54+ Easy and Effective Ways to Learn a Language
You want to learn a language.
It’s been on your bucket list for years. You’ve probably made a few attempts before, but it never went anywhere…
But this time will be different.
Yes, learning a language is hard. It takes a significant amount of time. And you don’t need to take a fancy (and expensive) language course to do it. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to learning languages, some learners thrive in a teacher-led training environment, some self-paced. Most find that a combination works best.
What you do need—the secret to language learning—is to find activities you like. If you find a way to learn a language that you like, you’ll persist at it even when it gets hard.
Each language learner is different. So, find a language activity that works for your learning process, that you like, and that you can stick to for the long haul. Make it part of your routine.
If you can do that, you’ll learn a new language.
But what activities can you do? The options are endless. Here’s a small taste— 54+ modern ways to learn a language. Pick a few from this list, try them, see if they grab you. If not, come back and try some others.
What are the Best Ways to Learn a Language?
Learn the Basics
These are the best ways to get started learning your language.
1. Use a language app.
A good interactive language app is probably the best way to learn the basics of any language. May we suggest Pimsleur?
2. Take a free online course.
There are lots. For example, edX has a bunch of language classes including this one to learn Mandarin Chinese. They typically don’t have the same kind of comprehensive curriculum at a ton of levels that Pimsleur does, but they could be a good way to get started.
3. Use a Grammar Book.
It’s not my favorite method, but language textbooks work for some people. And they may be one of the best ways to learn grammar rules. Search your favorite bookseller for textbooks in your target language.
4. Take a Class in Person.
Language classes aren’t always the best way to learn, and they’re expensive. But if you don’t mind the price tag and you know a good school, a language course can help you get going.
Learning a language is all about remembering new words. Here are some of the best ways to do that.
5. Study word lists.
Find lists of the most common words and start studying them. Here are the top 1,000 words in Swahili.
6. Make flashcards.
Flashcards are one of the most effective ways to commit what you learn to long-term memory, especially when you use spaced repetition. Pimsleur has built-in flashcards that seamlessly work with your language lessons. You can also make free online language flashcards at Brainscape or with Anki.
7. Memorize words from things you love.
For example, you can try memorizing vocabulary from foreign songs you love (Despacito, anyone?).
8. Label all your household items.
Start in the kitchen and bathroom and put up sticky notes with the most common vocab. You can even incorporate phrases like, “Clean your room” or “What do you want for dinner?”
9. Google Translate.
Possibly the ultimate translation tool, use Google Translate to find the word for anything you can possibly think of.
Learn to Speak
Speaking is scary, but you can do it, and we think it’s the very best way to start! Here are some of the best ways to learn to speak a new language.
10. Find a language exchange partner.
It’s easier than ever to find native speakers to chat with online. You learn your target language, and you can teach them your own language. Here’s some advice for finding a conversation partner. And here are some tips for making your virtual language encounter a success.
11. Start a conversation club.
Have some friends or colleagues that want to learn with you? Start a conversation club. Just get everyone hooked up on Zoom or Skype and get chatting.
12. Practice “shadowing.”
Shadowing is one of the most powerful ways of improving your speaking skills on your own. Just listen to the audio and repeat it as if you were an echo. It helps with all the physical aspects of getting to near-fluency-like pronunciation.
13. Talk to yourself.
Have a conversation with yourself when you’re in the shower or making dinner. Pretend you’re at a Turkish cafe and play both sides of the conversation. “Merhaba, bir kahve alabilir miyim lütfen?”, “Evet. Süt ister misin?” And so on.
14. Record yourself speaking.
This is one of the best ways to see your progress over time: record yourself. Do it every day and, after a few months, you’ll really be able to hear the difference.
15. Read out loud.
Get your mouth used to making new sounds by reading books out loud. Here’s an example of someone using this method to learn Korean.
16. Start a podcast or a YouTube channel.
Some people start podcasts or YouTube channels to practice speaking. For example, check out Daniel, an English learner from Switzerland who started a podcast about his English-learning journey—in English.
17. Hire a tutor.
There are tons of tutors online these days for every language you can imagine. If you’re looking for pointers on grammar or pronunciation, they might be worth the investment.
Learn to Listen
Don’t forget to work on your listening skills. Here are some of the easiest ways to improve your understanding of another language.
18. Learn from TV shows.
Turn your Netflix binge session into a language lesson. Here are the 10 best Netflix shows for learning French. And here is some advice on how to use subtitles.
19. Learn while learning something else on YouTube.
Need to learn how to make sourdough? Do it in German.
Or switch up your yoga video routine and learn it in Dutch.
20. Learn from music.
Use Spotify to discover the top hits in different countries and languages. Here’s the ultimate Scandanavian playlist for anyone learning Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, or Danish.
21. Learn from podcasts.
Science shows that podcasts can be a super effective way to learn a language from native language speakers. Look for something interesting that you like to listen to, even if you don’t understand everything at first. Here are my favorite podcasts for learning English as a second language and for learning French.
22. Listen to the news.
You can find a ton of great news shows in any language you can think of. Find out what’s going on from another perspective. For example, here’s news from the BBC in Arabic.
23. Listen to the radio.
Find out what it’s like to be a local somewhere else through good ole’ fashioned radio. You can find radio shows all over the world in a ton of languages with TuneIn.
24. Listen to audiobooks.
There are a ton available in different languages. Search for them on your favorite audiobook platform or even on YouTube.
Learn to Read
Reading is essential for language acquisition. It’s a powerful way to improve your grammar in context and expand your vocabulary. Here are some language learning tips for reading in a new language.
25. Read blogs.
Blogs are interesting, focused, and usually quite short. They’re perfect for language learning. Look for one in your target language.
26. Read about history.
Start with the history of countries that speak your language. For example, if you’re learning Portuguese, learn about the Tropicália movement in Brazil.
27. Read the news.
Find your favorite newspaper in another language, or explore something new. For example, if you’re learning Japanese, check out the Asahi Shimbun.
28. Subscribe to a newsletter.
Get connected with a newsletter on a subject you’re interested in, and get great reading material delivered right to your inbox. Do a quick search on Substack for newsletters in your language.
29. Find writers on Medium.
Medium is filled with great articles in a number of languages. Here are some written in Cantonese.
30. Read your favorite book.
I read Harry Potter in Portuguese as a beginner. I didn’t understand everything, but I love the story, so it was easy to keep going. Find your favorite book and try it in your target language.
31. Read and ebooks while listening to audiobooks.
One of the challenges in a new language is hearing when one word begins and another ends. You can train your ear by reading a book and listening to it at the same time. For example, you can use “The Little Prince” narrated in French.
Learn to Write
Not everyone needs to write perfectly in their new language, but it’s worth practicing at least a little. Here are some easy and quick ways to build writing practice into your daily life.
Write a short summary of how your day went and what you did in your target language. Maybe start a travel journal. You could even start a bullet journal in your target language.
Texting is a great way to build writing into your everyday life. Search for a WhatsApp group in your target language to get started (here’s a bunch in Hindi).
34. Write postcards.
If you can travel, so much the better. But even if you’re in lockdown, you can send short postcards to your friends. They’re a great way to keep in touch and practice writing short texts.
35. Comment on social media posts.
Social media is easily accessible in any language. Write a short comment under your favorite post and see who responds. You may even find yourself a language partner to practice with.
Learn in Context
You need to use a language to learn it. Here are some of the best ways to create opportunities for yourself to learn a language in context.
36. Video games.
Playing Video games in your target language is a fantastic way to spend hours exposed to and using a language.
37. Learn while you cook.
It’s never been easier to use your love of cooking to propel your language skills forward. Just find recipes in your target language. Maybe go for something a little forgivable, like this Spanish Paella.
38. Learn while you online date.
Learning Greek? Set your Tinder location to Athens and flirt with the locals. You might make a new friend—or even get to live out your “Big Fat Greek Wedding” dreams.
39. Go to a Meetup.
Meetup is a site that organizes group activities all over the world. Most cities have language conversation clubs you can join for free and meet up in real life or online. Meet new friends and practice your conversation skills.
40. Change the language on your phone.
You look at your phone all day… why not use it to learn languages? You’ll learn all the most common verbs like “delete”, “reply”, “call” and more. You can change your language easily in your phone’s settings.
41. Go to a festival.
You can find a local one or even plan to visit one on vacation. Here are some of the best Spanish festivals and cultural celebrations for learning European Spanish. And here’s everything you need to know about Brazil’s Carnival.
Hopefully, we’ll all be able to travel again soon. In the meantime, you can daydream about all the Icelandic you’ll learn on your camping trip around the island.
Learn a Language With Your Family
Want to include your partner and kids? Here are a bunch of ways you can bring in the whole family and turn language learning into a bonding activity. Who knows, maybe you’ll raise a house of polyglots.
43. Play games with your kids.
Playing games in your target language will pump your family fun up to the next level. Here are some of our favorite Brazilian games that you can play either in person or online.
44. Learn nursery rhymes.
Have little ones? Why not sing them to sleep in another language? Here are some of the most popular nursery rhymes in French.
45. Learn some tongue twisters together.
They’re fun and help you develop your pronunciation skills. We’ve collected a list of the best Brazilian Portuguese tongue twisters.
46. Watch cartoons in your target language.
Cartoons usually have simple vocabulary so you’ll be able to follow along. And your kids will love it.
47. Speak in a foreign language on date night.
Learning a new language together is a great way to keep your relationship fresh. Spice up your time together by speaking to your partner only in another language. (Here are some ideas for flirting in Italian).
48. Write down your shopping list in your target language.
Have your kids help you remember all the vocabulary. When you get to the store, see if they remember by sending them off to fetch le beurre and le lait.
49. Sing karaoke together.
You can do this with your partner or with your kids. Here are some fun karaoke songs in Latin American Spanish.
Learn at an Advanced Level
Mastered the basics? Here are some activities you can do to deeply develop your fluency.
50. Go live in a foreign country.
Pack your bags and take off. There’s no better way to get immersed in another language than to live, work, or go to school in that language.
51. Take an online course in your target language.
Learning photography? Find a photography course in your target language (like this one in Russian).
52. Read academic articles.
You’ll pick up a ton of new vocabulary by reading scientific articles in your target language. Use Google Scholar to help you find them in virtually any language.
53. Teach the language.
Teaching is one of the best ways to learn. Find a beginner in your target language and give them a language lesson.
54. Take a university course in your target language.
If you’re not ready to actually move to another country, try one for free on Coursera. Here’s one on “learning how to learn” from McMaster University and the University of San Diego, taught in Portuguese.
The Best Way to Learn a Language is to Start
Learning languages has never been easier. There are unlimited resources, learning tools, and ways you can pull yourself towards fluency
But the most important step you can take is just to start.
Pimsleur makes that easier than ever. Enjoy a Free 7-Day Trial with unlimited access to all levels in the language of your choice! Afterward, pay as you go from $14.95 /month.
Have something to add to the list? Get in touch with us and let us know!