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How to Hack Language Learning

How to Hack Language Learning
    Photo credit: Lorna87 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    There are no two ways about it: learning a foreign language is a lot of work.

    There is grammar to master, vocabulary words to memorize, and the culture behind the language that adds context. That’s a tall order. For that reason, so few people actually learn a foreign language. It’s demanding — and lots of people speak English anyway, so it falls off the radar. However, the payoff is huge.

    Speaking another person’s language creates a bond, and it demonstrates a respect and interest that is compelling. It also sets you apart, especially if you are American.

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    So, if you have made the decision to learn another language, I am going to offer you three major hacks to speed up your progress. As someone with a PhD in Linguistics and varying degrees of fluency in Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, French and Spanish, I know a thing or two about this stuff. And these are real, field-tested hacks, not academic theory.

    The Ultimate Sacrifice

    The first hack is a big one, and it will only work for some people. The single best way to learn a foreign language is to find a girlfriend/boyfriend who speaks that language, whose English is pretty minimal.

    Why?

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    You want to communicate with your beloved — perhaps their family — and you spend a lot of time together. I have seen this work many times. Among my fellow language students, we would jokingly call this “the ultimate sacrifice.” If you are THERE, in country, as opposed to HOME, where we speak English, all the better.

    Now, if you already married or otherwise committed, I would recommend against using this hack…for fairly obvious reasons.

    The Powerful Shortcut

    Okay — that was pretty “macro” but the next one is “micro”: Learn the adverbs. Why the adverbs? Well, there are tons of nouns and verbs and adjectives. You will eventually need to know many in order to have a decent conversation, but that is a lot of work. Also, you can often figure them out from context. If the other person says something like “I like that XYZ” and is pointing at some object, you can guess that it’s an XYZ. Adverbs are different, and they can change the meaning of a sentence dramatically. Look at the following pair of sentences (adverbs are IN CAPS):

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    “John BARELY caught the train.”

    “John ALMOST caught the train.”

    Big difference in meaning, right? And it may not be obvious from context. The nice thing about adverbs, unlike nouns, verbs and adjectives, is that there are far fewer that are used commonly. If you learn 100 nouns or verbs, it’s a drop in the bucket. If you learn 100 adverbs, you have significantly increased your ability to have a meaningful conversation. Here is a link to a list of common adverbs in English. Find out how to say them in your new language and get to work!

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    Maximize Input – No Excuses

    When I was in high school in New Jersey in the 80s, studying Russian, if we wanted a real copy of a Russian newspaper, we would have to drag our butts into Brooklyn to spend a ton of cash to get  two-week old copy of Pravda. That sucked. Today, you have access to amazing new resources via the internet. Go in the internet and type in “Russian [or whatever language] radio,” and you get a whole bunch of live streaming radio from all over, some from the mother country, some from the US. Listen to it, leave it on as much as you can stand, even if you have no idea what they’re saying, you’ll be picking up the rhythm and melody.

    Getting foreign language TV is easy too; there are services similar to Netflix for many languages. There is music in your language on YouTube (trust me, there is — no matter how obscure). Look up the major newspapers in your language and pick through them, word by word. You can practice foreign language chat at sites like SharedTalk or My Language Exchange.

    Why do this? Think about how much English you heard before you ever uttered “Mama”. You probably heard tens of thousands of words. You need that sort of input to make sense of a language, and you can do it passively, just like when you were a kid.

    So, just turn on talk radio or YouTube and you are off to the races — even when you aren’t paying attention.

    Conclusion

    The three powerful strategies for learning a foreign language so you can have an advantage in today’s global economy are as follows:

    1. The boyfriend/girlfriend who speaks <Foreign Language> but not English. This is the most fun, of course, but it is limited in application, and comes with certain other risks
    2. Learn the adverbs. You will have to do this anyway, and it’s the best way to enlarge your useful vocabulary FAST
    3. Get as much exposure to your language as you can. Listen to TV and radio, read the emergency instructions in the seatback on the airplane, in order to replicate the environment when you were learning English, without concentrating so hard on it…
    Have fun — and come back fluent!

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

    The ability to take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone is the primary way by which we grow. But we are often afraid to take that first step.

    In truth, comfort zones are not really about comfort, they are about fear. Break the chains of fear to get outside. Once you do, you will learn to enjoy the process of taking risks and growing in the process.

    Here are 10 ways to help you step out of your comfort zone and get closer to success:

    1. Become aware of what’s outside of your comfort zone

    What are the things that you believe are worth doing but are afraid of doing yourself because of the potential for disappointment or failure?

    Draw a circle and write those things down outside the circle. This process will not only allow you to clearly identify your discomforts, but your comforts. Write identified comforts inside the circle.

    2. Become clear about what you are aiming to overcome

    Take the list of discomforts and go deeper. Remember, the primary emotion you are trying to overcome is fear.

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    How does this fear apply uniquely to each situation? Be very specific.

    Are you afraid of walking up to people and introducing yourself in social situations? Why? Is it because you are insecure about the sound of your voice? Are you insecure about your looks?

    Or, are you afraid of being ignored?

    3. Get comfortable with discomfort

    One way to get outside of your comfort zone is to literally expand it. Make it a goal to avoid running away from discomfort.

    Let’s stay with the theme of meeting people in social settings. If you start feeling a little panicked when talking to someone you’ve just met, try to stay with it a little longer than you normally would before retreating to comfort. If you stay long enough and practice often enough, it will start to become less uncomfortable.

    4. See failure as a teacher

    Many of us are so afraid of failure that we would rather do nothing than take a shot at our dreams.

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    Begin to treat failure as a teacher. What did you learn from the experience? How can you take that lesson to your next adventure to increase your chance of success?

    Many highly successful people failed plenty of times before they succeeded. Here’re some examples:

    10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

    5. Take baby steps

    Don’t try to jump outside your comfort zone, you will likely become overwhelmed and jump right back in.

    Take small steps toward the fear you are trying to overcome. If you want to do public speaking, start by taking every opportunity to speak to small groups of people. You can even practice with family and friends.

    Take a look at this article on how you can start taking baby steps:

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    The Number One Secret to Life Success: Baby Steps

    6. Hang out with risk takers

    There is no substitute for this step. If you want to become better at something, you must start hanging out with the people who are doing what you want to do and start emulating them. (Here’re 8 Reasons Why Risk Takers Are More Likely To Be Successful).

    Almost inevitably, their influence will start have an effect on your behavior.

    7. Be honest with yourself when you are trying to make excuses

    Don’t say “Oh, I just don’t have the time for this right now.” Instead, be honest and say “I am afraid to do this.”

    Don’t make excuses, just be honest. You will be in a better place to confront what is truly bothering you and increase your chance of moving forward.

    8. Identify how stepping out will benefit you

    What will the ability to engage in public speaking do for your personal and professional growth? Keep these potential benefits in mind as motivations to push through fear.

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    9. Don’t take yourself too seriously

    Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Risk taking will inevitably involve failure and setbacks that will sometimes make you look foolish to others. Be happy to roll with the punches when others poke fun.

    If you aren’t convinced yet, check out these 6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously.

    10. Focus on the fun

    Enjoy the process of stepping outside your safe boundaries. Enjoy the fun of discovering things about yourself that you may not have been aware of previously.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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