Do you want to speed up the process of “learning a new language”?
Maybe you should learn a language so you can communicate with people on your upcoming trip.
Or so you can take on new responsibilities at work?
Or so you can read your favorite novel in the original language?
Whatever your reason for learning a new language, you can probably agree that learning it quickly would be ideal.
However, learning a language, especially from scratch, appears to be anything but quick: you’ll have to learn new grammar, memorize vocabulary words, and practice speaking…
Although nothing can replace the time and effort required, if you follow the right strategy and dedicate yourself to the process, you can learn a new foreign language quickly.
Setting goals for what you want to achieve is the first step in learning a new language quickly. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. How can you know what you want to achieve and measure your progress if you don’t set goals?
Most of us are intimidated by the prospect of learning a new language. There are numerous words to learn and numerous methods to study. Setting goals helps you to focus your attention so you can stop worrying about the details and get down to business.
According to research, people who set the right kind of goals are more likely to succeed.
Concentrate on specific, measurable outcomes. Set specific goals and concentrate on what you want to learn rather than how much time you want to spend studying. “This week, I’m going to learn 30 Spanish vocabulary words related to shopping,” for example, is a good goal.
Set short-term objectives. It’s beneficial to have a long-term goal—something you hope to accomplish. Long-term goals, on the other hand, are too overwhelming to motivate you on a daily basis. Divide your overall goal into smaller chunks and set smaller goals for each week or month.
Try something new (but not too much). Goals are most effective when they force you to push yourself. However, if they are too intimidating, they can demotivate you. Setting goals with a variety of outcomes is a good way to get around this. “I want to learn 30-50 new vocabulary words this week,” for example. The lower number in this range gives you the impression that the goal is within your grasp, while the higher number allows you to push yourself.
Make a list of your objectives. Writing down your goals allows you to commit to them. Post your goals somewhere visible, such as your bathroom mirror or the home screen of your smartphone.
Fortunately, you don’t need to learn nearly that many words to be fluent in a language. Consider this: the top 100 words account for approximately 50% of English language texts, and the top 1,000 words account for approximately 90%!
Using the best study techniques will help you learn your words faster.
Flashcards, for example, are an excellent way to learn vocabulary words. Flashcards allow you to focus on individual words and test yourself, which aids in the retention of new information.
Follow these tips to learn quickly when using flashcards:
Consider using electronic flashcards. Paper flashcards work just as well as they always have, but electronic flashcard programs like Anki offer some significant advantages. You can easily carry large stacks of electronic flashcards on your smartphone or tablet, and you can use flashcards that others have created and made public. These programs also use spaced repetition to gradually increase the amount of time between flashcard repetitions and automatically change the order of cards.
Check out polyglot Olly Richards’ Conversations course to maximize your use of SRS programs and electronic flashcards. It’s designed to help you set up workable, step-by-step systems for learning your target language. Uncovered courses, which introduce the fundamentals of specific languages such as Spanish, French, German, and Italian, can also provide more targeted assistance.
Before turning over the card, try to guess the meaning of a word. Flashcards work best when used to test your memory, so don’t flip the cards too quickly. Make a guess even if you don’t know the word.
Learn the translations first, and then the new words.
When you see the English equivalent of a foreign word, it is easier to learn the translation than it is to learn to say the foreign word. Begin by memorizing the English translation of a foreign word written on the side of a flashcard. Later, flip the cards over and practice saying the foreign words as you see their English equivalents.
Practice makes perfect, but effective practice speeds up the process!
Some other excellent methods for incorporating new words alongside and beyond flashcards include:
Visualize and speak aloud. Visualize the new word you’re learning, imagine the image it represents, and say it aloud. This allows you to connect concepts and improves memorization.
When you use physical actions while learning, your brain learns better. Use this to your advantage by gesticulating. To learn the German word Schuh (shoe), say it while pretending to put on a shoe.
It can be difficult to practice words in context when learning a new language because you haven’t yet mastered enough vocabulary to make complex sentences. Simply use the word in your native language to get around this. If you’re learning the Spanish word casa (house), you could say, “I’m going to my casa right now.”
Keyword strategy Create a sentence using the new word you’re learning, its meaning, and a word from your native language that sounds similar.
If you want to learn the Spanish word mesa (table), for example, you could think of an English word that sounds similar and make up a sentence like, “My kitchen table is always a mess!” Because “mess” and “mesa” sound so similar, you may find it easier to remember the new word.
- Begin using the language throughout the day, every day.
It may appear overwhelming to a beginner to try to use the language all day, but it is not as difficult as it appears. There are numerous simple and even enjoyable ways to incorporate the language into your daily life.
To begin, take advantage of every opportunity to learn new words. Bring flashcards with you and study them on the train or bus (but not while driving!) or while waiting to meet a friend
When you become tired of active learning, switch to passive learning by doing what you would normally do in your native language in your target language. Try watching a video or TV show in your target language, or listening to radio broadcasts.
There are numerous online resources where you can find entertaining audio and video clips. You can find more native language content on the internet by going to YouTube and searching for radio stations.
“How can I watch a video or listen to the radio when I only know a few words?” you may wonder.
This is where a program like FluentU can help. You can watch content in your target language and understand everything thanks to accurate, interactive subtitles with the FluentU program. This includes TV show and news segments, as well as funny commercials and other native language media.
In addition to subtitles in English and your target language, the FluentU video player allows you to view the definition of any word with a single click.
You can check the grammar, pronunciation, and example sentences of the word you clicked on from this screen. You can also see the word used in other videos and create a flashcard with it.
This learning program is completed by personalized exercises, interactive transcripts, vocabulary lists, and other learning features. FluentU allows you to study with authentic videos in ten different languages from a single account.
Don’t ignore your listening skills, because listening to your target language can have a variety of benefits, including:
- Getting used to the cadence of the language
- Learning to recognize and comprehend common words.
- Understanding using only context and a few cognates.
- Maintaining motivation!
- Seek out real-world experience.
Some of the best learning occurs in real-life situations, especially when you are forced to use a foreign language.
Traveling or studying abroad is the most convenient way to gain real-world experience. Going abroad allows you to be surrounded by people who speak the language you want to learn, many of whom do not speak your native language.
This is the preferred method of organizations such as the Peace Corps, which frequently places people with little or no knowledge of a language in full immersion situations. Although such situations can be unpleasant, they provide a powerful incentive to learn quickly.
However, even if you do not travel abroad, you can immerse yourself in real-life situations that will provide you with plenty of language practice. Consider the following alternatives:
Meet with a language partner once or twice a week. You could compensate your language partner for his or her time, or you could offer to trade one hour of practice in the language you want to learn for an hour of practice speaking English.
Join a discussion group. Many cities and schools have conversation clubs where language students can practice having informal discussions in their target language on a regular basis.
Use a language partner or online tutoring site. Sites like Coeffee.com and My Language Exchange can put you in touch with people who speak the language you want to learn. Even if you don’t meet them in person, you can practice real-life language skills by chatting online.
Volunteer in your city with immigrants. Look for volunteer opportunities on sites like VolunteerMatch or Idealist, or contact organizations that serve immigrants who speak the language you want to learn directly.
Visit businesses where the majority of the people speak your target language. Perhaps there is a Mexican restaurant nearby where you can enjoy delicious food while practicing your Spanish with the waiters or owners, or perhaps there is a grocery store that sells food to the local Chinese community where you can practice your Chinese.
- Research the culture.
Understanding a language entails more than just comprehending words on a page. It is critical to understand the culture and history associated with these words.
Knowing something about the history, current events, religious beliefs, and common customs of a country or culture can help you understand a lot of what people say and do.
Researchers discovered that children learn to read in a second language more effectively when they understand the culture and context of the texts they read.
Take some time as you begin to learn a new language to learn about the culture of the people who speak that language. Don’t dismiss this as a waste of time, even if it requires you to read and watch videos in your native language. It will be extremely beneficial to you and may even prevent you from making embarrassing and potentially offensive mistakes.
- Challenge yourself.
Knowing you’re going to take a test is a great way to motivate yourself to learn more quickly.
Try to put yourself through small tests on a regular basis. Take practice tests or complete the exercises at the end of each chapter if you’re learning from a textbook. You can also take online tests or play online games. Online practice tests are available in nearly every language, including French, Spanish, Japanese, and German.
Planning to take a standardized test several months to a year after starting to learn a new language can also help keep you motivated, and having the results can help you “prove” your language level to potential employers, schools, or even just yourself.
The ACTFL OPI test is well-known and respected in many language-learning circles. It assesses oral proficiency and assigns a score ranging from “Novice Low” to “Superior.”
Some languages have their own standardized test, such as the JLPT for Japanese or the HSK for Chinese. Inquire with teachers or professionals who are fluent in the language about the tests they recommend.
Have a good time!
We learn best when we are having fun, so remember to make language learning enjoyable.
Playing games is a great way to learn while having fun. Games capitalize on our natural competitiveness and allow us to practice language skills even when we are tired.
You can also focus your learning on things that interest you, such as a favorite hobby.
If you enjoy sewing, for example, study sewing-related words in your target language, watch instructional sewing videos, and converse with tailors who speak your target language.
Learn words used to describe political processes and immerse yourself in articles about political issues, videos of political debates, and talk shows about current events if you’re learning French and interested in French politics.
Finally, make friends who speak or are interested in learning your target language.
Languages are not designed to be learned in isolation! Real-world social interactions and conversations are what make language learning enjoyable and worthwhile.
Make an effort to converse with people and learn about their lives and cultures.
You might be surprised at how eager they are to share information with you, and how quickly you form long-lasting friendships as a result.
Seven Basic Principles for Learning a New Language from TED Translators:
Get down to business. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, choose a simple, attainable goal to begin with. “Pick up 50 words of a language and start using them on people — and then slowly start picking up grammar,” suggests German translator Judith Matz.
Make language learning a way of life. In her 27 years of teaching English, Elisabeth Buffard has always seen consistency as what separates the most successful students from the rest. Find a language habit that you can stick to even when you’re tired, sick, or head over heels in love.
Play with your language. The more you incorporate a foreign language into your daily life, the more your brain will regard it as something useful and worthwhile. “Take advantage of every opportunity to become acquainted with the new language,” advises Russian translator Olga Dmitrochenkova. Label every object in your home in this language, read children’s books written in it, watch subtitled TED and TEDx talks, or live-narrate parts of your day to a foreign friend.
Allow technology to assist you. “A funny thing like resetting the language on your phone can help you learn new words right away,” Dmitrochenkova says. The same goes for changing your browser’s language. Alternatively, you can look for more structured learning opportunities online. Els De Keyser, a Dutch translator, recommends Duolinguo for its gamified approach to grammar and Anki for memorizing vocabulary with “intelligent” flashcards.
Consider language learning to be a gateway to new experiences. According to Sebastián Betti, a Spanish translator, learning a language has always been about focusing on the experiences that the new language would provide, such as “visiting theme parks, attending air shows, enjoying cowboy poetry and folk-rock festivals, and learning about photo-essay techniques.”
In other words, he turns fun activities that he would have done anyway into language-learning opportunities. This advice was shared by many of our translators. Anna Minoli, an Italian and French translator, learned English by watching undubbed versions of her favorite movies, while Croatian translator Ivan Stamenkovi discovered he could speak English in fifth grade after years of watching Cartoon Network without subtitles. So, the next time you need a vegan carrot cake recipe, look for one in the language you’re learning.
Make new acquaintances. Interacting in the new language is essential because it teaches you to express yourself intuitively rather than mentally translating each sentence before saying it. Find native speakers in your area. Alternatively, look for foreign penpals or organize a language tandem online, in which two volunteers help each other practice their respective languages.
Don’t be concerned about making mistakes. The fear of making mistakes is one of the most common barriers to conversing in a new language. Native speakers, on the other hand, are like adoring parents: any attempt to communicate in their language is objective proof that you are a gifted genius. They will appreciate your efforts and may even assist you.
Are you afraid of having a conversation with a peer? Try practicing your language skills with someone younger. “I was ecstatic when I was chatting with an Italian toddler and realized we had the same level of Italian,” Judith Matz, a German translator, recalls. Also, be patient. The more you speak, the closer you will be to achieving the elusive goal of “native-like fluency” and conversing with people your own age.