How to Learn a Language: Tips & Tricks for Fast Learning
By: Aen Ali Hashmi
If you are passionate about learning a new language, then you have come to the right place. In this article, we will be sharing some tricks and tips that can enable you to effectively learn a new language in a short period.
How Many Languages Can You Learn?
People always wonder, how many languages can a person learn? But before we answer this question, it is imperative to discuss what does it even mean to speak a language?
What Does it Even Mean to Speak a Language?
Experts proclaim that speaking a language means being able to speak a language fluently. But how do we elucidate the term “fluently”?
Fluency in a language means that the speaker can exhibit linguistic prowess. Meanwhile, keep the traditional intricacies and nuances intact. And can possess all of these aspects while talking to the native speakers of the language.
Now we have established the basic grounds of what it means to speak a language. Let's talk about our initial question, how many languages can a person learn?
The Power of The Human Mind
It is said that the human brain contains as many neurons as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Moreover, the connections between those neurons are significantly much greater than there are stars in our entire universe.
The purpose of mentioning this fact was to imply that the human mind has an incredible capacity to almost learn anything. And most importantly, it could be done effectively and within a short period, considering the circumstances are favorable for that person.
Advent of Technology and Language Learning Applications
Moreover, the advent of technology and new language learning applications have enabled this procedure of learning a brand-new language from scratch, much simpler.
The ability of a modern technological application has allowed humans to quickly communicate and share ideas.
For instance, the Modern Language Learning staples, like Skype, Netflix, and YouTube never existed before. Conclusively, the right technology, amalgamated with the right strategy for an individual, can enable a person to do anything or achieve anything intellectually.
You Can Learn More Than a Dozen Languages
Experts proclaim that future generations can learn 6 to 12 most important languages. However, certain physical restrictions may not allow every person to learn as many languages as he or she wants to. Because the biggest obstacle to language learning capacity is the memory time and space factor.
Limitation of Learning Capacity
So, even if our brain’s capacity to grasp a significant amount of information is infinite, human beings are not infinite. Human beings are restricted within the fabric of space and time.
Do you know how many languages there are in the world? A lot, probably. But our learning capacity and our ability to accomplish tasks are also restricted.
Example to Understand Human Potential and Limitation
To understand this concept, let's elucidate it with an example. For instance, there's a boy who wants to learn a new language, he starts learning a language at the age of nine, and he should know about the challenges of learning a new language.
Now, this boy is very lucky. He's got family members who can speak multiple languages. And who has the option to visit different states around the world.?
So for the first decade of his life, the boy has to move from place to place and by the time he turns 11 or 12, he can easily speak a dozen languages fluently.
Afterward, he decides that his life aims to travel the world and try to learn more languages. And to seek how languages have evolved and how cultures, traditions, religions, and preferences of people have shaped the way language is spoken. His passion allows him to travel to more than 80 countries.
And before he moved between different states, he learned the local language for a year. This allows him to grasp and embed his time in the country to maximize the skills to learn a language.
So, conclusively we can estimate that by the time the person is very old, maybe 90 years old, he can speak around 75 to 80 languages fluently.
But unfortunately for that boy and us, there is one little problem, i.e., the challenge of language maintenance.
Challenge of Language Maintenance
A person may get the chance to learn a lot of languages, but for the individual to maintain that language and be consistent and allocate time from the entire day to practice, revise and keep the vocabulary refreshed.
It's almost impossible. If the number of languages is greater than the time he can spare to revise all of them, the fluency in that language might deteriorate.
Phenomena of Interference
Theoretically, yes, a person can learn as many languages as he or she wants to. But the fact that he will be able to maintain that language so that his fluency does not degrade with time, is a question that linguists are unable to answer as of now.
Because we have only 24 hours in a day. And out of those 24 hours, an average human being spends around eight to ten hours of sleep. On top of that, there's also the phenomenon of interference.
Focus on One Language will Compromise Proficiency in Others
If a person spends a significant amount of time on one language, there is no denying the fact that the rest of the languages would suffer.
Hence, his ability to speak multiple languages will not be consistent in all of the languages, one has to be better than the other.
Ultimately, we can conclude that for a person who speaks multiple languages or is a polyglot, his ability and skill would periodically fluctuate over time.
Well, firstly, the important thing is to be pragmatic and positive at the same time. The human being is capable of learning a significant amount of languages because our brain has the power to learn almost anything. It is theoretically possible for an individual to be capable of becoming a person who is fluent in 20 languages.
But, the important thing over here is to also understand the limitations of the human brain. We can spend so much time learning a language.
People, who claim to be fluent in more than 20 or 30 languages, usually face the hard reality that their claim might fail when put to an actual language proficiency test.
Not Knowing is Always More Than Knowing
A person would always not know more than what he knows. Hence, it's better to be humble, than to brag about being a hyper-polyglot, a polyglot, or a super language learner.
It's better to know one more language other than your native language than to claim to know 20 languages but not be able to speak even one of them fluently.
Gatto long used to say, “Language learning is that one thing that is worth being able to do even poorly.”
Learn any language in 3 Months
There's an unbelievable amount of bad information out there, when it comes to language learning, especially on YouTube. You've seen videos with titles like,
“learn a language in 2 months, or “learn a language in two weeks”. Here's the reality. Those videos are clickbait.
Real Progress Takes Time
Real progress takes time, at a bare minimum. It's probably going to take you at least three to six months to feel comfortable speaking a new language. And that's if it's relatively close to a language you already know, say English to Spanish.
If it's a more distant language, say English to Japanese, you should be prepared to spend at least two years studying consistently before you feel natural, expressing yourself in a variety of different situations.
Three Stages of Language Learning Process
So how do you get to that level? Well, let's dive in. We'll consider the language learning process in three stages, beginner, intermediate and advanced.
1. Beginner Stage
If you're new to a language and know little or nothing about it, you're at the beginner stage and your goal is pretty simple. You want to get a handle on the basics of understanding and speaking simple sentences. That's it. So what qualifies as a simple sentence?
1.1 What You Need to Learn to Become Fluent
Well, that's on you to decide. We all express ourselves in different ways and care about different things. Only you know what you need to learn to become fluent. The internet is filled with free tutorials for virtually every language on Earth.
You'll want to use some kind of structured guide that can provide a foundation for you to build on. Maybe that's a textbook with an audio companion. Maybe it's a website, maybe it's an educational YouTube series.
1.2 Ensure to Listen and Speak a Lot
Whatever resource you choose, make sure that you're listening and speaking a lot. Reading about a language will help you understand how the pieces fit together.
But you want to practice using that language as soon as possible. What else?
1.3 Write Down Vocabulary
As you're studying, make sure you write down useful vocabulary. Whenever you come across words or even short phrases, do yourself a favor and type your notes. Don't write them by hand. Why? Well, learning to write by hand is time-consuming.
How often do you write with a pen and paper in your native language? Pretty rarely. However, it will be very valuable to you when you reach a more advanced level.
But that's for the later stage. So download the appropriate keyboard, install it and start using it.
2. Intermediate Stage
Okay, level two, intermediate. Once you feel ready, you can begin to incorporate the walking technique into your study routine.
2.1 Find a High-Quality Listening Material in Your Language
It's the heart of this whole system, and it'll help you improve drastically no matter what your level. The idea is pretty straightforward. Find high-quality listening material in your target language.
You can use a podcast, or you can listen to YouTube videos without looking at the screen. The more natural and conversational, the better. So try to avoid things like audiobooks or news broadcasts.
2.2 Find an Immersive Series
Ideally, you'll be able to find an immersive series that's designed for people who are learning your target language. There are dozens of programs like this in German, Spanish, Mandarin, etc. Once you find some suitable listening material, here's what you should do.
2.3 Walking Technique
a) Step One; every day, put on your headphones and listen to that program or video. And as you do that, simply walk around outside.
You can stroll around your neighborhood or maybe through a park, and you'll listen to your target language as you do that.
b) Step Two; As you're listening and walking, quietly repeat any short phrases that you understand. Don't stop the audio track, just quietly say the phrase and try to match the speaker's pronunciation early on.
You might only catch 10% of what's being said. That's fine. You'll understand more with time, just stick with it and stay relaxed as you walk and listen and speak.
If you have any experience with meditation, you may notice that this exercise has some parallels, and that's by design.
Because staying relaxed with what you learn is very important, it helps new information reach your deep memory and intellect.
Your mind naturally adapts to hearing and speaking a new language. With this walking technique, you will enjoy it.
c) Step Three; Now, there is a third step to this exercise that you should add when you feel ready. Maybe that's right away. Maybe it takes a few months, your call.
So as you listen, you're going to hear many, many words and phrases that you don't understand.
But some of these words and phrases will start to stick out. You'll hear them more often, and if people are using these words regularly, they're probably pretty useful. S
o you want to know what they mean. Well, how do you find out?
2.4 Using Google Translate
Some experts say, repeat the word or phrase into Google Translate. Now hold on. We know that people hate Google Translate. They say it doesn't work. It doesn't translate accurately.
But Google Translate is getting much smarter. And you can double-check the meanings later on with a native speaker.
3. Advanced Stage
Now let's talk about how you can reach a more advanced level.
Let's cut to the chase. You need to talk with people in your target language. But how can you do that as efficiently as possible? Well, the simplest way is to use a website like,
“ I talkie.com “and pay a native speaker for an hour of their time over Skype. That's money very well spent, but there are free alternatives if you prefer.
3.1 Finding Someone to Talk to
You can, for instance, use an app like “hello talk” to set up an unpaid language exchange with another student. And of course, you don't have to use the internet if you're able to practice with a native speaker in person, a friend or family member, or even a paid tutor.
You'll likely progress even faster, but this is very important. Once you find a conversation partner who you like, you must avoid using your native language as much as possible.
3.2 Uncomfortable But Rewarding
It may feel uncomfortable and even exhausting to make an hour of conversation in an unfamiliar language. But experiencing that kind of challenge will force your mind to improve quickly.
It's just like working out at the gym. You need to push yourself if you want to get stronger. And look, there's no need to be afraid of making mistakes.
They're helpful because when someone corrects you, you'll be much less likely to make the same mistake in the future. So keep experimenting.
How to Improve Language Learning Skills
Being proficient in a language means that a person can speak that language fluently, read it and write it as well. So, these are the basic three language skills. They are interconnected with each other.
So, how can one improve his or her speaking skills in a foreign language?
1. Focus on Improving Accent and Pronunciation
The first thing that a person should do is try to ameliorate his pronunciation and accent. The fact that a native speaker of a specific region might feel uncomfortable when speaking in a new language is usually because his pronunciation and accent are not similar to the target language.
Hence, a person might appear to sound awkward when he is just in the beginning stage of learning a language.
Therefore, the first thing that a person should do is try to work on his accent. This will require dedication, time, and effort. And the best way to do it is by imitating the accent while speaking with the native speakers of that language.
2. Read Out Loud
The next thing that one can do is to read out loud whenever he's trying to learn a new language. If you are reading silently in your mind, you're losing an opportunity to enhance your verbal communication skills.
3. Speak Frequently and Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Thirdly, a person should try to speak as many times as possible. And should not be afraid to make mistakes. Another factor that will help improve the learning process for a new language is if you listen to content that is not only in the foreign language but is also related to your desired tastes and interests. Because this will allow you to be fully immersed in the audio experience.
Hence, you can start by watching movies or TV shows, or podcasts in a language that you are trying to learn. This will enhance your interests as well. Recognize certain vocabularies and linguistic nuances that are being utilized in the target language.
4. Take Advantage of Parallel Texts
Another thing that you can do is you can take advantage of parallel texts. So, if you are reading something in a foreign language, ensure that it is in parallel texts.
This will allow you to compare and contrast what content is usually in your language, to the one that you're trying to learn.
5 Key Strategies to Create a Successful Language Learning Routine
Following are the key strategies that can help an individual to create a successful Langauge Learning routine.
1. Find Your Favorite Movie in The Language You’re Learning
The first tip is to find your favorite movie in the language that you are trying to learn. And then add the English subtitle to it. Moreover, you can also find a movie that is originally in the English language or your native language. And then you can add the subtitles in the language that you're trying to learn and watch the movie.
Now, the aim is to watch the movie with the subtitles again and again. This will help you to improve your reading skills as well as understand the flow of conversation in that language as you get better and better in every practice session, or in this case a “movie session”. Wouldn't that be fun, right?
And most importantly, this learning activity will never get boring.
2. Prepare Flashcards
The second tip is that you prepare flashcards. So, what you can do if you want to learn a new word, is to write that on one side of the card.
Along with that, make a little bit of illustration that represents the meaning of that word. And, on the other side of the flashcard, you can write the English translation of that word.
The impressive thing about a flashcard is that you can ask a friend or any of your family members to quiz you on it.
This is something that can be done when you are driving a car with your family or relaxing with your friends.
This methodology of learning a language is better than sitting in a library or in front of a computer, hoping that somehow all the new words get embedded in your memory.
3. Keep a Separate Journal or Notebook
The third tip is to keep a different book for jotting down any new words that you're trying to learn in a language.
This activity is important because you can go back and review all your list of words, whenever you want to.
And whenever you get the chance, you can include those words in an essay that you write or an assignment that you are doing.
Moreover, you can also choose by using at least five to ten new words that you have learned in your conversations throughout the day.
4. Write Letters
Another tip is that you can write little letters to your friends or family members. Moreover, if you are prone to more fun activities, you can create a pen pal.
And to be honest, in this world, who doesn't love to open and receive mail from a friend? It's probably better than a small text message.
This is a very exciting activity that can develop your interest in that particular language. You will be emotionally attached to the process of learning.
Receiving and mailing letters will help you understand the little intricacies and nuances of writing and speaking a new language. Hence, reducing your period to learn a new language.
5. Take Assistance from a Language Learning Application
The fifth key tip for learning a new language would be to utilize a language learning application. For instance, if you are learning Spanish, you can use a very popular and efficient app called Duolingo.
The benefit of the app is that it is very portable. And, you can use it whenever you get spare time. So you do not have to be prepared every day to learn the language.
Just open the app, whenever you feel like it, and get going. Secondly, the app makes the process of learning way more interactive.
Learning a new language can always be an interesting experience. However, to learn one, it's better to have a prepared strategy.
In this article, we discussed various tips and tricks that can help you learn a new language effectively. However, it's for you to decide how serious and passionate you are about learning a language.