Foreign Languages without a Teacher

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Browsing the web, I came across a blog called Lingvaroom. Not being a language-learner myself, I was just about to leave when my eye was caught by the website mission statement: “Learning English, Spanish and Italian on our own”. I got interested. Nearly twenty years of teaching experience told me it is impossible to learn languages on one’s own. My common sense told me it is impossible to learn languages with the help of a website. So I decided to ask Yulia Gorbunova, the blog author, for an interview and she consented to answer my questions.

Olga: When I came across your website, I was staggered by your idea of learning languages on your own. How did it happen that you took such an unusual decision and what did you start with?

Yulia: It was a long time ago and I don’t remember exactly what I started with. As for English, it was my first foreign language and I started learning it at school as a common pupil but very soon I was already learning it on my own in addition to my school lessons. I fell in love with English and I had always wanted to speak many languages, so my decision to learn a second language was quite normal for me, I would say. I had no doubt that I would learn it by myself because I had some experience like that and I was not afraid to do so. I’m sure that if you find a good textbook it will be quite easy.

My second foreign language was French but I faced an obstacle. The problem was that I had difficulties with pronunciation. I wasn’t sure that my pronunciation was good enough and this prevented me from making progress. So I decided to switch to another language with a simpler pronunciation and I chose Spanish.

It turned out that Spanish was the most exciting language for me and now I love it even more than English. Moreover, I find it the easiest language to learn by your own.

Olga: Yulia, as far as I can see, you don’t learn languages on your own from scratch. You started learning English at school. As for French, you came to the conclusion that its correct pronunciation should be learned under professional guidance in order not to go astray. Well, your answers have thrown some light on the message of your website: you don’t suggest that your readers should start learning languages without any teachers – you just offer some additional materials. Did I get it right?

Yulia: Olga, not quite. I do think that people can (not should) learn foreign languages on their own from scratch, after all the choice is theirs. I hope you will understand me right – I’m not against learning with a teacher, it would be great. But few people can afford going to a language school or seeing a personal teacher. In this case instead of waiting I recommend you start learning on your own.

At the same time they should understand that each language requires different efforts, materials and time. Spanish is very simple to learn while French is not. It doesn’t mean that you cannot learn French from scratch, it only means that you will have to make much more effort.

That’s why to those who want to learn French on their own my advice is to start with a teacher to get good pronunciation. But if they don’t have an opportunity like that, it mustn’t stop them. I’ve been complimented on my French pronunciation so maybe my doubts were only in my head.

In addition, even if you study with a teacher you will have to learn on your own to master your skills otherwise you wouldn’t make great progress. For those who do so I’m running my blog as well.

In conclusion I’d like to say that this way of learning languages requires many specific traits – assiduity, self-discipline, persistence, and not everyone is capable of learning on his own, but everything is possible and I know many examples. So dare!

Olga: Ok, I see your point, Yulia. How did you hit upon the idea of creating a website for language-learners? What is the aim of it: to assist yourself in learning languages, spread information you come across in order to help others or is it something else? Could you describe the ideal future of your website as you see it in your dreams?

Yulia: At first I was going to blog about my everyday life to keep in touch with my family who live in another city. But very soon I understood that no one else was interested in reading my posts except my relatives and friends, that’s why I needed to write on a more particular subject. As by that moment I had acquired a wide experience in learning languages and I had a lot to tell the world about it, I decided to blog about foreign languages.

I think that the aim of it is a mix of all you’ve mentioned and even more. I’d like to share my thoughts and information with other people, to help them with learning and at the same time my blog is an “external” motivation for me to make progress in learning and writing.

When it comes to the ideal future I’d like my blog to be a community of language addicts which would allow me to fully dedicate myself to it.

Olga: I see. “Language addicts” sounds unusual. Happy Do you consider yourself one and how does it show? If I got it right, you’d like to become a full-time blogger, wouldn’t you? Then what is it about blogging that attracts you so much?

Yulia: Yes, I do consider myself a language addict because I love languages in general, I like to compare different languages with each other and with Russian and I like not only to speak foreign language but the learning process itself.

Blogging attracts me both as a process and a result. I like the process of thinking what a post theme will be, researching information and so on. As a result I feel satisfied when my posts get comments and people ask for my advice on a subject. It makes me feel helpful. And the most important thing is that I can get to know many interesting people and find persons holding the same views (and I’ve done it already and hope to do so in the future). This interview with you is a proof. Happy

Olga: As a co-blogger, I’m quite interested in your blogging experience. By the way, how old is your blog? What difficulties have you had to face so far? What discoveries have you made that have to do with improving your blog? And finally, what advice could you give your fellow-bloggers running a language-learning blog?

Yulia: My blog is almost a year and a half. I think that I've had no difficulties but opportunities. I had to learn a lot about blogging, WordPress and SEO and I appreciate this. I needed to learn to write well and find my style and I’m still learning. As for discoveries, I’ve found that blogging has proven my knowledge of Internet technologies and it helps me in my daily life. I don’t think that I’m the right person to give advice because every blogger has his own way of blogging. I only think they should always keep in mind their readers’ needs and write as many useful posts as possible.

Olga: Thank you for your answers, Yulia!

Well, the points raised in our discussion are very interesting and sometimes controversial. And what do you think?

Pearl's twirl аватар

I just came back from Italy and I want to learn Italian any suggestions for me?

admin Olga-ekb аватар

This question is for Yulia. I think you’ll find something oh her website, Ariana.

Lingvaroom аватар

For the beginning find a good textbook:). It must contain pronunciation rules and dialogs with audio, exercises with keys (keys are very important!).

Pearl's twirl аватар

Julia, do you recommend Rosetta Stone? widely popular program here in USA!

Lingvaroom аватар

Perl’s twirl, unfortunately, I know little about Rosetta Stone, I’ve only heard about it, so I cannot recomment it.

jemmacheck аватар

Rosetta Stone's great! It's working and is very popular in the US.

Charles Assiff аватар

Yulia, people make learning a new language seem as easy and quick as deciding what kind of cake to bake, buying the frosting and ingredients and then presto! Another language under the belt. Truth is, I am a native English speaker and am trying to learn Spanish on my own...after months of reading, listening and watching, I feel like I am no closer to understanding the language...what is it with these people who claim to know 12 languages...I can't even learn one other!!!

kitchenmudge аватар

I’ve played around with learning several languages on my own over the years. Never got very far with most because I got lazy at some point, but I would like to emphasize what Yulia says about the right textbook. Many textbooks are written on the assumption that you have a teacher to explain things, and don’t bother to explain much themselves. Each lesson needs to be a baby step, with all the reasons for doing the next exercise very clear to the reader.

jemmacheck аватар

Well, if you ask me about learning a foreign language without a teacher from scratch I'd say YES, it's possible.

I lived in the US for a while and had lots of time to study the internet. It offers a great variety of websites as well as different software to help you with that. Even the pronounciation!

But a teacher can help you, guide, listen and correct mistakes. A teacher would be good for at least practicing the language. Or some friends because you will sure need practice.

It's all up to a person! Everything's possible nowadays.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Jemma, thank you for your opinion.

Ангелина аватар

Hello! I have a question for Julia. Tell me please, can I have a blog about English, if I'am only the beginner in this language? Will it be interesting for people? How do you think? Thanks.

Anastasia аватар

Of course you can! You can blog about the process of studying English and I am sure other beginners will be interested in how you do it and learn a lot too.

Lingvaroom аватар

Angelina, I agree with Anastasia – you can with no doubt. Sometimes a beginner is the best blogger – he or she can better understand other beginners needs.

Светлана  ММ аватар

There is a good advice for teachers of foreign langauges - to learn one new language every five years. It helps to see the difficlties of beginners. Why not to try? Maybe it's possible? we should ask yourself what for we need language - to speak and understand, to read and understand, or maybe to work in the UK Parliament Happy ? And depends on it to choose the way of learning/But I fully agree, first of all, it's self-discipline and persistance!

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Do you follow this advice, Svetlana? Winking

Well, I used to have a crazy idea to learn Japanese for no obvious reason, but now I seem to have cured myself of it. I agree with you that there should be an aim behind everything.

Wee аватар

What a controversial topic you've touched upon, ladies!

Well, if I were asked to say a word or two for learning a language with no teacher, I'd say, that first of all I do think it possible.

However it does require quite a good deal of time together patience and hard work, for you can never be excelent right at once - you need much effort taken to succeed in your learning.

Jullia, I am so with you in you terming ourselves (those who adore languages) "Language addicts". Happy And, actually, starting to learn a language from scratch, as you pronounce it, is a good way for such addicts as we are, for the very important thing in the language learning is willing to learn and probably being a little crazy about languages in general. )) Yet it still demands a rack of various things: good textbooks, useful sites (like, etc., as well as possessing such personal trait as being determined!

I personally have been learning English since age 8. My second language, which is German, I've started learning at the Uni. Both times the start was with a teacher, of course. But now, I am learning Spanish on my own and trying get into learning French with a little help of my frinend who's a French teacher.

Yes, I think it possible and, moreover, extremely exciting to learn both Spanish and French! I have a good texbook, a Pimsleur's audio course and a brilliant friend!

Sorry, am being too talkative!
Olga, thanks for the invitation to take part in the discussion!

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Alyona, thank you for your opinion! I seem to be in minority thinking that one does need a teacher, at least for a start, unless one already knows several languages or (better and) is a linguist. Winking

Wee аватар

That's what I meant. It is possible, but will not be of much success unless you get the proper monitoring of the teacher at first (you do remember I've told I had first started with a teacher). Yet, if a person starts learning a language on one's own, he/she should understand clearly the personal need (What result do I want to achieve?) and the efforts that would be demanded from him/her.

Lingvaroom аватар

Wee, thanks for your interesting comment!

Wee аватар

Oh, that cost me nothing but pleasure. Would be happy to see you visitting the poor little blog I have startednot long ago.)

Anastasia аватар

The good thing about studying with a teacher is it sets one's mind on studying. But personally I am sooo lazy to go to classes Happy

admin Olga-ekb аватар

In my opinion, it is not the only good thing. Only an experienced teacher can give you feedback on your progress.

Learning a language without a teacher, one can never be sure whether his pronunciation is correct or not. Moreover, one doesn’t know if he applies grammar rules in the right way. And finally one can’t be certain whether he will be understood by native speakers unless he lives in the country whose language he’s learning.

Anastasia аватар

Well, as I keep saying on my blog, right now thanks to the Internet we can find a native speaker to practice and improve the skills so it's not a big problem any more Happy I would recommend to start with a typing chat and when one doesn't need a dictionary it's time to consider a voice chat.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Agree with you here. The internet has become great help for language learners. It provides practice. Happy Anyway, it can’t take the place of a teacher. Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean being able to teach.

Anastasia аватар

Yes, I don't consider them to be teachers. YOU'll be the one to learn how they talk and learn morden language. Native speakers can't be good teachers because they are used to the language and often just can't explain why here they use one word and there another though the sentenses seem to be similar Happy

Jessie аватар

Absolutely agree with the statement that native speaker is not necessarily able to teach the language better than someone who learnt it as a foreign language. In my own experience I know a native English teacher from the UK who teaches English to Russian students and she keeps getting back to me asking how to explain these or those terms English words or expressions to Russian students, because some things are obvious to her as to a native speaker and they are not to someone who is learning the language.

Cameron Brooks аватар

Whether it's language, relationships, or riding a bike, immersion delivers results. Ersatz courses can't compare to learning out of necessity. Thanks to nine adventurous years working alongside Mexicans in the service industry, and a month of volunteer work at an orphanage in Peru, I'm now conversationally adept in Spanish. Do it yourself!

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Can’t agree more, Cameron, that living among native speakers is by far the most exciting way of learning a language. Thank you for your opinion!

amblerangel аватар

I find my biggest hurdle with learning a language without a teacher are the grammar rules. Those get me every time! I'm also a very lazy student and try to work my way through the grammar too fast because I WANT TO TALK NOT STUDY!!!! But, I think one can do both,or either effectively- or a combination. I was fluent in Spanish through college then lost it, recently picked some back up as my son learned it. (By going through his textbooks and Pimsleur learning from the library on tapes) The grammar of course being most of what I'd forgotten. Learning Japanese, with a teacher, Japanese I'm not sure I could do without a teacher because of the complicated writing. Although now that the basics have been covered I think I could take it from here on my own. A teacher I know found people willing to converse with him in the language he was learning via SKYPE in the country where that language was spoken. (Spanish in his case) ABove all. practice, talking with others is the key to mastery.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Emily, thank you for sharing your experience. I may be mistaken but I consider Japanese and Chinese the most difficult languages in the world. I think I would cope with the grammar by myself but I wouldn’t even dream of learning Japanese characters as well as pronunciation on my own.

dafunya аватар

You know, it is rather weird for me to hear that Japanese is difficult. Its written form may be, but speaking Japanese for Russians is quiet easy, I think. The pronouncaition is simplier than in other asian languages. I know two people who speak Japanese fluently. And they both don't think that it was really diffucult to learn it. Where I live there are a lot of people who learn Japanese. They're anime-fans. We've even got special asian shops with toothpaste, detergent, pans, towels and other things that is made in Japan or South Korea only. Isn't this crazy? And Japanese diapers, of course - in every baby-shop))Every year the anime-festival takes place in our city. It is so funny to watch the crowd of adults wearing like anime-characters in pink wigs and neon suits etc. Some years ago I used to watch a lot of anime and movies in Japanese with Russian subtitles. I had been watching them for 3 years, and then I realised that I can understand the main sense even without translation. My sister did the same. We also watched Korean or Chineese dramas. But there wasn't such effect. I hope to learn Japanese one day..but I always hope to do too many things) dreams-dreams.... Will they come true?)) As for the studying language on your own, I think it's possible but only if you have an opportunity to speak with someone fluent in it and if you've already learned one foreign language with a teacher to understand how to do it (sorry for mistakes if any)

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Japanese is not difficult? If it is true, that's good news. Maybe one day (after retirement, I suppose) I'll start learning it on my own... Angel

Jessie аватар

Olga, thank you for your great and interesting topic you talked about to Yulia Happy You can't find much useful information like that surfing on net so I was really glad to bump into your site. I learnt some useful ideas for myself in terms of learning the languages. So far I understood you developped your blog just on your own without anyone's help. I'm someone who is also crazy about learning different languages and eager to create own blog about Scandinavian languages. But since I have no experience in having my own blog and having read all the 'threatening stuff' from bloggers I now have doubts about it. Since all the content on the blog is going to be unique and some not trustful sites can easily 'steal' it. What did you do in these cases when you were just a beginner? I'm sure you have had these sorts of problems. Sorry for a little bit 'off topic' and hope to get your reply soon. Thank you.

admin Olga-ekb аватар

Jessie, thank you for your comment. You know, I just concentrate on my writing and develop my blogs. I haven’t encountered the sort of problems you describe. Why should I let dishonest people stop me from doing what I want to do? I just don’t believe it’s fair, that’s all. Good luck to you. Happy

Marina аватар

Hello! I live in usa 11 years,but for this time i can't speak. I'm 36 years old.