When I was in school, I studied 3 different languages to the point where I could hold conversations in 2 of them. I’ll be honest, I just never got French.
When I left school, I had no reason to use those languages. My language skills degraded until I could only remember how to introduce myself, and how to order a beer. This served me well on my travels, for a while.
The turning point came when my rental car broke down in the wild countryside of the Greek Peloponnese. After an age of miming, pointing, and eventually sketching rough maps, I made it back to the hotel.
That night, I used “μια μπύρα παρακαλώ” (a beer please) several times, and amidst the frustration vowed to dust off my linguistic skills.
If you’ve also decided to improve your language skills, you’ll want some advice. Well, look no further!
I’ve gathered together 30 of the best tips from language experts and polyglots to help you learn your next language as quickly and easily as possible.
Why Are Languages So Hard?
We’re always told that learning a language as a kid is much easier than learning as an adult. And while this is mostly true, it doesn’t have to stop you from learning a new language.
The major difference between a child’s brain and an adult’s brain is the amount of information we can absorb. Children are sponges.
If you have your own children, you’ll probably remember their first curse word. You probably said it once in a moment of frustration, but their spongey little brains sucked it up and spat it back out.
That’s just how their brains work. Children’s brains are designed to learn new things, especially languages.
The brain goes through periods of reorganization in childhood when new skills become hard-wired in our neural networks.
At six months old, for example, the brain stops trying to recognize words that aren’t our native tongue. This helps us filter out background noise and babble.
Children go through these reorganization periods up to their late teens. However, the prime window for learning grammar is from preschool up to the age of about 6. Luckily, the vocabulary window never fully closes.
As adults, we can’t change the way our brains work. We can’t will our brains into being more absorbent. But we can combat some of the other barriers that stop us from learning a new language.
This is the biggest obstacle to language learning. We all have incredibly busy lives, and language learning can easily get pushed to the side.
Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to get us to learn. For me, it was being stranded in rural Greece. For others, it’s a desire to travel or a multilingual partner.
If you want to make a success of your language learning, you need to find your motivation. If you don’t have intrinsic motivation, look for ways to give yourself external motivation.
Some languages are fairly similar to one another. Spanish and Italian, for example, share similar sounds and pronunciations.
This is because they are from the same linguistic branch. They have a common root language, Latin.
If you want to dive a bit deeper into how languages are related, this video is great. It explores how people figured out the relationships between languages.
Learning a language that’s similar to your native tongue can make the process a lot easier. In contrast, when you jump to a different linguistic branch, things can get tricky.
It’s difficult to wrap your head (and your tongue) around the different pronunciations.
You’ll stare at a word, and your instinct will be to form the letters as you always have. In a way, learning a new language is as much about breaking habits as it is about forming them.
Fear is one of the biggest reasons why learning a language as an adult is much harder than learning as a child.
Children aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They don’t get hung up on grammatical errors or slips of the tongue.
They just use what they know. Learning a new language can be hard if you’re shy.
That’s because you’ll need to talk to natives, make mistakes, and learn from them. As a general rule, adults need to be better at trying and failing.
Somewhere along the way, we lose some of our resilience. We start to care more about how people perceive us than improving a skill or talent.
If you’re serious about learning a language, you’ll need to build up some of that lost resilience. You’ll need to make mistakes and learn from them instead of being knocked back by them.
Sprint or Marathon?
Learning is always going to be a marathon. It doesn’t matter whether you’re learning a language, an instrument, calculus, or history. You need consistent effort to learn things long term.
Cramming does work in that it can help you scrape through a test or exam. However, cramming overloads your brain. The information sticks around for a few hours, but that knowledge leaks out of your brain like sand in a sieve.
I promised you 30 tips that will help you learn a language quickly and easily. I did not promise an overnight transformation.
The tips in this article will help you speed up your learning. However, you need to be consistent with your studies.
Little and often is the best way to learn. 15 minutes a day is better than 2 hours once a week. By spacing your learning across the whole week, you’ll get more frequent repetition, which helps learning to stick in your memory.
30 Tips for Quick and Easy Language Learning
1. Talk It Out!
Languages are for communicating not for storing like facts in the back of your brain. One of the best ways to learn is to engage in conversations with natives or fluent speakers.
Yes, it’s going to be difficult. Yes, you are going to make mistakes. But that’s ok. An hour of conversation is 5x better than an hour in the classroom and 10x better than self-study.
2. Start With Phrases You’ll Use Frequently.
If you pick up a language book, it may start with phrases like ‘may I have a coffee?’ or ‘where is the train station?’
They choose those phrases because they think they’ll be useful for travelers. (This is how I learned to ask for a beer in dozens of languages.)
However, The phrases in your textbook are probably not the most common phrases you’ll use in real life.
Think about the things you like to talk about, and what you say most often. Use those as a starting point for your learning. Conversation starters like these are also a good place to begin.
3. Find Your Motivation.
It’s difficult to do something with no solid goal. Make it easier by giving yourself a reason. Book a flight if you’ve got the money. If not, have a serious think about why you want to learn another language.
Ask yourself questions like ‘why do I want to learn Chinese?’ ‘How will learning Spanish improve my life?’
Write down your answers and create a mantra. ‘Learning Spanish will help me talk to my patients,’ or ‘learning Chinese will help me communicate with my colleagues.’
On days when you don’t feel like practicing, repeat your mantra. Stick it above your desk if that helps. If you need some additional motivation, check out this article about the benefits of learning a language.
4. Immerse Yourself In The Language As Soon As Possible.
I had a language teacher in school who moved into the Welsh-speaking dorms at university.
He didn’t speak Welsh at the time, but within a month he was getting by.
By winter break he barely used English anymore.
Moving to the Welsh dorms forced him to immerse himself in the language.
If he wanted to speak to anyone, he had to use Welsh. Being around the language every day helped him learn. For sure, it was a drastic move. Some people go even further by moving countries.
That’s not feasible for everyone, but you can still immerse yourself in another language. Listen to the radio, watch tv, and read in your chosen language. You will struggle at first, but little by little you’ll begin to understand.
Listening to the radio or watching TV in the language you’re learning can help your listening skills. This is often the hardest skill to master if you’re a solo learner.
For a more comprehensive explanation of immersion and how to create an immersion bubble, check out this video.
5. Make Mistakes.
Never let fear stop you from using your language. If you’re holding out for complete mastery before you start speaking the language, you’ll wait a lifetime.
No one likes to look foolish. But if you’re talking to a native speaker in their language, they’re generally happy to help. And most people prefer to be spoken to in their native tongue, even if you are butchering a little bit.
Be brave, take risks, and trust others to help you learn from any mistakes you make.