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7 Ways To Learn a Foreign Language Faster (That Are Backed by Science)

7 Ways To Learn a Foreign Language Faster (That Are Backed by Science)

I was raised bilingual and started learning a third language when I was about three years old, which means I am really fluent in three languages as an adult. When I was a kid, learning and remembering new words, grammar rules, and exceptions seemed as easy as a pie. I was always among the best in my language classes.

When I decided to move abroad to France and needed to master another foreign language, I thought it would be as easy as in my school days. I’d quickly pick up the new words and reach a decent fluency level in a month or two naturally. How wrong I was!

Learning a new language as an adult proved to be rather challenging. Learning grammar was tough, and remembering the correct pronunciation was even worse!

Here are some of the tips and hacks I’ve gathered along the way both from my language school and independent studies. I hope that they will help you as well!

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1. Focus On Remembering And Learning The Sounds First

Learning a new language when you were a kid seemed much easier, right? Well, there’s an explanation for that. Babies have a remarkable ability to distinguish all sounds in all languages and remember them fast. That’s how we become experts in our native language. Yet, as we grow older, we lose this amazing ability to remember and distinguish sounds. For example, adult Japanese students find it challenging to distinguish “L” and “R” sounds in the English language.

So, is there a way to regain that ability to memorize sounds and foreign words? Science says yes. First of all, focus on repeating and practicing the difficult foreign sounds first, rather than mastering the grammar and vocabulary. Invest more time in listening to the language and repeating the phrases and sounds as they are spoken. If you have a chance to get immediate feedback on your speaking (for example, with a language learning software like Rosetta Stone or Gritty Spanish), that’s another massive booster for your performance. Additionally, studies prove that you should listen and learn to comprehend different accents and voices if you’d like to master a language faster. Listening to a vast array of speakers will train your brain and help you transfer that knowledge to the real world in a more reliable way.

2. Use The “Spaced Repetition” Technique

Spaced repetition is an oldie but a goodie when it comes to language-learning tricks. It helps you memorize new words better. To practice it, you have to review each word and phrase you’ve learned within certain spaced intervals. At first, those should be shorter — you may need to review a new word or phrase a few times during one practice session, and afterwards on the next day. Once it gets stuck in your mind well, you’ll be able to leave days or even weeks between revising without forgetting what you’ve learned.

Here’s a diagram illustrating this process:

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    3. Try The “Pinch Yourself” Hack

    This technique was introduced by Maneesh Sethi, a frequent traveler who mastered four foreign languages as an adult. His approach was based on the fact that negative stimuli massively boost self-improvement.

    According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Sciences at New York University, it was discovered that your body’s threat response improves memory. In their tests, this meant light electric shocks given for incorrect responses.

    How you can use this for language learning?

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    • Get a set of flashcards for memorizing vocabulary or grammar.
    • Master the hard pinch (it should be quite hard) to activate your body’s threat response.
    • Review a category of flash cards (such as adjectives or group of words). Don’t pinch yourself at this stage.
    • Review the same category, now adding the pinch for each vocabulary word. Spend some time studying the card before moving to the next one.
    • During the next study sessions, pinch yourself only on forgotten vocabulary. Your goal is to focus your increased memory retention on the words you have trouble remembering. Again, spend a moment on each card before moving on to the next.

    4. Schedule Learning Sessions Before Bedtime

    One of the huge benefits of sleep is that it allows us to clean our active operating memory, thus boosting our learning capacity. Studying before bed time or getting a nap after your practice session will move all the information you’ve just learned into your brain’s long-term memory storage.

    Once the information gets there, it’s safely stored for a longer period and the spaced repetition technique will help you improve the connection between short-term and long-term memory, meaning you’ll be able to remember everything faster and more accurately.

    5. Study The Content, Not The Language

    According to the results of a study published in the Cambridge Journal, it was discovered that students who studied another subject in French, rather than attending a general language class, performed better in listening tests and were more motivated to learn. However, students in the standard class performed better on reading and writing tests, meaning that both approaches clearly have merit.

    To boost your language learning, try including some content on the topics you are interested in to improve your understanding. Read articles online, watch videos, or listen to podcasts to accelerate your progress.

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    6. Mix Old And New Words

    Our brain always wants novelty, but attempting to learn a lot of new words at once can be overwhelming. Thus, to remember new concepts, you should mix them with familiar “old” information.

    For example, you can attempt reading a children’s book you know in a foreign language. The language is simple enough and knowing the story helps you guess the meaning of new words without using the dictionary (mixing novelty and old information). Besides, children’s books are more fun to read in another language!

    7. Study In Sprints

    Finding time to study a new language can be challenging. If you are busy, you may be tempted to put off your studies and cram a significant chunk of knowledge inside your head every other week. Yet, studying in short sprints every day is much more effective.

    As our brain has limited “inbox” space, which gets cleared out while we sleep, you will hit your study limit rather quickly if you opt to study for hours at a time.

    Studying in small sprints every day and using spaced repetition will give you the best results. Happy language learning!

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    Elena Prokopets

    Freelance Writer

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    Last Updated on February 18, 2019

    13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with It and Enjoy the Ride

    13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with It and Enjoy the Ride

    Fear. I spend my life talking about fear — fighting fears, fixing fears and understanding fears. And yet I doubt I get 10 calls a year from people saying “Mandie can you help me fix my fear?”

    Why is this so critically important to you?

    The realization for me is that fear is not the fundamental driving force in your life it’s what regardless of whether I’m talking to a doctor, a teacher, a CEO’s, a senior citizens or teenager – every single one of those conversations has a direct correlation with your world.

    Fear can range from the overwhelming desire to look away or stop in your tracks to literally fleeing your country and the life you knew. In this article, I will share you with 13 tips to face your fears and enjoy the ride.

    1. Know That Fear Is Real, but Can Be Overcome

    Right now around the world people are facing fear — real fear. Fear that I pray my children and I will never experience. Does that lessen my fears or your fears in your relativity safe 21st century life?

    When I look at the world we all live in, I find that fear like so many other emotions can mean so many different things to so many different people:

    • The child who has to be physically dragged to their first day of school.
    • The man facing the judge.
    • The woman with her hand poised over the buttons over her phone because she has to walk down a dark corridor late at night alone.
    • The man as the surgeon says “count backwards from 10 Mr Smith.”
    • The woman that’s told “We are sorry, we can’t help you.”
    • The man that faces the empty circle of a gun and prays for his very existence.

    These and a million more (Portrayed in every kind of movie, book or song you could imagine) are what make us human. We face fear and somehow move forward or are stopped in our tracks.

    Like the rabbit in the headlights of the car that veers off through the field away from the tyres of the car or stays still praying for salvation. Like someone will save them. Sound familiar?

    Fear is huge. Fear is everywhere and yet fear can be overcome, controlled and can even be a power for good.

    2. Accept Your Fear

    Firstly if you aren’t facing the barrel of the gun, atrocities that make the news or impeding death, that’s a good start. However it doesn’t mean your fear is any less real.

    We are quick to say “I can’t moan, my life is not as bad as X.” While in theory, that’s honorable your appreciation of Mr. or Mrs. X’s horrific life won’t change anything directly. So accept your fear is relative to you.

    And here’s what can be done.

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    3. Get Some Perspective

    I found myself asking anyone that would answer “what is your worst fear”. The answer that intrigued me the most came from my daughter (15 years old and she usually has a copy of Fight the Fear – my book – in her school bag so she can help someone else be as positive and confident as her. No matter what life throws up.)

    And her fear, surprised me — heights. I pointed out that we live in a sprawling bungalow (one storey) and the highest she goes is two storeys’ at school! She laughed but added, fear isn’t like that Mum. I know it’s not a real fear, but it’s like when you stand on a chair and feel unsafe.

    That girl will go far. Because she truly gets fear.

    We know something is scary and yet we still do it. Why? Because we have a perspective to the fear. When you lose perspective, it can feel too big, and too scary.

    So look around you to get some perspective on your fear:

    • Are you really at risk?
    • Will this kill you?
    • Which leads us on to..
    • If the worse was to happen what would it be?

    4. Hold a Hand

    As a coach, it is my job to holds someone’s metaphorical hand and help them face a fear.

    Like the child petrified of the thunder storm or the teen that can’t get back in a car again after failing their test, your job as a parent is to reassure, encourage, enable and motivate someone to face something that ideally they never would choose to again.

    We know many of our fears aren’t real. However, it is only when someone guides us with love, respect, lack of judgement and safety are we able to get through fear. And trust me, you can get through your fears. I’ve seen it so many times.

    Ask yourself:

    • If the worse were to happen, what would that be?
    • Could that really happen?
    • If the worse did happen, how would you recover?
    • If the worse were to happen, what would you need to do next?

    By seeing fear as not the end destination but part of being human, you can see through it’s wily evil ways and move forward.

    5. Know Whose Hand You Hold Either Physically or Emotionally

    This helps with fears for the rest of your life.

    Think of someone you can always rely on (and ideally you won’t just answer yourself because that adds a lot of pressure to your existence!) And you will find that you’ve already found a way to get through fear.

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    The beauty of this is that it means that fear becomes part of life not something to be feared and shied away from.

    It means you know you can turn to your friend, partner, colleague, parent, sibling and say “Right I need to deal with this, and I’m going to need you to help me.”

    For one moment, think about it from the other person’s view point. When we get to help other people we feel valued, loved, respected and lots of other positive emotions and we get a good dose of positive chemicals setting off in our bodies too.

    Your fear, and your determination to fight it, helped someone else too. Now that’s cool right?

    6. Understand That There Are Some Things Fear Will Never Touch

    I like to find role models in life — people who have faced heroism, history changing moments, war, atrocities, miracles, life saving inventions.

    Not everyone was looking for greatness, however they all found it. And one of my favourite books to date is written about Alistair Urquhart, the forgotten highlander. If this doesn’t get turned into a film in the future, then no man’s story is likely to.

    Alistair went through the most horrific experiences in the 2nd world war. If you think of one of the awful things that happened back then in our world, Alistair went through at least 3 of them! Asked afterwards how did you cope? He talked about how whatever they did to his body, no matter how they starved, tortured, threatened or mocked him, they couldn’t have his mind. In his mind he was free.

    Of all the people’s voices I’ve heard in my head over the years, this is one of those statements that reminds me anything is possible if you have faith and hope.

    Look for the things in life that fear can’t touch. They will create confidence and faith for the future, whatever you face. And they will give you a sense of why being you is awesome.

    Of all the billions of people on this planet, no one will have an answer identical to yours!

    7. Process Your Fears to Carry on with Life

    Being brave is not about sticking your chest out and smiling regardless of what hell you endure. It is about finding a way to emotionally process your fears to be able to keep going.

    I have a tool kit of things I can rely on – tools, strategies, techniques. They include people to hug or talk to, music. hobbies, walks on the beach and even my favourite food. It sounds mad but at the times where I have questioned “how will I get through this?” I’ve found immense joy in doing the most unlikely of thing that makes me smile.

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    It may be a short lived moment of happiness. However, it reminded that nothing stays the same and I can find away.

    One client told me that it was crazy when it felt like their world was falling around their ears to run a bath to the brim (you don’t waste water) get the best bath oils, light too many candles, lock the door and drink a glass of bubbly (champagne is only for special occasions.)

    Did that moment fix the disaster that my clients life felt? No, however it gave them a moment of calm and the brain is far quicker to find solutions, resolve and motivation to keep going when you do that.

    It may feel like madness to do something you love, however it can be a powerful way to help you find solutions to the fears you face in life.

    8. Assume the Worse

    If you read the statement from the client above. Notice how they assumed it was wrong to fill the bath up to the top? How bubbly is only for special occasions?

    Think how naughty they felt to be doing something that was not allowed?

    • Think about what age it may have made them feel?
    • Think about how they feel about champagne?
    • What special moments it’s been a part of in their lives?

    And you can see how the assumptions they made about their “right” to have these things was not healthy.

    When I drag the assumptions out of people’s words for them to see, they are often struck by how negative the words make them feel.

    Don’t assume your words aren’t impacting on you. You can go through fear and actually enjoy the ride when you take the time to understand how you are letting words get to you.

    9. Take a Fear That Feels Insurmountable Right Now.

    If you were to repeat it to me out loud, what would you say?

    Would you have blame on yourself in there? Would you assume others can do it and it’s just you? Would you feel small, unsuccessful, useless, unworthy?

    Usually, when you do this exercise, you are able to spot the untruths that run wild in your head convincing you that you are doomed. And rarely when we are faced with our assumptions is there is a lot of evidence to them.

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    10. You Are Not Defined by Your Fear

    One fear does not define your life – be mindful of that. It is likely to lead you to thinking of all the times you’ve succeeded and bring a moment of calm, confidence and faith back to you.

    11. Go with Fear

    When you learn to go with fear, you could find yourself actually having fun, no seriously – having fun.

    I have a few amazing clients I’m working with right now who would describe themselves as life long worriers, or pessimists. In the past that has served them well, enabling them to keep safe, steer clear of risks and even develop strategies in the event of disasters. However, now they find it’s becoming hard to break the cycle and they really want to because it’s holding them back.

    Notice how they’ve found their hidden fears and want to face them?

    One client said “I knew this was going to be tough, and I knew I couldn’t fight it alone and I knew you would be the one to help me.” Before I sat an incredibly successful, confident, capable business owner with a family and a social life to die for.

    However, I’ve learned that the most successful looking lives can hide things that impact on life, success, love, happiness and business.

    We didn’t start with the fear that they felt was holding them back, we broke the fear down, and found lots of little obstacles that had been deemed as “life” and “unchangeable” and “that’s just the way it is” by developing awareness to the little steps on the road to their obstacles to happiness and success they were able to tackle them in a different way.

    12. Discover Great Skills in Your Scary Moments

    And in that clients words “I came here to work with you to grow my company, and my own personal skills. I didn’t expect to get the children to be cleaning up after themselves and my partner being more attentive! It all feels a little magic.”

    The moral is that out of the scariest of moments, we can find great skills we didn’t know we had. Find better, healthier, happier ways to live and find ways to enjoy life more. (And have a bit of magic!)

    What a great place to be in ready for the next fear that thinks it’s going to get in the way of you, right?

    13. Own Your Fear

    Think back over these tips and come up with at least one example for each one. Write them down. Put them on your phone. Turn them into a piece of art. Turn them into a poem. Frame them. Go for a fast walk across the fields, beach, down town and repeat these things in your head to the sound of your feet on the ground.

    We rarely take the time to appreciate how far we have come, how much we can achieve or what we are capable of – by really owning the tips in this article you will have given your brain a big fat dose of “Damn right I can do this!” and the motivation and accountability to say “Let’s find a way” through any fear.

    You can’t help but feel good when you see that can you? And fear doesn’t stand a chance, does it?

    More Resources About Fighting Fear

    Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

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