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How to Learn a Language by Self-Study

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

You’ve decided you want to learn a language. Good call!

When you start a new language, you can find yourself with a lot of questions about where to start. Should you buy a textbook? Enrol in classes? Sign up for Skype classes via italki? Should you get help – for example with the Add1Challenge (now the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge) – or go at it alone?

When I got serious about learning Spanish, I asked myself questions like this. In the end, I tried a bit of everything – enrolling in courses, studying every day and speaking at every chance I got.

It was a lot of effort!

Then I realised something. In my classes, I was following methods of language learning that, put simply, just weren’t meant for me. I wasn’t excelling at all in an academic setting, so what was the point of persevering with this type of study?

So, I resolved to strike out and tackle language learning on my own.

I haven’t looked back since. All my languages are self-taught, and it’s what works best for me.

Self-Taught Language Learning: What’s So Good About It?

I’ve found self-study to be the best approach for several reasons:

  • You can go at the pace that’s right for you. Courses are typically taught in a group setting and come with set lesson plans. With students learning at different speeds, some may find themselves frustrated, wanting to speed ahead, while others struggle to catch up. Self-study means you can learn at the pace that’s right for you.
  • You can sit on the couch and study. The beauty of self-study is that you can do it anywhere. At home, during a coffee break, on vacation. Wherever you want to. When I knew I’d be spending time in Japan, I dedicated a few months to learning the language even though I was living in Spain at the time.
  • You save money. Language courses with a tutor can be pricey – some running at thousands of dollars per module, or tens of thousands of dollars per year. With a self-study approach, you can find the resources that suit you best, and invest in those. Even if you spend a few hundred dollars on resources, you’ll have saved thousands compared to taking a taught course.

Self Study Makes You a Better Person

Self-study makes you more self-sufficient, as you learn you can get better at a skill without the help of a paid expert.

I really like the idea of the DIY ethic, which is similar to self study. This works on the idea that we’re all capable of doing most things by ourselves – if only we’d take the time to learn. This is something that I strongly believe, since I know that everyone has the ability to learn a foreign language.

The only thing you need for a DIY approach is the ability to find the knowledge required to fulfil the task at hand.

Luckily, we live in an age where pretty much any kind of information you’d ever need is a few mouse clicks away…

Self-Study – Where to Find Resources

The Internet has been a game changer when it comes to self study. If you were looking to learn a language in the years before the web burst into existence, you would have had a pretty hard time going at it on your own.

Now, there are so many courses available online at a reasonable price, from my personal favouriteInnovative Language podcasts to the Mimic Method.

The Add1Challenge is our own community of language learners all learning by self-study and sharing their favourite resources for language learning.

Self-Study and the Growth Mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck has spent her career researching motivation, personality and development – and she’s found something really interesting about the types of people who are motivated to learn new things.

It’s all to do with mindset, and here’s what she discovered.

Those with a fixed mindset believe that their success is pre-ordained. They believe they were born with a certain amount of intelligence and they can’t change that. So when they struggle to learn a new skill, and it gets difficult, they tell themselves “this isn’t for me, I’ll never get any better”.

When it comes to languages, people with a fixed mindset typically believe that if they didn’t learn a language as a child, they have no chance of doing it as an adult. As you might know, I completely disagree with that!.

What about people who are good at learning?

These are people with a growth mindset. The believe that hard work, learning, training and sheer determination will mean they can learn new things – whatever barriers they may face.

People with a growth mindset are less likely to fear failure, because they don’t see failure as a reflection on their identity. Rather, they see failure as an opportunity for improvement.

As J.K. Rowling (herself no stranger to failure) once said:

Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.

The good news is, you can change your mindset. Even if you have a fixed mindset, you can adjust it to a growth mindset.

That’s a good idea if you’re planning to learn a language by self-study.

Where is the joy in living, if you don’t embrace the opportunity to continue on learning for the rest of your life?

I Learned so Much More When I Started Self-Study

When I first took a self-study approach to language learning, I had no idea what I’d end up getting out of it. It turned out to be a lot more than I imagined! I got not only what I hoped – the ability to have real conversations in another language – but many more skills besides.

I began looking for people to practise speaking with, which pushed me out of my comfort zone and improved my social skills My confidence increased when I learned to laugh at my mistakes and not take myself so seriously.

Being an engineer, I was already pretty good with technology, but my knowledge of computers improved as I transformed my laptop in a language learning machine.

I spent hours researching language resources on the Internet to find the very best ones.

And eventually, I started a blog, and learned about sharing my approach to language learning with an audience. My blog has become a business, which has meant learning a whole new set of skills.

Who knows where your language learning will take you!

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start learning!

If you’d like to learn a language by self-study, then take a look at the Add1Challenge. With the Add1Challenge you’ll have a 15 minute conversation in your new language after just 90 days, guaranteed.

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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