Before start, planning is important. The main question is: do you know how to learn? I didn't, when I started learning italian. I spent 5 years in a class, learning & forgetting, the sad duo that made me think "I wasn't good with languages, my memory is bad", when, in fact, I was studying it all wrong. I didn't review anything. I just went to classes and did only one time the exercises. Sometimes, not even once.
If you truly want to learn and retain the knowledge, you need to understand the The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, essential to grasp how and when we forget.
In terms of the best language method, it is only possible to determine a good learning technique (because "the best" is complex, some may say it is even impossible to determinate) based on your specific needs.
Are you interested more in comprehension? Fluency? Pass some certification? Just talk in a bar? Acquire an superb pronunciation? Each of these objectives could have the same study approach, but it is not recommended to.
Learning how to learn
However, there are some guidelines about learning how to learn (not only languages) that could help you in a meaningful way:
- Barbara Oakley summarizes a vast study about learning and memorization in her two wonderful coursera courses:
- Learning how to Learn (also a TEDx)
- Active Recall, also Ali video about it
- There are some books out there about learning, worth to take a look, if you have some time: Make it Stick and Barbara Oakley books
- Understand and use summaries, highlights and spaced reviews. These are the gold of learning. spaced repetition + good summaries + well done highlights to revisit important concepts in a large document
Reading passively is very different of active recall on studied material, for example.
Learn how to learn and you will unlock a better and easier way to learn, enjoying the ride and stick to your language learning journey.
Tips for language learning
- it is tiring in the very beginning: one wants to stop, because words are easily forgotten (as you also stated). Frequently, you are not able to even understand the meaning of a sentence.
- grammar is important, but vocabulary is essential. You can go by with little grammar, but not without vocabulary. It is key to understand what others say to motivate yourself to keep going.
- vocabulary repetition is needed. anki is a good software to help you to remember. Even more, to help you remember the rare words. Those you see sometimes. Expressions. Modo di dire, slangs...
- surround yourself with material from the language you want to learn: books, news, youtube videos, forums like these, meet native people online, etc.
- Do you want to really test if you grasped something? Grab a paper and pencil and write down without any support material. You will be surprised by how hard it is. But that's how we fill the gaps about learning. The hard, slow way. No magic and miracle methods, no "learn a language in six months" 😅
Tips about what to learn
The material depends, if you are going to learn alone or engage in some class. I don't know any material with good quality to self-study, because all textbooks I used, required a teacher to follow using the full potential. A quick search in Google didn't show up anything good to me, so I ask to my colleagues on this forum to give you some advice about it.
I can tell you one book I liked was English Grammar in Use, to self-study English. Bite-size grammar rules + exercises. Perfect! Look for something like that in italian :)
Who to watch
If I were to start any language learning today, I will definitely observe two groups of people:
- teachers! they already studied and, most important, they advise
dozens of students. They know how the path to learning is and how
long (in average) will take you to complete it.
- who study for languages certifications (like CILS, CELI, TOEFL,
CPE...). Of course to ace an exam is not only about learning. On the
other hand, it shows you where to focus to learn objectively. I
would not copy the learning style, but to understand how someone
achieved his goals. An example: a guy who passed italian C2
test and German C2 is a good start.
How to understand your progress
Always test. Learning is not a linear subject. Study, review, do a lot of exercises.
Retake what you got wrong until you get it right.
Try new methods! Nothing is 100% exact. The brain is too complex...
What I would not to do
- Watch anything that mix these words: "easy", "fast", "without effort", "language hack"
- ignore the culture of the language I am learning about. Culture and history helps you understand and memorize in a more concise way
- focus on quantity over quality. I observe, frequently, people talking how many books they read or how many words they studied. Does it matter? For me, what matters is how you use what you learn, not some random numbers. Keeping in mind the forgetting curve, it is interesting to revisit the books you