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17+ Incredibly Effective Language Hacks for the Self-Taught Polyglot (or ANY Language Learner)

Want to learn a foreign language on your own? No problem! Just follow these tips…

1. Find content that fascinates you

2. Shadow native speakers

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3. Flood your brain

4. Master the new writing system ASAP

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5. Find (and learn) the most common words first

  • English: Average native speakers know 20K words, while highly educated speakers know 2x that.
  • Chinese (Mandarin): A standard dictionary contains 50–100+K words. Knowing 2K words is considered “legally fluent.” The highest level of the HSK test requires a knowledge of about 5K words.
  • Spanish: Learning the top 1000 words will help you get by in 90% of daily situations. Native speakers with higher education use about 10K words, and know 20K words passively.

6. Transcribe novels

7. Hand copy song lyrics

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8. Learn grammar rules AFTER you’ve used the above methods

9. Learn new vocab in sets

10. Ouput in your target language, regularly

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11. Use your 2nd language to learn your 3rd…and so on and so forth

  • Don’t buy a Arabic textbook that explains things using English. Rather, order an Arabic textbook that’s written in Russian.
  • Or watch a German Youtuber explain the intricacies of French.
  • Or read a bilingual Bible (or any other book) in Korean and Hebrew.

12. Transcribe a movie scene/video

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13. Learn the culture and philosophy

14. Raise the stakes

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15. Learn Rap

16. Use Free Technology (Duh! ;D)

  • Youtube is the gold standard for me. I particularly like to watch traveling vloggers to get a feel for the culture and native speakers. And also people who are teaching English, using my target language. It’s rather fascinating.
  • Duolingo: a great source of online foreign language short words and phrases organized by theme and difficulty level. They have fun points and badges you can win, and will also email you reminders to practice regularly.
  • HiNative: a phone/ipad app where native speakers of various languages can ask and answer questions of each other.
  • Your local library: how can you pass up ebooks and books you don’t have to buy! If you are particularly interested, you can hand-copy/write out the most important content
  • Other apps I’ve heard of but haven’t personally used: iTalki, Memrise, HelloTalk, Babbel, AnkiApp, LinguaLift, Mindsnacks…

17. Mix Methods

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Bonus Tip: The Do’s and Dont’s of Learning a Foreign Language

  1. It’s more important to maintain interest in the language than force yourself to do something you don’t want to do.
  2. So don’t blindly drill vocabulary. That’s the best recipe for loss of interest and failure. Unless you’re one of those oddballs who actually enjoy blindly drilling vocabulary. (No judgment. Sometimes I find it fun too…sometimes…)
  3. Focus on language content that’s valuable to you. If you hate sports, then don’t waste time learning the words for “basketball, goalie, hurdles, etc.” If you like cooking, then go ahead and study the words for “julienne, potato peeler, and blanching.” Learn what is relevant to YOU.
  4. Set specific goals: have long term and short term goals so that you stay motivated and remind yourself frequently of WHY you are learning this language.

You Can Learn ANY Language, Anytime

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Sarah Cy

Sarah Cy


(aka The Scylighter). Writer, musician, reader, daughter. Join our Merry Band, become a Brilliant Writer, and dazzle your readers!