Autonomous language learning

The term autonomous learning is based on the idea that the whole process of learning (its planning, implementation and evaluation) is performed by the student. In both compulsory education and in our professional lives, we are often used to following the instructions of teachers, parents, superiors or other authorities. Self-study instead permits us a free choice of the content, procedure, times, locations, materials and style of learning (alone or with friends).

Autonomous learning not only helps improve language skills, but also helps improve personal organisation, which is useful in all aspects of our private, academic or professional lives.

The decision to follow a language course, where the learning process is already “planned” by a teacher, may appear easier: but a self-study path will complement this process, especially if a teacher-led course is limited to providing a certain number of language skills (e.g. grammar or conversation courses).

Anyone can learn autonomously with sufficient motivation. The desire to learn is the best form of motivation. You do not need any special gift: you simply need to adapt the learning method to your own style as well as to your availability and personal needs.

A successful self-study process requires careful planning that takes account of your needs and aims; regularly assesses the progress made and difficulties encountered; while continually adjusting the learner’s path. Without these processes you risk the unnecessary wasting of time and resources.

Planning a study programme should preferably be done in writing. Answering a few questions may be useful before you formulate it,:

  • What do I want to learn?

First of all it is important to consider the reason you want to learn a language in order to define more concrete aims (e.g. for work, to gain a language qualification, for travelling abroad, etc.) and to identify your priorities, for example the need to learn only certain language skills (reading comprehension, oral expression, etc.).
You must however set yourself realistic goals!

  • What resources do I need?

Using inappropriate resources to achieve your aims may undermine your motivation. For this reason the choice of the tools used should correspond to your predetermined aims and interests, while being both pleasant and motivating. Some tips:

- many of the materials available on the shelves of the Multilingual Centre and the Multimedia Language Centre are suitable for those studying languages autonomously (to catalogue)

- many resources are also available free online

- essential help can be provided by native speakers, whether acquaintances or staff at language centres, in particular references and language tutors

- initiatives such as Voluntariat per les llengües, Tandem, or Language cafè provide an opportunity to converse in a pleasant and informal context.

  • When and how often?

Consider the duration of your own learning path and the amount of time you can dedicate to studying (half an hour a day, twice a week, etc.).

In this way you can simulate the regular timetable of a course – the time for studying develops into part of your routine, becoming a habit: At what time of the day do I find it easier to concentrate? When am I least tired?

  • What can help me?

- Finding the right learning style will help you to study more effectively. Information and tests concerning learning styles can be found here

- A knowledge of your own language level can also help you in studying. Self-assessment tools for this purpose are available online:, and

- A periodic evaluation of progress, through self-assessment tests (see above) and a meeting with a language tutor, remembering that each learning process takes place continuously and that mistakes promote learning!

-The creation of a learning diary or a language portfolio; formulating ideas in writing obliges a learner to clarify their ideas and become aware of them. This process allows a learner to follow their learning step-by-step, understanding the stages and their own way of learning.

-Here you can find our advice on how to use the different resources at the Multilingual Centre and the Multimedia Language Centre in an autonomous way!

  • Where does self-learning take place?

You learn everywhere: on the street, watching a film, chatting with others.

The choice of where to study  however, also depends on the resources chosen. Studying from a book or computer, or practising pronunciation are perhaps more suitable in a quiet, comfortable place so that it is possible to take notes or record your voice. On the other hand, it is possible to practise vocabulary or oral comprehension, even on a train or bus, using audio and video material.

The Multilingual Centre in Bolzano and the Multimedia Language Centre in Merano provide technologies, resources, staff and knowledge aiming to accompany its users in learning one or more languages autonomously.

The results of autonomous learning depend essentially on the constancy and the ability of the learner to rationalise on their mistakes, in order to learn in a more targeted and conscious way. The conditions to succeed are a careful observation, a critical reflection and a sincere evaluation, as well as the willingness to obtain the best results from their learning experiences. Fundamental therefore:

  • Being realistic in the face of the objectives posed;

  • Not being afraid of making mistakes but learning from them;

  • Being open to new learning methods;

  • Constantly maintaining the desire to learn and not becoming discouraged in the face of obstacles!

Some informative videos (in English)

Articles on the subject of autonomous learning:

Some other useful suggestions:

And finally... dedication and hard work! Download our free brochure here 10+1 consigli per imparare una lingua (Pdf aviable in Italian), created in conjunction with cartoonist Fabio Vettori.