Language learning tip 1: Focus on conversation
Hours and hours of awkward and strenuous conversation with people better than you in that language.
An hour of conversation (with corrections and a dictionary for reference) is as good as five hours in a classroom and 10 hours with a language course by yourself.
You’re going to be far more invested and motivated to communicate with a live person in front of you than a book or audio program on your computer.
Language is something that needs to be processed, not memorized. Staring and memorizing a word in a book or with flashcards 100 times does not stick the same way that being forced to use a word in conversation a mere two or three times does.
Language study tip 2: Practice intensively
Studying a language four hours a day for two weeks will be more beneficial for you than studying one hour a day for two months. This is one reason why so many people take language classes in school and never remember anything. It’s because they only study 3-4 hours per week and often the classes are separated by multiple days.
Language requires a lot of repetition, a lot of reference experiences, and a consistent commitment and investment. It’s better to allot a particular period of your life, even if it’s only 1-2 weeks, and really go at it 100%, than to half-ass it over the course of months or even years.
Language learning tip 3: Use audio courses for basic grammar
There are a lot of study materials out there. These courses are great for getting you from absolutely no ability in a language to being able to speak basic sentences and phrases within a few days time. They’re also good for teaching the most fundamental vocabulary.
But remember, the greatest return on investment in language learning is forcing yourself to speak and communicate with others, and when you’re sitting in your bedroom with a book or a software program, you’re not being forced to formulate meaning and significance in the new language on the spot. Instead, you’re encouraged to parrot and copy concepts and patterns you’ve observed elsewhere in the materials.
These are two different types of learning and one is far more useful than the other.
Tip to learn languages 4: 1-on-1 tutoring is better than group classes
It’s also usually the most expensive use of time, depending on the language and country. But if you have the money, grabbing a solid tutor and sitting with him or her for a few hours every day is the fastest way to learn a new language I’ve ever found.
If you can’t afford 1-on-1 tutoring, find a language buddy online. There is a number of websites of foreigners who want to learn English who would be willing to trade practice time in their native language for practice in yours.
On the contrary, you get a really poor return for your time and effort in group classes because:
- The class moves at the pace of its slowest student.
- Language learning is a fairly personal process — everyone naturally learns some words or topics easier than others, therefore a class is not going to be able to address each student’s personal needs as well or in a timely fashion
Tip to hack languages 5: Follow what keeps you motivated
Even if you’re totally excited about this new language learning journey you’ve embarked on, at some point or another, chances are studying this new language is going to feel like a chore.
My advice is to incorporate your studies into things you’re already interested in:
- Blogs are good learning tools because they’re usually written in a very colloquial way.
- Movies are also a really good tool, especially if you can find subtitles in the language you’re learning as well. The subtitles annoyingly don’t always exactly match what’s being said, but it will still keep your brain listening and reading in the same language.
- Music is another way to start listening to things in your new language.
- Games are of course also an excellent way of studying a new language! A lot of language learning computer programs include games.
Language learning tip 6: Think in the language you’re trying to speak
Obviously this one is going to be hard if you only know like, 20 words in this new language, but get used to expressing everything you possible can with those few words you do have.
It’s extremely hard to translate directly between two languages, especially if they’re totally unrelated, and it can lead to really awkward and unnatural sentences.
I think this is also a big reason each new language becomes easier to learn – we get better and better at communicating with a very limited number of words and kind of just going with conversations where we only understand a portion of what’s being said.
When you come across a new word in conversation, try to use it in the next two or three sentences you say. Language learning studies show that you need to hit a certain amount of repetitions of saying a word within one minute of learning it, one hour of learning it, one day, etc. Try to use it immediately a few times and then use it again later in the day. Chances are it’ll stick.
Be consistent: it’s amazing how much of a language you can learn in just a few days. It’s also amazing how much you can forget in just a few days.
Language learning is one of those things where it’s much better to do a little each day instead of a lot every once in a while. You’ll learn way more if you spend 30 minutes studying everyday rather than say, 8 hours once a week.