Language Learning Techniques

Recommended Techniques

The techniques in this category are supported by research.

Other Techniques

The techniques in this category are not supported by research but have been developed or recommended by experienced language learners. (Some of these techniques are only listed here until I can find research about it.)

Language Immersion

Memory Palace or “Method of Loci”

The method of loci is a mnemonic technique that dates to ancient Greece and Rome. However, the only type of research it has been subjected to involved brain scans

Gold List “Method/Methodology” or Goldlist Method

The “gold list method” is a vocabulary learning technique (not a method) invented by Viktor D. Huliganov / David J. James / Uncle Davey. The technique is based on the forgetting curve that Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered in the late 19th century. Its goal is long-term memory acquisition.

First, some descriptions and tutorials by “Uncle Davey”:

Some descriptions and comments by other language learners:

Extensive Reading

See also intensive reading, below.

Oral Skills

The following links are for people who feel shy speaking a foreign language:

The FORCE Cycle

Keith Swayne (known as “CanadianLinguist” on YouTube) formulated a technique that he dubbed the FORCE cycle. It is a strategy for building spoken proficiency in your target language. See the following blog posts and the YouTube videos they contain:

The FORCE cycle is a system to improve your speaking and listening skills in a foreign language. The method relies on speaking in your target language and preparing for this by anticipating certain things (vocabulary and grammar) that may come up in the conversation. The idea is that you work through a specific cycle while talking to native speakers of your target language. Each FORCE cycle should bring you closer to your long-term objectives in your target language. FORCE stands for Focus, Organise, Rehearse, Communicate, Evaluate.

The first phase, focus, is about things that you will need soon and often. These things should be part of your life and that you would also talk about in your native language, e.g. your family, your language learning, your work, your home country, your native language. There are two types of focus: a topic or theme to talk about, and a skill (e.g. how to order coffee, how to receive or accept an invitation). The focus should be specific; you should to yourself something like, “I am going to learn how to buy a hard drive for my computer in Spanish.” By limiting the focus, you make the preparation of the conversation more manageable.

The second phase, organise, is about collecting vocabulary, phrases and language patterns that you will use to talk about the topic that you selected from your focus. Memorising the vocabulary and grammar patterns is not sufficient to become bilingual, you also need to use them. You can collect the vocabulary and phrases from all kinds of sources: textbooks, phrase books, advertisements, Wikipedia articles, conversations you overhear, films, etcetera. Swayne recommends writing these things down by hand instead of using a smart phone or a computer. When you ask native speakers how do say certain things, you need to be careful about how you phrase your question. Don't ask for translations of sentences in your native languages, but ask questions like, “Tell me how you would shop for a smart phone in Spanish.” This will give much more authentic input. (A good dictionary will also provide sample phrases that you can use.) The amount of material you organise depends on the level of proficiency you have: at the beginner level, you should limit the materials to a single page; you can increase this as your proficiency increases.

The third phase, rehearse, is about rehearsing the materials you collected during the “organise” phase until you know that you can use them in conversation. You should not take on too much; the goal is to say much but to say it well. Make sure that you can pronounce the words and phrases well. You should say them out loud. Swayne recommends learning the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is used in many dictionaries. He also recommends Forvo, a site where you can find the pronunciation of words in many languages. If you have recordings, learn to imitate them as closely as you can. If you are confronted with long words or phrases, it is more efficient to start with the last syllable (or word) and gradually add the parts in front of it; this is more efficient than moving from the first syllable (or word) to the last.

The fourth phase, communicate, is about the actual conversations. Conversations are the most natural way of learning languages. Using a foreign language by communicating with people who know the language better than you will ensure steady progress. The goal of the conversation is not to dominate it but to keep it going so you get a lot of input in your target language. You should also be prepared for comments about how well (or badly) you speak the language. You need to be prepared for this, for example, by learning the culturally appropriate way to respond to compliments. (For example, in Chinese and Japanese, you are supposed to be humble or modest about your skills.) The conversations need not be too long, to avoid that you get tired or lose track. Swayne recommends 15 minutes or less at the beginning, and that you gradually build up to longer conversations later on. You will also need to get good at circumlocution: if you don't know a certain word, try to describe the concept instead of relying on translations. Sometimes you will have to guess the meaning of words or phrases based on context, body language and other clues. It is also useful to learn to say, “I don't know yet how to say that in your language.”

In the last phase, evaluate, you take notes on a few specific questions. Swayne recommends that you do this using pen and paper instead of in your head. The questions are the following:

Language Deconstruction

Language deconstruction is a technique by Tim Ferris that helps you find out what a language is like before you start learning it. See How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour (Plus: A Favor) (7 November 2011). Tim Ferris also briefly describes the technique in his YouTube video How to Learn a New Language Fast (2 minutes).
Some people have applied the technique to specific languages:

Overcoming Language Plateaus

Overcoming language plateaus or fossilisation:

Reacquisition (Relearning a Forgotten or Neglected Language)

Pronunciation

Mimic Method

The mimic method is a way to improve your pronunciation in a foreign language. The method was invented by Idahosa Ness, who claims to be fluent in six languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Mandarin and German). (Idahosa Ness also created an online course on How to Build a Language-Tutoring Business on the Cloud. The course is available on Udemy.)

Various Vocabulary Learning Techniques

Various Memory Techniques

Journaling and Notetaking Techniques

The Bullet Journal was developed by Ryder Carroll. It helps you keep track of things to do and things you've done in a paper notebook instead of a digital system. It was not developed with language learning in mind but can be used to keep track of your language learning efforts. See the book The Bullet Journal Method (Portfolio, October 2018, 320 pages, ISBN 9780525533337).

There are other journal techniques, journal ideas and notetaking techniques that are relevant to language learning:

Unsorted Techniques

Language Learning Strategies

Language learning strategies refers to the processes and actions that are consciously deployed by language learners to help them to learn or use a language more effectively (Wikipedia).
Strategies are commonly divided into learning strategies and communicative strategies, although there are other ways of categorizing them. Learning strategies are techniques used to improve learning, such as mnemonics or using a dictionary. Communicative strategies are strategies a learner uses to convey meaning even when she doesn't have access to the correct form, such as using pro-forms like thing, or using non-verbal means such as gestures. (Wikipedia, emphasis added.)

The references below cover mostly academic resources about strategies in general.

Shadowing: see separate page about shadowing.

Listening Skills

Learning Grammar

Motivation

This is a temporary section; the content may move to a different page in the future.

Techniques Sorted by Goal

Technique Vocabulary Grammar Oral Skills Listening Skills Writing Skills Reading Skills Other Skills / Comments
Spaced repetition Yes Yes (cloze tests) Strictly speaking spaced testing
Keyword technique or keyword mnemonic Yes
Extensive reading Yes ? (Yes) Yes
Intensive reading Yes (Yes) (Yes) Yes
Memory palace or “method of loci” Yes
Gold list Yes
FORCE cycle (Yes) (Yes) Yes (Yes)
Language deconstruction (Yes) Orientation technique
Mass input / 10,000 sentences Yes (Yes?)
Mimic method Yes Pronunciation

Other Tips and Advice

Learning multiple languages without getting confused: