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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 December 3, 2019

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

    There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

    Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

    1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

    Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

    There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

    Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

    2. Pace Yourself

    Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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    Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

    Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

    3. You Can’t Please Everyone

    “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

    You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

    Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

    4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

    Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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    We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

    Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

    5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

    “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

    No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

    We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

    6. It’s Not All About You

    You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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    It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

    7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

    No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

    We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

    Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

    8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

    That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

    Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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    Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

    9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

    Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

    The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

    10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

    We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

    When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

    Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

    This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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    Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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