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How to understand native speakers

Understanding native speakers is something many language learners struggle with.

Whenever I learn a new language, I get a bit of a shock. I learn a lot of vocabulary and a lot of grammar. And then, when I’m ready to go out there and speak, I realise how little I actually understand.

How is that possible, I think. I’ve been working so hard, I know so many words, I can even read newspapers in the language. But I can’t actually understand what people are saying to me!

I’m sure you’ve been faced with a similar situation in the past. And don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Being able to understand native speakers is something that comes with practice. There are specific things you can do to make it happen, and I’m about to share them with you.

Are you ready? Read my tips below to learn about how to understand native speakers. And, if you’d rather just watch my video on this topic, then here it is: 

How to understand native speakers (improve your listening skills) - YouTube

Understand how letter combinations sound together

Speech is, of course, made up of words but, ultimately, it’s just a string of letters and sounds combined together. Those letters and the sounds they make blend together to make longer sounds, and then those longer sounds blend together to make even longer sounds. And that’s what language is!

So, if you want to understand native speakers, your first step is to focus on individual letters and letter combinations, and to understand how they sound together.

The best way to practise this is by reading and listening at the same time. You can look at a script and listen to a recording of it, and pause frequently (as frequently as every couple of words) to see how the different letter combinations sound together. You will be surprised what you will discover. Sometimes words will sounds differently depending on what other words they’re surrounded by.

The more you do this, the more you will begin to realise that native speakers’ speech is not one long word at all…

Learn about filler words

My second tip for learning how to understand native speakers is to do with so-called ‘filler words’.

Filler words are basically words that don’t mean anything. They exist in every language. They’re just words that people use when they speak but they don’t carry any specific meaning.

The word ‘like’ in English is one of them. People use it all the time, sometimes multiple times in one sentence.

If you didn’t know ‘like’ was a filler word, you might be listening to someone and thinking they’re talking about ‘liking’ something, or that they’re saying that something is ‘similar to something else’. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. When you know it’s used as a filler word, you can almost block it out so that it’s not distracting you from the real meaning of what somebody is saying.

You can google filler words in your language and make sure you’re familiar with them. This will definitely help you understand native speakers better.

Diversify your listening practice

If you want to get better at understanding native speakers, you need to diversify your listening practice. What I mean by that is that you need to start listening to many different types of people, in many different situations.

Often, when you buy a language course, the listening activities included in it will be scripted and recorded by a native speaker who sounds a certain way. They’re likely to be a professional voice artist who sounds fairly well-spoken and educated. Unlike many people you will encounter when you use the language you’re learning to speak to native speakers. You will be talking to a variety of different people, from different backgrounds and different regions. They won’t all sound the same, obviously.

So, you want to make sure you’re prepared for that by diversifying your listening practice. To do that, you can watch the news in your target language because often they’ll have clips of people being interviewed on the street. Or you can watch youtubers because they’re from different regions and you’re likely to encounter different accents when listening to them.

Don’t translate in your head

When you’re translating what somebody is saying in your head, you can’t really focus on what they’re saying because they’ll always be a sentence or two ahead of you. You’re going to lose track.

But how do you stop translating when it’s a real habit of yours? I’ve got a blog post and a video on this topic so just check them out and you’ll find out!

Anyway, when you stop translating in your head, your ability to understand what people are saying to you will improve massively.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat

The best way to really understand native speakers is to ask them to repeat. It’s like pressing rewind and play again on a language recording.

And – seriously – people don’t mind! Trust me, there’s nothing wrong with asking somebody to repeat. They’ll be happy to do it and they will enjoy the conversation even more because by repeating what they’ve just said they will allow you to understand better and be more engaged in the conversation.

I hope you guys enjoyed this blog post! If you did, make sure you share it with your language learning friends!

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5 fun language learning activities for children

I have very fond memories of teaching English as a foreign language to kids. Although I no longer do it as a job, the topic of teaching children is still close to my heart as I’m now a mum myself.

I recently blogged about the 6 reasons why you should teach your child a foreign language. And in this post, I want to share with you my top 5 activities that you can use to teach your little one their first words in a foreign language.

1. Use picture books to introduce vocabulary

Picture books and vocabulary books are great from a very early age. Children love bright colours, and the images helps them memorise the words that describe the pictures.

I spent the past few months developing a series of illustrated vocabulary books that you can use to introduce your child to their first words in a foreign language. The books are called My First Words, and they’re available in French, Spanish, German and English. You can find out more about them here.

One of my favourite ways to use picture books with my own daughter is to point at the drawings, say the words and then describe the drawings in the target language. This will give your child some exposure to the language even if they’re a little baby who can’t speak yet, and it will create some context for each word for older children. Here’s an example of what I’d normally say:

That’s a bear. He’s brown and very big. He’s got small ears, black eyes, a black nose and big claws. He’s sitting in the grass next to a tree. There’s a bird sitting on one of the branches as well, and looking down at the bear.

As your child becomes more advanced in the language, you can start making up more complex stories that feature the images from the picture book.

If you’d like to introduce your child to their first words in French, Spanish, German or English, you can find out more about My First Words here.

2. Get your child drawing

This activity involves getting your child to draw something based on the description you give them. First, you need to agree what it is they’re going to draw exactly – for example, a little boy, a house or a car. Then, you will describe to them in detail, in the target language, the different elements of the drawing and what they should look like. For example:

Draw a tall and thin house, with three big windows and a yellow door. The roof should be pink and there should be a small, black bird sitting on it.

If your child comes across a word they don’t know, you can try miming it and getting them to guess what it means that way. Try to limit the use of your native language to maximise the value of this activity.

Through this activity, your child can have a bit of fun with drawing, and also practise their listening skills and learn some vocabulary as well.

3. Sing and learn

Singing songs in a foreign language together can be super-fun and very beneficial for your child’s language acquisition.

I remember being able to sing the lyrics of English language songs and knowing them off by heart before I could even speak English. That actually has some benefits – you familiarise yourself with the sounds of the language and you practise the pronunciation. You then learn the individual words that make up the lyrics of the song bit by bit, and they begin to make sense.

You can start really small when listening to music and singing with your child. Find a song that’s very popular with kids in the language you’re hoping to introduce your little one to. I know Baby Shark is pretty big at moment. It’s pretty basic but if I were to introduce my child to English, I’d know they would benefit from it because they’d learn a few words to describe family members (baby shark, daddy shark, mummy shark, etc. – and the doo, doo, be, doo, of course).

Little kids will find this activity fun and it won’t really seem like ‘learning’ at all.

4. Use rhymes to help your child memorise new words

Using rhymes is a great way to help your child learn a foreign language. Rhymes exist in all languages – from nursery rhymes to rhymes for older children. You can try poetry as well!

The end of each line in a rhyme ends in a similar sound creating a pattern that’s easy to remember. One line may contain a word your child already knows which rhymes with a new word – and that word will be easier to memorise because it rhymes with the more familiar one.

Also, rhymes – just like songs and stories – engage your child’s imagination. This is very important in the process of memorising new words. Your child is probably not even aware of it at this stage but the words from the rhymes they hear and say are getting engraved in their memory.

5. Go outside to make language learning real

Take your child outside and show them the world around them. Walk around, point at things and say the words that describe them in the language your child is learning.

You can also organise a scavenger hunt. Give your child a list of things you want them to find (in the target language) and send them off to find the objects. You can ask them for a list of general objects (such as a ‘pebble’) or you can make it more complex by specifying the shape or colour of each object (such as a ‘brown pebble’). At the end of the activity, get your child to present the objects to you and use their names to tell you what they found.

Remember to check out my new series of illustrated vocabulary books that I’ve created to help you teach your child their first words in a foreign language. They’re called My First Words, and they’re available in French, Spanish, German and English. Find out more about the books here.

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If you’re learning French, there are some basics you need to know before you move on to the more complicated things.

So, I’ve put together 99 essential and very common French words and phrases that you must know when you’re learning French.

Before we start, though, I encourage you to sign up for my free 3-part video series in which I teach you some French.

Each lesson in this series discusses some crucial aspects of the French language, including:

  • a couple of important past tenses and the difference between them
  • the pronunciation of French verbs and why sometimes you may not be understood
  • and also an approach to learning French grammar that some people might think is slightly controversial…

Find out more and sign up here.

First things first

Before we start, I need to explain two things. First, the difference between ‘tu’ and ‘vous’. If you already know it, you can skip to the next section.

The difference between ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ in French

The word for ‘you’ in French (when you’re just talking to one person) can be translated as ‘tu’ or ‘vous’. Which one you use will depend on your relationship with the person you’re talking to.

In a nutshell, ‘tu’ is the informal ‘you’, and ‘vous’ is the formal ‘you’.

You can use ‘tu’ with friends and family, people you know well and people who are of similar age to you. You use ‘vous’ with people you don’t know, strangers in the street, shopkeepers, teachers, etc. And, if you’re talking to someone who’s much older than you.

If you’re unsure, use ‘vous’ – nobody will be offended if you’re too formal.

The next thing I need to explain before we move on is feminine and masculine verbs and adjectives.

Feminine and masculine

The form of some verbs and adjectives in French will differ depending on whether it’s a woman or a man saying them. You will see what I mean when you come across this in some of the phrases in this article.

For example, the phrase ‘Je suis désolé’ (I’m sorry). When it’s a man saying it it’s ‘Je suis désolé’. When it’s a woman saying it, there’s an extra ‘e’ at the end, so it’s ‘Je suis désolée’.

Simple! OK, let’s get started then!


1. Salut – hello. It’s quite an informal way of saying ‘hi’. It can also mean ‘bye’ when you say it when you part with somebody. It’s quite informal so you probably wouldn’t want to use it with people you don’t know well.

2. Bonjour – good morning. It’s quite polite so you can use it with friends and with people you don’t know.

3. Bonsoir – good evening. Use it in the evening to greet people. You can use it both with people you know and those you don’t.

4. Au revoir – goodbye. It’s quite polite so you’re more likely to use it with people you don’t know well, or who are older than you.

5. À bientôt – see you soon.

6. À demain – see you tomorrow.

7. À tout-a-l’heure – see you in a bit. You’d use this one if you’re about to see the person again, or you’re going to see them very, very soon.

8. À lundi/mardi, etc. – see you on Monday, Tuesday, etc. You can insert any day of the week there to say you’ll see the person you’re talking to then.

9. Bonne journée – have a good/nice day. You can use this one with friends or people you don’t know. 

10. Bonne soirée – have a good/nice evening. Same as above, you can use it with anyone.

11. Bienvenu – welcome.

Asking about how somebody is

12. Ça va? – how are you/how do you do? It’s a very universal and very common phrase that you can use in any situation.

13. Comment ça va? – how is it going/how are you? It’s pretty much the same as the phrase above.

14. Comment vas-tu? – how do you do/how are you? Another way of asking how someone is. In this case, the phrase uses the familiar ‘tu’ so you’d use it with people you know/friends, rather than strangers.

15. Comment allez-vous? – this one means the same too, but it uses the polite version ‘vous’ so you can use it with people you’re not familiar with or people who are older than you, or if you want to show respect.

16. Ça roule? – how is it going? It’s a very colloquial phrase so you would only use it with good friends.

Saying how you are

17. Ça va – I’m well/I’m fine. Remember ‘ça va’ the question? Well, this phrase is the same, except it doesn’t have the question mark. You can use it as a reply to ‘ça va’ to briefly say that you’re well.

18. Je vais bien – I’m well/I’m fine. It’s pretty much the same as the phrase above. It’s the reply equivalent of the question we covered above – ‘comment vas-tu?’ or ‘comment allez-vous?’.

19. Je ne vais pas trop bien – I’m not great.

20. Je ne me sens pas bien – I’m not feeling well.

21. Et toi? – and you? After replying to someone who asks you how you are, you can ask about them. Note that this phrase uses the familiar pronoun ‘toi’ so you’d use it with friends or people you’re on familiar terms with.

22. Et vous? – and you? This one is the same as the one above, except it uses the polite pronoun ‘vous’ instead.

Introducing yourself / meeting people

23. Comment t’appelles-tu? / Comment vous-appelez vous? – what’s your name?

24. Tu t’appelles comment? / Vous vous appelez comment? – another way of structuring the same question as above.

25. Je m’appelle – my name is.

26. Je suis – I’m [insert name].

27. Enchanté/enchantée – nice to meet you. The first form is the masculine one so you use it if you’re a man. The second version – with the extra ‘e’ at the end – is for women.

Asking about someone’s day/weekend

28. Tu as passé une bonne journée/soirée? – did you have a nice day/evening?

29. Tu as passé un bon weekend? – did you have a nice weekend?

30. Qu’est-ce que tu as fait hier soir? – what did you do last night?

Saying yes and no

31. Oui – yes.

32. Non – no.

33. Si – yes. This one is very different to ‘oui’, though! ‘Si’ is an answer you’d give when somebody makes a negative statement about something and you want to say that, in fact, something is true. For example: ‘Tu n’as pas faim, non?’ (you’re not hungry, right?). ‘Si!’ (but I am!).

34. Peut-être – maybe.

35. Pas du tout – not at all (in the sense that, for example, you don’t like something at all).

36. Bien sûr – of course.

37. Je ne sais pas – I don’t know.

38. Je ne suis pas sûr/sûre – I don’t know. The first one – sûr – is masculine so it’s used by men, and the second one – sûre – is feminine so it’s used by women.

39. D’accord – OK.


40. Pardon – sorry. It’s used as a quick form of apology, for example when you bump into someone. It’s not the equivalent of the English word ‘pardon’.

41. Excuse-moi/Excusez-moi – I’m sorry/excuse me. The first one is familiar, and the second one is something you’d use with people you don’t know or who are older than you, or to show respect.

42. Désolé/désolée – I’m sorry. The first one is masculine so it’s used by men, and the second one is feminine so it’s used by women.

43. Je suis désolé/désolée – I’m sorry. Just like the one above, the first one is masculine (used by men) and the second one is feminine (used by women).

Asking for something

44. S’il te plaît / S’il vous plaît – please. For example: ‘Un café, s’il vous plaît’ – (Can I have) a coffee, please?

45. Est-ce que tu pourrais / Est-que vous pourriez – could you. ‘Est-ce que tu pourrais me passer le sucre?’ – could you pass me the sugar?

46. Est-ce que tu peux / Est-que vous pouvez – can you. ‘Est-ce que tu peux m’appeler ce soir?’ – Can you call me this evening?

47. Peux-tu / Pouvez-vous – can you. Just a different way of asking the same question as above.

48. Pourrais-tu / Pourriez-vous – could you. A bit more polite than ‘peux-tu/pouvez-vous’.

Saying what you want or don’t want

49. Je voudrais – I’d like. You can follow this up with a noun (the thing you want) or a verb (something you want to do). For example: ‘Je voudrais un café’ (I’d like a coffee) or ‘Je voudrais voyager’ (I’d like to travel).

50. Je veux – I want. Same as above, you can follow it up with a thing or an action.

51. J’ai envie de – I feel like/I want to. It’s a phrase to express a strong desire to do something. For example, ‘J’ai envie de partir au soleil’ (I really want to go somewhere sunny).

52. Je ne veux pas – I don’t want. You can follow is up with a thing (‘Je ne veux pas de café’ – I don’t want coffee) or an action (‘Je ne veux pas partir’ – I don’t want to leave).

53. Je n’ai pas envie de – I don’t feel like/I don’t want to. ‘Je n’ai pas envie de partir en Italie pour les vacances’ – I don’t feel like going on holiday to Italy.

Asking someone if they want something

54. Veux-tu / Voulez-vous – Do you want. For example ‘Veux-tu du cafe?’ (do you want coffee?), ‘Veux-tu partir maintenant?’ (do you want to leave now?).

55. Est-ce que tu veux / est-ce que vous voulez – Do you want. Just a different way of phrasing the same question as above.

56. Voilà – here you are. For example, when you’re giving something to somebody.

Thanking someone

57. Merci – thank you.

58. Merci beaucoup – thank you very much.

59. Merci bien – thank you. The ‘bien’ emphasises the ‘thank you’ a little bit and adds a bit of politeness.

60. Je te remercie / Je vous remercie – Thank you. A bit more formal way of saying ‘thank you’. Literally, it means ‘I thank you/I want to thank you’. It emphasises the gratitude the speaker is feeling.

61. De rien – you’re welcome/that’s OK.

62. Il n’y a pas de quoi – you’re welcome.

63. Je t’en prie/Je vous en prie – you’re welcome.

64. Pas de problème – no problem.

Not understanding

65. Je ne comprends pas – I don’t understand.

66. Je ne parle pas français – I don’t speak French.

67. Je ne parle pas beaucoup de français – I don’t speak a lot of French.

68. Pourriez-vous parler plus lentement s’il vous plaît? – could you please speak more slowly?

69. Repetez s’il vous plaît – please repeat/say it again.

70. Encore une fois – one more time.

71. Comment? – what?

72.Comment dit-on … en français? – how do you say … in French?

73. Comment ça s’écrit? – how do you spell that?

74. Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? – what does it mean?

75. Parlez-vous anglais? – do you speak English?

Asking where something is

76. Où est – where is.’Où est la piscine?’ – where is the swimming pool?

77. Où se trouve – where is. ‘Se trouver’ literally means ‘to be situated’ or ‘to be located’. So, for example ‘Où se trouve la gare?’ means ‘Where is the train station (situated)?’.

78. Je cherche – I’m looking for. ‘Je cherche la gare’ – I’m looking for the train station.

79. Est-ce que vous savez – do you know. ‘Est-ce que vous savez ou se trouve la gare?’ – do you know where the train station is situated?

Saying you like something

80. C’est bon – it’s good.

81. C’est pas mal – it’s not bad.

82. J’aime bien – I like. ‘J’aime bien le cinéma’ – I like cinema.

83. J’adore – I love. ‘J’adore le café’ – I love coffee.

84. Ça me plaît – I like that.

Saying you don’t like something

85. C’est mal – it’s bad.

86. C’est terrible – it’s terrible.

87. Je n’aime pas – I don’t like. ‘Je n’aime pas la musique’ – I don’t like music.

88. Je déteste – I hate. ‘Je déteste cette ville’ – I hate this city.

Asking somebody if they like something

89. Aimes-tu / aimez-vous – do you like. ‘Aimes-tu le cinéma?’ – do you like cinema?

90. Qu’est-ce que tu penses? – what do you think?

Asking questions

91. Quoi – what.

92. Qui – who.

93. Comment – how.

94. Combien – how much/how many. There is no distinction between countable and uncountable nouns, unlike in English. So, you always use ‘combien’. For example: ‘combien d’eau’ (how much water), ‘combien de maisons’ (how many houses).

95. Pourquoi – why.

96. Où  – where.

97. Quand – when.

98. Quel/quelle – which. ‘Quel’ is used for masculine nouns (‘quel homme’ – which man), and ‘quelle’ for feminine nouns (‘quelle femme’ – which woman).

99. À quelle heure – what time. ‘À quelle heure pars-tu?’ – what time are you leaving?

I hope you enjoyed this list of essential and super common French phrases every learner should know. Don’t forget to share this post and sign up for my free French video series!

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When I first went to France – in 2007 – I thought I could speak French. I’d done my homework before going – I knew the grammar, my vocabulary was pretty good, I was reading novels in French and even translating poetry from French into English at university!

But when I actually got there and was suddenly confronted with real French people, I realised that I wasn’t as good as thought I was! I didn’t really know how to speak…

Well, I was good at giving presentations about climate change, and the pros and cons of living abroad because that’s the kind of thing I’d be doing for my university course.

But having real conversations with real people? I mean, the kind of conversations where you just chat down the pub about what series you’re binge-watching at the moment, a new trendy café you went to at the weekend, or a nice new jumper you only just bought and it’s already shrunk in the wash. No – I was definitely not prepared to have those conversations!

Over the years, though, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’ve now got some tips for you that you can use to make sure you’re ready for your first conversation with real native speakers.

First, let me say this – speaking is not just about speaking. Confusing, right?

What I mean is that speaking is about two different things. It’s about speaking and listening. Communication is a two-way thing. You need to be able to speak but also understand, and respond and react to what the other person is saying. When I was studying French at university, I was good at speaking but I was also bad at speaking. Like I said above, I was good at giving lectures about topics, setting out the pros and cons of various things, and so on. But I wasn’t good at communication.

So, I’m about to share my top tips with you for how to get better at speaking with native speakers. Let’s start with the speaking part!

Practise syllable pronunciation

Often when people face challenges when speaking with native speakers, it’s because either their pronunciation is not good enough and they’re actually not understood, or they’re not confident enough because of their pronunciation, which affects overall communication.

If you want to make sure people understand you and that your conversations flow, do some pronunciation practice. What I recommend is that you focus on syllables rather than full words. This will give you a little bit more focus and help you master the details of how words are pronounced.

Find a piece of listening material, play it, pause it very frequently and repeat syllable after syllable.

Learn phrases you use frequently in your native language

Often when people learn a foreign language, they will learn random phrases that are suggested by the textbooks they’re using. Or they will rely on reading material to identify the phrases they should learn. This is useful but it has its limitations.

If you want to be a confident speaker, you need to learn and practise the phrases that you use, not just the ones that are used in books. They way you speak is particular to you. You want to be yourself when you speak a foreign language in the same way as you are yourself when you speak your native language. You want to retain your individuality.

So, I recommend that for a couple of days, you go about your day and pay attention to the phrases you use during conversations in your native language. Write them down, and after a few days you will start noticing trends. You will begin to see which phrases you use the most and they’ll be the ones you should learn and practise in the language you’re learning.

Practise conversation topics specific to you

This tip is the same as the one above, except it’s not about phrases but about whole conversation topics. What are the things you tend to discuss during your day, when you’re with friends, out and about in the shops, or at work?

Write them down for a few days and, again, you will begin to notice trends. These will be the topics you should be practising whenever you practise speaking in your target language. There’s no point practising random topics if you won’t be using them. Focus on the ones you really need and use, for the most impact.

Be confident

Easier said than done, right? It’s crucial to learn to be confident, though, if you want to speak fluently when speaking with native speakers.

My biggest tip is that you should understand that the other person is there to help you. They’re not there to judge you or to point out your mistakes. They’re there to get to know you and have a good chat with you. They’re interested in you as a person and in what you’re saying.

Acknowledging this will automatically make you more confident and help you speak more fluently.


Now that we’ve covered the tips related to speaking, let’s move on to listening. Like I said, listening is a crucial part of the speaking process.

I’ve got lots of tips on how to understand native speakers in my YouTube video below, so make sure you check it out (and subscribe to my channel!). I’ve got a couple of extra tips I want to cover in this blog post as well, though, so read on if you’re interested!

How to understand native speakers (improve your listening skills) - YouTube

Listen out for phrases, not words

My first tip relates to listening out for phrases, rather than words whenever you’re listening to your target language. When you listen in a way that focuses on individual words, you might get stuck when you encounter a word that you don’t know and don’t understand.

When you listen out for whole phrases, on the other hand, you’re more likely to understand the gist of what somebody else is saying. There might be a word you don’t know in the phrase, but at least you’ve got the phrase so you can figure out the gist or the context of what they’re talking about.

This will help you get more relaxed about speaking and having conversations.

Listen to fast conversations

When you’re learning a foreign language, a lot of listening material you use is simplified for your level. This is helpful because when you’re a beginner there’s no point listening to advanced material because you won’t understand anything and get put off quickly.

However, when you’re past the pre-intermediate stage, there is some value in listening to real, fast conversations, instead of simplified listening material. That’s because real people don’t tend to speak slowly or in a simplified way. You need some exposure to real, fast language to get used to it. It will be difficult and possibly quite overwhelming to start with but you will eventually get better and better.

I hope you found my tips useful! Make sure you sign up to join my language learning community and receive my top advice by email. Fill out the form below to sign up!

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Teaching your child a foreign language

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how my journey with foreign languages began. It all started with a bit of fun, when my Mum introduced me and my little brother to our first English words when we were very young.

What followed was a life in which languages play a very important part.

My personal life – including my fascination with travel and the friends from around the world I’ve made over the years.

My professional career – which has been centred around language in one way or another.

And my online community – this blog, the YouTube channel where I share my advice on language learning, and the online language school I run to help people around the world learn languages effectively and independently.

You can read the full story of this journey in my blog post.  

I recently became a mum myself. And it’s made me reflect on how important it was for me to have the opportunity to learn foreign languages as a child. It’s something I want to expose my own daughter to as well.

Like many parents who speak another language themselves, I’m keen to introduce my daughter to at least one foreign language straight away. And then – who knows – maybe another one when she gets older!

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a set of picture books that parents can use to introduce their kids to their first words in a foreign language. I’m really excited that they’re now finished and you can check them out here to learn more!

In this post, though, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on why it’s a great idea for parents to teach their children a foreign language. If you’re a parent and you’re not doing it already, then read on!

1. You’ll open up a world of opportunities to your child

Being able to speak another language opens up a world of opportunities. As a language learner yourself, I’m sure you’re already aware of that!

You can travel, meet new people, learn about other cultures and really immerse yourself in them, access foreign language films and books in their original versions, and so much more.

Teaching your child just a little bit of a foreign language creates these opportunities for them. When they’re older, they’ll be able to decide how they want to explore them. I’m very grateful to my parents for encouraging me to learn English as a child. Because of that, at an early age, I was already able to make friendships and create experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Encouraging your child to learn another language will also create potential education and career opportunities later in their life – they might choose to study abroad or work with languages as a career. They might choose not to do either but by teaching your child a foreign language, at least you’ll allow them to have that choice!

2. You’ll support your child’s cognitive development

Learning a foreign language is a great workout for your brain – and not just when you’re an adult. Children need that cognitive stimulation and that’s what learning foreign words and expressions can give them.

Various studies have shown that learning a foreign language can also improve numerical, decision-making and problem-solving skills. So, it’s not just a linguistic activity but something that will help your child excel in a range of subjects at school.

When you speak a foreign language, you also begin to understand your native language better. You learn about grammatical concepts, about what works and what doesn’t, and it gives you the ability to understand language in general a little bit better.  

Learning a foreign language encourages creativity as well. It’s often a problem-solving exercise and you need to be creative to be able to express what you really mean. This is something that will encourage your child to develop their creativity, which can also be useful in other areas of their life.

3. Your child will be more likely to get fluent when they’re older

If you get your child interested in learning a language at an early age, they will be more likely to continue as they get older and eventually become fluent. If you wanted them to start when they’re a teenager, they may be less interested because they’ll already have more interests of their own, so to speak!

When you’re little, you’re more likely to see learning as a game as well, so it seems like less of a chore or a task, which is how some adults perceive it sometimes!

4. Your child will be able to learn more languages more easily

Once you know one foreign language – or at least have a basic understanding of it – it becomes relatively easier to learn additional languages. That’s because you already have an understanding of how the learning process works, you’ve familiarised yourself with some grammar concepts, and you may know vocabulary that’s very similar in another language (like French and Spanish, for example).

You can read my blog post about this topic to find out more.

When your child gets older, they may not actually be interested in getting fluent in the language you taught them. But they may be interested in learning another language, and knowing a little bit of the one you taught them will give them a head start.

Or, they may not be interested in learning foreign languages at all! At least by teaching them a little bit of a foreign language early on, you will allow them to have that choice!

5. Your child will develop an appreciation for other cultures

Learning a foreign language always comes with at least a little bit of culture. When introducing your child to their first words in a foreign language, you can give them a chance to explore the countries and cultures that the language is used in. That way, you will help them develop an appreciation for them.

Not only that – your child will also gain skills that will help them function in a multilayered society, such as being a good communicator, being able to appreciate another person’s point of view, being a good listener, having empathy, being curious about other people and their ways of doing things.

6. You’ll create memories with your child and have fun

Learning a language with your child is a great bonding activity. You can spend some quality time together not just while learning but also while doing things that knowing the language will allow you to do, such as listening to songs and singing together, watching films and cartoons, reading books, and even travelling abroad and meeting new friends.

By learning and doing all those things together you will also create memories that you’ll be able to look back on as your child progresses in the language as they get older.

If you’d like to introduce your child to their first words in a foreign language, make sure you check out My First Words – a series of picture books that will help you do that. My First Words is available in French, Spanish, German and English. 

6 reasons why you should teach your child a foreign language
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One of my earliest memories from my childhood is playing with my Mum and my little brother at home, and my Mum teaching us some English words.   

She told us ‘a box’ is what we call ‘pudełko’ in Polish – my mother tongue – ’a dress’ is ‘sukienka’, and ‘a book’ is ‘książka’. Almost 30 years on, I can still remember those were the exact words my Mum taught us. So simple yet so powerful!   

At the time, it was just a game. There’s no way I could have known then what the point of that game was. I didn’t know why it would be useful. All I knew was that there were some other people in the big world who used other words to describe the simple everyday objects that we all knew. And it was a fun thing to know a couple of those words.   

But as I got a little bit older, I began to understand that those words – ‘a box’, ‘a dress’ and ‘a book’ – were part of a more complex reality. They were part of another language! The language I would hear on Cartoon Network – a channel my brother and I watched without understanding what was being said. Watching the cartoon characters, their actions and their facial expressions seemed enough to get the gist of what was going on.   

It was around that time that I developed a funny habit, which became another clear memory from my early childhood. I started spending time on my own in the garden at home, ‘speaking English’ out loud. Of course, it wasn’t English. It was just sounds that mirrored what I’d heard on Cartoon Network and in American children’s films. It was my own version of American English.   

I would even tell my little brother that I was ‘speaking English’, and that he too would be able to do it when he’s a bit older. I think he believed me!   

It was all a game, a bit of fun. Little did I know that it would lead me to the life I’m leading now. That I would graduate with a distinction from a well-recognised British university, that I would get married to an British man, that I would hold a senior editor role in an exciting organisation, and that I would run a community, blog and YouTube channel for language learners in English!   

My Mum’s little game – teaching me how to say ‘box’, ‘dress’ and ‘book’ in English – led me to a life where languages (not just English but several others!) are a focal point. It shows how powerful exposing your child to a foreign language at an early age can be.   

And now I’m a mother myself and I want to open up this exciting world of languages to my own daughter.   

When my daughter was born, I started reading to her very early on. I read to her in Polish to lay the foundation of what would become one of her two mother tongues. I find it fascinating how excited she is about looking at colourful images and hearing me say the words that describe them. She can’t communicate with her own words yet but I’m sure the language she absorbs now will stay with her forever.

And that’s why I’ve created My First Words. I wanted to help parents like myself introduce their kids to foreign languages early on.

When you’re a child, learning a language is just a bit of fun. It’s not a ‘chore’ or a ‘task’. You can incorporate it into your child’s usual activities, and make it interesting and fun. It can be part of your bedtime routine or something you do together as a family. It’s easier to get them excited about foreign languages than it would be once they’re teenagers or young adults.

So, with My First Words, you can start early. Because if you don’t, you never know the life that you would have had, the opportunities that may never come up if you didn’t.    

You can find out more about My First Words here.

How learning to say ‘box’ in English led me to fluency
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How to create a language learning routine

When you’re trying to learn a foreign language, it’s very easy to let things get in the way. There’s always something that’s more important to do, it always seems like there’s not enough time, and sometimes you just don’t have the energy or the motivation to sit down and learn new words.

Having a proper language learning routine can help you overcome this issue. It will help you become more disciplined and stay on track with your language learning.

I’m about to share with you my favourite tips for creating a language learning routine. Are you ready? Here they are! If you’d rather watch my video, here it is. Otherwise, read on! 

How to create a language learning routine - YouTube

Language learning routine tip 1: start small

There’s an interesting metaphor I’ve heard one time that shows exactly what starting small means and why it’s such a powerful approach.

The metaphor is flossing your teeth.

Apparently, many people don’t floss – they just brush their teeth. Dentists recommend flossing, though, because it’s meant to be more effective than just brushing your teeth. So, if you’re not motivated to floss every time you brush your teeth, start with flossing just one tooth every time.

When you commit to one tooth, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. You just need to pick up the floss and do that one tooth. It’ll take you five seconds.

But while you’re at it, you might think that doing another tooth is not a big deal either. You’ve already got the floss in your hands after all, and doing another tooth will only add a couple of seconds to your flossing routine.

The key idea here is that you’ve committed to one tooth. And when you commit to one tiny thing, you will automatically become more motivated to do more.

The same goes for learning a foreign language. Start small – commit to that one small thing you need to do to move forward. Even if it’s just one word. Commit to that and more will follow. Once you’re sat down looking up the meaning of one new word, you might do another one. And once you’ve learned one, the achievement of knowing a new word will definitely motivate you further and encourage you to do more.

Language learning routine tip 2: do what you already do 

You already have a routine of some sort, don’t you? In your native language, I mean. For example, some people watch the news every evening. All you need to do is swap that for watching the news in the language you’re learning.

There are certainly a lot of things like that that you already do in your native language and that you could swap for foreign language activities. Maybe you like to find a new recipe a couple of times a week before cooking dinner. Maybe you like to write a ‘to do’ list for the week ahead.

Identify the actions that are already part of your daily or weekly routine and start doing them in a foreign language.

Language learning routine tip 3: write it down

Whatever you commit to in language learning, write it down. Write down your goals, your plans, your commitments. But not only that – write down your progress as well. Don’t just write down a stand-alone ‘to do’ list – make sure you accompany it with a review of your progress. Write down the things that went well and the things that could have gone better. All of this will help you learn more effectively in the future.

The action of writing things down in a journal can be part of your daily and weekly routine. Pick up your journal in the morning when you’re having breakfast, and then again just before you go to sleep.

To help you with this, you can use the Motivation Journal, which is a language learning journal I’ve created specifically for recording your language learning goals and progress.

Language learning routine tip 4: Make the most of ‘dead time’

Dead time is basically time that you have but you don’t realise it. It’s the time that passes between different things you do during the day, or while you do other things during the day.

For example, when you cook. Let’s say you’re making pasta. You need to boil it for a few minutes – that’s dead time. You’re just waiting for it to boil and not really doing anything as such. Use the few minutes to learn a few new words or listen to a podcast in a foreign language.

Another obvious one is commuting to work (if you take public transport). It’s a perfect time to practise your foreign language skills by reading an article in your target language, listening to a podcast or revising vocabulary.

What are your favourite tips for creating a language learning routine? Share them in the comments below!

The post How to create a language learning routine appeared first on 5-Minute Language.

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How to learn grammar in a foreign language

Grammar, grammar, grammar… I’m sure some of you hate the idea of it. And some of you even hate the word itself! And that’s fine – not everyone has to love grammar. And it’s not true that you need to learn grammar all the time if you want to be fluent in a foreign language.

How is that possible, you may be wondering. Well, I’m about to explain.

You can read on if you want, or just check out my video instead! If you like getting my language learning advice in video format, make sure you’re subscribed to my YouTube channel!

How to learn grammar in a foreign language | Should you learn grammar? - YouTube

So, here we go. How to learn grammar in a foreign language. And, should you even bother?

First, let me tell you something. Learning a foreign language is a bit like learning your native language as a child. Children learn to speak their native language by being immersed in it. They absorb it, so to speak, and they don’t need grammar books to master it.

Am I saying that it’s possible to learn a language without reading about grammar as a child but not as an adult? Not at all! What I’m saying is that learning a foreign language can be a bit like learning your native language and you can sort of replicate this process in your own study routine.

Here’s how.

How to learn grammar in a foreign language: tip #1

My first tip for you is to get a feel for the language you’re learning. Instead of learning the rules first, do some reading and listening.

Even if all you read is a three-word sentence, that’s good enough! Familiarise yourself with what the language looks like, how different words go together, what the sentence structure is like. This will help you get a feel for the language without worrying about the grammar rules.

Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the rules and they will feel much less overwhelming because you’ve kind of seen the language in action before.

This won’t, of course, work for everyone, as some learners prefer to read the rules first, but it’s an interesting strategy to try out. So, see if it works for you and let me know in the comments below!

How to learn grammar in a foreign language: tip #2 

My second tip relates to learning phrases. You can learn phrases/sentences in a foreign language without necessarily understanding the grammar behind them. And that’s perfectly fine.

Let’s take the English phrase ‘How is it going?’. You can learn it – and understand its meaning – without understanding why the verb ‘go’ is in the gerund form, or why the verb ‘to be’ is in the singular rather than the plural. And you will be able to use the phrase without knowing the grammar rules!

Language is all about communication. As long as you can communicate, that’s what matters. It doesn’t matter that you can’t recite the grammar rules that govern a sentence, as long as you can convey your message and the other person understands what you meant.

I need to make another disclaimer here. If you do learn the rules, you will find it easier to create your own sentences based on that rule, of course, so your learning may become more efficient. But, like with the first tip above, it’s an interesting approach to try out so give it a go if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Don’t let grammar put you off 

The bottom line is, don’t let grammar put you off. Grammar is not everything. There are so many more aspects of learning a foreign language. And sometimes, you learn grammar without even knowing it. When you read and see the same structures over and over again, for example. They become familiar and you begin to understand how they work instinctively, even if you can’t explain why something is the way it is.

Anyway, I will be making more videos about grammar learning tips on my YouTube channel so make sure you’re subscribed!

The post How to learn grammar (and should you even do it?) appeared first on 5-Minute Language.

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Best language learning blogs

Here’s my list of the best blogs for language learners!  

I will be updating this article regularly as I find more blogs that might be useful for you guys. I’m also going to start with general language learning blogs, which are already included in this article, and I’m going to regularly add lists of my favourite blogs for learning specific languages (French and English coming next!).

Make sure you’re part of my community of language learners if you’d like me to send you an email next time this article is updated with new blogs!

Blogs about how to learn foreign languages effectively

This list includes blogs about how to learn any foreign language. They’re blogs about language learning methods and techniques, they have tips on learning grammar and vocabulary, ways to practise your speaking and listening, tricks for organising your time and your learning schedule, and staying motivated. They’re basically blogs about how to learn languages in general, rather than blogs focusing on specific languages.  

5-Minute Language

That’s the blog you’re currently reading! It’s a place where I share my best tips and advice on learning foreign languages effectively and independently, even if you’re busy.

You can either browse all of my posts, or check out specific articles about the following topics:

5-Minute Language is not just a blog. It’s a language learning community and it’s also a YouTube channel that I’m currently focusing my energy on. Make sure you subscribe!

The Linguist

A blog by Steve Kaufmann. Includes articles about whether monolingual or bilingual dictionaries are better for language learners, creating your own dictionary as a language learning technique, and the three stages of language acquisition.

Fluent Forever

A blog by Gabriel Wyner. Includes articles about how to learn verb conjugation, why you should use monolingual flashcards, and how to learn pronunciation effectively.

Languages Around the Globe

A blog by Brian Powers. Includes articles about the disadvantages of using language learning apps, tips on what to do if you’re stuck on the plateau phase and not making much progress, and different ways in which you can study languages while you work out.

Fluent in 3 Months

A blog by Benny Lewis. Includes articles about rituals that will help you learn a language faster, fun grammar games that will help you learn grammar in any language, and must-know words and phrases for any language.

Lindsay Does Languages

A blog by Lindsay Williams. Includes articles about how to use Spotify for language learning, how to start learning a language without changing your routine, and ways to maximise Google Translate for language learning.

I Will Teach You A Language

A blog by Olly Richards. Includes articles about why you should stop listening to ‘slow audio’, scientifically proven ways to improve your memory, and ways to embrace your mistakes when speaking a foreign language.

Language Surfer

A blog by Ron Gullekson. Includes articles about different ways to learn adjectives, what to do after you’ve finished a Duolingo course, and a number of different ways in which you can start a conversation when you’re doing a language exchange.

How to Get Fluent

A blog by Gareth Popkins. Includes articles about reading, such as how important reading actually is for language learning and how to read in a foreign language for it to be effective, and articles about exam preparation, including one about how to beat exam nerves.  

Joy of Languages

A blog by Katie Harris. Includes articles about unconventional ways to practise speaking without a native speaker, why learning a language abroad doesn’t always work, and different fun ways to learn a language.


A blog by Shannon Kennedy. Includes a lot of articles about travel but also a good portion of language learning advice, including articles about the role of writing in the language learning process, how to overcome procrastination, and how to assess your own language skills.

FluentU Language Learner

A general language learning blog by FluentU. Includes articles about conversation topics you can use during a language exchange, tricks for learning new alphabets, and one explaining what the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is all about.

Fluent Language

A blog by Kerstin Cable. Includes articles about how to incorporate learning idioms into your study routine, how to organise your language learning resources, and how to plan your week to make sure it’s productive and successful.

Best blogs for learning French (coming soon) Best blogs for learning English (coming soon) Best blogs for learning Korean (coming soon)

More languages (including German, Spanish and Japanese) coming soon! If you don’t want to miss out, make sure you’re a member of my free language learning community and I’ll send you an email next time this article is updated with new blogs. Sign up for free by using the form below!

The post Best language blogs to help you learn any language appeared first on 5-Minute Language.

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We all have our heroes. We all know people who can speak foreign languages in a way we admire. We look up to them and get inspired by them. And we’re often tempted to follow them. We want their advice and we want to hear their success stories. We want to do things the way they did to get to where they are.

But is that the right thing to do? Perhaps not.

In this post, I’d like to talk to you about why you should not follow your language heroes. And I’m going to explain what you should do instead. Are you ready?

Reason #1: they are biased because they’re already successful

This is the biggest reason why you should not follow your language heroes. They are your heroes because they can already speak the language well. They are already successful. And because they are already successful, they are biased. 

They may have forgotten what it’s like to struggle with language learning. They may not remember the lack of confidence, the overwhelm and the frustration they once felt when they were in the middle of the struggle.

All they have is hindsight. They know fluency is possible because they’ve done it themselves. But they didn’t know it before they got there. In the middle of the struggle, they felt exactly like you’re feeling now – like they might make it or they might not.

So, the success stories they share are biased in a way – biased by the experience of having already achieved fluency.

Reason #2: they may not know exactly how they got to where they are

Your language heroes are good at languages. And that’s why they can, and sometimes want to, share their tips and advice with you. You want to listen because you know their stories are real – your heroes are the proof. They speak the language, which is good enough evidence that their advice is valid.

But how well did they really document their learning while they were in the middle of it? They may have not. They may have done things that helped them along the way that they’ve already forgotten. They may have done things they didn’t even know would have any impact on their progress. Or avoided certain things – unintentionally – that would hinder it.

What I’m saying is that your heroes may not know exactly how they got to the point of fluency. Looking back now, they try to recreate the process step by step but it won’t always be accurate.

Unless they documented the process in some formal way, like some people do when they do various language learning challenges or experiments. Otherwise, their story might be just a story of what they think they did that helped them.

Reason #3: everyone’s learning context is different  

Your heroes don’t belong to the same context as you. Think about it this way: both you and I can speak English.

I grew up in Poland and you grew up in [insert country].

My parents sent me to private English lessons when I was still in primary school. You may have started learning English as soon as you started to speak your native language. Or maybe you only started in your 40s.

I was lucky to have come across a couple of very inspiring English teachers when I was still a teenager. You may have had a teacher who couldn’t care less.

Our contexts are completely different. And so our experiences of learning English will be completely different too. You can’t blindly follow your language hero because the two of you belong to different contexts.

Reason #4: we are all different people with different learning styles

This one is similar to the one above. It’s not about our context, though, but about us as individuals. We are all different. We have different learning styles and preferences. We learn at different speeds. We find different types of learning materials useful.

Picture this: I like to use Duolingo when I first start learning a language but you hate the idea of phone apps.

I learn vocabulary by memorising lists but your memory doesn’t work that way and you prefer to learn words in context.

I like video lessons but you prefer to read grammar textbooks.

Two completely different people!

So, what works for our language heroes won’t necessarily work for us. Because they are unique, in the same way as each of us is unique. And the things that work for each of us will be unique too.

Reason #5: things have evolved since your heroes got to fluency

Your heroes took a long time to reach fluency. Probably several years – or at least two. That’s a long time in the history of language learning methods and materials. Duolingo or italki didn’t even exist when I first started learning French.

Your heroes will have success stories based on the tools and resources available at the time they were learning the language. When was that? In the past. And yes – things have evolved since then.

There are new tips, techniques and resources coming up all the time. Things that may work wonders for you and your learning progress. So, if you’re just blindly trying to replicate your language heroes’ stories, you might be missing out on what’s available now because you’re focusing on what was available then.

So how can your language heroes help you?

I’m not trying to say that you should not listen to any advice other people offer you. All I’m trying to say is that your language learning journey is unique. Just as your language heroes’ journeys are unique and can’t be replicated. Things that worked for them won’t necessarily work for you, although they may!

So, try different things. Pick and choose. Experiment. See what works for you and what doesn’t. So and so did this to get fluent? Try it. If it’s not working, there’s nothing wrong with you – it’s just not the right approach so scrap it and try something else.

One day you’ll be your own language hero, I’m sure.

If you’d like to receive my exclusive tips and advice on language learning, and a free guide to learning languages like a pro, make sure you’re part of my free language learning community.

Don’t follow your language heroes’ journeys to fluency – here’s why
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