1. Schedule your study times
Think about your work/school schedule and your obligations. You may want to study 5 hours per day, but can you really do it? Mark your available times on your calendar and decide how many of them you can dedicate to learning a foreign language.
I am one of those people who prefer to cram once a week and accumulate as much knowledge as we can in one go, but this method doesn’t work for eveybody. It’s better to decide based on your learning style. However, making a plan and sticking to it generally helps with language learning and I recommend it.
2. Set realistic goals
Language learning is not a straightforward procedure. Some things are easy to learn while others are difficult to understand and even more difficult to put into practice.
Decide the language level you want to achieve. Then study your schedule and see if you have sufficient time. If that’s not the case, you either have to create study time slots or to lower your expectations.
No matter what you hear or read on the internet, it is impossible to achieve an advanced level (C2) from zero within three months, unless you have no financial or social obligations. If you need to learn a language fast (e.g. for professional reasons), you’ll have to double the effort, to study rigorously and to dedicate all your available time to it. It can be done short-term but it is not viable as a long-term learning method.
3. Make a plan
Now that you know what you want to achieve and how much time you can dedicate to it, it’s time to make a plan.
The first step is to gather the material. There are billions of free ressources online, but you have to be very careful: lots of them are made by students or by language-material farms who simply auto-translate educational ressources from other languages. I wouldn’t discourage the use of free material, I use it myself quite often. However, I recommend paid ressources because they are curated and they are made by professionals.
The second step is to make a roadmap. “I need to know those 50 things. My available time is X hours. I can add films, songs and series in the mix. Therefore, I need to do X things every week to achieve my language learning goals.”
4. Don’t lose focus
Self-paced study may either free your hands and give you the joy of learning or lead you into a maze of material and make you regret you even wanted to learn. The secret is to always remember why are you learning the language for. If it’s for a week’s vacation, you can get away with some badly structured sentences and the odd vocabulary mistake. If it’s for work or studies, you can’t afford to learn by immersion only, without any notion of grammar and sentence structure.
5. Don’t skip grammar and structure rules
There is no language without grammar. Grammar is there, it just might be different from what we are used to consider as “grammar rules” in our own languages.
When people say “There is no grammar”, aren’t you wondering what is it that makes the sentences work? When a grammar point is missing, there is some vocabulary rule or structure rule to account for it and we have to learn it or else we will certainly be misunderstood. It may be okay if we just want to speak the local language during our vacation. It is certainly not okay if we intend to use the language to work or study.
6. Apply the 70/30 rule
Use 70% of learning materials about things you enjoy and 30% of materials about things that you need to learn in order to communicate. Do what you usually do for fun, but do it in a foreign language.
You don’t have to rehearse dialogues about booking a restaurant table if you don’t enjoy restaurants. You can learn how to make reservations by reading the reservations information on the website of your favourite event or venue. Instead of studying a picture dictionary about body parts, you can learn them by watching a yoga workout video.
Do not quit. Language learning may be a bumpy road, but it leads to a fun destination.