Ifyou're bored at homeor have dreams of visiting a foreign country and immersing yourself in the culture, you might start to wonder if it's possible to learn a new language on your own.
Besides bragging rights, the benefits of learning a foreign language are profound. Studies suggest learning another language can improvebrain function,concentration, andmemory. And onestudyeven implies that it can slow the rate at which your brain ages.
There are an ever-growing amount of effective freelanguage learning apps—Babbel, andDuolingo, for example—that make the process of learning a language at home easy and convenient, too. You never even have to step foot in a formal classroom—you can take entire courses by yourself, right from the comfort of your couch. That said, some languages are inherently more difficult than others.
Don't expect results to bethatfast. Mastering fluency takes plenty of patience, practice, and repetition. In fact, experts we spoke to at Babbel surmise that even the easiest languages to learn if you're a native English speaker—Spanish and French—take 24 to 30 weeks, respectively. More complex languages, like Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese, can take as many as 88 weeks to grasp.
For the best chance at success, follow these expert strategies:
Jump right in!
Don't overthink it. If you're just experimenting, download a free app. You can always upgrade if you're sticking with it. It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you start learning something new, especially a language. Remember: "You won't understand everything right away, but your brain is made for language learning," says Dr. Cindy Blanco, learning scientist at Duolingo. "Keep giving it the chance, and you'll soon crack the code."
Start with the basics.
Though it sounds obvious, the best way to begin is to build a foundation with the basics. Focus on how to say “hello," the most common verbs, the most important adjectives, and how to count, says Ted Mentele, editor in didactics at Babbel. Though many apps do let you jump around and cherry pick lessons, you're most likely to see success if you follow the curriculum as intended.
Speak the words.
One of the hardest aspects of trying to learn a language on your own is speaking, says Mentele. "Reading the words of a language is undeniably important, but then you don’t learn how folks actually sound." Supplement your learning by listening to native speakers and practicing the sounds yourself. Some apps encourage this with repetition tasks. Listening to podcasts and watching TV and movies can also be great supplements for learning.
But don't overload your brain.
Binge learning isn’t very effective, says Mentele. Slowing down your learning so you can properly commit vocabulary to your long-term memory is the key to success. "Studying for 15 minutes per day is your best strategy for becoming conversational," he says. If you're having trouble squeezing it in, try to fit the time in during unexpected breaks, like while waiting in line at the grocery store or trading your morning social media scroll for a quick lesson. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn in just a small amount of time each day.
And be consistent.
For language learning to stick, it’s important to practice regularly, with no more than a couple of days in between lessons, says Bowles. For best results, she recommends at least 30 minutes per day, four to five days per week. If it helps, set yourself a reminder for the same time each day.
Remember to review previous lessons.
Reviewing can be a chore compared to learning new things, says Mentele. But if you actually want to learn a new language, rather than just memorize some fancy sentences, you need to review what you’ve done. "Doing this ensures you don’t forget what you’ve learned and that you’re building on your progress," he explains.
And practice with actual humans.
"The keys to learning are repetition and applying the language in new contexts," says Blanco. "These help you build connections between new information and what you already know."
But software can only get you so far if you're hoping for fluency. Look for a language learning solution that offers live interactive virtual tutoring, likeRosetta Stone. Or, better yet, a friend or family member you can practice with. This gets you in front of the language and allows you to see words and grammar in new ways, says Blanco.
Finally, be patient.
Rather than focus on mistakes you may make while learning, celebrate the successes that come from consistent practice, says Bowles.