Do you dream of learning another language, but you’re not quite sure how to start?
Maybe you’ve recently downloaded your first language learning app, but you’re not quite sure how to go from screen to reality.
Or if you learnt a language in the past and want to refresh your skills, you’re wondering if the world has anything new to offer besides weekly evening classes at the community centre.
Congratulations to you! This is an exciting time. If you’re feeling curious but confused about how to teach yourself a language, this is the right article for you.
Today I have 10 simple tips that will make starting your new language a total success and help you stay motivated for many months and maybe even years. They’re perfect for beginners, or learners who need a fresh burst of inspiration.
Let’s get started:
1. Tidy Up Your Mind
Have you heard about the life changing magic of tidying up? I mean that Marie Kondo book and Netflix show. In Marie Kondo’s world, the simple act of letting go of your less exciting stuff is a way to improve ALL of your life. And that advice works for language learning too!
Before you saddle yourself with the new project of learning another language, it pays to tidy up your mind.
Start with a simple list, asking yourself: “What do I believe about my language learning abilities right now?”
Once all the beliefs are out on paper or screen, examine each one to find out which ones are actually useful to you. In Marie Kondo terms, find the ones that spark joy and throw out all the others. Your brain will be clutter-free and ready for a positive new start!
2. Write a Note for Future You
As you’re currently reading this article, you are probably excited and keen to jump into learning your new language. This is awesome! Let me ask you one more question:
What are your reasons for learning this language?
You have got to know your reasons and hold on to them, because the world is going to start getting distracting. Textbooks and evening classes make lots of assumptions about why you’re learning.
For example, if you’re truly in Japanese class because you love manga, you’ll soon get bored of a textbook for busy travellers. When that happens, it’s easy to assume that you have lost your love for everything in the language.
So make sure you are prepared and do write down what motivates you, and once you get bored you’ll have a letter to open and remember where your true North is pointing.
3. Get Great Gear
Every new project deserves some gear. Runners buy shoes, knitters buy wool, and language learners buy notebooks, dictionaries, textbooks and other delightful things.
And to save a bit of money, don’t forget that libraries and second-hand shops always stock a few shelves of language resources that you can use.
4. Get More Than One App
Beyond your paper resources, your smartphone is an amazing language learning tool. The most famous language learning app you might know is Duolingo, but don’t stop there. Download three, four, seven apps to help you learn. Why not!
Every language learning app uses a slightly different system. Get yourself a whole range of different apps to test drive and make it your goal to find out which one’s the most enjoyable.
It’s easy to start ignoring one app’s notifications when you’ve broken the streak. In fact, my advice is to switch notifications off completely as they can easily make you feel bad about your progress when you’re actually doing well.
Research has shown that learners who learn by reading and listening to lots of interesting input at the right level can learn languages up to six times faster than those who study rules and textbook dialogues.
The trick here is to find something you’re interested in: perhaps a fun short story (like in my German Uncovered course), a video game, comic book, or a song.
Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in something you only half understand, see if your brain can start seeing any patterns, and make best friends with your dictionary.
It’s surely challenging, but you’ll be amazed at just how much you can learn just from enjoying something you love.
6. Research Music
There are so many cool ways of using music for learning a language that it deserves its own place in this list. You can start by searching online for artists that make your favourite style of music in their language (rap and hip hop are amazing for this), or by investigating local music styles.
Then just hit play and enjoy. To go a little further, you can start reading the lyrics or researching artist interviews. Feeling more ambitious? Attend a concert!
7. Express Yourself NOW
Most people think that they have to wait until they have studied for 50+ hours before they can start expressing anything meaningful in another language. But what if you could flip the script and START by expressing yourself right away?
The trick here is to realise that you don’t have to do this by writing a perfect essay. Expressing how you’re feeling can start with something as simple as one word (“hungry” - “tired” - “headache” - “curious” and so on) and it will help you learn the most relevant and important vocabulary you could ever wish for.
Your act of self-expression can be long like a diary entry or short like a tweet. You can make it by creating a colourful art collage, or by writing the same word in 20 different pens. If you’re feeling brave, you can even share your creation online or record an audio diary.
What matters is that you signal to yourself that you’re ready right now, instead of having to wait for some kind of future level.
8. Make Daily Contact
While I’m on the subject of avoiding anything that makes you feel like you’re “not good enough yet”, I have another tip that has served me fantastically well with every language I’ve taught myself since I left full-time education:
Make daily contact with the language.
That’s all. No need to study 200 flashcards every day or go through four Duolingo levels. What you want is contact. Switch the radio on, watch a video, say hi to a friend, read a page in a book, do a grammar exercise, it does not matter.
Daily contact is the foundation on which you can build a solid language routine without feeling like it’s driving you around the bend.
9. Use Social Media for Language Learning
Most of the time, we think of social media as a distraction and a waste of time. But there’s another way of looking at it.
Follow accounts that share content in your target language, and you’ll instantly have a cool and relevant library of interesting stuff to study. As you get better and feel confident, start making comments in your target language and creating your own posts.
For more specific tips and a list of the best social networks for language learning, check out this list of 17 tips.
10. Try It All
Last year, I interviewed listening expert Cara Leopold for the Fluent Show, who shared this simple lesson on what works well in language learning:
No matter which product you buy or which blog you read, they all have something that will work. The key is finding out whether it will work for you. (“The Miracle Morning” is certainly NEVER gonna do it for me, for example.)
Try Flashcards, try vocab lists, try immersion, try podcasts, try everything that looks interesting in your target language.
Even if you find that it doesn’t work so well for you, it’s unlikely to break your language skills completely.
What Works for You?
Have you tried any of these 10 tips for learning another language? Are you just feeling inspired to add these to your routine?
Leave a comment below to join the discussion - I’d love to hear what works best for you.
Bonus Tip: Build a Language Habit
Habits are the key to building a lasting change and long-term achievement into your life. For language learners, making your study into a habit is just the best. It means you no longer question everything you do and clear the path to just getting on with what you want to accomplish.
I’ve written a short guide taking you step by step through establishing your own healthy language habit, which you can get for free by joining the Fluent Language email newsletter below.
Imagine what you would do if you could easily understand spoken Spanish.
You could finally travel to the Spanish-speaking countries you’ve dreamed of, watch foreign films and addictive telenovelas, or understand a paella recommendation from the _menu del día_on a Thursday in Valencia.
Best of all, you’d be prepared for real conversations with native Spanish-speakers. The only question is: how do you find the time to practice your Spanish listening skills?
Podcasts are a great way to add a little Spanish listening practice into your day-to-day life. They are free, and can accompany any part of your day: driving a car, washing your dishes, doing laundry, working out, reading, and more.
The Fluent Show
In addition to the Spanish podcasts you’ll find in this article, check out the Fluent Show. That’s my own show, co-hosted by Lindsay Williams, where we discuss languages, learning methods, and how to live a multilingual life.Click here to listen and subscribe.
Quick Primer: How Do Podcasts Work?
If you're curious about podcasts, but not quite sure how they work, here's what you need to know:
You can subscribe for free to podcasts on your phone, tablet, or computer.
If you use an iPhone or iPad, go to the Podcasts app. If you're on a Mac, use theiTunes directory.
On a PC or Android device, try theStitcher app for a quick and easy start.
Subscribing means you'll always have the latest episode ready and waiting for you as soon as it's published.
The 9 Best Spanish Podcasts for Learners
In this article, you’ll find:
Spanish Podcasts for Beginners
Spanish Podcasts for Intermediate and Advanced Learners
Spanish Video Resources
A Special Tip for Advanced Learners
To help you target your Spanish learning goals, this list also specifies whether a podcast uses Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, or offers options for both.
Notes in Spanish is a podcast run by Marina, a native speaker from Spain, and Ben, an Englishman. Each episode is actually a conversation between the two. There are episodes dedicated to beginners as well as intermediate and advanced learners. For beginners, the hosts also go over key vocabulary, phrases, and basic grammar points both before and after their conversations.
Since Ben is also a Spanish learner, he offers a lot of useful tips for listeners while Marina often provides corrections and points out common mistakes. They speak clearly, making it easy for beginners to follow along.
SpanishPod101 from InnovativeLanguage covers the basic through advanced levels of Spanish. The episodes are exciting and immersive. Plus, you can find episodes for both Castilian and Latin American Spanish along with the differences between them. There are even episodes that explain some of the regional vocabulary from places like Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, and Spain.
The dialogues are presented by engaging hosts in a clear, concise way covering many grammatical features and cultural topics. On the website you can sign up for premium content to access spaced repetition flashcards, PDF lesson notes, and a community forum.
Spanish Podcasts for Intermediate and Advanced LearnersCastilian Spanish
Unlimited Spanish with Òscar Pellus uses a unique storytelling technique based on Òscar’s method of learning Spanish through exposure and repetition. Every episode includes a quick story followed by a question and answer session that encourages listeners to practice their speaking skills as well. It’s also a great option for anyone who doesn’t care for lengthy grammar explanations.
Podcast topics include various aspects of Spanish culture, including places and food, as well as social topics and situations. When necessary Òscar touches on some relevant vocabulary and grammar, but it isn’t overwhelming. The podcast is entirely in Spanish, but if you have any trouble understanding, you can download transcripts of every episode in PDF format.
Done entirely in Spanish, this podcast is meant to provide an immersive experience for intermediate to advanced learners. The host, Karo Martínez, is lively, engaging, and speaks both clearly and naturally.
There are over 100 episodes to choose from, some of which explore grammar concepts, offer tips to improve your pronunciation, or explain colloquial expressions. Other episodes talk about different parts of Spain or even how to learn Spanish with popular shows like Game of Thrones.
The Español Automático site offers episode transcripts along with additional guides and resources.
Though this podcast is directed towards those learning Spanish for work, its main goal is to help listeners get used to and understand native, spoken Spanish.
The host, Miguel Lira, is a native Spanish speaker from Mexico and a Spanish learning coach. Each episode goes over a particular conversation exchange in Spanish, such as conversations between workers or while simply ordering coffee. Miguel, as the sole host, uses a different tone of voice for each speaker, which is both entertaining and helpful as you follow along. There are also a few episodes on cultural subjects, like The Day of the Dead in Mexico.
In addition, the website offers notes, transcripts, and other resources to help you review the conversations.
News in Slow Spanish is an intermediate level podcast. This podcast covers world news, grammar, and expressions and slows down all the dialogue to make it easier to process what you hear. Every episode breaks down a point on grammar and vocabulary. It also lets you choose between Castilian and Latin American Spanish.
The audio is very clear and easy to follow. On the website, there are transcripts for each episode available with grammar, expressions, pronunciation, and quizzes.
Yabla is a video-based learning platform with bilingual subtitles and integrated dictionaries. The subtitles are interactive, which is a really cool concept! Check out how Yabla works in detail by reading myfull review.
Yabla is great for all levels from basic to advanced. You can check out their podcast and choose between videos from Spain and Latin America for hours of entertainment.
Coffee Break Spanish, a podcast from Radio Lingua Network, combines Spanish language lessons with a lot of useful information about Spanish food, culture, Spanish speaking countries, and so on.
My favourite part of the podcast is the chemistry between relaxed and charismatic host Mark from Scotland (who is fluent in Spanish) and Spanish learner Kara from Scotland. Mark guides both Kara and listeners through Spanish grammar, conversation, culture, and society.
The dialogues are presented in a clear, concise way, covering many grammatical features and cultural topics. On the website you can sign up for the premium content to access spaced repetition flashcards, PDF lesson notes, and a community forum for a subscription fee.
The Duolingo Spanish Podcast tells real-life stories from all across Latin America. Some of the stories are uplifting and inspiring while others are suspenseful and heartrending. Either way, they really make you want to hear more!
The stories are done partially in Spanish and partially in English, which makes it a great option for more advanced beginners who want to get used to spoken Spanish while still understanding what’s going on.
Advanced Learner Tip: Native Spanish Podcasts
If you’re interested in a more immersive experience, there are plenty of podcasts intended for native Spanish speakers available.
One great option is the Radio Ambulante podcast. Radio Ambulante is a longform journalism podcast that shares real-life Latin American stories. There are stories about language, sports, education, events, and more. Plus, there are both English and Spanish transcripts available for every episode.
If you want an easy way to access even more Spanish podcasts, go to iTunes and switch your country setting to Spain, Mexico, or any other Spanish speaking country. There’s no restriction on your switch and you’ll be able to access all podcasts in the same way that listeners from those countries can.
This article was written by Cassie Wright and me. She’s a freelance writer who loves languages. Thanks Cassie!
Hello and welcome to Clear The List, the monthly language learning round-up about language learning goals and progress. This blog round-up is hosted by my friends Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy, and April marks a full year of my language goal-setting using this process.
What Happened in April 2019?
The month of April started off very intense and ended a lot more relaxed. That’s how I like it!
In the first week, I was finally lifting the curtain on my new German course, German Uncovered. It’s an incredible feeling when that first student enrols and all the work translates into their language progress. I held a welcome call with co-creator Olly Richards for our first gang.
This month, I was also busy preparing for the next German retreat. These retreats are an amazing opportunity for intermediate and advanced students to visit another country, discover more about culture, and practice their language through immersion. The June edition is now fully booked for German, and you can get on that waiting list for the next event if you like.
What a month! I was so proud to release my interview with one of my favourite language authors, Dr Roger Kreuz who wrote Becoming Fluent. Roger is a psychology professor and associate dean at the University of Memphis, and our conversation about language learning was wonderful and inspiring.
If you follow the Fluent Show, you’ll know that I have a soft spot for the psychology of the language learner, so this interview was definitely a highlight of the year.
I’m currently working on two target languages as a learner: intermediate Welsh and very early beginner’s Chinese.
In the Welsh language, my level is now pretty functional as long as I maintain a lot of contact and produce a lot of my target language on a regular basis. And I do mean every day when possible.
In the month of April, I found it most difficult to get speaking opportunities. I didn’t arrange any meet-ups with my local conversation partner, my tutor was busy, and when I spoke to my friend Nicky it was in English because he was a guest on the Fluent Show.
Instagram yn y gymraeg
In the first half of the month, I was also struggling to find time and mental energy to learn Welsh. But once Easter came around and my workload eased up with Fluent, I feel like everything got better! I started by switching on Radio Cymru for a few mornings, then added a bit of S4C.
But the best part was creating my new Instagram account, @kersydysgu. Inspired by some wonderful Fluent Show listeners who have done this, I decided to try out the idea of a fully separate, and ONLY IN WELSH insta account. And my daily contact is through the roof because I’m already spending way too much time on the app. What a fantastic way to get more contact and write in Welsh on a regular basis.
My other language is Mandarin Chinese. I had set myself structured goals for this language for the first time last month.
My goal was to watch a bit of Easy Mandarin on Youtube, but I did nothing. Listening fell flat in April. I don’t enjoy many language instruction podcasts and I’m too low level for any natural input that I know.
My very tentative goal of an italki lesson was realised last week. Hooray! My first tutor listened to me counting to 10 and saying “living room” and “desk” at random, then declared my pronunciation very good and my learning “a mess”.
And fair point! I had not even noticed how little I had spoken apart from sounding out the words in my apps, and how little I could say in the way of dialogue. I was incredibly motivated after that and greeted her the next time with a full introduction, including where I live, my age, and my family. Take that, language mess!
I’m very pleased that I got my head around tones and basic pronunciation before the lesson, and I’m now hoping to take some regular classes. Good reminder: It isn’t really ever too early to work with a good tutor. They know what they’re doing!
Most of my learning is still reading-based, so I kinda met my goal by default.
I think I did quite well! My notebook is in regular use at the moment, and following up the lessons has made a big difference here.
At the moment my approach is to write in pinyin and also Chinese characters, but I’m not trying to memorize any of the characters. I’m thinking stuff like 我 and 你 will start sinking in automatically.
I’m using Google Translate and the Pleco app a lot for writing at the moment.
Daily Contact Goal
Every month, I log my “daily contact” with the Welsh language. In April, it was difficult to keep anything going during the launch of German Uncovered. But once Easter rolled around and I took some time to rest, Welsh returned to my life. In the last week, my Welsh instagram account made it easier than ever and I’m on a streak.
Total: 17 day out of 30.
I also track how many times I’ve spent 10+ minutes on Chinese, mostly for fun. In April, I checked this box 7 times. Often, this signals way over 10 minutes but it’s not about the minutes. It’s about the habit.
Goals for May 2019
This month is an unusual one. I’m travelling for the first 2 weeks, to Machynlleth in Wales and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve got a full-time responsibility away from Fluent, so I’ll have to see how work fits around it.
Welsh Language Goals
Again, I don’t feel I need to actively split my goals into listening, speaking, reading and writing at this intermediate stage. I just want to feel like I’m as good or better, and that will be about contact and speaking.
Spending the first few days of May in Machynlleth is a good start, and in the second half of the month I hope to get started on Say Something in Welsh Level 3 and get back into meeting my speaking partner.
Chinese Language Goals
In this language I’m a total beginner (很高兴认识你) and will benefit from the goal structure. So let’s go!
Ready to try again with YouTube for Chinese beginners. I’m looking for dialogue-based or story-based input here, rather than someone explaining greetings to me in detail.
If you want to recommend a channel or listening resource, leave me a comment below.
This is the easy one for any beginner, all my apps and my textbook are reading practice. No specific goals.
I’ve already booked one Skype lesson and hope to complete 3 by the end of the month.
(By the way, this month on the blog I have a brand new italki review - check it out if you have not tried out italki before.)
to follow up each language lesson with a page or revision notes,
to write 4 notebook pages about myself or my family (these pages are full really quickly when I write in English + pinyin + characters),
and to figure out how to type pinyin.
That’s it! Plenty to be getting on with.
Many people have been asking me to list the resources I use for learning my languages this month. Here they are:
a printed dictionary and Modern Welsh Grammar (link goes to a stupidly expensive version but I got mine from someone else who found it in a charity shop, so don’t forget your local 2nd hand resources!!)
A local language partner and lovely people who speak Welsh with me. You can find these by asking around!
What are Your Language Goals for May 2019?
Have you ever studied Welsh? Are you a Chinese beginner? Juggling 2 languages like me?
Leave a comment below to tell me all about how you’re getting on, and what you are planning to study next.
Be sure to check out the Clear the List linkup full of inspiring language goals and reports, hosted by Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy.
Imagine you're learning a language that's so easy that you're having full conversations within just a few hours. The vocabulary makes sense, the grammar feels natural...it's all just very easy. You've found the holy grail of languages...the one that you'll find so easy that you'll master it in just a few hours.
Listen to the latest podcast episode to hear Lindsay and me discuss this topic with lots of surprising insights and our own hit lists of top 5 easiest languages.
Here are a few of the factors that determine if you will find a language easy or difficult:
Language Families: What Is Similar to What You Already Know?
Familiarity is the most obvious way to guess whether a language is going to be easy for you to learn. The closer its structures and vocabulary are to your native language, the easier it should be to understand and learn them.
The idea: Languages in your language family are the ones that give you the least new material to learn. With less to learn, that means you don't have to work as hard. It's easy!
What You See = All You Get?
The language families theory works perfectly, but it has one flaw: Without knowing about the languages you don't know...how can you tell that those familiar ones really are the easiest?
For example, speakers of a Latin-based language like Spanish will list Italian and Portuguese as their easy languages... but fewer people mention Romanian. Romanian is less popular, but it is still Latin-based and fairly accessible.
Many people start to mistake languages that are widely spoken with languages that are easy. And that makes sense in terms of access - how easy is it to find materials for your language? How unusual do you feel when you’re learning this language?
But is the most popular language really the easiest? Maybe there's more to it!
Language History: Where Have Languages Been Designed to Ease Communication?
Sometimes, a language emerges because it needs to create ease of communication quickly and often this leads to simplified grammar structures. Languages designed to aid communication are Pidgins and sign languages, for example. They’re considered easy partly because they are based on existing languages.
In the podcast, we discuss whether a pidgin or a sign language could be the easiest language in the world...or maybe not?
Learner Situation: Which Language(s) Have You Learnt Before?
In my Facebook group, one learner replied to my question “Which are the easiest languages for you?” in an unusual way. She said:
"I think the easiest three are often your last three, because you develop your language learning strategy as you work out which things help you learn"
It's very true. Languages can be easier or harder depending on you and where your skillset and mindset are at.
A bad experience in the past (like in school) can give you the impression that a language is hard, when it may have been more to do with your learning environment.
In addition to this, some languages just call to you and that motivation makes the complex grammar or weird vocabulary a joy to learn rather than a burden.
So What Makes a Language Easy or Hard?
It's personal to you as the language learner, so there is no general answer. What you know and the languages you know are also limited, so...in a way you won't ever have the answer until you try.
But remember: It’s hard not to confuse “easy” with “available".
What Were Your Top 5 Easiest Languages?
Listen to the podcast to hear our lists of easy languages and share your views in the comments below
Finding a good language teacher isn’t necessarily an easy task. For those who don’t have a lot of local tutoring options or for those learning a less popular language, it can sometimes feel impossible.
Maybe you’ve had no luck finding teachers or language exchange partners in the past and you’re wondering if online teaching sites are a good idea. Maybe you’ve thought about trying one before, but didn’t know which option to choose.
In this review, let’s take a look at what italki is all about, what it has to offer, and how to make the most of its features to help you connect with others.
What is italki?
In short, italki is an online platform that connects language learners with both professional teachers and community tutors.
Currently, there are over a hundred languages for learners to choose from, including German, Chinese, Catalan, Armenian, and Esperanto. Since all lessons are done online, there’s also greater chance you’ll be able to find someone who teaches a language you’d like to learn.
How Do You Use It?
Like lots of language learning resources, it sounds great, but how easy is it to use?
Setting up an account only takes a few minutes and it’s free. After that, you can simply select a language from search bar to start looking for a teacher.
Finding a Teacher on italki
One thing I liked about this process was the fact that I could review all the available teachers before commiting to a decision. Each teacher on italki has a profile with a video introduction, a short description, a list of their teaching strengths, a list of the type of lessons they offer, and different costs. Professional teachers will also have a list of education and experience.
Once you find a teacher you’d like to schedule a lesson with, you’ll have to purchase italki credits, which can be done at any time from one of the options in the top menu. It doesn’t take long and there are a few different payment options, but keep in mind that each option has a different processing fee. After you’ve added enough credits, you can schedule a lesson.
Booking a Language Lesson
The booking process is simple and straightforward. Clicking ‘Schedule Lesson’ opens a window that lets you pick the language, lesson time, and lesson duration. New italki accounts have the option to select a 30 minute trial lesson, which is meant to help you get used to scheduling lessons and using the platform. It’s also great if you’re feeling nervous about your first lesson. You can use the shorter time period to test your connection, see how things work, and ask the teacher any questions you might have.
Once you pick a date and time for your lesson based on the teacher’s availability, you can also select an alternate way to connect for your session, like via Skype. I’d recommend entering in this information since the italki classroom is currently still in beta and can experience glitches.
After your lesson is completed, italki will ask you to verify that the lesson took place. If you did experience any issues, you’ll want to let them know. Then, you can leave a review for your teacher to share your thoughts on how the lesson went.
How Can I Get the Most out of Italki?
italki teacher: A sample profile
Since italki is focused on connecting language learners and teachers, it’s important to remember that your experience will depend on how you use it to interact with others. If you want to make the most of it, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
Think about Your Own Language Learning Goals
Do you want to learn a language in order to travel? Are you trying to pass a test?
There are a lot of teachers on italki and they all charge a different rate. I found that knowing my own language goals was one of the best factors in finding a good teacher, not price.
For instance, one of my reasons for learning Spanish is to have conversations with my Spanish-speaking, Latin American side of the family. So, when searching for a Spanish teacher on italki, I’m a bit more particular about finding someone who speaks Latin American Spanish and seems like someone I could easily talk to.
However, someone who wants to learn Spanish to travel to Spain or needs to pass the DELE Spanish Exam will have a better learning experience with a different teacher.
Once you’re a bit more clear on your own goals, you can use that information to help you pick a teacher. Pay special attention to:
To Get The Best Italki Results: Be Patient and Prepared
Even if you think you’ve found a good teacher, you never know what a lesson might be like. You could find it hard to talk to each other or you might not care for their style of teaching.
Just remember that you won’t connect well with everyone. Don’t take it as a sign to give up. There’s nothing wrong with trying several teachers.
Starting a Brand New Language on italki
One thing that helped me was to be prepared ahead of time. My most recent italki lesson was for Arabic, a language I knew almost nothing about. Before the lesson started, I wrote down a few initial questions and made sure I had a notebook and pen nearby. I think even this small preparation helped me focus a bit more during the lesson, even though I didn’t feel confident.
Be conscious of any practical steps to need to take ahead of time as well, including finding a quiet room and making sure you have a fast, stable internet connection. It can go a long way in making sure your session goes smoothly.
Don’t Ignore the Other Italki Features
One-on-one lessons aren’t the only thing italki has to offer, but a lot of people either forget about or don’t bother with some of the other cool resources.
Improve Your Writing Skills With Feedback
An example of the italki notebook feature
Unter the Community tab of the main menu, you’ll find articles, a notebook to write things down in a language you’re learning, a place for questions and discussions, and a way to find conversation exchange partners.
If you’re interested in improving your writing skills, you’ll definitely want to try the notebook feature. You’ll be able to post an entry in your target language and native speakers have the option to give you feedback and corrections.
Similarly, you can check the Answers or Discussions pages if you have small questions or simply want to start a conversation. Any of these options is also a great opportunity to connect with others on the platform and find language exchange partners.
So, Should You Give Italki a Go?
Hopefully, this review has given you a bit more insight into how italki works and how you can make the most of its features to help you learn a language.
My honest advice is to start by making an account and simply searching for teachers. Take a look at the costs and click the small heart symbol to bookmark any teachers that you think might be a good fit. I’ll admit that I nervously did that for a bit before I finally took the chance and scheduled my first lesson.
The nice thing about italki is that you can just add a few italki credits and try it out. It’s not a big commitment, but it has a lot of potential to be extremely helpful.
italki: Better Than Your Local Class
Overall, I found the site incredibly easy to work with and much better than trying to find a class or a private tutor to connect with locally. So, if you think it might be a good resource for you, try at least one lesson. I think you’ll like your experience.
This review is part of a sponsorship from italki. It was written by Cassie Wright. To learn more about italki and get $10 of free lesson credit, go to www.fluentlanguage.co.uk/italki.
Hello and welcome to Clear The List, “that was the busiest month” edition. This monthly language learning round-up brings together my progress from last month and my goals for the next month.
What Happened in March 2019?
I feel like the correct answer to this one is “everything happened”. First of all, the month of March kicked off with the best possible start as I co-hosted Women in Language with Shannon Kennedy and Lindsay Williams.
The event was a big success, and we’re super proud to share that our online language conference brought in over 500 people from over 50 countries. Thank you so much if you were one of them. We cannot wait for the next Women in Language event!
After those 4 days of fun, it was time for me to start the engines for my new online course launch. It’s actually happening this week. My new German course German Uncovered is out on Thursday, and you can peek inside the course by joining a free mini-course too.
So that was a lot of course building and promo writing, talking about the German language and all round getting busy.
The month was not over yet, as there was important work to do. Say what you want about the Brexit: it certainly takes up a lot of mental space. I went on the People’s Vote March in London along with a peaceful million others and Gareth from How to Get Fluent.
Here’s a video showing our experience on the day:
So that’s a glimpse into March - a busy month!
The Fluent Show
With all that was going on, we didn’t miss a single episode of the Fluent Show.
One of my favourites was my interview with calm and centred language learner Nicole Miles, who shared rich insights into the deep motivations for learning a language…the kind that will fuel your progress long after the first weeks of excitement are over.
And talking of being in for the long run, let’s see whether I squeezed in a lot of language practice.
Language Goals and Progress
I’ve got to admit one thing right from the start: This month, tracking and lessons fell by the wayside and this makes today’s review a little harder. If I don’t keep track of what I do, I get to the end of the month with a vague sense of progress.
Did I study? Didn’t I? Did you? No one knows unless we write this down.
(Or maybe your mind is less of a sieve when you’re busy..)
As you know, my current beginner language is Mandarin Chinese.
A local café - perfect study space
My Chinese studies are progressing at a leisurely pace. After failing to find any Chinese self-study materials in the library, I decided to give the old 10 Minutes a Day another try and it’s been going fine in combination with the Drops app.
This month I learnt numbers 1-20, consolidated the basics, and got a little more to grips with classifiers like 张 and basics like rooms in a house. I have a Chinese speaking acquaintance in my Coworking space and am rather proud that I was able to say “Excuse me, where is the house?” and they understood me.
I’m very close to booking my first Chinese lesson on italki, but haven’t quite got the courage together yet.
In the first two weeks of the month, Welsh took a step back as I worked on Chinese and Women in Language. But I started to miss it, so I feel like especially part two of the month was when I stepped it up.
I was not able to meet my goal of having more conversations on a grand scale, though I did
chat to Gareth in Welsh on the protest in London,
wear a Welsh flag at that protest and chat to a fellow flag wearer in Welsh,
bump into my local conversation partner by coincidence.
This Welsh element of surprise made me a much worse speaker - it’s so much harder to speak another language without warning. But I got there and this kept me practicing.
I also said I’d finish Level 2 of Say Something in Welsh. And I did! I am very proud of this achievement.
Finally, I continued to listen to the Mynd am Beint Gyda podcast, started watching the TV show “Fferm Ffactor” (a farm-based games show, what could be more Welsh!), and got a habit of reading The BBC Cymru or parallel.cymru articles.
Welsh = going well!
Daily Contact Goal
Every month, I log my “daily contact” with the Welsh language. In total, March had 17 contact days out of 31 (and 12 of them in the last 2 weeks). I don’t track the length of each “contact”.
In Chinese, I track a goal of “10 minutes” with the language, rather than daily contact. This is because I’m such a beginner that I feel a 2-minute Chinese session wouldn’t teach me enough. All in all, I tracked 80 minutes of Chinese during March.
Since I use an app for this tracking method, it’s not 100% accurate. If you’re interested in a tracking template for your own language routine, check out the Language Habit Toolkit which contains two templates you can print or copy.
Goals for April 2019
I love April, it’s springtime and my birthday month!
Welsh Language Goals
My habit of learning/speaking Welsh is now well established, as you saw in March where I actually started missing my language practice. Wonderful!
I’ll trust myself to keep up the reading and listening by myself and will focus my goals on speaking practice. I must speak every week! Time to book more italki lessons and meet-ups with my local buddy.
Chinese Language Goals
In Chinese, I’m slowly building up to my usual structure of listening, speaking, reading and writing as a goal structure. Let’s try it!
I dabbled with Coffee Break Chinese for a little bit, but didn’t really fall in love with it. But with Chinese being a tonal language, it’s probably very important for me to listen to it lots. So here, my goal is to find and try some more materials starting with the Easy Mandarin series on Youtube.
I can’t say much yet. My goal is to book an italki lesson but I’m not putting pressure on myself to do this at any cost. I’ll see if I feel like there would be any benefit.
Most of my materials are written and that’s the core of my practice at the moment, so all’s well here. I just aim to learn more, really.
My goal in Chinese is not about the characters at the moment, but I do find that I enjoy practicing a few of them here and there. The notebook is very helpful here, so my goal is to just spend a little more time practicing and playing here.
How Was Your Month?
As you can see, it’s possible to keep your goals light even if you do use the structure of listening, speaking, reading and writing. Have you ever tried it before?
Be sure to check out the Clear the List linkup for #clearthelist, hosted by Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy.
So that’s it for this month. Leave a comment below to tell me all about how you’re getting on.
What do you think of when you see the word “creativity”?
For me, creativity used to mean being particularly gifted in visual arts. Painters and sculptors were creative. In school, it was clear that being creative was how you got good grades in art classes.
I was a pretty terrible artist, and so I always assumed that I’m not creative at all.
But then I got a job and started noticing things. In work meetings, ideas for alternative solutions to problems would bubble out of me. When I started teaching and learning languages on my own, I felt constrained by the ideas of learning with a textbook and classroom structure.
Instead of putting off my ideas as delusions, I started to listen to them and put a few into action. And slowly I realised…I’m creative after all!
You Have The Tools to Be a Creative Language Learner
My own discovery encouraged me to start looking differently at language learning. I quickly discovered that adults learn best when creativity and fun come along for the ride. So I started to seek out creative ideas of learning.
If you are a first-time solo language learner who’s busy in her life and wants to know how to become fluent without sacrificing all your leisure time, creativity is what will get you to your goals.
I know lots of people who start off and and think “learning is the books and the app”, and when you box your language learning in like that, your motivation suffers as a result.
Creative Ideas For Language Learning
In this episode of the Fluent Show, Lindsay and I discussed the easiest ways to start building a fun and creative language routine.
Listen to the show here to get our full discussion:
Warning: These may not feel like study, but you’ll learn a lot anyway.
Language Learning With Music
Research and discover songs in your target language and music from the target country. Learn new words and expressions by understanding the lyrics of the songs you listen to.
It’s a common theme on this blog: We learn best when we’re having fun. Playing word games like Taboo, or even classic board games in your target language gives you a subtle way of creating a space where you learn a few new words free from pressure.
When you’re on your own, video games create another interesting option for language learning, and some of them are even [developed with language learners in mind.]
Games are especially handy when you want to share your language with kids.
Poetry and Literature
You might think you have to be an advanced level language wizard before you can even touch a book of poems in your target language, but that is not true! Enjoy a story with tools like [Interlinear books], try your first ever haiku, or lose yourself in a rhyming dictionary.
The key here is to express yourself freely and have fun in the process, getting out of your head and into the feeling that you want to have.
It’s the 21st century, which means you’re more likely to be reading this on a phone than on a desktop computer right now. And that means it’s time to get creative with tech in your new language.
Lindsay recommends creating a language space in social media that’s dedicated to learning your target language, for example a “Norwegian only Instagram”. I’ve tried this too through Twitter lists. The result is fabulous: it’s instant mini lessons, whenever and wherever you want them.
Movement boosts memory! Have you ever thought about combining a language workout with a body workout? We had lots of ideas in the podcast, like example looking for exercise videos in your target language, and taking a language podcast out on a jog.
This one’s great for teachers of any age group, too, as you can create a whole new lesson plan when you think about different ways of moving around your classroom (or outside!).
Bricolage / Crafts
For thousands of people, getting creative means creating cool craft projects like woodwork, scrapbooks, or small art. With craft projects, you have so many options of incorporating language.
Of course you can search online for videos and instructions in another language.
Or you could take printed items from the target country and use them to decorate your home. Or make special art pieces celebrating the words you love the most. Or create a photo essay based on inspiring expressions.
Listen to the podcast to hear more about the special things I created as a teenager (Lindsay calls them ransom notes!).
Everybody’s got to eat, and most people have to cook. So what could be more practical than cooking yourself a meal in your target language? From seaweed scones to the secret cuisines of Paraguay, we’ve tried this out and recommend it whole-heartedly.
It’s SO Easy To Get Creative in Language
When it comes down to it, we found that it’s almost impossible to be anything BUT creative in language learning. Yet…many learners avoid getting involved.
Or when we do play and enjoy in our target language, we feel guilty as if this isn’t “proper learning”.
So this made Lindsay and me wonder: why the heck did school teach us that language learning has to look like classroom-exam-teacher-class-snoozefest?
STUDY and LEARNING are concepts that feel like they should look a certain way, when in reality they are not.
Creativity is about permission!
In the podcast, Lindsay and I looked deeper into this idea of permission and allowing ourselves to let go of language learning guilt. Guilt does not do us any favours at all so we should learn to let it go.
Whenever you feel like your activity is not “real learning”, it might be time to reconsider and remind yourself to:
Accept our mistakes (both in language and process and habits and study)
Be kinder to ourselves (does it really matter if we break a streak?)
Impress NOBODY but ourselves
How do YOU get Creative in Language Learning?
Do you cook, craft, run, or rhyme with your target language? Or are you worried that these activities mean you won't learn anything?
Imagine you're on a train in Belgium. A woman on the train is speaking French on the phone when the ticket conductor comes in. She asks him a question in fluent Flemish. No one bats an eyelid.
Or a guy at a party is chatting to his friends in Spanish, and suddenly an American friend comes in and he enthusiastically greets her in fluent English.
We've all seen it on TV or even in real life, but have you ever wondered how these super-quick switches between languages work?
Alessia, 17 from Verona has! She sent me this question to answer on the Fluent Show this week.
How to switch quickly from a language to another? Is it just a question of practice?
In answer to Alessia's question, I dove into a bunch of studies and came up with my best tips for anyone who wants to step up their switching.
Looking Into Switching Between Languages
Speedy switches like those I described above are a hallmark of bilingual people. Linguistically, doing this is is called “code switching”. It is very common and has been studied for decades.
Bilinguals do it naturally, for example in environments where there is more than one dominant language or native language. It happens all over the world and millions of people are able to speak bilingually.
Here are three ways you may experience code switching:
Switching a word might look like this: “Dw i’n teimlo yn rili rili wedi blino.“ (I am feeling really, really tired.)
Switching a phrase could be something like this: “Oui, ils offrent des part-time jobs dans leur société." (Yes, they offer part-time jobs at their company.)
Switching between languages after a few sentences, or even saying half a sentence in one and another half in the other.
When you switch into another word, phrase, or sentence, the switch is absolute and your brain is able to do this very quickly.
This has attracted the attention of phsychologists and neurologists too, studying and trying to measure what happens in our brain during such a switch.
Studies show: There are “neurocognitive costs”, for example slower response times. Your brain has to activate the second language (L2) and suppress your dominant main language (L1), and that means it has to concentrate and work hard.
The research also shows that these costs are lower when switching into L2 than when switching into L1. The brain patterns change as your expertise in L2 changes. It also changes depending on whether you’re able to predict that the switch is coming, and whether you’re switching individual words or full phrases.
To get started reading about all the fascinating research, check out the links at the bottom of this article.
How Can You Get Better at Language Switching?
As a learner, your goal might be to use your target language just as easily as you use your first language. But being able to switch like a bilingual person is NOT a good goal for your early language learning stages.
Use it as a vision goal, your inspiration and motivation source. But be honest with yourself and clear about the fact that it’s not going to happen in just a few months.
There’s a huge element of practice involved in switching languages quickly. Sorry, no one likes to hear that there isn’t a secret shortcut!
4 Ways To Practice For Switching
Tip 1: Practice phrases not words so that you build good muscle memory and you can ’think faster’ in your target language.
Tip 2: Listen to input in lots of languages and find bilingual materials too so you can process the language more quickly, for example parallel texts or bilingual podcasts.
Tip 3: Stick to one subject area and one type of conversation at first so you can direct your studies towards the goal of code switching
For example you could create an exercise with a trusted tutor that involves switching.
Or set up a language exchange. This involves switching by offering your skills to someone else and it's usually free. Often, exchanges switch languages after about half an hour, but to spice it up you could switch every 5 minutes.
The ‘price’ of Code Switching As a Bilingual
I’m bilingual in German and English, but make no mistake, my language quality suffers unless I practice.
Here are some of the annoying things that happen.
My vocabulary in German becomes heavily influenced by my thinking in English and English sometimes shows through. I will use words that I know as dictionary translations of what I want to say in English, but they don’t feel casual enough for how I want to speak in German.
My German isn’t up to date and I might mix in a word I used as a teenager or an expression that feels a bit 90s.
English words that I say without thinking, like “actually”, find their way into my German sentences and just bubble up.
My dialect is heavily reduced and I produce the German language as Hochdeutsch, which is not how I would speak in my home environment.
In other words, I speak an odd “international German”. I was recently called out for having an “englischen Akzent” by a former schoolmate who had not seen me for over a decade. That’s fairly embarrassing.
It’s impossible not to be a product of your environment when it comes to how you speak.
To stay more active in German, I’m subscribing to a German magazine and watching more YouTube so that I hear German on a regular basis. But without living there, I lose a part of my authenticity in German.
Have you ever practiced switching from one language of another? Do you think there's a price to being bilingual?
Just over 16 months ago, Lindsay Williams (my podcast co-host) and I were chatting on Skype. It was October or November. I remember the day turning into night at what felt like 4 in the afternoon on my side of the world, while Lindsay was getting ready for her day.
We were chatting about a few ideas for the future, when she mentioned this one thing that made my heart explode with excitement.
“So I’m thinking of maybe doing a one day event on International Women's’ Day with loads of female language people speaking...wouldn’t that be cool?! I can’t do it this year though because I’ll still be away but…”
I didn’t need to hear any more. I was like STOP IT RIGHT THERE I AM IN!!
Lindsay had just spoken an idea that had been growing in my brain, too. And I’m not a patient kinda girl so I wasn’t going to let Lindsay’s round-the-world trip stand in the way of an amazing idea. We contacted Shannon Kennedy and asked “would you maybe be interested…”.
Shannon was a yes. The organising team was ready, and few months down the line we shared the news with the world that we’d be hosting Women in Language in March 2018.
Over the last year, we continued to work on our list of speakers and our background preparations. And now, we’re ready to bring you WOMEN IN LANGUAGE 2019!
If you were at last year’s event, you’ll know what to expect.
But if not, I know you’re curious. I asked writer Cassie Wright who was at Women in Language to share what it was like for her. Here’s Cassie’s story:
Conference Experience: What Cassie Thought Of The Language Conference
Once, when I was 9 years old, I tried to tell everyone I knew that in Finnish, you could make whole sentences into one super long word.
How awesome, right?
Unfortunately, my school friends were a lot less enthusiastic about my latest language tip. In fact, I was surprised to find that they didn’t really care at all.
Even at that age, I had two binders dedicated to languages, each full of vocabulary: one labeled ‘Finnish’ and another labeled ‘Japanese’. I was fascinated by languages and it stood out just as much as my mop of curly hair in a classroom full of long, straight locks. I was a language nerd at heart, though no one else seemed to have the same sort of passion.
Despite the fact that my friends didn’t care about my Finnish facts, I was proud of my attempts and motivation to learn. I never got very far, but I was always confident in my abilities.
"Japanese?" People would ask, “Isn’t that hard?”
I would just nod and grin.
But eventually, going it alone became too much of a challenge and the things other people told me were more important took over.
Still, languages followed me through both high school and college. Without fail, each time I tried to start again, I couldn’t find the drive to keep going.
Then, years later when I tried once more, I found an entire blog dedicated to learning languages. It was a lot different from the sites I’d seen before that featured big name polyglots and sold all kinds of "easy tricks".
That’s when I came across an announcement on my Twitter feed for Women in Language.
It caught my attention immediately, not only because there were so many women prepared to talk about their language experiences, but because it was all online. The only thing I needed to attend was a ticket for the event, which meant the cost of plane rides and hotels wasn’t an issue.
When I bought my ticket to Women in Language that day, I didn’t realize how much it would change my approach to language learning.
It’s not just about languages. It’s about representation.
Learning a language is the goal, but how do you do it with a busy schedule? Kids? How do you find the courage to pick up and move to another country? How do you immerse yourself when that’s not possible?
How amazing would it be to learn about those things from someone in your place: women of all different races and backgrounds with a variety of experiences.
This is what I really gained from Women in Language and it gave me a sense of validation.
Here were a number of talented women who gladly shared their knowledge and ideas. I saw in them my own language learning dreams, only this time, it wasn’t some unrealistic goal.
In this community of multilingual women, I felt I could proudly hold onto my vocabulary-filled binders with my mess of curly hair and say, "Hey! I’m one of you, too. I see myself here."
Women in Language brings that community of learners forward and inspires them to keep going.
More than anything, it’s a breath of fresh air for those who need a place to share a common interest and belong.
This year, we are proud to announce that there are EVEN MORE presentations at Women in Language. There’s so much more happening – including 2 Panel Discussions and a chance for YOU to present, a prize draw worth over $1000, and daily fun activities for everyone.
Ready for it?
Women in Language is happening live and online over 4 days from Thursday 7th March to Sunday 10th March 2019.
If you can’t make it on those dates, you can catch up at any time since your ticket purchase gets you access to all recordings for as long as you like.
Everyone is welcome (the ‘women’ in Women in Language only refers to the line-up of speakers!) and we’d love to have you join us for the live event. Click below to get your ticket now for Women in Language 2019.