How To Learn A Language Quickly

Top tips for language learning

Man using tablet.

Visiting a non English-speaking country soon? You’ll be at a significant advantage if you can speak the language, so now’s the time to get swotting. Not only will a basic grasp of the local lingo make everyday tasks and transactions less awkward - you’ll gain a whole load of respect, too.

Sadly there’s no way to ‘cheat’ language learning, but how can you master the basics in as short a space of time as possible? Read on for some tips from a lifelong language learner.

1. Buy (or download) a dictionary

When you start learning a new language, you’ll find yourself needing to check how to say words and phrases several times a day. A good dictionary of phrasebook will quickly become your Bible, so make sure you’re equipped before you attempt any serious conversation. Google Translate, which has improved significantly in recent years, will also fast become your friend.

2. Hook up with a native speaker

Do you have any friends or colleagues who are fluent in the language you’re trying to learn? If so, invite them for a coffee and spend some time practicing your new vocab. They’ll probably be delighted at the chance to share their knowledge, and to spend some time conversing in their native tongue. You really can’t beat time spent talking with someone who knows the ins and outs of the language.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a multi-lingual entourage, check local online forums and message boards in cafes, shops and other meeting-points: chances are there’ll be someone near you willing to pass on their skills for a relatively small fee.

3. Try an app

Language-learning apps turn lessons into games you’ll want to win - and with your competitive spirit stoked, you might be surprised at how quickly you learn. Check out Duolingo - which is free to download on iOS and the Android Market (with a desktop version too) and you’ll soon find yourself learning those verbs, tenses and vocabulary items at breathtaking speed. There’s also an active online community where users can share tips and discuss tricky points of grammar and vocab, with plenty of native speakers on hand to offer free, expert advice.

For those who like to learn new information ‘parrot fashion’, Anki is another great tool to help you on your way to proficiency. This program uses flash-card-style aide memoires to keep new words and phrases in the forefront of your mind.

4. Watch TV

Digital radio and cable TV have made it very easy to pick up foreign language stations, so in the weeks before your departure you might want to try tuning in to these channels while you go about your daily routine. This is a great way to ‘get your ear in’, and you’ll probably learn a little more about the current affairs and culture in that country before you arrive.

To improve your reading comprehension, all you need do is go online: with thousands of publications available in every language going, you can test your new skills at the press of a button.

5. Take an intensive course

Many linguists agree that the next best thing to actually living in another country is taking a short but intensive course. The continuous nature of the training will immerse you in the language in a similar way to spending an extended period in that country, and you’ll also get to ask questions, practice and converse with a teacher.

One advantage to this method is the speed with which you’ll progress: in just a week or so you can learn a lot; certainly enough to get by on holiday. So if you’ve left it a bit late to teach yourself, cramming in a course could be your best bet. However, intensive language courses aren’t cheap, and you may struggle to find one in your area.

6. Don’t sweat the spelling

Finally, it helps to remember that you’re not about to take a degree in your chosen tongue. Your main challenge is to understand and be understood, so forget finer points of spelling and syntax - you’ll progress faster if you focus on vocabulary, everyday phrases and sayings, pronunciation and listening. If you find you have an aptitude for the language, you can always take it further after your trip.

Bonne chance/buena suerte/viel glück!

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Written by Abi Silvester, a London-based writer and editor with a passion for great food, fine wine, coffee and cats; always planning my next trip! Follow her on Twitter.

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