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Many people want to learn a language fast, and they may fall for the idea of achieving fluency in just a few months. The truth is that you can achieve conversational fluency in as little as twelve months if you work hard at it, which is speaking about everyday topics at a normal speed. Mastering a language to native-level proficiency takes much longer, but it is possible with some dedication, practice, and focus!
Learning a second language can seem like an insurmountable task, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t rush yourself to learn the language in its entirety in a fortnight. Take small steps and focus on building up your vocabulary, grammar rules, and pronunciation gradually.
As an educator, there are certain strategies that I know to be effective for my pupil’s language learning success. In fact, these very techniques are the same ones I’ve personally used when attempting to learn new languages in the past.
How to Learn a Language
Here are twenty-seven tips to keep in mind when embarking on the journey of learning a language.
1. Learn Every Day
James Clear from Atomic Habits states that building habits are a four-step process.
- Cue: If you want to learn a language every day, you first need a cue or signal to perform the habit. The cue should be made obvious; for example, setting the alarm to remind you of the daily language lesson.
- Craving: You want to make the habit attractive, a step known as the craving, and you can achieve this by doing something you enjoy, like listening to your favorite song in that language, for example.
- Response: The third step is to set a routine or action you will complete when the cue triggers it. Seeing as you are only trying to form the habit, you can start off with something short and sweet that can be completed in just two minutes. For example, you could revise some keywords on your language app or open an article in the target language. Eventually, you can build up the amount of time you spend on learning, but take it easy at the beginning.
- Reward: Finally, reward yourself for completing the task. This could be as simple as crossing off the day on the calendar or putting a coin in the piggy bank. Review your performance regularly and adjust accordingly.
At TPR Teaching, we have created some excellent weekly and daily planners for you. We have also put together a language learning planner and habit tracker so that you can efficiently organize your notes!
2. Set up a Quiet Space
Create an environment that encourages language learning. Having a designated space for learning, such as a desk or corner of your room where you can practice and study the language, will help set you up for success.
3. Set Goals
Set small goals and milestones to reach as you learn the language. Track your progress with a habit tracker. When the goal is reached, reward yourself with something meaningful!
4. Remind Yourself Why You Are Learning
Remind yourself why you decided to learn the language in the first place, and stay positive. Write a list of as many reasons as possible why you are learning the language. Put this in a place you remember, such as on your desk or near the study area.
Referring to this list from time to time will give you that motivation and fire in your belly similar to when you first started.
5. Learn Vocabulary in Context
Instead of trying to memorize long lists of words, learn vocabulary in context. This means learning a new word in connection to a sentence or phrase.
Associate new vocabulary with things you have read or experienced so the content is always relevant and connects to background experience. Doing so will make remembering and understanding the word’s meaning easier when you see it again.
6. Associate Images with New Words
Images are a powerful way to store information in our memory. Try to associate each new word or phrase with an image that will help you remember it. This could be an image of something you’ve seen or an abstract symbol, as long as it helps you to remember the new word or phrase.
7. Embrace Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes when starting out right up to the point of fluency, so if you make a mistake, don’t get discouraged—learn from it!
Mistakes are actually a good thing as we learn something new that we hadn’t known before. Only with mistakes do we grow as language learners.
8. Focus on Comprehensible Input
Are you a beginner, intermediate, upper-intermediate, or advanced learner? It’s important to know your current level and stick to suitable material for that level so as not to experience too much overwhelm.
To learn a language even faster, you can move up one level above your own for a greater challenge and more intensive learning. This learning strategy is known as comprehensible input, and it is an effective way to study at your own pace and highlight the vocabulary that you don’t know.
However, don’t try something that is much too hard and you simply cannot understand. For example, it would be too challenging to listen to a fast podcast in Spanish if you are a beginner, but may be able to listen to the news because you can add subtitles and watch the images to help you understand what is going on. If you are watching YouTube, you can slow the video down and even read the transcript if necessary.
9. Find Topics That are Relevant to You
In my article about How to Teach English to Beginners, for adults, I encourage learning how to introduce themselves first before learning the verb “to be” to create basic introduction sentences, such as telling me where they are from.
Other everyday topics, such as family, hobbies, likes and dislikes, work, and nationalities, may follow this. Starting at colors, foods, or numbers— while beginner topics— may not be entirely relevant at this moment in time.
10. Listen to Native Speakers
Listen to native speakers and mimic their pronunciation as best as you can. This will help you learn the proper pronunciation and intonation of words and phrases.
11. Watch the Target Language
Don’t underestimate the power of watching TV in the target language. Cartoons, news, films, and TV series can be great tools for learning a language. My friend, who has excellent English communication skills, didn’t like learning at school but watched English TV to the point of obsession growing up.
12. Read the Target Language
Additionally, reading books or magazines in the target language is also helpful as it boosts your vocabulary and provides familiarity with the nuances of the language.
Here’s how you may approach reading in a foreign language:
Read the chapter from start to finish, then repeat it, this time underlining and finding new words and phrases that you don’t know. Find words that are repeated throughout the chapter and look them up in a dictionary. Continue until you finish reading the book.
Possibly controversial advice, but you don’t need to read Harry Potter to learn a language. Harry Potter is full of unusual vocabulary that you will probably never use in real life. At the same time, try to find books that interest you so you have the motivation to actually read them.
13. Use Flashcards
Flashcards can be a great way to memorize words and phrases quickly and test yourself on what you’ve learned. You can make your own paper flashcards or download apps such as Anki or Quizlet.
The benefit of using digital flashcards is that you can apply spaced repetition, which means that you will be tested more frequently on difficult words and less often with those you already know. This allows for a more efficient way of learning.
Gabriel Wyner, in his book Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It, speaks highly about spaced repetition:
Spaced repetition…[is] extraordinarily efficient. In a four-month period, practicing for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. These flashcards can teach you an alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation. And they can do it without becoming tedious because they’re always challenging enough to remain interesting and fun.
When using flashcards, try to guess the word’s meaning before turning the card over, even if you don’t know it. This way, you can test your memory.
14. Talk to Yourself
Talking out loud to yourself— this doesn’t make you crazy, I promise— is a great way to practice the language and familiarize yourself with speaking in it, even if nobody else is around. It will help you get used to phrasing your thoughts in the target language and allow you to become comfortable speaking it.
15. Learn the Most Common Words First
Did you know that we need approximately 1000-3000 words of a language to achieve a conversational level of fluency?
Learning the most frequently used words is a great way to get your feet wet in a language. Consider reading simple dialogues you find in a beginners textbook in your first week of language learning, to expose yourself to 100-200 words that make up the core of the language.
Learning the most common words is an efficient use of time since you’ll be able to understand more with less effort! Learn the words with flashcards, their meaning, and an example sentence that applies each.
16. Take Notes, and Bring Your Notebook Everywhere
Writing things down by hand is one of the most effective ways to remember something in the long term. I like to bring a small notebook with me wherever I go so that if I hear or learn something new, I can immediately write it down and transfer it to my notes later.
Studies show that writing down what you learn is an excellent way to reinforce learning and improve recall. It is even more effective than keeping notes digitally.
17. Learn Cognates
Cognates are words that remain similar even when translated into another language. They often look and sound and have the same meaning in multiple languages. Learning cognates can help you build your vocabulary more quickly and easily.
For example, “university” is universidad in Spanish, and “brother” in English is bruder in German.
18. Practice Speaking with Friends or Online Tutors
Find friends or online tutors that speak the language and practice speaking with them. You can also attend language exchange events or communities such as Meetup.com.
Practice speaking the language as much as you can with native speakers, even if it is just a simple conversation about the weather or what you did over the weekend.
Lingoda offers reasonably priced English, Spanish, French, Business English, and German classes that follow a structured CEFR learning approach from beginner to advanced. In comparison, iTalki offers a more flexible way to learn. Pick your own native tutor and communicate what you want to learn with them.
19. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Take advantage of the vast array of apps, websites, and other digital resources available today to help you learn a language. There are some great tools for learning languages out there!
Here is a list of English classes and courses if that is your target language!
20. Immerse Yourself in the Language
Incorporate elements of the language into your daily life. This can be done by writing key phrases or words down on post-it notes or setting reminders on your phone.
You can even create your own immersion environment by changing the language on your phone or computer to the target language.
21. Keep Going: Work on Your Mindset
Don’t give up if you feel overwhelmed. Language learning is a long-term commitment, and it may take time before you start noticing results, so don’t let yourself get discouraged—keep at it!
Negative self-talk will only hinder your progress. Make sure to identify negative self-talk, reframe it to a more positive thought, and remind yourself often. Celebrate every small win, and don’t underestimate the power of positive thinking!
Some affirmations to say:
- I have the ability to learn this language.
- I can do this.
- I will feel rewarded when I reach my language learning goals.
- I am progressing in the language day by day.
- I am capable of learning anything I set my mind to.
22. Learn About The Culture
Spend time learning the culture associated with the language, as this will provide context and understanding of why certain words, phrases, and grammatical rules are used.
23. Listen to Music and Podcasts
Listening to music and podcasts in the target language can be a fun way to learn new words, phrases, and intonation. Try to find songs or podcasts that are interesting and enjoyable for you.
24. Play Games
Use language learning games and activities to break up the monotony of traditional language lessons. This will make studying more fun and engaging. You can find some cool language learning apps like Duolingo to help you.
25. Speak as Much as Possible
Speaking as much as possible is one of the best ways to learn a language. When you make mistakes, keep trying, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Speaking is how we communicate, and start sooner rather than later if you want to achieve conversational fluency in the shortest period of time. If you are trying to learn quickly, start speaking with others from the second month.
26. Get Feedback From Others
Get feedback from native speakers or experienced language learners on your pronunciation, grammar, and other language skills. This will give you the confidence you are moving on the right path and help you make corrections in your language-learning journey. It is important to do this from the beginning, as mistakes build up over time and can lead to bad habits that become more difficult to correct.
27. Try Different Approaches
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to learning a language; different approaches work better or worse depending on the individual. Try out various methods until you find what works best for you.
28. Have Fun!
Learning a language should be an enjoyable experience, so don’t be afraid to try new things and have fun! You will likely give up much sooner if you are just learning new grammar rules all day.
Having fun and actually enjoying the learning process is the best way to stay motivated and make progress. You can’t rely on your willpower alone, so make sure you find some joy in the topics you choose to learn or activities you plan to do.
It won’t be fun and games 100% of the time, but having those moments to relax and treat language learning as a hobby can get you much further than the person who is only learning the language because they feel they have to do it.
Following these tips will help you become a fluent speaker of the language you desire. With dedication and practice, you can become an expert in record-breaking time!
One of the most important tips for mastering a foreign language that we mentioned is to practice daily. Whether it’s in conversation with a friend who also speaks that language or by using resources such as books, websites, and phone apps, try to carve out time from your day to devote even just a few minutes to learning and practicing the language’s grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. It may be hard at first, but if you stick with it, you’ll thank yourself later when all that effort pays off!
Frequently Asked Questions
Got questions? Let us know in the comments section below!
How Long Does It Take To Learn a Language?
It depends on how much time you dedicate and how you approach the learning process. Generally, it takes at least twelve months (or approximately 500 hours) to gain conversational fluency in a language. This figure varies depending on the difficulty of the language.
What Is the Best Way To Learn a Language?
A: The best way to learn a language is by taking a combination of approaches. This can include studying books, watching videos, using apps and websites, conversing with native speakers, and attending formal language classes. Ultimately, choose the approaches that work best for you. With a combination of approaches, you can customize your learning experience and make it more effective.
How Can I Stay Motivated When Learning a Language?
Remind yourself why you are learning the language and set realistic goals. Celebrate even the smallest accomplishments, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – they are part of the learning process. Find learning resources you enjoy and mix them up regularly to keep things interesting. Finally, connect with other language learners or native speakers to practice and get feedback. These are all great ways to stay motivated and continue progressing in your language-learning journey.
Am I Too Old to Learn a Language?
Language learning is a lifelong process and can be done at any age. Studies have shown that language learning at an older age is very doable, thanks to neuroplasticity. The difference is that adults learn more systematically, while children learn instinctively and organically. It is also very good for the brain and can delay the onset of dementia. Don’t use age as an excuse for not learning a language!
Thank you so much for reading. Be sure to share this article with your friends if you found it helpful!
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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.