What is Donovan's ACTUAL approach to learning a language?

I’m asking this here in case Donovan doesn’t check the ‘Ask Donovan’ section and maybe someone else can explain or point me to a specific article or video.

Anyway, this might seem like a silly question. But what is Donovan’s actual method, what does he specifically do when starting a new language from scratch?

I think I’ve read pretty much all the articles on the site and watched many of his YouTube videos but I’m not 100% clear on how he went about learning Irish for example.

He mentions various books and courses that he thinks were very useful and how he likes Glossika. Then he went to Ireland for an activation / immersion experience.

I found an interview where he said:


  1. Learn a little at a time and use it a lot. Focus on just a handful of new expressions at a time and use them repeatedly until they become habit. It’s much better to master a few things at a time than to try and take in everything at once and learn very little.

  2. Speak very early on as much as possible. If you wait until you’re ready you’re wasting time. Use what you know now even if it’s grammatically wrong at first as this is the best way to improve."

And on Twitter he wrote:

“Successful language learners got there in spite of grammar study, not because of grammar study. Language acquisition is memorizing patterns, not rules. People who focus on learning grammar rules will eventually learn the same patterns; it just takes them a lot longer to do so.”


“Ultimately, the effectiveness of every language “method” or resource boils down to how well it can help you hear and repurpose lexical patterns.”

My guess is he does something like the following (but please correct me if I’m wrong or there is an article where he outlines his approach).

  1. Finds a course that contains lots of dialogues, with audio. In the case of Irish he mentions that the book / site ’ Gaeilge Gan Stró’ is the best.

  2. Work through the course as instructed but don’t worry too much about the grammar.

One of the most important aims of following a course is to be able to hear and possibly produce the various sounds of the target language.

  1. Collect lots of phrases and language chunks and memorise them either through deliberate practice or ‘passively’ by consuming media. (could be audio from the course or other beginner level media).

  2. If the target language is on Glossika then use it to get lots of exposure and practice speaking.

  3. Consume lots media in the target language.

While steps 1 - 5 are happening the learner should start practicing speaking the language using the short phrases and language chunks. At some point the learner will have enough of these bits of language available to them to be able to have speaking practice sessions with tutors, such as those found on iTalki.

Finally if possible the learner should take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language, like visiting the country where that language is spoken in order to fully ‘activate’ the language.

What do you think? Is this how Donovan would go about learning a new language?

Edit: This is probably the closest he comes to explaining specifics: How to learn foreign languages through 'chunking' (no grammar study) - YouTube

That’s a fair summary of what I know about his technique and you’ve added other info I was unaware of. I’m on my fifth language studied over many years, and my personal experience is that Donovan’s technique from the snippets I have read and viewed actually works. It was encouraging when I read he also found it worked for him and also, what didn’t work.


Thanks for the reply.

It’s not that I’m seeking “The One True Method”, I’ve been working on my target language for a couple of years now.

But it’s always good to know how other’s are acquiring languages and try new things in order to become more efficient.

I myself have found it helps to strictly focus on content that has real world applicability. What’s the point of reading Harry Potter for example if I’m going to have to learn so many words that I will rarely use in real life (wand, spell, wizard etc.).

My goal is get good at social conversations so dialogues and monologues about every day situations are the best type of content for me.

Exactly. I also study sentences and vocabulary directly relevant to daily life and have recently started using Anki’s spaced repetition to practice those sentences in a systematic way. I then use them with a weekly Skype exchange with my Italian exchange partner. It all ties together in a real-world way.

All the best with your learning.