How to Study: Foreign Languages

Whether you’re taking Introduction to Spanish or AP Latin, there is more to effectively learning a language than just your textbook and assigned readings. As a polyglot myself, I’ve tried just about every language learning technique there is and hope to share four of my favorite and most effective study methods here with you.



I know what you’re thinking: “flash cards. How imaginative.” But honestly, they’re a staple of language learning for a reason. You can learn every verb ending, conditional construction, and article, but they’ll mean nothing to you if you don’t recognize what word is being conjugated.

When translating or speaking with someone, keep track of the words you miss. Add these to your flashcards, whether physical or digital, and keep up a regular schedule for memorization. In one of our past blogs, we talked about spaced repetition as the most scientifically effective means of memorization. You can check it out here!

It can also be extremely effective to put new vocabulary into context. Write it into a complex or silly sentence and you’ll be infinitely more likely to remember it. Personally, I think the weirder the better, because something mundane will just melt out of my brain.


Talk to Someone

By speaking foreign languages aloud and in real time we engage in active recall. Active recall forces us to think through language composition rather than passively reading textbooks or reviewing notes. And yeah, we make mistakes. A lot. But that’s alright! No one speaks a foreign language perfectly off the bat, but the more we practice the better we get!

Of course, you can find fellow language learners and have a conversation (friends, teachers, and tutors are optimal), but I understand that this isn’t always possible and can be very nerve wracking. If you’re learning a language solo or you’re shy, there are other ways. Talking to yourself and narrating your day is a perfectly viable option. And, I can promise you, as a pet owner, your animals don’t care whether you’re talking to them in English, Japanese, or Pig Latin as long as you’re giving them attention.


Read a Familiar Story

When we’re translating, we can get so caught up in the grammar and vocabulary that we miss out on the plot of what we’re reading, and therefore a lot of the fun! To make this easier and more enjoyable for yourself try translating something familiar and well loved. It’s best when you first start out to pick a simpler story- either one for children or middle grade level- but you can always raise the difficulty as you get further into your practice. I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in French when I was first learning and later found a copy of The Hobbit translated in Latin to help me keep my Latin skills sharp!



Keeping a journal everyday in your target language is the best possible study you can give yourself. It doesn’t even half to be much- a single sentence will do! Writing a journal forces you into active recall, forming unheard sentences and dredging up your memories of syntax and grammar. Further, the vocabulary you will need to describe your day to day life will be the ones most pertinent to you and your interests. Because of this, and because you’ve taken the time to put them into context, these vocabulary words will stay with you far longer than those you just passively read.

I hope this helps you in your courses and any solo language learning journey!

Back to blog