BY: JONATHAN MOSS
You just booked the trip of a lifetime, and now you’re wondering how you can become fluent in a foreign language in only a few months? With so little time, the question then becomes how do we speed up the learning process without forgetting what has been absorbed?
The answer can be found in Psychological research, which states that emotions have vast influences in the way your mind interprets and absorbs information; anger or anxiety cause suppression, so those who are upset are not likely to notice the subtleties of language. Happiness, excitement and relaxation trigger an alpha brain state, which will cultivate a sense of interest and allow you to learn much quicker.
“You need to learn to tolerate ambiguity,” says Chris Lonsdale, who became fluent in Mandarin in a mere 12 weeks. There is no possible way you will be able to understand every word in a new language you are learning, so why frustrate yourself? Instead immerse yourself in the unknown and focus on approaching each lesson rid of mental handicaps. Believe it or not you are a lot smarter than you think you are, stop underestimating your own potential.
No matter how emotionally balanced you are or how much you study grammar, if you choose the wrong material, fluency will be impossible. Before choosing a new target language you should consider how similar it is in sounds and sentence structure to the one you already speak. For an English speaker choosing a Latin-based language, like Spanish, rather than a language with unrecognizable sounds like Cantonese, could be the difference between holding an expressive conversation in three months rather than 10 years.
The new language learner should ask themselves, “What will you spend time doing with this language …or what do I currently spend my time doing?” Polyglot Tim Ferris writes. Review of material will only get you so far, as with repetition comes impending boredom. Therefore to counteract this you should be using your new language as a vehicle to educate yourself on subjects you are interested in. Your language and subject choice is of pivotal importance and should carry relevance to your personal goals. For example, Tim Ferris read martial arts manuals in Japanese, creating his own personalized lesson plan where he was learning two things at once, cultivating meaning and attention, thus solidifying each new word within his memory.
Once you have chosen a target language and subject of interest, Ferris recommends you ask yourself if this method of learning will allow precise recognition and recollection with the fewest number of repetitions. There are three elements to consider: The priority, interest level, and efficiency of your chosen method.
After you have done this, create measurable, attainable, and relevant goals, giving yourself a time limit of only a few months to reach them. If you do not reach your goals then it is most likely a fault in material choice rather than method.
Now that you have a framework to approach learning with, here are the seven secrets that will allow you to become fluent in any language in three months:
According to Irish polyglot Benny Lewis the first 1,000 words of any language make up 90 per cent of verbal communication in any language. Just knowing 10 verbs, 10 nouns and 10 adjectives creates 1,000 different phrases, so by focusing on the core 1,000 spoken, and then written words of a language from the beginning you will have built a foundation for fluent conversation. For the initial one to three weeks of study you should be focusing on memorizing the most common written words.
2. Deconstruct the language
Ferris recommends that before you waste hours upon hours learning a language you should deconstruct it by translating these six English sentences: These few sentences help you understand gender and numerical conjugations, fundamental sentence structure, and whether the verb or object comes first:
- The apple is red.
- It is John’s apple.
- I give John the apple.
- We give him the apple.
- He gives it to John.
- She gives it to him.
3. Interact in your language daily without leaving your bedroom via virtual immersion
There is a common misconception that you must travel to the country to fully understand the language, but “a drowning man does not learn to swim” says Lonsdale. He believes that immersing one’s brain in the rhythm, repeating patterns, and culture through a focus on speaking is what truly matters, and that the same experience can be pulled from websites like TuneIn.com, Italki.com, or even a Skype conversation with a native speaker. You want to find a person who will treat you as an equal, that will work hard to understand what you are saying, respond with words you understand, and provide a safe learning atmosphere. You should speak at least an hour a day, speaking on varied topics to ensure you are progressing forward.
Lewis says that the focus here is to listen intently to the ups and downs and stress that is put on each word. Visualize the direction and rhythm of a sentence. In other words, “hear how it feels and feel how it sounds.”
4. Learn words in the new language that you recognize and mean the same thing in your native language
Languages borrow English words and integrate them into a new language with altered pronunciation, according to Lewis. “Action, nation, precipitation, solution, frustration, tradition, communication, extinction, and thousands of other ‘-tion’ words are spelled exactly the same in French, and you can quickly get used to the different pronunciation. Change that ‘-tion’ to a ‘-ción’ and you have the same words in Spanish. Italian is ‘-zione’ and Portuguese is ‘–ção’”
5. First understand the message, then you will unconsciously acquire the language
Despite what most think, language is far from memorization, it is communication. Paying attention to body language and facial expression will allow you to get the gist of what someone means, and this information is of utter importance if you intend to begin speaking the language as quickly as possible. Grammar and punctuation will be picked up easily if meaning is already understood.
6. Directly connect smells, sounds, images, and feelings to new words instead of simply memorizing things in relation to your mother tongue.
When you talk about camping in a new language you should smell the evergreens, feel the rush of wind on your back, and hear the strumming of a beaten up acoustic guitar. You can use the imagery from memories to create another mental pathway.
Don’t just repeat; associate each word with emotion by telling yourself a funny or tragic story to associate with a particular word. Language is creative. Start mixing.
7. Accept that you will make mistakes, and emphasize communication rather than perfection.
Lewis believes that you should go out of your way to make as many mistakes as possible, he purposely makes at least 200 mistakes a day, that way he knows he is honestly using and practicing the language. Language isn’t only mental, it is physical, and speaking requires muscle, so naturally your tongue will flub a few words up before you get the hang of it. Whatever you do, just start using your language as much as possible.