10 Language Learning Strategies that Actually Work

Language Learning Strategies

If you are reading this article, congratulations! You are either currently acquiring another language or considering it. Learning a second language is not a task for the faint of heart or anyone who must have instant gratification. It is an arduous task that requires patience, focus and courage. In this article I will cover 10 language learning strategies that can be used at any level. 

From one language learner to another- you’ve got this!

Before you really get into the nitty-gritty of language learning, you should ask yourself “Am I ready?” There are some seasons of life that are better than others to dedicate yourself to learning another language. I have written an article about 6 things you will need before learning another language.

Do you have those six things? Alright, then we are ready to jump into our 10 language learning strategies!

Note: Each strategy is fairly independent of the others, but each will require at least a basic understanding of grammar and vocabulary in the desired language. I think this article is for everyone, but it will probably be most useful to intermediate learners.

Language Learning Strategies #1: Needs Notebook

This strategy helps with: conceptual meanings and vocabulary

A “needs notebook” is a small notebook that you carry around with you all the time, so you are always ready to write down new things that you want to learn as they pop up. Let’s say you are out at a restaurant ordering food, and the server says a phrase to you that you don’t understand. You ask him to repeat it for you, then you write it down. You can even ask him “what does that mean?” Then write that down!

It serves the purpose of reinforcing the context and memories associated with the phrases and words you are learning, while also improving your language skills. You can write down anything you want including words, phrases or sentences to better understand the grammar or context/meaning. This language learning strategy is going to take a little extra effort and boldness, but it can have a great payoff later on!

Language Learning Strategies #2: Record and Compare

This strategy helps with: pronunciation

In this exercise, you will need a native speaker who is committed to helping you learn the language. Hint: you should have one of those by now if you already don’t! You record yourself with your helper speaking at the same time. You listen to the recording afterward and compare pronunciation. This will help train your ears to hear where you are mispronouncing vowels and consonants, then you can focus on smoothing those out, so you sound more natural while speaking.

This language learning strategy can get frustrating, because some sounds are so difficult to pronounce. Remember, the goal is not perfection! Nobody expects you to be as good as a native speaker. The goal is to improve your speaking and pronunciation abilities. With some effort, you certainly can do that!

Language Learning Strategies #3: Opposites and Sets

This strategy helps with: vocabulary

Make lists of things that are opposite and things that are sets. For example, hot and cold, dry and wet, happy and sad, etc. For sets, examples would be colors, days of the week, emotion adjectives, sports, animals, foods, etc.

Here is an extra language learning strategy: As much as possible, do not learn words by direct translation. Use images of the items or pictures and associate the words with the images. This will help you to break the habit of translating in your head and get you to thinkingin the new language.

Language Learning Strategies #4: Role-Play

This strategy helps with: contextual comprehension and speaking ability

Have one or more helpers who are native speakers act out scenarios with you through role-play. You can role-play depending on your language needs. If you are a beginner, you can still greatly benefit from role-playing! I would recommend settings like the interacting at the grocery store, restaurants, hair salon, bank, or coffee shop. For those who are more advanced, you could role-play more complex situations and conversations like business meetings, relationship advice, teaching a craft or skill, or going to the immigration office.

I think this language learning strategy can be a difficult one at first, but it is one of the best ones for becoming more fluent and understanding how natives speak in different circumstances. This is where you will really pick up on tone, sentence structure, common phrases, and appropriate cultural norms in social interactions!

language learning strategies

Language Learning Strategies #5: Expansion Drill

This strategy helps with: sentence construction

The expansion drill is an exercise where you take a simple sentence and you expand it by adding more to it. The idea is that you are increasing the complexity of the sentence piece by piece, so you understand what each part of the sentence’s function is. This will help improve your fluence and build more complex sentences. It will also help you more quickly understand complex sentences when you hear them.

Language Learning Strategies #6: Series

This strategy helps with: comprehension and fluency

Memorize how you perform common, everyday practices and describe them in a series in the new language. This could include activities like baking a cake, getting ready in the morning, going to the grocery store, exercising. It does not have to be a complicated activity!

This will help solidify grammar, sentence structures and phrases into their contextual meaning which will help you become fluent much quicker in everyday conversation.

Language Learning Strategies #7: Concept Exploration

This strategy helps with: conceptual understanding

This language learning strategy requires an intermediate level of fluency already, beginners may really struggle with this and their energy will be better spent on foundational grammar and vocabulary. 

In this practice, the goal is to remove your original impressions of a word because of its translation in your native language and seek to understand the word’s meaning in its original context and language. Words will be similar, but rarely is anything perfectly directly translated from one language to another. Translators are creative, in the sense that they must preserve the integrity of what is said but communicate it in a way that is accurate and meaningful to the audience who hears it. Most of the time, direct translations sound funny and awkward. This comes down to the meaning and concepts behind words. 

Your job is to explore the various meanings of words and the contexts they are used in. When natives use any word, what are they saying? What are they feeling? That is what you want to emulate and understand when youuse that word.

Language Learning Strategies #8: Sentence Pattern Drill

This strategy helps with: sentence construction

Create a sentence with your language helper. Then, try to replace words in that sentence with other words or phrases that can take its place. Then continue to repeat the sentence through writing and speaking. The idea behind this exercise it to gain mastery over the sentence structure, not the individual words themselves. Try to understand how the sentence is structured as you build it and speak it.

language learning strategies

Language Learning Strategies #9: Ask a Set of Questions

This strategy helps with: asking questions and fluency

Prepare a set of questions that you want to ask people in your community. This is a great chance for people other than your helper to help you in your language learning. You want to have a diverse group of people teaching you words, phrases and pronunciation. This will make your speaking and comprehension much better.

Language Learning Strategies #10: Track a Dialogue

This strategy helps with: comprehension

Have two native speakers hold a conversation while you listen. Your only job is to attentively listen and try to track the dialogue. Pay attention to the words they use, their tone, phrases, and sentence structure. This is really where you pick up on the local, colloquial “chit-chat” and can make you stand apart from other language learners.

Bonus language learning strategy:

If there are any books in your native language that you love, which have also been translated into the language you are trying to learn, you should work on reading that book!

Already being familiar with the content will be much more useful to you in your language learning than a brand-new book in the foreign language. For me, this has been the bible and some other Christian books that were translated, as well as several books by Khaled Hosseini. I’ve read all his books in English. If you haven’t, I recommend these ones below!

These strategies have been incredibly helpful to me in my journey of learning Turkish. I have used all of them to varying degrees. I learned these strategies from a resource I have called PILAT++ Language Acquisition Techniques. It was a workbook specifically put together for Turkish, but I pulled those which were relevant for all language learners. Now get out there and put these strategies to use! If you use them, they will certainly help.

Did you like these language learning strategies? Save it for later!

If you are specifically learning Turkish and want some resources, I have linked some of the books that I used below.

A Student Grammar of Turkish by Cambridge University Press
Teach Yourself Turkish by McGraw-Hill

Thank you for visiting my blog! I hope you found these language learning strategies helpful! Please note, this post includes affiliate links, which means I make a small commission from any purchases made at no additional cost to you.

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