Tag Archives: Polyglot

Language learning tips

LOGO FINALIn this The TEFL Show podcast we give several tips for learning languages more effectively. We’ve both learned various languages over the years, discovering along the way that it is much easier, faster and more enjoyable than you might think, as long as you follow a few basic rules.

What has your language learning experience been like? Have you found any of the tips we discussed useful? Do you have any others? Let us know what you think by commenting below and rating the podcast on iTunes here. And if you’re interested in learning languages, check out this section of the blog.

The podcast music theme is under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 International License and was downloaded from this website.

‘I don’t have talent’ and other language learning myths

logo new #2

All The TEFL Show podcasts can be found in this playlist on Soundcloud and in the iTunes Store here. You can subscribe to the show there, download the podcasts to listen to later and share them on social media.

In this episode of The TEFL Show we use our own language learning experience to debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions about learning languages, such as that you need talent or a very long time to get to a high level. We also give several tips that will hopefully boost your language learning progress.

What has your language learning experience been like? Do you have any other tips? Have you found the ones we’ve given useful? Let us know in the comments section below.

If you’re interested in learning languages, you might find this section of the blog useful. All the previous podcasts can be found here on the blog.

The podcast music theme is under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 International License and was downloaded from this website.

Learning languages more effectively.

I prepared a ppt presentation for this lesson, which you can download here.


  • Intermediate and above, but could be adopted to lower levels too.


  • Between 1.5 and 2 hours


  • students will learn and discuss tips about learning languages more effectively

Lesson Plan

Activity #1: Lead-in

What are your language learning habits like? Look at the statements below. Do they apply to you? Why (not)?

  • I watch films and TV in English.
  • I’m worried that people don’t understand me when I speak English, so I prefer to stay quiet.
  • I read a lot in English. Mostly news on the Internet, but sometimes books too.
  • I never study English in my free time.
  • I record new words, look them up in a dictionary and keep a record of them in my notebook.
  • I use on-line software and apps for learning English.
  • I talk a lot in English in my free time.
  • I’m afraid to make mistakes when I speak or write.
  • I listen for new expressions and imitate fluent speakers.

Which of the above are good and which are bad learning habits? Why? Are you a good language learner?

Activity #2: Speaking

What qualities  do good language learners have in common? Discuss with your partner.

Now look at the 4 letters below. They are the first letters of four qualities that all good language learners have. Can you guess what they are?






Activity #3: Speaking

Below are the 4 qualities of MORE effective language learners. Discuss with your partner what you think they might mean.

Motivated      opportunities


Reflective       experiment


Activity #4 Reading for gist: Read this article and check whether your ideas about the MORE qualities were correct. Then discuss with your partner: Are you a MORE learner? Which ideas could you use to become a better learner?

(Teacher’s note: please note that the students should only read the part where the MORE qualities are described. Alternatively, you could cut up the article and give one quality to each student which they later describe to each other in groups of 4. Or bluetack each quality around the room and do it as a buzz group discussion)

Activity #5: Listening

You’re going to watch a psychologist Chris Lonsdale talk about his experience learning a language. follow the instructions below.

  1. Watch the first part (2 -2:50)of the video. What did Chris decide to do? Where did he go? Did he succeed?
  2. Talk to your partner. How can adults learn a language quickly and effectively? Continue watching the video (2:50 – 3:40) to check.
  3. Discuss with your partner: What is your reaction to Chris’ conclusion? Is it possible to learn a language in 6 months?
  4. Continue watching (3:40 – 5:45). What WRONG beliefs from the past does Chris mention? Why does he mention them?
  5. Discuss with your partner: What are the 7 actions for rapid (fast) language acquisition (learning) will Chris talk about? Now watch the last part of the video (12:14 – 18:06) and check your predictions.
  6. With a partner choose 3 actions which you can apply to your language learning from next week.

Activity #6 Learning new vocabulary

Discuss with your partner:

  • How many new words/phrases have you learned this week?
  • Where do you normally come across new words/phrases?
  • What do you do when you find a new word/phrase?
  • Where and how do you write them down?
  • Is it better to write down single words or whole phrases? Why?
  • Do you think you’re vocabulary learning habits are effective? Why (not)? How could you improve them?

Look at the list of DOs and DONT’s for learning vocabulary. Write down any ideas which you could apply to your own learning. Have you ever made any of the mistakes from the DONT’s list?

Bez tytułu

(Teacher’s note: at this stage I usually introduce Memrise to the class. You can read more about it in this and this post. I also emphasise to them the importance of writing down chunks rather than individual words.)

Activity #7 – Practice

Read the text below. It was taken from this article. Identify minimum 3 new chunks (2-4 word phrases) and write them down in your notebook using the tips from the previous slide:

Mistakes are great! Without them, you will stay in your comfort language zone forever. We adults tend to be incredibly worried about being 100% right all the time. Forget about it. Especially at the beginning. Play with the language. Experiment. And slip up. That’s fine. Nobody’s going to laugh, get annoyed or poke fun at you. Believe me. Native speakers will be delighted that you’re trying to learn their language (especially if the language is as obscure as Polish, for instance). Focus on getting the meaning across first. But, get somebody to correct you once you feel comfortable with it. And DO pay attention to the correct version. Otherwise you might be forever repeating the basic mistakes.

(Teacher’s note: when monitoring, ensure they are actually writing down chunks, rather than individual words. Point out that the words that come before and after the unknown word are important and should also be written down. More advanced students could expand the chunks by adding other words that collocate using Ozdic.)

Look at the sample answers. Did you write down similar chunks?

  • Stay in your comfort zone – not to take risks ex. My dad hates taking risks. He always stays in his comfort zone.
  • Slip up – make a mistake, informal, ex. I often slip up ON spelling.
  • Be delighted that – very happy, ex. I’m delighted (that) you’re all here.
  • Focus on – concentrate on, ex. I found it difficult to focus on work yesterday.
  • Get the meaning across – be understood, communicate ex. I make mistakes when I speak French, but I find it easy to get the meaning across.

Activity #8 Homework/Follow up

  1. Log in to Memrise at www.memrise.com Find a new course and learn 5 new words. For Academic English, I recommend this course and for IELTS this one. Download the app and practise on your phone. Set a daily goal, e.g. 6 thousand points.
  2. Read one of the articles and watch one of the videos listed below. Write down at least 3 interesting things you’d like to tell your class about next time. Write down 3 new phrases in your notebook.



More free lesson plans can be found here. You can read other posts about learning languages here.

Learn a language in 6 months

In January I started a series of blog posts on learning languages, speculating how we could learn faster and more effectively. I decided to use these tips in practice to see if I could learn a new language in 6 months, and I chose Portuguese. The 6 months are over now, so I wanted to give a final update on my progress and reflect on what I’ve learned in the process about learning languages.

But first, if you haven’t been following them, I would like to invite you to read the previous posts on the topic, which you can access by clicking on the links below:

  1. “Dispelling 5 language learning myths”
  2. “5 steps to language fluency”
  3. “Be fluent in a language in 6 months – mission impossible?”
  4. “First update – two months on”

So how much have I learnt?

I can’t say I’m completely fluent, but I can have a chat on most familiar topics, understand people and most of what’s said on TV and read  a book. I still make mistakes, my pronunciation is dodgy at times, I find it difficult to understand people speaking very quickly and colloquially, and I sometimes mix Spanish with Portuguese. So there’s a long way to go, on the one hand, but on the other – I’m quite happy where I am and what I’ve achieved.

And even more importantly, I learned many new things about learning languages, and this is what I would like to share with you in this post.

1. Learning new words:words

  • identify chunks (2 – 3 words together) and functional language (e.g. Would you like a…; Do you fancy +ing) and don’t learn isolated words
  • mine reading and listening texts for lexis
  • when you hear somebody use a phrase you don’t know, ask about the meaning and note it down (unless you have a good memory for sounds, you’ll forget it – so I tend to take a small note pad for my language exchanges where I can quickly jot down the new words)
  • choose a lexical set that is relevant, interesting and useful – there’s no point in learning words you’ll never use!
  • use mnemonic devices to boost your learning (anchor the new word to an image/sound, create a pun around it, i.e. le vol is theft in French – imagine lord VOLdemort stealing a magic wand from Hogwarts)
  • 5 a day, keeps the doctor away – even such a small number of words can make a difference
  • avoid the forgetting curve – use spaced-repetition:
  • use Memrise to boost your efficiency and effects – for me memrise.com is an absolute winner; by combining spaced repetition with mnemonic devices it gives your memory an incredible kick – read my post on it here
  • use it or lose it – no matter how many new words you manage to memorize, they’ll be useless unless you put them to good use – so go out there, and make a conscious effort to use the new phrases as soon as you get a chance

2. Grammar:

  • it’s much less important than your teacher would like you to believe – especially at the beginning, the key is new vocabulary, phrases and functional language
  • don’t try to be correct all the time – embrace mistakes: believe me – nobody will laugh at you!
  • pay attention to what people say – listen carefully to what and how your interlocutor speaks, identify the grammar pattern and use it
  • pay attention to your own mistakes – you need to learn to monitor your language to identify the slips (i.e. mistakes with language you already know)
  • focused correction – tell your language buddy to focus on a particular area you’re having problems with, or you’ve recently studied (e.g. past simple), and to correct you – if you ask somebody to correct all your mistakes, you’re likely to end up silent and disillusioned after 5 minutes
  • avoid ‘useless’ grammar – many grammar points have little effect on your fluency, so instead of worrying about the correct article or possessive pronouns, first get a hang of the basic tenses present and past simple, going to and present perfect – this will greatly improve the array of things you can say
  • don’t wait until you know it all – start using the past simple even if you only know some regular verbs and only 1 or 2 irregular ones – people will correct you along the way, you will notice the correct patterns, and learn much more by practising it then by doing gap-fills
  • use it – as with vocabulary, there’s no point in learning something if you’re unlikely to use it, so as soon as possible put the new grammar into use – if you’ve just learned a new pattern, then  make a conscious effort to utilise it as soon as you get the chance

3. The input – reading and listening:

  • immersion – whether you are a beginner or not, you should start listening and reading in the target language from day 1, even if it’s just 5 minutes a day, you’ll soon start to note a difference in how much you understandheadphones 2
  • notice the language – try to pay attention to how the language is used, compare it with how you use it, note down one or two useful phrases, and use them when you get a chance
  • make it fun – choose topics that are interesting for you
  • connect it to vocabulary and speaking – if you’re learning football vocabulary on Memrise, listen and read some World Cup commentaries, and make it the speaking topic of your next language exchange
  • choose texts that are useful and relevant – e.g. if you want to learn every day language, choose texts that reflect it
  • prepare for the text – use the title, the headings, the main photo, etc. to brainstorm vocabulary that is likely to appear in the text – it will make reading/listening much easier
  • main message first – focus on the overall meaning and set yourself a simple task, i.e. how many people are speaking? are they happy or sad?
  • identify the difficulties and tackle them – again read/listen to the parts you found difficult a few times to discover the meaning

4. Speaking:conversation bubbles

  • this is crucial if you’re ever going to make any progress – you must SPEAK!
  • language buddy – find somebody you can talk to in the target language – most cities have regular events when people meet to practise different languages
  • make mistakes – otherwise you’ll never learn! But please do pay attention to the correct version as well
  • relax – most adults find it very stressful to speak in a foreign language they don’t know well: now, please take a deep breath, count to 10, and relax – nobody’s going to laugh at you; actually, most native speakers will be delighted you’re trying to speak their language!
  • simplify your language – your L1 vocabulary is incredibly much more varied than your beginner L2, so a good fluency trick at the beginning is to use simpler constructions and words, which you already know, to express yourself in the target language
  • use fillers – long pauses can be embarrassing, so to avoid them, use phrases such as: well, you know, I mean to fill them in: right away you’ll sound much more natural and fluent
  • describe what you don’t know – if you’re about to stop, because you don’t know a word, don’t – use simpler vocabulary, a synonym, describe the word you’re looking for, point to it or ask how it’s called

5. Motivation:dream away

  • it’s got to be fun – if you’re feeling tired or frustrated with studying, give yourself a break: watch a film instead, have a chat with your language buddy, etc.
  • set yourself achievable, concrete and small goals – otherwise you’re risking disappointment, i.e. I will learn 5 words related to football every day for 10 days, is a much better goal then, I will learn new words
  • ask yourself WHY you’re learning the language – the most effective goals are usually the ones that are intrinsic and personal
  • find something you like – there must be something you enjoy doing, a great hobby you have, e.g. cooking: why not learn how to do it in a new language?
  • start a diary – it’s very easy to underrate your own progress, but if you keep a diary of what you have achieved and learnt, you will be able to clearly see how much you have improved

Good luck! Boa sorte! Bonne chance! Suerte! Viel Gluck! Powodzenia!

Apart from the 4 posts mentioned above, you might find these useful too:

  • learn how to be  a good learner here
  • Lizzy Pinnard tells us how she’s learning Italian in this post
  • Sandy Millin reflects on her language learning experience here

Be fluent in 6 months – first update

At the end of January I posted a series of three posts in which I discussed the idea that perhaps we can all learn languages much quicker than most people would have us think. Having reflected on my own learning experience (I speak 6 languages) and having seen and read about various polyglots, I first suggested that there are 5 language learning myths which prevent us from learning faster and achieving fluency by acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are:

  1. I haven’t got the talent.
  2. I’m too old.
  3. I’ve got bad memory.
  4. I need a complete immersion program abroad.
  5. I haven’t got enough time.

All 5 are only bad excuses which most of us tend to make at some point. And they all hamper our learning process. Here read more about why I think they’re only bad excuses which stop you from ever achieving your language goals.

In the post that followed, I suggested a 5 step action plan based on positive and successful language learning experience me and other polyglots have had. They’re quite simple and definitely not rocket science:

  1. Make the language a useful tool.
  2. Make mistakes.
  3. Exposure is the key.
  4. Use it or lose it.
  5. A language parent/buddy.

Finally, as I’m a natural sceptic and a disbeliever in everything supernatural (and learning a language in 6 months seems such a feat), I decided to test the advice on myself. My mission has been to become fluent in Portuguese in 6 months. You can read more about it here (i.e. what I mean by fluent, why 6 months and why Portuguese).

And as I’m a language teacher, one of my main goals is to see whether I might discover any techniques or tricks which I can later use with my students to help them learn languages faster.

So it’s been two months since my mission statement. I promised I’d give monthly updates, so I’m sorry you’ve had to wait for twice the time (if actually any of you have been waiting). You might be wondering then how far I got with my Portuguese. Well, here’s a video of me speaking it so you can judge for yourself.

It’s the first time that I’ve actually recorded a video, so please bear with me if it doesn’t look or sound super slick. It’ll be better next time round, I promise 🙂

Here are some questions I thought most people might have after watching the video:

  1. What did I say?

    Absolute gibberish! 😉 I wanted to put subtitles but haven’t figured out how yet, so if anyone knows, please let me know. I basically spoke about why I recorded the video, how I’ve been studying so far and what my sticking points are. I’ve probably made hundreds of errors, so if you speak Portuguese, please point them out.

  2. How much have I been studying?

    Depends. But in the strict sense of the word I haven’t really been studying at all. I haven’t got a grammar book and I don’t go to language classes. On average I’ve probably done about 10 to 20mins a day, but there were two weeks when I couldn’t study at all.

  3. How have I been studying?

    I’ve been using Memrise (read my post about it here) to learn new words more effectively. So far I’ve probably learned around 600 hundred words and phrases, which is not bad for 8 weeks. I’ve done a small bit there on the basic conjugation of a few verbs to get an idea what it’s about. I also watch Brazilian TV on the Internet regularly. I chose O Globo, because it seemed to have lots of free videos available. I’m also doing a language exchange, however, I’ve only managed to have 4 meeting so far, so definitely this is something I need to do more regularly.

Now it’s a good time for me to reflect on the process to see what I’ve done well and what I can do better in the next couple of weeks.

  1. It’s going to be more difficult than I initially thought.

    Sorry to start with something a bit disheartening (note that I’m still convinced I can reach my goal). If you read my mission statement, you know I speak Spanish. It has been a definite advantage, as there are many words that are similar, but at the same time it’s played against me a bit. At times I’m not sure whether I speak Portuguese or just Spanish with a Portuguese accent. A lesson I’ve learned is to notice the language patterns and use them to generate new words (for example, -ción is always (or almost) -são or -ção in Portuguese). However, overall it might be quite tricky to speak Portuguese without the influence of Spanish on it.

  2. Make mistakes and pay attention to the corrections.

    Often students don’t even notice that they are being corrected and just go on making the same mistakes over and over again. Of course, worrying too much about being 100% correct can be counter productive too. But I definitely think it’s crucial to ask your language buddy to correct some of your errors (perhaps make it focused, e.g. past tense). And you should repeat the correct version a few times so it sticks. When you say the phrase you’ve had problems with again, be aware of the error you’ve been making and make a conscious effort to say it correctly.

  3. Notice language patterns and imitate them.

    Noticing new language is also very important. If you hear a new phrase, ask what it means, record it if possible (I usually take a little notebook with me to the language exchange). The crucial part here is that you imitate this new language as soon as you get a chance. For example: A: The concert yesterday was class! B: Class? A: Yeah, it was brilliant. A: Oh. I went to a… class concert two weeks ago! It looks very straight forward but a lot of students don’t take the opportunity to use the new language. The language kind of goes through one year and exits through the other. So the lesson here is: don’t rely on the limited language that you have, but go beyond it. Imitate, imitate and imitate!

  4. Out with grammar – in with vocabulary!

    Don’t get me wrong. If you want to be 100% correct you might have to study some grammar at some point. However, I don’t think it’s as important as course books authors would have you believe. Especially at low levels.There are so many grammar points that are utterly useless for successful communication. My advice is to learn whole chunks of language or even whole utterances that carry communicative meaning (e.g. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Can I have the bill, please?’). So far, I’ve picked up most of the grammar as I went along. Most importantly by repeating the patterns I hear on TV or from my language buddy (see point 2 and 3). For example, if I hear he’s speaking about the past, I pay attention to how he conjugates the verbs, so I can quickly give it a shot myself.

  5. Enjoy it!

    It’s easier said than done, but a positive mindset is the key. Learning should be fun, so make it so. Choose topics that interest you (i.e. if you’re crazy about cooking, start with food, cooking and restaurant vocabulary). And if you feel tired or demotivated, flick on a film or a short video. You don’t always have to be consciously studying. Watching a fun video on youtube can be as good or even better than toiling over a boring grammar point.

Sticking points and action plan (apart from what I’ve already been doing):

  1. Pronunciation.

    There are certain sounds that are very tricky for me. I’ve been trying to imitate how people speak. So far I think I’m definitely communicative and intelligible, but far from natural and correct pronunciation.

  2. Do more language exchange.

    It’s the key. Once a week is OK, but it doesn’t give me as much practice as I need if I want to really be fluent in 6 months.

  3. Watch videos with more natural/colloquial language.

    I’ve been watching mostly news and short journalistic reports and I can already understand almost everything. The problem is when people speak quickly on the street in a more unprepared and natural way.

  4. Talk to myself.

    That’s a tip one of the polyglots, Sid Efromovich gave in this video. He says he always talks to himself in the language he’s learning in the shower (so nobody can hear him). It might sound silly or egocentric, but it gives you valuable practice and language rehearsal time, which together with normal language exchange can improve your fluency.

I’ll try to post another update in about a month. If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below. I’d  love to hear about your language learning experiences and whether you’ve found any of the tips helpful.

Tchau! Até mais!