Goals are good. We know that.

They turn dreams into reality and all that jazz. But working on goals involves a constant battle against the lazy part of our brains that says “uh… I’m sure it’ll just, you know, uh… get done at some point” (mine sounds like the dude from Big Lebowsky).

As I write, I’m fresh back from a break in the south of Italy and my brain is swimming with exciting language projects. And I want to make sure I actually do them.

So now seems like the perfect time to join the #clearthelist project. Clear the list is a monthly language goal setting project, run by Lindsay from Lindsay does languages and Shannon from Eurolinguiste. It’s a place for language learners to share their goals and cheer each other on.

Sharing goals = Smashing goals

I like clear the list project because it includes a couple of principles that are backed by scientific studies on goal setting:

1. Teamwork: Studies show that people who feel like they’re part of a team (even if they’re not physically collaborating) are more interested in the task at hand and more likely to perform better. Teamwork makes the dream work!

2. Accountability: Sharing your goals makes you more accountable for them. In one study, people who shared their goals with others and gave planned progress updates had higher success rates than people who kept their goals to themselves. When your goals are out there for all to see, you’re more motivated to put the work in to avoid looking silly. There’s a big picture of my face at the end of this post, so I’m feeling pretty accountable right now.

Could this delicate balance of teamwork and fear of public humiliation be the recipe for language learning success? To find out, I’ve decided to share my October language learning goals with you:

My Language Goals for October

I’ve got 5 languages on the go and I’m going to do a little something in all of them this month.

Learning multiple languages can be tricky if you don’t manage it carefully. One strategy that works for me is to choose one language to focus on intensively (sprint language), whilst studying the others in a more relaxed fashion (marathon languages). In the “sprint language”, I immerse myself in the language as much as possible through activities like reading, watching TV and listening to the radio. Like a mad language binge, except it mostly involves reading books and listening to the radio and such. So not that mad really.

My sprint language for October is Italian, while my marathon languages are German, Chinese, French and Spanish.


This month I’m excited about going back to my first language love, Italian, which I learned during my year abroad, back in 2008.

I’ve been living in Italy on and off ever since, and my social life (and love life) has been conducted almost entirely in Italian for the last 5 years. For this reason, Italian usually gets relegated to the “languages I already know” section in my mind and I don’t dedicate much formal study time to it.

But that’s changed recently as I’ve started preparing for my C2 certificate, which I’ll be taking at the beginning of December. If you’re new to the European levels, C2 is the highest. The boss level. The Dr Robotnik of Italian language exams, if you will.

Why do an exam after all this time?

It’s good to have a goal, and I haven’t had a goal in Italian in a while. I can live and work comfortably in Italian, and at this level it’s easy to get lazy and stop making progress.

I want to shake things up, motivate myself to read/listen to new genres and practise expressing ideas in formal and academic contexts. It feels good to keep pushing my Italian.

To help me prepare for the exam, I’ll be doing the following things:

1. Working on exam skills

I’ve been using a workbook which focuses on vocabulary, grammar and exam skills. I’ve got 5 chapters left and I’m aiming to finish it before the month’s up. That means doing one and a bit chapters per week.

Learn Italian C2 Exam
My Italian textbook

2. Writing

I’ll need to write a mini academic essay in the exam (eek!) so I’m going to practice writing at least one each week.

3. Learning some fancy words

In the speaking exam, I’ll need to discuss controversial topics and current affairs. It’ll be useful to know some intellectual expressions and keep up to date with what’s going on in the world. To do this, I’m going to watch “Otto e mezzo“, a daily show in which guests debate Italian politics, and a little news every day.

4. Getting my read on

I’m currently reading Gomorrah, a brilliant book by Roberto Saviano, which exposes details about organised crime in Italy. I’m aiming to finish this book and move onto a new one before the month is up.

Learn Italian with books
Learning Italian with Gomorra

German and Chinese

During my holiday I took a whole 2 weeks off from studying German and Chinese, so I’m looking forward to getting back into them. I’d like to improve my speaking skills in these languages, so I’m going to do 2 conversation lessons per week on italki.

Learning German with italki
Learning German with italki

German and Chinese are my newest (and weakest languages) so I still need to build up a lot of vocabulary and get to grips with some grammar.

As well as my conversation classes, I’m planning to learn around 40 words per week in each language and do a chapter from my textbook each day (except on weekends – no textbooks allowed at weekends).

Learn German
Learning German with books

That all sounds like a lot of hard work, so I’ve got something fun planned for French and Spanish…


My French mission is to watch some delightfully trashy, so-bad-it’s-good French reality TV. Reality TV is great for boosting your listening skills as speech is more spontaneous compared to films and TV shows, so it helps you get used to how people how people actually talk. Also, you follow people going about their daily lives, which is a good way to learn everyday grammar and vocabulary. But mostly, it’s nice to know I can switch my brain off and learn some French at the same time. I’m going to aim for one 20 minute episode per day.

Learn French with TV
Learning French with reality TV


Just as I was wondering what to do for Spanish this month, the lovely people at Gritty Spanish sent me a copy of their course. It’s a series of funny Spanish dialogues where the characters fight, gossip, get drunk, go to strip clubs, and break the law. And it’s full of naughty Spanish words, so it’ll make a nice change from all the textbooky stuff I’ll be doing with Italian, German and Mandarin.

Learn Spanish: Gritty Spanish
Gritty Spanish

There are 31 chapters and 31 days in October, so I’m going to try and squeeze in one dialogue per day.

Phew! That’s it for October, I’ll let you know how it went in November.

What about you?

What are your language goals? Share them in the comments below!

P.S. If you want to join #clearthelist, head over to Lindsay does languages for more details on how to get involved.

One of the best things about working on the joy of languages blog is that our readers are always sharing smart ideas about how to learn a language. This week’s post is inspired by Anne, Ken and Vanessa, who suggested keeping a journal as a way to improve your speaking skills in a foreign language.

I loved this idea and wanted to get as many people involved as possible, so I’ve set up a language diary challenge on Instagram, together with a little giveaway (more on this later).

First, let’s talk a little about how keeping a language diary can boost your speaking skills.

Writing to improve speaking

Writing to improve your speaking may seem counterintuitive at first. But writing helps develop the skills you need to communicate fluently. To speak a language well, you need to:

  • practice organising your thoughts into sentences
  • learn vocabulary to talk about everyday events
  • identify gaps in your knowledge

A language diary helps with all of these things on a daily basis. It’s a powerful way to improve your vocabulary, grammar and ability to express your ideas – all essential for speaking.

Reasons to keep a language diary

1. Learn useful things

By writing about your day, you’ll be practicing using the vocabulary and grammatical structures that you need to talk about day to day stuff. You’ll learn how to communicate about things that are important to you and the people around you, which is much more useful than the random word lists most language courses give you.

2. Remember faster

Humans are hardwired to remember stories better than other types of information. The little snippets in your diary act like mini stories, which make the grammar and vocabulary easier to remember and reuse. You’re also likely to repeat a lot of the same words and structures, which naturally makes them more memorable.

3. Use the language

When we learn a language, most of us focus on “passive activities” like reading and listening. But if we want to use the language to communicate, we should focus more on activities that help us produce the language. A language diary helps you draw from the vocabulary and grammar you’ve been learning to build sentences you can use in real conversations.

4. Learn consistently

Keeping a diary is a great way to add consistency to your language learning and make sure that you practice using the language you’re learning in some way every day.

The #languagediarychallenge community 

I started the language diary challenge on Instagram so that we can work together to help each other learn a foreign language. Research shows that people are more likely to achieve their goals when they work together as a team, so I thought it would be a great way to get a community of language learners together.

And Instagram is the perfect place to write a little something in the language you’re learning each day.

  • It’s based on photos and videos, which makes it visual and fun
  • Pictures facilitate memory
  • You can connect with the language learning community on Instagram, which includes support and corrections from native speakers.

Get involved!

To join in, all you have to do is post a photo or video to Instagram and write/say something in the language you’re learning for 30 days.* Then use the hashtag #languagediarychallenge and tag @joyoflanguages.

What level do I have to be?

You can join in at any level. If you’re a complete beginner, you could use the challenge to learn simple sentences, or individual words. For example, you could post a picture of a beer and write the word “beer” in the language you’re learning. If you’re advanced, you can practice more sophisticated vocabulary and a variety of tenses. The important thing is to write or say a little something in the language you’re learning.

Free stuff!

In each #languagediarychallenge, I team up with a top language-learning company to give away a language themed prize. So far, we’ve given away awesome prizes from italki, add1challenge, FlashSticks, Lindsay Does Languages and irregular.endings.

Join the #languagediarychallenge

I hope you’re feeling inspired to join us for the language diary challenge! To recap, there are 3 steps to join in:

1. Follow joy of languages on Instagram.

2. Post your picture or video on Instagram and write a word or sentence about it in the language you’re learning for 30 days*

3. Use the hashtag #languagediarychallenge and tag @joyoflanguages.

4. Bonus step: Take a look around and leave a comment to support the other learners on the challenge!

Looking forward to seeing your progress on over on Instagram.

*The challenge starts at the beginning of each calendar month. See @joyoflanguages for updates. 

What do you think?

Are you joining the #languagediarychallenge? What are you going to write/speak about? Let us know in the comments below.

Milan gets unbelievably sweaty in August.

That kind of hot that makes you want to shave your head, tear off your own skin and lie face down on a marble floor all day. So I decided to ditch the heat and mosquitos for a few days and visit some old friends in Hamburg.

I’ve been learning German online for the past few months and I was looking forward to finally test driving my language skills out on the field.

But then something odd happened.

I spoke less German in Germany than I do here in Italy.

Not learning German in Germany

Sure, I ordered my Kaffee, Würsten and Weißbier in German. But I didn’t have a proper conversation the whole time I was there. I actually had to catch up on my German, once I got home.

So what went wrong?

Well, at home, I have regular conversation lessons with native speakers, like this one:

But in Hamburg, I was busy doing holiday stuff with my Italian friends and didn’t spot any obvious opportunities to start a conversation in German.

Normally, I’m a firm supporter of the “you make your own opportunities” philosophy. But at the same time, I find it hard to strike up conversations with random people in my native language, so I certainly didn’t feel like doing it in German.

In my head, it would have gone something like this (in German):

Katie (smiles awkwardly): Hi

Stranger: Erm…Hi??

Katie: I’m learning German

Stranger: Oh. Good for you (runs away).

It might have gone better in real life, but I didn’t want to take the risk. So I stuck to “einen Kaffee bitte”.

Just like magic (not)

There’s a common belief that being in the country is a magic pill for language learning. After all, we’ve all met those people who move abroad and come back speaking a language as if by magic.

Friends and family sometimes put me in this category because I moved to Italy saying “cappuccino, mozzarella, pizza, per favore” and came back speaking fluent Italian.

But they missed the bit between zero and fluency, which believe me, was far from magic. It involved:

– Talking like E.T. – “Katie… Phone… Home!”
– Headaches after long days of trying to figure out what the heck people were saying.
– Battling to speak Italian with people who insisted on replying in English

It’s true that being constantly surrounded by a language makes it easier to learn. But it doesn’t happen through osmosis.

And for every expat who’s “picked up” a language, there are others who’ve been living abroad for years with only a few survival phrases. The most common reasons for this are:

1. It’s hard to meet people outside their English or expat friend circle.
2. People reply in English all the time.

In short, it feels difficult (and scary) to get “in” with native speakers who will speak to you in their language.

Fortunately, there are lots of good ways to do this, and none of them involve harassing strangers.

How to learn a language when travelling

1. Pay someone (a little bit)

Learning a language abroad can feel like a catch-22 situation. You can’t start a conversation if you don’t know the language, but you can’t learn the language if you don’t speak to people. Getting an online tutor is the best way to get past this stage. It’s their job to help you talk, no matter how slowly you speak at at the beginning or how many times you forget a word. And they’re used to working with beginners so they can give you you the support you need to practice getting your words out. I use italki, where you can get good conversation tutors for as little as $5 per hour.

2. Go on a language exchange

Language exchanges are a fab and free way to learn the language when you’re in the country. They give you an instant opportunity to meet the locals and get some speaking practice with supportive conversation partners. I did some French-English language exchanges whilst on holiday in Paris and it was great! I got to experience Paris the way Parisiens do and improve my French at the same time. To set up a language exchange, try the Hi uTandem app or head over to conversationexchange.com

3. Go to the sticks

If you can choose where to go, I highly recommend small towns where people don’t speak much English. In cosmopolitan cities, there’s always the worry that people are thinking “why can’t we just speak in English instead of waiting for you to get your words out?”. It’s so much easier to practice in places where you really need the language to communicate. Also, people in these towns tend to be more curious and friendly, so they might be the ones who start talking to you.

4. Tell people

We usually expect native speakers to know we’re trying to learn the language, and take umbrage when they reply in English. But people aren’t mind readers. Often, they reply in English because they think they’re being helpful. You’d be surprised how supportive people are when you explain that you want to try speaking the language. I recently had a lovely German waitress (who spoke perfect English), patiently help me through ordering a meal in German, once I’d told her I was learning it.

Now I’d like to hear from you: Have you ever struggled to speak a language abroad? Do you have any more tips? Let us know in the comments below!

p.s. You can find more tips on how to speak a language in our new free course how to speak a language and have more fun.

A bad memory is one of the top excuses people give for not learning another language.

We see pages of unfamiliar words, or hear streams of sounds we can’t decipher and think “I’ll never be able to cram enough words into my brain to understand that”.

I used to worry that my own crappy memory would make me a bad language learner: I’m the type of person who can’t remember anything I learned at school, the last film I saw or what I ate for breakfast. Thankfully, once I got into language learning I realised that it doesn’t have to stop me from remembering vocabulary.

In fact, lots of language learners with average memories manage to learn thousands of words and make it look easy.

But how?

The spaced repetition technique

Many learners swear by flashcard systems, which involve studying words or sentences in the language you’re learning on one side of a card with a translation or picture on the other.

Nowadays, people use apps like Memrise and Anki which show flashcards at specific intervals to optimise learning. This technique, known as spaced repetition, is based on observations by memory researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus, who noticed that we’re better at remembering information learned a few times over a longer period of time compared to many times within a short space of time. This means that we can learn more vocabulary with less effort, by spreading out our study sessions.

Love them or hate them

Despite their merits, flashcards have caused quite a stir in the language learning community. For each successful language learner who swears by them, there’s another who wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole.

That’s because learning vocabulary is more complex than memorising a bunch of words. When we focus too much on flashcards, there’s a danger we’ll end up recognising lots of words without knowing how to use them in real life. Also, languages are about communication – spending too much time with your head in an app is boring and it sucks the soul out of learning. Finally, if you don’t dedicate enough time to engaging with the language in a real way by listening, reading and talking to native speakers, you’ll never learn how people actually talk.

Importantly, the flashcard haters are a testimony to the fact that it is absolutely possible to learn a language without them.

My experience with flashcards

These conflicting viewpoints are the reason why my relationship with flashcards has been more on and off than a Justin Bieber love story.

In the honeymoon period, I’d get excited by all the words that seemed to pop into my head at just the right moment. But after a while, I’d notice that lots of words I was learning didn’t come to me when I needed them in real life. Eventually, I’d get frustrated and delete the app.

But without flashcards, I’d start to get this nagging feeling that my vocabulary learning had slowed down dramatically. So I’d download the app and start the cycle all over again.

The right way to remember words

Over the last few months I’ve been using flashcards consistently for the first time ever and they’ve become my trusty secret for speedy word learning.

What changed?

I realised that there is a right way (and a wrong way!) to learn vocabulary. So I’ve been integrating wisdom from memory research, together with advice from renowned polyglots, to find ways to make flashcards more effective and minimise their shortcomings.

I’ve broken it down into 8 strategies that will help you get the most out of flashcards. When you put these ideas into practice, you’ll be able to remember lots of words without taking up too much time or turning study sessions into a yawn fest.

How to remember words in a foreign language

1. Make your own

This one’s first on the list because it’s by far the most important. Flashcard apps usually give you two options: use your own, or the sets other people have made. Making your own takes a little more effort in the beginning, but it’s infinitely better to use words you have met in real contexts through listening, reading or conversations. This is because memory is highly context dependent – decades of research show that we remember information more easily when we associate it with the context we first learned it in. When you make your own sets with words you’ve already met, you can link them back to the original context and remember them much faster.

2.Use Mnemonics

A man named Harry walks into a café. Eliza Doolittle, who is working in the restaurant as a waitress, greets him with her dodgy cockney accent, “Ari”. He orders a slice of cake with layers of sponge, cream and forest fruit: a “gateaux”. When Elisa brings over his order, Ari looks at the gateaux, and says “thank you”.

Ari-gatou – you’ve just learned how to say thank you in Japanese through mnemonics, a memorisation strategy inspired by the ancient Greeks and endorsed by memory champions as the most effective way to quickly remember large amounts of information. Linking new words to things you already know such as images or rhymes makes them instantly easier to remember. The more detailed and unusual the imagery, the better – think Eliza Doolittle with a black forest gateaux in hand.

3. Be ruthless

It’s really tempting to record every new word you come across. Don’t do it. I know it sometimes feels like you need to learn the word for bunsen burner in Spanish, but you don’t. The impulse to learn everything is an asset, but if you don’t keep it in check you’ll soon find yourself with unmanageably longs lists of words you’ll never actually learn. Our mental and time resources are precious and we need to spend them on stuff that’s going to be useful. Choose words that are important for you, add those to your flashcard sets and forget the rest for now.

4. Make flashcards Robin, not Batman

Flashcards should be your trusty sidekick, not the star of the show. When you spend too much time using flashcards, you have less time to engage with language in a real way and meet words in authentic and varied contexts, aka the most important stuff. Also, turning a language into nothing more than a list of words makes it more boring than eating rice cakes.

5. Learn little and often

Flashcards work best when we study in short 5-10 minute bursts. Longer periods of time lead to inefficient learning as our brains get tired and can’t absorb new information as easily.

6. Learn whole sentences

There’s no point in learning lots of isolated words without knowing how to use them. Recording the whole sentence (or a short snippet if it’s too long) gives you information about the sentence structure so that you can build new sentences with your word. Learning sentences also helps you associate the word with the original context, giving you an extra memory boost.

7. See it in your mind’s eye

Associate new words with images you already have in your mind. For instance, if you review the word “el río” in Spanish, try conjuring up a mental image of a river. This technique helps you link new words to your existing mental representations, making them more relevant and memorable.

8. Use it or lose it

The more you use your new words, the faster you’ll remember them. There are lots of different ways to put this into practice: you can build new sentences in your mind, write a few examples, or try throwing the words into a conversation when opportunity arises. Always be on the look out for opportunities to bring your new words out of books and apps and into real life contexts.

Et voilà, 8 different ways to make the most out of flashcards. Everyone has different learning styles so I recommend giving them a go to see if they work for you.

If you choose not to go the flashcard route, the above tips can be integrated into almost any vocabulary learning strategy to help you remember words faster.

What do you think?

How do you like to study vocabulary? Let us know in the comments below!



You know that feeling when you meet a native speaker and all those words and sentences you thought you knew suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke?

Even if you manage to give it a go and throw some words together, you end up feeling ridiculous, like a two year old with a sock in your mouth.

It happens to us all and it’s one of the main reasons people give up learning languages. We think: “if I still can’t string a good sentence together after all this time, I must be really terrible at languages” or “it must take years of hard work to speak a language well, who can be bothered with all that?!”

The good news: you’re not bad at languages and it’s not as hard as you think it is.

Not enough practice

The reason we get stuck for words is that we simply haven’t had enough opportunities to practise using the language. Most language learning approaches focus on reading and listening, aka passive learning, rather than on actually producing the language. This means that we don’t get the chance to use the words and grammar we’ve learned to make novel sentences and express our ideas.

To get better at speaking a language, we need to practise getting the stuff we’ve been learning passively out of our brains and into the world.

The best way to practise this is by chatting to people who speak the language. But that’s not always easy.

Maybe you’re mad busy at work, maybe it’s the holidays, or perhaps you just want a little practice before you dive in. Even if you already meet native speakers regularly, nearly everyone wants more speaking practice. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges in learning a language is finding enough opportunities to actually speak it.

How to practise speaking without native speakers

With a little creativity, it’s easy to get more speaking practice, even when there are no native speakers around to help.

Here are four simple strategies already at your fingertips that will give your speaking skills a real boost.

While these activities are no substitute for the real thing, they all help you develop one of the most essential skills for speaking: organising what you already know into sentences so that you can express yourself more fluently.

1. Find a language buddy

When I first moved to Italy, I knew I wanted the full immersion experience. But I also knew my Italian wasn’t good enough to make friends with Italians without falling into the trap of using English all the time. Luckily, I met an English girl and two German girls in the same boat, so we decided to communicate with each other in Italian instead of English. We stuttered our way through coffees, lunches and nights out and after a few months we all spoke Italian well enough to build friendships with Italians, in Italian. Teaming up with other learners is a great way to get started: you don’t get expert corrections, but you do get plenty of opportunities to try stringing sentences together with empathetic listeners, which is often just what we need.

2. Talk about it

One simple way to add a bit of speaking practice to your study sessions is to record yourself giving a quick 3 minute summary of what you’ve just listened to or read. This works well for 3 reasons: First, it gives you the chance to practise applying what you’ve just learned in real speech, which makes it easier to use in future conversations; Second, you can re-listen and correct your mistakes; Finally, it’s a great way to see your progress, which is really motivating. It can feel a little strange at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Still, if you’re the type of person that would rather stick a fork in your eye than record yourself, you can use this technique without the tech: simply set your phone timer to 3 minutes and start talking.

3. Use your head

You know that little voice inside your head that starts wondering what you’re going to make for dinner tonight while you’re in an important meeting? It’s one of the best tools you have for improving your speaking skills. Try setting some time aside a day, for example on your commute or in the shower, to switch your internal monologue to the language you’re learning. Don’t worry if you struggle to express your ideas and get stuck for words at times. This will help you identify gaps in your knowledge and give you a good idea about what to learn next. More importantly, the simple act of practising putting words together into sentences will allow you to organise your thoughts more fluently, which will really boost your speaking skills.

4. Talk to yourself

If you’ve got the house to yourself (or the people you live with already know you’re nuts), embrace your inner loon and start talking to yourself. The benefits of this are similar to tip 3, with the added bonus of pronunciation practice. Alternatively, if you’ve got a dog or cat at home, why not try speaking to your fur baby in the language you’re learning?

Et voilà! I hope these 4 strategies have left you feeling inspired and ready to get chatting away in your chosen language.

What do you think?

Have you tried any of the 4 techniques before? How do you work on your speaking skills when there are no native speakers around? Let us know in the comments below!

I’m a lazy language learner.

Not in a “I’ll do it tomorrow” kind of way, but in a “I don’t feel like reading a textbook so I’m going to sit on the sofa and watch French TV and not even think about getting dressed” kind of way.

That’s because I learn more this way.

When we’re relaxed, we’re free of tension and our brains are more open and receptive to learning. And it’s pretty difficult not to be relaxed when you’re curled up in a ball in front of the TV.

The “lazy” activities we do in our first language become strategic tools when learning a language: watching TV, messing around on YouTube and listening to the radio are excellent ways to get your ears used to the sound of real spoken French – it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything.

I’ve been learning French for a while now and I’ve found some awesome ways to keep honing my skills when I don’t feel like opening a grammar book (which is most days to be honest). Here are four of my favourite resources:

1. NRJ

I hate to admit this in public but for the purposes of this post I have to fess up – I’m addicted to reality TV. Well, foreign language reality TV, to be precise. That’s because reality TV shows are a fab way to boost your language skills. Think about it. The way people talk in films, books and TV series isn’t representative of how people really talk. Dialogues are scripted to make conversations more exciting, with witty quips and eloquent vocabulary. Reality TV shows are full of spontaneous speech which is much closer to a natural communication style with repetitions, everyday expressions and fillers like “eh” and “um”. Also, you follow the characters as they go about their daily lives so you can pick up lots of vocabulary for common situations and objects. Finally, you get to spend hours and hours watching trash TV, completely guilt free because you’re learning a language at the same time. My favourite is “Les Anges” The Angels, which you can watch for free on the NRJ YouTube channel.

2. RFI

If you’re looking for something a little more highbrow, head over to the RFI website for French learners. It has loads of great resources, including a news programme accompanied by transcripts, so you can listen and read at together. This helps with vocabulary as you can follow the script and look up new words. With your feet up of course.

3. Easy French

The Easy French YouTube channel follows presenters as they head out onto the streets of France and ask people really juicy questions like “Qu’est-ce-qui vous rend heureux?” What makes you happy?. Each episode poses the same question to several people so you get plenty of repetition, helping you memorise new expressions effortlessly. They also have double subtitles in French and English to help with comprehension. They’re short and dangerously addictive so you’ll find yourself watching one after the other.

4. Music

French learners are lucky enough to have their pick when it comes to finding music to learn with. The French music scene has great artists across a wide variety of genres so it’s not too difficult to find something you can get into. Some of my faves are La Rue Ketanou (folk), Mockless (hip hop) and Zaz (pop). You can find the lyrics to most French songs over at paroles.net so you can read lyrics, learn some new words and sing along.

Et voilà, a few quick tips for keeping your French fresh when you’re not in the mood to study. Amusez-vous bien!

What do you think?

What language are you learning at the moment? Do you have any favourite lazy ways to learn? Share them with us in the comments below.



Every year, I’m surprised by how quickly the warm weather comes around in Milan. Just two weeks ago everyone was wrapped up in scarves and gloves, but yesterday we reached a whopping 21°C (69.8°F).

This is the time of year when Italy really starts to feel like Italy. Social lives fill up with long, lazy lunches, wine with friends on the terrace after work and weekend trips to explore the countryside, lakes and beaches.

Italian is the very first language I learned, back in 2008. To this day, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.


Because being able to speak Italian has led to opportunities and changes that have made my life better in countless ways: some big, like moving to Milan and falling in love with an Italian, and some small, like learning how to pronounce gelato like Italians do.

Learning a new language always brings new opportunities and exciting changes. If you’re thinking about learning one but you’re struggling to decide which, here are a few great reasons to choose Italian:

1. The people

There’s something about warm climates that seems to make people more sociable. Italian culture, more than any other culture I’ve experienced, is all about people. Not just da family as the stereotype would have it, but everyone. Italians love meeting new people: they’re curious, friendly and take a genuine interest in you. Needless to say, this is a huge plus when it comes to trying out your Italian skills on the locals. When you give Italian a go – even if you can only string a few words together (that’s how I started) – most Italians are warm, patient and want to help. Also, from a purely linguistic point of view, many Italians feel more comfortable speaking their own language than English. This gives you a real world reason to use your Italian, which helps you learn quicker.

2. The food

OK, so I promised not to mention pizza, ice-cream, limoncello and nutella. But I couldn’t write a whole article about Italy without mentioning food. One of the cool things about learning Italian is that you suddenly start learning more about the Italian words that made it into our culture. For example, did you know that the word panini isn’t the name of a long, flat sandwich? It’s actually the word for sandwiches in general. One sandwich is called a panino, while two or more take the plural form panini. Or did you know that the word bruschetta is actually pronounced brusketa, with a hard “k” sound in the middle? There are loads of examples like this and finding out more about the original words as you learn gives you a great sense of satisfaction.

3. The lifestyle

I’m sure I don’t have to sell Italy to you as a holiday destination. It makes it onto almost every list of the most desirable places to visit in the world. But when you visit as a tourist, you only scratch the surface of Italy. Speaking the language gives you the chance to get up close and personal to the culture and its people so you can get your own little slice of la dolce vita.

4. You already know Italian

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Learning Italian is not as hard as you think it is. I’ll give you an example: how do you say the word option in Italian? Go on, guess. Wave your hands around like Italians do and pronounce the English word with your very best Italian accent. That’s right – it’s opzione pronounced optzi-owny. Now try again with the word fantastic. That’s right, fantastico! There are 1000s of words like this and many are in everyday use, so you can start using them straight away.

Ready to get started? Learn Italian with me

From crash diets to language hacking, the world is becoming obsessed with quick fixes.

The idea of learning a language in next to no time is certainly appealing. Recently, I did a language challenge to learn as much German as possible in 90 days. And I have to say, I was thrilled with the results as I went from zero knowledge of German to being able to hold a basic conversation in 3 just months.

But then I let my intensive study patterns slide a bit and I started to forget German almost as quickly as I’d learned it. Which is perhaps not that surprising, given that I’ve had blocks of Parmesan cheese for longer than I studied German.

Quick to learn, quick to forget

The experience of forgetting a language in this way is new to me. Usually when I put a language aside for a few weeks or months, it’s still there when I pick it up again. Sure, it feels like I’m speaking with a sock in my mouth for the first few minutes, but it soon comes flooding back.

So why did my brain hang onto the other languages, while my German disappeared in a puff of smoke?

Because I didn’t cram the other languages. I studied them little and often, spread out over a longer time period. I let the words, sounds and sentence structures swim around my brain and settle in my memory in their own sweet time.

Slow learning builds long-term memories

Studies show that we remember information better when we learn it in short sessions spread out over several days compared to in the same amount of hours crammed together. This means that if we learn something over the space of a week, we’re much more likely to remember it if we study for an hour a day compared to seven hours squeezed in over the weekend.

Why? Because because sleep is really important for building long-term memories. Remember in school when you studied really hard for a few days to pass an exam, only to forget everything a few days later? When we cram, we don’t get enough sleeps between study sessions, which makes it harder for our brains to consolidate the information we learn.

By spreading our study sessions out, we give our brains plenty of opportunity to strengthen our long-term memories during sleep. That’s why learning languages little by little makes them easier to remember in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my 3 month German sprint and I got a lot out of it. But if we want lasting progress, sooner or later we have to get into the tortoise mentality and build study habits that are sustainable over longer periods of time.

Why people resist slow and steady

The main reason people fail to create sustainable learning habits is the level of effort and commitment required. On the whole, we humans struggle with slow and steady. We want results straight away and when we don’t get them we give up. Or we go at it as fast as we can and burn out before we’ve really got started. This explains why diets, exercise programmes and most attempts at language learning fizzle out after the first few weeks.

Be the tortoise: 6 ways to build lasting study habits

The good news is, it’s actually quite easy to build sustainable study habits, once you’ve got the right strategies in place. These six steps will help you harness the power of slow to build lasting study habits and get that language firmly lodged in your brain:

1. Focus on the small things

Emily Dickinson once said, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves”. The ability to focus on the smaller picture is essential when taking on mammoth projects like language learning. When you break your learning into tiny units and put all your energy into getting that done, the bigger picture will take care of itself. For example, I’m focusing on getting 60 minutes of German study done per day. If I can manage that most days, I should be able to speak German pretty well after a year. But I’m not thinking about that too much yet – it would be overwhelming. I’m just focusing on getting my hour done, day after day, week after week. It’s the repetition that’s key here – you can choose any amount of time that fits in with your schedule. Even 10 minutes a day can add up to big results over time.

2. Don’t break the chain

You may have already heard of comedian Seinfeld’s popular productivity tip. To hone his comedy skills, he decided to write one joke per day and mark a big cross on the calendar for each day he did it. This simple technique works brilliantly for building long-term habits  – once you’ve got a streak going, you get so much satisfaction from looking at that row of crosses that you’ll do anything not to break the chain. The method has become very popular over the last year or so and there is now a selection of fancy apps that help you record your crosses. I like Chains.cc as it allows you to share your progress with others, which gives you another reason to stay consistent (more on this in a moment). That said, a good old fashioned calendar does the trick just as well.

3. Go social

It’s easy to keep putting things off when you know no one’s watching. When you make your progress public, you become accountable to others, making you far more likely to keep showing up for your goals. Another advantage to sharing your progress with others is the level of community spirit and support you get from other learners. There are plenty of ways you can share your learning progress: you could start a blog or join the lovely community of language learners on Instagram by taking part in the language diary challenge.

4. Let yourself off the hook

There’ll probably be times when you miss a day or two (or three or four). Whether it’s a deadline at work, visitors, or a holiday, sometimes life gets in the way. Feeling guilty about skipped study sessions is counterproductive: it creates tension and makes it more difficult to get started again. When you find yourself off track, let it go and get back on it.  

5. Be lazy

During the weekend, my German study mostly consists of me sitting in my pyjamas watching German TV. Even during the week, if I don’t feel like taxing my grey matter, I’ll make myself a cup of tea and watch something light on YouTube. Forcing yourself to do heavier stuff like studying grammar or writing when you don’t feel like it doesn’t make for sustainable language learning – sooner or later you’ll burn out and give up.

6. Track your progress with videos

Learning a language is a bit like digging a tunnel: if you keep chipping away with your head down the whole time, you won’t see the results of your hard work. Making videos or recording audio of yourself speaking helps you step back and appreciate the accumulative effect of your study sessions. Watch the video from a few months ago and you’ll see that your pronunciation is better, your vocabulary is more advanced and your grammar is more precise. And you’ll want to keep it up so that you can see more progress a few months from now. Don’t worry if you’re camera shy, or the sound of your own voice makes you cringe a bit (mine certainly does!) these recordings can be for your eyes and ears only. Or, if you’re up for it, you can post your progress videos on YouTube to benefit from the accountability and support that goes along with sharing your language goals. I’ll be posting my German videos on my YouTube channel, and I’d love to see some of you over there too.

What do you think?

Have you ever learned a language and then forgotten it? Or are you trying to learn a language and struggling to stick with it? Which of the six tips can you start doing now to help you be more consistent in your language learning? Let us know in the comments below!


If there’s one thing I love more than learning languages, it’s sitting on the sofa in my pants. Fortunately, these activities aren’t mutually exclusive, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to combine my two favourite pastimes.

I’ve had a lot of questions about Spanish recently so this sleepy Sunday seemed like the perfect time to share some of my favourite resources for learning Spanish the lazy way.

Coffee break Spanish

This laid-back podcast does exactly what it says on the tin. The lively presenters give you short ten minute snippets designed to feel “like going for a coffee with your friend who happens to speak Spanish”. The podcasts go through the basics at beginner level right through to advanced conversations and are perfect to listen to whilst snuggled up on the sofa with a cup of something delicious. The basic podcast version is free for all levels.


If you’ve seen me on instagram, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Spanish soap operas, otherwise known as telenovelas. I love having a guilt-free pass to binge watch bad TV, safe in the knowledge that I’m buffing up on some Spanish.

They might seem inane, but telenovelas are actually a deceptively savvy learning tool for several reasons. Firstly, the actors tend to speak slowly with exaggerated intonation, making their speech easier to follow compared to other types of TV programmes and films. Also, the acting is usually so hammy that it’s possible to follow the plot without understanding every word. This provides plenty of context from which to deduce the meaning of words, a strategy which is often thought to boost vocabulary learning. Finally, telenovelas are based around the day-to-day lives of the characters, so you get exposure to lots of relevant vocabulary that you might not come across in standard text books. Of course, not all of the words in Spanish soap operas are applicable to every day life. Still, it’s good to know I can cry “how dare you betray me Alejandro!!” in Spanish, should the need ever arise.


I’m so happy to see the growing body of Spanish language shows on Netflix. From comedies like club cuervos to documentaries about Pablo Escobar, now you can watch Netflix and brush up on your Spanish at the same time. Many of the shows are available with closed caption subtitles which allow you to read while you listen, a big plus if you struggle to follow the audio alone.

Learn Spanish the lazy way

So there you have it. Three fenomenal excuses to get into your PJs, make yourself a tasty snack and plant your behind firmly on the sofa for a few hours. Happy learning!

What do you think?

Are you learning Spanish at the moment? Do you have any lazy learning strategies? Let us know in the comments below.

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

There’s an old Italian proverb that goes moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi. Roughly translated, it means “choose wives and oxen from your own town.” Today, it’s used to suggest that you’re better off with a partner who comes from the same country as you.

More people are living and working aboard than ever before. As a result, lots of people are proving the old Italian saying wrong and entering into happy relationships with partners of different nationalities.

For many, this means a relationship where both partners have different native languages. Like me and my partner Matteo: my native language is English, his is Italian.

I get asked tons of questions about what it’s like being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak the same first language as me. So in honour of V-day, I’m sharing the answers to three of the most commonly asked questions:

1. You must be completely fluent in Italian by now, right?

Finding a boyfriend or girlfriend from a foreign country is often singled out as the easiest way to learn a language. But this kind of relationship is a bit like moving abroad: it provides a good opportunity to boost your language skills, but it doesn’t guarantee success on its own.

Firstly, it depends on which language you speak together. If your partner is fluent in your native language, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of using that language all the time, particularly if that’s the language you used when you first met.

And even if you speak together in your partner’s native language, your other half may not be the best person to help you perfect your language skills once you get past a certain level. It’s well documented that people who spend a lot of time together develop similar speech styles: if your significant other communicates with you in their native tongue, they’re likely to simplify their speech to some extent.

Even though we communicate in Italian most of the time, my relationship with Matteo doesn’t stretch my Italian skills as much as you might imagine. He doesn’t dumb things down on purpose; he’s just subconsciously adapted his communication style to match mine. And I find myself doing the same thing when we speak English.

2. Do you get each other’s humour?

Yes and no.

We have lots of laughs together and in many ways we share a similar sense of humour. But the language barrier means that sometimes we need to explain jokes to each other, particularly if they involve cultural references or wordplay. Some people might find that tedious, but we love sharing English and Italian humour with one another, and getting a laugh (or groaning at the dad joke) when the penny drops.

3. Is it hard to get along with each other’s friends and family?

Luckily most of our friends and family are open-minded, loving and patient: everyone gets on well, even if they don’t speak the same language. In my experience, cultural awareness trumps language skills when mixing with family and friends: people are more understanding of language mistakes than they are of cultural faux pas.

It’s surprising how easy it is to form bonds with people with non-linguistic communication like smiling, helping and sharing. When Matteo first met my family, he didn’t speak any English, but it didn’t seem to matter that much. My dad took him out to play golf anyway and they had a fun day together. When Matteo did things around the house, my mum was really pleased to see that I had met a nice, helpful bloke. For us, when meeting friends and family, actions really did speak louder than words.

Of course, if our mums meet, they won’t be able to talk to each other all much. But that might not be such a bad thing after all!

What do you think?

Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who speaks a different native language? What did you find challenging? What did you find rewarding?