The Babbel Blog

language learning in the digital age

Anne’s Language Learning Tips

Posted on May 30, 2011 by

Anne Matthies – Language learning tipsAnne Matthies is head of the Babbel Support Team. Since 1997 she’s been addicted to self-directed learning, and by now she’s reached advanced levels in Italian, English, French, Russian and Chinese. Here she’s gathered together eleven tips that have proven especially helpful in her language learning experience.

1. Set a plan and don’t stick to it

Anyone can understand “I no understand”. That’s fine for communicating on a holiday abroad, but for making a business call it could be embarrassing. Know what your goals are: do you need a foreign language for travel or for your career? Is it to show off, or just for the pleasure of doing something new or thinking in a new way? Set yourself goals. Make a plan for how much time you will dedicate to the new language and what you would like to learn next.

But don’t stick to your plan!

Would you prefer to study the subjunctive or the signs of the zodiac today, even if you really don’t need to? Digress! Enjoy exploring! Fly away! Your plan is like a walking stick that you only need to lean on when your wings are tired — you only need it if you can’t think of anything else to learn. Change it as often as you like.

2. Give yourself time before you speak (if you’ve got the time)

If you don’t have any time pressure, you should put off speaking the language until you really have the urge. Up until then, just listen. At some point it will just bubble out of you; at some point you just won’t be able to help coming out with those strange sounds too!

If a word just comes out of your mouth all by itself, it’s all your own, it belongs to you. I’ll never forget how I suddenly started speaking Chinese while I was in the bath, after months of only listening. Don’t miss out on that kind of experience!

3. Your style of learning keeps changing

They say there are auditory, visual and all sorts of other learners. Sometimes you’re one, sometimes you’re another. Your learning style changes with your mood. Develop a sense of what works best for you right now: Sometimes you might like to close your eyes and just listen, other times the images and letters literally jump out at you. Other times still you might want to paint, write, pronounce or sing everything. Sometimes you want to do it all at once!

4. Study idioms right from the beginning

Idioms and sayings are the spice in the foreign language soup. Search out sayings that particularly amuse you. For example, imagine “laid back” and “down to earth” visually. Literal translations don’t make much sense, but they do often make for a laugh! French speakers literally say “he does cold” for “it’s cold”. Laugh yourself silly; share it with your friends. It will give you a feeling for the language. It will also enrich your vocabulary and keep your spirits up.

5. Be yourself

Don’t limit your studying to preconceived notions or set situations. What do you talk about in your native language? What are you interested in? What gets you upset? Saying something in your new language will become much easier once you really want to say it.

6. Get off the computer once in a while

Flashcards and an automatic review manager are great. But turn off your computer and try to remember what you’ve just learned. Build up memory support in your head. Give yourself some time for it. Sometimes a word “comes back” after a few minutes. You’ll see that when you have to recall something all on your own, it sticks in your mind in a whole different way.

7. Get around

If you’re always sitting in the same chair, learning the same phrase, you might be stuck when you have to reproduce it out on the street. Take your new language along with you wherever you go. Order your favourite meal at your local restaurant in the new language. When you take the train, imagine you’ve forgotten your ticket and you have to explain yourself to the conductor.

8. Sing!

Pop songs are great for learning grammar. Search out those licks that get stuck in your head. Listen and sing along, with or without headphones, in the shower, on your bike or in your car.

9. Stage your own immersion day

So you’re learning French? Do a French day! Listen to French radio, watch French films, cook French food, read a French newspaper and search for your newest vocabulary on Don’t worry if you only understand a fraction of what’s going on. Put sticky notes with French terms on all of the objects in your house, have conversations with yourself and boss yourself around in French.

10. Allow yourself to make mistakes!

Nothing holds you back more than premature perfectionism. Don’t be afraid to do everything wrong — just write, sing and blabber away. A new phrase will only start to belong to you when you actually use it. Whether you use it correctly at first or not doesn’t really matter. There’s an unbelievable amount to be learned from mistakes. You just have to allow yourself to make them.

If that’s hard to swallow, just remember how cute accents, incorrect grammar and phrasing mistakes are in others. Wouldn’t it be a shame if your French friend suddenly lost her accent and spoke perfect English?

11. Don’t give up…

Learning a new language can seem a bit masochistic at times. You forget everything so quickly! You haven’t done anything for days! You were so proud of yourself for all you learned before, but now you don’t understand a word!

That’s normal. It’s all part of the process. Don’t let it get you down! Kick, scream, moan… but don’t give up. Someday you’ll be giggling, chatting and cheering. A new language is a new world. Conquer it with pleasure.

And you? How do you learn best? What tips do you have for tackling a new language? Take part in our Learning Tips Survey… To the questionnaire
This post in:
German (Deutsch) (original)
French (Français)
Italian (Italiano)
Spanish (Español)


Hola! Gracias por esta información. Llevaba un rato buscando
en internet sobre este tema hasta que he encontrado tu página.
Está realmente biesn el artículo.Prosigue de esta forma!

Learning a language is very difficult as it is time consuming and one is not familiar with it.I liked the part of don’t give up and singing hip hop songs. I tried to sing but it didn’t go well. But still trying. I enjoyed the post very much. Thanks, Anne.

[…] results are finally in from the survey inspired by Anne’s Learning tips. 1774 people – speakers of English, German, Spanish, French and Italian – have participated. To […]

Hi, Anne. Firstly, I would like to say thank you for your useful suggessions about learning languages.
I attended to english course 7 months ago and I started to learn english but it isn’t going very well. I study everyday but I cannot speak and I don’t understand very well. I’ve tried many ways but none of them doesn’t work. It’s become a big problem for me. What can I do to improve my talking capacity and writing essay skills. All best wishes. Thank you so much to you.

I have a list of valuable resources for learning and teaching English (ESL/EFL), German and Russian that may be of interest to you as you may be looking for new interesting helpful information in this regard.
I may have something really valuable to you! I’m a former ESL teacher. I’ve finished my ESL teaching activity and I no longer teach English. But I want to provide teachers and learners of languages with my valuable resources as I do not need them much. My articles are suitable for learning many languages. You may be interested in particular in my comprehensive plan for mastering a language on one’s own. I believe that some of my suggestions can contribute to improving your own tips. I learn from tips of other authors as well. Exchange of information (thoughts, views, etc) is beneficial. I’ve explored many language learning and teaching websites, including those with unconventional advice.
I’ve got interested in language learning strategies and in issues of how to become a better language learner. This is important for easier, more productive, quicker, more enjoyable and more successful language learning. I’ve searched for information on these issues. I’ve selected the most important links in my opinion.

Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes that make the largest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

[…] (4) // […]

Excellent web site. Lots of useful info here. I’m sending it to some buddies ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks in your sweat!

thankyou so much for your encouraging & useful advice, they are definetely the best i’ve ever heard they made me give a second thought to the way i was pushing my self to continue learning ! take care keep going

Thank you Ashraf for your kind words!

I am amazed at the problems people have learning that are the same as me. I try and forget but eventually when you see something writen a spark stirs and ignites. “I know that”. And piece by piece it slowly comes together. The beauty of it is that your understanding is there all the time. It is your resistance that gets in the way. Brilliant – forget the plan.

[…] <//; […]

[…] // […]

Big thanks Anne for your great tips! I will try my best to approach English.
I have no chance to speak E. huhu

I would love to go much further in language but something associated with age intervened. It’s called deafness. I am presently searching out ways to overcome this. Anyone care to join me?

hej like james i had an emersion day which included a visit to local ikea. using as mach swedish as i could a confused assistant excused himself went off and brought a member of mangement who soon realised the situation. briefly . we went for coffee. she “praised” my effort to improve my swedish arranged to take me to meet her family when she finished work ending by saying ‘now that we have agreed that, when this coffee is drunk you will hear nothing but swedish from me or my family’. i have had two visits and it is going “well” with much laughter. hej hej

many many thanks for your great assistance in this field i will always remember them with love.

i have always been interested in language learning through the world and language learning is my passion and i will always keep it alive.

Hi Anne,
These are interesting tips, many of which I use regularly and some less frequent.
It was 20 years ago that I started learning Italian for business purposes however a change of company and there was no immediate need for Italian so it “drited away”.
I always had a plan to go back to it and it was only last year that I put that plan into action (last October) since that I have used night school classes, CD’s, Internet courses, including the Babbel one that I am currently using. I Have also taken a weeks holiday in Italy and used what I have learned to get by when ordering food & drinks, buying clothes and bus tickets, and some general conversation with hotel staff. I made lots of mistakes but learnt from them and came away with some new words to add to my volcabulary. I also bought some children’s reading books for my own benefit, which is not as easy as it may seen, however this is just another tool to use to expand my knowledge and confidence in understanding and speaking the lauguage.

Hi Anne, thanks for sharing, useful tips.

I also found that with my Hindi and Bengali learning students that phrases are good for remembering few words.

Thanks for useful tips

Many thanks for these tips. It’s true that depending on mood, the most effective way to practice and expose yourself to language changes.

Indeed, idioms are a great way to approach a language. I also enjoy observing my own language and then learning phrases in a language that correspond with ones that I often use. This allows me to sound more like myself in another language.


Good tips I’ve been learning Italian for pleasure for about 2 years on and off and every new tip helps although I find it amazing that you could speak chinese by just listening!

Hello Anne. Thank you for your tips about learning languages.
I find them really interesting specially the one about having immersion day . I’m going to use this one on my English practicing.


Quite useful tips there. I keep having a go at learning French – just doing it for the fun of it. Have learned a little but need to go up a step now.

I really need to get down and do it – for instance having some form of French in my everyday life.

French is a wonderful language – just so darn tricky 😉 But … I will do it. .. Mais – je prend cela

Thanks a lot! I particularly like the idea of French immersion day.

جزاكم الله خير
for this kind behaviro—to help other pepole

Thanks Anne.These are realy useful tips.Generally, I sit on the table when I work foreign language and it is not good method, I will try these new method too…

thanks Anne:very important tips. i have problems whith my comprehension and the souns.
i will to put in practice it.thanks a lot

thanks for your wonderful tips. i’ll be of great help to me since i just came into Italy a few months ago. thanks once again


I love these advices ! I think I will copy them and put them on my wall !! And of course USE them !
Thanx !! Grazie mille !

all good Ideas but where do I find germam movies,german music, and such? cant find anything local. do you have anything on DVD,CD or audio cassett tape I dont trust the net

Dear Anne
Really these are the most precious tips.
sometimes learners get frustrated and they really give up which is not good even I myself as I remember used to go through anxieties where I thought I wouldn’t be able to do this on the other hand now I am a language teacher myself and I can’t believe that I had thought like I said before.

I am on a construction site where 26 languages are spoken. I have been there 6 months and have done two computer courses in Spanish (native Australian). I did not use Babbel. Anne’s comments are spot on. I am highly motivated, it has definitely empowered me. I am desperately listening and talking but still do not feel competent yet. Not ready to give up. The question is, am I brave enough to start on Italian yet or will it confuse me? I also need German and Japanese.

Thank you for such amazing tips!! I’ll give it a try and I’ll keep you posted.

Molto interesante e perfeto per lei parlare queste lingue
mi chiamo Dominico puo parlare tre lingue corentemente.
che cosa sare bene per fare buona cose?

Really thank you
very nice tips
It makes me never to give up

Every thing said by you is perfect Ann. I agree with all your ideas, I am also trying to learn English. If i have friends like you it will be very easy to me to learn English. Thank you for your suggestion

Excellent tips Anne, I’ve been feeling very frustrated with my French learning as I don’t have a set routine and it feels as though I’m not “doing” it right. But your article has just shown me that I might be doing it right after all. Merci beaucoup!

I loved your comment re singing in your new language. My German teacher at school used to have us sing German folk songs and when I lived in Mexico I had a lot to do with a Mexican architect, who said his real vocation was to be a rock singer and had learnt all the English he knew from song lyrics!

thank you i will think about it
I say thank’s for your suitable tips about learning languages
i am learning Italian, can someone from Italia teach me more?

Thank you Anne for your tips.I am haitian.I am learning English.Sometimes,I really want to quit because I think learning a foreign language is difficult.I don’t want to make mistakes.Now,your tips come to encourage me.I appreciate them.

I like to hear and learn French.
I just practice fm computers.
Think I could progress. I try to..

hello Anne. in the first like other’s I say thank’s for your suitable tips about learning languages. My problem is english I’m Algerian student I learn english, I speak and understand it but not very well. my dream is to become a teacher of english can yu help me pleas! and thank yu

Many thanks Anne! for giving me an idea and illused it everytime!

Hello. First of all I’d like to say thank you for your suitable tips about learning languages and then I want to say about my problem.
I moved to Sweden about 7 month ago and I started to learn Swedish but it isn’t going very well. I study everyday but I cannot speak and I don’t understand very well. I’ve tried many ways but none of them doesn’t work. It’s become a big problem for me. Best regards. Thanks.


For me, while learning Italian, it is very important to stick to my daily learning moment…
I try to do at least a little something everyday, at least reviewing my vocabulary. I know that once I skip one day, I could be tempted to let it slip for another day, and before too long, my last learning day could be weeks ago.

And while driving to work, I try to talk in Italian to myself…
And when we were in Italy a few weeks ago, and my husband told someone to whom I had been talking in Italian, that I had been studying the language via an internet course for half a year, and the reply was, that it must be a very good course indeed…


Many thanks, Anne! Great tips and such a friendly text. I’ll share them with our own learners. And yes, will definitely have a French day soon!

This tips are valuable and available to be used in our daily life thanks Anne.

Thanks Anne. Many of the tips were things that happened to me and that makes me feel comfortable an give you the idea that one is in the correct way to learn a new language. Other tips are great ideas to enrich the learning methodology. I will consider them for sure!


Really informative, whilst putting my mind at ease, thankyou.I will look upon it as a new constructive phase.

Wow, they’re great tips! I love the one about having an immersion day. I’m going to have Swedish day! I can’t wait… I might combine it with a trip to IKEA.

Leave a Reply