When you learn a language as a kid, it’s a little like riding a bike. Once you learn it, you’re set to speak it for life. As an adult, it can feel a little more like riding a stationary bike in the snow. You can sit on it, you can get a glimpse of what the world might look like from a bike, but it’s nothing like rolling through the world as a cyclist.
Feeling stuck can happen at any point in the language learning experience, but there are ways for every level of learner to feel the wind at their back. These ideas aren’t labor-free. You will have do some work. You may have to overcome some trepidation. But getting a little momentum behind your efforts can go a long way toward making them seem worth the trouble!
Beginner: Schedule an online one-on-one lesson.
What? Am I serious? Yes, this is the most daunting item on this list, and seems like a lot to ask right off the bat. Just remember that today’s post is about giving your studies a burst of energy. As a beginner, you have the most to gain from a single class.
Say you talked to me sometime in the last three years about learning a language. You were likely subjected to a passionate ode to italki, a language learning site where you can take a private skype lesson from a native speaker for as little as $10 an hour. In the search, you can filter teachers by their schedule and hourly rate, as well as special skills and country. I tried a number of teachers when I first started lessons, and found a wide variety of great techniques and styles. If you’re inclined to read reviews and resumes, italki offers the option, but you can also jump right into learning.
Take it to the next level: Sign up for an italki account. Italki allows three 30-minute lessons at a discounted rate when you first sign up. Find a teacher who offers these trial lessons and schedule one. Chicken out later if you must, but get it on the schedule. Comment here with the new phrases you learned and I will give you accolades because I know it is scary to put yourself out there!
Intermediate: Do a vocabulary binge.
Nowadays, I don’t spend much times studying lists of vocabulary, but I sometimes find that, in the short term, it can give me just the boost I need to find my study stride when my motivation wanes. This idea came from a language-for-travel tip which suggested not worrying about grammar when you are trying to communicate on a trip. If you learn 100 independent words, you will be able to communicate more ideas than if you invest the same energy in learning grammar.
My ultimate goal, of course, is for my Spanish to be more fluent than a jumble of vocabulary. Still, I’ve found if I take a few study sessions and learn a bunch of words, I will often recognize that sentences are just a little easier to form during subsequent conversations because I don’t spend as much time searching my brain for words I don’t know. And the less time I spend searching for the equivalent of English words, the more time I’m constructing sentences in Spanish.
Take it to the next level: Log into quizlet and create a flashcard set. Pick words you don’t know from an article, or search for a list of Spanish vocabulary online. Then use the various activities and games provided on the quizlet site to learn and practice your words.
Advanced: Watch a full season of a series.
The downside of being advanced is that it’s harder to see big improvements in your learning. The upside is that you get to do fun things like watch Netflix to practice. Watching several episodes of a show that you like is a good way to immerse yourself over the course of a few days and get yourself thinking in a new language. Start with a few episodes subtitled in your target language. Once you get the hang of the characters and story, experiment with watching subtitle free.
For Spanish learners, these are my recommendations: If you like period dramas with likeable characters and fun clothing, I recommend El Tiempo Entre Costuras (In Between Times). If you like political dramas, try Ingobernable. If you like documentaries, try The Cuba Libre Story. If you want something a little more in the direction of a telenovela, but with higher production values, try Velvet or El Gran Hotel.
Take it to the next level: Pick a series and give yourself permission to power through a whole season in the name of immersion. Did you, too, watch the entire third season of Velvet in one weekend? Twist my arm, and I could be persuaded to review the wedding episode so we can discuss it in Spanish.
Seeing progress is key to staying motivated. Not every day will feel like you’re coasting, so it pays to give yourself that feeling from time to time. Let me know if you try any of these ideas or if you have others that work for you!