How to Make Self-Directed Language Learning Work

Like so much in life, language learning is as much about the choices we make as it is any other one thing.

If we choose to take control of the language learning journey, to take the reigns and put ourselves in charge of the choices we make, we will increase our chances of success.

If we sit back as passive learners and allow a system or a teacher to dictate the way we learn, we will be more likely to struggle.

This is the reality that I have observed.

You can take control and be more effective, more efficient and have more fun learning another language.

Or you can passively do whatever is placed before you, whatever someone else suggests is the “best way” to learn a language, putting in minimal time and struggling to do really well.

So what will it be?  Which will you chose?

Arguments Against Independent Learning

Many will argue that independent, self-directed language learning just isn’t realistic.  Many wonder what they would do and how they would actually learn the language.  They argue, and argue honestly, that they don’t possess the expertise or the knowledge to undertake such a task.

I understand this argument.  It makes sense and reflects a real challenge that all beginning language learners face.

But it also reflects another issue:  language learnes who lack the necessary passion and knowledge to put in the hard work required to succeed.

This is a problem, but it’s not insurmountable.

That is the definition of an everyday language learner after all.

Everyday Language Learner (noun)  | ˈevrēˌdā  ˈla NG gwij  lərnər |

  1. an ordinary, regular person who is learning another language
  2. someone who may not have a special love or excitement for learning another language but who wants or needs to learn it none the less

If that definition describes you, then you may at times feel like disempowered language learners.  You may not always know where to begin or what to do.

Thankfully, this is a challenge about which you can do something.

Becoming Independent Language Learners

I should say that independent language learning is much more about attitude than it is about your choice in language learning methods.  Many independent learners sign up for classes, use Rosetta Stone or buy grammar books.

The difference is that they are choosing to do so because they have determined that it is the best way to maximize their personal learning style, their available time and their passions and interests.

It’s not because they don’t know of anything else to do.

That’s the difference.

It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map.  Stop settling for what is good enough and start creating art that matters [or learning languages better].  Then, and only then, will you have achieved your potential.”

-Seth Godin, Linchpin

No one magically steps into the life of the independent, self-directed language learner.  Some find themselves there because they are passionate about learning languages.  It’s their joy and they find the process of learning a language nearly as rewarding as the end product itself.

Others, the rest of us perhaps, need to learn it.  We must work hard to educate ourselves, to establish habits and to surround ourselves with lots of high quality comprehensible input.

If you are not there yet, you too can learn to be an independent, self-directed language learner.  You can take the small steps necessary to get started and develop the perseverance to stick with it.  And you can get started today.

A Few Ideas

Here are a few ideas to help you develop the independent language learner mindset:

  1. Learn from others.  Find a few good blogs written by language learners and begin to read back through to find the tips and ideas that helped the writter become a better language learner. The Everyday Language Learner is of course a good place to start and you can keep up to date by subscribing below or get updates by clicking the EDLL Facebook page LIKE button on the sidebar or following me on Twitter.
  2. Learn from others part 2.  Find a friend who has successfully learned another language and learn from them.  Listen to what they did.  Find what works for you and get started.
  3. Learn from others part 3.  Join a language learners forum and become actively involved in learning from others and sharing your own experience as well. 
  4. Sign up for a course focused on helping you begin to become an independent language learner. Does anyone know of other online or offline courses that focus on becoming an independent language learner?
  5. Pick up a book or two on the subject.  I’ve reviewed a few like The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. 
  6. Check out some of the many Youtube channels about language learning. Mine is focused on giving you tips and language learning activities and is The EDLL Youtube Channel.  Other favorites are: LingoSteve, ProfASAr, Moses McCormick.   Would anyone like to share your favorite channels?

What other ways can a beginning language learner become an independent, self-directed language learner?

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