Hey you, language learner! So you want to learn a language fast?
Well, let me tell you something: I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Which one do you want to hear first?
Let’s start with a little bit of good news then.
You can learn a foreign language faster than you think. It doesn’t take years to learn a language.
You’re probably thinking:
‘But I’ve been learning French since secondary school and I still don’t get it right.’
‘So why does it take years to complete a university degree in a foreign language? Why doesn’t it take a year?’
‘But look at Benny Lewis. He’s been learning languages for over ten years! If I had that much time, I’d be able to do it too.’
Does any of this sound familiar?
Well, let me ask you something. How much time do you actually take out of your week to learn a language?
So you’ve been learning French since secondary school, right? And you’re 35 now? Have you got a job? Have you got friends? Have you got any interests other than learning languages? Do you eat?
I presume you will answer ‘yes’ to at least one of the questions above, which suggests that you’ve not just been learning French non-stop for years since secondary school. Am I right?
I’m going to quote Benny Lewis when I tell you that you spend a lot of your ‘language learning’ time breathing – not learning the language.
So, when I told you at the start of this article that you can learn a language faster than you think, I meant that the overall amount of time you spend learning is less than ‘years’. And that’s the good news I’ve got for you – it hasn’t actually taken you years to learn French.
The other piece of good news is that you can condense your learning into months (not years) if you want to learn a language fast, and I’m going to show you how to do it below.
As I said, I’ve also got some bad news too. To learn a language, you need to put the work in. But hey – that’s fun, so maybe this is also good news after all!
So how do you learn a language fast?
I’m now going to discuss specific strategies that you can use to learn a language faster than you ever thought was possible. Are you ready? Let’s get started!
Have a clear goal
One of the most important things you need to do if you want to learn a language fast is to set yourself a clear goal.
If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, your learning will inevitably stretch out because you’ll be going off in different directions (e.g. learn a little bit of vocabulary here and there, then jump on to reading just for the sake of it, without an aim, etc.) instead of following a linear path that will ultimately lead you towards your goal.
Take a look at another article I wrote about how to set yourself SMART goals for language learning for more advice.
Once you’ve set yourself some very clear goals, you need to evaluate your progress frequently. This is to ensure that you’re moving forward and stay motivated.
You should also download my free ‘Learn Languages Like a Pro’ starter guide (if you haven’t already!). It walks you through some of the principles of effective goal-setting.
Decide what success will look like
What will you be able to do at the end of your language learning journey? Not just in two months but let’s say at the end of this week. What will you be able to talk about?
Defining success in terms of what you will specifically be able to do (rather than what you will know) is a great way to motivate yourself. Compare these two definitions of success:
I will know how to create sentences using the future tense.
I will be able to talk about my plans for the weekend.
They’re very different goals, aren’t they?
The first one is a little bit abstract because it’s about having knowledge. The second one is more practical because it actually shows you how you will be able to apply your knowledge to have a conversation about something that’s important to you.
Identify high-impact activities
If you’re wondering how to learn a language fast, start by identifying the learning activities that have the most impact.
For example, if your goal is to be able to use professional language at work, there’s probably no point in learning slang or listening to a lot of podcasts about cooking. You need to focus your energy on the things that directly help you reach your goals.
The same goes for your choice of learning resources and study techniques. If you’ve tried spaced repetition software for learning vocabulary, for example, and you hate it, then stop using it and find a method that works better.
Check out my article on how to choose language learning resources for more tips on that.
Decide what you will *not* focus on
When setting your goals and choosing your learning resources and strategies, it’s also important for you to decide what you will not focus on.
Write up a list of things you absolutely want to avoid. This is the list you will look at whenever you feel tempted to go off the route you have set for yourself. We all feel tempted sometimes. If you come across a cool language app that focuses on business Spanish but your goal is to learn a lot of medical vocabulary, put ‘business Spanish’ on your list and don’t get tempted by the cool app that will just be a distraction.
Make learning unavoidable
One question I asked you at the top of this article was how much time you actually spend on language learning every week.
Sometimes it’s not as much time as you’d want to and it’s really easy to do that!
That’s why you need to make learning impossible to avoid by establishing a study routine.
You can use a planner to write it down or an app, or just an old fashioned calendar. Write down the details of your schedule. Identify the times during the day when you’re just ‘breathing’ – you might have 20 minutes spare while you’re waiting for your food to cook or 10 minutes when you’re waiting for the bus to work.
It’s also useful to set yourself reminders and you can do that on just about any smartphone.
Spread activity types evenly
If you want to learn a language fast, you need to make sure that you’re not ignoring any areas of learning that you need to focus on to reach your goal. For example, if your goal is to be able to go to an interview in Spain and get a job, you need to:
- Learn vocabulary related to your profession
- Learn vocabulary that will enable you to present your past experiences in the field
- Practise your listening skills to enable you to understand the questions you’re asked (and maybe even take a look at examples of questions to know what to expect)
- Learn language that will help you write a good resume in Spanish
- And so on
You’re more likely to succeed if you cover all of the above areas so you should incorporate each of them into your weekly study routine. If you’re just ‘learning Spanish’ and that’s what’s in your schedule, how will you know you’ve covered all of the angles?
Focus on vocabulary
There’s no denying that language is made up of words. What this means for you if you want to learn a language fast is that you will need to learn a lot of vocabulary.
Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to know all of it. Initially, focus on the most important words. You can find frequency lists all over the internet, which will help you identify the words you are likely to use the most frequently.
Another way to learn vocabulary more efficiently is to find a list of cognates, which are words that are very similar in your language and the language you’re learning (e.g. the English word ‘art’ and the French word ‘art’ – they’re actually the same!). You will find hundreds of words like that even if the language you’re learning is very different to your own. For example, the Japanese word for ‘hotel’ (‘hoteru’) is very similar to its English counterpart.
To learn a language fast, set yourself challenging targets for how many words you want to memorise each week. You can even find a partner and set up a leaderboard to see who learns more each week.
Train your memory
Memory training definitely helps if your goal is to learn a language fast.
One of my favourite memory technique for language learning is mnemonics. I’ve written a separate article about mnemonics so make sure you check it out!
Put knowledge into practice straight away
I believe that effective learning is not just about memorising something – it’s being able to do it. To learn a language fast, you will need to put everything you learn into practice immediately.
There are many ways in which you can do that. For example:
- Say a sentence out loud using every word you learn
- Set up a Skype call with your conversation partner as soon as you’ve learned vocabulary you need to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of something, such as living abroad (italki is a great platform for that – you can use it to connect with native speakers of a number of different languages)
Make sure you use the language you learn straight away and it’s more likely to stick!
Learning is not just about memorising a set of words and moving on to the next one. To make sure you really know the words, and that you can remember them and use them in a conversation, you need to come back to them frequently enough for them to stick.
One way of doing that is using spaced repetition software such as Anki. Spaced repetition is a study technique which involves memorising words and going over them at longer and longer time intervals until you remember them so well that you don’t have to go over them again. (E.g. you learn a new word today and you go over it again in two days, then in seven days, then in two weeks, and so on.)
You can also go the traditional way and just go over your vocabulary/language notebooks at set intervals of time to make sure you cement the knowledge in your memory.
Immerse yourself in the language
If you’re trying to learn a language fast, it’s not enough to learn it – you need to truly live it. And I don’t mean moving to another country. You can definitely learn a language faster than you think even if you never travel abroad.
There are little changes you can make to your lifestyle to incorporate language learning into it. For example, reading the news in your target language if you do it regularly in your native language. For more ideas, check out my article on how to incorporate language learning into your everyday routine.
So this is it! I hope you find these tips useful and if you’d like to hear more about how to learn a language fast or just how to learn languages effectively in general, why don’t you join my community of language learners who are already getting tons of free exclusive language advice?
Plus, you get your free ‘Learn Languages Like a Pro’ starter guide. Sounds great, right?