A Beginner’s Guide To Self-directed Language Learning


A Beginner’s Guide To Self-directed Language Learning

By Geralde Vincent-Bancroft

Self-directed learning is one of the most efficient ways to learn anything, including a foreign language. It allows you to take control of your learning process and focus on what you want to learn and when you want to learn it.

 It is an approach to acquiring a new language that doesn’t rely on attending classes or following someone else’s curriculum.

This method has been applied to many different areas of life, with great success. . It is a great way to learn if you are motivated and have the discipline to work on your own. 

In this article, we will discuss some of the benefits, and how self-directed learning can be applied to learning a foreign language. We will also provide some tips for getting started!

My experience with self-directed learning

I started my journey of self-directed learning when I was 18 years old. I had just graduated from high school and was about to embark on a gap year before university. My love for languages was always there and I have been fascinated by different cultures, so I decided to make the most of my time off and learn a new language.

Without wasting any time, I decided to start with the basics and learn how to structure my learning in a way that would be most effective. After some research, I found that the best way to learn a language is through immersion. This means surrounding yourself with the language as much as possible and using it in everyday situations.

So, I started by finding a language exchange partner. We would meet up once a week and speak for an hour in each of our native languages. This was a great way to get some practice in, but it didn’t quite give me the immersive experience I was looking for.

Then, I started to look for other ways to immerse myself in the language. I started listening to podcasts and watching TV shows in my target language. I also began reading books and newspapers. This was a great way to improve my understanding of the language and to start picking up new vocabulary.

After a few months of self-directed learning, I was able to have basic conversations in my target language. I understood a lot the world around me. This was an amazing feeling and it motivated me to keep going.

Now,  I’m fluent in six languages. I’ve also started teaching myself another language from scratch. I truly believe that self-directed learning is one of the best ways to learn a language if you’re disciplined. It’s fast, it’s effective, and it’s a lot of fun!

How to start your self-directed language learning project

Language learning outside of school or university can be very different. In traditional education, the official curriculum tells students exactly when and how they should learn something; however in this type of self-guided project it’s important that before starting any lessons on language there is a clear intention as well!

Do your research

With self-directed learning, you get to choose what you want to learn and how you want to learn it. This can be a great way to tailor your learning experience  to your own needs and interests.

It is paramount to establish what your goal is for learning the language.

 Are you hoping to be conversationally fluent? Or do you need to learn specific vocabulary  for work or travel? What strategies are others using to reach similar goals? What materials are you planning to use? Be as specific as possible. 

Answering these questions honestly will help you decide which methods of language learning will work best for you. 

For example, if your goal is to be able to have everyday conversations in the language, then listening and practicing speaking as much as possible is key. However, if your goal is to learn vocabulary for a specific purpose, then using flashcards or an app like Memrise might be more effective.

 No matter what your goals are, setting a clear intention before beginning your language learning journey will help you stay on track and make progress towards becoming fluent in the language.

Do your research. It’s a great way to tailor your learning experience

Create a self-directed learning timeline

Now it is your time to plan. Start by creating your self-directed learning timeline. Establish a deadline for completion: for example: I need to reach B2 level by the end of the year.

Decide how much time you realistically have to dedicate to studying each day. Make a goal for yourself of how many new words or phrases you want to learn in that time. Find a balance between pushing yourself to learn as much as possible and not becoming overwhelmed and discouraged.

One great way to stay motivated is by setting mini-goals. For example, if your goal is to learn 1000 new words in the next month, break that down into smaller goals of learning 33 new words each day. Give yourself a sense of accomplishment each day as you check off your mini-goal.

Once you have your milestones, identify any fixed event that needs your attention, for example sitting for the B2 French exam in November. 

Then feel free to structure your day-to-day language-related activities. Each week, block out the time you will dedicate to your language project and consider it a non-negotiable.

How to be efficient with your studies

Another way to ensure you are making the most of your time is by being efficient with your studies. There are many different ways to do this.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your learning time.

Active practice

Try to remember what you just learned and apply it straight away. A lot of times we tend to forget what we just learned because we don’t use it. So, try to find ways to use it in your daily conversations or writing. This is Active Practice and it is key to learning effectively. This means that you should be constantly using your new language skills in a real-life context. it doesn’t have to be perfect, but the more you use it, the better you’ll get.

One way to find opportunities for active practice is to seek out native speakers of the language you’re learning. Either online or in person, it’s a great way to get some real-life experience using your new language skills.

Another way to get active practice is to join or create a language exchange group. These groups are usually made up of people who are learning a second (or third, or fourth…) language and want to help others while also getting some practice themselves. It’s a great way to meet new people and learn about other cultures while also getting some valuable language practice.

 Remember, exposure only to new concepts does not guarantee memorisation and recollection. 

G. Vincent-Bancroft

Direct practice

If you want to learn something, it’s important that your activities match your desired goal as closely as possible. For example, if you want to learn how to cook, it would make sense to spend time in the kitchen, reading recipes and watching cooking videos. 

Similarly, if you want to learn a new language, you should try to immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible. This means watching movies and TV shows in the target language, listening to music, and speaking with native speakers whenever possible. Of course, simply studying grammar rules or memorizing vocabulary lists won’t be enough on its own. 

However, if you can find ways to integrate your learning into your everyday life, you’ll be much more likely to achieve your goal.

If your self-directed language learning project comprises active and direct learning, your chances of success will up by 80%.

Effective feedback

Effective feedback should be relevant to the exercise that you’re trying to achieve, immediate, and should highlight where your weaknesses lie. This will assist you in improving your skills individually and faster.

For example, if you’re trying to improve your pronunciation of a certain sound in a language, it would be most effective to get feedback from a native speaker on how well you’re doing. This way, you can focus on the areas that need improvement and make the necessary changes. Immediate feedback is also important so that you can make the necessary adjustments while the sound is still fresh in your mind. Lastly, highlighting your weaknesses helps you to focus on the areas that need the most work.

Overall, effective feedback is an important part of self-directed language learning. It allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses so that you can focus on the areas that need improvement. Additionally, it helps you to learn more quickly and effectively by providing immediate feedback. So if you’re motivated to learn a language on your own, make sure to get regular feedback from native speakers in order to improve your skills.

The best way to prevent forgetting is by using a spaced repetition system

Remembering what you’ve learned

Planning your self-directed learning project is one thing, but making sure that what you learn actually sticks and leads to long term improvements takes some work on our end. 

Cramming all the new information and regurgitating it during your tests and soon after forgetting it is not the right approach if you want to acquire this skill for life. 

Even though forgetting is a natural process,  the best way to prevent it happening is by using a spaced repetition system (SRS). This involves studying material multiple times, with increasingly larger intervals in between each review. The idea is that you will better remember material that you have reviewed multiple times, and by spacing out the reviews, you can make sure that the information stays in your long-term memory. With time the intervals between repetitions will increase considerably. 

So, don’t forget to periodically revisit what you’ve already learned.


So there you have it: a few tips on how to get started with self-directed learning applied to languages. remember, the key is to be active and take advantage of every opportunity you have to use your new language

Self-directed learning is a great way to learn a new language quickly and effectively. It is especially beneficial for those who are truly motivated to learn and are willing to put in the extra effort required. By taking charge of your own learning, you can tailor your studies to your specific needs and goals, making the most of your time and resources.

Of course, self-directed learning is not for everyone. It can be challenging to stay motivated and on track when you are solely responsible for your progress. However, if you are committed to learning a new language, self-directed study can be an excellent way to achieve your goals.

Do you have any tips for self-directed language learning? Let us know in the comments below!

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