So you’re itching to study abroad in Spain, go on a road trip around the US, or spend a summer surfing in Hawaii, and to make the most of the experience, you’ve decided to take some language classes as well. As you sit in class memorizing new words you may think to yourself: “I’m never going to get this.” Trust us, we understand. Learning a language isn’t as easy as making a cup of coffee – but it’s not impossible either. In fact, we’ve got four easy techniques to help you learn your new language much faster.
Now, as with anything worth doing, learning a new language requires dedication. So remember: these techniques aren’t hacks or tricks. But they are effective. To see how much, all you need to do is make a commitment to using them. Ready?
1. Talk with real live humans
Since we started clicking and swiping our devices all day, we got the idea that everything can be taught, learned, and practiced without interaction. Want to gain a master’s degree? Take an online course. Need a great recipe? Google it. Want to learn a foreign language? Choose an app. It’s true that the internet can help language students bulk up their vocabulary and feel more confident in their abilities, but unless you plan on never uttering a word, forget it. You’ll need to talk to native speakers (and as soon as possible!).
Now, before you back out of your overseas travel plans, don’t worry. Talking to foreigners doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. Try finding a language exchange partner in your city and chatting over coffee, for example, or commit to an online course. If you want to combine a new, exciting experience with your language studies, go abroad to really live the language – this is one of the most effective and fun ways to progress, fast. Whatever you do, start before you think you’re “ready”. Remember, languages are made to be spoken.
2. Use new words as soon as possible
Many language students dutifully write lists of new words in their notebooks, only to never use them in real life. While taking note of new words is a great habit, it’s not enough on its own. As they say, use it or lose it! So next time you hear an exotic word, don’t just write it down: make an effort to use it as soon as possible in as many ways as possible. Say it, write it in a sentence, find its noun, verb or adjective form, and ask your native friends questions about it. This technique gives new vocabulary a living context and lets it stick in your mind faster!
3. Ask a lot of questions
Don’t be a shy obsessive note-taker at the back of the class: teachers love students who ask good questions! Don’t know what to ask? Write a list of general questions in the back of your notebook and use them during your class. Remember, the best questions give you more information or clear up a doubt.
Some great ones are “What’s the noun/verb/adjective form of that word?” “Is that word used in formal or informal situations?” “Can you suggest any synonyms/antonyms?” or (if your new language is spoken in various countries) “Does that have the same meaning in Chile/Spain/Honduras?” If you’re not enrolled in language classes, don’t worry! Post your questions to a forum (try Wordreference.com), Google them, or ask your native speaker friends to help you out.
4. Start with what you really need
Imagine you’ve landed in Madrid, ready to start your semester abroad and talk to real live Spaniards. Think about what these conversations are likely to be. We bet you won’t be diving straight into deep and meaningful conversation about art or politics, right? To jump start your first days and weeks abroad, think about the situations you’re likely to be in. For example: I’m lost (topics:getting around the city, public transport, city sights). I want to eat (topics:ordering food, going to the supermarket). I want to make friends (topics:asking personal questions, talking about family and friends). Once you’ve identified your vocabulary areas, focus your energies there. It’ll make your experience much smoother!