Learn Languages Faster: 6 Tricks
I love learning new languages, but a lack of progress can be a bit demotivating. No worries, there are many ways to optimize your learning! I’m not an expert by any means, but all those years of (mandatory and voluntary) language courses and stressful exams have definitely helped me find a few life hacks to speed up my learning process. Here are 6 helpful tricks to learn languages faster:
1. Keep your Vocabulary Active
This is my one golden piece of advice: Keep your vocabulary active. It may sound self-evident, but it is the fastest way to fluency. If you do not actually use your words, you will lose your grip on the language. Every time I finish a language course I completely drop my daily practice and neglect all of the precious progress I made during my studies. It will take you a lot of time to get back to your previous level, which can be hugely demotivating. You have to change your mindset about learning languages: Do you want to study to get a nice score, or do you want to learn a language to use for the rest of your life? The absolute best trick to keep your vocabulary active is to practice conversation every day. If you are having trouble finding anyone to talk to (online or offline), your best alternative is to use free language learning apps like Duolingo. I previously wrote a post about my Top 3 Free Language Learning Tools, so have a look and explore your options. If you are trying to learn Spanish, you can also check out a post about my Top 3 Free Spanish Language Apps.
2. Mnemonics and Cognates
Another way to make quick progress is to focus on mnemonics and cognates. A mnemonic is an information learning technique that makes optimal use of human memory. In other words: you think of an easy trick to remember the meaning of a word. For example, ‘el cuento‘ in Spanish (‘the story’) can be easily remembered by relating the word to an eloquent person, somebody who should be pretty good at telling stories. The Chinese character for cow looks like it has horns, so when you see the character, the horns will remind you of a cow. Cognates, on the other hand, are words in two different languages that already share a similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation. For example: the English word ‘situation’ translates into ‘situation’ (French), ‘situación’ (Spanish), and ‘situatie’ (Dutch). These words are already part of your native vocabulary and will be much easier to remember. Unfortunately, cognate methods do not work with every language. French and Spanish will share a lot of similar words, but Chinese and English will have virtually none. Still, mnemonics and cognates will truly help you learn languages faster, especially if you are a beginner.
3. Watch TV Series and Films
A fun trick to immerse yourself in a new language and culture is to find some cool TV series and regularly watch films in your target language. The great thing about finding an addictive series is how you get to practice your language skills on a regular basis. You will effortlessly improve you skills without even noticing. Another great thing about watching series and films is the way in which they expose you to commonly used expressions and proverbs. You will learn new vocabulary that you probably won’t find in your textbook. Series and films will also teach you about cultural norms and quirks that may be different from your home country. Wishing someone a happy birthday or taking the subway can be totally different from one culture to another. If you struggle with finding a good series or film in your target language, you can always consider watching a dubbed version of your favorite Friends episode.
4. Listen to Music
Another entertaining way to maximize your exposure to a new language is to find some really great songs in your target language. Try to find a few bands or artists you like and download their albums. Pick the songs you love and listen to them on a regular basis. Listening to music will significantly improve your auditory understanding of the language. Music will also help you to grasp the pronunciation on a phonetic level. Sure, you won’t always know the actual meaning of the words you’re singing along to, but it helps you get a grip on the general ‘feeling’ of a language much faster.
5. Don’t Focus Too Much on Grammar
I know I haven’t really mentioned the importance of using correct grammar, but the problem with grammar is that it simply takes time. Don’t be mistaken, a sound understanding of grammar is absolutely vital to get to a respectable skill level, EVENTUALLY. But when only a beginner, you just need to get yourself out there and actually use the language. Don’t be embarrassed about using the wrong tenses, especially not when speaking. You are a student and you are allowed to make mistakes (which you definitely will). People are usually very supportive when you try to talk to them in their own language. In fact, ask native speakers to correct you during conversations; you will start to notice and correct your own errors and learn languages faster.
6. Lower your Expectations
Finally, I genuinely advise you to lower your expectations. One of my biggest personal hurdles is the high standard I set for myself. I’m a classic perfectionist. I want to do everything right on the first try and I absolutely hate to be a beginner at something. The thing is; when you hold yourself to impossible standards, you are going to be disappointed and get really frustrated. This will make you want to quit. In order to keep up your progress, you need encourage and motivate yourself. The moment you manage to hold a properly meaningless conversation about the awful weather, you will definitely feel accomplished. Even if you only learned one new word today, good on you! You are still keeping up and moving forward. Until we find a way to download a multilingual or universal language package into our brains, it’s probably going to take anyone a long time to master a language. So be patient with yourself. Lowering your expectations will help you learn languages faster in the long run.