How to passively improve your language skills

I am a girl who totally loves languages. So I sometimes get into a situation where people asked me: ‘Why is your English (or French) so good? What did you do to become such a good speaker?’ Well, mostly it is kind of complicated to explain it in just one sentence because I not only study English (or French or Spanish) at school. I realized that learning a language is much more than just attending classes. Whether you just started to study a language or you are already pretty good but you still want to become better – here is some advice for you how you can improve your foreign language skills.

There is one thing that I love to do: watching movies! I think most people do, so why not combine something you love to with something you want to do? Let’s improve your foreign language skills while watching movies in that foreign language! You may say ‘What? No, that’s way to difficult for me’. I understand that. To watch a movie means to sit down for ninety minutes (or even more) and follow the action. Sometimes that is hard even when you watch a movie in your native language. But you have to try it.
I found out three ways to watch a movie in a foreign language. If you are some kind of ‘beginner’, so your language skills aren’t that good, start with a movie that you watched before in your native language, so you already know what will happen. Subtitles make it easier for you to understand what is said. I once tried to watch a movie like that. I have been studying Spanish for over two years now, nevertheless I am not that good because I teached it myself and sometimes I am lazy … But I picked out a movie and watched it in Spanish with Spanish subtitles just for fun because I wanted to see how much I would understand. And I found out that I actually understood something! I even learned some new Spanish words from the context. So I can tell you to just try it. It is worth it.
Something that is important when you watch a movie: Don’t focus on understanding anything! That will distract you so much that you will understand nothing at all. Simply try to focus on what is going on.
If you have been studying your foreign language for some years, you can try to watch a movie (that you have already watched) without subtitles. It should be your aim being able to watch a movie without subtitles. One disadvantage of subtitles is that they can easily distract you from actually following the action.
If you know your foreign language very well but you want to practice and improve it a bit more, try to watch a movie that you don’t know. That’s the most difficult thing to do because you don’t only have to understand what is said but you also have to follow an action which is new to you. It is a challenge but it will help you to become better in knowing your foreign language.


The second way to improve your foreign language skills is to read. Reading is a wonderful thing. It is very efficient because when you read, you see the words with your eyes. That is why it is one of the best ways to become better in that language.
One important thing if you want to read something in your foreign language, is that it should be about a subject you like. Don’t force yourself to read, for example, that one thick book (because you really want to improve your language skills) – it should be fun for you and not something you have to do.
When you read, it doesn’t always have to be a book. Try to read different things: an online blog, facebook posts, song lyrics, magazines, …
Reading in a foreign language helps you to improve grammar and of course vocabulary. You learn in a passive way. Don’t get upset when you don’t understand every single word. You don’t have to. Sometimes you may not know a word but because of the context it will turn out to be clear what it means.


Watching movies and reading are passive ways to improve language skills. But there are active ways too, for example speaking.
This is always harder than understanding but it is very important to know a language well. There is this German word ‘Sprache’ which means ‘language’ in English. The word ‘Sprache’ is related to the German word ‘sprechen’ meaning’speaking’. Language without speaking is impossible.
The best way to become a better speaker is to talk to native speakers. They know their language and also have the best pronunciation (if it is not some strange dialect).
If you don’t know any native speakers, you can try to talk to yourself. Sounds stupid? At the beginning it is, but it really helps you. Stand, for example, in front of a mirror and speak about anything you want: your last shopping tour, environmental problems, your favorite book, Martin Luther King, … whatever. What matters is that you speak.

The second active way to improve your foreign language skills is to write. Some people like that, some don’t. If you write a diary, you could once write in your foreign language instead in your native one. If you love writing little stories why don’t you write one in a foreign language? There are also websites on the internet where you can find pen pals from all over the world to chat with. An advantage next to improving language skills: you find cool friends!

There is one active thing that you can do almost everywhere: Thinking. It is way to complicated to translate something from your native language into your foreign one when you want to say or write something down. So start to think in your foreign language!
If you want to and you have the chance to go abroad for studying or something else – do it! It is the best thing you can do. Nothing helps you more than going to another country when you want to improve your language skills (or even learn a new language). Since the foreign language is arround you all the time when you are abroad, you need to think in that language, speak that language, … At the end you will speak that language securely, fluently and with less mistakes than before.

These ways are all ones I tried by myself so I can guarantee that it is worth the try. I still do these things to improve my foreign language skills. Even my English, French and Spanish is not perfect. You will never stop learning something new. There is no point where you can say ‘Okay, my language skills are perfect by now.’
Of course, you can’t only improve your language skills by doing these things like watching movies. It is important to study which can be very hard. But these ways to improve a foreign language are there for having fun while learning more. But learning a language shouldn’t be without fun. Learning a language is much more than just attending classes. It is an adventure where you can discover new things and that what it is all about!




Annemarie Schmidt is a 17-year-old from a small village in Germany. Right now she is in the last year of high school, after which she will do a year of volunteering in the United States of America. If you´d like to connect with her on Facebook, feel free to do so.

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