Learning a new language can look daunting. Between learning a new word for everything, making sense of the grammar, and perfecting your pronunciation, every language has a lot of moving parts.
It doesn’t have to be hard though.
If you want to know how to learn a language fast and fluently or how to learn a language on your own, these methods will help you get there.
Choose the Right Language
There are 7,117 languages in the world. That number is constantly changing as languages go extinct and anthropologists learn more about the ones that do exist. If you have several that you are interested in, it’s best to focus on one at a time, especially if you have never learned a foreign language before. A lot of people focus on learning one that is “useful,” but there is no objective measure of that. A language is as useful as long as you use it.
Spanish and French became the standard high school choices because they are relatively easy to learn for English speakers, widely spoken, and a lot of people find the cultures associated with them interesting.
If you want to learn an easy one, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Italian, and Portuguese are also great options.
If a widely spoken language is your priority, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, or Russian might be for you. As for cultural interest, well, that will depend on you.
Whether it’s your cultural heritage, you want to travel there someday, you simply enjoy certain aspects of the culture, learning a language is a lot more fun when you have some skin in the game.
Set Specific Goals
Setting goals is an important part of setting yourself up for success. To effectively keep yourself on track, make sure your goals are specific, time-bound, and achievable.
Get more specific than “I want to become fluent.” Knowing what skill level you want to achieve is a start, but how do you know when you’ve reached it or how much progress you are making? Instead, think about what you want to do when you get to that skill level:
Do you have any books in mind that you would like to read when you can handle them?
Do you want to be able to watch a movie without subtitles?
Do you want to be able to carry on a complex conversation?
Do you want to go on a trip where you’ll use the language?
Timelines are important to reach your goals
It is important to set timelines for your language goals. Otherwise they’re just aspirations.
However, there is no magic formula for how long learning a language takes. Languages that are more similar to your native language are easier and faster to learn. Reaching conversational level in a year is certainly doable for a native English speaker learning Spanish or French, but is far less likely for a learner of, say, Mandarin Chinese or Arabic. Your learning speed will also depend on how much time and effort
Learn Relevant Vocabulary
Obviously, you won’t be able to learn every word of your new language. Unless you’re some kind of superhuman, your brain does not have the capacity.
There are basic topics that it makes sense to start out with like colors, numbers, and basic phrases. However, after that you can let go of other people’s ideas of what you should know.
Focus on words that are relevant to your life. Learning the words that describe your job, hobbies, interests, and other aspects of your life that you frequently talk about early will help you have the kind of conversations that you would normally have in your target language. You will also have an easier time remembering words and phrases that are relevant to you because you will use them often.
Learning colloquialisms and expressions will also help you sound more conversational and they are usually pretty interesting.
Stick to a Routine
Staying motivated can be a challenge for any solo language learner. Setting a routine and sticking to it can help with that.
Experts recommend seven hours per week. You can split up those hours however you want.
Study at a time of day when you are alert and productive. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll wake up early every morning to work on it if that didn’t work when you told yourself you would start going to the gym regularly. Like going to the gym, have a schedule of when you work on each skill.
It may take some trial and error to figure out the best schedule for you, but it’s important to stick to it the best you can once you do.
Learn From Your Mistakes
You can’t expect yourself to be good at something you’ve never tried right away, but fear of making mistakes stops a lot of people from learning new languages.
One of the reasons children have an easier time learning new languages than adults is that children aren’t as afraid of making mistakes. You won’t be able to get your childhood neuroplasticity back, but you can channel your inner child by leading with curiosity and getting up again when you fall down.
It would also benefit you to actively work on taking feedback well. If your first instinct when someone corrects you is to get defensive, you’re not alone. However, that mindset will not serve you well as a language learner. You absolutely do not have to say thank you to a random person who is a jerk about correcting you, but you do have to get comfortable with accepting feedback from people you are working with. Thinking of corrections as learning opportunities will serve you well.
Watch and Listen
Listening to native speakers helps with more than your listening comprehension skills.
It also helps with pronunciation and choosing words and phrases that native speakers use. Watching people’s mouths when they speak can also help you with pronunciation.
You can do this in-person with a partner or on your own by watching movies and TV shows in the language you are learning or checking out language podcasts and YouTube channels.
Integrate it in Your Everyday Life
Language practice doesn’t have to be all about sitting down and studying, nor should it be.
Immersion in a language allows you to improve your skills without it feeling like work. Some great ways to do this include changing the language settings on your devices and social media accounts, adding media in your target language to your general entertainment rotation, and talking to yourself around the house.
Most devices have ways to type in other languages. For languages that use the Latin alphabet with accent marks that English does not use, it’s relatively easy. For languages that use other alphabets, it is a little more challenging but still doable.
Work with Other People
Finding other people to work with is hands-down the best way to learn a language online.
There are several apps for finding language practice partners. Local groups for language learners are a great way to make friends in your area who share the interest. Language classes are a great choice if you thrive in a school-like environment.
Connect with a language tutor today
The best way to find someone knowledgeable who will hold you accountable is to hire a language tutor or conversation partner. Whether you need the basics of learning a new language, preparation for a trip, or just someone knowledgeable to talk to every week a tutor can help you get there.
Learn About the Culture
Language and culture are intertwined. Getting to know the culture associated with your target language will give you a more thorough understanding of why the language is the way it is.
That, and it’s interesting, fun, and will broaden your worldview!
Movies, TV shows, and music come up a lot in discussion of language learning techniques. It’s also a great idea to get hands-on with cultural learning by cooking some dishes from the country or checking out events at a consulate or cultural center if you have one in your city.
Make it Fun
You will be more eager to learn a new language if you learn in a way that you enjoy.
There are plenty of apps that gamify language learning for that reason. Choose what you read, watch, and listen to in your target language from genres you enjoy anyway. That means you don’t have to touch the classics if you don’t want to.
You can probably find graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, reality TV, pop music, or whatever else you consider fun in any language. If you have trouble finding what you’re looking for, translations of your favorite books and dubbed versions of your favorite movies are always an option.
Ready to Learn a Language?
You can learn any language efficiently if you set yourself up for success. Now that you have some tips, you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish with dedication and help from the right people. What are you waiting for? Get started today.