How to Learn a Language from Scratch in 2018

Decided 2018 is your year to master a new language? It’s never been easier with so many fantastic resources available to learners. Don’t want to commit to studying a language in the traditional sense? No problem! Keep reading to learn more about how to get started on your language learning journey using your smartphone as your main instructional tool.

Start with Basic Expressions

Babbel is just one of many language learning apps you could use to kickstart your language learning journey.

Starting from zero can be a daunting task for language learners. The best tactic is to get straight down to business by learning some basic expressions. This will enable you to produce language (i.e. start speaking and writing) without stressing about grammar from the get-go. Babbel (iOS & Android) is a neat little app which does just that but there are certainly others out there, too.

The trick is to memorize these lexical chunks like you would vocabulary. So, instead of breaking expressions into individual words and translating them into your first language, just memorize the whole expression. For example, you need to just accept that “How are you?” corresponds to “Cómo estás?”.  

Learn Some Grammar and Syntax

Another popular option for language learners is Duolingo.

Once you’ve started to build your base, you can then focus a little more on the structure of your target language. This means dedicating some time to grammar (the rules of the language) and syntax (sentence structure/ organization). Duolingo (iOS & Android) is a good app for this. Some exercises require you to organize words into a sentence, others teach the difference between different subjects or specific grammar points. Again, this is just one example of an app you could use that caters to a lot of languages. You can search for alternatives on the app store or google play for your specific target language.

Expand Your Vocabulary

Learners can use flashcard app Reji to practice vocabulary.

As your studies progress, you’re naturally going to encounter new vocabulary. In the beginning, you probably won’t need to focus so much on finding new vocabulary, but you will need to dedicate some time to memorizing and reviewing new words and expressions. The best way to commit new language to memory is through repetition and good old fashioned practice.

The good news is, the app you’ve already chosen will likely repeat words and expressions regularly to help you remember them more readily. However, it’s also good to dedicate some specific time to vocabulary and you can do this by using a flashcard app like Reji (iOS) or Quizlet (iOS & Android). Simply download the app, download a deck of cards or create your own and get to studying.

Practice the 4 Skills

If you really want to learn a language in a comprehensive way, you need to practice all 4 skills. We can class the 4 skills into 2 different groups:

  1. receptive skills - passive skills which you need to receive and understand language e.g. reading or listening
  2. productive skills - active skills which you need to produce language e.g. writing or speaking.  

Naturally, you’ll find some skills easier than others. That’s why it’s important to dedicate time to work on all of them, especially the ones you find more challenging.


Read side by side texts in your native language and your target language with Beelinguapp.

Reading is probably the easiest skill to practice as it’s already fairly integrated into your learning process. Afterall, you have to read in your target language (albeit in short chunks) to use your chosen language learning app. However, it’s important to also read longer texts (dialogues, stories or articles) that match your level to develop your reading comprehension.

Read (and listen, if you feel like it) to fairy tales, the news or even novels in Beelinguapp (iOS & Android) with side by side text in your first language and your target language. LingQ is another app which has lots of reading exercises. You’ll find lots of articles and interviews in your target language and you can import content from the Internet too.

Not loving either of those options? Searching “read” and your target language on the App Store or Google Play Store should bring up more apps to choose from or you could always go the old school route and just look up news or articles which interest you personally online.


Writing practice can be as free or as targeted as you choose. Most general language learning apps should include some writing exercises but they can be a bit limiting, often asking you to write out translations for one expression or sentence at a time. You can practice writing messages with native speakers on Tandem Language Exchange (iOS) and HelloTalk (iOS & Android). These apps even include corrections! Handy. You can also practice your writing by simply choosing a topic and writing as much as possible on the topic in a notepad app. 

Practice Listening

YouTube is a great resource for authentic listening practice. You can also find lots of free lessons, taught by native speakers in your target language.

Podcasts are a staple for language learners when it comes to practicing their listening skills. For language specific podcasts you’re best doing your own research but most of the apps listed so far also require that you put your listening skills to the test. Duolingo, for example, may ask you to write down or select words that you hear. You can use voice messages or voice calls in both Tandem Language Exchange and Hello Talk, too. YouTube and TED talks are other personal favorites for authentic listening activities. Just search something that interests you and off you go.

Practice Speaking

Connect with language learners from all over the world with Tandem Talk.

You’d think it’d be hard to practice speaking with just your smartphone but not so! With the rise in popularity of voice messaging and the convenience of voice and video calls, it’s never been easier. Both Tandem Language Exchange (iOS) and HelloTalk (iOS & Android) work by connecting you with native speakers of your target language from all across the globe. Cool, right?