The Four Secrets You NEED To Know Before You Learn A Foreign Language
Setting out to learn a new language can be intimidating and will take a lot of self-discipline.
Luckily, there are a few learning techniques that can help you:
- you learn a language faster
- retain all the information better
This post is essentially an overview of what the next posts will cover more in-depth. You will learn about special learning techniques. You will also learn what you want to do to develop your fluency.
Everyone learns at different rates, and this guide will help you better determine your learning style along with what your goals are.
If you want to accomplish a milestone, you must have realistic goals in place.
These goals will be like the stepping stones that lead you to the end goal of learning a new language.
Below is an outline of what it takes to become fluent in a new language.
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to learning a new language. So much so that you can feel overwhelmed before you even begin.
The best way to stay on track is to stay organized and simplify your learning as much as possible. We will share with you the #1 way to get fluent fast. We will systematically go over each of the four secrets, in a simple and logical order.
These four fundamental secrets of language learning will help to keep you on track. They also help you focus on how you can accomplish your language goals, the best way.
- Secret 1: Write Down Why You Are Learning the Language
Secret 2: The 4 Pillars of Balanced Learning
- Learning From Listening and Reading
- Learning From Speaking and Writing
- How To Study Grammar
- How To Improve Your Fluency
- Secret 3: Helpful Tools To Make Learning Easy
- Secret 4: Repetition Is the Name of the Game
Before you dive into the world of a new language, you’ll want to get a plan together first.
Some people set out to only learn how to read and write a language while others try for the opposite. To be considered completely fluent in a language, you will need to know how to read, write, listen, and speak the language. But do you really need to be completely fluent?
Most people want to be able to speak a language, but some have the goal of merely reading it. Some want to be able to watch movies in their original language, so for them listening would be a goal.
If you are unsure what you want to do, try finding out first why you want to learn a new language in the first place.
Once you have figured out the “why,” it becomes much easier to figure out what aspects of the language should get more of your valuable time and attention.
That said, if you want to write as well as speak the language, then evenly distributing your learning time within each area will yield the best results.
No matter where you want to lay your focus, you also should decide how far you want to develop your skills. If you want to be considered quite fluent in a language, you must have around 6,000 words in your active vocabulary. If you are already part of the way through your language study, then test yourself to see how much you know.
However, you must also pay attention to the quality of the words in your vocabulary. If you know the top 1000 words in a language, you will be able to understand with 85% of all daily speaking, listening, reading.
If you focus on the wrong vocabulary, you will have a hard time. On average, there are 300.000 words in a language. (Some languages have more, some less. English has more than 1 million words)
- You need to know just about 1000 of the most common words to “get by.”
- If you know about 10.000 of the most common words, you will understand 98% of that language.
We would like to illustrate to you how many words you need to know. This particular study accounts for European languages, but it is safe to say that almost all natural languages follow the same pattern.
- If you want to know 98% of all the words used in a day to day life, you need to know about 6000 different words.
- If you want to know 98% of all the words used in a book or a newspaper you should know about 9000 different words.
Let’s put this in contrast: the English language has about 1 million words. You only need to know a tiny portion of these words for everyday fluency.
When you grew up, you learned about 1.000 words a year. This learning continues until you reach a vocabulary of roughly 20.000 different words*.
*This number can be divided between active and passive vocabulary, and generally speaking, if you are higher educated, you have a more extensive vocabulary than if you a had a lower level of education.
However, we have some good news for you:
Not all words are created equal.
If you know just 1,000 to 2,000 of the most useful words, you are fluent enough for pretty much all for daily life situations.
So, you now know that you do need to know the entire language, to be considered entirely fluent. This is why determining your language goals will help you learn a language quicker and easier -- you are only learning what is useful for your goals.
You may not be interested in devoting a lot of time to all four of these pillars, but setting aside a little time for each pillar is recommended. The four pillars are there to you inform you of your progress in the language you are learning. They also help you keep an overview of how often you (should) study.
That’s why they’re called pillars; they’re crucial infrastructure of language learning.
Below is a closer look into what each pillar stands for and how it can help you.
If you pay attention to these four pillars, you will learn the language in balance. The four pillars:
- Learning From Listening and Reading
- Learning From Speaking and Writing
- Learning Grammar
- Development of Fluency
People learn in different ways. Some people say they learn best by watching someone else do something. Some say they learn best by doing it themselves.
The same goes for new language regarding listening and reading vs. speaking and writing. For some, the act of speaking or writing the language comes more natural to them, than reading the words or hearing the language.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in the four above-stated areas, but the best way to overcome a weakness is by investing time and deliberate attention to it.
If you combine learning the 4 pillars, they reinforce eachother. We call this synergy. Spending equal time on the first three factors, in particular, will lead to further development of the fourth factor, fluency as well.
We will discuss in later blog posts how to effectively distribute your time and attention between these four factors, specifically catered to your situation and learning style.
There are two types of learning when it comes to learning a new language. The two types of learning are:
Incidental learning is when you learn anything in any place at any time in everyday life. Some people also use the term random learning for this type of learning.
Most of what you learn is through incidental learning. An example would be learning vocabulary from context while reading the newspaper.
The opposite is deliberate learning. You actively set aside time and effort to focus on a thing to learn. This type of learning helps you to develop a new skill quickly because it helps you to plan, think, and reflect. An example would be to look up the most common verbs and set a goal to learn ten new verbs by the end of the day.
For some, it is best to stick to a strict regimen and approach the language strategically, while others learn best from a more loosely structured method of learning.
There isn’t one way that is better than the other. It comes down to two things: how you learn and what works best for you. In the end, the most important aspect of language learning is that you spend time working with and studying the language.
Some often used tools to help you become fluent include:
- Audio methods (Pimsleur and Michel Thomas
- Immersion software (Rosetta’s Stone, Rocket Languages)
- Spaced repetition Apps (Anki)
- One on one tutoring (Italki)
- Smartphone Learning Apps like Duolingo
- Language classes
The tools alone will not magically help you become fluent. You must pick the right tool for your situation. And, of course, a tool that actually works and applies helpful learning techniques.
Reflecting on why you started learning the language is the best way to make sure that you are using the right tools. It is easy to get side-tracked or lose focus in your language studies because there is so much that you can learn.
Sticking to your original strategy will keep you on the right track in choosing the learning tools that are right and efficient for you.
One of the most important aspects of learning a new language is consistency and repetition. This refers to how often you practice as well as repeating certain practices until they become second nature.
Did you know, that “memory hacking” apps, such as my fave “memrise,” run on this concept? The Pimsleur Method is a well known audio course that was developed by Paul Pimsleur. He studied memory and languages. He discovered that if you encountered a word during certain intervals, you would automatically store it into your long term memory. With this concept in mind, he created the Pimsleur Method. The Michel Thomas method, which I prefer, also uses this principle. All flashcard apps are based on this concept.
If you want to maintain a steady pace of learning, you should set small and realistic milestones. Establishing milestones is a great way to stay motivated to put in the hours needed to become fluent in another language.
In the same sense, take a break sometimes. Being well-rested and relaxed is just as useful for motivation. It also improves the quality of your learning. Learning a language will take time and focus. You won’t learn it in one night. And that is okay.
“By the yard it's hard, but inch by inch, anything's a cinch
A journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step. –
I usually dislike quotes. But the one above really stuck and I think back of it often. It’s Brian Tracy’s quote, I read it in Eat That Frog. It’s a book about keeping your motivation and productivity up. It works fantastic. I use his insights and other productivity systems both for my language goals as well as for running MostUsedWords.
The repetition secret is important to keep in mind. If you want to get better at something, you do it a lot and regularly. Essentially, “practice makes perfect.”
Certainly. Here’s why:
At the time of writing, 2020, there has been a lot of research on foreign language learning and second language acquisition. Not all of the findings of this valuable research have been put into practice, for a variety of reasons.
Some language learning methods were put together before the knowledge became known. Other studies on language learning weren’t really well-known, until recently. And some methods rely heavily on gimmicks and marketing and are out there to make a quick buck. ☹
If you become educated about the science of “how to learn” and “what to learn”, you will increase up your foreign language learning speed by at least 200%.
Some examples from things you might realize from this course:
If you half-ass your vocabulary studies by random little bits and pieces, you are very likely to slow your learning by at least 50%. Not to mention the loss of motivation you will feel. I’ve been there. It sucks. Don’t do this, kids.
If you instead would do some deliberate learning, of just 30 words from a word list or flashcards, and keep those studies up daily, you will progress so much faster than you will have imagined. A day is long, but a year is short.
Remember that we discussed this earlier in this post: If you know just 1,000 to 2,000 of the most useful words, you are fluent enough for pretty much all for daily life situations?
Activities that develop your fluency are critical, too — for example, an activity like timed reading. You can double your reading speed and fluency in a language in just three hours if you do this one simple exercise. Does your course provide you with such activities? You’ll find out later which courses are excellent, and which ones are better left aside.
Your language learning course should also provide you with a lot of reading and listening related input around your level. If your course lacks this, you’ll be having a significant disadvantage.
Another study on the effect of reading and language learning discovered something MAJOR. If the texts were both interesting and understandable, young language learners would be 100% more proficient in the language than the control group. The control group followed the same lessons and had the same amount of class time, but did way less reading.
Reading also helps you store information into your long term memory. The group that read way more, retained all their language gains a year later.
Apparently, if your course is boring or too hard, you will dislike learning and progress slower. Gee whiz, who would have thought?
Now you know the four “secrets” of language learning. Ask yourself why you are learning the language, and plan your strategy accordingly. Set small and measurable goals. Measure your progress and reflect on it every week.
This approach, along with balanced and intentional learning, will equip you with the tools to be fluent in a new language before you know it.
If you keep it up. The benefits of consistent and repetitive study are yours for the picking, but only if you keep at it.
There is no one-size-fits-all scheduling approach to language learning because everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways. No matter how many hours you spend practicing a week, be deliberate with your time.
Fluency is at your fingertips. Keep focussing on learning a few new words per day, and you will get there before you know it!