How to teach yourself a new language and actually retain it (beyond Duolingo!)

So 60 to 75 percent of people around the world speak at least two languages, and chances are you want to be one of them.

I know I sure do. Though I do know how to speak and understand Spanish up to an adolescent level, 3 full years of public schooling is not a path that most adult learners want to take.

Language is a skill that has to be developed beyond the classroom and the public school system doesn’t do most of us teenage students much good.

You ask almost anybody past 40 and I guarantee you that they’ve forgotten basically everything they learned in that mandatory Spanish or French class they took 20+ years ago.

So in light of me taking up a journey to Vietnamese fluency, I figured I’d help the rest of you who are also looking to take advantage of this digital era.

Here’s what’s worked for me. Coupled with some perseverance, accountability, grit, sweat, and tears, I guarantee you that you’ll know at least 80% of any language in 6 months.

Digital Immersion

Fortunately, language lovers no longer have to travel at all in order to immerse themselves within a foreign tongue. We now, quite literally, have the world in the palm of our hands.

We have thousands of podcasts, vlogs, blogs, movies, songs, tv shows, news articles, recipes, and more all one search away.

I’m sure you’ve heard more than once, that to learn one’s language involves learning one’s culture. Pretend like you’re a toddler again just trying to wrap your head around all the little aspects of whatever the heck people around you are saying.

Toddler you didn’t learn your mother tongue by doing a lesson or 3 every day on Duolingo, now did she?

Even if physically searching for vlogs or podcasts is just a bit too active for you, you can go the passive route of simply setting your digital devices to the language.

Apparently “History” in Vietnamese is Lịch sử. Trust me, you look at your phone and/or laptop multiple times per day so I couldn’t imagine a more effective form of immersion.

Learn like a Waterfall

I actually learned about this technique from Evan Edinger on YouTube, but the key to language retention is to constantly progress in all the levels you’ve learned and are learning; not to learn it and move on.

Despite how tempting it may sound to totally master 8 or 9 phrases and lock them in your memory forever (aka going ‘gold’ on Duolingo), memorizing is sadly much less efficient than actually learning.

Learning a language is a journey, not a race. You constantly develop the skills you’ve already learned while gradually continuing to build your vocabulary.

So instead of trying to reach “level 5” on each new piece you learn, reach “level 1,” then build the next piece to “level 1” while building the former to “level 2.” Then you’ll build some more terms to level 1 while developing your level 1 to level 2 and level 2 to level 3 and so on.

Simple right?

Don’t be afraid to spend a little money

There’s nothing that makes me feel more accountable for putting something to good use than when I spend money on it.

Chances are that programs/applications/sites, other than Duolingo, that offer a native translation into the language you’re learning will cost at least a few coins in order to ‘fund their mission.’

And let’s be real, most of the quality learning platforms you use online cost money if they’re really worth anything.

If you purchase a book, course, or subscription service, then you’ll actually feel inclined to continue progressing in order to not waste your money.

You’ll be doing some major forced psychology on yourself where hopefully your inner cheapskate will prevail over you quite literally throwing your cash.

That being said, I’d still suggest waiting for sales or looking for discounts in order to at least minimize costs for the useful skill that language learning is.

Join an online support community

When you take a personal mission for yourself, oftentimes it’s easy to wind up unmotivated and feeling a bit foolish.

You may find yourself constantly wondering why you’re taking precious time out of your day to learn this language when all your friends are out in the world doing great things or whatever.

But even if not, we all have our days when we just need an extra boost of support.

Y’know, like those days when suddenly you realize you don’t know nearly as much of the language as you thought you did.

Or like when you learn a whole new set of grammar rules and dialects, and you’re just about ready to give it all up.

And that’s where an online support community comes in. You’ll have a daily reminder that you’re not alone in the puzzling journey of whatever language you’re learning.

You’ll have fellow scholars asking questions you have, giving answers you need, offering encouragement, and proposing new learning methods that may work better for you.

Personally, I use VietnamesePod101(not sponsored) as my platform for reading the comments of other Vietnamese learners. Of course, I hopped on the first deal I saw and was able to gain access to that incredible lesson-based subscription site for $1.

Talk to literally anyone you know who knows the language

I guarantee you that if you live in the U.S., there will be at least a few people who live in your area who understand and speak the language you’re learning, even if they’re not natives.

Turn any of these fellow linguists into your informal mentors. Ask them exact pronunciations and to fill in the words when you’re stuck with an incomplete sentence.

There’s nothing quite like a live teacher. Even Duolingo has multiple events nation-wide where language learners can meet and collaborate with one another.

You could also attend other local events for speakers to mingle, or even host one yourself.

If you’re learning any Latin-based language though, I encourage just socializing with family members and friends of friends and I’m sure you’ll come across a few different individuals who are either further along in learning or native speakers.

So now what?

Major props to you for even deciding to learn a foreign language.

Notice that this article’s title states “beyond Duolingo”, so I’m in no way trying to discredit the amazing tool that Duolingo is. The application’s streak feature is a great motivator for me daily.

All I’m saying is that Duolingo won’t be enough to master the language in the long run. There’s no real-world application and it simply won’t develop your conversational skills.

If you have another application that either specializes in the specific language you’re learning or offers a more well-rounded learning experience, then I’d recommend either solely using that platform or using it in conjunction with Duolingo.

The more sources, the better. If you don’t take away anything else from this article, then at least remember that.

But since you’re here, you’re clearly one of few self-motivated scholars that would love my weekly tips on how to excel mentally, physically, and academically.

I love sharing doses of knowledge that any student could benefit from, and I’d be honored if you joined my savvy sisterhood. Sign up with your email below!

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