November 15


Learning languages at home: Checklist for your learning success

By Laura Bacher

November 15, 2020

Learning languages at home is trendy and seems to be cheap. But can one expect success in learning? If you want to learn languages successfully at home, you need to be motivated and keep an eye on a few other things. Our checklist supports you on the way to learning success:

  • Keep going! How to motivate yourself.
  • What is important to me? The focus on the essentials.
  • Which method is suitable for me? Learning correctly.
  • Using everyday life.
  • Perfect time management: short learning phases of 10 minutes.
  • Never give up!

Keep going!

Independent learning has many advantages, but like any learning, it also means work. “Nothing comes from nothing,” said management trainer and author Vera F. Birkenbihl. And even the best language course is only as good as the effort the learner invests.

Another good tip: Always look for new motivation. Even if you initially have an excellent reason to start learning a language, you should also look for fresh inspiration in between. To do this, you need opportunities to use a foreign language, which could be a trip abroad, an event, an online seminar, or a meeting with a learning or tandem partner. Having a simple conversation is a rewarding experience in itself. When you have such a sense of achievement early on, it is much easier to stay motivated and continue learning.

Focus on the essentials!

The most important thing is to develop a feeling for the language. Besides, you should consider which language skills are essential to you: Above all, do you want to learn how to speak and understand? Or would you instead like to learn how to write to make your e-mail conversations more efficient? Or would you like to be able to read novels in a foreign language? Individual goals require different learning focuses.

However, the following generally applies to all of them: common phrases and simple question-answer communication, as found in many vacation language guides, are ideal for first contact and more important than starting with grammatical subtleties. Learning languages this way enables you to apply what you have learned quickly. And let’s be honest: we make grammatical mistakes ourselves in our mother tongue. That doesn’t stop you from understanding. Remember: conversation partners are much more tolerant and understanding of such errors – more on this below.

Learning correctly

Pure memorization may help for the next vocabulary test, but not when it comes to remembering the words. Especially when it comes to using them in practice. To later use new words correctly, you should learn new vocabulary in whole sentences. Memorizing isolated words causes wrong applications. In communication, it is also essential to be idiomatically correct. Some sentences may be accurate, but they are not used in the language. On the other hand, some words have multiple meanings and can cause unwanted associations, depending on the wording. This can be counteracted by learning whole sentences or formulations. 

We recommend: Get away from stupid grammar and vocabulary learning!

Put the focus on: 
  1. Understanding: To quickly develop an understanding of the language, you should use whole sentences or texts. Translate them word by word – this way, you will learn the meaning of the words, the use of the words in the context of the sentence, and the grammar intuitively. A word-for-word translation is the foundation of the well-known Birkenbihl Approach of language learning. You can use any text for this learning method. It is best to choose content that interests you personally.
  2. Speaking: To speak a language fluently, you must create individual nerve tracts in the brain. This happens involuntarily when a foreign language text (which you already understand) is listened to repeatedly. It is best to select books for an audio recording (spoken by native speakers). For this so-called background listening, you do not have to concentrate on the audio actively. It is sufficient to play the foreign language text in the background – preferably in an endless loop. Your brain considers what you hear as important through repeated stimulation and starts to analyze it unconsciously and automatically. New nerve pathways are created for new sounds, speech rhythm, speech melody, and pronunciation, and networks in the brain are strengthened. After a few days of “background listening,” your mind is ready for independent speaking – get started and train with real conversation partners!

By concentrating on these two building blocks, you can learn a foreign language sustainably and intuitively in a short time.

The most important tip of this article: Listen carefully!

If you want to paint something, you must first learn to look at it properly. The same is valid for learning languages: to speak, you must learn to listen. Every language sounds new and unique the first time you hear it. But the more often you listen to it, the more familiar it becomes, and the easier it becomes to speak it yourself.

Using everyday life

The brain can continue to pick up things the same way as a small child all his or her life if you give them enough input. Therefore, you should surround yourself as much as possible with the language you want to learn. 

Here are our specific tips:
  • When you learn Italian, go to an Italian restaurant more often and order in Italian. The same applies to Chinese, French, Croatian, Greek, Japanese, etc.
  • Listen to foreign language podcasts.
  • Find out where compatriots of your desired language are and mingle with them. Maybe in cafés, at certain events or clubs?
  • Meet the Erasmus students at your university.
  • Listen to music in a foreign language. By the way: Translating lyrics always works wonders for me. First, I translate them word by word into German, then I listen to the song repeatedly and warble along happily. This way, I have already built up an excellent Spanish vocabulary. This method is great fun and doesn’t feel like learning at all. 
  • Watch foreign language series and movies. Use subtitles in the foreign language if you don’t understand much. Did you know that Brain-Friendly offers MOVIE© language courses? These are unique video language courses based on a comedy sitcom, produced especially for language learning. Like a subtitle, a two-line text is displayed at the bottom of the screen (in sync with the speakers, just like singing karaoke). At the top, you can read along with the foreign-language text. Below it’s the word-for-word translation into English. Listen to the speakers and read the translations at the beginning. Later, switch to the top line. At some point, you won’t need any help at all and will watch the sitcom without reading along.

These are all ways to keep in constant contact with the language and learn it at lightning speed. Surround yourself with the language as often as you can, immerse yourself in the language.

Use “idle” times in everyday life.

Pay attention for a whole day to how often and how long you wait for something in everyday life – whether at the bus stop, in the car, at work. And how often you do things automatically and routinely, such as brushing your teeth, cooking, or going for a walk. You will find countless situations in which you can mentally switch off. All these moments – the waiting times and routine activities – are potential learning units. Learn a language during this time. Use your learning materials or listen to podcasts (for language learning) or audiobooks during this time.

Perfect time management: short learning phases of 10 minutes

Learn in 10-minute units. This way, you stay on track, and it is easier to learn the language. After each session, your brain continues to learn passively for another 7 to 10 minutes. It analyses information and stores it. So change your activity after 10 minutes and make optimal use of your brain’s potential. For example, watch a Spanish sitcom for 10 minutes, then translate a text for the next 10 minutes, use 10 minutes to listen to Spanish music. Or: 10 minutes of learning Spanish, followed by 10 minutes of cleaning, then another 10 minutes of learning Spanish, spend 10 minutes practicing the piano, and then finish with 10 minutes of learning Spanish. For details on the 10-minute technique, click here.

Never give up!

Learning a foreign language takes time. The advantages you gain from it are indescribable:

  • Vacation experiences become even more unforgettable.
  • A completely new cultural circle opens up.
  • You get to know many new people.
  • Your brain will not age as quickly.
  • Knowledge of foreign languages is beneficial for your career.

And the most important thing is: you have a lot of fun – both learning and using/speaking. Please do not give up because it will be worth it! 

Laura Bacher

About the author

Laura has been a big fan of foreign languages since her childhood. She grew up bilingual - English and German - and through international vacations, she got a taste of many other languages.

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