Language Learning Methods


Tandem Learning or Language Exchange

In some cities, you can find tandem partners through bulletin boards in universities, language schools and libraries. There are also many web sites that help you find a tandem partner. Before you register on such a web site, you should always read its privacy policy!

Mass Input

The mass sentence method or mass input approach: this is a language learning (or teaching) approach is often mentioned in connection with products from Glossika. However, it sounds very similar to the 10,000 sentences approached that used to be promoted by Khatzumoto.

Other Methods

Books about Language Learning Methods

Books are listed in chronological order (year of publication).

The Loom of Language (1944)

Bodmer, Frederick: The Loom of Language: A Guide to Foreign Languages for the Home Student. Edited and arranged by Lancelot Hogben. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1944.

How to Learn a Language (1947)

Duff, Charles: How to Learn a Language. 1947. See the entry in WorldCat.

In February 2007, Language Hat wrote a blog post about Charles Duff and pointed out A Handbook On Hanging (for the frustrated polyglot?).

Language Acquisition Made Practical (1976)

Brewster, Thomas E.; Brewster, Elizabeth S.: Language Acquisition Made Practical: Field Methods for Language Learners. Colorado Springs: Lingua House, 1976. (383 pages).
See SIL International: Brewster and Brewster 1976 and The LAMP method.

How to Learn a Foreign Language (1980)

Pimsleur, Paul: How to Learn a Foreign Language. Heinle & Heinle, 1980. Reprinted: New York: Pimsleur Language Programs (Simon & Schuster), 2013. (141 pages) ISBN 978-1-4423-6902-3.
Paul Pimsleur (1927-1976) is the man who developed the Pimsleur language learning system, which is well-known in the USA. Pimsleur's book was published posthumously because not making it available would have been a considerable loss to language learners worldwide (according to Charles Heinle). The book was reprinted in 2013 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Pimsleur language programs.

How to Learn a Foreign Language is based on Pimsleur's experience teaching languages. It is well-written and can be read in a few hours. In the first part of the book, Pimsleur begins by pointing out that negative experiences at school should not discourage adults from learning a foreign language later in life. He discusses “easy” and “hard” languages, how long it takes to learn a language, how to choose a foreign language, how to recognise a good teacher, the importance of having faith in the spoken word (as opposed to the written representation of a language), and the motivational value of setting short-range goals.

In the second part of the book, Pimsleur presents practical techniques and tips for dealing with the three main components of language: pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. The central idea in this part is that language should be learnt in a much more “organic” way than in traditional classroom instruction, where everything is taught in a specific order.
In the section on grammar, he points out that instruction on verb conjugations shows how linguistics has triumphed over psychology in conventional teaching (page 67). In the West, language teaching methods have improved a lot since the 1970s, but language learners who are able to recognise old-fashioned teaching methods have at least a chance to compensate for them at home (or find a better teacher).

For learning grammar, Pimsleur recommends the use of recordings with prompts; if you don't have access to a textbook with CDs, you can make recodings on your own or with the help of a native speaker. For learning vocabulary, Pimsleur recommends using flash cards. Flash cards can also be used to learn phrases and short sentences—for example, “Give me a menu, please”— instead of individual words.
Pimsleur describes a “graduated interval recall schedule” that is reminiscent of Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve and the technique of spaced repetition, but , unlike Sebastian Leitner, he does not provide an algorithm to achieve effective spaced repetition. (Present-day spaced repetition systems have an algorithm built into them.)
Another vocabulary tip is learning the most frequenly used words first. These are the words you are encounter most when reading. (Gabriel Wyner recommends a shortcut to find the most frequent words: word frequency lists. Unlike today, language learners in the 1970s had no access to word frequency lists based on large corpora.)

Since the book was written in the 1970s, some of the technologies mentioned in the book are outdated. However, when one replaces “cassette” and “tape recorder” with, for example, MP3 and Audacity, Pimsleur's advice is still applicable today.

The section Language Research on the Pimsleur website is also useful.

How To Learn Any Language (1991)

Farber, Barry: How To Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and on Your Own. New York: Citadel Press (Kensington Publishing Corp.), 1991. ISBN 0-8065-1271-1.
See also the YouTube video Learn Any Language with Barry Farber (2 minutes). One of the techniques in the book is explained in the YouTube video Superflashcards (by Ruben Quinones).

How To Learn a Foreign Language (1991)

Fuller, Graham E.: How To Learn a Foreign Language. Storm King Press, 1991. ISBN 0935166025 (102 pages).
Graham Fuller has written mostly about the Middle East and Islam. On the webpage about the book, he describes himself as a language expert (…) whose career has required him to learn more than a dozen languages.

How to Study Foreign Languages (1999)

Lewis, M.: How to Study Foreign Languages. Palgrave Study Guides. Palgrave Study Guides. Palgrave, 1999. (272 pages) ISBN 9780333736678.
From the publisher's book description: A practical reference for university and senior secondary school students. Theories are explained in straight-forward language, including factors that affect the learning of languages, such as motivation, memory and a range of strategies initiated by students themselves.
See also the table of contents.

Sprachen lernen (2000)

Kleinschroth, Robert: Sprachen lernen: Der Schlüssel zur richtigen Technik. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 2000 (2012).

This book describes techniques for learning vocabulary and grammar, and for improving reading skills, writing skills, listening skilss and oral skills. The book is mainly based on the author's experience with teaching English; the author does not appear to have any experience with non-Indo-European languages. The book also predates the development of electronic spaced repetition systems, so the chapter about learning vocabulary explains a system with paper-based flash cards as recommended by Paul Schmidt and described by Sebastian Leitner.

Apprendre les langues (2001)

Rondal, Jean-Adolphe; Comblain, Annick: Apprendre les langues: Où, quand, comment ? Mardaga, 2001. (136 pages) ISBN 978-2870097649.

Developing Professional-Level Language Proficiency (2002)

Leaver, Betty Lou; Shekhtman, Boris (eds.): Developing Professional-Level Language Proficiency. Cambridge University Press, 2002. (324 pages) ISBN 9780521016858.
This book examines approaches to teaching students who aim to make the leap from 'advanced' or 'superior' proficiency in a foreign language to 'near-native' ability.

Speak Like a Native (2004)

Janich, Michael D.: Speak Like a Native: Professional Secrets for Mastering Foreign Languages. Paladin Press, 2004. (132 pages) ISBN 978-1-58160-452-8.
A guidebook with rules and tips for learning foreign languages based on the author's experience with learning Chinese and Vietnamese.

Language Hungry (2006)

Murphey, Tim: Language Hungry: An Introduction to Language Learning Fun and Self-Esteem. Helbling Languages, 2006. ISBN 978-3-902504-78-4.
From the publisher's description: Language Hungry! teaches you how to learn in an effective way while exploiting your brain's potential. You will learn not to waste time and resources, have more control over your thoughts and increase your fun and success within the classroom.

Language is Music (2009)

Zaraysky, Susanna: Language is Music: Over 70 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages Fast. Cupertino, CA: Kaleidomundi, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9820189-9-6.
See also the interview with Luca Lampariello and Susanna Zaraysky and Susanna Zaraysky's article Music and TV for homework? Really? Yes. Sí. Oui. Да. نعم.

Sprachenlernen leichtgemacht! (2010)

Birkenbihl, Vera F.: Sprachenlernen leichtgemacht! Die Birkenbihl-Methode Fremdsprachen zu lernen. München: mvg Verlag, 2010.
The 2010 edition of the book (the 33rd reprint) is a major revision of the original book. The book reached its 37th reprint in 2015.

See also Die Birkenbihl-Methode zum Sprachenlernen im Detail erklärt by Jeremy-James Peter on the Sprachheld blog (10.02.2017).

Le don des langues (2012)

Snauwaert, Fabien: Le don des langues: Attitudes, stratégies et techniques pour réussir en langues vivantes. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. (242 pages). ISBN 978-1468159226.
Fabien Snauwaert is the founder of; he also has a YouTube channel.

Fluent Forever (2014)

Wyner, Gabriel: Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. New York: Harmony Books, 2014.
See also On Hacking Language Learning (And Rachmaninoff's 'Dream') (video, 21 minutes). This is a presentation in which Gabriel Wyner explains his own experiences with learning foreign languages and how his learning method came into being.
See also the YouTube vidoe Gabriel Wyner on Becoming Fluent Forever (YouTube, 15.09.2017, 43 minutes), in which Olly Linge interviews Gabriel Wyner, and I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here's How by Gabriel Wyner (19 April 2012.)

This book explains a lot of cognitive psychology that is relevant to learning in general and learning languages in particular. It also gives very practical advices about techniques (e.g. spaced repetition) and tools.
The accompanying website provides lots of materials that complement the book, for example a base vocabulary list, a brief description of the method and tutorials and model decks for Anki.

Fluent in 3 Months (2014)

Lewis, Benny: Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World. HarperCollins, 2014 (256 p.).

Benny Lewis is an Irishman who did not enjoy learning languages before reaching adulthood, when he started looking for more efficient and enjoyable methods. The result is the above book, a website, a TEDx talk and a YouTube channel (and another YouTube channel). Some of his blog posts are about language hacks; some of these blog posts focus on specific languages, while others are more general.
His most important piece of advice is to start speaking from the first day instead of worrying about mistakes. Some language learners find that Benny Lewis' method is something for extroverts. Lewis also wrote a controversial blog post titled The Shy Delusion (claiming, for example, that only 1% of people are introverts), which drew some criticism, for example on the website Fluency for Introverts.

Many language learners have published reviews of the book, for example

Some other polyglots and language learners have pointed out that becoming fluent in a language within three months is not realistic. Below are some videos related to Benny Lewis's Mandarin challenge:

Benny Lewis also produced a few other books, namely Language Hacking Spanish, Language Hacking French Language Hacking German and Language Hacking Italian. See the Language Hacking website, the YouTube review by Ophelia Vert (28.09.2017) and Steve Kaufmann's video Hacking Benny Lewis' Language Hacking Books (09.10.2017).

Becoming Fluent (2015)

Roberts, Richard M.; Kreuz, Roger J.: Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language. MIT Press, 2015. (248 p.) ISBN 9780262029230 (paper) / 9780262330459 (e-book).

L'acquisition de plusieurs langues (2015)

Kail, Michèle: L'acquisition de plusieurs langues. Que sais-je? 4005. Presses Universitaires de France, 2015. (128 pages) ISBN 978-2-13-063047-0.

Parler plusieurs langues (2015)

Grosjean, François: Parler plusieurs langues: Le monde des bilingues. Albin Michel, 2015. (240 pages) ISBN 9782226312600.

Brave Language Learning (2015)

Kostrzewski, Wiktor: Brave Language Learning: Why and How Becoming Multilingual Must Happen Your Way. Bookbaby, 2015. Leanpub, 2017.

Techniken des Sprachenlernens (2016)

Keller, Gustav: Techniken des Sprachenlernens. Ratgeber für Schule und Weiterbildung. Baltmannsweiler : Schneider-Verl. Hohengehren, 2016. (124 pages)
ISBN 978-3-8340-1479-5

How to Speak Any Language Fluently (2017)

Rawlings, Alex: How to Speak Any Language Fluently. Robinson, 2017. (224 pages) ISBN 9781472138569.
The book cover promises Fun, stimulating and effective methods to help anyone learn languages faster. The publisher says on their website that readers will [l]earn how to get the most out of language courses, books and your own environment to be able to speak, read and write any language.

Basics of Language for Language Learners

Culicover, Peter W.; Hume, Elizabeth V.: Basics of Language for Language Learners. Second edition. Ohio State University Press, 2017. (264 pages) ISBN 978-0-8142-5443-1.
From the publisher's book description: (…)Learning a language involves so much more than just rote memorization of rules. Basics of Language for Language Learners, 2nd edition, by Peter W. Culicover and Elizabeth V. Hume, systematically explores all the aspects of language central to second language learning: the sounds of language, the different grammatical structures, the social functions of communication, and the psychology of language learning and use.
Unlike books specific to one single language, Basics of Language will help students of all languages. Readers will gain insight into the structure and use of their own language and will therefore see more clearly how the language they are learning differs from their first language. (…)
A new section, “Tools and Strategies for Language Learning,” has been added to this second edition. It comprises three chapters that focus on brain training, memory and using a dictionary. In addition, the section “Thinking Like a Native Speaker” has been substantially updated to include more discussion of errors made by language learners.

The (German) Volume Method

The Volume Method (or German Volume Method) is a self-learning approach based on overlearning. The method was formulated by the linguist Christophe Clugston based on information on performance enhancement methods from East Germans he met in the early 1990s and on research.
Clugston points out that the Volume Method (or any other self-learning method) does not replace the classroom experience and that tonal languages such as Standard Chinese do not lend themselves to self-learning. He also points out that the Volume Method is for serious study only, not for people who want to play with languages. It works for any level and you need to spend 1 to 4 hours per day on language learning. It probably takes 10 months to get through a single “cycle”.
The language is described in a PDF file that you can buy on Clugston's website (payment through PayPal); Clugston also sells “Right Brain Extensions”.
Clugston's YouTube channel has several videos about the Volume Method (though they don't give too many details): ELITE language learning, How to get the German Volume Method (8 November 2013), How to Language Learn with Volume Method (12 November 2013) and Are you a volume head, language learning update (25 November 2013, see ZacharyWSarette, below).
Christophe Clugston has indicated in a blog comment that he considers total physical response (TPR) as the best teaching method for beginners, and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) as a method for going further.

Clugston's description does not focus on any specific language but some users of the method have described their experiences on blogs and in forums. For discussions and reviews of the method, see for example the discussion Clugston's "German Volume Method" on the LingQ forums (started November 2013), German Volume Method (Eastern Bloc Volume Method) on (11.11.2013; see also the related blog posts), German Method: Japanese and Korean Plans on (01.12.2013; there is a brief comment by Christophe Clugston at the end), German Volume Update: Dropping Korean on (05.12.2013; the author concludes that the Volume Method is too intensive to use for two languages at the same time).

The Iversen Method

Books About Learning in General

Books are listed in chronological order (year of publication).

Learning How to Learn (1984)

Novak, Joseph D.; Gowin, D. Bob: Learning How to Learn. Cambridge University Press, 1984. (216 pages) ISBN 9780521319263.

Neurodidaktik (2006)

Hermann, Ulrich (Hrsg.): Neurodidaktik: Grundlagen und Vorschläge für gehirngerechtes Lehren und Lernen. Weinheim: Beltz, 2006. ISBN 3-407-25413-X.

Enhancing the Quality of Learning (2012)

Kirby, John R.; Lawson, Michael J.: Enhancing the Quality of Learning: Dispositions, Instruction, and Learning Processes. Cambridge University Press, 2012. (414 pages). ISBN 9780521199421.

Deep Learning (2013)

Ohlsson, Stellan: Deep Learning: How the Mind Overrides Experience. Cambridge University Press, 2013. (540 pages) ISBN 9781107661363.

Make It Stick (2014)

Brown, Peter C.; Roediger, Henry L. III; McDaniel, Mark A.: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge, MA, London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014 (336 p.).

This book was written by two professors of cognitive psychology (Roediger and McDaniel) who teamed up with a novelist. The book is not specifically about learning languages but about learning in general. Many people learn in an ineffective way, but research in cognitive psychology has helped discover better techniques and habits. Many of these techniques and habits are counterintuitive.

The book itself also uses two important learning principles: spaced repetition of important ideas and the interleaving of different but related topics. It is up to the reader how to apply the learning techniques and habits to the study of languages; “language” does not even have an entry in the index.

Brian Johnson summarises five important point from the book in his YouTube video Make It Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger & Mark McDaniel (15 minutes).

A Mind for Numbers (2014)

Oakley, Barbara: A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher (Penguin Group USA), 2014. (316 pages) ISBN 978-0-399-16524-5.
This book is recommended (but not required) reading for the MOOC Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects on Coursera. See Barbara Oakley's blog post Learning How (Not) To Learn (31 July 2014) and the interview with Olly Richards: Learning How To Learn: Mastering the Science of Learning with Barbara Oakley (YouTube, 13.07.2017, 50 minutes).

How We Learn (2015)

Carey, Benedict: How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens. PenguinRandomHouse, 2015. (272 pages) ISBN 9780812984293.
This book was written by the science reporter of The New York Times, who has read many studies about neurological side of learning and formulates a number of techniques that can help people to learn better. See also the review in Scientific American Mind (2014) and Rebecca Gottlieb's review.

Ultralearning (2019)

Young, Scott H.: Ultralearning: Accelerate Your Career, Master Hard Skills and Outsmart the Competition. HarperCollins, 2019. (304 pages) ISBN 9780008305703.
From the publisher's book description: Scott Young incorporates the latest research about the most effective learning methods and the stories of other ultralearners like himself—among them Ben Franklin, Judit Polgar, and Richard Feynman, as well as a host of others, such as little-known modern polymaths like Nigel Richards who won the World Championship of French Scrabble—without knowing French. See also Ultralearning on Scott Young's website, Learn Faster with The Feynman Technique (video) on YouTube (22.08.2011) and Learn Faster with the Feynman Technique on Scott Young's blog (01.09.2011).

Websites about Language Learning Methods

The Linguist (Steve Kaufmann)

Steve Kaufmann is a Canadian who spoke only English until the age of 17, but who can now speak twelve languages. He is co-founder of LingQ, an online language learning system and Web 2.0 community, whose members from all over the world help each other learn up to 21 languages. His blog The Linguist on Language covers many aspects of language learning: techniques, tools, activities, motivation, hacks for specific languages (e.g. for Chinese), etcetera. His YouTube channel LingoSteve's Language Corner hosts the videos embedded in his blog posts but these can be watched independently of those blog posts. One of his playlists is called The Seven Secrets of Language Learning and is worth watching if you are new to learning foreign languages or if you are frustrated by slow progress. One of his other playlists is about strategies and techniques.
His videos sometimes have shortcomings. For example, in the video More on Fluency Strategy and the CEFR Levels (25.10.2016; 8 minutes) he makes statements such as, B2 is a precondition for being fluent. This shows that he does not understand the difference between fluency and proficiency. The CEFR levels that Mr. Kaufman talks about (A1 — C2) are proficiency levels. The CEFR clearly distinguishes between fluency and proficiency; it also defines provides descriptors for fluency at each of the six levels. Simply put, fluency is being good at what you know, even when your proficiency is at a low level. In other words, you can use and apply what you know without hesitation. You can achieve this at any level and for any language skill, not just speaking. (See e.g. Paul Nation's talks about fluency in reading.)
Steve Kaufmann also wrote a book: The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey, AuthorHouse, 2005. (140 pages) ISBN 978-1-42087-329-0.

The Polyglot Dream

The Polyglot Dream is a website by the Italian polyglot Luca Lampariello, who claims fluency in 10 languages. His website offers strategies, not hacks, for learning languages. The central concept of his method is his focus on developing a solid language core: the ability to put words and sounds together in order to talk to people about what interests me in a natural way. He also has a YouTube channel; one of his playlists is about language learning strategies, another is about phonetics.

Alexander Arguelles

Foreign Language Expertise is a site by Alexander Arguelles, a linguistics professor from the USA (currently working at the American University in the Emirates) who has devoted his life to studying languages. He can read over thirty languages (including older ones such as Old Norse, Middle Dutch and Ancient Greek). He also has a YouTube channel. He discusses a few language learning techniques on his website and in his “Methodology” playlist.

FLR Method

FLR Method is a website by Moses McMormick, who is also known as Laoshu505000 on YouTube. FLR stands for Foreign Language Road Running Technique. The website mainly exists to sell language courses (for more than 40 languages) and tutoring services.
The site does not explain how the FLR method works, but it is possible to find descriptions, reviews and testimonials on YouTube and elsewhere:

Fast n' Fluent

Fast n' Fluent is a French website with tips that should help you to learn a foreign language faster. See also Fast n' Fluent on YouTube.

Other Resources about Language Learning Methods

Routines and Study Schedules

(Self) Experiments (Accelerated Learning)