Learning languages

Learning languages

Listen to Simon talking about how he learned several languages in a variety of different ways.

Do the preparation task first. Then listen to the audio and do the exercises.


I've lived in many different countries, both in Western Europe, Middle East and now here in Hong Kong. And during all of that time, I've learned five or six different languages to one degree or another. I love learning languages. Not only are they important when you move to a country, I just find them fascinating.

Before I came to Hong Kong, I lived in Barcelona, Spain, for ten years. And when I first arrived, the most important thing was being able to communicate with people locally. I don't attend classes. I don't think I'm particularly good in classes. I prefer to learn by just talking to people, finding out what I need to say, by looking at dictionaries and listening carefully.

Other things that helped me when I first moved to Spain were watching the typical kinds of programmes we see every day on channels around the world, for example the weather. This is great, because they always say the same things, so you can really quickly hear the same words repeated again and again. And the pictures help of course.

Other types of programme that helped me learn Spanish quickly were things like game shows, where the same thing happens. They have a catchphrase or a slogan that they repeat endlessly when contestants win or when they are called to compete.

As well as that, I used to pick up the Spanish newspapers. First of all, I just accepted there was no way I was going to understand anything but one or two words. But gradually, I found that I learned lots of new things about this. I was interested because I wanted to know what was happening in the country I lived in. But I also knew that I could learn a lot of language this way. So I'd take a dictionary with me sometimes, or I'd notice a word and I'd ask other people what … it meant.

Anyway, by far the best practice I ever had was just talking to people in the street or in shops, where I'd rehearse in my head what I wanted to say beforehand, before I went in. Usually, I made a right mess of it first of all, but after you get over the embarrassment, it's quite funny really. And people are very sympathetic and supporting in most cases. 

It took me a long time to develop a good level of Spanish. I lived there for ten years, and I think I'm very fluent now. But I think for the first two years that I was there it was quite a struggle to hold a decent conversation. There were always lots of words and expressions that I didn't pick up on. In particular with the colloquial expressions, idioms, that kind of thing, that people use in everyday talk, but you don't necessarily see written down. I didn't find those very easy to learn at all. But it was a lot of fun. And people, as I said, are really supporting when they know that you are genuinely interested in learning their language.


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Language level

Average: 4 (49 votes)
Profile picture for user Verveine

Submitted by Verveine on Fri, 07/04/2023 - 16:12


I'm not sure if it is the most effective way to learn languages but I think it is helpful to read books written in simple English, especially novels for kids and picture books for kids. Actually, the novels have sometimes hart warming and sometimes interesting and thrilled stories and also the picture stories have beautiful and colorful drawings. I especially like Louis Sachar and Mo Willems's books!

Submitted by sempresere on Tue, 14/02/2023 - 22:22


I think that the language learning method that I prefer is speaking with people, because it's interesting and in this way you can know new people and also their cultures and habits.
I also like to read articles or to listen to videos about topics that I'm interested in.
I don't like very much language classes because I think that they are often boring and they teach you a lot of grammar which I don't like.

Submitted by Talaat2023 on Sat, 14/01/2023 - 00:57


Talking to Mother tongue speakers and read interesting articles.

Submitted by Magnosan7 on Sun, 23/10/2022 - 02:36


respect the learning of new languages is Important Interaction with the new culture and hold conversations daily with new patient people who share their time with us.
Too social media is useful,l but we need avoid distractions and set new objetives in our learning to be more effective.

Submitted by meknini on Tue, 12/07/2022 - 06:47


Listening works best for me as when I listen I am only focusing on the sounds and all my others senses are put under pause mode thus I am not distracted with all the other inputs so when I am picking up a new language or way of saying things, I would just pay close attention to how it's being said or worded. Listening with visual helps nearly as much as listening in isolation as long as the visual is not too distracting.

Submitted by Viktoriia Besedina on Tue, 07/06/2022 - 07:18


I don't know which method is best for me , but I use writing, reading, listening, watching videos to improve English. I also think that a good method is to learn English with native speakers.

Submitted by lipe1430 on Mon, 14/02/2022 - 19:39


I think the most efective method to learn a new language is to listen a lot. Before i become expert in talking, in any language, i become expert in listen to. I listen and repeat what i listened. After that, anything else is welcome.

Submitted by vishnu_saddikuti on Sat, 04/12/2021 - 07:35


In task 1, q6 how is "they are often unnoticed" correct?

Hi vishnu_saddikuti,

It's because, as the speaker says: "There were always lots of words and expressions that I didn't pick up on." The idea is that in conversation, people used a lot of colloquial expressions, but the speaker wasn't able to focus his attention on those expressions (i.e., he couldn't pick up on them).

The meaning of "pick up on something" from the Cambridge Dictionary is "to notice something that other people have not noticed". https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/pick-up-on-sth?q=pi…

I hope that helps.

The LearnEnglish Team