If you want to learn a language consistently step by step, but you have tried to learn languages in the past, and it just has not worked, you’re in the right place.
In this post, I’m going to teach you exactly what you need to know to be consistent, step by step. And I’m going to teach you through the eyes of my three-phase framework, The Method, because it summarizes and encompasses every single thing that you need to know. And I know this because that worked for me and it’s worked for all my clients. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Phase 1: Mindset
Most people will tell you that your first step to learning a new language is either (1) choosing the language you want to learn, or (2) vocabulary. While that’s not incorrect, it’s also ignoring a big problem that a lot of language learners get stuck in.
The first phase of The Method is Mindset.
When people talk about limiting beliefs, some of them mean simply:
“Just be grateful, put a smile on, and be confident!”
I believe your language learning mindset is much more complex than that.
You can have all the materials, time, and money in the world to learn a language, but if you feel that you are unable to learn a language for whatever reason, you will not be able to continue forward.
This may look like this:
- believing that it’s truly impossible to learn a language because of a history of negative experiences, whether it’s based on a specific language or language learning as a whole
- a paralyzing fear that you’ll make mistakes and be not good enough, embarrassed, or made fun of, resulting in the inability to even try
- assuming that once you reach a certain age, it will be too difficult or even impossible to learn a second language if you were raised monolingual
- concern that long-term language learning requires a lot of time, which is incompatible with a busy life
Terrified of making mistakes?
In Mastering Mistakes, learn to conquer your fear of saying it wrong so that you can confidently practice speaking in your target language and finally get conversational.
While it may seem like these fears are true, they are just limiting beliefs. It’s easy to go on Duolingo or start researching beginner vocabulary; what’s difficult is sticking to it long term, long enough so that you’re actually making progress in learning the language instead of giving up in a week or so.
Language learning goals
It’s easy to say, “I’m going to learn a language!” And it’s very easy for people to say, “I have learned a language!” But here’s the thing: that is a vague statement.
While deciding to learn a new language is motivating enough to get anyone started, setting this as your goal gets a lot of language learners stuck because it’s more of an umbrella goal that encompasses infinite language learning goals.
For example, a language learner who just wants to memorize a few key phrases, like
- “Hello, my name is ___”
- “I am from ____”
- “I speak a little ____”
- “Where is the bathroom?”
…can “learn a new language” in an afternoon; on the other hand, someone who wants to be comfortable having fluent conversations in a new language can spend 6 months building the language skills they want.
While I’m a language coach today, I didn’t always know how to learn languages.
For the 2015-2016 school year, I spent the year living in Spain, teaching English in a secondary school. One of the biggest reasons for that decision was that I wanted to speak a new language, and I had taken several years of Spanish language courses in high school and college.
I assumed that if I was immersed in a Spanish-speaking country, I would inevitably learn conversational Spanish.
I was disappointed. Why?
Living in Spain, my language learning strategy was to practice verb conjugations and memorize vocabulary, just as I had been taught to do for years in school.
3 months later, my Spanish was at the exact same level.
While I had spent 3 months studying and practicing Spanish at all hours of the day, I wasn’t practicing the skills that I wanted to build. I wanted to have conversations in Spanish and was perfectly poised to learn how, but I was faced with 2 problems:
- I was afraid of having Spanish conversations because I didn’t want to be a burden on the native speakers I was practicing with
- My goal at the time was simply “learn Spanish”. If my goal had been more specific, like “get conversational in Spanish”, I would have been much more likely to prioritize those conversations
Unless you have those fears acknowledged and supported, and you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, you’re going to get stuck every time.
Phase 2: Methods
Everybody wants to learn the best way to learn a language right off the bat. This includes
- language apps
- online courses
- language learning strategies
- & any other way to learn a language you could possibly imagine
Here’s the rub: by itself, Phase 2 is a lot of information. That is why you spend Phase 1 really understanding your language learning goals. When you understand the skills you want to build, it’s easy to focus on the strategies that will be beneficial to you to achieve these goals, and simply ignore all the rest.
There are many different methods for learning a language, including:
- Immersion: Surrounding yourself with the language, whether that’s by traveling to a country where it’s spoken, or watching movies and TV shows in that language (with resources like FluentU, Language TV Club, LingoPie, Yabla, Trancy, or Language Reactor).
- Formal group classes: Enrolling in a language course, whether a general language school like Lingoda or BaseLang, or topic-specific courses like German with Laura.
- Language learning apps: Using popular apps like Mondly, Drops, uTalk, Lingodeer, or Speakly, or less-common ones like Yask, Polygloss, OkyDoky, Mosalingua, or LyricsTraining
- Private classes: Meeting with a professional tutor for one-on-one support. These language teachers are usually found on platforms like Verbling, Preply, and italki.
- Language exchanges: Practicing with a native speaker who is also trying to learn your native language, so you can practice speaking and get feedback with apps like Tandem, HelloTalk, or Lingbe.
- Simple strategies or resources that can be used to learn almost any language, like CaptionPop, Slowly, or the Mimic Method.
Still can’t have conversations?
In Mastering Conversation, learn what you need to know to have foreign language conversations quickly, why you’ve been taught to learn languages wrong, and which resources to use to reach your goals.
Many voices on the internet will recommend one particular strategy or resource, but I disagree – there is no one-size-fits-all approach to language learning, and you should experiment with different strategies to find what works best for you.
Relying on someone else’s language learning strategy is a good way to keep yourself stuck.
Before I was a language coach I was a struggling language learner; and in those years, there were only a few big language learning resources available: Duolingo, Babbel, Busuu, Rosetta Stone, and Pimsleur.
But as time has passed and language learning has become more accessible, the number of options has exploded. The good news is that it makes it easier to intentionally learn a language in a way that’s both fun and goal-oriented – the bad news is that it’s more difficult to choose between all these resources.
I remember feeling overwhelmed and unsure about what I wanted to achieve and which resources would best help me reach my language learning goals.
Over time, I’ve done a lot of research and experimentation with various language learning resources. I’ve compiled all that research into my language app search so that you can use it to find the resources that will best suit your needs, based on things like the language you’re learning, your current level, your budget, and more. It’s organized and designed to help direct language learners to the resources that will work best for them, based on their goals, learning styles, and preferences.
I’ve analyzed and pulled out the key features that make certain resources more effective for certain skills, and I use those commonalities to help you find the language learning resources that will work best for you and your language goals.
For example, you can find different resources that offer:
- Simple grammar practice, like Ella Verbs, Clozemaster, or Conjuguemos
- Flashcards with a variety of features, like Anki, Memrise, or Lingvist
- Context-heavy apps to bust through the intermediate plateau like LingQ, Speechling, or Kwiziq
- Free (or freemium) resources like Language Transfer, LanguagePod101, Mango Languages, or Spanishdict
- A variety of different languages to choose from, like Glossika, Rocket Languages, StoryLearning, or Fluent Forever
It’s never been quite so easy to learn a language online, which means that these resources are constantly growing and changing. That’s why I make sure these reviews stay up-to-date on all updates and changes.
Plus, I make it easy to compare and contrast different language learning resources. I do this most often on my YouTube channel, where I recommend different resources to solve different problems, but I have a few important comparisons here on my website, as well:
Phase 3: Metrics
Learning a language consistently is about more than choosing a strategy and hoping for the best – as we know from Phases 1 and 2, there are essentially unlimited expectations to have with a language and even more ways to learn it. Once we start, how do we make sure that we can keep going?
Metrics refers to the strategies that we use to stay consistent long-term, like:
- taking breaks
- when to change your strategies
Most important is that last bullet point: tracking.
Just like most people don’t talk about the mindsets necessary to learn a language, tracking is also commonly forgotten.
Tracking isn’t just putting “study” on your to-do list and checking it off, or maintaining your Duolingo streak every day; tracking includes the skills and information that are most important to you, like
- which vocabulary words you want to learn to use
- how engaged you are in your current approach
- how much of the language you understand over time
- your expectations compared to how much/often you actually study
This information is most helpful on those days when you feel like you’re really struggling, or if you feel like you’ve been slacking, and you start feeling anxious or guilty about these emotions. If you have this kind of data, you can double-check your tracking and not have to rely just on emotions.
For example, if you’ve been using a particular learning resource for a month but don’t feel like you’re making progress, you can use your tracking data to figure out why you’re not making progress, as opposed to getting upset and giving up. Maybe the resources you’re using are meant for a higher level than you are at the moment, or maybe you’re learning that you don’t actually enjoy learning languages in that way.
If you’re tracking your language learning and keeping tabs on the information that’s most important to you, it’s surprisingly easy to find the problem and adjust your language learning strategy.
For years, I used to beat myself up for not fulfilling my language learning routine. I thought it was a personal failing, a reflection of my laziness or lack of discipline.
For example, at one point I had bought a book full of introspective questions, and I decided that I was going to answer one in Spanish every single day. It seemed easy at the time, and I was really motivated to open up this pretty little book every day. Plus, it sounds easy enough to spend 5 minutes every day…10 minutes if I skipped a day and wanted to make up for it.
I still have that book in my closet. I think it lasted 2 days, maybe 3 before I gave up. I remember feeling disappointed in myself, and overwhelmed because I had skipped a few days so the “work” was just piling up and felt more and more stressful.
If I knew about tracking the metrics of my language learning at that time, I would have realized a few things, and been able to adjust:
- while I liked the idea of this book, I didn’t enjoy using it enough to motivate me every day (or at all, really)
- I wasn’t building the skills that were important to me
- I was effectively punishing myself when I missed a day; instead, I should have allowed myself a break when I wanted it
At the time, I thought giving up on that book was a personal failure. I couldn’t stick to my own commitment to myself, so I didn’t “deserve” to learn the language, or I hadn’t “earned” it.
Can’t stay motivated?
In Mastering Motivation, learn why you keep losing your motivation to learn a language, and what to do instead so that you can stick to consistent language learning long-term.
Now I know that this was just information that I can use to improve my language learning strategy, and I won’t try this method in the future. No guilt, shame, or anxiety necessary!
Remember: don’t worry about being perfect. It’s about getting 10% better every day, and being willing to experiment with different strategies until you hit the jackpot.
And don’t be afraid to make changes when something isn’t working! It’s not personal.