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Teaching Yourself a Language? Then Act Like a Teacher! Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Language Learning

When you’re learning a language on your own, you have to play both roles: student and teacher.

The problem is, while we’re all fairly familiar with being a student (for better or worse!) most of us aren’t too familiar with the other side of the equation. This imbalance can lead you into an ineffective language learning regimen. Even if you’re the model student, you need to act like the teacher once in a while. Why?

Teaching is a profession for a reason—it takes thought and effort to effectively impart information to others. A lot of this time and effort manifests itself in a little something called lesson planning. A lesson plan is a road map not only of what needs to be learned, but also how best to learn it and how to check for comprehension at the end of it all. If you’re only playing the role of student, you’re probably not thinking too much about the “how,” but you should be. Here’s how you can play teacher and plan out a language learning adventure that is sure to lead somewhere great.

1. Determine your learning objectives

Ask yourself what you want to learn, or even better, what you hope to be able to do by the end of your lesson (or by the end of the week, month, etc.). Start with a general goal or topic and expand upon that subject to determine the vocabulary, skills, and cultural aspects you hope to understand.

For example, let’s say you want to learn about daily life in France, and be able to talk about your daily activities. You can break that objective down into more specific tasks, such as learning to:

  • Describe your daily schedule
  • Ask questions about daily events
  • Express frequency to say when and how often you do things
  • Express needs and wants
  • Make suggestions of things to do

2. Develop and carry out learning activities

Once you’ve figured out what you want to learn, you should take some time to think about how you can manage to learn it all. The first step is to gather resources. When doing so, consider a mix of fabricated resources (made specifically for learners) and authentic materials (real-life language materials like music, newspapers, etc.) In our example, the learner may want to use:

  • An online program or mobile app to learn vocabulary
  • A few blog posts written by a French teenager that discuss his/her daily life
  • French TV shows or commercials that give insights into daily activities and products that are important to French people

The next step is to put those resources to use in a series of activities. When learning on your own, it’s easy to think of receptive activities (think reading and listening). Push yourself to work on productive activities as well, including reacting to your resources verbally and in writing. Our fictional learner may want to:

  • Use Transparent Language Online to learn relevant vocabulary: activities, sports, expressions of frequency, etc.
  • Use the newly acquired vocabulary to write a daily journal detailing his/her activities
  • Narrate out loud the things he/she is doing around the house throughout the day
  • Read the blog posts and leave a comment (or write a pretend comment) reacting to the content and sharing his/her own experiences
  • Watch the TV shows and commercials and write his/her own commercials and compare them to his/her favorite shows and products

3. Check for understanding

Once you’ve done all of those activities, pat yourself on the back and have a cookie, you deserve it! But you’re not done quite yet. What’s the point of all that studying if you don’t check to make sure you actually learned something?

Assess yourself, and be honest. Our pretend student could look in the mirror and recite his/her daily routine, then repeat the process with a made-up day of his/her French counterpart. Were there words he/she couldn’t remember? Could he/she not think of what a French teen might do at night? These are areas of weakness that can be improved. It’s not a bad thing, either! Identifying areas in need of improvement will ensure you do just that: improve.

So next time you sit down to learn a little more of your new language, channel your inner-teacher. This isn’t to say you need to take all of the adventuring out of your language adventure. Sometimes, you just need to have fun with it. But in the long run, keep your goals in mind, plan activities that align with those goals, and check up on your progress regularly. You’ll thank your teacher when it’s all said and done.

Do you plan out lessons when learning a new language, or do you just wing it? How do you measure your progress?

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About the Author: meaghan

Meaghan is the Marketing Communications Manager at Transparent Language.


  1. J. Mitchell:

    Hi Meaghan, I love the idea of your post. I’m definitely guilty of being the student without being the teacher. I guess the online course I’m using for my language (Spanish) learning makes it easy for me to not have to ‘think like a teacher’. I’ll be giving some more thought to the way I go about my learning though. I guess I have a bit of work to to before I can pat myself on the back and have my cookie:-)


    • meaghan:

      @J. Mitchell Hey Joe! A good online course will facilitate a lot of the teacherly duties that self-learners have to take on. For example, Transparent Language Online includes the Learned Items refresh system, which tracks all of words and phrases you’ve learned, and periodically prompts you to “refresh”, or review, items you haven’t seen in awhile and may be at risk of forgetting. That way, you can go on your merry way learning new items, but every once in a while, you’ll be reminded, without any effort on your part, to review! Shameless plug for Transparent, I know, but the point is, if you’re using a well-designed course, you’re on the right track with the student-teacher balance! Once you’ve graduated beyond that course, you’ll probably need to assume more of the teacher role, but putting in the extra legwork will pay off in the end!

      Also, you can always have a cookie! 😉

  2. Inti:

    I love learning languages but I feel great sharing with kids and language companions.
    I encourage Amdean kids to learn English, Deutsch or Chinese and of course to speak fluently n proudly Quechua n Aymara.

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