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Last Updated on November 25, 2019

7 Ways To Learn a New Language Faster (Backed by Science)

7 Ways To Learn a New Language Faster (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.[1] Learning grammar was tough, and remembering the correct pronunciation was even worse!

Here are some of the best ways to learn a new language that I’ve gathered along the way both from my language school and independent studies. I hope that they will help you as well!

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.[2] 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.

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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.[3] 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.

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Here’s a diagram illustrating this process:

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    Learn more about spaced repetition in this article: How to Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You’ve Learned

    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,[4] 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.[5] 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. 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, 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.[6] 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.

    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.[7]

    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!

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    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!

    More About Language Learning

    Featured photo credit: Start Digital via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    Elena Prokopets

    Elena is a passionate blogger who shares about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on July 3, 2020

    30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

    30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

    In today’s world, true peace must come from within us and our own actions. Here are 30 small things you can do on a regular basis to increase your overall sense of harmony, peace, and well-being:

    1. Don’t go to every fight you’re invited to

    Particularly when you’re around those who thrive on chaos, be willing to decline the invitation to join in on the drama.

    2. Focus on your breath

    Throughout the day, stop to take a few deep breaths. Keep stress at bay with techniques such as “square breathing.” Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, then out for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Repeat this cycle four times.

    3. Get organized and purge old items

    A cluttered space often creates a cluttered spirit. Take the time to get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year and invest in organizational systems that help you sustain a level of neatness.

    4. Stop yourself from being judgmental

    Whenever you are tempted to have an opinion about someone else’s life, check your intentions. Judging others creates and promotes negative energy.

    5. Say ‘thank you’ early and often

    Start and end each day with an attitude of gratitude. Look for opportunities in your daily routine and interactions to express appreciation.

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    6. Smile more

    Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” there are many scientific benefits of smiling and laughing. Also, pay attention to your facial expression when you are doing neutral activities such as driving and walking. Turn that frown upside down!

    7. Don’t worry about the future

    As difficult as this sounds, there is a direct connection between staying in the present and living a more peaceful life. You cannot control the future. As the old proverb goes, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” Practice gently bringing your thoughts back to the present.

    8. Eat real food

    The closer the food is to the state from which it came from the earth, the better you will feel in eating it. Choose foods that grew from a plant over food that was made in a plant.

    9. Choose being happy over being right

    Too often, we sacrifice inner peace in order to make a point. It’s rarely worth it.

    10. Keep technology out of the bedroom

    Many studies, such as one conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have connected blue light of electronic devices before bed to adverse sleep and overall health. To make matters worse, many people report that they cannot resist checking email and social media when their cell phone is in reach of their bed, regardless of the time.

    11. Make use of filtering features on social media

    You may not want to “unfriend” someone completely, however you can choose whether you want to follow their posts and/or the sources of information that they share.

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    12. Get comfortable with silence

    When you picture someone who is the ultimate state of peace, typically they aren’t talking.

    13. Listen to understand, not to respond

    So often in conversations, we use our ears to give us cues about when it is our turn to say what we want to say. Practice active listening, ask questions, process, then speak.

    14. Put your troubles in a bubble

    Whenever you start to feel anxious, visualize the situation being wrapped in a bubble and then picture that sphere floating away.

    15. Speak more slowly

    Often a lack of peace manifests itself in fast or clipped speech. Take a breath, slow down, and let your thoughtful consideration drive your words.

    16. Don’t procrastinate

    Nothing adds stress to our lives like waiting until the last minute.

    17. Buy a coloring book

    Mandala coloring books for adults are becoming more popular because of their connection to creating inner peace.

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    18. Prioritize yourself

    You are the only person who you are guaranteed to live with 24 hours a day for the rest of your life.

    19. Forgive others

    Holding a grudge is hurting you exponentially more than anyone else. Let it go.

    20. Check your expectations

    Presumption often leads to drama. Remember the old saying, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

    21. Engage in active play

    Let your inner child come out and have some fun. Jump, dance, play, and pretend!

    22. Stop criticizing yourself

    The world is a hard enough place with more than enough critics. Your life is not served well by being one of them.

    23. Focus your energy and attention on what you want

    Thoughts, words, and actions all create energy. Energy attracts like energy. Put out what you want to get back.

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    24. Assign yourself “complaint free” days.

    Make a conscious decision not to complain about anything for a whole day. It might be harder than you think and the awareness will stick with you.

    25. Surround yourself with people you truly enjoy being in the company of

    Personalities tend to be contagious, and not everyone’s is worth catching. Be judicious in your choices.

    26. Manage your money

    Financial concerns rank top on the list of what causes people stress. Take the time each month to do a budget, calculate what you actually spend and sanity check that against the money you have coming in.

    27. Stop trying to control everything

    Not only is your inner control freak sabotaging your sense of peace, it is also likely getting in the way of external relationships as well.

    28. Practice affirmations

    Repeat positive phrases that depict the life and qualities you want to attract. It may not come naturally to you, but it works.

    29. Get up before sunrise

    Personally witnessing the dawn brings a unique sense of awe and appreciation for life.

    30. Be yourself

    Nothing creates more inner discord than trying to be something other than who we really are. Authenticity breeds happiness.

    Featured photo credit: man watching sunrise via stokpic.com

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