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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 March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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