How to learn a language without going to classes: 7 effective & fun tips πŸ’‘

Would you like to learn a language, but are you not able to go to classes? Today I share all my tips for learning a language without going to classes with you. Going to classes is a great way to learn, but it’s not always possible to do so. Maybe you don’t have the money for it, maybe there are no classes offered in your area or maybe it’s the pandemic’s fault. If for whatever reason you wan’t to learn a new language without going to actual classes, this post is for you.

Why I’m not taking classes

In November I moved to Spain and I’m trying to learn Spanish without actually taking classes. For me, there are two main reasons why I’m not going.

The first reason is the pandemic. I simply wouldn’t feel good about sitting in a classroom with many people. If that’s even possible, because many classes are cancelled or moved online. I don’t want to spend money on online classes, because I believe that they’re less valuable. I prefer to learn by myself for now and invest the money in classes once I can be in a real classroom.

The second reason is the location. I’m in a smaller town where they don’t offer Spanish language classes. I would have to go to a neighbouring town or a bigger city, which isn’t easy with the public transport system. Buses don’t go very frequently and the connections aren’t always good.

So, I decided to start learning by myself.

How to learn a language without going to classes

Are you also one of those people who want to start learning by themselves? Here are seven tips to learn a language without going to classes that – from my own experiences – have been useful.

1. Use a language learning app

The first tip is the most obvious one: use a language learning app. I personally love Duolingo. They offer many different languages and Spanish is one of their best developed ones, which is great for me. If you reach checkpoint five in the app for Spanish or French, you have completed the A2 level of the CEFR. This equals four semesters of university learning, but on Duolingo you do it in half of the time. Another advantage of Duolingo is that it’s completely free!

For other apps I cannot speak from personal experience, but there are many. Some examples are: Babbel, Mondly, Busuu and Memrise.

2. Get a coursebook for self study

Getting a course book for self study is one of the best things I’ve done. I bought this coursebook called Spanish for self study (learning from Dutch to Spanish). In my book, there are listening exercises for which I could download files online. Each chapter has its own topic, three listening exercises, a list of vocabulary and different grammatical topics are explained. For me it really was one of the best things I bought last year.

I’m sure there are self study coursebooks for many languages. The advantage of a self study coursebook is that you have the answers to all the exercises in the back. In a regular coursebook they don’t put them, because only the teacher has this version. So make sure to buy one for self study, so you can actually check your work.

3. Watch TV programs

Who doesn’t love to watch TV? While being in Spain, I developed a fondness for the Spanish versions of First Dates and Temptation Island. Watching your favourite shows in a new language can really help you to learn vocabulary and get a better understanding of sentence construction. A great way to start is with a show or film you already know, so it’s easier to follow the story. But also more easy programs without complex dialogue are great.

I honestly learned English by watching Pretty Little Liars and many other shows. Pro tip: put subtitles in the language you’re learning on the TV or on Netflix, so you can also read along. Especially in the beginning, this makes it easier to follow story lines and to understand different accents.

4. Listen to podcasts

Another more passive way to learn, is by listening to podcasts. There are specific podcasts developed to help you learn a new language. Duolingo for example offers podcasts for Spanish and French. You listen to stories that are partly in the language you’re learning and partly in English. This helps you to understand and guides you when you get lost. Duolingo also offers an English learning podcast for Spanish speakers.

There are many other podcasts out there, for other languages. I know there’s Talk to me in Korean for learning Korean, Yes Japan! for learning Japanese and 30 Minute Italian for learning Italian. Google your language and I’m sure you’ll find something!

5. Read (children’s) books

When you start learning a language, you’re like a child. So why not read some children’s books? They’re written with simple words and usually have drawings that help you understand where the story is going. If you’re in the country of your new language, you can just go to the library to borrow the books. Or maybe you know someone who could borrow you some books? If you’re not in the country (yet), this tip might be a bit harder to follow, unless you want to spend money by ordering them online.

If you’re more advanced, you can choose some books for teenagers or books that you already read before. This way you know the general story line and it’s less of a problem if you don’t get everything. Reading books in English is one of the ways that helped me most to learn. I started with the Harry Potter books, which I love, and I’m intending to do the same in Spanish.

6. Write short stories

A fun way to practice in an active rather than a passive way is to write short stories. This works whether you’re a beginner or more advanced. As a beginner you can write very basic dialogue, like people introducing themselves or talking about their hobbies. The more advanced you get, the more creative you can get. You can make up characters with personalities and write about their lives. 

I, for example, wrote short stories about Hans. I gave my character a very unlucky life, where always something goes wrong. Usually I matched the topic of the story with the chapter of my self study coursebook. So, for example, if the chapter was about going to the doctor, Hans would go to the doctor. If the chapter was about public transport, Hans would have trouble taking the train.

Writing stories works especially well if you have someone who can read them and check them for you. But even if you don’t, it’s a good way to practice and learn more vocabulary while writing.

7. Talk with online friends / native speakers

Who better to practice with than a native speaker? If you already know someone from the country of which you’re learning the language, you can ask the person to practice with you. Find set times at which you can practice together, so you get more fluent. Also, the other person can correct you and explain new things to you.

And if you don’t know anyone yet? You can make an account at a website for meeting people online or for language learning. I have used a website called Interpals before. There you can make a profile by filling in some information about yourself and what you’re looking for. This can be anything from friendships and penpals to language practice. You can search for people from specific countries and send them a message. Of course it takes a while to find someone nice to practice with, but it’s definitely worth a shot!

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