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.

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.



  1. Laurie V January 31, 2011 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Funny, I was just saying the same exact thing to a classmate today. Typically I catch on to things very easily, but the pace I’m learning German is very discouraging.

    I’ll have to take this and see how I do- I’m pretty sure I’ll score similarly in the aural portion too.

  2. Laurel January 31, 2011 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    @Laurie – Too funny, glad it’s not just me. I’m going to try some of the ideas which hopefully will help and will help you as well with your German.

  3. Amer January 31, 2011 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    I guess you’re right..I’ve been surrounded by Spanish speaking friends in the office for a few years now and despite them trying to teach me, I’ve still no clue what they’re talking about. I’m gonna try the questionnaires, hopefully it’s going to help me in the future.

  4. Cathy Sweeney February 1, 2011 at 12:42 am - Reply

    Very impressed with your credentials, Laurel! This is an interesting post. You are so right about learning styles being different for everyone. I think I will take the quiz.

    One of the things I like about Rosetta Stone courses is that there is a nice combination of aural, visual training. My biggest problem is that I just don’t take enough time to work with it, so I still have a long way to go to become proficient.

  5. Migrationology February 1, 2011 at 1:09 am - Reply

    Great post Laurel! If we can leverage our personal gifts and talents, we can be so much more effective in the way we learn or do things…and be much happier in the process. I’m going to try out the quiz!

  6. Sarah Worsham February 1, 2011 at 1:15 am - Reply

    This is great advice! I think a lot of people get discouraged because they try one method for learning a language and have a hard time (or they hate it). The good news is there are a lot of different ways to learn (not only for languages) so hopefully there is a method that works best (and is more fun) for everyone.

    Now if we could just get schools to take this advice….

  7. adventureswithben February 1, 2011 at 1:17 am - Reply

    Maybe I’ll try to resurrect my french.

  8. jade February 1, 2011 at 2:49 am - Reply

    Wow- I want to see how I would test, too. Really interesting!

  9. robin February 1, 2011 at 9:33 am - Reply

    As a teacher myself (nowhere near as qualified as you Laurel!) I wholeheartedly agree that learning style is an essential element in course design.

  10. Jen February 1, 2011 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Wow! Interesting! That explains a lot about my language learning, too. I scored very strongly on Solitary and Verbal (linguistic). I, too, struggled through my intensive course because I’m just not a strong auditory learner – I have to see words or read them. I guess the results aren’t very surprising for me. LOL. They also provide great trips for how to use your learning style to the best advantage. Thanks, Laurel! 🙂

  11. Laurel February 1, 2011 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    @ Amer – Hope the questionnaire helps you. Some people are lucky enough to learn a language just by being around it and listening to it. I’m not one of them either unfortunately.

    @Cathy – Thanks, wasn’t going to include my credentials, but there’s some garbage on the internet from so called “experts” that I wanted people to know this is valid info. I’ve heard great things about Rosetta Stone, but haven’t seen it. Yes, unfortunately it does take time, no matter how great the language program 🙂

    @Mark – Thanks so much and I completely agree with your comment!

    @Sarah – Thanks and agreed. I’ve been tempted so many times to give up on German, so it’s nice to know that I just need to take a different approach to learning it. Yes, wouldn’t it be great if schools incorporated accommodating all the different learning styles into their teaching methods. One can dream:)

    @adventureswithben – Mais Oui et bonne chance!

    @Jade – I think it’s definitely worth taking the time to do the test since it applies to anything new you learn, not just languages

    @Thanks Robin and glad to hear affirmation from another teacher. You’re students are lucky to have you as their teacher.

    • andreza February 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm - Reply

      Hi, Laurel! I am thinking about moving from Rio to live with my boyfriend in Germany, next to Stuttgart. But, I couldnt find a Goethe institute in the city for a 3 months, 6 months or year of german lessons. I know you had not so excellent experience on presencial courses, but would you mind to send me the names or some reference of them… my personal email is there for you to use!
      You also gave me some inspiration to do a similar eltronic guide as a brazilian expect in Germany!
      PS. I also had german sauna stories! Lol!

  12. Laurel February 1, 2011 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    @Jen – Glad you took the survey and found the results useful. Learning German, or any language is tough if you are not an auditory learner, so I’m glad you found the tips on the link useful. I’m so jealous of people who are auditory learners when it comes to learning a language. Sigh, guess I’ll just have to keep coming up with other ways to learn German 🙂

  13. Tiffany Karabaich February 1, 2011 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    great article, and I agree. Knowing your learning style is the key to success. I learn best with visually seeing the word and what it is. One of my favorite techniques is to watch my Disney animation DVDs in Spanish. The sentences are usually short and subtitles help!

  14. Danny February 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    just seeing that chart is impressive enough for me. Very interesting stuff…..(I think i’d stick with the social method anyhow though…more fun!)

  15. Peter February 6, 2011 at 2:39 am - Reply

    Thanks for posting this. I am still learning spanish, and this online test is probably going to help guide me in a direction so I will learn most effectively. Appreciated! PS good luck with scrabble in German, and I think I will try and convince my wife to play me in spanish. Sounds fun!

  16. Michael Taylor March 2, 2011 at 7:01 am - Reply

    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.

  17. Laurel March 6, 2011 at 11:29 am - Reply

    @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.

  18. amandapoverseas October 18, 2011 at 6:00 am - Reply

    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.

  19. […] German Grammar, I took a free learning styles inventory to determine my learning styles which was recommended in a post in Laurel’s blog Expat in Germany. While I suspected what my learning styles would be, it was […]

  20. Katlyn October 31, 2011 at 9:53 am - Reply

    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.

  21. David Bolton January 7, 2012 at 5:41 am - Reply

    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!

  22. Abi December 4, 2012 at 10:38 am - Reply

    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 🙂

    • Laurel December 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm - Reply

      @Abi – Agreed, everyone has to find what works well for them and it’s usually a variety of methods.

  23. Ryan @Treksplorer January 26, 2014 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    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!

    • Laurel February 21, 2014 at 11:52 pm - Reply

      @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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