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Tips for Learning Foreign Languages Well

Updated on February 10, 2021
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.

These are my 6th grade English students at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Samut Prakarn, Thailand.  Photo was taken in 2009.
These are my 6th grade English students at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Samut Prakarn, Thailand. Photo was taken in 2009. | Source

Studying Foreign Languages

Studying foreign languages has always been one of my interests, and it is most probably one of yours. This interest was awakened when I first studied Latin as a high school Freshman. I continued my study of foreign languages by taking another year of Latin and two years of Spanish in high school. While in college, I had three semesters of German and one semester of French. All of these language courses were taught by non-native speakers in the United States. Although I learned how to read these languages to varying degrees of proficiency, I never really became proficient in the other three skills of listening, speaking, and writing. Proficiency in all four skills didn't occur until I started to learn Chinese Mandarin at the Defense Language Institute. My initial Mandarin aural-comprehension course employed an audio-lingual approach which was interesting, exciting, and highly effective. I have employed this approach along with other steps that have aided me greatly in learning other languages during my life.

Tips for Learning Foreign Languages well

I believe the following approaches are highly beneficial in learning foreign languages.

1. You must be interested in learning a foreign language.

Are you truly interested in learning a new language, or is it something you must do to meet a school or job requirement? If you are not interested in learning, the language will not be enjoyable and probably very boring for you.

2. Learning the language must fulfill a personal need

Why have so many immigrants to the United States from around the world been able to become proficient in English? The answer is because they knew they had to learn listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills to get a job and assimilate into mainstream society. In most cases, speaking their native foreign tongues was insufficient to satisfy their basic needs in a new land. Many U.S. ex-pats living in various countries have very limited proficiency in their host countries' languages. This is because most ex-pats are married to native speakers and live in international communities where all of their basic needs are met by foreign national locals who speak English. Naturally, in a situation like this, most people become lazy and feel no need to learn the language.

3. Frequent contact with native speakers

I never became proficient in listening and speaking while studying high school and college languages, because my teachers were non-native teachers with limited proficiency, Furthermore, there was no atmosphere to immerse myself into the study of the people and cultures of the languages I was studying. After I started to study Chinese Mandarin, I was immersed in the language with five or six different native speakers six hours a day five days a week. The foreign language became part of our lives and we lived it with numerous extra-curricular activities like Mandarin movies and field trips to Chinese speaking communities in San Francisco. Contact with native speakers and total immersion has also aided me in learning Taiwanese and the Thai language.

4. Listening and speaking should be learned and practiced first.

In high school and college foreign language classes, I was only introduced to reading and writing, and there was very little listening and speaking. I learned next to nothing about the phonetics of the languages, and hence had difficulty with pronunciation, speaking, and reading aloud. I remember not having much fun learning these languages by only reading. Learning to listen and speaking first in my Mandarin class was very challenging but also a lot of fun. After learning the basic sounds and tones, we started learning daily dialogs based on real-life situations. I remember memorizing the dialog the night before and then reciting it in class the next morning in the form of a role play with another student. Memorization and practice with dialogs helped me greatly in creating my original sentences and conversations.

5. Reading and writing should be introduced after listening and speaking.

I am a firm believer that reading and writing should only be taught after the student knows the sounds and basic sentence structure of the language. This approach would parallel that of a child learning his native language. If a person learns reading and writing first, he or she will probably have problems with pronunciation, intonation, and/or tones. Furthermore, in the learning of a non-English alphabet or characters like Thai and Mandarin, it will be extremely hard for the student to be learning listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills at the same time. The student should begin by reading and writing only the words or characters that he can speak.

6. One should listen to a lot of authentic foreign language material.

My favorite Chinese teacher once told me that it was necessary to listen to a great deal of authentic language material to get good in Chinese. This authentic material can come from radio and television broadcasts, the internet, songs, and merely contacts with native speakers. Don't be discouraged if you don't understand everything you hear. Just think of how long a baby and toddler listen before they say their most meaningful words and sentences.

7. One should read a lot of authentic foreign language material.

Just as for listening, a foreign language student should read as much authentic material as he or she can. It would be best to pick an interesting topic and then try reading books, comic books, newspapers, magazines, notices, letters, and any other written thing one can find. As for listening, don't be discouraged if you can't read every word. Try instead to guess the meaning of words and get satisfaction in what you can read.

8. One should practice speaking and writing as much as possible.

For most people, speaking and writing are much more difficult than listening and reading. This is understandable because speaking and writing are active skills while listening and reading are more passive. All of the good language learners I know have practiced a lot to improve their speaking and writing skills. You can improve your speaking by seeking out native speakers and talking to them in their language. If they become your friends, you can talk with them often and they could correct any pronunciation or grammatical mistakes you make when speaking. Writing is the most difficult skill to develop proficiency. One should practice writing often perhaps by trying to write emails to foreign friends.

Although there are other approaches to achieving foreign language proficiency, I feel that the above eight approaches are the most important and can help anyone interested and serious about learning foreign languages well.

Learning Foreign Languages Well

Which is the best tip for learning a foreign language well?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      15 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for commenting, Luis! I will have more future articles about Thailand.

    • Luis G Asuncion profile image

      Luis G Asuncion 

      15 months ago from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines

      Wow. Very informational. Worth sharing. Thanks. I am from the Philippines, your neighboring country. I love to know more about your country.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for your comments, Vadim, and I'm pleased you like my posts. What kind of methods are you specifically looking for to improve your skills?

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Au fait, I really appreciate your comments and thank you very much for sharing and pinning this hub. A foreign language certainly can't be learned by only reading about it and not speaking it.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      4 years ago from North Texas

      These sound like excellent advice to me. I think if one never actually speaks a language it would be hard to learn it very well or to retain what has been learned (definitions, sentence structure, etc.) over the long haul. I know people who are trying to learn English by reading about it rather than speaking it. While I suppose one's vocabulary can be expanded that way, pronunciation suffers greatly.

      Sharing this with my followers and pinned to my "Education" board. Well done as always!

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      &pstraubie48 I am extremely happy that you found my suggestions for learning foreign languages well to be great! Thank you very much for sharing your experiences of learning French and Japanese. I always wanted to learn Japanese when I was younger, but never had the time for study even when I was stationed in Japan with the Navy. Thanks for sending the angels and I hope they come every morning.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from North Central Florida

      Great suggestions for sure.

      I was a student of French for 6 years and loved learning and speaking and have never traveled anywhere I could use it. I could have taught it (was certified ) but would have had all of my students saying 'parlay vous , y'all as I have a heavy Southern accent (actually not so much now but very much many years ago).

      I learned Japanese quickly when I lived there for four years as it was important to me and I had daily use for it. Using it was how I learned it and still remember quite a bit.

      Thanks for sharing this info with others ....Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you so much for revisiting this article and sharing it again. I'm also very happy that you found this to be an excellent article.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      Came back to give this excellent article another share. Also posting it on FB.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      7 years ago from North Texas

      Great advice for people planning to take a foreign language. I was very good at pronouncing Spanish, and learned a few words. Even a few sentences, but I was lazy. I could read simple sentences, and can still pick out words if they aren't too complicated, but making sense of what I hear or trying to speak the language has always been difficult for me.

      Voted this up, useful and interesting. Pinned to my education board, and will share. I think this advice could be very helpful to a lot of people who either must or who want to learn a different language.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. I hope my tips in this hub will be beneficial to you in learning your mother tongue faster. Your encouraging comments are really appreciated.

    • ketage profile image


      7 years ago from Croatia

      Great hub, I find myself wanting to learn my mothers tongue, but am having a hard time with the books, I will try your method and see if I learn it faster. Thanks for the tips.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thank you very much for your comments. If you are going to China, you will want to learn Chinese Mandarin since it is the official language and spoken by everyone. The best way for you to learn in such a short time is with a native Chinese tutor. Do you know any in Jalandhar? The second best way without a tutor is by learning through the Internet. I haven't checked them out, but I think there should be some podcasts where you can practice some listening and speaking. Learning how to recognize the characters is very tough and will take a much longer time than learning some basic conversation. You can practice listening and speaking, however, by learning the sound system and representing it with Pinyin. There are some special programs like Rosetta Stone, but they are expensive and I have never used them. My best advice is to search the Internet for podcasts or any other type of listening and speaking material. Good luck and let me know if you have any problems. Thank you very much for sharing this hub.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      7 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Hi Paul,

      Excellent tips. In fact, I need to learn Chinese now since I'll be visiting China in 6 months to visit my daughter and I don't want to be handicapped by lack of understanding of the language. I know it is a short period to learn a language but if I can learn a bit to get my way around that would be wonderful. Any suggestions, Paul?

      Thanks for these tips, I'll keep them in mind.

      Voted up, useful and interesting and shared as well as pinned.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thank you very much for stopping by and reading this hub. I appreciate your great comments and encouragement!

    • torrilynn profile image


      7 years ago

      I found that the tips that you have provided were great and that the problem with learning a new language for beginners is lack of motivation and consistency of studying the pictures, words, and their meanings. great work. Voted up.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Yes I living Bangkok thank you

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      9 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      SomR, If you live in Bangkok, I might be able to give you some lessons. Yes, learning English is not easy, especially if you don't have a teacher or practice your English with other native English speakers.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      thank you

      i very want learn English but very not easy. i wish you my teacher

    • yshashikant profile image

      Alejandro Paci 

      9 years ago from Mumbai

      I frequently travel to spain, but haven't yet been able to learn a lot. I have failed after making continuous efforts. But i wont stop their, and will still continue learning. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on how to learn a foreign language? I would try to follow them.


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