There is no right or wrong way to learn a foreign language. We all learn in different ways and for you to be able to learn something as complicated as a foreign language, in as fast and efficient a manner possible, your most effective learning will be down to the techniques that work in the most powerful way for you. However, the following ideas give new learners some great options and insights into some of the alternative techniques and tools at our disposal; those that are quite a hop and a skip away from the hours we spent sitting behind our desks at school.
Realistically, this option is a precursor to the rest of our study hacks. The fastest way possible to learn a foreign language is by jumping in at the deep end. If you can afford the time and the money to do it, the luxury of living within the culture and amongst the people native to the language you want to learn is without question your best and fastest route to fluency. It will be fun, fulfilling, exciting and completely engaging if you’re in a position to be able to follow this path. You’ll be practising every day without fail, just by existing in your chosen foreign culture.
Sadly, we don’t all have the budget or the freedom to afford ourselves such a luxury; so, for those of us with less time and money available to follow that route, why not try the following alternatives to speed up your learning process?
SET REALISTIC GOALS
If you set goals and targets for every step of your learning journey, you’ll not only learn faster, but you’ll get all of those smalls bursts of excitement your brain loves, and at regular intervals. That’s motivation right there, and you’re going to need a lot of it!
ASK YOURSELF WHY?
Your first question then, should be; why are you studying a foreign language in the first place? Is it for work? For fun? Are you looking to spark up conversations with new international online friends? Are you looking for easy ways to explore the globe through couch surfing or with Airbnb? If you know precisely why you want to learn, it can help you focus on the parts of your studies most important to your end result and determine the best ways to learn and the areas to make your priority.
WHICH SKILLS ARE MOST IMPORTANT?
If you’re studying for business and you need to liaise with foreign suppliers, reading and writing the language with a good understanding of grammar and punctuation is far more important than being able to spark up a conversation. However, if you want to go globetrotting and exploring the cultures and the people of foreign climes, then fluent conversation outweighs all other options. Figure out which skills are most important to your goal and make them your priority. You’ll spend more time on what’s important to you, and less on the areas that aren’t quite as valuable.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE?
Time plays a huge factor in everything we do. If you need to have a good understanding of your chosen language before you go travelling for 3 months next summer, then you need to set a schedule that will get you to an adequate level of fluency before your travel date. If you only have a few hours a week to spare, then you should try and figure out the most intensive way of soaking up your new knowledge without suffering burnout. Are there are methods of sneaking bonus learning hours in by multi-tasking? Could you listen to audio lessons on your commute or while doing the housework? Or pick up your foreign dictionary for the half-hour before you go to sleep each night instead of the steamy novel you’ve been reading, or the latest Stephen King?
CHOOSE METHODS THAT SUIT YOU
What’s your premium learning style? When it comes to foreign languages many of us take in information faster by means of visual stimulation, i.e., seeing it written down, where others respond better to hearing it spoken out loud and copying the delivery. If you’re a visual learner, then get hold of those flashcards, invest in some textbooks and install any apps with great reviews that you can utilise to hone your skills. If you’re an auditory learner, then it’s time to check the reviews for online video courses, local college classes and pick up a handful of language exchange partners. It’s a great idea to utilise your preferred and most efficient learning methods to speed up your learning, but don’t fall into the trap of forgetting about the others. To have a fully rounded and complete understanding of both your chosen language and the learning process, you should utilise as many different options as possible.
PRIORITISE VOCABULARY OVER GRAMMAR
For a speedy start to your language learning adventure, start by expanding your vocabulary as much as possible. Complicated grammatical processes can wait; after all, you can’t start talking about a subject if you don’t know the words to describe it. You stand a much better chance of being understood if you get the right words in the wrong order than not having the words you need in the first place. You can’t dismiss grammar, we’re not saying that at all; it’s going to play a huge part in being understood and having those fluent conversations you’re aiming for, but in the beginning, it’s a good idea to prioritise methods to learn and remember new words as much as you possibly can.
COMMIT 100% TO THE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
There are so many opportunities to immerse yourself in a foreign language, its natives and its cultures. Pick your favourite foreign podcasts, get stuck into YouTube, read blogs, news sites and literature. Listen to the local music scene; repetition is a key form of learning after all, and singing those foreign songs is great to practise without even thinking about it. One of my favourite processes when learning a foreign language was to watch films with subtitles. There are far better methods available using the Internet, but those old movies with the subtitles at the bottom of the screen really helped me to tie the spoken language to what the characters were saying and how they were saying it. It helped so much with regional accents and dialects too—the things you’d never get from a textbook.
LANGUAGE EXCHANGE PRACTISE
There’s nothing that will help you command a fluid conversation as chatting to the natives. Once you’re confident you can hold a basic level of conversation, you can use Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp and many more of the face-to-face chat options to make new connections and practise your conversational skills. For some real hands-on practice, why not call a tourist attraction or web-chat with their help centres to discuss your needs for a fictitious visit? It’s a great hack to practise your conversation skills without having to attend classes or leave the comfort of your front room.
MEASURE YOUR PROGRESS
Progress and goals are essential elements in boosting confidence, enthusiasm and determination. If you’ve signed up for a class, then make sure they have regular tests or exams to be able to see how much progress you’re making. Tick off the goals you’ve set to reassure yourself you’re heading in the right direction and you’re not actually stuck in the rut you may feel you are.
And finally, if you’re not signed up to a local learning facility then find one online that offers regular testing and grading. You’ll be much more positive if you can visualise your progress.