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How to Learn a Language Quicker (a No Bs Guide)

There are lots of guides out there for how to learn a language quickly. Many of them have some good ideas but they also often make use of misleading claims to help justify their bold statements. Basically, they change the finishing line to help themselves cross it. You could probably argue that even native speakers don’t really “know” their language, after all, how often do you come across a new word? Or what about when you try to communicate with someone (from your country, in your own language) and they just don’t quite get the point your making.

Despite that, there are some things you can do to help you learn a language faster and the iPad is a great tool to help facilitate this. In this part we’re going to look at some aspects you need to do to learn a language quickly.

Understand the learning curve

Learning a new skill starts off very hard but gets much easier over time. Learning new words in your native language is pretty easy now, but when you were young, it was really tricky. Similar with skills like playing the guitar and so on. The other aspect of this is that learning a little goes a really long way. The beginnings (foundations) account for a lot and will take you a long way. For example, greetings are the first thing you usually learn and they will be the thing you probably say the most ever. If you go to the doctors, greeting, if you see a friend, greeting, if you walk into an office, greeting.

Vocabulary will help you a lot

a lot of people get stressed out by grammar in a language, but often, the best thing you can do is focus on vocabulary first and foremost. This is because a grammar error rarely causes confusion of meaning, but vocabulary does. For example, in English.

“it rain yesterday”

is grammatically incorrect but clear,

”there was a hurricane yesterday”

has a very different meaning (if all you want to say is that it rained) but is grammatically correct.

You can often use vocabulary to show your grammatical meaning even if you don’t know the grammar and people can work out what you mean, even if you sound a bit thick (but people will excuse it because you are a foreigner, often they don’t have high expectations).

Use a frequency dictionary

The best way to learn the most useful language (in general) is to use a frequency dictionary. These are the words which occur the most often and so you will hear the most, encounter the most and so be very useful. The downside of this is that often there are words which have multiple different meanings (for example, let in English), in addition, words like the days of the week aren’t that frequently occurring (it may seem surprising at first, but when you think about it, you often use “tomorrow” and when you do use a day of the week, it could be any one of the seven which reduces the probability of using it. As such, it is still useful to learn topics you often talk about and the specific vocabulary for them.

Wikipedia has a load of these. 

Learning phrases is really useful

Often, a great way to learn grammar is to learn phrases and pick up the grammar from that. When you learn a phrase, you can just learn a phrases for phrase replacement (without worrying about the individual parts). This can include very complicated grammar which then becomes more natural later on when you deliberately try to use the grammar. Alternatively, you can try adapting a phrase with a different vocabulary item you know. This is a very natural reaction.

Spaced repetition is great

Space repetition is the best way to not only learn new words but make sure you don’t forget them. It works by gradually increasing the amount of time between encountering a word, this helps it to stay in your active memory and be easily accessible when you want to say something.

Luckily there are lots of tools to do this well.

Use your interests

If you have a natural interest in a topic (like photography, or martial arts etc) then use that to learn a language as well. This is especially true when you have an interest related to the language you want to learn (for example, I use polish political news to learn polish. Tim Ferris used judo to learn Japanese.)

Pay attention the alphabet and sounds

some languages have more difficult alphabets (even completely different) and unique sounds. Spend sometime practicing those at the outset and you’ll really help yourself. For example, I used to write out telephone messages I took in cyrillic after I wrote them in English to help me learn it. I also spent months walking around trying to work out how to roll my Rs before it finally clicked.

Practice with people

The best tip is to find a pro level speaker you can practice with. Trying to speak will be frustrating at first but if you have someone who is willing to help you, you’ll get feedback on your mistakes (especially if you are experimenting with phrases) and that will help you to correct yourself and follow the right path.

try and balance the different language “skills”

lossely speaking there are four language skills

  • speaking
  • listening
  • writing
  • reading

You should aim to do something in each of these because they will help each other. If you write something, it will help you focus on exactly the right way to say something which helps you when you want to say something. If you read, you’ll learn new words, if you listen you work out how to say those words correctly.

Next time we’ll look at some websites and apps on the iPad (and iPhone) to help do these different aspects. In the mean time, here are a few books that are actually worth reading on the topic, just remember, if something doesn’t work for you, try something else.

About Chris Wilson

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