What To Learn When Learning Foreign Languages

How To Cut Down 80% Of Your Efforts While Doubling Or Tripling Your Current Results

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule which states that in almost anything in life 80% of the consequences result from 20% of the causes.

This principle was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of property in Italy was owned by 20% of the Italian population.

So what does Pareto Principle have to do with us language learners?

As you probably have guessed already, 80% of your language learning efforts result in only 20% of your language abilities and 20% of the material you study contribute to 80% of the actual learning.

So how can you apply this handy little rule?

The trick is to know which 20% of your efforts will result in 80% of your results and start from there. Ultimately you will still want to achieve the remaining 20%.However, it is also important to be able to produce quick results to keep motivating yourself.

Let’s take learning vocabulary for instance.

How many commonly words do you think there are in a typical language?

Anywhere from 3,000 (e.g. Chinese) to 15,000 (e.g. English).

Imagine trying to memorize them all. What a nightmare!

But what happens when we take into account the Pareto Principle?

The fact is, only a small portion of the total words in a language are frequently used in daily life, in conversations and in the media. I can’t tell you the exact percentage because I don’t know, but I like to think it’s only 20% and my experience supports that.

To give you a more specific example, let’s look at Russian.

According to the research result of Francois Micheloud from how-to-learn-any-language.com, in Russian:

  • the 75 most common words make up 40% of occurrences of words
  • the 200 most common words make up 50% of occurrences of words
  • the 524 most common words make up 60% of occurrences of words
  • the 1257 most common words make up 70% of occurrences of words
  • the 2925 most common words make up 80% of occurrences of words
  • the 7444 most common words make up 90% of occurrences of words
  • the 13374 most common words make up 95% of occurrences of words
  • the 25508 most common words make up 99% of occurrences of words

How do you then apply Pareto’s Principle to these commonly used words?

First, you’ll have to know which are the most commonly used words in your target language.

The following are about 600 words you absolutely have to master when you start learning a language. They’re “the 20% of the 20%”. (Source: Derek Rogers, www.derek.co.uk)

‘Yes’ and ‘no’: yes, no, absolutely, no way, exactly.

Question words: when? where? how? how much? how many? why? what?

who? which? whose?

Apologizing: excuse me, sorry to interrupt, well now, I’m afraid so, I’m

afraid not.

Meeting and parting: good morning, good afternoon, good evening, hello,

goodbye, cheers, see you later, pleased to meet you, nice to have met.

Interjections: please, thank you, don’t mention it, sorry, it’ll be done, I

agree, congratulations, thank heavens, nonsense.

Time: morning, afternoon, evening, night; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; spring, summer, autumn, winter; time, occasion, minute, half-hour, hour, day, week, month, year.

People: family, relative, mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother, husband, wife; colleague, friend, boyfriend, girlfriend; people, person, human being, man, woman, lady, gentleman, boy, girl, child.

Objects: address, bag, book, car, clothes, key, letter, light, money, name, newspaper, pen, pencil, picture, suitcase, thing, ticket.

Places: place, world, country, town, street, road, school, shop, house, apartment, room, ground; Britain, name of the foreign country, British town- names, foreign town-names.

Abstract: accident, beginning, change, color, damage, fun, half, help, joke, journey, language, English, name of the foreign language, letter (of alphabet), life, love, mistake, news, page, pain, part, question, reason, sort, surprise, way, weather, work.

Other: hand, foot, head, eye, mouth, voice; the left, the right; the top, the bottom, the side; air, water, sun, bread, food, paper, noise.

General: of, to, at, for, from, in, on.

Logical: about, according-to, except, like, against, with, without, by, despite, instead of.

Space: into, out of, outside, towards, away from, behind, in front of, beside, next to, between, above, on top of, below, under, underneath, near to, a long way from, through.

Time: after, ago, before, during, since, until.

Articles and numbers: a, the; nos. 0–20; nos. 30–100; nos. 200– 1000; last, next, 1st- -12th.

Demonstrative: this, that.

Possessive: my, your, his, her, its, our, their.

Quantifiers: all, some, no, any, many, much, more, less, a few, several, whole, a little, a lot of.

Comparators: both, neither, each, every, other, another, same, different, such.

Color: black, blue, green, red, white, yellow.

Evaluative: bad, good, terrible; important, urgent, necessary; possible, impossible; right, wrong, true.

General: big, little, small, heavy; high, low; hot, cold, warm; easy, difficult; cheap, expensive; clean, dirty; beautiful, funny, funny, usual, common, nice, pretty, wonderful; boring, interesting, dangerous, safe; short, tall, long; new, old; calm, clear, dry; fast, slow; finished, free, full, light, open, quiet, ready, strong.

Personal: afraid, alone, angry, certain, cheerful, dead, famous, glad, happy, ill, kind, married, pleased, sorry, stupid, surprised, tired, well, worried, young.

arrive, ask, be, be able to, become, begin, believe, borrow, bring, buy, can, change, check, collect,

come, continue, cry, do, drop, eat, fall, feel, find, finish, forget, give, going to, have, have to, hear,

help, hold, hope, hurt (oneself), hurt (someone else), keep, know, laugh, learn, leave, lend,

let, lie down, like, listen, live, look (at), look for, lose, love, make,

may, may, mean, meet, must, need, obtain, open, ought to, pay, play,

put, read, remember, say, see, sell, send, should, show, shut, sing, sleep, speak, stand, stay, stop,

suggest, take, talk, teach, think, travel, try, understand, use, used to, wait for, walk, want, watch,

will, work, work, worry, would, write.

Personal: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, one; myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.

Possessive: mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs.

Demonstrative: this, that.

Universal: everyone, everybody, everything, each, both, all, one, another.

Indefinite: someone, somebody, something, some, a few, a little, more, less; anyone, anybody, anything, any, either, much, many.

Negative: no-one, nobody, nothing, none, neither.

Place: here, there, above, over, below, in front, behind, nearby, a long way away, inside, outside, to the right, to the left, somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, nowhere, home, upstairs, downstairs.

Time: now, soon, immediately, quickly, finally, again, once, for a long time, today, generally, sometimes, always, often, before, after, early, late, never, not yet, still, already, then, yesterday, tomorrow, tonight.

Quantifiers: a little, about, almost, at least, completely, very, enough, exactly, just, not, too much, more, less.

Manner: also, especially, gradually, of course, only, otherwise, perhaps, probably, quite, so, then, too, unfortunately, very much, well.

Coordinating: and, but, or; as, than, like.

Time & Place: when, while, before, after, since, until; where.

Manner & Logic: how, why, because, since, although, if; what, who, whom, whose, which, that.

Later I’ll elaborate more about the concept of “language partner”, but let me just tell you that a language partner will come in extremely useful when you start learning a language.

The Pareto Principle also affects your time management. Be purposeful when you learn a language and spend your effort learning what matters most in a language first.

This is not to say that you should ignore the rest of what you should know about a language. It’s merely an efficient way to conquer a language by concentrating your time and energy on what’s more important.

What Sources Should You Learn A Language From?

So you’ve decided to learn a new language, and then it hits you that you have no idea how to go about doing it.

You could sign up for a course in a language school, buy a bunch of grammar books, or you could decide to be creative and source out for other more unconventional sources to spice up your learning!

With a little bit of imagination, anything, from a candy wrapper to a restaurant menu could become a learning material. And don’t just stick to one material. Use them all, you are bound to find one that suits your unique learning style and you’ll be speaking fluently in no time at all.

Also, you can use a variety of materials to sustain your interest in the language. Collect materials on topics you are fond of and you’ll find yourself looking forward to you language learning sessions.

However, do take note that different materials are appropriate for different stages in your learning process. So as you reach higher levels of proficiency, make it a point to source out for more difficult materials to challenge yourself.

How To Personalize Your Learning And Maximize Your Benefits From The Instructional Materials

Take a trip down to the local book store to get a language guide and I guarantee you’ll be spoilt for choice. There are various different types, each catering to a particular skill or language learning system.

Which one should you get? Which one is the best?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you that. I do know which one is best for me, but I wouldn’t know which would be best for you.

What I do know is that you will only find the most appropriate one after trying out a few. It is like finding out which shampoo works for your hair. You try various brands and whichever leaves your hair silky soft, you stick to using it. And I hope you are not the sort who does not bother and just picks the cheapest shampoo off the shelves. It’ll be well worth investing in a good (but expensive) book if it effectively speeds up your learning process.

More importantly, unlike shampoo, no single textbook is going to suit your learning process 100% and no one textbook contains everything that you are going to need. So it is best to have at least a few different textbooks at your disposal. If you have trouble understanding how one textbook explains a particular concept, at least you can go to another for clarification.

Also, should a learning method get stale, you can always switch to a different method in another book. This will allow you to sample a variety of learning styles and benefit from them as a whole.

Do treat the overlapping materials as a form of revision and reinforcement as well.

Now, you might also be thinking of following a particular “tried and tested” language course.

Before you go ahead, let me warn you first.

Just because it has worked for many others does not necessarily mean it will work for you.

In fact, that is the mistake so many language learners make. They follow a “comprehensive” and “well-established” system. Then within months, they get disheartened at the lack of results and give up.

Each individual is unique and honestly, we know ourselves best. So naturally, the only learning system that is going to work for you perfectly is a system that you have created yourself, after considering your particular learning style.

Your language system has to take into account your strengths, weaknesses, interests and needs. It also has to have definite goals for you to achieve and organized tasks for you to complete.

Design your own language course by following multiple instructional materials. It’s really not a daunting task.

If you have problems with your pronunciation, you can allocate more time to practice that. If you know that you learn better while playing games, incorporate more games into your learning process.

It is a bad idea to stick to one structure while learning a new language.

That’s also why I suggest rather than following one book’s guide to learning a new language, you should use anywhere between three to five books to help you on your way.

What To Read To Maximize Your Language Learning Results

Are you the sort who despises reading?

Well if you are, then I have bad news for you, because you are going to have to read.

A lot.

There’s no way you can run from it, it is mandatory in any language learning process. Skilled English language writers are often avid readers. Even if you might not want to attain that high a level of language competency, you do still want to be able to write well, don’t you? The more styles of writing you are exposed to, the more you will learn. The more texts you read, the better your grasp of the language.

What Types Of Books To Read

It is time to get reacquainted with your local library… Or your local bookstore, if the library does not carry a range of foreign language books. Also remember that e-books can be purchased online.

Always start out small and simple — read children’s books. Their language used should be simple enough for language learners like you to understand but still contain the fundamentals of the language to learn from. The big colorful pictures also sustain your interest by providing visual references that can help you with your vocabulary.

Once you are relatively comfortable, you can “graduate” from children storybooks and start looking for books on topics that interest you. This could range from cook books to joke books or even books on horoscopes.

Personally, I like to start out with universally popular fairy tales like “The Little Red Riding Hood” or “Rapunzel”. These stories have translations in various languages and since you already know the story, there is no pressure to understand every word or paragraph.

Once you start tackling adult books, there is no shortage of genres for you to choose from. Books ranging from history, to thriller, to fantasy or even non-fiction books; read whatever you fancy.

Just constantly be aware of your language competency, when you should be challenging yourself with more intensive reads and when you should take things easy. Try not to delve straight into reading classics and pick more modern-day books, because the type of language used in classics tends to be a lot more “literary”, and not quite suitable for beginners

However, if it is a literary style of language that you are interested in, by all means, read the classics. In fact, read poetry. Poets are known for using the language beautifully and concisely, and by reading poems you could learn a thing or two about how to use the language to convey certain emotions.

No much time from your busy working or schooling schedule to read? Instead of lengthy novels, short stories would be perfect for you. Read them while you wait for the bus, or perhaps during your long commute to work or school. Have a small book of short stories in your bag at all times so that you can read at anytime and anywhere.

Newspapers & Magazines

Newspapers and magazines do not differ in the sense that both publications adhere to a formal style of writing. So read them for their use of proper and formal language. Newspapers in particular have a concise narrative style of writing, which should be easy to understand.

Many newspapers come with different sections. Lifestyle, sports, economics, world news etc. And no matter what your topic of interest is, there is sure to be a magazine covering it.

By concentrating on certain sections or topics, you will be able to pick out and learn specific jargons and expressions. The more you read, the more you will understand the jargon and soon, you will be able to use it during discussion. Now imagine how impressive that would sound like!

Read the news in your native language first before reading similar news reports in the language that you are learning. Knowledge of the context will make it easier for you to guess the meanings of words and pick up jargons and new vocabulary.

If you’re not able to get hold of newspapers or magazines in the language that you are learning or you don’t want to fork out a fortune to buy the expensive imported ones, go online to find them. There is no shortage of online newspapers and magazines for you to choose from.

How To Make Multimedia Resources Do Wonders For You

If you are not in an environment where people speak in the target language, and if it’s hard to find native speakers or fellow enthusiasts, and if you’re just plain bored with your textbook, then you can always turn to the media for an entertaining language lesson. It can help you listen to your target language on a regular basis, and you won’t even feel like you’re doing something as burdensome as studying.

Technology, especially the Internet has made it easier to find not just resources for language learning, but also to get hold of native speakers who are willing to help you.

Audio Text

In order to speak a language fluently, you have to be exposed to speech or conversations by native speakers. It is vital to understand what a language sounds like before you can go about speaking it.

By listening, not only do you learn the correct pronunciation and tonality, you’ll also learn to identify proper sentence structures and when to say what.

It is especially important to get used to the speed at which native speakers speak the language. Audio tapes often have speakers pronouncing the words slowly and repeating them many times over for your benefit. This will not be the case when you speak to a native speaker. The moment he opens his mouth, you will feel like you have just been run over by a bullet train. And even if you do manage to live through that, there are only so many times that you can say “I’m sorry what did you just say?” or “Excuse me but could you repeat that please?”

One especially good resource to drastically improve your listening ability and “the feel for the language” is audio books.

Unlike songs, speech patterns on audio books are generally more “proper” and clear, so they’re excellent tools to help language learners with their listening comprehension. You can listen to how the speakers pronounce their words, their intonation and their inherent language rhythm.

Besides adult language learning tapes or CDs, you might also want to get your hands on some children audio books. Although storytellers tend to be more dramatic in children audio books, the various audio effects actually make for fascinating listening materials.

When listening to audio books, try not to have accompanying written texts in front of you first. This will force you to listen more attentively. Only after you have listened to the audio at least a couple of times should you follow it through with the written text to catch whatever you did not the previous times. Be disciplined about this, don’t cheat!

One of the advantages of using audio tools is their portability and convenience. Pop an audio CD into the CD player and listen as you drive around running errands; as you go about doing your household chores and as you go through your daily exercise regime. Also, you can try sourcing for podcasts in your target language. These are easily available on the internet.


Nothing has quite the mass appeal like music does. Thanks to Marc Anthony and his song “Uno, Dos, Tres”, I’m sure a lot more people around the world now know how to count at least to three in Spanish. Not a fan of Latino pop? No worries, you are still bound to find music and radio shows that match your taste in your target language.

They can help you learn faster as they tend to be very current and fresh, and they better represent the way people speak. Radio shows also offer a great variety of information. While some shows are more conversational, some are very descriptive and educational.

Frankly speaking, there is not much that I can remember from my countless hours of German classes at the university. But I can remember every single German song that my teachers played during the classes, be it modern pop or R&B tracks to the more traditional German songs where all I could picture was a band of old men in “Lederhosen” (leather pants).

If you are quite a music fan like me, songs can be a very powerful tool to help you learn and remember new vocabulary. What I would do was to listen to the song a significant number of times before finding the lyrics and then going through all the words I did not understand. The song would be playing inside my head for almost the whole week and by then, I could remember all the new words that I had learned.

A word of caution though, it can be quite hard to catch what is being sung as the singer could be singing too fast or his/her pronunciation and enunciation could be compromised because of the music. So it is better to have a copy of the song lyrics to go through after you have listened to the song at least a couple of times.

Don’t fret if you are unable to find records in the language that you are learning at your local record store. There is always the internet! Being the moral citizen that I am sure you are, you can download songs, legally of course, off various websites or you could always go to YouTube.com to find the song’s music video.

Another alternative is to tune into radio stations. Many radio stations now stream their broadcasts over the internet, so you will definitely be able to find one in the language that you are learning. The beauty of listening to radio stations is that not only do you get to listen to songs; you also get to listen to DJs speaking the language. And as mentioned earlier, it is very important to get used to hearing native speakers speak.

While the casualness of learning from the music or the radio can be very appealing, do take note that songs aren’t always known for their use of proper grammar.


Some people learn better when they are visually stimulated, so this is where videos come in to help enhance one’s learning experience. Some people however, feel that videos are not quite as portable as audio resources and the accompanying visuals distract attention from the language itself. Give it a try.

Movies & TV

Watching movies and TV shows are probably the most fun ways of learning a new language. They can teach you a lot about slangs, popular phrases and how to emote when saying them. How else did you learn how to say “Sacre bleu!” with the zest and the accent of a Frenchman?

Apart from being great visual aids, they also help you with your listening skills. Instead of reading the subtitles, focus on hearing them speak, and the emotions portrayed for each sentence. You can guess the meanings from listening to them and reading the corresponding expression on their faces. Don’t try to pick up every individual word. Instead try to absorb the general feel of what is being said, and how.

It would be even more interesting if you saw a foreign language dubbed version of your favorite movie. Can you imagine watching “Die Hard” in Italian? You might know all the English catchphrases that Bruce Willis used in the movie, and now you’ll have a great opportunity to learn their Italian counterparts.

As you watch a movie in the language that you are learning, you are not only exposed to the language, you are exposed to the culture. Dialogues in movies tend to be more authentic and less formal than those in books or audiotapes. You are not going to learn slang words, useful expressions or even handy expletives through conventional materials.

Movies that come with subtitles can be really useful because on top of paying attention to pronunciation and the language rhythm, you can pick out new vocabulary or grammar easily with the help of subtitles.

So check out your local DVD rental store for foreign language films, or head to the cinemas each time they have a foreign film festival. Some language clubs or schools also regularly screen foreign language films so do make it a point to check that out as well.

Video Clips

If you do not have enough time to sit through a 2-hour movie, you can try scouring through online sites like YouTube for short video clips in the language that you are learning. YouTube might even have movies or TV programs for viewing so just go try your luck and see what you can find.

Also try looking for free online news broadcasting websites. Understanding news clips in a foreign language might be daunting at first but if you have familiarized yourself with the day’s news already, it would be easier to understand and follow the news clip in the language that you are learning.


Every conceivable form of media is also available in one convenient stop… the Internet.

You can search the Internet and locate videos and Internet radio stations. The latter is much more prevalent than the former and doesn’t require high bandwidth. Do your best to locate news broadcast programs which come together with the text (for example Deutsch Welle has a fabulous “Langsam gesprochend Nachrichten” program), and listen to it 2 to 3 times a week. No more, no less.

A great exercise is to watch or listen to a news story in the target language and then watch it in your own language. Try to fill up the gaps that you’ve overlooked, then re-watch or re-listen to the story and try to grasp all the information. You’ll progressively get better and you can practice on different news items every day.

The Internet is a great resource not only for radio and TV; it also has its own interactive media.

There are many websites with interactive games, quizzes and sound clips of native pronunciations. You can also subscribe to podcasts on a topic that interests you in your target language.


Games create excellent opportunity for learning. Not only can you easily learn from mistakes, the competitive element is a great learning tool.

Generally, games require speed and accuracy, so by playing games, you are forced to not only think in that language, but also to think as quickly and as precisely as possible.

If you are a beginner, flashcard games are excellent tools with which you can build up your basic vocabulary cache. The image-text correlation is extremely powerful in boosting one’s memory.

Aside from flashcard games, many simple educational games for children are centered on helping one build up one’s vocabulary. Games like Pictionary and Taboo require players to possess and use a wide range of vocabulary.

As your language competency increases, try more difficult games. Don’t just stick to some game because you are good at it. Challenge yourself!

When you’ve outgrown the children games or you feel that they no longer help you in the specific areas in which you need help in, take it upon yourself to create your own games and have your learning partners play along with you.

You can try to make the game as universal and as portable as possible so that it can be played almost anytime and anywhere.

Let’s say you are having problems with forming sentences in different tenses. Each time you say a sentence, you and your friend can attempt to come up with the equivalent in past tense, present tense and future tense. The person who can come up with the sentences the fastest and correctly wins a drink from the other, or any other small reward that drives you.

Come up with as many games as possible and play them as and when you like. Sometimes, you do not even need a partner; you can just compete with yourself.

What This Information Age Means For You As A Language Learner

Apart from the aforementioned resources, there are tons of other innovative online tools on which you can base your online learning.

Are you an avid blog reader? Search for blogs in your target language then. Look for blogs on which the language used is not too difficult to comprehend. However, do take note that the language used in blogs is usually not “proper” and might contain quite a bit of slangs. As your language proficiency increases, you should get better at identifying the correct use of the language.

If you have problems finding a native speaker in that language to speak with, this is the perfect way to find one. Leave a comment on the blog and if you are lucky, the blogger just might end up becoming a conversation partner or pen-pal.

How To Supercharge Your Language Learning Performance By Learning From Real People

Textbooks will only get you so far. Authors cannot cover every detail of a language in a book and even if they manage to, it’ll take you forever to finish the book. Also, certain older versions or editions of a book might be outdated.

To learn a language you must experience it. Interact with other speakers of the same language. This will help you master the language quicker than reading any number of books would ever do.

So far, all the materials mentioned above provide passive ways of learning a language, they are merely ways of knowledge input. Language learning, however, is an active process and the output is just as, if not even more, important than the input. You may have voraciously read, watched and listened to a plethora of resources, but if you have not practiced speaking the language, you are not much better than a complete beginner.

Apart from having people to speak or write to, it’ll also help you if you had a tutor or an evaluator to teach you and to give you feedback on your progress. This will make your learning process much more effective.

But this “teacher” doesn’t have to be one of those professional language tutors in language schools.

Since everything is more enjoyable as a shared activity, why not learn a new language with a friend or a partner?

Learning a language with someone who is at the same level as you does not only make the process enjoyable but also has many advantages.

When you have someone in the same boat as you, you’ve got someone to practice and revise with. Plus, a little healthy competition always speeds up the learning process.

If you are the kind of person who lacks self discipline and tends to slack off when not imposed with deadlines or having to answer to anybody, please, go get at least a friend to learn the new language with you. He/She will be your disciplinary impetus.

What is the point of having friends learn a language with you if you are not going to make use of them? The whole idea of a study group is to help speed up the learning process by sharing and giving each other feedback on your progress. Meet up regularly to practice your speaking and hearing. Learn from each other’s mistakes.

If one person is falling behind in the learning process, don’t be selfish and let him drown in his pool of confusion. Take the time to explain concepts to him. This will benefit you too. If you are able to explain certain grammatical concept clearly and effectively, you know you have fully understood it and it also serves as revision for you.

In fact, that can be one of your motivating factors to do better and learn faster – to be one up against your learning partners. Use little things to spur you on. See who can understand certain texts better and faster, or who is able to come up with more complex but still coherent sentences. It can be a real confidence booster to help encourage you to be more hard-working in language learning. Don’t get discouraged if your partner beats you on certain tasks. Just make sure you do better the next time.

So how do you find locate language partners?

There are native speakers of that language who want to learn your mother tongue and are looking for native speakers as well.

And so you have the premise for a conversation partner or pen-pal. Both of you can take turns communicating in either language – your mother tongue and his/her mother tongue. This way, both parties practice their second language for free and at the same time, learn more about the each other’s culture.

Build A Personal Database For Learning Languages

Keep a clear track of all the mistakes you make while learning the new language. Organize and review them to find out the areas of the language in which you are weak.

By knowing your mistakes, you will automatically know which skills you need to focus on and improve. Your toughest enemies are the mistakes you make again and again. If you identify them early on, you can iron them out by repetition, revision and hard work.

And why just track your errors and have only mistakes to look at to depress yourself? Track your entire progress and build a “Personal Database” while you learn any new language. Building this database will give you a sense of achievement and is a helpful tool.

Tracking and recording your progress gives you a good idea on how much you have progressed with your task and what aspect of your learning you need to devote more attention to.

Also, as you embark on your language learning journey, build up your own library of materials that you can use over and over again. Do remember to collect a variety of materials — anything which you think might help you along in learning a new language.

How To Get The Most Of The Language Learning Tools That Are Freely Available To You

In every battle, all soldiers or fighters need some special devices – weapons or armaments – to help them win. The more sophisticated and effective these tools are, the better and smoother the fighters’ quest for success.

As a soldier fighting the language learning battle, you are going to need armaments as well. The following tools will help you conquer any language.


In this modern age, communicating with people all over the world is no longer a big feat. With the Internet and the mobile phone, language learners are provided with many avenues to put their language into use.


With e-mail, online chatting and texting with your mobile phones, practicing writing in your new language is no longer boring. The best part is, you get immediate feedback from your partner on the mistakes that you have made.

Make it a point to get your chatting partner to correct whatever you have typed wrongly. Or, get him/her to provide alternative ways of phrasing your ideas.

All three texting methods allow you to save your conversations as records. Treat them as a language lesson in itself and go back to review and correct the mistakes you have made.


Once again, with the Internet and the mobile phone, language learners can have spoken conversations with their language partners.

Software like Skype allows you to make free calls to anywhere in the world for free. The best part, it is free to download.


To top it all off, most chat software offers a video chatting function. If both you and your language partners have webcams, you can go ahead and video chat.

Playback Tool

Apart from reading and writing, listening and speaking are just as important when learning a language and you should devote sufficient time to them.

To help you with your listening comprehension and speaking, you need to invest in a good audio playback tool.

Get a tape recorder, or invest in an MP3 player. There are so many different models available today and many allow you to both record and play audio files.

With a playback tool, you can download various audio clips such as songs, speeches, broadcasts and even language lessons. Such clips are readily available online.

Downloading clips aside, use the MP3 player to record yourself and other people. Sometimes when you speak you cannot really “hear” yourself. So record yourself speaking in the language that you are learning and then listen to it later. You’ll be more aware of your pronunciation and speech patterns.

If possible, also record the conversations of other people, particularly native speakers. Initially, you might feel that they speak too fast for you to understand so use this to help train your listening comprehension. Also, pay attention to their pronunciations and speech patterns and compare them to your own. You must try to imitate how the native speakers speak.

The idea of having an MP3 player is to take advantage of its portability. Carry it around with you wherever you go and you can take language lessons anywhere you want, even while driving the car or when you go jogging.


Although you might not use it as often as the other tools mentioned, a dictionary is a great companion when you’re delving into a new language

Different dictionaries suit different levels of language competency.

When you’re starting out, you should have at least 2 dictionaries at hand.

A two-way handheld or pocket dictionary that can translate words from your mother tongue to the language and vice versa. Choose a reputable dictionary publisher to ensure the accuracy as well as comprehensiveness of the translations.

Some renowned publishers include Collins, Penguin, Langenscheidt, etc. However, do note that because of its size, explanations may be too brief or some words might not be included.

When I started out learning German, I had with me a pocket dual language German-English dictionary. It was indeed really handy and I could bring it everywhere I went. I was pretty proud of it, being able to find the meaning of a word I did not know on the spot. Until I looked at what my Japanese counterparts had.

Whenever in doubt, they whipped out these neat electronic dictionaries and all they did was to type in the German word they did not understand and the Japanese definition would pop up on the screen. And there I was still flipping through my pocket dictionary.

If you prefer typing to flipping, I suggest checking out the local electronics store to see if they carry electronic dictionaries.

Alternatively, you can invest in dictionary software that can be used when you are writing a report, surfing the net, chatting online, and so on. Anytime you come across a word you would like understood or translated, you should be able to get your answers instantly.

You can find many web-based dictionaries that translate free of charge, but this isn’t always convenient as you have to keep visiting the website, and you have to be connected to the internet too. The other option is to use a software dictionary that can be installed onto your computer. I’ve used many such dictionaries and I highly recommend Babylon (www.babylon.com). The best 2 things about this dictionary are:

  • You can simply move your mouse pointer to any word on the screen and control click to translate it (you can also designate keys to activate the translating function)
  • You can install many glossaries on this single software. In other words, it can become English-German, German-English, English-French, French-English, English Russian, Russian-English, all at the same time.

Once your level of language competency has increased, try not to refer to your dual language dictionary anymore. Instead, get a dictionary fully in the language that you are learning.

It’ll help you understand the nuances between similar words, and you will be learning both vocabulary and improving your reading simultaneously.

You can also consider getting a thesaurus and an idiom dictionary when you reach a more advanced level.

Be careful not to become too dependent on your dictionary. Remember, your ultimate aim is to master the language, and this includes being able to gauge meanings from the context. So during reading make sure to use a dictionary sparingly. If possible, guess the words first based on context, mark it, and look them up later rather than in the middle of reading.

This will train you to think critically about the language and the meaning of the words.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of the basics of a language, you can start challenging yourself by trying to guess the actual meanings of words. To be an active learner you have to really pursue the language. An active learning process has much better retentiveness than a passive one. Force yourself to make links between different words, to find clues in the context. If you are able to consistently make an effort to think about the words, the grammar and the language, you will achieve your language goals much faster.

Courses & Software

You will realize, after an internet search or a visit to the local bookstore, that there is a great variety of course materials for you to choose from

Various courses use assorted teaching methods and their focus in different as well.

Determine what you want out of learning the language and then look at the course description and its teaching approaches to see which one suits you and your aim the best.

Here are some of the more established and popular language courses and software that you can find online:

Pimsleur: http://www.simonsays.com/content/index.cfm?sid=128 Pimsleur’s lessons are designed to work the way your mind naturally acquires language information by teaching you first spoken language. Not only do they teach you useful words, phrases, and structures, their unique question and answer format also helps you become skilled at re-combining them to form new sentences. This enables you to respond quickly and flexibly, and to adapt what you learn to real-life situations.

Rosetta Stone: http://www.rosettastone.com The Rosetta Stone language program aims to make learning easier and more effective by doing away with complicated explanations and instead using a visual teaching style featuring pictures, audio and text. It also allows you to move at your own pace, that is, you control the speed in which you learn. The program does not offer direct translations of words or phrases, deliberately done to imitate a non-English-speaking environment. Its speaking exercises force you to listen to a sentence as it is read out loud, and then repeat the sentence into the computer’s microphone. The sound pattern of your voice is displayed next to the pattern of the program’s audio, so you can compare how their pacing, pronunciation and accent differ.

Linguaphone: http://www.linguaphone.co.uk Linguaphone focuses on their “Listen, Understand, Speak” method of learning. First you listen to a native speaker speak in the new language while you read the course book. This exposure helps you relate the sounds you hear to the words and sentences you read. At the same time, this enables you to discover and understand what each word means. Gradually words, then phrases, become clear and your reading, writing and speaking of the language will improve. Linguaphone’s method also makes sure that you start speaking from the very first lesson with the correct pronunciation. Apart from the course, you can call their helpline to speak to trained language advisors whenever you need assistance.

Berlitz: http://www.berlitz.com Each Berlitz Premier language package comes with a program disc, audio CDs for learning while you drive, a CD with MP3s to play on your iPod or other portable media player, and software for even your Palm device. Knowing that different people prefer various ways of learning, Berlitz gives you various points of entry into the languages, such as listening to fluent conversations, word games, electronic flash cards, and speech analysis, and brings them together into a package that lets you learn wherever you are.

Auralog: http://www.auralog.com Auralog uses the Tell Me More program, which apparently has more hours of content, a wider variety of activities and skill levels than any other program. The program also captures your interest in ways that are relevant to your experiences.

Before you know it: http://www.Byki.com BYKI lets you hear the language that you want to learn with native speaker pronunciation before leading you through a proven learning process. Throughout the course, it monitors your answers and responses and then adjusts its content according to your language competency.

Apart from their individual websites, here are a couple of websites that offer a multitude of software for you to choose from:

Transparent Language: http://www.transparent.com Transparent Language provides language-learning solutions in over 100 languages to the consumer, education, government, and corporate markets. Since 1991, Transparent Language has helped more than one million people worldwide learn new languages quickly, easily, and effectively. Transparent Language’s products are also used in more than 12,000 civilian and government educational institutions, including major universities and government facilities, such as the Defense Language Institute and Foreign Service Institute. Products are available directly from this website, through retailers such as Amazon.com and Staples, and through other international distributors.

Language Quest: http://www.languagequest.com An online language product directory devoted to help language learners find the language resources they need.

Language Notebook

One of the most essential tools that any language learner must have is his/her own language notebook. This language notebook is like your “bible” — it contains all the essential and vital things you have learned about the language and you are to consult it as and when necessary. So I advise you to get a notebook of portable size. It makes referring back to the book, especially during emergencies, easier and faster.

Now you have got yourself a notebook, what is next? What is to go into this language notebook?

Firstly, you need to have one section entirely devoted to vocabulary. Common words that you need to use and the not so common but still relevant words that you use. Writing these words down help to internalize their meanings. Reading them again as and when you have the time to – while commuting or waiting – commits them to memory.

Remember, this is your own personalized language notebook, so you can include anything in it that is going to help you learn the language. If pictures are going to help you remember words better, then by all means, draw or include pictures.

Other than Vocabulary, your language notebook needs to cover grammar as well. In this section, write down certain grammatical rules or draw up tables that will help you remember grammatical aspects like gender or case endings. Make things as concise as possible and just jot down the essentials.

Also, have a section to write down Idioms, quotes and other expressions that you have learned and can use. You can also write down sections of texts from books or articles that you have read, in which you admire the author’s use of language, so that you can learn and imitate their language style.

Whatever you find that can help you in learning the language include it in this language notebook. But do not just keep writing things down and not going through them. Many people forget this very important step, the act of revisiting and going through the things that they have jotted down before.

That is the reason why you jot them down in the first place, isn’t it?

So keep your notebook organized and go through whatever you have written down periodically as a form of revision. Bring the notebook with you everywhere you go so that in any case where you get some free time, whip it out and read it.