Teach Yourself a New Language

Learning a language that is not your own may seem intimidating at first. With brain power and technology, it can be fun. Best of all, it can be totally free!


Understanding Grammar In General

  1. First, learn about your own language. Grammar is something you'll be spending a lot of time with when learning another language and it's a lot easier if you understand grammatical structures in your own language before beginning another one. If you can identify grammatical elements in your own language it'll be easier to understand and practice the syntax (grammar) of another language.
    • For example it's useful to know something about how sentences are structured in English, such as the word order, parts of speech and what a subject and an object is.
  2. Expect to learn more about your own language from the new language. Since you'll end up doing a lot of grammar work in the new language, there will be occasions when you'll compare the grammar structures with those of your own language. Sometimes, this means that you'll discover elements that you either never knew about in your own language or that are missing altogether. This is another wonderful part of learning a new language, in that you strengthen the understanding of your own language.

Choosing Your Language

  1. Decide which language you really want to learn to speak. There are many choices and you'll need to choose depending on what is motivating you. Examples of reasons for choosing a particular language include:
    • It's already chosen for you as part of your study curriculum.
    • It's the language of a place you want to travel or move to.
    • You need to speak the language for business, research or community work purposes.
    • You love the culture and want to immerse yourself more completely by knowing the language too (much culture is better understood through its original language)
    • You love the sound of the language. This is not an unusual reason to learn a new language!
    • Other members of your family or friends speak it and you want to be able to join in. Or maybe you have new online penpals who use the language and you'd like to interact with them in their language.
  2. Try a related language. If it's your first new language, it can be helpful to pick a first foreign language similar to your native language. You'll be amazed from how much easier Italian is once you've studied Spanish first. Of course, this isn't a hard and fast rule and shouldn't cause you to avoid languages not related to your own––the brain loves a challenge.
  3. Think about how you will use the language. Do you want to speak fluently? Do you just need some general phrases or do you need a strong reading knowledge of a particular language for grad school?

Finding Resources

  1. If you are someone who needs the books and tapes on hand, go online first and search your local bookstores. Check to see if they have the language you want to learn. Decide if you need just a book or whether a book with tapes would be more appropriate. Most of the time it helps to hear the language being spoken by a native.
    • A good audio program (no book needed) is published by Pimsleur. You'll repeat a lot and progress slowly, but you'll remember everything.
    • Another great program to use is Rosetta Stone. It's also very repetitive, but you will not forget a thing!
  2. Decide if you would like to buy online or go to the store itself. Buying online enables you to comparison shop and possibly get used copies for very little money. If you are going to a physical store, shop those stores online and note the prices for the product you want.
  3. If you're comfortable with it and have the time, there are many resources on the internet where you can learn a language for free. Go to a search engine, such as Yahoo or Google, and type in Learning to Speak Irish, for example. Thanks to the internet you can hear a voice clip of a word or phrase being spoken to practice with. Some sites also have areas to test yourself when you finish with a section. And don't forget to check out apps for your mobile digital device––many free/affordable language apps are now readily available. You can also find sites for watching your favorite shows in the target language, which really helps and is very fun.
  4. Check out several websites and bookmark the ones you like best.
  5. Experiment with different learning methods to find which works best for you. Watch videos, read scripts, and play interactive games. Incorporate the new language into daily use in your reading, writing and entertainment to reinforce what you're learning and build fluency.

Learning the Language

  1. Begin learning. Using your chosen method or range of methods, follow the lead of their lessons and get stuck into the learning. Create a regular routine and aim to learn at least 10 new words of vocabulary a day. You will need around 1000 basic words in the new language to be basic fluent and hold a basic conversation with other people in their language.
  2. Use tactics that help the language to stick. There are lots of things you can do to make learning the language easier. Here are some things that former language learners have found particularly helpful:
    • Start simply. Focus on common words (I, he, she, they, we), food, stores and restaurant vocab, and some basic words (i.e. "hello", "bathroom").
    • Learn the grammar and syntax; learn what the default word order is in the language, for example, Subject Verb Object (most European languages), SOV (Korean and Japanese, also many languages of India), VSO (Celtic languages, for example Irish), etc. Once you learn the structure of a language, all you need to do is learn vocabulary and plug in words where they belong.
    • Carefully read the sections on grammar usage and pronunciation.
    • Wherever possible, repeat things aloud. This helps to attune you to the sounds and also helps them to stay in your memory.
    • When writing or mentally taking notes, think it in English, then think it in the language you're learning. Do this in your everyday routine.
    • Practice the different sounds made by vowels and special letter combinations unique to that language.
    • Be prepared to memorize, memorize, memorize. Learning an adequate amount of vocabulary requires a large amount of memorization.
  3. Listen to internet radio broadcasts in the target language (BBC World Service is a great place to start). You can also tune into many TV stations and watch news stories and shows produced in the other language. This can be a lot more fun than simply reading grammar texts!
  4. Read your daily news in the other language. Identify a topic that you regularly read about (e.g, 'technology news'). Find online newspaper sections or blogs that cover that topic in the language you're learning. Make a point of reading about this topic only in the language you're learning. Don't worry if you don't understand every single word, but choose up to 10 words each day that you would like to learn. Copy them onto flashcards or use an automate flashcard generator (e.g., lingua.ly).
    • Use foreign newspapers/movies with English subtitles/news channels to enhance your lingual skills.
  5. Check out podcasts. The huge advantage over internet radio is that they're downloadable. You can listen to the same show repeatedly until you feel you understand it. Don't be afraid to specialise, especially once you've got the basic vocabulary and grammar down — if you're into technology, for example, listening to tech-podcasts is a good place to start as many technology-related words and names are adapted from English.
    • Podcasts are just like Pimsleur's audiobooks, except they're free and usually have very large archives.
  6. Play your usual games in the language you're learning. Many online and app games allow for language changes to the most commonly used languages. If this is the case for your game, switch to the language you're learning. Since you're already familiar with the game, it won't be so bad playing some of it intuitively but you will see the new words regularly and you will also sometimes simply be forced to work out what is being said in order to get on with the game!
  7. Meet up with some native speakers either in person or in chat rooms/forums. The only way to learn a language is to immerse yourself, so get immersing!
    • Make a foreign friend who speaks that language and interact with your new friend. "Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow." (Swedish proverb)
    • Once you have become semi-fluent, join another language's version of Facebook or other networking sites. (Or change the language of your browser, which for many sites will cause it to change the language automatically.)
    • Learn with family and friends. Get together and study.
  8. Schedule your sessions to learn the language. 15-30 minutes a day is a lot better than one big session per week.


  • Make the language the first thing you see as you enter the Internet. Look up websites and set the best one as your homepage.
  • The best sites to learn from are the ones with voice clips, for example Transparent Language or Innovative Language.
  • If you own any DVDs, try watching your favorite movies and select the option for a voiceover in another language, while also selecting English subtitles. Watch the movie to read the words in your language while hearing them in another, then switch to English voice and foreign subtitles. After a while, try to watch the movie in the foreign language with no subtitles.
  • Teach it. When you're with your buddies, say simple phrases from your new language and then tell what they mean.
  • Learning languages takes time and practice; it only works when you're committed. Search out free, comprehensive language training websites. If you need help, ask a native speaker.
  • Study or even work abroad (overseas) if possible. This is usually the fastest way to learn a language, as you'll often have no choice but to speak the other language.
  • Use Wikipedia to your advantage. Open an article in your native language and, in another tab or window, the same article in your second language. (Note that you'll find not a literal translation, but two articles on the same subject, with overlapping vocabulary.)
  • Sometimes it also helps to learn a language with a partner. Find someone who is willing to learn the language with you.
  • Try using Duolingo, an effective and 100% free language learning website and app. It really, truly, works.


  • Be mindful of websites that are trying to sell their language learning products. Sometimes they have the word free in the website, but are actually selling something or urging you to try a free trial.

Related Articles