Tips for language self-study 🎓

When it comes to learning a language on my own, I am a true expert. I studied Spanish entirely on my own and reached to such a high skill level that I was accepted to study the language in the University of Helsinki. How did I do it, when people having studied the language in proper courses given by professional teachers failed to get accepted? 😯

There isn’t really anything magical to learning a language. The key thing that is needed is that you as a language learner have to be active in learning. If you never touch a dictionary to figure out what new words mean, you are doomed to fail. Another crucial point is to have a good study book. This post, however, focuses more on other ways to practice the language than a study book.  📗


Depending on where you are located at and which language you are studying, native speakers might be difficult to come by. And picking up a pen and starting to write just to practice the language might seem like a lot. The easiest way to force yourself to produce the language is to think in it. While you do so, you will notice that you don’t have all the words needed. But don’t let that bring you down! You can always look up the words you need frequently in a dictionary and for the less frequent words, come up with a way of explaining them in other words.

Thinking in another language is something you can do whenever, it doesn’t require any dedicated time slot in your calendar, you have to think in some language anyways all the time. It also makes it easier for you to learn the limits of your language skills. And get this: if you have the problem of mixing foreign languages up, there’s a nice trick you can try. Try to think in one language and then suddenly switch to another one before even finishing your sentence. Do this multiple times in a row. It feels super difficult in the beginning, but soon it gets easier. And you will even start to notice you don’t mix languages up anymore that frequently. 😃

Watch a TV show

Now hold on!🤚 Don’t go the direction you initially had in mind. Don’t try to find a TV show the original language of which is the language you are studying. The chances are you won’t understand a thing. Instead try to find a TV show with voice overs. The reason is simple: usually voice actors, when doing voice overs, talk more slowly and articulate better than normal actors do in general. At first, even voice overs may seem overwhelming, but there’s a cure, use subtitles in the foreign language. This way you will read and hear (roughly) the same sentences which improves your listening comprehension a lot. 👂

An advantage watching a TV show has over watching a movie is that you don’t run out of learning material too fast. Furthermore, all episodes of a given TV show are thematically similar which means that you will get quite a lot of repetition of certain words, making you more likely to learn them.

Switch the language of your devices

Most of us use their phone, computer, TV and so on every day. You can profit from this by changing the language in the settings to the language you want to learn. A word of advice though: don’t trust on your memory when using the device and ignore the texts it shows. Instead, read everything carefully and don’t be afraid of using a dictionary for the words you don’t know. 👨‍🏫

Another tip related to devices is setting your web browser’s home page to a news site in the language you want to learn. Every time you open up your web browser, take time to read just the headlines. Have a piece of paper close and write down all the words in the headlines you didn’t know beforehand with their translations. Take a look a the list once in a while and try to memorize the words. This way I ended up learning a lot of useful (and some not so useful, but peculiar) words in Spanish. Plus, reading headlines once a day doesn’t take too much time, does it? ☺️

For geeks only: play a video game

One thing that has been extremely educational, has been playing video games in different languages. You just have to pick a game that doesn’t have too few text, like Angry Birds, and doesn’t rely too much on story telling, like Baldur’s Gate. A simple RPG, like Pokémon will do the trick. In such games, there’s a long list of item and attack names all of which are repeated over and over again until you sure have memorized them. 👾

Video games are also way more interactive than watching a TV show, so your brain will have to put extra effort in understanding what is going on in the game. Because if you don’t understand, the chances are you will get stuck or even worse, it’s game over. 😱


These are the tips that turned me from zero to hero in Spanish. And if you follow all of them, I can guarantee you’ll learn much more than any language course could ever teach you. 🤗

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