1. Do NOT spend more than 5% of your study time on grammar, translation, vocabulary lists or any other overt information about the language. Languages are “acquired,” not learned. And acquisition by its very definition happens subconsciously over time given proper input. Which leads us to number 2.
2. Do NOT spend time on materials that are too difficult or don’t interest you. Motivation is one of the greatest keys to success in foreign language learning, and motivation’s favorite fuel is interest. There is a wealth of material available today for free (podcasts, YouTube, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, etc.). Poke around online a find material that excites you.
3. Do NOT study in long, infrequent sessions. After motivation, consistency is the most important factor in language learning. If you are strapped for time (and who isn’t?), it is far better to study a little bit everyday than doing marathon study sessions a few times a month.
For example, if you only have 2 hours free per week to commit to language studies, it is far better to do 20 minutes per day, 6 days a week than doing the whole 2 hours on one day.
4. Do NOT worry about speaking too soon. Although oral fluency is certainly the goal of most language learners, it takes the brain some time to assimilate enough input to be able to produce meaningful output. Babies listen actively to the language around them for up to 2 years before uttering a single meaningful word. Adults can get to the output stage much earlier if they follow these 10 tips, but they should not force themselves (or let themselves be forced) to speak before they are ready. This is perhaps the single greatest problem with formal language instruction: students are expected to speak long before they are ready, creating a great deal of anxiety and diminishing the student’s motivation and interest.
5. Do NOT memorize vocabulary out of context. To have any chance of retaining or using new words, they must be heard or read (preferably the former) many, many times within a meaningful situation. “Narrow” listening and reading (i. e. going through a number of different articles on the same specific topic) is a good way to increase the repetition of key words in a meaningful and interesting way.
6. Do NOT try to learn new words, alphabets, ideographic characters or spelling using “rote” memory. We have 5 senses at our disposal; use them! Integrate taste, touch, smell, sound and movement as much as possible. Use “imaginative memory” to visualize connections, stories, objects, etc. The crazier the story, the easier it will be to imprint in long term memory.
7. Do NOT overly rely on the written word. Whenever possible, try to listen to a piece first before reading it. This trains you to rely on your ears first, and better follows the natural order of acquisition (remember: you learned to speak your first language long before you learned to read it!)
8. Do NOT look up words before making at least one full pass through each reading or listening material (or each section for longer pieces.) Once you have gone through once or even twice, then go back and look up words you don’t know. When you don’t interrupt the “semantic flow,” it’s easier to get a feel for the big picture. And this prevents us word-nerds getting lost in unrelated vocabulary and new linguistic connections.
9. Do NOT let the “affective filter” put a damper on your language learning.