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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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    Dave Kaiser

    An Executive Coach who helps people make better use of their time, from productivity to living their life's mission.

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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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