Always wanted to learn a language but think you are too old, not talented enough, or just too busy? Think again!
Language learner extraordinaire and creator of Fluent in 3 Months – Benny Lewis – gives us his top tips on how to pick up the local lingo fast.
1. Studying grammar is for academics – communicating is king
If you plan to use your language with human beings and not just for exams, then put aside the books and perfectionism. Grammar does NOT help you to speak a language – it helps you to improve your language skills. You MUST make mistakes and lots of them. Embrace this and you will learn quicker and get your point across more efficiently. When you are ready for it, and very comfortable using the language then it's a good idea to come back to such materials to tidy it up.
2. Speak the language from day one
No more waiting! People are always over-preparing until that day when maybe they'll be ready. This logic is faulty as there is always something missing, so you'll never, ever feel 100% prepared. The only solution to this vicious circle is to get out of it entirely. Speak right now – even if you have only learned a one or two words and phrases! It will be hard to begin with, but you will progress much quicker!
3. Start with a phrasebook, learn it quickly and use it
The one book I do find terribly useful when I want to speak a language as soon as possible is a cheap, pocket, travel phrasebook. Lonely Planet, Berlitz or any similar book will do the job. Read the phrases and learn them off by heart. If you sing along with phrases it becomes a lot easier to apply them to memory. Then use them immediately.
4. For vocabulary get repetition flashcards
There is a free program you can download to your computer called Anki. It allows you to download pre-made decks with the most common/important words of your target language. You can study on your computer or use a portable version of the app on your smartphone.
5. Meet up with people before you travel
While meeting people to practise in your target language country is relatively easy, did you know that you can do it before you travel too? Hit the ground running by already having had lots of practice in advance! Some great ways to do this include:
• Searching meetup.com to see if there is a weekly or monthly gathering of those practising your target language
• Use the site couchsurfing.org and instead of searching for a couch, simply search your home city with just the criteria of the language you want. Message that person to meet up for a coffee. People on this site are very open-minded to meeting strangers.
• Ask your friends, local library, church, clubs or anywhere else you can think of to find a local community or speaker of that language. Then just take the leap and say ‘hi!’ to them.
6. Don't think so much – just do it!
One of the major issues so many people have when starting to learn a language is confidence. They dwell on the many ways things that can go wrong, and remind themselves how stupid they are. Clear your head and just open your mouth. You are exaggerating how badly things will go – just let the language flow, and use whatever techniques you are comfortable with for relaxing and feeling more confident. Remember – mistakes don’t matter; most locals love it when foreigners make the effort to communicate in their own language (rather than just barking English at them!).
7. Have fun and enjoy talking!
You are communicating with another human being in an entirely different language! That's what it is for after all. You can't go wrong with this – it's not like in school where a certain number of errors earns you a fail.
You are simply explaining your thoughts, asking questions and enjoying this wonderful new way to communicate. Mistakes and nervousness, and excuses that it's hard can't get around the fact that by simply saying the words, you ARE communicating in that language.
There will be many challenges, but you can find a way around them.
Good luck, and enjoy speaking!
Related Reading: 10 Teachings of a Technomad – Benny’s guide to working abroad
Benny Lewis is a language hacker and technomad, who has been on the road for almost a decade. He blogs about his language learning missions at FluentIn3months.com to encourage others to learn languages quickly and efficiently, and wrote in greater detail about how he does it in his Language Hacking Guide, the sales of which help support his travels.