Roman Kovalchik

How to learn a foreign language. Practical guide

Sep 08, 2021
  1. Introduction
  2. Listening
  3. Writing
  4. Speaking
  5. Reading
  6. How to learn new words


My native language is Ukrainian, so I also speak Russian fluently. Let English be an example as a foreign language you want to learn, reading this article. But of course it could be any of them.

I have studied English since the first grade of high school, attending school Olympiads. After high school, I studied English at the institute for several years.

English has always been one of my strongest subjects.

After graduation, I decided to take an exam that is similar to IELTS and TOEFL. These exams test the language in four standard skills – speaking, listening, writing and reading. Often the passing of such an exam is divided into two days, as in my case.

Less than a year before the main exam I passed my first similar test and realized a wonderful thing – I do not know English, even at a pre intermediate level. At the same time, the attempt to understand literary English by ear did not bring any results other than stress and a sense of my worthlessness. I am sure that many of you are familiar with this situation.

There is only one thing to deal with stress – to get rid of its source. In our case, it is either to learn English, or to say goodbye to it forever.

Looking ahead, I will say that I managed to pass the exam for an upper intermediate level. I use English almost every day – speak, read, understand literary speech by ear. I still don’t understand songs in English, though 😐

Now I will tell you how I had been preparing.

Let’s start with the hardest and most important thing.


Beyond doubt, listening is the most difficult part of learning a foreign language. We all remember school lessons. When the tape recorder was turned on, and the announcer in a slow voice spoke a short story using simple words. We could easily read and translate these words. At the same time, we managed not to understand half of them by ear.

As always, we should practice.

The main advice on listening practice I got from Olga Kozar – the owner of the YouTube channel Olga Kozar and English with Experts.

This advice is represented as the following algorithm:

Step 1: Listen to audio WITHOUT text. At least 2 times, but 3-5 times is better.
Step 2: Listen and follow the text. 1 time.
Step 3: Again, listen WITHOUT text. 1 time.
Step 4: Follow and pronounce the speech. 2-3 times.
Step 5: Again, listen WITHOUT text. 1 time.

In the process of learning, this algorithm will be simplified. You will come to this intuitively. For example, the last two steps will be removed in the future because they will not make sense. And in the first step, 3-5 reps will turn into 1-2 reps, and so on.

The only thing left for you is to find a good source of audio with transcripts, which will fit your listening level.


Unlike listening and reading, writing and speaking require an additional skill. This is the ability to form your thoughts, combine words into phrases, and phrases into sentences.

As usual – you need to practice. And this is how I did it.

Firstly, you need to find the same person as you – who wants to learn the same foreign language. He or she should have the same level of knowledge as yours. Also it would be nice if your life views differ at some point. The last tip seems strange enough, but you will understand it soon.

Offer your partner the following practice instruction.

One of you announces the topic for discussion, and the other writes an essay on this topic, at least 5 sentences.

An essay is a short writing that reflects the opinion of its author on a particular issue or subject.

After that, accordingly, you change places – one provides the topic, and the other writes the essay.

It is advisable to discuss additionally each opinion of your partner, so it is better to choose acute and provocative topics. Now you probably understand why your life views should be different.

At one time I was interested in mnemonic. This is a set of special techniques and methods that make it easier to memorize the necessary information and increase the amount of memory.

I can confidently say that information is much better remembered when it is provided with emotions, or has some kind of association. Therefore, conduct discussions with your partner, argue, express your opinion, and sometimes even provoke.

Do not be afraid to make mistakes and use a translator.

I had found my pretty old similar conversation, when I was preparing for the exam.

Here’s how it started:

Practice of English writing. Beginning.

And that’s what came out of it:

Many thanks to Vlada for the idea, the time spent, and the patience.

In order to constantly use new words in your essays, I recommend to form at least one sentence using third-party sources in foreign language. As for me I used Wikipedia, describing the topic that I received from my companion.

Example of practicing writing skills
Example of practicing writing skills

When you try to form sentences in foreign language by your own, while reflecting it in writing, and reinforcing it with interest and emotions, the result will not be long in coming.


And only now my advice will be to attend full-time courses, or individual lessons with a tutor. The fact is that today there is an unlimited number of educational resources/tips/instructions on the Internet, such as this article.

On social networks, groups of people are formed who arrange thematic meetings to practice spoken foreign language. From personal experience, I can say that such meetings are certainly useful, but hardly you will achieve high results attending them.

Speaking skills will improve better when the other person sets the bar high, using words that are new to you.

Also, as you practice written skills, you can send voice messages from time to time.


Imagine how much you will have to read if you start to stick to all of the above tips.

How to learn new words

You will forever meet new words, regardless of the level of your knowledge.

To better remember a new word, you need to learn it along with the context of the entire sentence in which it occurs (remember the associations from the section Writing?). It is advisable also to find this word in the context of other variants of its use.

For this purpose, I use the electronic dictionary ABBYY Lingvo, version for a computer.

Electronic dictionary ABBYY Lingvo
Electronic dictionary ABBYY Lingvo

Instruction for using the ABBYY Lingvo electronic dictionary

1. Come across a new word you want to learn

1.2. If the word was found on the electronic device where the dictionary is installed, it is enough to select the word and press a certain key combination to display the translation

Настройки ABBYY Lingvo. Сервис > Настройки программы
ABBYY Lingvo Settings. Tools > Options

1.2. Otherwise, open the dictionary and enter the word manually

2. The translation of the word appears with examples of its use. Add the word along with examples to the training dictionary

ABBYY Lingvo - adding new word to the  training dictionary
ABBYY Lingvo – adding new word to the training dictionary

3. Learn new words

 ABBYY Lingvo - learning new words
ABBYY Lingvo – learning new words
Regardless of whether you translated a word correctly during the exercise, always try to translate all usage examples you have added to the word. From your native language to the language you learn, not the other way!

This will seem daunting at first.

That’s all. Share your experiences and tips for learning process of a foreign language in the comments.

Be kind.

Sep 08, 2021
Like 3

One response to How to learn a foreign language. Practical guide

  1. Candy says:

    Hi Roman,
    Quite useful information, thanks 🙏
    But why is the READING section so short? Do you mean that no need to read some additional texts if you prepare for writing an essay or listen to tracks?

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