How to study languages

I often get asked by my foreign friends or just foreigners living in Prague „Why don´t you give more information in English?“ So, here we go!

Are you struggling to pick up Czech? Or any other language? Spanish, English or Russian? Learning a new language can be tough, but if you follow certain techniques, you will be surprised about the quick progress you are making. 

Keep your eye on your why

The very first and most important thing is: MOTIVATION. You should be able to name clearly the reasons why you are learning a language. The more specific these reasons are, the more successful you are going to be. 

Even if you think that you are motivated, take a piece of paper and write down five or ten situations you would like to go through in the foreign language. Usually, this is something which makes the student change the learning style. One of my students was learning Greek from an old-fashioned textbook which is based on phrases like This is a student/ This is a book in the first chapter and The Charles University was founded in 1348 in chapter 14. She felt like she wasn´t making much progress. Which was strange because she was able to conjugate dozens of regular and irregular verbs 🙂

So finally we put aside this book and we started to learn with Learn Languages for Free, which is in my opinion the best resource for travel purpose. You can have a look at the Greek part of this web site.

I mean, me personally, I like the GTM (Grammar-Translation Method) which was exactly what the book was like. I have learned some of the languages with GTM and I appreciate the complexity of this method. It is definitely my style. But it is not the style of Kateřina – my student. She just wanted to go to Greece and have a small talk with the owner of the taverna at the place where she travels every year.

How much time is needed to achieve a communication level?

Actually, not as much as many people think. The success begins with twenty or thirty minutes of daily practice for a period of month or two. But the difference between a good and a bad student is the attitude – whether it is an active or a passive one. These twenty minutes, are you just sitting and looking in your textbook? Or are you writing a lot, reading out loud, exaggerating your pronunciation, making some gestures? In other words, is there an active interaction between you and the language?

What are the best methods and how to practice them on your own?

This is a tough one. Do you know why? Because all of the stuff we have been through so far is kind of rule for everyone. It is universal. But as far as the methods are concerned, there are hundreds of methods, textbooks, apps, courses etc. 

The „problem“ is that the students are different and they live in very different conditions. A good example is an app based learning. We, teachers, do know that learning with flashcards apps for example is highly effective. It is quite a complex system, composed of sound, picture, high variability, and then there is the spaced repetition which helps you memorize in the right way. BUT There are so many people today working with a computer all the day long and so it is quite comprehensible that they say “ I don´t want to spend another twenty or thirty minutes online, I just prefer pen and paper.“ 

Other clues which may lead to your own, personalized and effective method are

  • type of memory (you can try the VARK typology)
  • whether you are more intuitive student (focused on communication or text) or more analytic student (focused on grammar and structure)
  • which is your priority skill (listening, reading, writing or speaking)

In my opinion, the best method is a combination of few of following tips: 

  • audiovisual learning, YouTube channels (such as Italiano Automatico or French with Alexa) or EnglishCentral, repeating aloud a lot
  • Easy Readers and easy texts in general, again read them out loud
  • flashcards (Quizlet, Memrise)
  • monologues, shower conversation – just speak to yourself
  • write diaries, notes, journals, shopping lists, whatever
  • movie/ songs-based learning
  • imitation and substitution – once you hear a phrase you like, try to repeat it authentically and then try to change it somehow

A good textbook (such as Assimil, such as Teach Yourself) is highly recommended at the beginning of your study. Later on, it´s less important and the question whether to learn with or without a textbook is one of the most discussed among the language learners community.

Where to find the best resources online?

My personal top ten resources are: Learn Languages for Free, From Text to Speech, Forvo, Quizlet, Memrise, LyricsTraining and Lexiophiles. I follow some of the YouTube channels and I listen to the radio stations worldwide (these are easy to find).

Personally, I am not a big fan of Duolingo, but I know that some of my students really like to work with this app, so let´s add it too.

Good luck 🙂