The Best Way to Learn the Basics of Any Foreign Language

by Dr. Monroe Mann, PhD, Esq, MBA, LLM, ME, EMT
Founder & Executive Director, Break Diving, Inc.
Founder of Break Diving’s Fluency Project
Speaks English, Chinese, French, Italian, and some German, and other languages

1. First off, the app Duolingo does not teach you the basics of a foreign language!  It’s a helpful tool, but it does not ‘teach’.  Don’t get me wrong–I love duolingo.  In fact, in my opinion, Duolingo should be a part of any foreign language learning adventure.  However, if you think by using duolingo, you are going to learn a language, you are mistaken.  As it currently stands, most people who finish a duolingo course still have difficulty speaking and writing, and most still couldn’t read a basic text.

So why recommend it?  Simple: Duolingo is the best way to determine if you really want to learn that foreign language, and it introduces you to the basics of that language’s spelling, grammar structure, and a certain je ne sais quoi (which is a French expression for “I don’t exactly know”).  Do do I use Duolingo.  I do.  I suggest you do as well.  But merely as a jumping off point.

2. It doesn’t matter how old you are.  Those who tell you that you are too old to learn a foreign language are lazy, and incorrectly informed people.  Of course you can learn a new language!  Seriously, just forget what anyone else tells you otherwise.  If you want to learn a new language at 95 years old, you can.  It’s called discipline.

3. Buy THREE sets of textbooks.  No book is perfect, and you want different perspectives.  Too often, someone will want to learn a language, and then buy one language set.  That language set may have a great introduction and chapter one, but then chapters two – fiv are terrible.  What happens?  The person quits.

Instead, you need three language sets, all teaching the same things.  Why?  Different books, different authors, different approches, different perspectives.  And what you want to do is read Chapter 1 in book 1, then Chapter 1 in book 2, and then Chapter 1 in book 3.  And then go to the next chapter in book 1.

Why?  It forces you to learn the same material in different ways.  True, not every book teaches the same words and the same grammar in the same chapter.  That’s actually good.  If you follow my method, once you finish all three books, you will have covered all grammar points from three different perspectives.  You will have learned words from many different perspectives.  And you will have reinforced everything three times in three different ways.

In addition, I recommend (AWESOME!!!!) and all of the Living Language Complete sets and Pimsleur audio products.

4. Don’t burn yourself out. Five minutes a day three times a week consistently for three months is far better than two hours every day of the week for two weeks, and then you drift off to other endeavors.  Trust me: if you really want to learn a language, it’s going to become a lifelong endeavor.  You’ve got plenty of time.  Slow and steady wins this race.  Don’t do so much that you start to hate studying the language.  Slow and steady.  Slow and steady.

5. Find someone to practice speaking and listening with.  You need to practice.  It can even be just one other person, but you need to practice having conversations, live, with another person.  Without this practice, everything you are doing is just theoretical.  You can find a one-on-one teacher or practice partner, or you can find a big language group.  Just one rule: you only speak the target language.

6. You need to also practice reading and writing.  It’s tough, but necessary.  I recommend graded readers for beginners (i.e. short stories or children’s books) for the reading.  For the writing, I recommend a good grammar and sentence workbook that gives you the opportunity to write real free-form sentences based on prompts.  Your language group can help you check the sentences for any errors.

And that’s it!  If you do what I propose above, you will have a firm foundation in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and be ever closer to one day becoming fluent!

NOTE: Break Diving offers language groups and other programs through our Fluency Project. Check us out for more information.  And join our free worldwide language community at

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