How to learn a language fast and fluently
Learning any language is a significant undertaking. If you are really serious about taking your language learning to the next level you first need a reason.
Find your ‘Why’.
Seriously. Stop right now. Close your eyes. And ask yourself the question.
“Why do I want to learn this language?”
If you don’t have a strong enough ‘Why’ you will almost certainly never maintain the motivation long enough to see the results you need. It’s probably hard to hear, but the brutal truth is that learning a language is a lifelong pursuit. Like losing weight, it’s not something you can do for a couple of months and then it’s sorted.
You need to work at it long and hard, for weeks, months, and years.
You’ll make progress, slowly. You may even go sideways or backwards, for long periods of time. This is precisely when and why people give up.
Your motivation, your ‘why’, will help you to glide through the ups and downs of learning and keep you on the right track.
There is a ray of light shining through this seemingly dull reality though. Just because learning a language is a lifelong pursuit doesn’t mean it should take a lifetime to become fluent.
No. In fact, there are a few simple hacks you can do today to help improve your fluency some even backed up by scientific study.
Notice the word ‘simple’. Yes, they are simple. Not easy!
Doing this daily is by no means easy. For the most part, you will have to cast off significant amounts of mental programming and fear that can get in the way of being successful at becoming fluent.
Taking private lessons, such as our German lessons in London can help. The teacher will not only help you learn the language, but also work on improving any of the aforementioned negative mental patterns and programming that may be holding you back.
So let’s dive into these ‘fluency hacks’ as we’ll call them.
Hack #1: Take lessons
Probably the most traditional idea and certainly one of the best ways to learn is to learn from somebody who has been there before. Taking lessons with a good teacher is by far the fastest way to improve.
If you can afford them, private, 1:1 lessons are best, as the teacher’s time is purely and solely devoted to you and your needs.
Group lessons are good as well, you also get the chance to interact with your fellow learners which can certainly add an extra dimension to things. The more frequent the lessons, the faster you can learn.
You will, of course, have to take into account the cost of lessons to decide how much you’re prepared to invest in your learning. But as a general rule, the more often you take lessons, the faster your progress.
Hack #2: Find an accountability partner
Do you know anybody else who is also learning your chosen language? If not, try to find that person. This is one of the most common ‘tricks’ that successful people use to help them reach their goals in anything, not just language learning.
The idea being that you meet with your partner regularly. Perhaps once a week. Or more often. And exchange your goals for the week. The fact that
- You’ve told someone what you intend to do to learn this week and
- You’ll be meeting them next week to report back
Gives you more impetus to complete your goals and actually makes it more likely that you will achieve them.
The fact that your partner will ask you how you got on actually breeds a sense of motivation to get the tasks done you said you would, so at the very least you don’t feel that sense of guilt in telling your partner you haven’t done anything.
Hack #3: Use your chosen language around the house
If you live with anybody who speaks your chosen language it is absolutely imperative you speak with them at all times in that language. Just to repeat, in case this isn’t clear.
If you live with anybody who speaks your chosen language it is absolutely imperative you speak with them in that language at all times.
One of the ways to reach fluency in record time is to speak the language as much as possible. It can be difficult, especially if you are used to speaking together in another language and there is always the option to revert to what you’re comfortable with. But you have to resist.
It will be hard, perhaps too hard at first. But the first step is always the hardest. Hold on, and after some time it will begin to get easier.
If it is too hard perhaps start by having certain days where you only speak that language. Then extend that to more days. Then perhaps have a weekend where you only speak the language and build up. It will be slower, but it will also help build confidence which is ultimately what fluency in a language is all about. And confidence comes with lots of practice.
If you don’t live with anybody who speaks your chosen language you can still label parts of your house with vocabulary in the language you’re learning, using post-it notes or other markers. Go mad with it. It’ll keep the language top of mind.
Hack #4: Meet up regularly with people who are also learning
The key to all of this is regular practice. This is similar to accountability partner idea from earlier. But this is more informal.
Meeting with peers who share the same goals is a surefire way to achieving good things. You’ll share ideas and best practices, as well as help each other along. It can also be easier and perhaps less intimidating to speak with others who are also learning compared to speaking with native-speakers.
Everyone is in the same boat so to speak so everyone will be making concessions and everyone will understand the need to speak clearly and listen patiently. A skill that a lot of native-speakers don’t have.
If you’ve ever felt rushed or intimidated when speaking with a native-speaker then you’re not alone. This happens to pretty much every language learner. Even at high levels. Especially if you throw in the odd local accent or two! Lots of people, particularly monolingual, less educated folk, just aren’t used to speaking with people who don’t speak their language.
You will no doubt have been in the situation where you ask someone to repeat or speak slower and they just repeat the exact same sentence at the same speed and you’re none the wiser! This is when you start to get a sweat on and it gets uncomfortable. We’ve all been there.
Hack #5: Interact as much as possible with native speakers
Although we’ve just discussed speaking with other learners, the true key to success is learning and interacting with native-speakers.
You will face those intimidating moments, those times where you don’t understand a single word the person just said, they’ve repeated and you still don’t understand, those moments when you have no idea how to put together the sentence you want to say.
And that’s ok.
It’s part of the language learning process. Don’t let it put you off. Get in front of as many native-speakers as possible and just go for it.
Generally people are happy to help it’s about finding those right people who will make the concessions you need that will help you to soar to previously unimaginable heights with your language skill.
Hack #6: Listen and ask questions
In the seminal self-help book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie, it’s suggested when speaking to people to ask questions and listen. A very simple trick that can propel you literally to the top of the social and conversational food chain.
To be blunt: Shut up and listen!
The trick works because people generally like talking, especially if it’s about themselves or things they’re interested in, they often don’t get stuck for what to say when the topic is about themselves or their interests!
When prompted they will happily keep the conversation going.
Apply this to language learning and you can be having ‘fluent’ conversations with native-speakers for significant amounts of time without needing to know the language perfectly. As long as you listen and ask intelligent questions you can keep the conversation going. This approach can have a fantastic positive impact on your ability to converse with native-speakers.
Get your stopwatch out and see how long you can go for!
You’ll need to have quite a good level already so you can understand much of what your counterpart or counterparts are saying. After that, if you listen actively, take a genuine interest and ask questions on what is being said, interacting where required but allowing your counterpart to do most of the talking, you can improve your conversations significantly.
A lot of this is about personality. A lot of people find it hard to empathise with others and even harder to listen for long periods of time, even in their own language. Think about how you converse with people. Do you dominate the conversation? Are you ever genuinely interested in what your counterpart is saying or are you just waiting your turn to speak?
This actually works incredibly well in your own language as well and can often ingratiate you significantly with the people you meet.
So there we have it. Some more unorthodox tactics to skyrocket your fluency . Good luck and don’t give up!
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Founder of the UK Language Project and avid language learner.
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