Language learning is a very complex and slow-going endeavor. One must remain steadfastly dedicated to practicing every day, and continue finding new ways to make sure you’re not reinforcing bad habits. For most people, this is achieved by practicing with a tutor, or a language partner. That’s all well and good, but for those of us who don’t have another person to practice with, the question is: can you practice a language by yourself?
There are a lot of different approaches to studying language, some people respond well to a classroom setting, while many students prefer to use immersion and personal study. The common thread between most methods, however, is the presence of another person. Having a tutor, teacher, or pen pal to chat with in your second language gives you a concrete advantage over people who practice by themselves, since they can correct you when you make mistakes, but does this mean that one cannot learn language by oneself?
Absolute nonsense. Of course, you can learn languages by yourself! The trick is that it requires quite a bit more effort and dedication to make sure you aren’t reinforcing bad habits as you learn. Think of foreigners speaking broken English for thirty years, just because they haven’t taken the time to correct the mistakes they made while learning.
This is an extreme example, and it really isn’t that difficult to study a language on your own. That being said, since learning by yourself requires a lot more awareness and dedication, it’s probably a good idea to study as much as possible about the actual process of language learning before you start tackling that second language all on your own.
Advantages of Learning With Somebody Else
When learning a language with another person to help you along, there are a number of advantages at your disposal, depending on the type of learning partner you have. Actual language teachers are acclimated to a classroom setting and are prepared to answer even the most complex questions about language.
Conversely, tutors are more used to one-on-one teaching and will be able to work through specific difficulties you have with the language. Then there are the native partners (think pen-pals or foreign girlfriends). If you have a native learning partner, they may not be able to actually teach you according to linguistic principles, but their knowledge of the language as it is actually spoken is typically unparalleled.
Even though there is some variation between these different learning partners, the common thread between them is that they allow you to practice what you have learned in an assisted setting, where mistakes can be immediately corrected and explained. This is different from learning a language on your own, as then you will need to verify and reinforce all of the information yourself, which can be tedious.
So, even though there are some distinct advantages to learning a second language alongside another person, it is definitely possible to do it on your own, particularly for individuals who feel more comfortable learning on their own.
After all, by yourself, you can study at your own pace, and you won’t be bogged down by boring grammar and syntax studies just because your teacher tells you they are necessary.
How To Make The Most Of Practicing Alone
There are a few ways that you can practice alone without tripping into one of the common pitfalls that many language learners do. The first and most important step is to begin with some sort of textbook.
Even though textbooks can seem boring, the right textbook will contain well-organized and testable information suited to form a sort of groundwork for future learning. It is extremely unlikely that you will be fluent after working through a single textbook, but finding the right one for you can definitely give you an idea of how to start out, and where to go from there.
Once you’re ready to start expanding your studies, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to manage and correct your studies. If you practice all by yourself, without checking your exercises and other work, you will make mistakes, and those mistakes will become ingrained into your subconscious understanding of the language.
Unlearning things is much more difficult than learning them afresh, so it’s important to make sure you aren’t cementing bad habits into your second language studies. One of the best ways to do this is to do exercises that focus on bite-sized chunks of information, such as flashcards. Vocabulary flashcards, for example, are much easier to verify and correct than an entire essay or even work that you’ve done in a textbook.
Another good way to practice without introducing mistakes to your grammar or vocab is to simply read native materials out loud, or repeat sentences you hear on TV or radio. Patterns that you learn from native sources won’t have the same mistakes that foreigners are prone to, and so learning primarily from native materials is a good way to avoid learning stupid mistakes.
But be warned, there are some habits and details of tone that native speakers and writers will definitely have. If you learn Japanese from your Japanese girlfriend, for example, you may end up speaking like a woman. That being said, as long as you take care to study the different ways of speaking, and make sure to always understand the type of speech you are learning, you shouldn’t have much trouble. Think about how people talk in children’s cartoons compared to how people talk in their day-to-day lives. This demonstrates the kind of awareness we’re talking about here.
Where Can You Go From There?
Even though it is totally possible to avoid these pitfalls even when you’re studying all by yourself, there will always be some margin for error as long as you are simply flying solo. Fortunately, there are a few different ways we can move forward as language learners, and we don’t always have to move into a classroom or social setting to do so.
If you feel working in such a context would really hurt your ability to learn, there are a number of ways to step up your language studies without branching out too far. One of the best ways is to use of assisted learning software. There are plenty of free and paid tools available for desktop, mobile, and even handheld game systems. Not all of these programs will be good, and even the good ones might not be right for you, so it’s important to see what other people are saying about a service before dropping money on it.
If you want some recommendations for a good place to start, check out your Play Store or Apple Store on your mobile phone. Most people by now have access to a smartphone, and browsing through user reviews is one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with the kinds of software that are available to help you learn. Although it may take some trial and error before you find the right one, there are plenty of effective tools out there, and many more popping up every day. If you suspect that a certain piece of software might be no good, ditch it.
Convenience is not worth learning and practicing bad habits.
Another good way to practice with natives without actually socializing or leaving the house is to visit online chat rooms and forums in your target language. Even if the idea of working with a professional tutor or a native pen pal doesn’t gel with you, it is easy to interact with native speakers online to whatever extent you feel comfortable. For many younger folks, this is actually very similar to how they learned their own native language.
The most effective way to casually practice a second language is with a pen-pal or language partner. Although this isn’t technically practicing by yourself, it’s still a good first step for when you are ready to move forward and start pushing yourself. After all, you will need to speak to others at some point, right? There is no reason to learn a contemporary language if you never intend to speak it with other people.
So, Can You Practice A Language By Yourself?
As is the case with many questions about language learning, the short answer is yes, and the long answer is maybe. It all depends on the amount of effort and attention you are willing to put into the language that you are studying, as well as the different resources you have at your disposal (it will be easier for a person learning Spanish in Mexico to get practice, for example).
That being said, if you put your mind to it, the sky is the limit, and this mantra is no less true of language learning than anything else. As long as you are careful to fully understand every step you take in pursuit of fluency and literacy, you should be just fine.