Lots of people ask me for help with starting to learn a second language – they know they want to speak Italian or German but they’re not sure how to start learning from home, or which language learning resources to use.
I got you.
In this post I’m including all the resources I think will help you to learn your second language. If you want to skip the article and go straight to the list of resources just click here!
Being a native English speaker and how it affects second-language learning
As this website is written in English, I assume that you are a native English speaker or have a very good command of the language.
Myself, I’m British. I come from England, as many of you will know, and therefore am a native English speaker). In my country, second-language learning in schools is not a huge focus and is not really considered of critical importance for people to get jobs and take further opportunities.
The general mindset is, hey, we all speak English right, the world language? So why do we need to learn other languages?
On one hand I do understand – to learn a second language is hard work, and for many people living day-to-day in the UK it’s something that’s not useful or used in their life. Why put so much work into learning something you won’t ever use?
But on the other hand, it is estimated that the UK economy misses out on 3.5% of GDP due to lack of language skills. Not to mention all the other things you miss out on – brain development and strengthening, making foreign friends, really experiencing someone else’s culture, feeling that sense of pride and achievement in fighting the “I can’t do it” mentality…
The UK is consistently one of the lowest-performing countries in Europe with regards to second-language learning (there are plenty of studies to prove this) which in turn leads to a culture in England of not even bothering to learn a language, and of course, due to the ‘unimportance’ the country puts on second-language learning, this means the government do not provide any public resources or help in order for UK citizens to try to learn (or even just encourage/motivate them to see the benefits of learning).
Other mainland Europe countries have a completely different approach. When I moved to France I was so in demand as a native English speaker that I didn’t have time to do everything people wanted of me!!
I was asked constantly if people could practice their English with me. In my classes I had students who spoke 2 or 3 languages – and one of my students spoke 8 languages. Imagine how crazy all of this was to me, coming from a country where nobody even thinks to learn a second language!
Lack of second language = lack of opportunity
As a British person I have had to overcome this conditioned idea that “I can’t learn a language”, something the UK seems to collectively tell itself and really believe. It is really prevalent in the UK – you tell somebody you’re learning French or Spanish and so many people reply, “Oh I could never learn a language!”.
The sad thing is that OF COURSE it’s entirely possible to learn a language, but these people don’t even try because they don’t think they can. If you’re not your own biggest supporter how will you achieve anything??
Don’t get me wrong, the UK is diverse – we have lots of different language spoken in our country – but these are normally learnt through family connections, as in, your family speaks Punjabi so they raise you in a Punjabi-speaking household and therefore you acquire the language naturally. Or in the case of many people who come to work in the UK, you already speak a second language.
There are far less UK citizens who choose to learn a language off their own backs and without a family tie to the language.
Thanks to this, when we decide we want to learn, we are much older, and have passed the optimum time for “acquiring a language”. This, I believe personally, makes it harder to learn the language because you have to fight against being self-conscious when you speak; you over-analyse everything you learn, you make comparisons to your native language and get confused when they don’t translate properly, and you have to train your mouth to make new sounds you’ve never made before – oh, and train your ears to hear things that don’t exist in your language. Phew!
Where I live in France most parents are desperate for a native English speaker to speak to their kids in English because that’s the optimum time for them to acquire the language – they naturally soak it up without tangling up all the grammar and theory in their heads when they are young!
There are also ridiculously useful brain benefits to learning a second language, including reduced risk of dementia, increased memory skills etc. Watch this video and you’ll want to start learning your second language TODAY!!
Why am I telling you all of this?
Because as a twenty-something adult learning a second language I understand how hard it is to do this, mainly alone (because not everyone can afford to take expensive language lessons); I understand how important it is for some people to learn (maybe you are moving abroad, living abroad, marrying a foreign partner or just need it for your job); and I understand how having good resources can really help you stay motivated and learn quicker!
Learning a language takes 3 things
Learning a language is HARD but it can be made easier through:
- Belief in yourself and that “you can do it”
- The right resources!
SO, with all that in mind, I’m going to share what resources I have used and found useful, including books and audio that have helped me.
(When you get the time I would just sit down and click every link in this post and explore whether it’s something that will help you in your language learning).
FYI: Nobody is paying me to mention these resources – these are all my tried-and-tested resources that I still use on a daily basis!
↠ Books About Language Learning
Fluent Forever – Gabriel Wyner
Honestly just the best book about language learning. Focuses hugely on starting with learning how to PRONOUNCE the language (because if you don’t know how to pronounce stuff how will you talk?)
They are currently developing an app too which looks really interesting and was the most funded app on Kickstarter– check it here.
Fluent In 3 Months – Benny Lewis
Benny Lewis is a polyglot and I’ve followed him since forever (and even met him in Bristol, UK) and he has so much advice to give! His website is also full of amazing information too; I’m always on the site (linked below).
↠ Apps/ Websites
If you want to start somewhere, start with Duolingo!!! It’s very simple, and the “tree” gives you a good route through the language, little-by-little. Obviously when learning it’s best to start right at the beginning with simple stuff, so you’ll start with things like articles and present tense conjugation, and every time you “level up” it goes on to another more complex part of the language.
I also like that the explanations for different language lessons are really simple and easy to look at.
One of my favourite websites; so much great information about learning languages, lots of research and analysing language learning, lots of stories etc. Just great!
Clozemaster (app & website)
Fun retro game app that tests you on grammar and even advanced language skills. Has really developed in the last few years and is super cool.
Word Reference (app & website)
Best place to find out the context of a word. It gives you example sentences and tells you how to pronounce stuff.
Before Duolingo updated and got a hell of a lot better I used to go to Memrise instead because I felt like it was similar to Duolingo but was less repetitive and more useful (Duolingo can sometimes repeat the same sentence over and over again and in a sentence you’ll never use).
Google Translate (app & website)
Whenever I write an email in another language I copy and paste it in this app and it corrects all the accents (I forget a lot of accents). Do not use it for translating whole sentences unless your command of the language is good enough to know when it’s wrong. For example most of the translations are automatically translated into super formal speech (in French using vous instead of tu). It’s way too literal too, it’s like it translates word-by-word which doesn’t work!
You can find cheap tutors on here in order to practice your speaking! You can also find conversation partners to chat with. (One annoying thing though is I find I get harassed a lot by men on this app!!)
A place to create, store, and revise your “decks”. Basically flashcards.
Another app for conversations with native speakers! I really love this app.
Looks cool and I’ve heard good things about it but I don’t like to pay for subscription apps so I haven’t fully used it and don’t intend to. Basically gives you free lessons in your target language with an interactive app.
It’s a UK exam preparation app recently bought by UK newspaper ‘The Telegraph’. You can add the language you’re learning and at what UK level at school (for example, GCSE or A-Level) and it tests you on your language skills at that level. It’s very restricted but it’s ok to pop on every now and then. If you’re not from the UK choose GCSE-level and it will teach you the basic stuff!
It’s kind of like a language learning Tinder where you swipe through language learning partners in your area and pick which one you like the look of. Then you can arrange to meet and practice your prospective languages! I haven’t met anyone off here yet but I’m still searching 🙂
Dictionary [by Bravolol] (app)
This dictionary app (there’s loads but this one is by developers Bravolol) is great. I have one in Spanish and one in French, which I use a lot with my boyfriend when we don’t know the word for something in our conversation and want to quickly look it up. He always pushes me to remember something before checking the dictionary but sometimes you just don’t know the word for “mould” or “needle” and you need to look it up 😉
Very basic and not very exciting to look at but it explains the grammar and basics of languages really well.
Not just for language learning but really good for this if you’re looking for local groups or conversation groups or events linked to language learning.
Described as “foreign language audio on demand” and that it really is: you can hear and ask for natives to record things so you can hear how they’re really pronounced – definitely how I learnt to start recognising “soit” in French instead of hearing “soir”.
↠ Audio/ Podcasts
Tunein Radio (app & online)
So many radio stations in so many different languages, all for free. Includes podcasts, news channels, radio stations and everything! So amazing, I love it.
Coffee Break (iTunes)
Coffee Break are just amazing. The stuff they offer for free is so comprehensive. They have podcasts teaching so many different languages and their team is so nice and friendly. They also have a knack for explaining eveything really clearly and simply!
They only have a few language courses available at the moment as they are doing it all themselves without funding but I think it’s one of the best language learning audios! I used it for Spanish which I found so useful, though I haven’t tried other languages. I haven’t heard a bad review yet. It’s all about soaking up the language through listening and speaking, not studying. I am really in awe of these guys; they work so hard for free for something that is really, really useful!!
I Will Teach You A Language (iTunes)
Listen to stories, alongside motivational and learning tips.
↠ Free Online Courses (MOOC)
These all offer free short courses in various languages, most of them hosted by universities and educational facilities so you know they’re good!
↠ Youtube Channels
The challenge is to learn enough of your language to have a 15 minute conversation in 3 months. I did it and I highly recommend it! (You do pay for this one though).
FOR FRENCH/SPANISH LEARNERS (I Use These)
↠ Best French Books
Grammaire Progressive du Français (avec 680 exercices) – 3ème édition – Maïa Grégoire & Odile Thiévenaz
Préparer le DELF B1 & B2 – Celine Chabert & Anne Debeuckelaere
Barron’s 501 French Verbs – Christopher Kendris & Theodore Kendris
La Conjugaison Pour Tous – Bescherelle
↠ Best Spanish Books
Complete Spanish Step-By-Step – Barbara Bregstein
Ok, for now that’s it!
But trust me, I have far more resources! I just don’t want to overload you, but if you want any websites or anything like that specifically for French learning I know many (leave me a comment and I’ll let you know).
Wait – one more thing!
Before you go, I just want to say that perhaps the most important thing that will help you to learn a language is to ask yourself why you want to learn the language.
You need to understand your motivations and you have to really want it. You have to want it so much that you are willing for it to cause you a significant amount of stress and frustration; you have to be willing to spend countless hours working on it, and you have to be willing to stay consistent in your learning.
How badly do you want this? That’s what’s going to be the biggest thing to help you learn a language – REALLY WANTING TO SUCCEED!!
Which language are you learning? Which language do you want to learn? Do you have any more amazing resources to add? Leave a comment below!
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