Learning a language can be frustrating. Difficult. Even boring. Most people think they need to spend hours plowing through stacks of flashcards and memorizing sentences. And while there’s certainly no substitute for diligent study, there are some ways you can speed up the learning process and even have fun along the way.
Learning a language shouldn’t be a grind, it should be a joy. In this post, we’re going to give you 9 hacks for speeding up your language learning and having some fun along the way.
Let’s get started.
HACK #1: Chat With Those Who Actually Know The Language
This one is pretty obvious but often neglected.
It’s important to spend time in the classroom and learn a language from an instructor, but it’s equally (if not more!) important to actually talk to native speakers. Thankfully, you don’t have to move to the United States to learn English or France to learn French. There are dozens of websites that will partner you up with a native speaker of another language, allowing you to spend hours talking with someone for minimal cost.
Sure, you can spend hours in the library trying to master conjugations and tenses, but few things compare to the power of chatting with someone who actually knows the language. You get a feel for the nuances of the language. The subtle inflections, pauses, emphases, and cadences.
It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. You spend so much time with flashcards and rote memorization when you should also be taking the time to talk to those who actually know the language.
Plus, maybe you’ll make a new friend!
HACK #2: Put On Foreign Movies Or Television In The Background
Few things make you look more sophisticated than saying you’re into foreign movies. But did you know that putting on movies or television in the background can actually speed up your ability to learn a language?
Numerous studies have suggested that simply hearing sounds repeated again and again ingrains them into the brain, sometimes even more than intensely repeating those sounds out loud. The implications for language learning are clear: even if you’re not actively practicing a language, simply hearing that language repeatedly will increase your ability to learn that language.
As linguist Melissa Baese-Berk says:
“You need to come to class and pay attention, but when you go home, turn on the TV or turn on the radio in that language while you’re cooking dinner, and even if you’re not paying total attention to it, it’s going to help you.”
Your mother was always concerned that you were watching too much television. Now you can tell her you’re simply practicing your new language.
HACK #3: Study Your Favorite Movies
There are times when you need to break up the intense studying with something different. Something that’s a bit less grueling and brain-intensive. Something that’s even a little bit fun.
This is where movies can come into play. In addition to watching movies in the background, they can be tremendously helpful for studying. But here’s the thing. You’re probably going to have difficulty studying the entire movie, especially if you’re trying to translate it as you go. But you can break it up into small, easily digestible segments.
Watch for 10 minutes, then watch the same 10 minutes again. What was said? What sort of inflections were used? What about the body language?
If you really want to have fun, you can even act out your favorite parts in the movies. Pretend that you’re the main character and say the lines. Have you always wanted to be Brad Pitt or Nicole Kidman? Now’s your chance!
This is your chance to make the language (and the movie) come to life!
HACK #4: Sing Along With Your Favorite Songs
Music has the incredible ability to lodge itself in your memory, doesn’t it? Have you ever had an annoying song get stuck in your head and you just can’t seem to get rid of it? It’s so annoying, right?
Why not use that to your advantage when learning a language? Sing along to your favorite music, letting the words and meanings soak into your mind as you sing. It’s a simple, easy, and even fun way to supplement your learning. Do you love Beyonce or Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift? It’s time to sing!
Just remember, songs are poetry, so the artists may not be using all the words according to the precise dictionary definitions. It may be helpful to study the lyrics first to understand exactly what the words mean, then sing along.
HACK #5: Start With The 100 Most Common Words
When it comes to vocabulary, some words are used with far more frequency than others. In fact, the 100 most common words usually make up about 50% of a language.
They are, in some senses, the backbone of the language. When first learning the language, focus on the 100 most common words. Memorize them, repeat them, burn them into your memory.
Learning these foundational words will allow you to follow along with basic conversations much more quickly and give you confidence. Think of this as a kickstart for your journey. It gives you momentum, allowing you to find your way through the language easier.
HACK #6: Translate Young Adult Fiction
Obviously, fiction is not going to be at the core of your studies, but just like movies and music, books provide a welcome alternative from intense studying. Fiction allows you to learn a language while also enjoying a story at the same time.
When it comes to books, young adult fiction like Harry Potter is usually much simpler than a complicated novel like War & Peace. The vocabulary and sentence construction will be easier to understand, making it simpler to translate.
Follow these steps when reading:
- Read a paragraph in your own language first so you can understand exactly what is happening.
- Read the foreign text without comparison to see how much you understand without detailed study.
- Identify the words you don’t know and add them to your list of flashcards.
- Read the passage to a native speaker or tutor so they can help you with pronunciation.
- Consider getting the audiobook so you can listen to a native speaker again and again.
- Repeat these steps until you understand the passage, then move on.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you begin to pick up words and nuances this way. Plus, you get to enjoy a great story!
HACK #7: Have Conversations In Your Head
All of us have running monologues in our heads. Some of these monologues are good, some not so much. One way to speed up your learning process is to, as much as possible, use foreign vocabulary during these brain conversations.
For example, as you imagine talking to your partner or spouse, insert your vocabulary words into the conversation. Mentally ask your partner to get groceries, turn off the television, or make a phone call.
This hack will keep your mind on the language much more throughout the day.
HACK #8: Tap Into The Power Of Google Translate and Social Media
You probably use Facebook or Twitter on a regular basis. One really simple way to incorporate the language into every part of your life is to follow someone who speaks the foreign language and then simply use Google Translate for all their status updates.
This will also allow you to see how their friends respond.
Alternatively, you could make friends with a native speaker on Facebook and then chat with them over Messenger, using Google Translate as you go. This is yet another way of soaking your brain in the language.
HACK #9: Use The Diglot Weave Technique
The diglot weave technique simply means inserting foreign words into a sentence in your original language. For example, if an English speaker was learning Spanish and wanted a friend to open the door, he could simply say, “Could you please open la puerta?”
Now, your friends may give you a strange look at first when you do this, but you can simply explain that you’re trying to incorporate some of the vocabulary words into all your conversations.
You can also do this on social media. Returning to the English speaker learning Spanish, he could post a status update saying, “I can’t believe what El Presidente Trump did today!”
Learning a language certainly involves work, but there are ways you can shortcut the process and incorporate lots of fun. You probably already watch movies, listen to music, read books, and chat on social media. Why not tap into the power of those habits and use them to speed up your learning process?