How can you learn a language effectively in the busy deadline driven world that we live in?
Learning a language takes work and often that means time we don’t have. It often leads us to try and “hack” the learning process in an effort to speak fluently without going through the teething stages that inevitably arise.
First, let’s tackle that idea of language “hacking”. The term “hacking” has become prominent over the years with a number of well known public figures using “hacks” to learn skills in record time. Tim Ferriss is probably the most popular proponent of hacking and he has carved out a niche in the skill-development field by focusing on these ideas.
In the language learning field, the Irish Polyglot Benny Lewis has used the term “language hacking” a lot and even produced a series of Teach Yourself language books with the hacking approach in mind.
Simply put, hacking is ruthless effectiveness. It is refining the content of a language down into usable chunks that can be systematically practised repeatedly.
So the first point in learning a language effectively with time pressure is this: Distill down the input you need to become fluent. Focus in on key structures, vocabulary and situations.
This distillation process is a skill in itself, which is why people who have learned multiple languages find subsequent languages relatively easy to acquire.
Find a limited amount of quality material, preferably with audio, and focus on learning the language progressively every day.
The key here is every day. Find something that you can focus on often and work through the material progressively.
Good audio resources accompany many of the beginner language courses such as Teach Yourself, Routledge’s Colloquial Series and Assimil. The key is to process the lessons in a focused way. My personal approach is to spend a week on each chapter of a Teach Yourself book, listening and really getting inside each of the audio lessons. After the 19 or so weeks you’ll find yourself knowing the course inside out and more importantly, understanding the language contained within.
There is more you can do in order to really gain maximum benefits from audio lessons and I go deep into those ideas in my book Fluently Speaking. For example, shadowing the audio (speaking the language in sync with the speaker) is a great practice and one worth adding to your language toolkit.
Begin speaking right away, even if it is to yourself at first. I like to acquire and organise the material I learn and package it in speaking challenges. Some of these speaking challenges, particularly early on, involve learning language for a specific situation and then videoing myself speaking it.
Speaking assignments like this are great at developing your internal language machine. Predominantly, however, you’ll want to speak with actual native speakers either live out in the world or with a tutor/speaker via Skype or similar. Italki is a popular service and I highly recommend going there for quality speaking partners and tutors.
Find topics or situational conversations you’d like to become proficient in and start engineering your learning around those areas. This is probably the most important key to “hacking” a language — learn that which is practical to you.
There you have it — language learning need not be complex. With a bit of thought you can begin learning a language immediately with a focus on progression and practicality.
The next post will cover language games and apps and how to integrate them into your language learning lifestyle.