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Language Learning Through The Eyes Of A Canadian Teenager

Hello! My name is Nathan Corrigan. I am 16 in grade 11 and I attend Stella Maris Academy. I’m from the small town of Trepassey in Newfoundland and Labrador. My first foreign language learning experience was in grade 4, when I started taking the mandatory French courses as part of our school curriculum, but it wasn’t until years later when my learning became serious. I consider my personal language learning journey to have started in grade 7 when I became very interested in learning Japanese. I found the use of three “alphabets” to be very fascinating, so I started with online resources, bought by first textbook, and the rest is history. Since then I have studied, and continue to study (in order of relevance): French, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Greek and German.

Some things to consider and my best advice

1. Keep a dedicated Language Learning Notebook

For every language that I learn, I like to have a separate dedicated notebook for it. This way I can keep all of my notes in one place for each language. Keeping your notes and resources all in one place will make your language learning process much easier. If you are planning on printing resources from the internet, a binder could also work really well.

2. You don’t necessarily need to spend money to learn a Language

Personally I do not think you need to spend any money on getting language learning resources. It’s the 21st century and the internet is full of free lessons, articles, videos, etc. You do not need to invest large amounts of money on programs, courses, or books to learn a language. Be the tech-savvy teenagers you are, and browse the web and see what you can find. I have included free and paid resources at the end of this article for you to use. I must admit, that although I do use a plethora of online resources, I also have a habit of buying language learning books, as I prefer a paper copy. I may have a slight addiction to buying language learning books. I believe that combing free online resources, with books, flash cards, and apps on your phones is the perfect way to guide yourself when learning a language.

3. Use apps to your advantage

My phone has multiple folders, divided by languages, that are filled with language learning apps. Is this necessary? No. Is it over the top? maybe. But one thing I have come to learn is that language learning apps are your best friend. The majority of us teenagers always have their phones on us, meaning we often have access to these apps. What does this allow us to do? It allows us to learn on the go! We can easily learn tidbits while taking a break from school work, while riding the bus, or simply whenever some spare time arises. Some apps that I use on the daily include HelloTalk, Duolingo, Drops, WordReference and Chinese Skill. HelloTalk matches you up with native speakers of your target language who you share similar interests with. They can check your grammar and teach you new words and phrases. Duolingo and Drops are great apps to learn small chunks of information at your own pace. I personally love using these apps to learn new vocab and simple grammar. I commonly use WordReference for French, as it has a strong library for the French language, but it allows provides word translations and example sentences for many other languages such as Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Greek, Korean, Swedish and many more. Finally, there is Chinese Skill, which is an app dedicated to learning Mandarin Chinese. It provides mini lessons explaining basic grammar and vocab, giving you a great foundation in Mandarin!

4. You don’t need to spend hours a day studying to learn a new language

A common misconception among new learners is that in order to learn their target language, they must spend hours a day consecutively studying in order to gain proficiency. I have come to learn that this is not true at all. It is more important to just remain consistent. Try your best to study every day, or a certain number of times per week. Stick to that schedule. Study for maybe 20 mins during each session. Or if you’re like me and have a very busy schedule, set your study times up beforehand.This way you know when you’re going to study, you remain consistent, and you are getting adequate study time in order to maintain your skills and continue to improve. So if you’re a busy high school student who wants to self-study a foreign language, remember this: study often, but for shorter periods while remaining consistent and you’ll reach your goal with time.

5. Staying motivated and setting goals

One of the main problems I have encountered is staying motivated when learning a language. If you lose motivation, you are less likely to continue learning your target language, and all of your time and hard work would have been wasted! So what I recommend is asking yourself, and truthfully providing an answer, as to why you want to learn this language. If you find yourself having trouble finding a reason, or you simply say “because I want to be fluent” or “because it would be cool”, then chances are your motivation is going to diminish once the going gets hard and your life gets busy. I recommend finding a solid reason why you want to learn. Whether it’s so you can use the language while traveling, understanding foreign music and movies, reading famous books in their native languages, being able to talk with family or friends in that language, or to further your career path. Connect your reason to something that interests you or that is very important to you. This way, learning your language will seem like fun, as you have a valid purpose for learning it.

Setting goals is always a good way to keep you motivated. Research suggests that people who set goals are more likely to achieve success. Goals help you to identify what you want to accomplish. Goals keep you on track and they allow you to measure your progress and see if you’re working harder enough. I try and set challenging goals that are attainable, but push me to better myself. For example; I am learning 600 Mandarin Characters during 2018. This accounts for the required characters used on the HSK 3 exam. This is a very broad goal, but I have found a great website online which will allow me to track my progress in learning these characters. I set this as a major goal to give myself a strong basis in the language, and make sure I progress efficiently this year. A short term goal could I make could be grammar related. For example; I will try and learn a new grammar structure and then try and use it as often I can during a week with friends, language partners or in my notes. When you achieve a goal make sure to reward yourself for a job well done!

6. Tips and Tricks to learning vocabulary and grammar

Flash Cards - Ideal when trying to learn lots of new vocab. The process of writing your own flashcards and using them often, helps you to more easily retain large amounts of vocab when you use a recall method. Sticky Notes - You can write the words of objects around your house/room in your target language. Then you can place these sticky notes on those objects. Seeing the sticky note every time you see the object will force you to read it, and you’ll start connecting the word to the object much like young children do. New Vocab - Instead of writing out lists of vocab, or repeatedly rewriting the same word over and over again in hopes of remembering it, try to use the word in a sentence. For every word you are trying to learn try and use it in 5 sentences. Writing down these sentences will help you learn the word, and give you actual phrases that you can use the word in. This will greatly improve your ability to use the word in conversation. Talk to yourself out loud - When studying a foreign language, I like to repeat everything aloud. Make sure you can actually from the word using your voice, and that you aren’t just saying it in your head. This will make you more comfortable when it comes to having a conversation as you will be able fluidly enunciate the word. Talk to yourself in your brain - Once you reach an upper beginner level you can start to try and think in your target language. It might be hard at first, but with practice you can get used to it. This will help improve your response time when in a real life conversation. The faster you can from sentences in your brain the better!Describe your surroundings - Walk around your house, neighborhood, school or a public area and try to describe the things around you in your target language. Being able to describe your surroundings is a great skill to have, and it’ll level up your language ability. Trying describing the color of things, or the location of one object relative to another. You’ll find that this skill will creep into everyday conversations.

Resource List


Chinese Grammar Wiki - Organized grammar points based on levels (A1,A2,B1 etc.). Provides information on many grammar related topics allowing you to start build sentences. Ranges from basic to advanced. I personally use this website every time I study Chinese!

Yellow Bridge Mandarin-English Online Dictionary - Great online dictionary that provides word definitions along with example sentences. Allows you to search using English, Chinese and pinyin.


Complete French Grammar (Practice Makes Perfect) - Provides detailed explanations of very important grammar points along with many examples to practice. Good for beginner to advanced levels.

La grammar des premiers temps B1/B2 - A more advanced book. For intermediate learners who are at the B1/B2 level and are looking to improve their written and spoken French.

Bescherelle - Verb Conjugation reference book.

WordReference - App and website dedicated to providing word translations and example sentences containing the word.

Novels for Beginner-Intermediate learners

Le petit Nicolas

Le monde de Narnia

Les livres de Harry Potter


Living Language German Essentials - Decent book for learning the German basics. Includes a built in workbook, and logically order lessons.

Practice Makes Perfect German - Same format as the other “Practice Make Perfect books”. Great for all aspect of grammar. It allows you to practice all of the grammar as this is primarily a workbook.

Greek - I learned the Greek alphabet with their YouTube channel, along with much of the basic Greek that I know! Great for beginners!

Italian - Collection of Italian lessons and well known children stories translated into Italian. Great for improving your reading comprehension.

Italian Grammar and Practice - An ideal resource for independent study. Has a clear layout, and teaches the most important aspects of the Italian language.

Language Hacking Italian - Wonderful book for learning conversational Italian while improving your written Italian. Created by the famous polyglot Benny Lewis.


Genki 1 & 2 + Workbooks - Elementary Japanese grammar books. Used in Universities around the world. They are higher in price, but they are very well known and highly regarded for a reason. I love these books!

Japanese Kanji & Kana - Japanese Kanji reference book with example sentences. Great for finding the use of onyomi and kunyomi. - Great website with audio and reading comprehension lessons. They also have a YouTube channel.

Jisho Online Dictionary - Great online dictionary for finding the meaning and use of Japanese words. Often gives example sentences. - Overall great website for information on Japanese culture and language.

Korean - Great website with free and paid resources. There hey lessons organized from beginner to advanced. As well they have their own YouTube channel with lots of grammar explanations and audio resources.

KoreanFromZero - These are the books I started learning Korean with. They start off simple and develop their way into harder content. There is a workbook built in so you get lots of practice!

500BasicKoreanVerbs - Verb conjugation charts and tables with example sentences.

K-Dramas - Great listening practice for natural Korean.

K-pop - Great listening practice.


Drops - Vocab memory app.

Hangeul 101 - Great app for learning Hangeul.

Korean Letters - Another great app for learning Hangeul.


Complete Spanish Grammar (Practice Makes Perfect) - Provides the same type of content as the French version, but for Spanish! Overall a great book.

Easy Spanish STEP-BY-STEP - Great book for beginners who have little to no prior knowledge in the language. Starts from the basics and works it way up through each lesson, providing you with work to complete along the way. - Provides Spanish lessons, along with many well known kids stories translated into Spanish. Great reading material! (Includes audio)

Spanish Grammar for Independent learners - Great overall reference book for all aspects of Spanish grammar. (Note: not a workbook)

~Written by Nathan Corrigan, high school student

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