Thinking about self-studying a language, but not quite sure where to start?
Self-studying a language (vs. studying a language in a school or with a tutor, etc) has enormous benefits. It is customizable, cost-friendly, schedule-friendly, location-friendly, easily tracked, etc.
However, self-studying a language has quite a few cons as well. The lack of direction, organization, pressure, motivation, and higher rate of burnout that is so common can be a big issue.
The goal of this complete guide is to help you create a self-studying language routine that will fit perfectly into your life, giving you all of the above benefits and none of the cons.
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Table of Contents:
Step 01: Decide on Specifics
The most important questions to answer before you even begin – before you even think about studying! – are questions of what you want to do and what you can offer.
What do you want to study?
Do you want to study one language? Or perhaps two or more languages at the same time?
Will you study a language you already know a bit, or an entirely new one? Are you refreshing your memory or starting from scratch?
Perhaps you want to use a language you have already studied to now study an entirely new language? (This is called using your L2 to study your L3! A very fun method)
Before you begin, you must decide what language (or which languages) you wish to study and what language you wish to study your target language (aka your TL) in.
You must also decide how much time, money, and energy you can and are willing to dedicate to this.
If you have no money to spare, but an overwhelming amount of time, your study schedule will look very different than someone with tons of money, but only minimal time.
Mental energy is also important. If you have a particularly stressful or difficult job, you will likely come home exhausted. When and how will you study in this case?
Figuring out what time of day you could study and when you would feel most alert is an extremely important part of studying something that should not be overlooked!
Before you think about any other part of studying a language, be sure you know the answers to exactly what you want to study and how much you can offer.
Step 02: Gather Resources
Now that you know what you want to study and what you can offer, you get to have a bit of fun!
One of my favorite parts of self-studying a language is finding and choosing resources. (Hence why I created this website! Haha)
The internet is nearly bursting at the seams with language resources and goodies.
The most common ways to study a language nowadays are apps, websites, and full courses (either online or in-person). There are hundreds of ways to study a language though! I suggest trying out many types of resources before deciding what type is best for you.
Don’t forget to always aim to hit all four pillars of language learning as well. Listening, speaking, writing, and reading!
It is very important to choose resources that work on all four of these skills equally, or at least somewhat equally. Neglecting one or more of these pillars will severely harm your studies in the long-term!
Finding a resource that is a full course or walks you through the levels (for example, Busuu) is best for self learners, as it will organize what you need to study (and in what order!) for you.
If you do not choose a resource that does this, then perhaps follow this guide from Ouino to map out what you should be targeting first!
Once you have the basics covered, you will often find that new topics of what to study in your TL will fall into your lap. You can start to read in your TL and converse with natives in your TL and this will open up many new routes for you to go down during your studies! I find my best study sessions are after reading a good book. I find lots of grammar concepts I don’t know and then I use my favorite resources to study them! I also always find lots of new phrases, idioms, and general vocabulary!
Here are a few prompting questions to help you narrow down your search:
- Do you prefer online resources or physical resources? Or perhaps both?
- If you prefer online resources, how important is it that they can be used offline as well? And what device will you study on primarily?
- Do you prefer textbooks with structure and lots of grammar? Or looser textbooks that put little to no focus on grammar?
- Are you more introverted or extroverted? Do you intend to speak to native speakers or other learners of your TL via apps, sites, or meetups?
- What is your learning style? (Here is an overview of the 4 styles!)
- What are your hobbies? Are there resources that incorporate learning with them?
Once you have a rough idea of what you are looking for, launch yourself into the research!
Just make sure that you do not overwhelm yourself with trying to use too many resources at once! I find it best to stick to 2-3 main resources, with a few other supplemental resources that I might use only when I need to shake things up or understand a topic deeper.
Here are some great resources on my site here that can help cut down on some of your research:
For all languages:
- How to utilize writing to study your language (with links to journals!)
Step 03: Make S.M.A.R.T Goals
Making any goals at all is crucial to your learning, but making S.M.A.R.T goals is perhaps the most important part of self-studying a language.
I have talked before on Plurilingualism about that exact topic. Check that article out here!
I also have a S.M.A.R.T language goal printable, as well as a printable bundle for setting language goals and tracking them! You might want to check them out for some extra help and useful worksheets 🙂
The gist is that goals should always be:
S – Specific. A goal should not be too vague or general, but should have a specific end result in mind.
M – Measurable. A goal should not be too abstract. You should be able to measure progress and if it was fully achieved or not.
A – Achievable. A goal should not be too difficult. It should be possible for you to achieve.
R – Relevant. Goals should not be too varied. They should be relevant to the life path you want to stay on and should be focused.
T – Time-bound. A goal should not be open-ended. It should have a deadline.
Be sure to read that article above or get the printables for tips and tricks, as well as examples of good goals vs. some not so good goals.
Once you have your goal(s), you are nearing the finish line!
All that is left is some final planning and fine-tuning. Next up: creating the official study plan!
Step 04: Create a Study Plan
Now that you know what you want to achieve, what resources you will use to achieve it, and you have your S.M.A.R.T goals in mind, you are ready to make your language study plan!
The most important part of creating a self-studying language plan is to be organized, yet adaptable.
Start with a specific and well laid out plan, but be open to changing it up, if needed. For example, perhaps you have a big project at work or you have finals for university or you are just stressed. Do not be afraid or ashamed of minimizing your study routine for a while to adapt!
As for mapping out exactly what your routine will look like, I find it is better to start big and then break it down.
For example, if you found an amazing textbook and one of your goals is to finish it within 3 months, you can break it down into a monthly, weekly, and then daily plan. Making S.M.A.R.T goals includes some of this breaking down and planning already, so you might already be ready to go! If not, I’ll continue the example below:
Let’s say your textbook has 12 chapters total. This means you will need to complete 4 chapters per month. You could decide to complete 1 chapter per week. Depending on how many sections are in each chapter, you can then find out just how many you need to finish per day in order to achieve your goal.
Important to note is review time!! Do not forget to regularly review what you learn!
I personally like to study Monday-Friday and then review on the weekends. You might choose to instead study one day and review the next, or you might even study in the mornings and review in the evenings. Test a few options out and see what fits best in your life.
Lastly, choose a study method you will use! My chosen method is the Animedoro method (which I explain in detail here!). I find this method allows me enough time to take in a good chunk of information and process it, while also giving me ample time to rest and relax. I get a great deal of work done using this method!
You may also chose to use Animedoro, or perhaps the shorter and traditional ‘Pomodoro’ instead. Or an entirely new method! I recommend trying a few (for at least 1-2 days at a time) and seeing which works best for you.
I sell a few useful printables for language planning and tracking, such as a monthly language skill tracker, a monthly habit tracker, a weekly language planner, the aforementioned S.M.A.R.T language goals worksheet, and the Language Success bundle (containing multiple single printables in one!).
Here is an easy step-by-step to quickly create a self-studying language plan:
1.) Break down your S.M.A.R.T goals into monthly, weekly, and daily goals.
2.) Decide which days and time slots you realistically have available each week.
3.) Choose a study method and then fit the mini goals from step #1 with time to review into the time slots from step #2, according to your method.
4.) Print out or hang your study plan somewhere where you will see it every day!
Step 05: Add A bit of Back-Up!
The last step to creating a successful self-studying language routine is not to be overlooked.
Add a bit of back-up! Add some pressure and some accountability!
As spoken about in the S.M.A.R.T goals article, adding a bit of pressure (like the time-bound aspect of a goal) is important. Without any pressure, people are prone to putter gently along and not achieve what they wish to.
You can add a bit of pressure and accountability internally, externally, or (ideally) both!
Internal pressure or accountability would be putting that time limit on your goals. Saying you wish to achieve X by this time. Even having goals in general will add some internal back-up! It may also look like rewarding yourself with something nice (big or small!) if you finish what you need to.
External pressure or accountability would be having an accountability partner to talk to in your TL. Or perhaps a scheduled exam that you hope to pass. It could be something as simple as texting a friend about what you learned that week or something as extreme as moving abroad to a country where your TL is spoken.
External back-up, pressure, or accountability is certainly easier to find and often pushes us more. This is because it is not reliant only on your own, inner dedication and motivation.
I personally like to surround myself with friends who are also studying hard – whether that be a language, like me, or just university studies. We can text about how that week went and offer motivation, when needed. (Which is frequently!! Haha)
I also am a fan of scheduling exams or at least taking small, free tests online. I find that I personally like to measure my progress a great deal and seeing my exam scores proving progress motivates me like nothing else. Having a scheduled exam looming in the future also helps me work hard.
However, to many, that might be too stressful. If so, no worries! There are lots of other ways to push yourself! Meeting a tandem partner or a group (online or IRL) will also show your progress over time and is certainly much more relaxing for many people. There are several apps and websites for this! HelloTalk and Meetup are two great options.
No matter what back-up you choose, just make sure you do use it! Take advantage of it and really allow it to encourage and push you.
You are ready to go now!
Remember to be adaptive and easygoing in your studies. Don’t be too hard on yourself and review and change your language routine whenever needed.
Check out the tips below and the tips at the bottom of this article on setting language goals for extra help!
It’s better to study 10 minutes 7 days a week than 70 minutes one day per week!
But it is still better to study 70 minutes one day per week, so long as it is regular! Consistency is key. If possible, smaller chunks of frequent learning are much better than infrequent and/or large chunks of learning. Your brain will process things better if you have ample time to learn and review and do not try to cram!
Tackle any new alphabet and writing system ASAP!
Do not wait to do this. Start to learn any new systems first, before anything else. This helps you with proper pronunciation (romanization is sometimes very off) and finding more resources (some do not use romanization at all). Starting to learn such a foundational aspect of a language later on will only cause trouble!
Work smarter – learn the most common features of a language first!
You can find top 1000 lists of vocab in any language online and it is highly beneficial to learn this first! Learning vocab in lexical chunks (like in phrases) is also much more helpful than drilling single words. Learn the most common grammar features, as well! If you study the most used grammar and vocab, you will start understanding the basics of your TL in no time.
Write down your ‘why’ and keep it in view!
Why are you studying this language? Or these languages? What motivates you? Write this down and hang it on your wall, print out visualizations of your ‘why’, make an entire vision board – anything! Do anything to keep note of why you are doing this and use it to motivate yourself often.
Keep a journal in your TL!
Writing in a journal often will skyrocket your language routine, guaranteed!! I know it’s hard, especially in the beginning when even a single sentence is grueling work, but it is worth it. Especially in languages with new alphabets and writing systems, where you could really use the handwriting practice.
Create a new social media account (or change yours) for language learning!
If you can, create a new social media account just for your TL. Follow only people who speak your TL and try to avoid your native language! If you don’t wish to create an entirely new account, then try to add more of your TL to your current account. Follow new people, maybe change your settings to your TL, etc.
Document your self-studying language journey!
Write an essay each month, record videos every week, take exams, etc. There are hundreds of ways to document your progress and picking one (or several) is an amazing way to easily look back and see the progress you have made.
Focus on a growth mindset and do not fear failure!
Lastly, remember that failure is okay!!! You will fail during your language learning journey. It happens to all of us. You might have a busy week and skip studying, or you might just not be feeling it. You might get in a slump and not even think about your TL for months. It is okay! Progress is not linear. It has ups and downs and you just need to push on and you will get there eventually – I promise.
So get going, fail, rise from the ashes, and keep at it until you achieve your goals!! You can most certainly do it. Just keep pushing and adapting 🙂
Don’t forget to check out my language learning printables on the shop here too! 🙂
- The 20 Best Products on Amazon for Korean Learners!
- Why You NEED A Kindle for Language Learning! [Tips + Tricks]
- 50 Amazing Quotes About Language Learning [With Phone Wallpapers!]
- The 25 Greatest Foreign Language Products on Amazon!
- Spanish Reflexive Verbs: a Simple How to Guide!
Let’s be friends! 🙂