Self-Study Guide: Why Your Language Learning Method Isn’t Working

Quick update: First of all, let me apologize for not updating in a while. I have moved from China to the USA and from Boston to Virginia and have now begun studying for the LSAT. Whew! I’m back to a regular routine and you guys should see regular posts from me now!

If you’re self-studying or self-learning Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, French or any language, there are so many reasons why a language learning method could fail that you could be completely unaware of. After all, there is no one identifying your shortcomings or problem areas in language study for you. You have to do it all by yourself. When I began to learn Japanese and Korean in high school I did not know this and it was pretty devastating. When things slowed down or I couldn’t remember Japanese words, I got so freakin’ pissed! Why wasn’t all my hard work paying off!? How long does this stupid crap take?! Why am I not fluent!? How do I learn Japanese faster?! I was rightfully frustrated, but at the wrong things. I was angry at everything else except how I was actually studying.


What I have come to understand is that the language learning method is just as important as the content you actually learn. You must spend as much time as you need to in the beginning to establish a good study method. That does not mean blindly following one program (like Pimsleur, Rocket Language or anything else). It means making an amalgamation of different resources and programs to help you learn as efficiently and deeply as possible. You recommend using multiple programs and study methods (like using music, movies [WITH NO SUBTITLES OR ONLY TARGET LANGUAGE SUBTITLES], shows, shadowing, interpreting, etc) to reinforce material you’ve learned and cement new material. Your study method is the vessel through which another language becomes ‘your own’. If you haven’t figured out HOW to learn languages, then you are going to have a hard time.

Many things can go wrong with your language learning method and it is imperative that you identify what they are

If you’re like me, you swooped down upon Google like a hawk searching for effective study methods or how other people are learning languages. Let me be the first to say, even with scientific research suggesting the best TIME to learn a language (that being until age 4), there is NO consensus as to the best WAY to learn a language. So, if you Googled “best way to learn French” or “best way to learn Korean” or even if you simply Googled “how to learn Chinese” or “how to learn Spanish”, you will find a MYRIAD of different methods from the professional programs to the independent students (like myself). So while I cannot tell you the best way to learn Japanese, Korean, Spanish or whatever, I can give you as many methods as I know of, let you choose a best method for you, and tell you what you could be doing wrong in your studies. So you wanna know why your language learning method isn’t working? Read on, my wayward reader.



Not Enough Practice


One of the BIGGEST mistakes I see language learners make is not planning enough practice into your language learning method. You can use BTS songs to learn Korean or French movies to learn French all you want, but if you don’t practice what you learn enough, then you will find that your listening skills will be great but your speaking skills will be abysmal. And you can take that to the bank! If you want to learn to speak French or Korean as well as you listen, then you should practice what you learn equal to the amount of time you study it.


Here’s is my personal commandment:

If thou study a grammar point for two hours, thou shalt practice using that grammar point for two hours.


You can practice with a tutor, a friend, or a language partner you find on iTalki. They literally pop out of the wazoo, so you will have NO TROUBLE finding some. They are typically trying to learn English. So you help them learn English and they help you learn your target language.


Not Enough Immersion

This one is pretty devastating to a language learner because typically if they lack immersion, they lack both listening skills and speaking skills. Now you don’t have to go to another country like Germany, for example, to get immersed in German. You can immerse yourself right at home for free and the benefits are endless. The more you listen to natural paced speech, the better your listening comprehension will be. The more you listen to natural and common speech, the further cemented your grammar studies will be and more deeply understood how to use them correctly.


The only disadvantage to immersion is that it can be frustrating if you feel things are going too fast or if there are words you don’t know or understand. For this I have only one recommendation, keep watching or listening. Don’t stop because you don’t understand certain things. Keep going and focus on what you do understand. Then after you’re done, go back and learn what you didn’t know.


How to immerse yourself: watch the news everyday, listen to podcasts, watch Youtube videos, listen to music, read articles, read books, change the language on your laptop or phone, watch movies (WITH NO SUBTITLES OR ONLY SUBTITLES IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE, otherwise watching movies is just for fun not learning), listen to a radio station, watch a tv show, follow a blog, join the common social media platform, follow people on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr that speak your language.



Too Much Time Taking Notes


People are obsessed with notebooks and journals these days! It’s kind of superfluous in my opinion. Language learning is made easier with neat notes, but you don’t need different colored markers, crazy fonts, pictures or doodles in your notebook. It’s extraneous and kind of a waste of time to me. All too often, I see language learners spending more time making their notebooks look pretty than actually studying the language. Then wonder why they’re stuck in HSK 2 or TOPIK 1. Personally, I keep things as simple as possible with simple notes and simple formulas to write grammar points (I will explain that in another post).



Lack of Organization


Because the fate of your language learning is your hands, you are, therefore, responsible for the organization of that language learning. So make sure you are as organized as possible so you have a few excuses as possible to keep you from studying. Have a daily, weekly, and monthly plan for your studies. If you need help making these schedules, I offer a Schedule Creation Service where I can personally make your schedules for you! You can learn more about it here.



Not Understanding Your Study Style

The majority of language learners feel stuck when deciding how to study grammar or vocabulary because they don’t know which way will be best for them. Here, it is best to know how you learn the best and what is your style. For some, making flashcards is better. For others, writing out new words is better. There are even some that only type notes but remember through listening to audio over and over. You can even learn vocabulary through videos and use the context of the video to help you remember the words and then later reinforce with flashcards.


There is no better way to find out what works than by trying these methods out for yourself. Experiment with different ways to study and learn, then document what worked and what didn’t.


Methods to try: flashcards, online flashcards, audio only, writing only, images only, images and words, videos and flashcards, only videos.



Making a Method To Help You Learn Faster


I know that you’ve Googled ‘how to learn French fast’. Might as well own up to it. But here’s the deal. When we define what we mean by fast, I’m assuming ‘fast’ means in a short period of time. So what you’re really asking is, how do I learn French in the shortest period possible? This is a terrible question to ask. Why? Because there is NO WAY to learn a language as fast as you want to. Language learners need to understand that even the best language learning method will not help you learn a language in just a few months (sorry, Fluent in 3 Months). Language learning takes time (a lot of time) and if you actually want to speak the language well, then you should take all the time you need to learn the language.


Too many language learner’s methods don’t work because they assume that it should be fast and so they make a method they think will speed up the process. As a result, their language learning is sloppy and they will forget content all the time. It’s pretty half-assed to be honest. When they realize this, they quit.

“Don’t be half-assed.” – Einsten (probably)

Don’t be half-assed. Don’t create your method assuming that it will make the language learning process faster. It won’t.

I also have a Youtube vid about why you shouldn’t aim to learn languages faster if you still need to be convinced:



Using Apps


I’m going to keep this short. If your method consists mostly of apps like Duolingo, you’re doing it wrong. Duolingo is great for if you have free time while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, on the train or on the toilet, but do not rely on it for your main studies. It’s only practice.



Whew! Sorry this is so long, but I hope I gave you some helpful information about what may be slowing down your self-study language learning. Hopefully you will take this tips and integrate it into your own studies and create your own best way to learn a language.

Save to Pinterest:

Pinterest Template 103


You should also visit:

How To Find Your Own Study Style

How I Study Languages

Language Coaching

How To Create a Customized Self-Study Schedule



11 thoughts on “Self-Study Guide: Why Your Language Learning Method Isn’t Working

  1. Great article! I’m an EFL Trainer and my mind has been repeatedly blown over the years to hear how many students have been trying the same strategy for literally 20 years with no improvement. They’re convinced that if they just keep doing what they’re doing, they’ll one day magically speak.

    I was interested in what you said in your post about listening comprehension coming from “immersion”, especially from watching movies. Personally I tell my students not to count watching movies in their spare time as “study time” because I feel it gives them the impression that they “practice” a lot, when really they’re just reading the subtitles. In my experience with my students, it’s a very slow strategy that most people don’t have time for.

    I would love to hear what you think about this strategy ( as a way to accelerate listening comprehension increase. It’s my go-to strategy for students that love watching videos and movies to help them “count” their fun time. I always tell them to do this for just a few minutes, maybe a full scene of a movie or TV show, and then kick back and relax the movie, knowing that at least you’ve studied a little bit. I try to help my students see the difference between “effective learning” and “fun time.” Though effective learning can be fun, not all fun is effective learning.


    1. That’s a great point that I did not include in my post. I do not watch the movie with English subtitles at all! I watch it with the target language subtitles so that in that way, it is ‘study time’ because I’m actually studying the movie. I’ve done it a million times and it has taught me such awesome grammar and vocab, but you’re right. I need to make it clear that I’m not watching with English subtitles! Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, my students are studying English, so when they use English subtitles, they’re just reading, not listening. You can see that because after they watch a short video they ask what a certain word means, and their pronunciation is completely incorrect. If they were listening, they would be much closer at least in phonetics, if not accent. But what you said in your response makes complete sense about grammar and vocab. Do you find that it’s possible for you to simultaneously focus on listening and reading? Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy, but I can’t do that xD


      2. Well, the point of the subtitles is not to read it off. It’s to be there just in case there is something you didn’t understand so you know exactly what was said so you can look it up. I have enough discipline to not read off the subtitles but not everyone does. So I totally understand your problem with the reading instead of listening. I think in that case, you should definitely remove the subtitles all together to encourage better listening and pronunciation. Maybe a good course of action for self-studiers would be to watch the whole thing without subtitles and then if there’s anything that is unclear, try to rewatch it with subtitles. Or switch the order. But for your students, maybe without subtitles for homework and then the same video with subtitles to go over everything or vice versa.


      3. That makes sense. You do sound like you have more self-discipline than most people I know. xD

        So do you feel that you are able to accurately diagnose the reason why you didn’t understand something? That’s another thing that I’ve struggled with. Most students tell me “it’s too fast!” But that doesn’t make sense to me because they understand their native language at that speed. The way I see it, it’s probably either vocab or accent. Either they don’t know the words at the snap of a finger, or they’ve studied by reading (subtitles) so although they “know” the word, the “mp3 file” attached to that word in their head sounds much different due to subvocalization. So I generally tell students to use a short clip (1 minute) with that exercise I linked as a diagnostic tool to know what they need to focus on.


  2. Also! (Feel free not to publish this comment) I see that a few of your posts don’t have tags, so I’m pretty sure only your followers will see them. Maybe that’s intentional, but I think you should share your posts with the world!


    1. Haha! No worries! It’s because I did a bunch of research and found that tags are irrelevant to helping my content reach a broader audience. The new ‘tags’ are the keywords you use in the post itself. The tags are also only for WP. 🙂


      1. Good to know! Do you have an article that you felt explained that particularly well? I assume you’re talking about SEO. But every time I look up SEO I get overwhelmed and just go back to writing what I write. My blog is 90% for my students, and I just send them links that are relevant for them. But you sound like you’ve got a firm grasp on this stuff.


  3. Hey Lili! Sorry if I’m commenting too much off topic, but permit me one more question. You have the perspective of a language learner. When you read/hear about language learning strategies, are you more likely to pay attention or try it out if it comes from a teacher or from a student? Or doesn’t it matter to you? Thank you for your time!


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