How to Learn a New Language

On this page you’ll find my most popular, controversial and oddball (not necessarily in that order) views on how to learn a new language quickly.

Everything here is born out of my (admittedly unusual) 15+ years’ experience of learning languages, teaching languages, and even training teachers to teach languages!

These articles and videos will help you get to grips with some of the big language learning questions, so you can become a more confident and effective student of the language you care about.

For resources related to the specific language you’re learning, choose from the list below.

For other languages, use the “search” function on the blog page.

Otherwise, get stuck in…

“Olly’s top-notch language-learning insights are right in line with the best of what we know from neuroscience and cognitive psychology about how to learn effectively. I love his work—and you will too!”

Barbara Oakley, PhD, Instructor of Learning How to Learn from the University of California – San Diego

#1 Big Language Learning Questions

Here are the BIG questions I find myself answering about how to learn a new language. Chances are you’ve asked yourself all these questions at some point.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding on many of these topics, so I recommend you read through each of these articles.


#2 Who Is Olly Richards

how to learn a new languageFind out about me, and how I personally learn languages. My ideas on how to learn a new language have evolved a lot over the years and continue to do so.

I’ve also made every language learning mistake under the sun. So you’ll get to have a chuckle at my expense here!

#3 Language Learning Projectslearning new languages

I try to document my language learning experiments in videos and blog posts. I do this to keep myself motivated and accountable, but also so you can benefit from my experiences.

I don’t always travel to learn languages. However, for these projects, most videos are filmed on location around the world.

  • Learn Thai Project – Thailand
    In 2016, I went on a two-week mission to learn Thai in Bangkok, Thailand. You’ll see how I got on, every step of the way – from complete beginner, to holding a 25-minute conversation with my teacher after only 10 lessons.
  • Spanish Immersion Project – Mexico
    In 2017, I travelled to Mexico with my friend Jan in search of “immersion” in Spanish. It didn’t go so well, and many considered the project a failure. However, failure is the greatest teacher, and this project contains some valuable lessons on how to learn a new language for those who are considering traveling abroad.
  • Learn Cantonese Project – Various Countries
    A number of years ago, I decided to learn Cantonese, the language of Hong Kong (and others). For most of the first year, I recorded monthly video updates, and discussions of how I was learning this very difficult language.

#4 Language Skills

studying french

Learning a new language involves building competence in the four major skills. The articles will show you how to do this.

  • How To Read Effectively In A Foreign Language – Reading is one of the best ways to expand your vocabulary and increase your overall fluency. But how do you avoid reading becoming a chore and successfully read for pleasure?
  • The Big Listening Con – Why Most Listening Practice Material Isn’t Fit For Purpose – 99% of listening practice material in language classrooms and textbooks isn’t fit for purpose. Here’s why, and how you can quickly get better at understanding fast, spoken language.
  • 13 Ways To Beat Your Fear And Start Speaking A Foreign Language – Sweaty palms. An elevated heat rate. A sudden desire to run away and hide. What…you thought you were alone in being afraid of speaking your target language with real people?
  • How To Learn Vocabulary In A Foreign Language – When a new word evaporates from your mind right at the moment you need it in conversation… it’s no fun. This short series teaches you how to memorise words and NOT forget them later.
  • The Grammar Myth… Debunked! – Just how much of your precious time should you spend learning grammar? It’s popular in language & teaching circles to “bash” grammar. But here’s my own take on the value of grammar in language learning.

#5 Core Study Sequencescore study sequences

“These are the most useful language learning videos on all of YouTube!”


When I learn a new language, I tend to use the same “core” study techniques over and over again, every single day… because they’re so damn effective!

Last year, I decided to sit down and film these techniques one-by-one, so you can steal them and use them in your own learning.

Here’s every post in the series, labelled with either the name or the purpose of the technique.


#6 Study Hacks

Olly Brno Teaching Cropped

This section focuses on efficiency in your language learning – making better use of your study time and energy.

#7 Teaching and Learning olly richards presentation

This section takes a deep-dive into working with teachers and language partners. You’ll also find a critical look at the merits of takes classes vs language exchanges vs independent learning.

#8 Essential Interviews

Here are some of my popular interviews with giants of the language industry.

  • Stephen Krashen on Language Learning in the Polyglot Community – Dr. Stephen Krashen is perhaps the best-known name in applied linguistics. We sat down in Montreal to discuss what researchers have to learn from polyglots, and how to learn a new language in general.
  • Learning How to Learn: Mastering the Science of Learning with Barbara Oakley
    Dr. Barbara Oakley is the instructor of Learning How to Learn from the University of California —the world’s largest massive open online course. She’s an expert in the science of learning, and also used to drink vodka on Russian trawlers in the Bering Sea. Find out more in this fascinating interview.
  • Michel Thomas Publisher Reveals How She Changed The Face Of Language Learning
    If you’ve ever walked into a language bookshop, you will have heard of Michel Thomas – famous for his language courses. But did you know about the secrecy surrounded his methods? I sat down with the publisher who pulled of the biggest language learning coup of her time and persuaded Thomas to release his method to the mass market.
  • How To Learn A New Skill Quickly With Jonathan Levi – Levi is a master of accelerated learning, and teaches people to learn new skills quickly by distilling those skills to their core elements. If there’s something new you want to learn in your life, this interview is a must-listen.