3 Self- Study Language Learning Methods and How to Use Them

Note: It’s been a WHILE since my last update. I just got a new job and it is EXHAUSTING. I’m going to try to pump out two to three posts a week now that my schedule has changed. Sorry for dropping off the map, good folks! Now on to the language learning!!

When you begin to study languages, it can be a hot mess. Not even gonna lie to you, when I first started I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So I went about my language learning knowing I wasn’t doing something right, but not knowing why or what the solution was. For months, I was just pissed and confused. I hated my textbooks and I felt like most of the materials offered online via online video courses and stuff mostly sucked. They had the same format over and over. Define vocabulary and grammar and then use them in sentences. Define vocabulary and grammar and then use them in sentences. Repeat for eternity. Each would claim they were soooo different.

“No! No! We’re BETTER than those other guys because we have this cool integrated dictionary! Ha! Take that Rosetta Stone!” – Language Program X

(No shade on integrated dictionaries) They claim their program will work but they’re all the same as the rest. The method just wasn’t working for me and I didn’t know if there were other options! (Hint: there are)

I’ve taken the liberty of researching three language learning methods and demonstrating what they can look like combined into one study schedule tailor directly to YOU. Stay tuned for resources, in depth methods and an example study schedule for you (courtesy of my made up pal, Beth)

1. Shadow Method

Description: Method that allows you to learn a language simply by repeating phrases and then breaking down their content (see Pimsleur)


Retention: ***

Fluency: **

Time Needed: ****

Review: the shadow method is great for those pressed for time or just want to learn basics for going on vacation or a short trip. I do not recommend this method for long term learners who are going for fluency. It is monotonous and the retention disappears after a while. If you do plan to use this method, ALWAYS combine it will another.

How to use by yourself:

Option 1: Choose a video, movie or clip of your choosing (example, Youtube video of native speaker talking about makeup) with subtitles in both the target language and English available. Make sure you choose a video that isn’t TOO difficult, i.e. people talking too damn fast (no one needs that if you aren’t at that level yet). For every single single sentence, stop the video and repeat five times till you understand and can repeat by yourself.

Option 2: Get Pimsleur

2. Natural Method

Summary: This method requires that you have NO ENGLISH in your learning. You learn through body language, visual and audio cues, and context. For example, you learn vocabulary through images or clips that demonstrate that vocabulary word.


Retention: ****

Fluency: *****

Time Needed: **

Review: This is my favorite method of language learning because I understand everything the way native speakers do. There is little that is lost in translation because I’m not getting a translation, just the language. I HIGHLY recommend this method for long term language learners who aim for high fluency. I especially recommend this method for East Asian language learners (especially Korean) and for Middle Eastern language learners. This languages are so difficult because they require you to change the way you thing to produce accurate language. You must learn to change the way to perceive certain ideas and there are many concepts that are very contextually specific. If you don’t fully understand these nuances, you’re screwed. But this method will help you understand them like the native speaker does.

This method, however, does take more time than some others. Finding material with no English can be a challenge, plus you are responsible for creating your own vocabulary lists and studying them repeatedly. Although, this takes more time at first, it will pay off GREATLY in the long run. Your language learning skills are gonna be SICK.


How To Use By Yourself:

I recommend using this method with the shadow method (study random vocabulary with the shaow method, then find video with target language subtitles only (NO ENGLISH) and integrate what you learned.

If you are a beginner, find children’s vocabulary lists and use the shadow method to listen and repeat EXACTLY as the native speaker over and over until you feel comfortable. Then once you have some basic vocabulary learned, look for children’s cartoons to watch with target language subtitles only and practice what you learned. If you encounter new vocabulary, try to guess based on context what it means, if not look it up in a picture dictionary.

You can also learn new vocabulary by reading children’s books.


3. The Goldlist Method

Summary: To learn new vocabulary, grammar and phrases write them five times, then five times the next day. Each time you repeat writing the list, you leave behind the words and grammar you felt like you’ve learned. That way you narrow down your list to only new material. After a while, return to the material you have left behind and review.


Retention: ***

Fluency: ****

Time Needed: ***

Review: This method is tedious, however has SCIENCE backing it up. According to experts in education and learning, writing things down by hand cements the written material into our brains and helps us learn and retain information faster. I can’t make this up! I have found this to be true for not only the character based languages I learn but the European ones as well. I don’t recommend using this method alone, but combined with the natural method has produced the best results. I think it works well to help me remember new words, the only downside is that you have to keep re-writing the words to actually get the retention effect. So it takes a bit of time (okay, it takes a HECKA lot of time), but again, the rewards are great, my friend. Just try not to focus on the throbbing pain in your hand…

Don’t concentrate on the finger or else you will miss all that heavenly glory.” – Bruce Lee



How To Combine

So how do you put these methods together? Like this!

For beginners:

Step 1: Find vocabulary lists (NO ENGLISH) with pictures for children on Youtube (lists of animal names, colors, weather, emotions, etc). Listen to them at least twice a day and repeat after the native speaker.

Step 2: Write down your new list of words

Step 3: Next day, shadow the native speaker again and re-write your vocabulary list leaving behind what you’ve learned.

Step 4: Repeat until you have learned the Youtube vocabulary list.

Step 5: Find a children’s book or children’s show (only target language subtitles) and practice your new vocabulary. If you encounter new vocabulary, add it to the list.

Step 6: Next day, shadow the children’s show and re-write your vocabulary list leaving behind what you have learned already.

Step 7: Repeat step 1 to 6


Beth is learning Korean (sup Beth). She has found a children’s vocabulary list with 25 basic words. She shadows the native speakers outloud and repeats after the speakers twice. She then writes her vocabulary list by hand five times in her notebook and draws an image of the vocabulary word instead of an English definition (if she’s lazy she’ll print a small image or cut one out of a magazine instead. Beth is relatable). The next day, she spends her morning rewriting the list leaving behind any words she has already learned or feels she knows well enough already. If there are no words she feels she has learned, she will re-write her entire vocabulary list five times. She will shadow the audio again once. The next day, she will shadow the audio, and re-write her vocabulary words five times each EXCEPT the words she feels like she has learned. She will repeat this process until she has learned all 25 words. Then Beth will choose a children’s show to watch to practice her listening comprehension. Beth is a good student, so she has no English subtitles only Korean subtitles. For any new words she encounters, she adds them to her vocabulary list. If she can guess the meaning based on the context, great! If not, she will look up the words in a picture dictionary. She will then shadow the children’s show and repeat the process.

Although Beth isn’t seeing instant improvement, she is gaining incredibly deep understanding and is retaining EVERYTHING she learns so she won’t waste time going back to it later. You go, Beth.

So there you have it! Here is a language study method that combines, THREE methods. Let me know if this method works for you down below in the comments! If it does, what really helps you? What changes would you make?

Thanks for reading! Here are some resources organized by language for beginners who would like to try this method!


Korean Children’s Vocabulary Lists With Pictures (Youtube)

  1. Animals
  2. My First 25 Words in Korean
  3. Vegetables
  4. Household Objects
  5. Tools
  6. Appliances
  7. Weather
  8. Emotions
  9. Colors

Korean Children’s Shows:

  1. Hutos Mini
  2. Kokomom

Chinese Children’s Vocabulary Lists With Pictures (Youtube)

  1. Family
  2. Who is this?
  3. Love
  4. Colors
  5. Idiom Stories (Chengyu)

Chinese Children’s Shows:

  1. Baby Panda Magic Tie

BONUS: Chinese Movie

  1. The Road Home (with Zhang Zi Yi)

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