No matter what you do, learning a language is a long-haul endeavor that will sometimes be discouraging. Fortunately, there are some fairly simple things that you can do to help speed up your progress. Keep in mind that these tricks are meant to speed up the process – they are not going to make you fluent in a few days. If you do them you will start to see progress faster.
A Quick Timeline
So if these tips aren’t going to make you fluent in a few days, just how are they helpful? Learning a new language generally takes years; languages that are similar to your own could be learned in half a year to a year if you are immersed in the language.
You will still be dedicating several hundred hours to the endeavor (at a minimum), and, in most cases, you are looking at thousands of hours.
These tricks are going to shave off some of that time. The point isn’t to reduce the time though – it’s to help you start to see progress. When you can see that you are learning and progressing, you are far more likely to keep going.
- Go for Shorter, More Frequent Sessions
It is so tempting to try to cram a few hours of learning into the day, and that is actually a good thing. The problem is that when you try to do two or three solid hours at a time, you probably are not going to be able to maintain that pace. Your brain is also less likely to learn after a certain amount of time of studying.
Keep in mind, these sessions are not in place of the long session required to learn concepts. These are in addition to a long session. You should not be doing long sessions several times a day. It is better to do one long one, then many shorter sessions during the day.
Instead of trying to do one or two really long study sessions, break up your learning into several shorter sessions that you engage in throughout the day. This will help to keep you thinking in the language over the course of the day, as well as acting as a way of reinforcing what you have learned. Frequent, shorter sessions tend to be easier for your brain to process, keeping your mind sharp all day long.
When you take a little time off between study sessions, your brain continues to process the new information. If you take small bites of information and study them on and off all day, you are much more likely to remember what you learned when you reinforce it several times each day.
Since this is not the way most language courses are structured, here are a few things to keep in mind for your study sessions.
- Set a goal for each session, such as translating a paragraph or page or being more familiar with certain vocabulary words.
- On busy days, you can list out what you would like to do during short snippets of time (like breaks), then make sure you spend all of your available free time doing the stuff on the list. You can also start and end your day with a quick 10 minute session.
- Set a schedule for your short sessions. This makes it easier to feel like they are part of your day than trying to squeeze them in as you go.
- Make Strategic Use of Repetition
Repetition is good for some things, like learning vocabulary, but there is no set number of repetitions required to actually learn a word or concept. There is actually a memory curve that is far more effective than flashcards.
If you learn a new word by looking it up, that will be far more memorable than simply being told what the word means. This is why you should be looking words up that you don’t know instead of waiting for someone to define the words for you.
Whether you looked up the word or were told the meaning, if you review it again within a couple of minutes, you are reinforcing that word. If you study it again 10 minutes later, you are increasing the odds that your brain is going to remember it. Review that word in a couple of hours for the third time, and your mind will start to consider that word important enough to remember. This is far more effective than studying a set of words at set intervals.
This is called spaced repetition, and many apps and language programs use it to maximize how much students remember. It is one of the fastest ways to start significantly increasing your vocabulary.
- Make Your New Language a Part of Your Daily Life
When you learned English, there were obvious reasons why you learned it the way you did – you had to for your daily interactions. By making your target language relevant to your daily life, you are going to find that what you learned sticks a lot better.
To do this, you need to know what your goals are. That way you can find ways to incorporate those goals into your daily routine. Then you can create short-term goals around your daily life, such as a reading children’s books and young adult books, understanding the news in the target language, or watching a show and getting an idea of what is going on without using subtitles.
Locating a language partner is among the best ways to incorporate language into a regular part of your routine.
- Treat the Language Like It Is a Necessity
If you simply study a language, you have no sense of urgency and are likely to keep it separate from your routine. If you learn a language, you internalize what you are studying, giving it a sense of importance not present when you study.
Of course, you need to study a language, but learning it is the goal. That means you need to try to use it whenever you have a chance. That does mean putting yourself out there and trying to find people who already speak the language. This is the best way to ensure you actually start speaking (something that most of us drag our feet to do).
If you can’t find any native speakers (or while you are looking), there are several things you can do to treat the language like a necessity.
- Talk to yourself out loud in the language.
- While you are at it, record the conversations you are having with yourself. You will need to review it as well.
- Record your thoughts in a journal in the language.
- Think in the language, such as narrating your daily activities or explaining how you do something. It could be as simple as getting into your car and backing out. Just get your brain accustomed to thinking in the language.
- Use the Three Types of Language Apps Daily
Apps are there for you whenever you have a few spare moments in your busy day. Turn those few minutes of boredom into mini-study sessions. The following are the three best types of apps to use.
- Dictionaries – Don’t just randomly pick words – think of words that you could need that day. Consider your goal for the day or week and try to look up words you may need to reach that goal.
- Flashcard apps – These tend to be fantastic in terms of making sure you go through words at regular intervals. Mix up new and old words for the best effect.
- Videos and clips – Apps like FluentU give you a single place to watch videos and clips in your target language. You can also use YouTube and other sites to target a particular type of clip.
- Develop a Schedule and Timeline That You Can Keep
The biggest way to undermine what you learn is to create an impossible schedule, or to neglect to create one. Learning a language is about discipline and sticking with it, even when it gets difficult.
Unlike classes and work, you are completely in charge of your schedule. You can set up the days you want to rest (never take a full day off, but you can take days off from hard studying – just do simple things like thinking in the language and writing in your journal).
If you try to do too much too soon, you are more likely to burn out. Take the time to make a schedule that makes sense for your life, and you will be able to see progress at a steady pace.
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