How To Learn A New Language (Fast) - Introduction
Hey. Are you looking for information on:
- how to learn a language on your own?
- how to learn a different language quickly?
Then, this guide is for you. We have collected for you the best and easy to follow learning activities you can use to study your foreign language. You can apply them to any foreign language.
Table of Contents
- How to Learn A New Language (The Right Way) - Introduction.
- The Four Essential Concepts of Language Learning.
- Concept 1. Ask yourself why you are learning the language, and then laser focus on learning what is most useful to you.
- Concept 2. Get a learning routine going and stick to it. Keep up your motivation!.
- Concept 3: Make learning easy: Learn a language by keeping the correct learning techniques in mind, and by using suitable materials. 1
- Concept 4. Divide your time between Speaking, Writing, Reading, and Listening
How to Learn A New Language
The tips in this blog can be used for self-study or to help you get more out of learning sessions with a teacher. Be it one-on-one or in a classroom setting.
In this comprehensive guide, we will share with you 20 tips on how to learn a language that you can do by yourself or with a teacher as mentioned above.
But first, we show you the four most important pillars of language learning. Without you knowing these essential four principles, your language learning progress will be severely slowed down!
The Four Essential Concepts of Language Learning
There are four concepts that you need to keep in mind when you are learning a foreign language. We will go over them shortly and revisit them later in this guide. These are very important, because they allow your to improve quickly:
- Concept 1: Ask yourself why you are learning the language, and then laser focus on learning what is most useful to you.
Starting by learning a dictionary from A to Z is not going to do you any good. However, learning specific vocabulary that you are going to use often will yield great results.
- Concept 2: Get a learning routine going and stick to it. Keep up your motivation!
Your biggest enemy is your own self. It is very easy to put off tasks to the magical land of "tomorrow," where endless motivation and study time exist. Unfortunately, putting work off until "tomorrow" usually means "procrastinating indefinitely."
- Concept 3: Make learning easy: Learn a language by keeping the correct learning techniques in mind, and by using suitable materials.
The Pomodoro technique, learning vocabulary in context instead of words, the chunking method don't even scratch the surface on what science deems the best learning techniques.
Helpful materials-wise: flashcards, immersion programs, an excellent audio method, an awesome frequency dictionary … the possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, so are the adverse outcomes when you use a not-so-great approach.
This guide helps you sort out the good from the bad, in later chapters.
- Concept 4: Divide your time between Speaking, Writing, Reading, and Listening.
These four areas of language learning are not equally important, depending on your needs from the first concept. Still, it is a good idea to focus a little bit on each part.
We call these the four concepts of language learning. If you answer these, you will know to how to learn a language fast. Below, we will dive deeper into the concepts. Let's start with the first concept:
Concept 1. Ask yourself why you are learning the language, and then laser focus on learning what is most useful to you.
When you're learning a new language, you should consider the essential reasons why first.
Get a piece of paper and a pen, and ask yourself questions like:
- Why am I learning this language?
- What is my main goal?
- What do I need to know first?
Once you have narrowed your priorities, your needs will become clear.
Here is where you will start and then move forward strategically.
A fundamental yet often overlooked concept in foreign language learning:
Make sure you have your goals clearly stated out before you continue with your studies.
Some examples below:
- If your goal is fluency for touristic purposes, you might want to focus on speaking, reading, and listening. Writing will probably not be very important for you!
- If you want to watch foreign movies in their native tongue, you should focus on listening and building your vocabulary.
- If you're going abroad for business, you will need a whole different vocabulary than one would for normal daily life. Speaking and listening would probably take priority with a very specific set of vocabulary related to your field of work.
- If your main goal was to speak the language, it is wise to get as much help in pronouncing it as early as possible.
- If your main goal and determination were reading, doing regular learning of vocabulary is the best choice you've got.
Have you ever written down and asked yourself why you are learning your particular language? Maybe you can think of some other questions to ask yourself than the questions asked above? These questions will help you identify your needs and plan your study accordingly.
Concept 2. Get a learning routine going and stick to it. Keep up your motivation!
The two most important conditions that help learning (and recalling) are a "memory hack" called spaced repetition and the quality of what you're learning.
You can increase the quality by:
- recalling what you have learned.
- analyzing and elaborating on your studies.
- giving extra focus to specific parts of your learnings.
Set specific goals to keep you motivated. Aim for regular weekly goals for vocabulary to learn, pages to read, and minutes to spend doing listening and speaking.
Learning ten new words a day is a good start. After a week, you will know 70 words. That is a small milestone to keep you motivated.
Keep a list of your successes in language learning. This way, you can easily see your progress. You might feel like you're not progressing fast. When you look back on your journey a few weeks later, you will probably be amazed by how much you have already learned.
Concept 3: Make learning easy: Learn a language by keeping the correct learning techniques in mind, and by using suitable materials.
As an adult foreign language learner, your work isn't just to sit down to read and listen from your tutor or your preferred source of knowledge.
You should carry out extensive research and do lots of reading.
You can find a lot of helpful resources online. These online learning techniques are often free!
Online free resources will help you become fluent in your foreign language quickly.
Start with the natural techniques as you move to the complicated ones. When you do this, you'll soon become a perfect speaker or writer of the language.
However, you should learn the basics first, such as the most common words.
If you're just getting started in your foreign language learning, investing in a frequency dictionary is probably a smart thing to do. You will save time and progress quickly by learning the most common words first.
Additionally, you probably have a smartphone. Look for a flashcard app. Thank me later.
If you don't like to use your phone, make sure you can get some small flashcards that will help you put your words and phrases separate from the translation.
With the words and translations separated, you can easily practice while comparing and identifying your mistakes.
Concept 4. Divide your time between Speaking, Writing, Reading, and Listening.
To help you learn a foreign language well, you want to balance things. You likely need to spend some time on each of the four key areas. In the past, these four areas were looked upon as four distinctly different areas.
Nowadays, experts believe that learning in synergy, combining two or more areas into one, is an excellent way to improve your fluency skills fast.
We touch on this synergy lightly here below. For you extra credits students, we added a bonus section where we show what experts have to say about learning synergy. Read on!
If you can, try to arrange a regular time with a native speaker, either face-to-face or on the web, to practice your speaking.
Practice useful role plays in everyday situations, such as
- greeting people and saying goodbye
- making small talk
- asking for help
- asking for directions
- going shopping
You should repeat these role plays a few times so you can become fluent in them. Keep a list of them so they can be practiced again and varied over several weeks.
While most people prefer speaking and practicing without putting thoughts on paper, experts suggest that speaking and writing go hand in hand in mastering certain words and spellings.
When you speak a word and write it down, both your memory and vocal centers store the information with ease. This way, you can easily recall someone talking or playing.
The extra benefit is that you get used to pronunciation in the foreign language you're learning.
Writing usually takes a bit of a backbench in language learning. For day to day fluency, writing without error is typically a bridge too far.. And it depends on your language goals, whether you want to focus on your writing skills.
However, writing down words and sentences in a foreign language helps you store them in your long term memory. The same applies to grammar rules.
Simultaneously write and speak what you write out loud. Then reread out loud what you have written. This is a great way to cover all the four areas of speaking, writing, reading, and listening.
You want to begin reading in a foreign language ASAP. Invest in a short and simple book in the language you're learning. Start reading it through with a dictionary on hand. An easy book is best. Your best bet is a classic children's book or a (school) book that is used to teach native-speaking kids to read in their own language.
(note. This is why we create classic parallel text books, such as Alice in Wonderland. All our bilingual books come with a built-in dictionary.)
After you have read the book, reread it once or twice. Speed up your tempo these times. Put the words you have encountered on flashcards so you can study them. There are several (free) apps available. The most popular is Anki.
You should read your foreign language's vocabulary aloud and, at times, silently to let them get deeper into your mind.
With reading, you are often thrown into the deep end. You are forced to learn complex words and phrases you might shy away from in a different context.
And you can control your own pace of learning. If you prefer the faster route, you can go through a text without looking up every word you don't know. You could also pick it apart piece by piece, taking careful notes. Both approaches have their benefits.
Good listening skills are valuable. You need to know how to listen first before you can start to speak. When you improve your listening skills, you'll understand native speakers a lot better – a core skill for speaking a foreign language.
But listening has another benefit too: It helps you learn how native speakers talk. Of course, if your aim is to have conversations, you'll also need to practice speaking.
Listening helps you get grammar right. When you listen a lot in a foreign language, you'll pick up grammar without spending so much time memorizing the rules. You'll know because it "sounds right" – just like you would in your native language.
Listening helps you to learn native-sounding expressions. All languages are full of little expressions that don't translate logically. Every language has thousands of little phrases like these, and the best way to learn them is by hearing them in natural situations. This can either be in real life or via TV/films, etc.
Audiobooks and podcasts are an excellent way to improve your listening skills. Same with songs, especially if you can sing along to them. Apps like italki let you speak with natives in a language exchange setting.
Also, you could record your readings and get feedback from native speakers. Recording yourself and listening back helps you perfect your pronunciation and grammar. The added benefit is that listening to your recordings enables you to find your strong and weak points in pronunciation. It also helps to store vocabulary and grammar into your long term memory.
Now, we read before that language study activity overlaps. The linguist Paul Nation has made an excellent study on the field of language learning. Especially how to use synergy in language learning. He uses the following terms, which might be a bit technical for the layman, so we're giving you examples below for clarification.
- Learning from meaning-focused input (listening and reading)
- Read graded readers containing some unfamiliar words
- Listening to an audiobook story
- Listening to lessons on podcasts
- Exchanging emails with language exchange partners
- Browsing the Internet in the target language (Wikipedia is great!)
- Learning from meaning-focused output (speaking and writing)
- Keeping a diary and doing free writing
- Exchanging emails with language exchange partners
- Going on italki to talk with natives online
- Immersing yourself while abroad, this means even small things like going to get groceries, beer, coffee, or making small talk with the locals.
- Language-focused learning (learn pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, etc.)
- Learning from a language textbook
- Using a grammar reference book
- Consulting a dictionary (shameless self-promotion: start with the most common words)
- Consulting a phrasebook
- Studying using a workbook
- Role plays with a native speaker
- Recording yourself and playing it back
- Memorizing words using word cards
- Using apps for pronunciation (something like Rosetta’s Stone)
- Fluency development (get good at what you already know)
- Speaking and writing using a phrasebook
- Doing repetitive exercises in a workbook
- Reading a graded reader a bit below your abilities
- Listening to a recorded story or audiobook
- Keeping a diary or doing free writing
- Watching movies you have seen before
- Browsing websites in the target language
- Looking at online video sharing websites (Youtube, vimeo, vine or TikTok are good ideas)
- Exchanging emails with language exchange partners
This introduction showed you briefly what concepts and ideas you will learn about more in-depth later in this guide. You will find all the answers to the question “How to learn a new language?”
We covered the four concepts of language learning:
- Defining your goals,
- establishing a routine and motivation,
- apply learning techniques and methods that help you learn, and
- dividing your time between the four concepts of language learning.
Learning a foreign language involves a lot of work. It is well known that to master a skill, you need to spend 10.000 hours practicing. (Luckily, perfection is subjective, and "day-to-day fluency" is within arm's reach!)
But even so, the top 1% talented polyglots put in their hours and work hard learning languages.
But know this: if you study regularly, hard, study smart, and keep up your motivation, you will become fluent.
If you got this far, you’re awesome! Keep motivated by reading the next the article in this guide tomorrow.