Web Culture

Top 3 Tips To Motivate Yourself While Learning A Second Language

Dean Sherwin 01-11-2009

Top 3 Tips To Motivate Yourself While Learning A Second Language dictionaryLearning a second language is a somewhat generalized practice. Think about it. If someone close to you began to learn French, Polish, Russian, Chinese or Arabic you’d be convinced they would fail (although you might not tell them that!). That’s because learning a second language in an environment where you’re not immersed in it 24/7 throws up barrier after barrier. That’s why many language students go abroad for a year.


The only other strategy that you have when you’re at home is to buy a few text books, a pocket-sized dictionary and begin wading through a river of despair and hopelessness. Or is it the only other strategy?

Recently I resumed learning French. I was never any good at it in school – mostly because the above strategy was applied. But only a few months into my new endeavour, I’m currently halfway through a classic French novel called “˜La Guerre des Boutons’. How? I took the geeky way out i.e. I immersed myself in an environment filled with French – it’s called the Internet (you may have heard about it). Here are my top three tips to help you with learning a second language online.

Using Popular Websites in That Language

Top 3 Tips To Motivate Yourself While Learning A Second Language Amazonfr

Allow me to explain this one. I don’t mean use every single website in French/Spanish/ Polish etc. What I do mean is to use large sites in the foreign language you’re trying to learn. Make a list of the five largest websites you use regularly. I’m willing to bet that Google is in there. EBay is likely to have made the cut. Maybe even Amazon? Basically just jot down your favourite sites and start using them in a foreign language. The reason I’m telling you to do this is not to have you utterly confused but to teach you.

You see, these large websites generally use simple sentences and popular words. Take EBay; it doesn’t have many long rambling paragraphs, rather just plain words and phrases. All of the different categories will undoubtedly be useful words and what’s more they’re often associated with pictures. You can also get a bargain on expensive products on native language sites where demand is lower.


Using sites such as Google and Yahoo can give you some more basic words as well as seeing some of the French news headlines. This is not an intensive way of learning a language. In fact, it’s fairly passive and doesn’t require too much effort.

Word a Day Tweet

Twitter has escalated in popularity over the last year or so and it’s the perfect platform for a Word a Day regime. You probably tweet multiple times a day (and if not, where have you been for the past year?) so why not make a few of those tweets count for something.

Top 3 Tips To Motivate Yourself While Learning A Second Language twitterwordaday

By following this service in the particular language you’re learning, you’ll be tweeted a word which you must use in a logical sentence in one of your own tweets that day. Again, this is a passive way of learning a language. By fitting it into your already existing routine you’re not climbing a whole new mountain.


BBC Languages

Part of the BBC’s website is devoted to teaching people how to speak different languages. This section is packed with interesting ways of learning a language rather than learning off boring verb sheets.

Top 3 Tips To Motivate Yourself While Learning A Second Language bcclanguage

For example, they have videos of people in everyday situations such as in meeting people, dining in restaurants, going to bars, at work etc. These videos are accompanied by a transcript so you can read through the words and understand it fully.

There are are different difficulty settings depending on whether you’re starting fresh or have been learning the language for some time.


If you combine the BBC language course with the two passive learning methods above you’ll be on your way to speaking fluently in no time.

It also wouldn’t hurt to subscribe to a few blogs in your chosen language. See my post here on MUO about Reading Blogs On Your Cellphone With A Java RSS Reader. Also, you might want to check out Angie’s post if you’re looking for online resources to learn foreign languages: 18 Great Sites to Learn a New Language 15 Great Sites to Learn a New Language Although there are endless resources to learn languages on the web, it is often difficult to find quality websites that offer structured lesson plans for free. Read More .

What’s your method of learning a new language. Do you have any self-taught tricks?

Explore more about: Language Learning, Study Tips.

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  1. Azumah Joshua
    February 3, 2015 at 12:32 am

    That great I have been learning French for a two months now and sometimes I feel like giving up. Because I feel like I haven't learnt any thing and hardly do I even apply what I have learnt. Am going to apply these steps and I know its going to work. Thanks

  2. tj
    February 10, 2010 at 1:42 am

    have you tried http://www.langlearner.com, it's somewhat cool as it supports multi-language pairing meaning that you can learn japanese from french and other lanaguages including greek and vice versa. anyway, you can also learn from a language buddies via the chat which comes with instant translation, so it makes life easier sometimes if you want to chat with someone overseas..

    anyway, will check out http://www.interpals.net and http://www.livemocha.com, looks quite interesting but seems like just another social networking sites.

  3. mario.91
    November 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    i'm italian and...i hate the english!!! :( :(

    • Shard Banner
      July 26, 2017 at 6:44 am

      I'm English and I hate your guys's prepositions and possessives. Why do you have to match the article with the damn preposition/possessive? It's confusing!

  4. Jennie Gottschalk
    November 4, 2009 at 5:41 am

    I've used Wiretap (on the mac) to make scheduled recordings of German radio shows online. Since the shows are about a subject that is familiar to me (new and experimental music), I have a good starting point to understand what is being said. There are about five broadcasts a week that I find interesting, so they pile up quickly. I usually spot-check the recordings to find the ones I really want to hear, then put those on my ipod and listen to them carefully when I'm at the gym.

    It's a good way to keep my language skills somewhat fresh and to keep up with what's going on in my field.

  5. Thierry
    November 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    My tip, When I swithon my computer every morning, it takes at least 5 minutes to start up, sometimes more, (firefox helps). I use this time to learn a little bit of Italian. Of course when my pc boots, of firefox bugs, I redo a little bit of Italien, all together, that make arount 20 minutes a day!

    • Nik Peachey
      November 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm

      I have a MAC so I guess there's no hope of me learning another language!

  6. Nik Peachey
    November 3, 2009 at 4:22 am

    I publish a whole load of tips and activities for students who want to improve their English and digital literacies. Many of them use tools and content that is highlighted on MakeUseOf


    Nik Peachey

  7. Mark Kaufmann
    November 2, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Being virtually immersed through your computer interface is one thing but how about going a step further and surrounding yourself with the language all day long. That's what you can do with your iPod. With so much great, authentic content available online, you can easily create your own world in your target language.

    Listening throughout the day will improve your language exponentially. After all, just as when learning your first language, the amount of exposure you get to the language makes a huge difference.

    Ideally, you would do your reading and listening on a system like LingQ which allows you to read what you are listening to and translate and review your new vocabulary. Once you're past the beginner stage it's all about vocabulary.

    Please check out our site. I'd love to hear your review of LingQ. Yes, there are paid options but most of the core functionality is available free.

  8. Pankaj Singh
    November 2, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Nice post. I have been using Michel Thomas, Pimsleur and Rosetta stone for my french and spanish. However, the tips you've given here are wonderful and would definitely help me in pseudo immersion.
    I have also started watching my favourite Tv shows in spanish...and found it quite helpful.

  9. Lauren
    November 2, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Wow, I've read a lot of posts about quick tips for learning languages, and this is the first one in a long time that offered any new ideas. Thanks! I'm getting on these.

  10. Benny the Irish polyglot
    November 2, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I was just talking about the same thing in my own blog! But I mention how you can go a step further and turn your entire computer (firefox interface and even the OS interface) into the foreign language. Very good for being "virtually" immersed"

  11. Zaldy Co
    November 2, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    An alternative to LiveMocha is italki.com.

  12. learn to speak spanish
    November 2, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Thank you for providing this 3 tips for Learning A Second Language it was really good.

  13. alvaro
    November 2, 2009 at 8:32 am

    A great site for learning a new language, and which is completely free is livemocha, livemocha.com
    They also have non free courses, which they try to sell you, but you can always choose to take the free ones and it is one of my favorite sites to learn foreign languages

    • Dean Sherwin
      November 2, 2009 at 9:03 am


      I found LiveMocha when I was researching this post. It seems quite good. I didn't like how they're constantly trying o force the paid options on you. Often you're just redirected to the paid sign-up page with no way back!

      But it's still good.

      I didn't include it as I wanted to demonstrate how reading and subtly learning can work quite well, instead of just listing out courses!


      • alvaro
        November 2, 2009 at 11:04 am

        I know they try to force you to pay, but this is only at the beginning when you first register, once you enter a free course then you will hardly notice that there is a non free version of it....

  14. David S.
    November 2, 2009 at 3:16 am

    Interesting post, I'll be able to use some of this stuff.

    I've learned bits and pieces of five languages now, I'd say I'm decently fluent in German, Arabic and French and can have basic conversations in Turkish and Khmer. I've used a variety of methods over the years, the most effective is total immersion, of course. I've also done formal instruction in German and Arabic--but nothing beats daily interaction with native speakers.

    Failing that though, I have found a combination approach is best. Pimsleur is my starting point for any new endeavor. It's totally audio (which I don't see as a drawback). I put the lessons on my iPod and listen to them everywhere, and several times over. I listen to them in the car, on a run and while relaxing--I'll fall asleep with them on too. Rosetta stone is expensive, but is my next stop. And then I go for a basic school grammar text and then continue with other courses.

    All that just builds a base though. Language learning, for me, is mostly about building vocabulary. Learning grammar rules is important, but since language is about expressing ideas, telling stories, giving directions--communication, one must have the words to get the point across.

    To build vocabulary I mostly read books in translation. Once I get to this far, I've found that translated books work better than books originally written in the target langauge for two reasons: 1) I pick books I've already read in English, and 2) it seems that sentence structure and vocab in a translation are easier for me to follow. I also watch TV and movies (sometimes with subtitles in English). I credit Star Trek: The Next Generation, for my fluency in German, actually.

    Active vocabulary is always hardest and comes last for me. Speaking a new language was hard for me at first, but now I don't get embarrased, but it can be difficult. Two important things to remember is that language is about getting a message across and that native speakers expect you to make mistakes. As long as whoever you talk to isn't a jerk about it, making mistakes is the best way to learn the right way (just don't correction personally).

    The key (for me) to decent pronounciation is that I'll mock native speakers (not in a mean way, or in front of a native speaker--I just mean for practice purposes). For example, in French I try to make it as nasal as I can--because the strange reality is that however hard I try, it never comes out quite as nasaly as a native speaker.

    Anyway, thanks for the post, this is good stuff.

  15. Aleksey
    November 2, 2009 at 2:07 am

    I use your site for learning English,and it really hepls me!

    • Dean Sherwin
      November 2, 2009 at 2:11 am

      Good to hear it ;)