A 9-Step Strategy for Learning a Language Productively

How to effectively learn a language without wasting time

Antonello Zanini
7 min readAug 16, 2022
Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

I have been learning languages for more than 4 years and am now fluent in 4 languages. Over these years, I have learned a lot. This has helped me develop an effective and efficient strategy to achieve my language learning goals. It is now time to share it with the world.

Keep in mind that there are no universal recipes for success. Consequently, be prepared to adapt the strategy I have devised and am about to present to your needs and goals. What is certain is that adapting the right strategy will make you more productive and enable you to master a language in just a few months.

Let’s now dig into the 9-step strategy that helps me learn new languages productively in just a few months.

Steps for Beginners (A1-A2)

The following three steps are designed for basic users who have been learning a language for a few weeks.

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1. Learn the 1000 most common words

Look online for the list of the 1000 most common words in your target language with their translations. You will probably find several of them. Choose the list that makes the most sense to you, based on your common sense. For example, if a list contains words that seem uncommon to you, it may not be the most reliable resource.

To be more productive, I recommend that you print it out. Having a physical copy will help you carry the list around. Seeing it on the couch or a table may prompt you to read it. Learn 20 to 30 words a day and try to use them in your daily routine. You can use Anki for this.

This is a good starting point for building a basic vocabulary. Through these 1000 words, you will be able to understand and construct most concepts.

2. Surround yourself with your target language

Set all your electronic devices and software to your target language. Your smartphone, TV, laptop, and apps should be in that target language. Also, the devices you use in your work, especially those.

This will pose a challenge and force you to learn new words and basic grammar. Initially, it will be painful and frustrating. Nevertheless, precisely because you have to use these electronic tools, you will be pushed to learn new terms, expressions, and grammar rules. After all, you do not want your language learning process to compromise your productivity.

In this way, your brain will become accustomed to the target language and your comprehension of it will greatly increase.

3. Write a short text every day

Write a brief text every day in your target language. The text should be short and simple, 80 to 120 words. No matter the topic, the important thing is to be consistent and do it every day. There are no excuses. Just write. You may even find out that you want to be a writer.

If you do not know how to write something, do not be ashamed to use a translator. Quite the contrary, using a translator will help you learn a lot of words, see how to express certain concepts, and how you are supposed to build sentences in terms of word order.

Based on my experience, the best translator currently available is deepl.com.

Steps for Intermediates (B1-B2)

The next three steps are devised for independent users who want to go beyond the basics.

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4. Watch movies, TV series, and listen to podcasts

At first, you may be interested in any multimedia content in your target language. I am referring to e-books, podcasts, movies, and YouTube videos. These are an excellent means of improving a language. However, in the long run, this would not work.

If you want to be consistent and motivated in your journey, you need to find multimedia content that you really enjoy. Look for something that interests you. Otherwise, you will soon get bored. Look for TV series, movies, and podcasts in your target language that you find appealing. Enjoy them.

When it comes to movies, TV series, or YouTube videos, they do not have to be produced in your target language. Take advantage of dubbed content as well.

5. Find language partners

Find people interested in practicing languages with you. There are several apps for doing this. In my experience, the most reliable for finding serious learners are italki and HelloTalk. The key to getting better is to avoid rigid, forced conversations.

Finding the right partner takes time and is much easier to talk with people who are friends rather than just language partners. So, think of your language partner as a future friend. This will help you a lot, especially if you are shy or introverted. Also, you will meet awesome people. I promise!

On the other hand, if your goal is solely and exclusively to improve a language and there is no interest in the other person, you will soon get bored. This would turn every call into a mere chore. Avoid this.

6. Read aloud

Practicing a language with a language partner, whether via Zoom or Skype, or in real life, is great. However, it is unlikely that your language partners will always be available, especially when the time difference is huge. This is to the detriment of your productivity. Also, trying new expressions and ways of conveying a message takes courage, and you may not feel confident enough to do it in front of a human being.

For this reason, pick up a book in your target language and start reading aloud. This is a little secret to train your tongue to pronounce words and expressions that you would not normally utter. This simple trick allows you to become more fluent and learn to convey the same idea in different ways.

Do not get worried about pronunciation while reading aloud. After all, no one will struggle to understand you. You are just reading aloud by yourself.

Steps for Advanced Speakers (C1-C2)

The last three steps are for advanced users who want to master the language and reach a native speaker level.

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7. Learn idiomatic expressions, idioms, collocations, sayings

The language you learn in grammar books is very different from the language you speak on a daily basis. Do some research to find, study and eventually master the most common idioms, collocations, and idioms. This will make your speech much more natural to listen to.

Generally, there are books focused on these topics. Although I am not a big fan of books when it comes to learning a language, studying idioms and collocations in a book full of examples and exercises is one of the most effective ways to accomplish this task.

The goal behind this grueling process is to start sounding like a native speaker.

8. Think in your target language

At this point, you have all the tools to start adopting the target language in your brain. Make the voice in your head speak in your target language. You will struggle significantly at first. Over time, this will help you dramatically improve your ability to connect sentences and handle complex conversations.

Your mind is fast. Faster than your mouth. Consequently, thinking in the target language will accustom your brain to delivering sentences in a foreign language effortlessly.

9. Study phonetics

The easiest way to perfect your pronunciation is to study phonetics. I am not saying that you have to become a master of IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). However, learning the basics of IPA takes only a few hours and will allow you to really understand how to pronounce the words you are unsure of in your target language.

You are now proficient in your target language and know which sounds you struggle to pronounce. Look for videos online to learn how to place your tongue and teeth in the correct position and how to use your throat to reproduce these sounds. This is the most productive way to learn to utter sounds you are not able or used to.

Also, look up the written pronunciation in IPA. There are several IPA app translators that can be adopted for this purpose.


Learning a language is a nourishing experience. However, you need the right plan if you do not want to take several years to achieve your goals. My experience has taught me that with a 9-step strategy, it is possible to learn a language productively and get rid of unnecessary worries. Here, you had the opportunity to see what steps my productive strategy consists of.

Thanks for reading! I hope that you found this article helpful. Feel free to leave any questions, comments, or suggestions.