Most people are under the impression that learning a language is like quantum mechanics. No matter how long it takes to understand a subject, almost everything will still be incomprehensible.
These people are understandable. It’s enough to remember how we learned foreign languages at school. Over six to eight years of study, most students could only reproduce the phrases “My name is…” and “I want this…” in the language they were taught. Fluent? Nope, haven’t heard it.
But then where do polyglots who know several dozen languages come from? Do they know some secret that allows them to learn languages much faster?
There is a polyglot in the Langavia team who speaks seven languages. Rebecca is fluent in Ukrainian, Polish, English, French, Polish, German, and Swedish.
And she always convinces us that learning languages is really easy. We discussed with her in detail how she achieved this and whether she should be burned at the stake as a witch for it. Anyway, read on and take note.
Tip 1 – Make the language you’re learning your own
You may ask, “What’s the big deal? I have a native language. There can’t be two!” But first, it’s worth understanding one crucial thing. A person does not have an innate understanding of language.
The brain perceives language constructions equally well, regardless of the nature of the language. A single fact proves this.
Young children in any country learn to speak at about the same age, one to two years old. Already at the age of four, children can operate freely with complex concepts and phrases.
And this means that to learn absolutely any language, the brain spends the same amount of resources, regardless of the complexity of the language.
The main difficulty of learning a second language is its difference from the first. Let’s explain. The brain perceives the native language as a constant. And when a person starts to learn another one, it conflicts with the first one.
A child who learns several languages from a very young age – for example, in a bilingual family – will take such features for granted. But the adult brain is stuck when dealing with such contradictions. For example, a Polish person is used to being able to put the members of a sentence in almost any order.
- Ja cię kocham;
- Cię ja kocham;
- Kocham cię ja;
- Kocham ja cię.
You can write more if you want. All these phrases are absolutely equal. They differ only in subtle nuances. But in German, there are only two possible variants.
- Ich liebe dich.
- Dich liebe ich.
They also differ in nuance, but in German, you can’t say “Liebe ich dich.” That would be grammatically incorrect.
In English, it’s even more “interesting.”
- I love you.
And that’s basically it. The trick that went with German no longer works here. “You love I” is wrong. There’s nothing to remember about the other variants. But you can play around and rearrange the sentence. For example, the phrase “It’s you I love” can be used, but it will have a different meaning.
So, where are we going with this discussion? When learning a foreign language, you can not think in terms of your native language. Often they only get in the way.
What can you do about it? As we have written, you need to make a foreign language a native one. Use it in everyday life.
And no, that does not mean to speak only in it. Although if your audience knows the language you are learning, that would be ideal.
To make the process easier, we give you two effective tricks.
Trick 1: Just change the language on your phone and computer
This is much easier than it may seem. Visually, you’ll remember where specific functions are located, so you’ll be able to use the gadgets without any problems.
The next step is to use programs and games in that language. This is a little more difficult, but overall, in a couple of weeks, you will get used to it and feel almost no difference.
When my student needs maximum results in the shortest amount of time, we do the maximum language immersion that is possible without moving.
All gadgets and programs used are only in the language we are learning. Any reading materials, books, magazines, manuals, memes, and everything else – also only in it.
Series and movies – you get the idea.
If the student’s family could also speak the language the student is learning, it would be ideal. But this is a dream, a dream.
Trick 2: Listen to the radio and songs and watch films and TV-shows in the language you’re learning.
Even if you don’t understand anything… 🙂
The thing is, you have to get used to the sound of the language and feel its melody.
Here, we just couldn’t help but insert this excerpt from the TV series Clinic. Who’s in line to learn how to talk like a nice milksop?
If you want tips on what other great language learning shows there are, read this article: The 8 Best TV Series For Learning French for All Levels
It takes a long time for a person to get used to the very sound of a language. Take Ukrainian and Polish, for example. The languages have about 70% common vocabulary – even though one is in Cyrillic and the other in Latin.
In theory, a Ukrainian should understand the speech of a Pole almost without training, but in reality, behind the many Polish hisses, it is extremely difficult to understand anything at all. But after a month or two in a Polish environment, the Ukrainian begins to speak Polish fluently even without additional study. And that’s because your brain got used to the sound of the language and learned to recognize speech.
Of course, this thing won’t work with Chinese because of the lack of parallels and general vocabulary, but we still recommend getting used to the sound of the language. This way will also help you to get the correct pronunciation much easier.
Tip 2 – Keep the language current
Language relevance is a complex concept. Let’s start with motivational relevance.
For language learning to give good results, you need to be constantly motivated.
Motivation is determined strictly on an individual basis. Some businessmen learn the language in order to communicate with foreign business partners and conclude profitable contracts. And other businessmen learn the language in order to learn from the best professionals in the world.
Some students learn the language to get into a prestigious Ivy League university. And others to watch TV series, movies, and cartoons in the original language.
One of the most interesting examples of motivation in language learning is that of Giuseppe Mezzofanti, an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Italian cardinal.
According to documented records, the Cardinal was fluent in 38 languages. In addition, he could understand and explain himself in another thirty languages and dialects.
There is an interesting story about the personality of Mezzofanti.
The Cardinal was once invited to a prison to hear the confession of a criminal before his death penalty. But here’s the trouble – the criminal spoke an unknown language and did not know any of the languages the Cardinal spoke.
The Cardinal found out what the language was and, returning home, learned it well enough to take the confession in just one night.
The story has already grown fanciful and has become more of a legend, but it may well be true.
Practice says that a basic level of the language can be mastered in a month. The rest depends on your motivation and the frequency of your lessons.
There is an interesting way that can increase the impact of learning many times over.
Have a competition with your friends.
The human brain is designed in such a way that competition and rivalry spur it to work more effectively.
The famous polyglot Matthew Yulden often tells the story during his speeches of how he and his twin brother learned Turkish on a bet in seven days.
He doesn’t disclose the subject of the argument, but he emphasizes that after a week, both brothers were able to speak Turkish clearly and understand most of the Turkish language.
That is, it only took them seven days to learn the language from scratch to the level of everyday communication. If they could do it, what’s stopping the rest of us?
The motivation is sorted out. Now a little bit about the relevance of the temporary.
One of the basic rules in language learning: it is better to study every day for thirty minutes than once a week for five hours.
This is because the daily lessons give stable results, which are constantly accumulating. And when the lessons are infrequent or irregular, they do almost no good. It’s all about the mechanism of forgetting.
German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus constructed the forgetting curve. It shows how knowledge is retained in memory.
Already on a given day, a person forgets up to 50% of all information learned. And the longer the intervals between repetitions, the stronger the forgetting. In a week, a person will forget up to 90% of what he or she has learned, and it will take almost as much time and effort to recall it as to learn it.
But if you repeat information every day, the forgetting curve evens out. If you repeat, for example, new words for three days in a row, after a week, you will have retained 80-90% of what you learned. In this case, the total class time in the first (once a week) and in the second (every day) cases is exactly the same.
This is why in most foreign language programs, classes are held every other day as the most optimal tactic in terms of time and results.
Tip 3 – Make the process of learning a language interesting and fun
If lessons are fun, it stimulates the brain to create associative connections with the information that goes into it. And that means the knowledge will be easier and stronger to absorb.
What’s interesting is that you can choose absolutely any tools and techniques of lessons that you find entertaining and fun.
Do you like comic books? Read Marvel and DC in the language you’re learning. If you’re studying Japanese, it also can be a manga.
Like good humor? Watch standups in the language you learn! There are great comedians in every country.
Love poetry? Read the classics and try to write poetry yourself.
The main thing is to enjoy the process. There are practically no restrictions.
At Langavia, we often recommend that young people play computer games in foreign languages. The reaction is almost always the same.
These games create a sea of enthusiasm when these students parse and retell the dialogues from Far Cry or Witcher 3. On the standard exercises, by comparison, the students learn at a rate four times slower.
If you learn a language on your own, be sure to use humor as a learning tool. Even watching the legendary “Friends” or its adaptations (extremely simple in vocabulary and narration) in the language you learn is already a great way to pass the time, pump up your foreign language listening comprehension, and expand your vocabulary.
Once, we were translating Polish wear songs and ditties into English together with a student.
It was a difficult task because not only did you have to translate the meaning but also the rhythm and rhymes so that it was easy to sing.
There were a lot of masterpieces like:
- Down the river drifts an axe
- From the town of Byron.
- Let it float by itself
- Fucking piece of iron!
Then we sang these ditties almost every class. The mood was great – and the study went like clockwork every time.
If anyone tells us that it was a doubtful way to learn a foreign language, we can tell you that some students pass TOEFL in 5 months of studying foreign languages this way.
All stereotypes about long and hard language learning are nonsense. They all come from school failures. After all, many people think that if everything at school was so complicated, then it can only be more complicated in adult life.
But in fact, everything is easier than it seems. And the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn the next ones. After five, things will get better, we promise! You can check it out.
Learning a foreign language is a challenging task, and becoming a polyglot requires a specific system and structure.
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This guide is completely free and can provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to become a successful language learner and polyglot.
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