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You can learn a language fast if you approach it the right way.
Yes, learning to speak a new language takes time, dedication and hard work. But it also takes a smart approach. That means using study hacks to get the best returns on the time you invest in studying.
Anyone at any age can learn any language from anywhere – and these hacks will help you learn a language faster.
1. Read Something Written By a Person Who Inspires You
Even when you’re feeling impassioned to learn a language, some days that fire under your belly just refuses to be lit.
As I read, I’m encouraged by their success. I start thinking: “What is stopping me from doing the same?” These people aren’t magic beings – they’re normal folk, just like you and me. The only difference is that they’ve given themselves a goal and worked towards it bit by bit, to achieve what they set out to do.
Realising this gives me the motivation to start working towards my own goals. I am usually encouraged enough to jump feet first straight into study mode.
2. Stop Wasting Time Online
It’s time to learn and you’re eager to get started! You switch your computer on, poised over the keyboard, ready to rock and roll.
Then you think:
I might just quickly check my emails.
An hour later you’ve organised your inbox, created a new playlist on Spotify, stalked your ex on Facebook and spent a good ten minutes wondering what that unidentified $17 payment on your bank statement could possibly be.
That’s a whole hour which could have been otherwise spent learning adverbs, practising pronunciation, speaking with a language exchange partner… anything other than wasting time on the Internet.
In a world where an individual’s attention span lasts as little as nine seconds, it is incredibly challenging to motivate yourself to focus on the task at hand.
It would be nice, of course, to simply use a bit of self-control. Yet sometimes we need a little extra help.
If you find yourself easily distracted while online, consider installing an extension on your browser that forces you to keep on task. StayFocusd for the Chrome web browser is perfect for this. Once installed, you can configure it to restrict the amount of time you spend on certain websites. For example, if I were to allocate myself ten minutes a day on Facebook, after I had reached the time allowance StayFocusd would block Facebook until the end of the day. If you’re using Firefox rather than Chrome, Leechbox does the exact same thing.
3. Put Pen to Paper
Why not go one step further and ditch the computer entirely? Handwriting has been shown to be a more effective way of learning. That’s because the slower your write, the more likely you are to absorb information.
Tasks you can do with pen and paper include:
- Creating flashcards
- Writing to a penpal in your target language
- Creating a script for your next Skype call with your language exchange partner
- Taking notes on a movie you’re watching in your target language
4. Set Yourself Realistic Mini-Missions
So many people start learning a language, then quit before they’ve reached fluency. Why does this happen? Often it’s because they start their language learning mission with no clear objectives.
It’s incredibly easy to quit learning – or even to fail to start learning – when you don’t have a clear objective. If your aim is along the lines of: “learn to speak such and such language at some point in time”. This goal is much too big. It also doesn’t have a deadline. For both of these reasons, it’s a motivation killer.
A house is built through the laying of hundreds of single bricks. Learning a language is very similar. That’s why I recommend setting yourself mini-missions.
Give yourself a goal you can achieve this week. Your goal could be:
- Learning 20 new words a day on Anki
- Finding a language exchange partner
- Holding a conversation about your favourite foods.
The most important thing is that you have something to work towards that you can realistically achieve in seven days.
Want an extra motivation boost? Write down your mini mission each week, then display it somewhere you’ll see it every day.
5. Eat Your Vegetables First
There will be aspects of language learning that you enjoy more than others. Some people take to reading and writing like fish to water, but are terrified of speaking. Others plunge into conversations, but would never pick up a grammar book if they didn’t have to.
Identify what it is you like the most and least about learning a language. Then at the start of your learning session, when you’re ripe and raring to go, concentrate on those aspects you find most difficult.
Why do these first? It’s human nature that if there’s a task you dread, you avoid it. That can mean you end up avoiding language learning completely, or feeling distracted by the difficult task that’s coming up.
Get the difficult task out of the way by completing it first, and you’ll have extra motivation the parts of language learning that you enjoy more.
6. Treat Yourself When You’re Doing Well
Learning a language is its own reward. Even so, we all need extra incentive from time to time.
Perhaps your sport shoes are starting to look a little worse for wear. You wish to buy a new pair and decide to reward yourself with them, once you’ve made a certain achievement in your study.
For example, you could strive towards reaching the CEFR level of A2. Once attained, you’ll not only have rewarded yourself with a sense of achievement – you can go out and buy those new sneakers you’ve been eyeing off. You’ve earned them!
This will work as extra incentive to get you working step by step towards achieving fluency.
7. Get Out into the Fresh Air
Do you suffer cabin fever when you’re learning a language on your smartphone or laptop? Then get outside and get moving!
Exercise has been proven to help improve your memory as it stimulates growth factors in your brain. When I’m learning a new language, I make it my prerogative to sweat it out at some point every day if I can. The best time for me is usually first thing in the morning – it’s then out of the way and I am able to concentrate on my work.
What’s more, when you exercise, you dispel energy. I find on the days I go jogging, I am a lot less distracted when I sit down to work. My body moves into recovery mode and I am able to focus my full attention on the task at hand.
8. Integrate Your Chosen Language into as Many Aspects of Your Life as Possible
I believe the desire to learn a language should stem for an appreciation and love of the culture behind that language. It should never be about bragging rights.
In many instances, I have achieved fluency via immersion. If this is not an option for you, there are other ways you can live a language, without even leaving your own home.
- Eat the meals of your chosen country. Find recipes on the Internet. If you’re eating out, check to see if there are any restaurants in town, which serve that country’s food.
- Search for bands or solo artists on YouTube or Spotify, who originate from countries where that language is spoken.
- Watch your favourite TV shows subtitled or dubbed in that language.
Surround yourself with the things you love about that particular culture and you will feel encouraged in your quest to become fluent.
9. Put the Heat On With a Tight Deadline
If you’re struggling to find the motivation to study, then set a deadline. When I was living in Berlin, I gave myself a deadline of three months to sit the C2 German exam at the Goethe Institut.
Although I had some exposure to German at school, I was very far from fluent when I began my mission. The pressure of sitting the exam was enough to motivate me to study, despite the fact I was working full time and had a side project going on. I missed out on getting the diploma by a hair, but accomplished what I set out to do – achieve fluency in German. I also learned a lot about my own approach to studying, information that has proved useful in other missions.
If exams really aren’t your thing, there are other alternatives. Use Meetup to find a language group in your area. Go there with the objective of trying to speak as much of that particular language as possible. If you’ve got holiday time coming up, consider scheduling a visit to a destination where your chosen language is spoken, using immersion as a learning tool.
Creating a concrete goal will work wonders for your study motivation.