There are many effective techniques you can use to help you learn a foreign language faster whether you are living in a country where the language is spoken or at home surrounded by English. Here are three common methods that won't help your progress.

  1. Listening to pop music. I once had the idea that playing pop songs in my target language might help me to immerse myself in it while I was relaxing. I found out about some popular singers, purchased the music and printed the lyrics and sat down to enjoy myself listening while doing other things. Unfortunately, despite the pleasure it gave me, it really didn't help my language learning because the lyrics did not form standard grammatical sentences, so they were not good models to follow. Lesson learned - listening to pop music is fun (if you like that sort of thing), but it won't help your language learning progress.
  2. Subliminal language learning. I planned a trip to Europe one summer and decided that it would be a good idea to get some language study under my belt before I left. Since I had a busy semester I knew that I would not have much time to study, so I purchased a subliminal language course in which all I needed to do was turn on the recording before I went to sleep, read through the accompanying text once and leave it to play through repeatedly during the night. In the morning, I would have learned some German. It sounded fabulous! According to studies my subconscious would kick in and help me learn the language quickly, correctly, and without effort. It may work for some people, but my subconscious obviously takes a break at night since my German fluency did not improve.
  3. Listening without reproducing what you hear. If you simply listen, or read a foreign language without making an effort to respond by repeating the words or answering the questions you will not make very much progress. Most course recordings leave space for the learner to respond, and software programs ask you to choose the correct answer which engages the learner actively. If you don't follow the directions, but simply listen to the recording and absorb what is said, don't expect to make much progress.

These three techniques have one thing in common:- they are all passive. In order to learn a language so that you can speak with any degree of confidence you need to use active language learning techniques such as speaking and writing. Even choosing a response on the computer is not very helpful, since you are merely selecting a response rather than actively formulating one yourself.

It is best if you can find someone to practice with regularly, even if it is only once a month, but if this is too expensive or difficult you can craft your own exercises and self-check them with a bit of ingenuity and effort. As with all worthwhile endeavours you will get out what you put in, and once you see the extra progress you can make by using active learning methods you will be encouraged to continue with them.