes are better than nothing, but in most cases are close to being worthless.

The reason is simply that they are too easy.  They are not difficult enough or frequent enough (unless you are in a specialized immersion program).  They use passive, old fashioned instructional methods.  You need daily, intense contact with the language, something that a classroom work does not provide.  Instead, focus on being an intense self-learner with a specific and sustained agenda for the long term.

Choose your books, workbooks, and recordings very carefully.

Most of the language courses on the market today are simply too easy.  You need something that is going to make serious demands on your cognitive abilities if you want to improve.  I have found that the resources offered by the academic presses of Georgetown, Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford to be very good.  But you need to look around.  No one company has everything.  You will need to collect multiple courses over time, from different publishers, and work through all of them.  I have very specific course recommendations for Arabic, Portuguese, and Latin, for those who are interested.  Whichever courses you choose, they should have certain things in common:

1.  The course should contain a large number of dialogues for a variety of situations:  basic social situations, doctor, work, employment, renting, music, dating, repairing vehicle, discussing politics, health, education, current events, etc.  There must be recordings with the materials.  Books with no recordings are not worth much.  You need to hear the dialogues and memorize them.  Repeat them aloud.  Converse with yourself.  Repetition is critical, and you need to hear yourself speaking.  I prefer courses that employ the “natural language” method:  only the target language is used in instruction.  No English is used.  You need to begin training yourself to use the language right from the beginning.

2.  The books should be sturdily made in order to hold up to frequent use, and should have ample margins to write notes.  Don’t underestimate the importance of this.  Check the bindings and covers for durability.  As you go through the course, every word you don’t know should be written down and spoken aloud.  Keep a separate composition book to write the words again, and review them frequently once or twice during the day.

3.  At the intermediate and advanced stages, you should be using annotated readers with ample explanatory notes.  A poorly edited text is useless.  A good reader will have selections of articles from the popular press, history, folklore, education, art, etc.   You need to be exposed to a variety of vocabulary from different fields of endeavor or interest.

4.  Buy a variety of courses.  No one single course is enough.  The variety will do you good, and help reinforce previous learning.

5.  Besides good books and recordings, you will need a good reference grammar at the intermediate and advanced stages.  Notice I did not say at the beginning stages.  Trying to learn too much grammar in the beginning will only slow you down.  Remember, the goal is to learn the language, not to learn about the language.  There is a big difference.

6.  Flash cards are all right, if a bit overrated.  They’re good as a supplement in your down time, with certain caveats.  You should have a set with about 2500 of the most commonly used verbs.  (Verbs are more important than nouns).  But to be worth anything, they should have an illustrative sentence on one side of the card.  Say the sentence out loud, always.  Memorization occurs in context, not in isolation.  I like the cards made by Tuttle Publishing, which I believe is an Australian company.

Emotions affect performance.

Be aware that “affective filters” can block your progress.  Studying should be done at a time when you are relaxed and refreshed, not when you’re tired or stressed.  You will notice a great variance in performance from day to day when you open your books in a restful state, and when you open them in a state of fatigue.


A native of New Guinea breaks it all down for a field researcher.

Don’t worry too much about different dialects or about diglossia.

Just learn the standard version of whatever language you are studying.  Specialists and linguists like to make a big deal about how there are different dialects of this or that language.  Many languages also have a feature called “diglossia” where there are different “versions” of the language:  one used in formal contexts, and another used in informal contexts.  In diglossic situations, the style of speech spoken by people on a daily basis is a much different “register” of the language than the more literary form found in the press, television, or literature.  The specialists are right, of course, but that doesn’t mean you should worry about it too much.

Both Arabic and Portugese, as well as most other languages, have significant degrees of diglossia. But in practice it’s not a big deal.  Nobody expects you to speak like a native speaker.  And in fact most natives prefer the non-native to use formal and correct speech.  Just focus on learning both registers of the language (the “high” form and the “low” form) together, and don’t make a big deal out of it.


Older books are often better than the newer ones.

This is not always true, of course, but you’d be surprised how good some of the stuff made in the 1960s is, compared with now.  I also think computer-based courses are generally worthless. Educational standards have declined steadily in America and the UK in recent decades.  Rigor has been replaced by an emphasis on making the student “feel good”.  This “dumbing down” effect on language learning is likely to continue, so be careful not to make things too easy on yourself.

Ask native speakers to correct you in conversation.

Instant correction on the spot will help to prevent what are called “fossilized errors”, or errors that become embedded in your speaking style.  This is very important.  Make sure to tell your native speaker friends to correct you.  Demand it, in fact.

Take a break every few months.

The mind needs time to rest and let the material “gel” in your head.  You will find that coming back after a brief layoff of 7 to 10 days every few months will enable you to be stronger and better than before.

You need a daily commitment.

You need to be working at least 30 minutes per day, every day, for a few years.  One hour would be better still.  If you can’t handle this commitment, then you will not be successful.  Chose your language carefully;  you’ll be living with it for many years.

If you are studying more than one language at a time, use different desks or tables in your home for each language you are studying.

I learned this technique in a biography of Sir Richard Burton, an amazing 19th century British explorer and linguist.  He had a separate desk in his house for each language he regularly studied.  The idea is that you want to go to a different place for each separate language.  The technique works:  the mind tends to separate and remember things much better.  This speeds learning and prevents “linguistic interference” where one language blends with another.

You need regular exposure to soap operas, movies, podcasts, cable TV, and internet video. 

Subtitling is a good thing if you can get it.  Satellite “free-to-air” TV is also good, although you will mostly get boring government stations.  The internet has made the old option, shortwave radio, almost totally obsolete.

Do not allow yourself to settle into a rut.

Language learning is like working out.  You are going to hit plateaus and do not want the mind to settle into a comfortable rut.  Every few months, shake yourself up and mix the pot a little.

Memorize a few short stories, anecdotes, fables, or poems.

And be able to deliver them flawlessly.  In the old days, language learners memorized large volumes of text in the target language. It helps cement structures in your brain.  But it is also a good way to charm native speakers.  Being able to rattle off a whole story or fable in the target language can be very impressive.

In the intermediate and advanced stages, use major news websites.  

Print off short one page articles on current events, economics, health, culture, or whatever, and then translate them.  I like to use Al Jazeera for Arabic, or O Globo for Portuguese.  Keep a composition book (I love these) to write down all unknown vocabulary.  Say the article out loud, as if you are a newscaster.  This will keep you current on idioms, structures, and popular culture.


Expect plateaus.

The most common plateaus are:

1.  Limited vocabulary (find yourself using the same words over and over again)

2.  Embedded or “fossilized” errors (making the same mistakes so often that they become part of your conversational routine).

3.  Not knowing enough grammatical constructions to express yourself fully.

As I said above, you just have to fight through plateaus.  Keep plowing forward, keep up the daily grind.  Remember that the people who succeed in learning are the ones willing to put in the sweat.  Language learning can be a very tedious grind at times, but you should be powerfully motivated to do it despite all impediments.

It is all worth it.  When you find yourself in a foreign land interacting with native speakers and shedding your old skin, you will know without doubt that you have spent your time wisely.

Read More:  This May Be The Fastest Way To Learn A Language 

101 thoughts on “15 Language Learning Tips For Self-Study”

  1. Self-study is superior to classroom work in every way. For Arabic, I was able to do 2 semesters of coursework in 6 months… before switching over to reading aljazeera.net. something that helped is that 3 months in, i added news article headlines into my vocab. at the 6 month point, i had enough vocab to read the articles with 70% accuracy and then focused on specific countries and topics daily. i know everyone hates flashcards, but I use them religiously and any word i get wrong, i write it over and over again. i have about 4000 flashcards, watch the news, and read the newspaper at 80-90% accuracy; i am about ready to fly to the middle east and this is all after 13-14 months.

    1. Absolutely, the payoff comes from the hard work, and that’s done at home where nobody’s looking. Classroom instruction is valuable for the immersion and setting of open critique, but the class is more about setting milestones for you to achieve, upon which you will be tested- thus giving you consistent goals to meet on a daily basis (memorizing dialogues, characters for reading/writing, vocab, conjugations; writing personal anecdotes, perfecting pronunciation, reading and listening comprehension). The downside, as you’ve indicated, is that it can actually slow you down if you are not determined to surpass these goals and learn more than what’s demanded of you for success within the class. The reason I never used flashcards was because they taught me to associate the character/foreign sound with the English equivalent rather than the concept/object. If you have flash cards with no English on them, then good on you, but if you’re looking at foreign words and quizzing yourself to come up with the English equivalent, or vice verse, then I’m dubious of their utility in producing fluency (at least efficiently). Be that as it may, it’s hard to argue with your progress.

      1. i burned my flashcards that had english transliterations. they are english on one side and arabic script on the other, and they are pulled from news articles, so i can put them back into context.
        the importance of classwork is that without it, you don’t get the initial grammar and pronunciation. i wouldn’t be where i was if i hadn’t taken a couple of semesters in college years ago. you are absolutely right about it setting milestones. it gives a grounding. i would not encourage anyone to try to learn a CAT3 or CAT4 language without some classroom instruction first.
        when all is said and done, it boils down to determination and perseverance – the brain can only absorb about 20 new words per day.

  2. helpful article. thanks quintus. i am presently studying german and agree with most of your points

        1. Fantastic. Thanks for sharing this….just beautiful.
          Germans, in my opinion, have been the best Orientalists and classical scholars in Europe (with the British a distinct second place). I could give numerous examples…

        2. Yes, a great figure. Most of the definitive classical texts were edited by Germans (think Teubner editions, etc.), and they continue to put out good stuff in the field. Their stuff is just first rate…no other way to say it.

  3. Good content as always. I’m set to start learning Arabic. Any suggestions on where to start?

    1. Yes, I have suggestions.
      You’re going to have to learn the formal register (al-fusha) and a colloquial dialect concurrently. The distribution of the dialects is as follows: North African (Maghribi), Egyptian/Sudanese, Iraqi, Gulf (Saudi Arabia & other gulf states), and Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan). I prefer the Syrian dialect, for personal and other reasons. The Egyptian style of speech is well known due to the influence of Egyptian films and media.
      As I said above, don’t make a big deal about this. As a non-native speaker, no one is going to expect you to speak like a local.
      For the formal language, I recommend:
      Schulz, Krahl, et al: Standard Arabic: An Elementary/Intermediate Course.
      Dickins & Watson: Standard Arabic: An Advanced Course
      These two are great. Also widely used is:
      Brustad et al: Al Kitaab Fii Ta’allum Al Arabiyya (multiple volumes). This series is pretty good, but boring.
      The best reference grammar available is:
      Karin Ryding: Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic
      For the dialect study (al-‘aamiyya):
      Liddicoat et al: Syrian Colloquial Arabic (This is a fantastic course, made by an Australian company. Highly recommended)
      Karin Ryding: Formal Spoken Arabic (Very basic, but a good introduction to a blend of formal/colloquial registers).

      1. I have used every course cited above, as well as many others. These are the best.
        I almost forgot lexicons. I am a big lover of dictionaries. The three I recommend for Arabic are:
        1. Al Mawrid. I recommend the Arabic-English full version. Different from all other Arabic dictionaries, in that it is arranged by strict alphabetic rule, rather than by triliteral root (as is Hans Wehr’s dictionary).
        2. Hans Wehr’s Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. This is a classic of patient lexicography. I don’t think you can do without this. Arranged by root, but focuses on the modern language, not on the classical language.
        3. Al Munjid. This is the dictionary that Arabs use. It is an Arabic-Arabic dictionary, arranged by root, and it will force you to improve your vocabulary.

      2. The gentleman who runs the Naughty Nomad site also prefers the Syrian dialect. He is of the opinion that Arab women find it sexier than the Egyptian variety. He also finds Levantine women sexier than their Egyptian sisters, which seems true.

        1. I was surrounded with it for many years, so it was just natural for me. The experts say it is the regional dialect that has adhered closed to the standard, if we are talking about the Damascene urban variety. Yes, the women are better, and the food is better…

  4. A lot of this information was new to me, and for that I am grateful. At the university I study at, I am in the process of reversing all the damage of lower-tier public education by enrolling in Russian, German, Latin, and Greek. I can definitely agree that for the living languages at least, classroom instruction is pretty bad. Most people are too embarrassed to put themselves forward in the target language, and thus classroom discourse is dominated by those who actually care, and thus they improve drastically while everyone else languishes.
    A few resources that weren’t mentioned in the article but have been referenced previously on this website and others:
    1. Memrise.com – a really good site for memorizing vocabulary. I like using it for words I have compiled from articles and books I have read, and then drilling them so they are retained in my long term memory.
    2. The Mixxer – rather than pay for language classes, the Mixxer teams you up with a native speaker over Skype. You can speak together in the target language for an hour, and then speak in English for the next hour. You both benefit, and it is completely free.
    Language learning is one of the hardest and most rewarding things you can do with your time. The sweetest apples take the longest to ripen, so don’t be afraid to dive in headfirst. Auf Wiedersehen! Valete! Χαίρετε! До свидания!

  5. Check out Duolingo.com – just started using it. It moves at a brisk pace but it works well.

    1. I’m trying to learn my second language with Duolingo (Spanish). Has anyone had success with it? Being relatively new to language-learning, I have no idea about the quality of the instruction. It is pretty fun though.

      1. My German has improved with it more than after year at University.
        I hope that I will find something for Danish, Chinese and Russian also :/

      2. Well I just started Italian on it. I like it because it mixes sentence structure, conjugation, AND vocab all at once. Just be sure to speak the answers to yourself as you type them – repetition is always good. I also recommend checking Meetup.com for conversational groups in whatever language you’re studying.

        1. Indeed. A massive cultural and artistic heritage which still gives them a unique sense of style and appreciationof the finer things in life. Not to mention their splendid food and beautiful women…

        2. Same here. Especially want to go back to the “Mezzogiorno….” Sicily, Calabria, Puglia.

    2. Thanks for this link. I’m using Rosetta Stone (free download available on torrents) for Spanish and this website will make an excellent second resource to practice on.

  6. In order to truly master a language, you must start with its grammar. Take Spanish for example. It’s grammar is so rich, one could not speak or write it correctly without understanding every verb form. After you’ve covered grammar, I would suggest reading an article of interest in Spanish once a day and listening to Spanish (from Spain) or Latin American news sources for half an hour to an hour a day — every Hispanic/Spanish speaking country has their form of pronunciation and word usage, so keep that in mind. Be sure to write down words you’re not familiar with so you can look them up in the dictionary.

    1. “Its” grammar is so rich… Had to make this correction after yapping about grammar…

      1. It’s a common mistake even for those who know the difference, as with “there,” “their,” “they’re.” It happens, and you should trust in the generous nature of your readers. To anyone who wastes their time, and yours, pointing out the error, drop some Catullus on them, “Ownership is a bore to define./I use them as though they were legally mine./But you’re too rude and annoying to bear,/to make one speak with so much care!”

      1. My point is I wouldn’t limit myself to studying vocabulary and general conversation with native speakers if I were serious about learning a language. If you want to be both fluent (oral and written) you’ve gotta put some time into grammar.

        1. Of course, this goes without saying. To achieve any level higher than 2+ under the Foreign Service’s Language Proficiency scale, you will need to be able to read texts for meaning, and of course to do this you need to know grammar. Grammar is vitally important. All I am trying to point out is that too many people slow themselves down needlessly by looking at grammar books too early.
          A well-designed textbook will introduce the grammar as you go, so that it feels like a natural progression.

      2. Yeah, while learning Mandarin we merely glossed over the grammar during a year’s study in full-immersion (at the Beijing Institute of Economic Management). All the Korean students there appreciated this, often explaining to me, “in Korea, we focused too much on grammar while learning English. Not only was it too difficult to comprehend at the time, we also found that it did not improve our ability to communicate in English, it just made us reluctant, hesitant, and confused.” Memorizing entire conversations will do more good than memorizing fungible grammatical rules. Grammar can best be learned through practice, then at some point in the future you can fine-tune your understanding of the rules and apply them as you see fit.

        1. It depends on the language you are learning. If you are learning latin and you don’t know the language, you are doomed from the beginning. If you don’t know the verb forms in french or russian you will never be able to have a decent conversation…

        2. Not so. Latin is a language like any other, not a museum piece. The “Lingua Latina” series by Hans Orbeg has proven that Latin can and should be taught as a living, breathing language. Orberg’s “natural language” method means you learn entirely in Latin. No English at all. You learn all from context. Yes, there’s grammar, but it’s all explained in Latin, and kept to a minimum. That’s how it was taught during the Renaissance, and how it should be taught now.
          I am not saying grammar is not important. I am saying that bogging your mind down with the minutiae of grammar will SLOW YOU DOWN. Have confidence to cut the tether to the balloon, and go to the sky. You should learn a language like an infant does: by context, by conversation, by exposure, by rote exercise and memorization.

        3. I dated a Portuguese girl a couple of years ago who could also speak French fluently along with English.
          This is due to the Latin epistemological roots of the romance languages(Italian, French, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese) that allows another to be easily learned once the grammatical rules are known.
          I think that learning Latin is one of the most intelligent things you could do if you plan to travel in Europe or speak to people in these languages. When I find the time, I’d like to learn it too.

      3. i think with something like Arabic, especially fusha, it’s good to do a little bit of grammar up front – at least the first 10-15 chapters of al kitaab… dealing with prefixes, suffixes, and a different word order, the grammar helps. after that, vocab volume – you’ll be forgiven for any errors…

  7. I usually read books written in the language I’m studying. Sometimes I’ll get something that I can recognize, like Harry Potter. Other times, I get something made by a popular (sometimes) modern writer in that language. It’s an excellent way to get familiar with the words and how the grammar is used.

  8. Classroom instruction is helpful for learning grammar and sentence structure (and the Kanji for East Asian languages). However, speaking requires daily remembrance and recitation of dialogs for a variety of situations with progressive difficulty. You have to do it every single day, even when you are tired (like maybe you took the nightflight last night and, hence, did not get any sleep) and don’t want to do it. The natural language method is essential, because it is the one that gets you to think immediately in the target language without first thinking in your own language.
    When you see a book, for example, you have to immediately think “hon” or “libre” without thinking “book” first.

      1. Incorrect. Korean does, too, but far less so because of the prevalence of hangeul. “Hanja” are the Korean “kanji,” are are found in older books and in some newspapers. The older generations had to learn them.

      2. A little disingenuous there. Especially considering the word Kanji directly translates to “Chinese characters.”

        1. Kanji = Japanese
          Hanzi = Chinese
          Hangul = Korean
          Seriously dude, saying “Kanji” just makes you look like one of those cartoon-watching weirdos.

        2. I did give you the benefit of the doubt by saying your comment was disingenuous. Then you go and make a big flub that makes you look like you have no idea. I like it when a smartass does that to himself.

    1. I’m a big etymology buff and it helps retain vocabulary when you learn a word and also where the word came from (especially in Indo-European languages).
      With kanji it is similar but more difficult. I have an out-of-print book that explains the origins of kanji components and radicals which is interesting, but can only give vague direction with little context without actually memorizing the whole kanji themselves.

  9. First class article this one! I am fluent in three languages (English, Italian and Maltese), and used to be decent with French and some German too, but alas I’ve let those deteriorate badly over the years. This might give me the impetus to remove some mental cobwebs. Would love to learn Spanish too. Thanks for yet another great contribution, Quintus.

    1. Italian and Spanish are almost dialects of the same language: modern Vulgar Latin. Using one language to learn its relatives can be useful. For example, I’m glad I studied Russian because now for some reason Polish or Czech or Serbo-Croatian don’t look scary anymore, and I can even understand a lot of the words.

      1. Very true. I often can grasp the gist of something in Spanish just by knowing Italian, and the same thing could be said for French. I’m sure it’s similar for Russian and many other related languages too. Ahh .. so much to learn, so little time 🙂

    1. Nope. That way, you end up as a big strong man who opens his mouth and sounds like a girl. Your woman won’t stop you from falling victim to this, she’ll giggle and say you sound cute. Meanwhile you are going through your other-country experience not realizing that your girl has not taught you men’s speech. Imagine a big Viking guy who opens his mouth and says, “Omigosh, that is SEW WEIRRRRD!” and you get the idea.

      1. There are vocabulary and phrases that you can only learn from being in an intimate relationship (flirting, arguing, sarcasm, seduction, sex). And there are words,etc. that you can only learn from hanging out with other guys, the elderly, host family, talking politics, talking health, and so forth. So you have to make sure you surround yourself with people from ALL walks of life in the foreign country you are in. I also think, if its possible, to not only have friends attending university, but to have hoodlum thugs as friends too! Working class, middle class, etc. This will insure you language acquisition is well rounded.

  10. Good thoughts, but as a prolific traveler with two distinct cultural heritages, I can recommend the one thing that will absolutely, 100% help you.
    Get a private tutor, meet about twice a week for an hour each. Make sure he/she is also basically fluent in English. Do your work outside these sessions but keep these as your opportunities to test out jokes, stories, or sight reading (if it has a different alphabet). Develop a rapport. Do something small every day to improve. Learn 5 words and write two example sentences for each, etc. etc.
    I completely agree about classroom setting language instruction. You may learn the rudiments, but you will be nowhere near fluency no matter how many advanced courses you take.
    Do you take group piano lessons? Not if you’re smart. If you have the money, this is a worthwhile thing to spend it on.

  11. I’m semi-fluent in Spanish already and trying to learn German, just because I love the language. Having Spanish skills has really opened up Latin America for me, and that place is far more interesting to me than Anglo America.
    In fact, I was just in Mexico and I’m planning on another (longer) trip to Latin America this fall.
    Immersion is key to learning any language well. I studied Spanish in college but didn’t really feel comfortable with it until I was forced to use it – repeatedly.

  12. Everyone should know, at a minimum, how to read the HEADLINE of a typical newspaper in the language they are learning. After 10 years or learning/practicing Arabic, I was shocked when I realized one day that I couldn’t understand a daily newspaper. I quickly went about correcting this. I am now at a point where I can read headlines, and also get the general gist of major articles. Newspaper/Media vocabulary is actually quite repetitive, and “Media Arabic” is a separate subject from speaking and writing arabic. So I can only assume there is Media Chinese, Media Russia, Media Urdu, etc. As a foreigner in a strange land, one MUST be able a walk by a newsstand, catch a glimpse of a headline, and understand it. In case of an emergency, this is important, and I’m quite astonished at how little importance this is given to people I have met who are learning Russian, Japanese, Chinese, etc.

    1. Newspapers are often written in the passive form and in the polite form of a language. This is usually beyond beginner level. And in Japanese it is likely to be in Kanji, and if you dont know the individual character by heart, then you are a goner.

      1. I’m going to shock you. Start reading ONLY the headlines of Chinese or Japanese newspapers. Use Google Translate to copy/paste. Read about 20 to 30 headlines of articles a day. After a month, I promise you, you will begin to see a pattern. You will begin to see a repetitive use of certain vocabulary. This is Media Vocabulary. It will get to the point where you are no longer using Google Translate to read the headlines. Now after you reach this point, start reading the first (only the FIRST) opening paragraph of every article. Read 20 first paragraphs of major articles a day. Again, you will begin to notice a pattern within two weeks. Whether its Kanji, or Hanja, or High Cyrillic, newspaper editors around the world demand that their reporters write in a certain conformist style. This makes learning to read a newspaper a lot easier than you think.

        1. Google Translate is not that trust-worthy.. their translations are not that reliable… ^^;

        2. Wordreference.com is a great site/dictionary if you’re learning one of the languages they offer!

  13. Great article. Languages are such an impressive, rewarding, and useful skill to develop. I recommend for any other language learns to try a SRS system like Anki. Basically, it’s a program that spaces out your flashcards so that you’ll review stuff that needs review, but skips stuff you definitely know. And anyone else that’s taken language classes knows that 90% of the battle is remembering stuff. Review is key.

  14. Great article, with some very realistic points, like the ones about plateaus and about native speakers not necessarily being willing to help you. For the latter point, I’ve found that this varies for different languages; for example, Italian people tend to be far more open, friendly, and helpful towards learners of their language than French people. And Spanish people, even more so. Just generalising of course, and I have met some exceptions. I still agree that you need to do the bulk of the learning work yourself, but having more opportunity to practise what you’ve learned does make a big difference, especially in terms of being comfortable conversing in the language, so it’s something to consider when choosing a language.
    For textbooks, I’ve found Assimil to be excellent. Daily lessons based on a wide variety of dialogues, with audio recordings and explanations. It’s very popular amongst language enthusiasts.

  15. My MO with other languages has always been to tackle learning how to read first, then following with the spoken. This is because I’ve always encountered situations where I had to read and understand street signs, etc. while walking around, using public transportation, etc. Over time, the spoken language came a bit more quickly once I could see the words in my mind.
    Of course, that would make me something of a visual learner.
    Fortunately, most of the world’s important languages use the Latin alphabet, so that saves you time and effort. However, for languages like Russian, Japanese, and Korean, under no circumstances should you rely on Romanization to learn the language — especially if you’re serious about it. Better to make flash cards and learn the script early on so that you can plow through the grammar workbooks. I did this with hangeul many years ago and it served me well.
    Finally, remember that there’s no getting around grammar. Focusing too much on grammar in the beginning is a waste of time and unproductive, but if you take some time and attack the language from the cerebral level for a month or so, you’ll be prepping your brain for learning it over the long term. And, if you’re studied language that are in the same family (e.g., French and Spanish), the grammar will come easier.

  16. I do believe in learning things for their own sake, however, many men are heavily hardwired to improve themselves for women/sex. It must be a hunter/gatherer instinct that makes you better at hunting. I guess learning new languages is a doorway to meeting new women and as such has been a worthwhile experience personally.
    These days, there’s no incentive to bust your ass long term for low quality women or women who reward bad behaviour. As such, my only interest in learning a foreign language is meeting foreign women. I have lived in many EE/Central European countries as well and the women there are much better compared to the West.

    1. I suggest the following regimen: Start with Hans Orberg’s Lingua Latina series. It is in two volumes. The first volume is called “Familia Romana”. The second volume is called “Roma Aeterna”. Get the recordings that go with each of these volumes.
      Also get the workbooks for them. There are also a number of supplemental readers for each of these texts. I suggest these to go with Familia Romana:
      Colloquia Personarum, Fabulae Syrae (excellent), Commentarii De Bello Gallico.
      For Roma Aeterna, use these supplementary readers: Sermones Romani, the one on Cicero’s orations, and the one on Virgil.
      You can get all these at Focus Publishing’s website, which is:
      I also recommend an unusual textbook called Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency, by Trautman.
      Listen to Radio Finland’s weekly Latin news broadcasts. There is also one on Germany’s Radio Bremen.
      For dictionaries, get a good decent one for daily work, but if you’re ambitious and have the cash, spring for the Oxford Latin Dictionary. A real resource. You can also collect original Latin texts for future use (with English translation) at the Loeb Classical Library or the I Tatti Renaissance Library.

      1. Thanks for the detailed reply! I appreciate it and will look into these. So far I’ve been watching and writing out the “London Latin” course on Even De Millner’s You Tube channel. It has given me a basic foundation and love for Latin.

  17. Impressive.
    I find it relieving that the manosphere is now also venturing into language learning. Before I think only Oogenhand talks about this topic.
    To be honest I am not as organized as the method above. No desks whatsoever, just purely input injection administered frequently and painlessly. Works like learning sex terms for a sixth grader.
    By the way let me add: Install ANKI SRS into your mobile phone and always update it with new sentences in your target language.
    Hasta la proxima

    1. AnkiMobile Flashcards :: $24.99. Ouch, that’s the most expensive IPhone app I’ve ever seen.

  18. French. Help me. Suggest great resources. Finally, tell me how to be able to afford 3 months in Paris with 5 mornings a week in an immersion course; and the rest of the day boinking hot French babes.

    1. I don’t know French, and have not yet been to Paris. Someday soon…
      Maybe another commenter can help out with this one. If not, you might want to get with someone at the RooshVForum to see if there is a thread on Paris game. I assume there must be…

    2. Go to thelearner.org and go to the foreign languages section. It’s free. They have a series called, “French in Action”. It’s produced by a prolific professor of linguistics at Yale University. It has 52 episodes in it to help one learn French. It is entirely in French, the natural method. Also, they have a series there for those learning Spanish called “Destinos”. It’s set up exactly as “French in Action” is-with 52 episodes for those learning Spanish. Excellent for those who like to have some audio-visual learning and a storyline to keep it interesting. While the story is done in Spanish, the narrator and the main character do stop at times and explain things in English at time w/o it being overbearing or disruptive to the process. Highly recommended. It even has a more advanced series too. For those learning Brazillian Portuguese, get the instructional novella series called Semantica. It has 36 episodes in the 1st series and 100 episodes in the second series. Looks killer to me. Check it out. That series does cost though not too expensive.$ 150.00 USD per series. Have at it.

  19. Quintus Curtuis, could you elaborate a little more on studying more than one language at a time? Are you/have you been successful with this? If so, did you reach fluency faster than you would have if you’d studied one at a time? Do you have one language that is your “main one” or do you allocate equal time to them all? Most people seem to think that it’s better to do one at a time. Personally I learned English and Spanish focusing solely on those language at a time, though there was actually a bit of overlapping when I think about it. But an idea that pops up to my head is studying several languages simultaneously to gain sufficient vocabulary and gramatic knowledge etc while in your home country, and then focusing on gaining fluency when traveling. Cheers.

    1. It is possible to study two languages simultaneously and make progress in each. But you will have to be organized, diligent, and have very strong willpower. Most people do not.
      Some people claim that studying multiple languages at the same time can create “linguistic interference” problems. Up to a certain point, there is some merit to this view. At the early stages of study, you must be careful to create very distinct and separate “environments” for each language. This was the point behind my suggestion to use separate desks or tables. Your mind has to compartmentalize each language. That is best done by segregating your study environments. The tactic works. In your house or apartment, you should have one desk or table to study Language X. You should have another desk or table to study Language Y. Put them in different rooms if possible. Study the languages at different times of the day.
      So, I believe that “linguistic interference” is an overstated problem. Maybe it is just my experience, but I don’t really notice it.
      In fact, just the opposite. When you learn one language, it seems easier to learn another one. The process of language acquisition seems to fire certain synapses in the brain, and permits the brain to “open up” in ways it had not before. It’s much like a muscle, in fact.
      I have heard musicians say the same thing. Once they learn one instrument, it seems easier to learn another, even if they are vastly different.

  20. My goodness, here is a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to learning languages. Excellent article.

  21. Although it’s been said before, great article! What courses do you recommend for Arabic?

    1. Zajc:
      Glad you liked it. I actually answer this very question in one of the comments below, from a reader named “doc_j”. I name all the Arabic language materials that I profited from. I also post an answer to this question at quintuscurtius.com

  22. Constant exposure to a foreign language is crucial.
    My native language is German, I learned English for 10 years in school and started reading english articles and books at a very young age. Today reading and writing/speaking English is almost second nature to me.

  23. I purchased material to learn Brazilian Portuguese. The material is from Living language. I am only 2 lessons into it.
    Do you recommend something else?

    1. Go get the novella series called “Semantica”. It teaches you Brazilian Portuguese via an interesting novella-with pit stops to further explain grammar and pronunciation. It has a couple seasons so far: season 1 has 36 episodes and season 2 has 100 episodes. They are also coming out with a pronunciation series too. The audio-visual component and storyline element keeps it interesting while still helping one see, hear, feel and learn the language. They claim that you will be at approx. B1 level on the European scale but I would think that each person’s results will be entirely subjective and subject to their own work ethic and aptitude. Despite that fact that is true with any method or course, I think it will prove a useful tool in learning the language because it keeps it interesting and informative. Do not underestimate the power of something that peaks the interest and keeps you going on this journey.

  24. I am using DUOLINGO alongside MEMRISE and think I have found a good combination to get the basics of a language. I have not got past basics, but this article w/comments has given great ideas and motivation.
    Those two apps work well together for flashcards, grammar and both recognize weaknesses (words,phrases). I have tried to start many times and this is the only time I have ever felt traction. For both Russian and French.

  25. I want to learn Latin by myself! I read that you have specific recommendations (books or materials) for Latin.
    Can u tell me what books are good?

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