Learning the Basics of Any Language Fast - 7 Tips and Tricks

by Ethan Dunwill

Contrary to popular belief, there is no gene that makes some people learn foreign languages better or faster. Learning a language other than your native one is a matter of study – that's it. Some people, however, may take a slow route to language mastery. And this may be what results in the belief that they don't have that magical "gene." If you have struggled with the "slow" way to learning a language, here are 7 tips and tricks that will put you on the fast track.

1. Learn the Right Words

In the English language, there are about 300 words that make up well over 50% of all writing. Other languages are the same. So, the first trick is to learn the most common words in the language you are trying to master. You can find these online and you can either make flash cards for them or use already prepared flash cards on lots of sites. You can actually download flashcards for the most common words in any language on the Anki app. And your study of these words is automated with a "spaced repetition" so you don't forget them.

2. Learn the Cognates

Cognates are words in another language that look very similar to words in your native language. Thus, automobile in Spanish is automóvil. Many of the English words that end in -tion have counterparts in other Romance languages. So, words such as nation, education, communication, solution, and hundreds of others are the same by just changing out the -tion and replacing it with -ción in Spanish, -zione in Italian, or -ção in Portuguese. A lot of others words are very similar because they have the same Latin or Greek root in them. So, you can easily understand the word "exemple" in French, "capitano" in Italian, or "astronomia" in Spanish. If you want to find and learn these cognates in the language you are trying to learn, all you have to do is Google the language and then the word "cognates. You'll get a long list.

Many of the non-Romance languages have borrowed words from English, and you can find those as will. You can Google such terms as "English loan words in Japanese" and get them.

3. Use the Language Every Day

You don't have to travel to a country that speaks the language you want to learn in order to interact with it every day. There are hundreds of websites to turn to. You can get radio broadcasts in almost any language by using TuneIn.com; you can go to another country's version of Amazon or EBay and purchase television series in another language that also offers dubbing. You can locate popular blogs in other languages, if you want to improve your reading skills in another language.

4. Speak in the Language with a Native

Learning to speak a language is more important than hearing or reading it. Once you have learned some basic vocabulary in a language, set up a Skype exchange with a native of a country that speaks the language you are trying to learn. That individual is usually one who is trying to learn English. Otherwise you can use Italki.com and get one-on-one lessons from a native for $5/hour. And here is a great tip: If you like music, listen to songs in that language as much as possible. You will pick up new vocabulary and, once you can sing along, you'll be getting great pronunciation practice.

5. Use Free Resources

There are a large number of free sites and apps for free. If you want to learn a European language, for example, try DuoLingo. Other free sources include BBC Languages, Omniglot, the Foreign Service Institute, or Khan Academy. And if you live in or near a medium-sized city, you can see if there is a Polyglot Club where you can have face-to-face meet-ups with native speakers of other languages. Again, you can find many other resources a Google search for "free foreign language learning tools and apps."

6. Commit to One Hour a Day of Speaking and Listening

When immigrant children arrive in America and are enrolled in school, many come with no English language skills at all. While they are usually given an ESL class which helps with grammar, reading, and writing, research has shown that their speaking ability is best mastered by "total immersion," that is, being in regular classes that are taught in English. This is why they are such fast learners, not because we mistakenly believe that kids learn faster. They just have no choice in the matter. If you really want to learn a language, you must speak it and listen to it every single day, whether you take an online class, meet up with native speakers, or go the more traditional route of a physical class. The biggest issue for adults in learning a language rapidly is often time management, whether you are a college student or a working adult. Block out the time.

7. Decide on the Level of Mastery You Want

People learn foreign languages for many reasons. If you want to learn because you want to navigate in a foreign country as a tourist, then you want basic speaking proficiency. You can make a lot of mistakes, and people will still understand you. If you are learning a language because you must conduct business in a foreign country, then you obviously need a higher level of mastery, and you must spend more time. But you can still learn quickly if you follow these tips, especially conversations with a native. Once you have the speaking mastered, your vocabulary will continue to grow and you will pick up the grammatical "rules" in that way. Writing and fluent reading will take a bit more time, of course, but you are well on your way. Remember this general rule – speak first, then move on to reading and writing. They are so much easier if you follow this sequence.

More than half of the inhabitants of this planet speak more than one language. Of course, this is because many of them begin learning a foreign language in elementary school and continue through until they finish their formal schooling. Others pick up a foreign language as their kids learn it. Those who learn without formal training will obviously make mistakes, as will you. But, embrace the fact that you won't be perfect, learn from those mistakes, and move on.


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