School of Humanities and Social Inquiry

Ten foreign language study tips

Learning a foreign language takes time and a lot of practice. Here are some language- learning pointers that may help you as you learn a new language.

Attend and participate in class without fail

Even if you are not well prepared. Class time is your primary opportunity for practice. The more you speak the language, the easier it will become. There's no way to make up oral participation and practice by reading the book.

Study every day!

Athletes and musicians know the importance of practice. You also must practise a foreign language every day. Be realistic in your expectations: learning a new language takes time and effort. You will not be able to speak fluently after only one semester, but you will know a lot more and be more proficient than if you had not invested the time and effort. A foreign language course is different from any other course you may take. Language learning is cumulative: Study 1 or 2 hours for every class hour to be a successful language learner.

Learn and review new vocabulary

Make flash cards. Write the foreign word on one side of each card and the English on the other. Learn the gender of all nouns (masculine or feminine) as you go. The best way to learn vocabulary for keeps is to practise using it right away.

Purchase a good dictionary

Once you get serious about learning a foreign language, you need to invest in a decent dictionary (40,000 entries or more). Learn how to use it! Try not to think too literally and don't just accept the first translation you see. Just as in English, most words can mean more than one thing.

Learn English grammar if you don't already know it

Grammar is the skeleton of a language, its basic structure: you must learn it. Learn the basic grammar terminology – know what verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, direct objects are. When you learn new verb conjugations, practise writing them out in full – learn them like they are new vocabulary, and ensure you know their meaning and how to spell them. This is especially true for irregular verbs.

Be prepared to make mistakes

Don't be afraid to make mistakes while participating in class, but learn from the mistakes that you do make. Your first objective is to communicate, not to speak perfectly. Remember that no matter how many mistakes you make, wherever you go in the world your sincere attempts to communicate in the native language of the country you visit will almost always be appreciated.

Study out loud

Talk or read aloud while you are studying. You double the efficiency of your learning ability if you say the words while reading them. Studying out loud also will improve your pronunciation, your listening skills, your retention, your self-confidence, and it really doesn’t take much longer.

Try to understand how you learn

If you learn better orally, use listening tapes, CDs or videos to help you learn, and speak up as often as possible. If you are a visual learner, focus more on the textbook, make flashcards, take notes in class and write in the target language regularly.

Use foreign language outside of class

Join a language club, watch a movie on SBS or read a newspaper or magazine in the language you are trying to learn. Look up foreign-language websites – many are suggested in your text. Practise with a foreign student who wants your help to learn English or with another class member.

Begin to think in a foreign language

Incorporating a new language into your lifestyle entails functioning in that language without translating everything from your native language. Translating is time-consuming and ineffective in real-life language exchanges. You can start by periodically naming the things that you see during your daily activities. For example, when you shop, name the items that you buy. Silently practise small talk and imagine conversations with others.


If you follow these suggestions right from the start of your new language learning experience, the fun will increase and each step will become easier than if you have to try to squeeze in knowledge missed at the beginning. Learning another language opens the door to understanding and appreciating other cultures while providing you with a new set of lenses to examine your own cultural values and biases. You have mastered your native language, and there is no reason why you can’t develop proficiency in a second language. It all depends on your attitude and your willingness to commit yourself to doing the right kind of practice. One size does not fit all, and individuals have to determine what learning strategies and activities are most appropriate for them. However, if you incorporate the above mentioned tips into your study sessions, you will be well on your way to a productive, enjoyable, and rewarding world language experience.

Last reviewed: 9 March, 2016