How to Learn a Foreign Language

Like many people, when I decided to become fluent in a language, I took up daily practice with Duolingo. Over the course of several months, I faithfully logged in to complete exercises, and more often than not spent over an hour on the platform each day. When I finished the French language tree, I was thrilled to move on to the certification quiz and demonstrate my fluency to the world.

My duolingo account

The first time I took the quiz I received 1.83 out of 5. So much for proficiency. In disbelief, I took it almost immediately after, scoring .14 points higher at 1.93. After six months of (inconsistently) using the methods I mention below, I improved my original score by more than one whole point bringing me up 2.85.

There is not one way to learn a language- no single product, service or human will teach you all that you need to know.

I started teaching English online four years ago, and the most successful students did something I call the “guerrilla method.” They read articles in English, watched local news reports and vlogs on YouTube, rented films, had multiple speaking partners and occasionally took paid lessons with me. Whether you’re learning English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian or Chinese, there’s no one way to learn a language, but doing the following tasks consistently will help:

Listen to native speakers of your target language at least 30 minutes a day — there is something on YouTube for everyone and it’s completely free. Find some videos, songs, news reports and start listening at least 30 minutes a day, even if you don’t understand at first.

  • YouTube Channels for French Learners:
  • DRDA (Des Racines et Des Ailes) — it’s a French travel show (popular with Native French speakers) that takes you around different areas of the world, and it’s quite easy to gather meaning from context even if you’re French isn’t all that great. They have all sorts of episodes ranging from 30-second commercials to 30-minute features.
  • Learn French Through Music — these are mostly, silly songs for children, but I enjoy it and still learn a lot.
  • The French Minute — 1 minute French videos on pronunciation
  • YouTube Channels for English Learners
  • Real English — the show interviews native English speakers on the street, and ask them random questions.
  • IdiomLand— the channel posts clips from mainstream films that show how idioms are used in everyday conversation.
  • MovieClips— there are several versions of this channel, from funny clips to official movie trailers, but the clips are an excellent way to pick up on slang and culture and also practice listening to English spoken at an average pace.

Take lessons 3x a week with a teacher — Even the best autodidacts will still have questions. A good teacher will be able to assess your weak points and tell you exactly what you need to do to improve quickly. The best way to find a motivated private teacher is by Googling “[insert target language here] + online lessons.” If you can’t afford lessons, find a native speaker to chat with on Skype.

  • My Language Exchange- Practice and Learn Foreign Languages — If you can’t afford a teacher, find a partner on this site. Don’t let the old design fool you; you’ll have a better chance getting a language partner here than you will anywhere else.

Practice verb tenses and vocabulary —Find a drill-based app to review verb tenses and overcome those pesky grammar mistakes that new learners make. If you are consistent with it (15 minutes a day, every day), you’ll notice that you start to remember vocabulary and tenses better while speaking.

  • Verbs in English — a drill-based directory with tests to memorize English verb conjugations
  • Conjugaison — a drill-based quiz app to practice French verb tenses

Write and Receive Corrections on Lang-8 —It’s helped me tremendously. I write about my day or something I’ve read and receive corrections from native speakers within hours. I learn new words and idioms and even regional differences in how the language is spoken. It’s equally helpful to find conversation partners to write to.

  • Multi-lingual language learning and language exchange Lang-8— It’s helped me tremendously. I write about my day or something I’ve read and receive corrections from native speakers within hours. I learn new words and idioms and even regional differences in how the language is spoken. It’s equally helpful to find conversation partners. **As of this update on 7/17, lang-8 has suspended new registrations of lang-8. If you have an old account, you can still use it, but you can’t sign up for a new one.
  • Chatting Cat-Get instant correction of written English —paid professional corrections on short and long texts from native speakers that have passed a grammar test . **As of this update on 7/17, Chatting Cat is out of business.

Now for the magic question, “exactly how long does it take to learn a foreign language?” In my experience, after three months of consistent practice (no less than five days a week, every week) you’ll improve by one level (e.g., Beginner to Intermediate, Intermediate to Advanced).

What are your tips for learning a foreign language?

Happy Learning!