Learning a language during quarantine: Where and how to start

Expert says no one has the innate ability to learn a language faster than anyone else

Many have contemplated learning a foreign language at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, many have also dropped the idea when faced with the difficulties involved. The truth is, however, that picking up a new language does not have to be so difficult, after all.

According to Stephen Krashen, a linguistics expert who specializes in theories of language acquisition and development, it is a myth that some people are more adept at learning languages than others. Krashen believes that no one has the innate ability to learn a language faster than anyone else. He does, however, make an important distinction between learning a language and acquiring one.

According to Krashen, “learning” is the traditional grammar-based process used in the classroom, while “acquisition” is how humans pick up their first language as children. Krashen believes that the mistake lies in trying to teach languages the same way we teach science, history and mathematics. He believes that one should instead acquire a second language in the same way children acquire their first.

Many have shifted from the traditional classroom techniques of teaching grammar and vocabulary in a boring, repetitive way, and are instead opting to learn languages in a more immersive fashion. By making the target language itself more accessible to the learner and using a more personalized approach, the new language is more likely to stick.

I have personally found that the best way to learn a language is to do so by diving in headfirst. If you know a native or fluent speaker in your target language, try to get them to teach you the basics. Greetings, names of family members, colors, clothing items and travel words are all good places to start.

Language learning courses can be very effective, but as a linguist myself, I recommend that having a personal tutor is the fastest and most effective way to learn. A personal tutor will focus entirely on you as a student without having to worry about you lagging behind a number of classmates. A personal tutor can also help you tackle problem areas without wasting time on concepts you have already grasped.

By engaging in one-on-one conversations with my instructors, using the target language as much as possible, I was able to become certified in French (with a diplôme d’études en langue française from the French Ministry of Education) and German (from the Berlitz Language Learning Institute in Germany). I have recently started learning Spanish during quarantine.

Those wishing to learn a new language on their own, however, or who want to become at least proficient before engaging with an instructor, can definitely pick up the basics by themselves.

Language learning apps and websites abound. While some better than others, any of them will suffice depending on the goals of the student. Those wanting to casually pick up basics and phrases in a target language can start with Duolingo. The app has both free and paid options. The free version is perfectly acceptable for those wanting to test the waters before committing full-time to a new language.

To practice your English writing, try, you can use it for free for up to 2000 words per month, or for a minimum investment, practice your writing much more. You simply insert your non-native English content in the left-hand text box and the text is instantly rephrased into native English, highlighting the changes in both the original and revised texts.

More serious language learners can opt for Rosetta Stone’s language learning courses, widely recognized as one of the best in the business. Though Rosetta Stone courses come with a pretty hefty price tag ($179 for a single level, $279 for two, $379 for three, and $479 for the full five-level course), anyone looking to become professionally fluent in a language will probably find the investment worth it.

However, it must also be noted that learning a new language requires patience and dedication. No one knows this better than Steve Kaufmann. Once a diplomat and entrepreneur involved in international trade, Kaufmann has been learning languages for over 50 years — and he speaks 20.

“You have to accept that it will take months and maybe years to become fluent, but it can be done. You have to be motivated, to like the language enough and to think you can succeed,” says Kaufmann on his website,

Adapted from an article first written by HALA TASHKANDI on 5/18/2020 and published on