Maybe you're about to pack your bags for an impulsive trip away?
Or, perhaps you're desperate to add a new skill to your CV?
You may be dreaming about mingling with the locals at a cafe in Spain, or being able to apply for a new job in France?
Whatever your reason is for wanting to learn a new language as quickly and as efficiently as possible, we've got a few tricks up our sleeve to help you out.
Do You Need to be Fluent in a Language?
You may be dreaming of being completely fluent (i.e. native-level) in a language, for the sounds to smoothly roll off your tongue with no need to even stop for a breath.
Just hang on a minute there.
This kind of fluency in a second language is an incredibly advanced stage of learning and isn't actually necessary for the vast majority of tasks that you need to do in everyday life.
Being fluent does give you a greater understanding of specific literature and niche expressions, but it may be more helpful to focus on technical language that is specific to your needs, e.g. medical vocabulary if you’re going to train as a nurse.
That being said, in the short-term, basic communication skills are more important and can be learned in weeks and mastered in just a few months, if you're willing to put the work in.
What is the Fastest Way to Learn a Language?
The fastest way to learn a language is to start speaking straight away, and integrating the language into your life as early as possible in the process. This way you quickly build conversational ability.
You might be thinking: why is this so important when there are so many textbooks and other resources out there promising to get you fluent?
Well, speaking, especially with a native, is proven to boost your practical communication better than grammar exercises.
Focusing on speaking and listening makes fluency in a short time much more realistic.
Psst. We've got some cleverly designed Bite Size Courses that will help you to improve your speaking and listening skills in a variety of languages like German, Spanish and Russian.
Textbook learning can never do this in the same way as they help more with skills such as grammar and reading. Therefore, whilst they do have their place, it's better to use them as an additional tool to speaking practice.
Listen to Native Speakers
Whether it be on TV, over the radio, via Youtube or through a conversation with a native speaker, listening to a language is highly beneficial to speed up the learning process.
If you're looking for something online, start with kids television programs as the characters generally speak much slower and use more basic language.
You'll be surprised at how much you subliminally pick up from simply listening to natives speak.
Practise Makes Perfect
There are many creative and engaging ways for you to improve your speaking, but the most important thing to remember is that once you've chosen your preferred method, you need to keep it up regularly.
It's believed that learning a language should be done often and in short bursts, ideally about 30 minutes every day. This will help you to rapidly improve in a short period of time.
Now, what can you do for these daily learning bursts? Look no further than the following ideas.
Download an App
Speaking with natives is undoubtedly going to help but let’s give you some ideas that you can get going with straight away.
Firstly, language exchange apps give you the opportunity to start speaking from the very beginning with a native speaker from anywhere in the world.
Also, you have the option of building up your skills with the same teacher or never seeing that person again if they’re not your cup of tea! Often, these apps can even match you to someone with similar interests too, so it will feel much more like chatting to a friend than a full-on class!
Speak, Listen and Imitate
Now, let’s think about more benefits of having a conversation with native speakers!
Speaking with various people, either on an app or in person, will build up your skills as it allows you to be exposed to different accents and vocabulary.
Similarly, listening is very important so that you can hear different accents and practise the intonations. If you just say the words in your head then they may come out your mouth sounding completely wrong.
Speaking with a native will expose you to slang and other informal expressions that textbooks won’t teach you either.
Corrections are Crucial
Of course, it's important to have constructive feedback to help you improve.
Think of the phrase ‘practise makes perfect’. You can practise as much as you want, but without any corrections, you may be making crucial mistakes without realising.
Learning a language quickly does not mean learning it perfectly by any means, but a few natural corrections within a flowing conversation will ensure that you sound much more like a native!
Similarly, the more you listen to and mimic native speakers, the less chance you have of making any big mistakes.
One word of caution though: don't focus too much on mistakes at the beginning as this can hinder your confidence in speaking; you can focus more on the nitty-gritty of grammatical nuances later.
Read Out Loud
If you're an absolute beginner to a language but still wish to learn quickly, let’s add an extra step before you speak with natives – read aloud and say new words and phrases so you get a feel for them.
Starting slowly will help you to build up your confidence, and ease you into the new language before you converse with a native speaker.
A good idea to critique yourself a little is to record yourself, on your phone perhaps. Then you can listen back to see what you really sound like and hear your accent and pronunciation.
Walk and Talk
Another way to practise speaking and become more used to speaking in a natural way is to say things about the present moment.
One example is looking around and saying what you can see in the house or while you're out on a walk (maybe somewhere where no-one can hear you if that will help!).
It's a great way to practise vocabulary, in particular, and to realise just how much you now know.
This also gives you the first stepping stones into forming your own sentences, simple sentences at first.
Writing down new vocabulary will only get you so far, you need to be using it in order to learn a language faster!
There is also minimum effort required to do this, no need to find another human or anything – just start speaking and you will see instant results!
It's understandable why the fear may set in when we talk about speaking straight away! It’s a little risky and, of course, you will make mistakes. If these mistakes are corrected in a conversation, you are less likely to make them again as they will stick in your mind.
Sarcastic comments, deep emotions and technical vocabulary are all things that may shape your individual personality in your own language but are much more difficult to convey in another language.
Therefore, it can be unfamiliar to hear yourself using simpler language and talk in such a ‘basic’ way. However, the important thing overall is to communicate and be understood – personality, embarrassment and complex grammar aside!
Do What You Enjoy
Another way to learn a language fast involves doing what you already enjoy in your own language. If you like reading, immerse yourself in easy content such as reading children’s books or, if you already have a good reading level, choose a genre you like and read a foreign book in that genre.
It is a common mistake for a student to pick the first book they see and start reading it, when in fact it is a historical novel and they would never read such a thing in their own language.
If you don’t enjoy it in your native language, don’t think that you will enjoy it in a foreign language when you have to concentrate even more to grasp what is happening!
Set Your Own Goals
When you follow this advice to start speaking and be active in your learning, make sure that you set your own goals.
These can be as big or small as you want in any way you want, and remember, small wins will motivate you to keep going!
Some examples of goals are to write a list of 10 things you want to achieve by the start of the next month. That way, when the going gets tough (and it will!) you have the goals to bring back your focus on why you are learning a new language and why you want to learn it as quickly as possible.