Best Way to Learn a Language – Besides Speaking It

We’ve all heard the best way to learn a language is by speaking it and I would whole heatedly agree with this.

However there is another way to learn that is not discussed nearly as often and not knowing this can leave language students frustrated, so here it is…

The best way to learn a language (besides speaking it) is to identify your learning style.

Tweet: The best way to learn a language (besides speaking it) is to identify your learning style
something that I hadn’t done when I chose the Wrong Language School.

A learning style is simply how you learn best and this can be applied to learning a language. Some people learn best by hearing, seeing or doing. Some people learn better in group settings while others learn better individually. Each person has their own learning style and by identifying your own learning style, you can then choose the best way to learn a language for you so that you will learn a language more efficiently and more quickly. A good  teacher will use a variety of teaching techniques that will hit on all the learning styles, and it should be fun at least some of the time (see 5 Fun Language Learning Techniques) but in reality this doesn’t always happen.  But the goods news is even if you don’t have a good teacher, there are still things you can do on your own.  I didn’t have good language teachers, which is why I ended up Quitting German School.

I’ve been taking an Intensive German Course for the past 5 months and have been very frustrated with my progress. Normally I find school quite easy and am one of the “smart kids”, not so much in German class and it is driving me crazy. I know from my education background that aural learning is not my strong point but unfortunately a lot of aural teaching techniques are used to help students learn a language.

I decided to take a free online learning style test at Learning Styles Online to see exactly what I was dealing with and why I struggle so much. Below are my results:

The blue line shows my results. I am very high on the social, logical and physical traits. I was pleased to see that I scored so high on the social trait, since my course involves interacting with other students. Based on my high social trait this is a better option for me than studying German by myself.

I scored very low on the Aural trait, much lower than my peers as indicated by the red line for people ages 30-39 and the green line for people in Canada. Ah ha – that explains why I’m struggling to learn German! Obviously if I want to learn German – and I really do since I’m planning to live in Germany indefinitely,  aural traits are going to be really important.  Knowing this, I can give myself a break and spend more time Learning a Language by Reading Celebrity Magazines. I can also be aware that anything I’ve learned aurally, I will likely need to reinforce it using another learning style that meshes better for me. For example, if we were doing a listening exercise in my German class, I can make notes while listening. After class I could turn this into a social, logical or physical exercise which is how I learn better and will reinforce what I learned aurally.

I would encourage anyone that wants to learn a language to do the free learning styles quiz at Learning Styles Online. This test is longer than other online learning style tests, but you can still complete it in under 10 minutes and it will give you a very comprehensive review of your learning style. It also provides more info on each learning style and learning techniques that are best for that learning style. For example, one of the suggestions it gives for people who score high on the social trait is role playing. I found this site very useful. Note: This is an un-sponsored review of this website, I just happen to like it and think taking a few minutes to take the quiz to identify your learning style and then apply it will save you a lot of time regardless of what you’re trying to learn.

Knowing your learning styles and some exercises to accommodate your learning style will make it so much easier and much less frustrating when trying to learn a language. Now I’m off to play Scrabble, in German of course, since it incorporates social, logical and physical learning traits all at the same time! If I keep it up, I might just learn German yet.

As an aside:
Identifying your learning style is useful no matter what you’re learning. For the purposes of this post, I’ve just focused on how to learn a language.

Why should you listen to me? I hold a Master of Education degree in Adult Learning and have worked in education for over 10 years doing everything from curriculum development, program design to instruction for people ranging in age from 4 to 89 (my oldest student). Until recently I taught Adult Education courses in Continuing Education at a university in Canada that taught adult educators how to teach adults, I have conducted numerous staff training sessions and also worked as an ESL Teacher in S. Korea and Thailand. I still teach an online course for a university in Canada.


  1. says

    Hi Laurel!

    One of the problems with intensive language classes is that they rush you through the material so fast, nothing sticks. You study a lot and learn very little. I’ve found that reviewing already studied material over and over again is far more effective in building fluency.

  2. Laurel says

    @Tiffany – Love the idea of watching Disney, I find I learn a lot better when learning is fun as well. I’m so grateful for subtitles as well.

    @Danny – Love the social method as well and it is more fun :)

    @Peter – Thanks and best of luck with Spanish. My German in Scrabble is not making much progress, but I’m working on it. Hope you have better luck!

    @Michael – Agreed, I’m struggling with trying to learn WAY too much, too fast at the moment. I agree that repetition and more repetition is the key to making a language stick.

  3. says

    While I suspected what mine would be, it was really interesting to see the breakdown. I didn’t get anything but mine despite putting in my age and location, so I’m not sure how I compare to others, but mine were
    Solitary 17
    Logical 8

    I took a look at some of their tips and saw that, for verbal, they suggest speaking and writing. Between that being my highest, and aural and solitary following close behind, I guess that explains why listening and then writing and reading then completing exercises has helped words stick with me despite that I’m studying on my own. I still plan to take a class, but it’s good to know which exercises are going to stick with me most.

  4. Katlyn says

    Ya I find it hard to make any meaningful progress sometimes. I’ve been using these books lately and they’ve really helped me I would check them out They try to incorporate new vocabulary words into the readings slowly and are constantly testing your recall.

  5. David Bolton says

    The recommendation for “learning styles online” is quite welcome! It looks like a great utility. I myself have a language learning site, and list, and I will recommend this to my visitors.
    Now: you are SO right about the importance of identifying your learning style. But I don’t think you need to worry, if you plan to live in Germany. When I first went there to live, I couldn’t have a normal fluent conversation, despite the fact that I had been the best in all my college German classes. Two months intensive courses at the Goethe Institut didn’t help much, either, BUT..then I lived with a family for 6 weeks, and THEN, I could speak quite well, and use all that information that I had stored in my head in an active way. After a few years there, speaking only German (and reading a lot), my German had just about reached a native level. Good luck, and above all, have fun with German!

  6. says

    I feel you have to try lots of different methods before you find the right one or even the right mix for you. For me I liked Michel Thomas, which you can find on youtube and then practicing with native speakers on I like it because again I have a mix of people that I can pick from :)

  7. says

    Over the past 5 years or so, there’s a massive push here in Ontario for teachers to actively implement instruction that hits all of the different learning styles more effectively—a sure-fire way to not get hired as a teacher is to not mention that you do this! It seems like some language schools have yet to catch up to that. I had a bad experience at a language school in Germany too. One of our teachers was just flat out mean, yelling at and insulting students when they couldn’t produce certain sounds as a native speaker would. Needless to say, it was a horrible learning environment. I’m sure that things would have been better had they mixed the curriculum up a little (and been a little more sympathetic to learners), but it focused way too much on speaking off the cuff about unfamiliar subjects without first preparing us with the vocabulary needed to express ourselves effectively. I know many people learn best through just speaking, but I’ve personally always found it easier to learn through reading aloud and writing. I definitely agree that once you know how you learn, it will open up more doors for you!

    • says

      @Ryan – So glad to hear that Ontario is pushing for this. Agreed that language schools (at least in Germany) are behind on the game. I really don’t understand mean teachers, they end up doing so much damage to student’s confidence levels.

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