Friday, July 10, 2009

how to make your own language learning method!

I think we all benefit from reading about various ways to learn languages. Whether we agree with the methods or not, they are interesting to read about and may spark new ideas. So I would like to write down some of my opinions about creating a language learning method.

The meaning of a method

For the purpose of this post, I'm going to try to decide what I'm talking about when I use the word "method." A method for learning languages or language acquisition may involve a series of steps, or a combination of tools that are used to go from point A in the language to point B. Some methods may be good for the beginning stages and other methods may be more appropriate for intermediate learners wanting to make the jump to advanced levels.

The methods that do not cover the full journey are often methods that have no changes in them. You are doing the same activities or using the same tools whether you are just starting to use that method or you are nearly finished with it. There are many examples of this in the commercial language learning arena. Publishers usually target the beginners and make sure their language learning system is not too complicated to understand. Publishing companies know there is a smaller return on making materials for advanced learners so they often don't provide enough content to get you beyond the beginner level.

But that does not mean the one-method-fits-all-levels of language learning could not work. Maybe Pimsleur and Assimil are really great methods. But if they offered a 4,000 lesson package, how many people would actually buy it? Most potential customers would say, "Whoah! I'll never get through that many lessons." And so they would give up before even starting.

Other methods will have the system divided between levels or stages. Activities or tools will be completely different for each phase. Essentially, those methods change focus for each level. There are many ways you could create one of these methods. A multi-tier approach defines what is believed to be important at each level and designs activities around those beliefs.

Creating your own method

Generally speaking, you would create a method that will take a language learner from zero knowledge to advanced fluency. Then, if you realize the limitations of the method, you could modify the method or simply modify the purpose of your language learning method.

But before you can create a method to learn languages, you need to be inspired. After all, methods do not spontaneously appear from thin air. There are two resources, other than pure genius, for obtaining inspiration. The best resources are text and voice.

By reading text, such as books or blogs, you can find many examples of what people are doing or what they think they did when they successfully learned a language. There are articles and journals with studies and research done on language learning and second language acquisition. There are also forums that you can read where many experienced language learners have gathered.

The other resource is the voice of actual people who have become bilingual. Ask everybody you know who has learned a foreign language how they accomplished this feat. When you find some really exceptional people, you should interview them and take notes or record the interview. You might decide to base your language learning method on what these people say.

How to be sure your method is working

You need to know that what you are doing in your method is actually working and completely necessary. It makes no sense to say, "Do A, B and C" when only A and C are necessary and yield the same results. An unnecessary element in your method is not only unhelpful, but it also creates a negative effect on your results! At the very least, the unnecessary activity uses up your energy and quite likely your time as well. At their worst, non-essential elements will unknowingly cause harm!

So if your method combines tactics, you'll need to test them out together, separately and in different configurations. Hopefully you are doing something measurable so that you may record the results and create a chart for comparison.

I do not recommend trying out a potpourri of tools and strategies and then calling that a method. You can obtain results and make some progress in learning a language by doing just about anything, so long as you keep doing it. But if you don't know why you're doing those activities and what kind of effect they are having, then you've just joined the millions of other language learners who don't know what they are doing either.

Remember to keep in mind that your past activities and experiences in learning the language are also having an effect on your current results. You cannot make claims like, "I tried doing method X for months and got nowhere, but after switching to method Y I'm experiencing big gains!" In reality, your time doing X prepared you for the gains you see from Y. So you'll need to try doing method Y on a new language. At least one that you've never done X with before. And then see if the gains automatically appear with the new method.

Is your method reproducible? Can you get the same results every time you use the method with different and new languages? Or do you find you have to make modifications when you run into languages that have features which weren't in your previously successful language learning experiences? Such as learning a new script. Or maybe it was a one-time success and it doesn't work when you try it on other languages or when other people try to use your method.

How to promote your method

The best way to promote your method is to create a blog like this one and document your experience as you go along. You'll want to give a description of your previous background with the language your method is being tested on. The best way to prove your current level is to create a video showing you using the language, speaking the language, or being utterly confused by the language. If you have no knowledge at all of the language, then you might just skip the proof of that. But once you've reached the point where you can show your skill, such as when you begin speaking the language, you should make a recording as evidence. Even just a voice recording would be better than nothing. Then later you'll be able to make recordings when you have made improvements and people will be able to compare and see or hear the difference.

In the meantime, you can go to the language forums and announce your entry into the contest for best language learning method. Whatever way you want, spread the word about your blog and let others follow your blog. If you show that your method is well thought out and based on sound principles, others may like to try it as well. This will help you figure out if your method is reproducible.

Once you've got your language learning method all figured out and have successfully learned or acquired several languages with it, you may want to write a book about it. This will help spread your language learning method around the world and you'll be helping as many people as possible to learn a new language.

How to handle the critics

No doubt, there are going to be a few, if not many, critics who do what they do best. They are going to criticize your method! But not to worry. That's just their job. They've got all kinds of reasons why your method won't succeed or work for them. Just remember, most of them will have never tried doing the very thing that they are saying won't work. So try not to let them bother you. After all, if they haven't attempted to correctly put your method into practice then they have nothing but unfounded arguments.

Even the best, most perfect, one-size-fits-all method won't work for everybody. Why? There will be people who try it and fail simply because they didn't execute the method properly. So for those who do attempt your method and don't get the same results, you need to figure out why. What did they do differently? What did you forget to tell them? There can be a number of factors and you won't likely figure it out except for people that you have face-to-face access to. Going back and forth on a forum or through email doesn't allow you the freedom to ask everything you want and won't guarantee that the responses are adequate.

Thank you for reading

I've probably missed a few points or ideas. But this should give you a lot to think about if you're creating the next must-try method for learning languages. Thank you for reading and feel free to post comments or even to create a link to this article!


Although I have written this article with the intention of it being error-free, I cannot guarantee the grammatical correctness or spelling accuracy of the content. I would, however, be thankful if you point out any problems you found while reading it. Just leave a comment and I will fix the errors and typos right away! Thanks!


  1. Dear Blogger,

    We have received 473 nominations for the top 100 language blog 2009 competition. For each category, we have admitted 100 blogs into the voting phase. You are amongst the 100 blogs in the 'Language Learning' category, congratulations!

    As stated before, 50% of the final score will be based on user voting. You can promote your blog with the following voting button on your page. Simply add the code to a blog post (similar to embedding a YouTube video) so that your readers can vote for you directly.

    You can find the code on our website [].

    The voting phase starts today and ends July 28. Winners will be announced July 30.

    Good luck for the competition!

    Kind regards,
    on behalf of the and Lexiophiles team

    Marc Lütten GmbH | Baumwall 7 | 20459 Hamburg | Germany
    Phone: +49(0)40-707080950
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  2. Great post. I've been researching language learning methods for awhile and now feel that it is time to put it into a post.

    But first off, I need to go back to the beginning and track when the different learning methods came about.

    It is not as easy as it sounds.

    Do you have any favourite books on the subject that I can gather in?

    Btw - your interview is still on the way (I have not forgotten at all :-)

  3. If I understand correctly, you would like a book with a history of learning methods? Maybe a web engine search will turn up some research papers that have such information. Look for "second language acquisition." It takes a lot of work to gather all that information.

  4. Yes, I'd like a book on language learning methods.

    I already found a fantastic article, but I need to track down the author to get permission to use it online.

  5. I found out about this blog after coming across the aformentioned top 100 language blog 2009 list.

    I have enjoyed reading your thought-provoking posts and plan on trying a few things out for myself, as I am currently trying to learn Japanese on my own.

    Also, because you suggest it in the disclaimer, I would like to point out that 'affect' is a verb and that 'effect' is the correct spelling of the noun used in this context (2 instances).

    Please keep posting! :)

  6. Thanks Camille. I have corrected the 2 instances now.


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