What Should You Do to Learn a Language in 6 Months?
- December 10, 2017
- Posted by: Khaliqdad Mohammadi
- Category: articles
What Should You Do to Learn a Language in 6 Months?
All these guys take a different approach to tackling the problem, but there are clearly some common themes across all of them. With all that in mind, what should your plan of action be to learn your chosen language in six months?
Step 1: Start Using Your Target Language Today
This is something all of our experts agree on, but it might sound counterintuitive to beginner language learners. How can you start using a language before you’ve learned any of it?
We can go back to what Benny Lewis said: In all languages, you already have some words you can access, and when you’re speaking face-to-face or over Skype with someone you can use hands, facial expressions, noises, props and so on to get your meaning across.
I had a very memorable conversation with a Korean learner of English in Seville, who was using limited vocabulary to explain to us the history of a particular Korean liquor. It was (intentionally) hysterically funny, so don’t worry about your speaking partner getting irritated!
Find a native speaker near you, take a trip or go online to find chat buddies. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes—you will!—as this is all part of the process of learning. As you begin to speak, you’ll get familiar with building sentences, listening to the sound of the language and hearing common phrases and expressions.
Step 2: Familiarize Yourself with the Core Language
A common theme from our expert friends was focusing your early learning on core language. In English, for example, this would include functional words like and, the, a, pronouns, such as she, I, they and the most commonly used verbs like to have, to be and to do.
When you’re in the early stages of learning a language, there will be a steep upward curve as you start to see how you go from saying single words to sentences, and learning these words will form the basis of that.
How do you know which words to learn? Ferriss lists the 100 most common words in written and spoken English, which you can use if you’re an English learner, or otherwise compare to key words in your target language. You could also try searching for your target language plus the term “common words” on Memrise, a digital flashcard app. There are many such lists covering Spanish, Korean, French, Dutch and much more.
All the while, you should be going back to step one: whenever you learn something new, incorporate it into your speaking. For example, in Italian I’ve been trying to correctly use phrases featuring the word ecco, which is similar to the French voila. This means I’ve recently been walking around like a child, pointing at things and shouting “There it is!” Now I think I’ve got it.
Step 3: Set Those SMART Goals
While a lot of learning will happen naturally as you speak and listen and read and write, you can’t take that for granted. You’ll of course have to put in effort.
Moreover, set SMART goals, as we discussed above. It’s one thing to say you want to be fluent in six months, but what does fluency mean for you?
I can give you an example of a goal I set myself last fall. By Christmas, I wanted to be able to hold a full conversation with my Italian girlfriend’s 5-year-old niece. So, it was:
- Specific: A successful conversation with a specified person.
- Measurable: Did I do it or not?
- Ambitious: She speaks no English and, as a child, doesn’t always understand that not everyone gets what she says, so it’s a challenge!
- Realistic: I wasn’t expecting to debate the finer points of continental philosophy with a college professor…
- Time-bound: I knew I had to get it done by Christmas.
This was a huge help. I focused on language that would allow me to have that conversation—school, family, toys—and I practiced it whenever I could. The result: success!
Step 4: Use Learning Material You Care About
Our experts note that you need to practice your target language with material that matters to you.
You might consider videos and music to help with your listening. You can use YouTube to find all sorts of different videos. While I was learning Spanish, I picked up a great deal from the rap group Calle 13. Finding music you love in your target language is a fantastic thing to do, as you can listen to it over and over, understanding a little more each time.
For a resource that combines relevant, entertaining material with active learning, check out FluentU. This innovative tool transforms authentic target language videos, like movie trailers, new clips and funny commercials, into a language learning experience.
Nowadays you can find news sites online in any language, and these are really useful for your reading skills. The language tends to be very functional and informative (whereas literary works are often a little challenging in the early stages) and it’s relevant to a wide range of language learners since it gives you up-to-date vocabulary that native speakers are using in their day-to-day lives.
Each video comes with clickable captions you can use to explore the meaning and context of any word that’s unfamiliar to you. The videos are updated regularly so you’re sure to find topical, authentic material that native speakers watch themselves. Then, FluentU’s “Learn Mode” creates flashcards and exercises that’ll ensure you actually learned from the video you watched.
In other words, it’s comprehension practice that aligns exactly with what the experts say: to learn a language fast, you need to use relevant, engaging materials.
Step 5: Look Up the Grammar
You can practice all you like, but you still have to understand the grammar, right? Well, yes. But grammar study doesn’t have to be the repetitive trawling through books and verb tables that it was in school—this can be the thing that really hampers your attempts to get fluent fast.
If you notice a certain grammatical form when people are speaking to you, look it up! It’ll elucidate the reasoning and allow you to incorporate it into your speaking (back to step one!), which is far better than studying grammar in isolation.
Makes sense, right? Drilling dry grammar rules out of a textbook will only get you so far. For most people, that’s so boring as to kill your drive to learn. But even for people who thrive on book learning, if you’re not seeing and using grammar rules in context, they’ll have very little impacton your actual, measurable language development.
All of this ties into the core principles we’ve been discussing. Make all of your learning relevant and comprehensible, and you’ll hit your target in no time.
Step 6: Keep It Enjoyable
The final step is to go back to one of Ferriss’ principles: adherence. Learning a language should be a challenge but not a chore. If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you’ll agree that one of the great joys in life is to be able to communicate in a new language, and ultimately speaking is far more important than passing an exam.
So make sure you have fun in your language studies to keep that motivation up for all six months of your study plan. If you’re not sure how to do this, here are a couple of ideas that have worked for me:
- Make it competitive. I’m an incredibly competitive person, so for me, adding elements of a game can make it extra rewarding to learn a language. This could be with another person: although this shouldn’t be about one-upmanship, finding a friend who wants to learn and testing yourself against each other can be a big help.
- Write a song. Use some of the vocabulary you have learned to create ditties or translate your favorite song into your new language.
- Use humor. Ask your language partner to tell you some jokes. Once you start understanding foreign-language jokes, you really know you’re getting proficient…
- Eat! Food is obviously the best thing about any new culture, so find some recipes in your target language you can try out and cook for your friends.