Self-studying a Foreign Language Effectively

written by Willy Prasetya


Foreign languages have become part of our daily life. We often encounter foreign terms in daily conversation and in everyday objects like product labels and signboards on the street. As global mobility has become much easier, foreign languages become increasingly important. 


Unfortunately, many popular foreign languages have complex grammars, thus making it difficult for us to learn those languages. Indeed, there are tutoring services with various language learning programs. However, good quality programs may cost you a fortune, and only a few people can afford them.


Therefore, I will share some tips for self-studying a foreign language effectively. However, I need to emphasize that the process of learning any languages is not instantaneous. Although there are instant programs being offered, their main purpose is to help you pass language proficiency tests or to serve as a starting point. Improving and maintaining language proficiency still requires time, effort, and determination.


Set specific goals

Goals help you allocate your time and energy efficiently. It would be better if you set short-term and long-term goals. For example, to improve speaking skills for everyday conversation, you can set several short-term goals like the abilities of introducing yourself, storytelling, and expressing opinions verbally. By achieving short-term goals one by one, you will get a feeling of achievement at regular intervals. So, the motivation to learn the target language will be maintained.


Get exposed

After setting goals, you should get exposed to the authentic use of the target language. You should read a lot of texts, watch a lot of videos, and listen to a lot of songs or audios in the target language, particularly things related to each of your goals. The habit of reading, watching and listening to authentic target language use will enrich your vocabulary and make it easier for you to understand and use the target language in other situations.


In addition, there are at least three things that you can get through the exposure to the authentic use of the target language. First, you can study the grammar and vocabulary in real situations. Second, you can pay attention to how words and expressions in the target language are conveyed with particular pronunciation and intonation and how they impact listeners or readers. Third, you can also learn the socio-cultural aspects of the target language at the same time.


The key is curiosity. When you don’t know the meaning of a word or an expression, you should immediately look up its meaning and write it down if necessary.


Practice, practice, practice

Exposure itself is not sufficient for improving your language proficiency. You need to put what you have learned into practice. The easiest way is imitation and reading aloud. You can also take some exercises available on the Internet to sharpen your language skills. In addition, a wide variety of language learning apps and massive online courses also provide a lot of exercises and opportunities to practice your language skills.

You should also practice using the target language in real-life communication to know the extent to which your language use can be understood by others. In reality, despite minor grammatical errors, slight mispronunciation, or slightly inappropriate diction, your language use is mostly still understandable for other language users. The key is not to be afraid of trying and to always maintain the learner mindset. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn, so take every opportunity to see what could be improved.


If applied consistently in the long term, the three tips above will not be difficult because they will turn into habits. In fact, if you ask for tips from people who are proficient in a foreign language, their answers will usually be around the three tips above.

The thing that defines the success of foreign language learning is determination, and it is actually the most difficult thing to maintain. However, once you have set your heart on mastering the target language, you will do whatever it takes to achieve that.

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