This post is a follow-up to my first language learning article ‘The Secret Benefit Of Learning Languages: How To Learn Effectively‘. While the first article is an overview into successful language learning, this article is intended to provide specific details into becoming successful with the output half of language learning (speaking and writing). Another post, ‘Foreign Language Learning: How To Listen And Read With Fluency‘ explains how to become accomplished in the input half of language learning (reading and listening). For advice on how to get the most out of immersion and learning overseas see ‘Learning A Language Abroad: How To Use Immersion To Achieve Fluency‘. For the article on using language to develop understanding of a culture and vice versa, see ‘How To Better Your Foreign Language Ability Through The Language And Culture Relationship‘.


Speak from Day 1

One of the best ways to learn a language is to start speaking it straight away. 

Yes, that means from day one.

How on earth do I speak from day one if I don’t know the language I hear you ask? 

The right mindset to have is that you can learn what to say as you go along.

Speaking a foreign language isn’t an exercise in collecting a certain number of words before you’re allowed to open your mouth to someone. If you believe this, you’re going to be waiting a long time before you begin speaking the language. 

Verbal communication doesn’t have a perfect threshold of vocabulary and grammar where it’s ‘acceptable’ to start having conversations. Communication is too varied to expect that every person will converse the same way at the same number of words and phrases.

Take a scenario of two language learners attending the same course learning from the same teacher and textbooks. Just because they’re learning at an equal level doesn’t mean they’ll communicate in the same way. One learner might feel the vocabulary acquired so far is inadequate for expressing themselves on a certain topic. Whereas the other learner might feel they can express their full personality on the same topic with those words. 

Accept that when you start speaking from day one you’re going to sound bad. Broken/’Pigeon’ language bad. 

But when do you ever start off speaking well? Every fluent speaker went through a phase where they sounded bad in a language. Every single one. This goes for our first languages too. None of us were Shakespeare in our native tongues at three years old, we babbled our way to fluency. 

Activation of a language is essential for competency. By piecing together basic words to make yourself understood from the get go, you’re activating a new linguistic pathway in your brain.

If you delay activating the foreign language to some unspecified time in the future, you’re holding back your brain’s ability to output the language. I’ve met multiple people whose input in a language they were learning was huge yet they could barely speak a sentence in it. There’s a misconception that learning more and more vocabulary and grammar will trigger a magic phase in somebody, at which point they’ll speak fluently. If you’re not practicing speaking along with input, this transformation won’t happen. Eureka moments are reserved for those who have consistent input and output in a foreign language.

So if you’re brand new to the language, how do you begin speaking it?

This is where one-to-one lessons with an instructor come in.

Conversational language learning lessons with a teacher

From day 1, an instructor should be able to teach you basic phrases that form the foundation of the language. These include greetings, common verbs and frequently used vocabulary. On top of the basics, it’s a good idea to request teaching of phrases you want to know that you’ll likely use in your personal life. For example, the phrase “I help clients with their finances” wouldn’t be taught in any generic beginner lesson but it’s realistic and useful to teach that phrase to an accountant early. Find phrases that are useful to your life and request that your teacher show you them during a lesson.

Due to the unorthodox nature of having conversations from day 1, a few instructors will struggle to cope with your early speaking request. Some may demand that you abandon early attempts at conversation and focus on rote language learning techniques only. If an instructor can’t handle your early speaking requests however primitive, stay away from their lessons

Any instructor worth their weight in salt should be qualified to help you navigate the spoken language as a raw beginner. They’re being paid to help you no matter what your level. If they can’t manage beginner conversations and adapt to the student’s needs, they can’t call themselves a good language teacher. Find the many instructors out there who can, they’re waiting for you.

You might believe that conversation-based lessons are excessive and can be replaced by speaking with a native friend or attending a language learning exchange. The problem with these approaches is they don’t suit raw beginners in language learning at all.

A day 1 language learner’s crude (but worthwhile) conversation attempts need very patient ears. A teacher’s job is to provide that patience and feedback for improvement. 

Good teaching will use the principle of i+1—the best way to optimise the communicative ability of a student in a foreign language. Friends and language learning exchange partners are often far from i+1. If you’re a raw beginner, their level in your own language almost certainly far outweighs your level in their language. 

I have native English-speaking friends who tried to practice a foreign language by chatting early to people they knew only to have the other people give up and switch back to English. Those people weren’t being mean, they were saving the friendship. It isn’t fair to place a burden on another person you know by turning the way you communicate with each other upside down. If they give up on you, both your language learning ability and friendship may be impeded. Until you reach a practical conversational level, get teaching.

As a former professional English teacher who taught hundreds of clients in person, I can vouch for the effectiveness of one-to-one instruction. Nothing supercharges your output ability like tailored lessons with conversation.

The best part is modern private language lessons don’t have to be expensive. If in-person tutoring isn’t any option for you, your best bet is online language lessons.

Online language lessons offer variety, flexibility and competitive prices. Varied because you can find a range of instructors to fit your desired learning style. Flexible since you can find instructors who fit your learning hours and attend the lessons at home. As there are different types of instructor experience levels, you’ll be able to find an instructor for you no matter what your price point.

Some of the most popular online language teaching websites are italki, Verbling and Preply. They have a huge number of instructors teaching many different languages. You’re sure to find instructors able to guide you in basic conversation in your language of choice on these platforms.

Remember, tell an instructor upfront that you want to practice speaking right away before lessons begin. If they’re hesitant to proceed, you probably shouldn’t have a lesson with them. If they show reluctance with beginner conversation during the lesson, consider another teacher for the future.

Within weeks and in some cases days of practicing speaking early, you’ll reach a level of active language learning ability others can only dream of. The key is to practice speaking consistently from day 1.

Language Learning Teacher

Inner monologue

If you can’t have any lessons or speak to someone everyday, the next best option is to activate via inner monologue. This means speaking to yourself or thinking in the language. 

Thinking in the language you want to learn is often overlooked as a powerful tool for output because it seems so simplistic. Yet it’s the most convenient way to maintain output since you’re not relying on anyone to talk to nor limited to specific times—you can think in the language at any time.

As a beginner, thinking in a language by yourself will feel like a stop-start exercise. You’ll run into vocabulary gaps and grammatical barriers often. During this early phase of piecing sentences together, activation will feel like a slog. Don’t give up. Realise that frustration is a sign of progress.

The gaps and barriers are indicators in how to elevate your ability in the language. You’ll encounter what’s known as the frequency effect when using this technique. When you know little in a language, you’re plugging in the gaps in your knowledge every other second. But as you build your bank of words and phrases, you’ll need to look up much less often.

When you run into a gap in your knowledge, look up the word or grammar point straight away or make a note to search for it as part of a later study session. This will get your brain into the habit of constructing the linguistic pathway mentioned before. By putting in the cognitive effort to learn via inner monologue, your retention skills for what you learn will be on par with speaking to another person.

As a bonus, you can talk to yourself out loud which really cements what your brain learns from activating the language plus allows for pronunciation practice. Of course this isn’t practical all the time; as long as you’re thinking in the language consistently in some way, you’ll make progress.

Treat speaking as the most important activation tool by starting early and you’ll be conversational before you know it.


The other mode of output is of course writing. Out of the four skill components in languages, writing is considered the most difficult by the majority of learners. 

The reasons are clear. As children, writing is the last skill we become proficient at. We learn to listen, speak and read before we pick up a pen. Throughout our school years, writing is the skill we always have to hone through different subjects. In native language lessons as a child or teenager, you don’t have a speaking or listening section in your classes (presentations aside) but you do have to write and write often.

Let’s look at ways to make writing benefit your language learning journey.

Learn alphabets and scripts

Of course if you want to read and write in a foreign language, you have no choice but to learn alphabets and scripts first. Even if you’re a beginner who wants to focus on speaking a language, there are enormous benefits from learning the foundation written components of your target language.

For one, the scripts of most languages don’t take very long to learn. Due to the exotic nature of different scripts, most people assume them to be intimidating and difficult. It’s true that there are more difficult and time-consuming scripts to learn (such as Chinese and Japanese kanji) but since most languages use alphabets, it’s faster to learn them than most people think.

If you can understand this post in English, then you’re most of the way into knowing the alphabets of a 100 languages because at least 100 languages use the Roman alphabet as their orthography like English. Many alphabets have only a few more Roman characters to learn and it’s only a matter of learning any differences in pronouncing letters.

Even non-Roman alphabets can be learned quickly. You can learn the Korean alphabet Hangul in five minutes.

Another benefit is writing builds up your visual associative ability with a language. Instead of relying on speaking and listening to get by, you’ll be able to read and write which will symbiotically improve all other language skills. Reading and writing improve your speaking and listening and vice versa.

Many courses teach the alphabets and scripts of languages via rote language learning but there’s a particular method that develops unparalleled focus and understanding of a written language called Scriptorium.


Scriptorium is a language learning technique for writing, analysis and awareness. It was developed by Professor Alexander Arguelles, a polyglot who has used this technique to learn dozens of languages and become polyliterate.

Since Scriptorium is a method for improving writing and awareness skills, it’s a powerful tool for language activation and output.

To do Scriptorium, the process is as follows:

1. Take a sentence and read it out loud.

2. As you write the sentence slowly and deliberately, say each word out loud again.

3. Read the sentence that you have written out loud.

4. Check for any errors or points that you need clarified.

You can use any material you want in a language to do Scriptorium. If you’re a beginner, it’s more beneficial to use a beginner’s course book to find paragraphs to practice although if you feel motivated you could use any book. Some learners vouch for using TV show subtitles or newspapers as material for this technique. Use whatever gets you motivated as the most important part of Scriptorium is concentrating to understand the text deeply. You’re more likely to concentrate with material you’re interested in.

The technique is simple but there are some keys to doing it effectively:

– It’s paramount that you do the exercise slowly so that you can pay attention to detail. It’s much more effective to understand a few sentences well than to rush a whole page.

– Check written words and grammar that you don’t understand. If you can’t check them right away, make a note of points to study later either by looking them up yourself or asking a teacher to clarify them.

– Make sure you’re writing your sentences by hand and not by another means such as texting or typing. Writing by hand maximises understanding and retention of output in a way other means can’t achieve.

It’s recommended to do this technique for at least 15 minutes a day although the optimal time to spend on Scriptorium is until you lose focus. It’s NOT intended to be a copying exercise so if you feel your focus slipping it’s better to stop than to do the technique half-baked.

Scriptorium is valuable for improving your writing in a foreign language, understanding the relationship between speech and writing, and developing focus. Taking the time to write with deep understanding as Scriptorium forces you to do perfects your grammar meaning your spoken language skills will also improve.

As the saying goes, “the pen is mightier than the sword”. Use writing to achieve comprehensive proficiency in foreign language learning. 


There are two primary focuses in language learning: input and output. It’s all to easy to lean towards input at the expense of time spent on output. Yet output is crucial for mastering a foreign language.

Few people would learn a language if they wouldn’t be able to speak it. Instead of being a non-verbal armchair expert in language learning you can learn to speak from day 1. Forcing yourself to speak from the get go begins activation of a new linguistic pathway.

Having conversational lessons with a teacher further streamlines your spoken output. A good teacher should be able to guide you in conversation even if you’re a beginner. Since the advent of videoconferencing, you can find teachers online offering flexibility to learn wherever and whenever you want at competitive prices.

Speaking to yourself via inner monologue is a technique that requires no resources or people. Thinking in the language outside of study sessions or lessons ensures your brain continues to activate the language refining that linguistic pathway.

The other output skillset is your ability to write in a foreign language. Learn the alphabet/script of your target language to set you up with the foundation of knowing how to read and write which improves other skillsets in your language learning process as well.

Use the technique of Scriptorium to develop writing and awareness of your target language. This technique fine-tunes your understanding of the correspondence between the spoken and written language.

I’ve written the post on output first since it’s unfortunately the more overlooked half of language learning. One of the reasons most students don’t come out of years of classroom language learning in school speaking with proficiency is because output is underweighted in group environments at the expense of input. With the ability to take control of your language learning outside of school, you can avoid this lopsided approach.

The most successful language learners activate their foreign languages often—do the same and reap the benefits.