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How High Schoolers Learn Foreign Languages By Themselves

Elena Dobrei, XI E

Many teenagers desire to start learning a new foreign language, but few know what to begin with. Without a backbone, such as the support of a teacher to guide them on where to start and how to proceed, learning a new language becomes a challenge that’s too great for some, causing them to give up on this goal.

I have prepared two interviews with my classmates, Mathilda and Mihai, in which I asked them 10 questions about their journey in individually learning a foreign language. These interviews will help us gain insight into how they manage to succeed, despite their environment, in overcoming obstacles and pursuing their dream.

The questions asked, are the following:

1. What determined you?

2. Since when are you learning this language?

3. Why did you choose to do it by yourself?

4. How did you begin?

5. What motivates you?

6. How do you find the necessary materials for learning?

7. How do you manage to surpass a blockage?

8. What is the hardest part?

9. What do you plan for the future?

10. What advice would you give?

Mathilda Nica 11E – JAPANESE

1. My dream of visiting Japan and learning about their culture determined me to learn Japanese.

2. I started learning at the beginning of spring 2023.

3. At first I was interested in doing it with the guidance of a professor by attending Japanese classes. However, I couldn’t find any. I didn’t want to give up on my dream and I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do this, despite these obstacles.

4. I began learning by allocating an hour each day to this activity.

5. My passion for Japanese culture, the Japanese way of life, and my will to spend a few years living in Japan keep me motivated to go on with it.

6. I currently use an app called “Busuu”. However, I have also signed up for a Japanese study group led by a native instructor.

7. When I encounter obstacles or difficulties, I turn to the internet or social media to find effective solutions.

8. I think the hardest part is to remember certain “kanjis” which are ideograms adapted from Chinese characters.

9. My future plans are to obtain my Busuu language certificate or take an exam that proves my language proficiency.

10. My advice for anyone willing to learn is: if you want to do something you truly like, never let anything stop you.


1. My desire to comprehend other cultures’ way of thinking and discover my own identity in various global societies determined me to learn a few foreign languages. However, a stronger impact was the influence of the people around me, the present circumstances and my wishes for the future.

2. I started learning when I was an infant. We all continuously learn how to express our opinions and our own selves from the moment we are born. Therefore, I don’t believe that time itself has any relevance, although it can be said that the early years of childhood have a special impact on language learning. This effect is due to the fact that adults forget how to be children, so everything becomes more challenging when you approach learning a language as an adult! What matters much more are personal experiences, relationships, beliefs, principles, and one's own ideas formed and the way of thinking about the universe and the world throughout life.

3. Everyone has the opportunity to learn a language either with a teacher or on their own. However, self-study, although it involves a significant amount of effort, has a huge advantage: independence in terms of time and progression. Everyone is different, and for a teacher, it's almost impossible to tailor instruction to each individual's pace of progress. Although self-studying requires more Google searches and a broader understanding of certain universal linguistic concepts, it is the most effective method for those who are determined and enjoy a little challenge.

4. The beginning has always been the most interesting part. Whether through exposure to music, movies, or simply through conversation, I always initiated the learning process myself because I felt a special connection with a particular society. It's a very wrong idea to make the country-language connection, as there can be different social groups with specific regions, each with their own ideals, groups that cannot be overlooked or mixed together. We must not forget that languages do not adhere to global political boundaries. In this sense, for example, there can be people of Japanese ethnicity in Romania, thus becoming 'Japanese in Romania,' not in Japan. Therefore, you can't change where you came from, but you can change where you end up.

5. The feeling that we are not confined to our own culture and not mentally closed off already convinces me that we are living in a good period in history. It's a unique feeling when you have the power to experience foreign events fully firsthand. In a funny way, a small paradox forms because when you practically know the language, which also means you know the culture (of course, not entirely), nothing can necessarily be called 'foreign.' When you have the opportunity to experience such an event, you will feel a strange sensation, akin to nostalgia. That's when you know you're on the right path. Personally, I will never forget the shock of the moment when I was listening to Japanese music with headphones, and suddenly I could understand almost everything. It's such a special, joy-filling feeling that always remains the same, no matter how much time passes. I must also emphasize that there is actually no true 'suddenly'; everything takes time, like a pie in the oven.

6. Since we live in the 21st century, most learning materials for the world's developed languages can be found online. These include dictionaries, vocabulary lists, grammar explanations, and a variety of effective learning apps. At the same time, I believe that even though these resources are very convenient, one should always start learning a language either from someone familiar, a good teacher, or a well-structured introductory book.

7. During the learning process, 'blockages' aren’t really a bad thing. They signify that you need something new and either need to find a new learning method that suits you, move forward, or take a break to consider some things, such as what else needs to be done, or to reflect on what you've done so far. Even if you take a break, reading a book in the 'target' language can be a fun activity and helps you gauge your proficiency level.

8. The most challenging thing, in my opinion, is to find yourself in a different culture. It directly depends on how well you already know it, how distant it is from your own culture, and above all, the experiences you've had. In a situation where you are learning a new language and have ambitious future plans, you can think of that society as a puzzle: the puzzle is already mostly assembled, although it still needs some pieces, and you, the one learning that language, may or may not be an important piece! The other pieces certainly cannot and will not change their shape for you, so it will be you who needs to reshape yourself and find your own place in the puzzle.

10. In the future, I wish to have a diverse circle of acquaintances, with people from different corners of the world, where I can find myself. I plan to continue enjoying European interculturality for the rest of my life and can only be happy that learning foreign languages is supported in every possible way by authorities.

11. For advice, I won't specify things like 'the best methods' or recommend websites or books because it depends on the language you're studying. However, what I want to emphasize is that the whole process can be a lot of fun: don't take anything too seriously, comfortably go through all the learning stages, and be curious every day! Languages are closely tied to culture in 90% of cases, so you can attend festivals, read books, poetry, and proverbs, watch films, socialize, or learn new things about the world from a different perspective. It's not so much about the level, but it's about the interest and the desire to actively engage with the culture.

In the end, embarking on a journey such as learning a foreign language is a difficult skill to acquire alone, but I hope that these two interviews either helped you stay motivated or gave you a “push” to start learning the language that you’ve longed for.

Chin up and continue your path in achieving your dream!

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