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7 secrets to learning a language fast

Always wanted to learn a language but think you're too old, not talented enough, or just too busy? Think again! Whether you want to learn German, Arabic or Chinese, multi-lingual creator of Fluent in 3 Months, Benny Lewis, gives us his top tips on how to pick up the local lingo fast.

1. Put that textbook down

If you’re interested in learning how to speak Spanish/French/any other language with human beings, and not just to pass exams or language courses, then put aside the books. Grammar does NOT help you to speak a language – it helps you to improve your language skills. 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 textbook 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 to start. 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. Start speaking right now – even if you have only learned one or two words and phrases! It will be hard to begin with, but you will progress much quicker.

3. Use your travel phrasebook

The one book I do find terribly useful when I want to learn a language as soon as possible is a cheap, pocket, travel phrasebook. Lonely Planet, Berlitz or any similar book will do the job. Practical phrases for things like ordering food, asking for directions or making small talk are instantly applicable to common travel situations, so you can start using them immediately. 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.

Travellers using a map

4. Learn and repeat (and learn and repeat)

There are several ways to learn languages online and some language apps and programmes offer a good way of practicing your vocab simply by repetition. Alternatively, try free flash card creator Anki which 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. Remember that mistakes don’t matter

One of the major issues so many people have when learning languages 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. Being a perfectionist is restricting: you must make mistakes and lots of them to get anywhere with your language learning. Most locals love it when foreigners make the effort to communicate in their own language, rather than just barking English at them!

6. Meet up with people before you travel

While meeting people to speak French with in Paris is naturally quite easy, but you can do start learning a language before you travel too. Hit the ground running by already having had lots of practice in advance! Some great ways to do this include:

  • Search meetup.com to see if there is a weekly or monthly gathering of those practicing your target language
  • Use the site couchsurfing.org and instead of searching for a bed for the night, simply search your home city by language. Message fellow German, Spanish or Arabic speakers and arrange 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 language speaker, then just take the leap and say ‘hi!’ to them

7. Have fun!

You are communicating with another human being in an entirely different language! That’s what it’s all about, 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 and get to know people from other cultures across the globe. Simply by 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!

Group of people studying together

Benny Lewis is a language hacker and technomad, who has been on the road for almost a decade. He’s now fluent in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Esperanto and blogs about his language learning missions at FluentIn3months.com to encourage others to learn languages quickly and efficiently.

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