I learn any languages mostly alone, without any school or tutors (as it is insanely expensive and also quite inflexible). I learn it mostly online, starting with apps like Rosetta Stone and Memrise as well as a grammar book, and once I leap over a beginner line, I keep reading Internet articles that attract my interest. If I hit a wall, I resort to an online community, including the Stack Exchange.

In this learning method, I can only improve my reading. I also chat with online friends sometimes so it improves my writing a bit (never on the same level as my reading). But listening and speaking, especially speaking, is very limited.

This happened on all languages I have ever learned. As a self-learner, reading is by far the easiest to acquire, while speaking is the most difficult.

Then when I travel to a country that speaks the language, I cannot even talk about the very rudimentary topic, such as "How many days do you stay in the current hotel?" or "Why did you drop out of college?". This keeps going even after I stayed in the country for months. (But these conversations are quite easy in written context.)

Arguably the strongest barrier is that unlike reading and writing, there is little or no resources online regarding listening and speaking that attract my interest. Another barrier is that I could not know if my understanding is correct, as basically everything online does not have the answer (such as the script for whatever they are saying).

If the language is relevant, it is Mandarin Chinese.

  • 1
    Did you try watching films and Youtube videos on the language that you learn? It was very helpful for me with English.
    – devalone
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 22:09
  • @devalone Yes but as I said, I could not get interested in these stuff. I tried movies on the top ranking as well as local friends’ recommendation, but still feel they are all boring and it doesn’t take a while to stop watching...
    – Blaszard
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 4:07
  • 1
    how about VOA? or watch movies?
    – lukeluck
    Commented May 7, 2018 at 8:17
  • 1
    If you are bored by movies, I fail to see how you can learn a language. After all, most movies have a lot of speech in them....
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 22:11
  • If it helps, I was once travelling on a bus in the Czech Republic when another passenger stood up and said - oddly enough, in English - "Hey, I'm a foreigner trying to learn Czech. Would anyone like to chat with me?" Why not try that? Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 22:13

3 Answers 3


Even as a self learner, there are (especially today) possibilities to find people to talk to using dedicated apps or web-sites. This is especially true for language tandems. There are many people out there, who are natives in your target language, that try to learn your language. (This is bascially true for almost any language combination.) These services are often free or quite cheap.

And that is essentially the only way you have to improve your speaking skill: talk to people. Even talking to yourself is acutally quite a useful tool. Especially, if you are struggling with expressing yourself in standardised situations, such as in a supermarket, where the set of phrases you might need are pretty fixed.

For listening: Exposure is key. Either, again, talk to someone or try to find online ressources that interest you: movies, radio shows, podcasts. Unlike stated in the previous answer, I agree with the comment by @devalone completely: Having a genuine interest in the material is the most important thing. Even if you are watchin a movie as a tool for language learning, if you find it boring or uninteresting, you will not engage, you will not have fun. Having fun with language learning is really underrated, but that's what it is really all about. If it interests you, you will be willing to spend more time with it. And spending time speaking or listening to the language you want to learn improves your proficiency. If something does not interest you, your brain will shut down and not retain any of the information, even if it was technically there.

Given the sheer amount of material available on the internet, I am sure you will find something that is about a topic that interests you.


As a pure self learner the only thing you can do is watch more movies and TV, listen to more radio and music or hang around more bars and other places where you might meet native speakers or even other students…

Without formal tuition, you should still be able to join or set up a conversation group.

What you said to devalone simply is not sensible.

If you're watching a movie as a tool for learning language why are you even interested whether the movie itself was good, bad or indifferent? How could you possibly know without hearing it through, whether it had anything to teach you?

  • This answer should really be down-voted. If would, if I could. @Robbie Goodwin: I hope you are aware that enjoying a language related acitivty is really important, if you want the information to stick, right? I quote: "emotions are the driving force behind second language acquisition" [eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/5096/)]
    – Markus G.
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 11:08
  • @Markus Can you justify any of that, or not? I hope you are aware that enjoying any learning is important, right… and that has little do do with this thread or that Answer. No-one doubts it's more pleasant to work with movies you happen to enjoy and given the choice, what's your goal here? To learn a language or yo enjoy yourself? Commented Apr 8, 2021 at 21:47
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    I did back up my comment with scientific evidence. And I don't agree with you, when you imply learning and enjoyment are distinct and so do scientists and also language teaching experts. For this I refer you to numerous talks by language teachers and interpreters on the polyglot gathering on YouTube. It is a common consensus that information sticks better when you have an enjoyable experience and emotional involvement. You can of course deny that, but then you would at least not be in alignment with the common consensus of the community. That is, why I think you answer is counter-productive.
    – Markus G.
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 10:02
  • @Markus Did you not realise either that your inference about "learning and enjoyment are distinct" is not based on anything I said, or that "so do scientists and also language teaching experts" means exactly the opposite of what you presumably meant. I asked you for justification because what you said seemed so trivially obvious, the only point of saying it must be something hidden. If you think my Answer counter-productive, ask a few people who tried that approach or failing that reality test, ask some experts you trust. Failing either, please be less pointlessly negative. Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 23:20
  • Tricky issue. I agree that enjoying content is important, but in my own experience the learner's tastes are not set in stone. There's some wiggle room there and with the proper mindset you can learn to enjoy things you initially wouldn't have. That's particularly useful when the content that's available to you as a beginner just isn't in your wheelhouse. I had to wade through quite a bit of teenage manga and anime, which I wasn't a fan of, just to get to the kind of literature I enjoy in Japanese. Sometimes you just gotta put a positive spin on it to manufacture interest, even just temporarily
    – user10134
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 19:37

Active skills in any language are always behind the passive skills. As somebody noted - any English speaker can appreciate the works of Shakespeare, but very few can write like him. As an anecdotal evidence I could mention myself - in French TCF language test that I took a couple of years ago I scored C2 level on the three passive skills (listening, reading and understanding structures), but only B2 in the active ones (writing and speaking).

Let me list the principal methdos of improving language skills (already largely covered in the other answers):

  • Watching programs/films/series in the target language. E.g., watching all the episodes of "Hélène et les garçons" a few years ago was certainly a great boost to my conversational French. Although one is not directly practicing active skills in doing so, one learns real conversational structures and vocabulary applied in real-life situations (unlike when reading, where the language is quite a bit more formal, even though it does not appear as such).
  • Another important tip is using "junk" resources - silly TV series (like the one I mentioned), detective novels, love stories, etc. The language used in such resources is more accessible and closer to everyday langauge than language is simpler and closer to the everyday one than the language in high quality films/books/etc.
  • Drilling - working through the exercises in grammar books, or audio tapes is excruciatingly boring, but can give a quick boost, if practiced systematically for a couple of months - I am again speaking from my own experience (this time in German).
  • Tandems with native speakers - I found this rather useless, unless this native speaker is really someone that you work/live with together. In other words, a couple of hours per week do not do the trick. Even when being together all the time, one quickly adapts to the accent and the particular set of expressions used by such a partner, so it helps only in a limited way.
  • Traveling to a foreign country - another useful but limited way,as one's communication is often limited to the basics.
  • Ultimately, nothing is a substitute for actually living and working among the native speakers. If the age, financial situation, politics etc. allow - going to study abroad is one of the best options.
  • tandems with native speakers?
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 22:12
  • @Lambie tandem in this context is when you meet regularly with a native speaker (e.g., for coffee or lunch) to talk in your target langauge. Such activities are often organized by langauge schools as help to language learners.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Apr 17, 2021 at 2:23

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