Before we get started, or before you click away, I want to say one thing.
No, this isn’t a gimmicky post where I’ll try to sell you on the latest and greatest learning method that will teach you to speak your target language in 2 weeks, 1 day or .5674 seconds.
It’s actually an honest post with real ways you can speed up your language learning based on my personal experience studying almost a dozen languages.
So if you’re looking for a shortcut to learning languages without having to put in any work, this post probably isn’t for you. But if you’re serious about your language learning and really want to know a few ways to become a more efficient learner, then let’s get started.
1 // Be selective
And when I say “be selective” I mean that you need to be selective in everything you do surrounding language study. Be selective in the number of resources you work with at any given time. Be selective in what you spend your time studying. Be selective in how you spend your free time (meaning more time learning and less time marathoning tv shows on Netflix). Be selective in which words you choose to learn (frequency lists and vocabulary that surrounds your hobbies are usually good bets).
2 // Establish Your Goals and Start Planning
If you spend time up front deciding on what your goals are with the language you’re learning and then plan out how you’ll accomplish them before you ever crack open a book and break into a new flashcard deck, you’ll save yourself A TON of time. If you know what you want and create a roadmap for yourself, you’ll continuously move forward in your language learning and you’ll always have a “next step”.
Yes, this plan may need some re-evaluation every so often. And yes, there are times where you’re goals will change. But getting something in place will give you plenty of direction until the time comes that you need to re-evaluate your goals.
3 // Give one language all of your attention
Yes, I know. For those of you who aim to learn several languages, this isn’t something that you want to hear. But if you really want to excel at language study and speed up your learning, then the best way to do it is by working on just one language at a time.
Once you get it to a decent level (about B1-B2), you can start a new language and then just worry about maintaining the old language(s).
4 // Be consistent
Aim to study a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes every.single.day. You’ll make so much more progress than if you study two solid hours once a week.
The more time there is between study sessions, the more time you’ll need to spend reviewing material to keep caught up and understand the new information as you move forward. The more frequently you study, even if it’s for less time, helps you to avoid spending so much time reviewing and enables you to move onto new material sooner.
5 // Choose a language that you love
If you’re looking to learn a language quickly, you’re going to need to stay motivated to do the work. And the best way to stay motivated to do the work is by making it feel like as little like “work” as possible. The more you love the language, the easier it will be to learn grammar and memorize vocabulary. Plus, you’ll have something to keep you going whenever you hit a plateau or start to feel frustrated.
6 // Start producing in the language as quickly as possible
Listening and reading are great skills when it comes to learning a language, but if you really want to make something your own, then you need to start “producing” as quickly as possible.
Input is how you learn the information that you need, but output is really how you master it. By producing (speaking or writing) in your target language, you’re forced to pull together everything you’ve learnt and it’s one of the quickest ways to really master a new a language.
7 // Immerse yourself in the language wherever and whenever possible
Immersion isn’t just available to those who travel abroad. You can immerse yourself in your target language within the comforts of your own home! A few ways you can do this include:
– Changing all of your electronic devices over to your target language
– Putting post it notes up with useful phrases where you’ll see them regularly
– Watching movies and tv shows in your target language rather than your native language
– If you’re into gaming, join up with groups that speak your target language and change your game settings (I went as far as buying the Chinese version of the Nintendo 64)
– Arranging to have regular language exchanges
– Listening to music and podcasts/radio in your target language
8 // Think of language learning in terms of hours rather than months or years
This is a great tip I got from Benny Lewis over at Fluent in 3 Months. It’s possible to learn a language in months rather than years, but the number of hours required (if you’re using effective learning methods) aren’t going to change. It’s all about how many hours of study you can squeeze in over a shorter time period.
To throw some numbers out, let’s say you choose to learn French, a Category I language according to the Defense Language Institute. A Category I language takes about 575-600 hours to learn. If you studied every day for a year, you would need to study 1.64 hours per day to learn French.
But what if you study for 3 hours a day? Well, then, you only need 200 days to learn French. So technically, even though you’re putting in the same number of hours, you’re reducing the number of days it takes you to learn a language (therefore, you’re learning it faster, or at the very least, sooner).
Of course, there are really only so many hours in a day that you can study productively. It’s unlikely you’d be able to study 10 hours a day for 60 days straight to learn French. So keep that in mind as you plan out your daily study schedule.
9 // Context, context, context
If you give the material that you’re learning a bit of context, you’ll find that it sticks so much better than when you study words or grammar in isolation. Exposure to what you’re learning in multiple contexts is even better. An example of this is: you learn a word while studying vocabulary on Memrise and then later here it in a film that you’re watching and then later attempt to use it in a conversation with your language exchange partner.
Sometimes this can’t be planned, but when you stick to materials that cover your interests, you do a lot to increase the odds that you’ll get regular exposure to relevant information from a nice mix of sources.
10 // Teach
They say those who can’t do, teach. But I don’t really think that’s true. I’ve found that one of the best ways to really understand something is to teach it to someone else. I can’t even begin to tell you just how many grammar points have suddenly clicked for me just because I made an effort to explain them to someone else.
So whenever you’re feeling caught up on something, find a patient friend or family member and make an effort to explain it to them as best as you can. You may find the simple act of talking it out suddenly puts the information within your reach.
So there you have it, ten ways to speed up your language learning.
I, personally, like to take my time with the languages that I’m learning (slow and steady wins the race). I’ve found that my retention overall is much better when I’m consistent and steady with my study efforts. I also like to commit to the languages I pick up for the long haul, although there have been times this hasn’t worked out for me, so there’s really no time limit on my learning.
If you’ve ever needed or wanted to learn a language quickly, I’d love to hear about your experience and some of the methods that worked for you (or those that didn’t). I look forward to reading about them in the comments below!