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You Don't Need Another "How to Learn a Language" Article to Learn a Language

Go get your hands dirty with language learning

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

You don’t need another article titled “X Easy Steps to Improve Your Vocabulary” or “How to Speak Y Fluently in 2023” to learn a language.

I’m saying this against my own interest as I’m one of those who write these articles. But there’s a balance you need to maintain between the language learning advice you seek and the effort you put in to actually learn.

Here’s what I mean.

1. Most language learning advice is obvious

Learning a language is simple. Look:

Becoming Fluent = Input (reading and listening) + Output (speaking and writing) + Motivation + Time

That’s all.

This is why most language learning tips are obvious. I had a quick look at some of the articles I wrote and found these tips:

  • Find the time to learn.
  • Use the words you learn.
  • Don’t worry about past failures.
  • Know why you’re learning.
  • Experiment with language.

What’s new or revolutionary about this? Nothing. Learning a language is simple.

Simple — not easy. What’s hard is applying the advice and actually doing the work consistently for years. This brings me to my second point.

2. Get your hands dirty

When I made the decision to open a website and teach English online, I would spend hours reading “How to grow a business online” blogs.

I learned a lot.

But I then realized I was spending more time accumulating knowledge than actually doing something to apply the knowledge.

It’s easy to get caught in that trap.

Reading how-to articles gives you the feeling you’re doing something to make progress in a language but, in fact, you’re not. (Unless you’re reading those articles in the language you’re learning — that’s good practice).

It’s like wanting to speak or write better by only studying grammar rules.

Studying language rules and exceptions may give you the feeling that you’re doing something to improve your speaking and writing. But you won’t write or speak better unless you apply those rules in a conversation or in a text. 

So instead of spending the next 20 minutes reading articles about how to learn a language, invest that time in actually taking action to learn one.

Get some input or produce some output. Get your hands dirty with language learning.

3. Seek silence. Find focus. Do the work.

There are hundreds of language learning blogs and social media pages where teachers, coaches, polyglots, and other language learners offer language learning solutions, tips, and advice.

You and I live in an age of information overload.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. But learning a language can already be overwhelming enough as it is and constantly being exposed to people giving you tips can make things worse. 

  • “9 incredible fluency tips for you!”
  • “This is how to learn grammar!”
  • “Don’t study grammar!”
  • “Here’s the best way to boost your vocabulary!”
  • “Speak like a native with my method!”

The internet is the noisiest place in the world. But to focus and make progress, you need silence. You don’t need another expert to tell you what to do.

You don’t need me.

So put your phone down, log off the internet, and ask yourself, “What do I really want to be able to do but can’t do well yet?” Is it understanding movies? Speaking fluently at work? Writing better emails?

Once you’ve got your answer, go do the work.

Seek silence. Find focus. Make things happen.

“If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” — Derek Sivers

Conclusion

I’m not saying you should never read another “How to learn a language” article in your life. I’m saying there’s a balance between the number of tips you need to get and the amount of work you need to do.

10% tips, 90% implementation of the tips.

Read an article, implement the advice for a month, and then read another article.

It’s similar to improving your cooking skills. What would make you a better cook? Reading articles on how to cook or actually doing the cooking?

Both. But one is more useful than the other. Cooking is a skill so you’ll get better at it by doing it. Speaking, writing, reading and listening in another language are skills too.

So, if what I said in this article makes sense to you, go get your hands dirty –today.

I hope this helps!

***

I organize book clubs for advanced (C1/C2) learners of English and have a private email list where I share book recommendations, tips and updates on my courses.

You can join me here.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.