I’m going to say it right now: there is no magic trick to learning a language. You might read of academies promising great things, like ‘fluency in 30 days’, or ‘better English with an hour per week’. And while these seem like great prospects, very rarely do the results live up to what was promised.
The ‘secret’ to learning a language, like learning anything, is to do practice. Lots of practice. In a way, it is pretty simple, but you also need to make sure the practice that you are doing is effective and worthwhile.
During the quarantine months I set about researching the best ways to learn a language, because I wanted to go from speaking almost no Italian to being basically conversational - around the B1 level. It took me about 5 weeks to get there, studying between three and four hours per day. I combined what I knew from teaching languages myself with other research I conducted into how we learn and tips from language forums where people shared their personal experiences, and this is what I learnt.
I encourage you to read this guide to help you develop your own study plan. If you have a teacher, you can consult them for more guidance.
This is the most important point. How fast you learn a language depends on how much time you spend on it. Someone who puts an hour per day will learn a lot faster than someone who puts in two hours per week. Even if you only have lessons with a teacher for an hour or two per week, make sure you take the time on other days to study yourself. The rest of these tips will give you an idea of what to do in this time.
I recently wrote about the importance of watching movies and TV shows in their original language with subtitles. Expose yourself to the language you want to learn as much as possible, particularly if you don’t live in a country where it is spoken. Even passive listening helps us get used to the sounds of the language, and you can even learn new vocabulary this way.
Like watching movies, the news can be a great way to practice reading in the language you want to learn. Many major newspapers will have an edition in other languages - in Australia, SBS provides news coverage in many languages. Similarly, in Spain, El Pais has an English version. Check your country’s newspapers to see what languages they support.
Reading your local news in another language is great practice because, even if you aren’t familiar with the vocabulary, you will probably already know about the story they’re reporting. If you know the context, you can start working out what the words and phrases mean yourself. It’s also a great way to build up your vocabulary practice list with common words and phrases. In my case, I read the daily news from Australia in English, and then again in Italian.
Practicing vocabulary lists can be tedious, but if you do it properly it can be rewarding and even a little fun. I always recommend using a program like Anki to practice vocabulary on flashcards. You can make your own vocabulary flashcards from scratch, or add to lists that you can download for free. The good thing about using a program like Anki is that it delivers flashcards based on the idea of ‘spaced repetition’ - that our brains remember things best when we’re exposed to them at increasing intervals. If you practice like this for even 20 minutes per day, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll be able to remember in just two weeks.
I know a lot of people who give up or don’t progress because they think they can just go to class and learn to speak a language - I used to be like that too! The most important thing is to stick with it and to stay focused on your plan. If you can set aside even one hour per day, every day to just read the news and practice your vocabulary (in addition to your classes and a few movies each week), you’ll find yourself progressing much faster than before.
Remember, this guide is for what you need to in addition to actual lessons. If you don’t have a teacher, you can still use apps like Duolingo or Babbel - just remember to treat those like classes (in terms of time and commitment), and remember that your progress might be slower because they aren’t focusing on your individual needs as a student.
If you would like to learn English quickly and efficiently, send me a message today and we can start talking about your personalised plan to better fluency and more confidence.