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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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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

    More Tips Improving Listening Skills

    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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