What Is The Best Way To Learn A New Language?
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”
Picture the scenario: you’re craving change, you’re ready for career progression, and you’ve been dreaming of moving abroad. And then – as if by magic – your dream job pops up. This is a job that’ll take your career to the next level, with a great company and an attractive salary to boot. And to top it all off, it’s based in a city you’d absolutely love to move to. Happy days!
… But hang on a minute. There’s an issue with the job specification:
“Must be proficient in native language.”
Problem. You’re not proficient, and certainly not fluent. Not yet, anyway. Time is of the essence, but the good news is that there are plenty of ways to learn a language fast (and cheap) these days.
Language experts claim that basic communication skills can be picked up in a matter of weeks, and the basics can be mastered in a couple of months – enough to allow you to hone in on the sort of technical language and the figures of speech relevant to your industry.
Advocates of meta-learning (where you learn about the process of learning in order to learn things quicker and better) reckon you can achieve something pretty special in as little as twenty hours of deliberate practice. We’ve blogged about this here: plenty of food for thought if you’re keen to prime your mind for great new quests.
In the meantime, here are our top five ways to learn a new language fast.
A super-accessible means of language learning, there’s an app suitable for anyone who wants to learn a language these days – from those who learn best through visual memory games to learners who need lots of audio input. Check out our post on learning to speak English fast for an overview of some of the best language learning platforms on the market.
Our fave apps? Memrise because it lets you play with friends – great news for those who need an element of competition to keep them motivated. We also like Babbel, which has a speech-recognition feature for checking that pronunciation, and they specialise in language learning for business use.
Got wanderlust? Us too, so we’re big fans of any excuse to jet off and explore somewhere new. Even a week abroad can make a huge difference to your language skills if you resist that lazy urge to rely on your mother tongue. Enrol in a week-long language school, join a volunteer program, or simply book yourself a cheeky holiday and make time to chat with the locals.
Projects Abroad arrange overseas language courses as well as volunteering placements where language is learned on the go while doing good deeds. Total ‘immersion’ is often cited as the key to learning a language quickly, and volunteering will help you immerse your mind as well as your heart in your new language.
Evening classes were once the go-to solution to learning a new language without having to give up too much of your precious time, and they’re still a cost-effective way to do just that. Traditional language lessons are great for those who struggle with motivation and need to carve out a tangible space and time in the week for learning.
There’s nothing like a roll-call and fees paid up-front to make sure you show up to class. A simple Google search will produce plenty of options for formal classes in colleges and dedicated language schools, and probably a clutch of sociable ‘conversation groups’ meeting at coffee shops in your nearest town.
There are plenty of native speakers out there who are keen to skill-swap if you have the time to help them learn your language in exchange. Check out local community pages like Gumtree for potential new language buddies - though always exercise caution when meeting someone new and always rendezvous in a public place. We’re big fans of language exchange events for mass skill-swapping in a friendly, public environment.
Franglish is one of our faves: a cross between language lessons and speed-dating, where you’re guaranteed to meet at least five native speakers during one of their two-hour events, benefiting from a series of one-to-one conversations, split between your mother tongue and theirs. Currently, Franglish connects up English, French and Spanish speakers.
Channel your inner youth, and read children's books and comics in your chosen language. Read them aloud, read them in your head, read them cover-to-cover, and read them all over again. Make it a new habit to read bits and bobs of foreign language media, too: follow blogs, subscribe to a magazine or read their daily news online.
Start engaging with social media in your new language, too. Love to cook or bake? Follow recipes in your chosen language. General advice is to focus on language first, and tidy up the grammar later. Podcasts on radiolingua.com and languagepod101.com are extremely useful for brushing up your grammar, when you’re ready to start honing your skills.
You simply won’t make progress if you don’t open your mouth. Take risks, ask for honest feedback, and don’t worry about getting things wrong. Seize any opportunity to speak the language, and be prepared to laugh at yourself when you do get in a muddle. It happens to everyone. One Spanish learner admits that at first, he spoke the language rather like Tarzan: ‘Me want go restaurant.’ But his eureka moment came just a couple of weeks after arriving in Spain, when he was able to ask for a new toothbrush at the local supermarket. It’s the little things.