The Ultimate Guide: How To Learn A Language Fast In 2020
This guide will teach you how to learn a language fast. We’ll cover:
- The stages of learning another language
- How to find the ways you learn languages best
- Language hacking tips
- How to know when you’re fluent
Learning a language is difficult, no matter how young or old you are or what your background is.
There are a lot of different ways you can learn a foreign language, but at the end of the day, your motivation and your effort are what will determine if you’re successful.
Whether you want to learn a language to advance your career, visit or live in another country, study abroad, or simply for self-improvement, the benefits of learning a language are significant.
There are a lot of websites dedicated to teaching and studying languages, but most of them offer generic advice and use teaching methods that don’t work for most people.
They’re full of memorization and complex grammar exercises, useless listening activities, and a bunch of other bells and whistles that don’t actually help you learn a language.
That’s why I wrote this guide: To help you navigate the language learning process and avoid getting sucked into paying for flashy, overpriced language programs, like I did. You can read my story to learn more about my language learning journey.
The 5 Stages Of Learning A Language
Before we dive into the tools and techniques you can use to start learning a language, let’s look at the different stages of language acquisition.
Think of building blocks. Your ultimate goal is to build a skyscraper, but that can only be done by stacking blocks on top of each other one at a time.
You can’t build the 20th floor if you haven’t built the 2nd floor yet.
Learning a language is the same concept. You shouldn’t waste your time learning complex grammar if you don’t even know how to have a basic conversation.
Understanding these stages will help you build your language skyscraper and track your progress along the way.
Different language learning activities are also more useful in different stages, so knowing which stage you’re in can help you choose which websites, apps, or language programs to use.
Here are the 5 stages of learning a language:
- Early Production
- Speech Emergence
- Intermediate Fluency
- Advanced Fluency
Let’s take a closer look.
Pre-production is the first stage. In pre-production, you don’t understand much in your target language, and you aren’t able to say much either. This is where everyone starts!
The main goal of this stage is to listen to as much of the language as you can and learn to identify different words and sounds, even if you don’t know what they mean yet.
Flash cards and picture activities are excellent tools to use at this stage to start building up your vocabulary. You can also label items around your home with post-its to learn new words.
As you learn more words and basic phrases, you’ll move into the next stage: early production.
You’ll know you’re in this stage when you’re starting to understand a little more of the language.
You can probably say some common words and phrases, and you can also answer some of the following questions:
- How many…?
Good tools to use in this stage are apps or websites that ask you to identify different objects or answer basic questions. Interactive activities that require you to respond are ideal, like those found on DuoLingo.
You should also keep using flashcards to continue building your vocabulary.
When you’re in the speech emergence stage, you can generally understand what people are saying. You can also respond with simple sentences and be understood.
Humor, grammar, and some pronunciation may still be difficult though.
In the Speech Emergence stage, you can answer the following questions:
It would be beneficial to start taking lessons or speaking regularly with a native speaker in this stage to help you advance through the remaining stages. You can find a language partner using apps like Language Pal and HelloTalk.
Other tools that will help you continue learning are videos, songs, and podcasts in your target language. Interactive language programs that require you to answer more difficult questions are also helpful at this stage.
When you’re in this stage, you can understand almost everything you hear. You speak pretty smoothly, and only make a few grammatical errors.
You’ve probably also learned more about the humor and slang in your target language, too.
You can answer questions like:
- What would happen if…?
- Why do you think…?
The best tool at this stage is having conversations with native speakers, whether it’s writing or speaking.
There are a lot of different websites where you can do this for free, or you can also pay to take more formal lessons on a site iTalki.
The more you communicate, the more you will continue learning the small details of the language that will take you to the next level.
This is the final stage of the language learning process. At this stage, you can speak at a near-native level without making many errors.
You can easily retell stories, discuss why you made certain decisions, and explain difficult concepts in your target language.
When you’ve reached this stage, you can watch and interact with videos, the news, and other media like a native speaker.
…but that doesn’t mean you should stop studying! Remember, language learning is a lifelong process. There’s always something new to learn!
Those are the 5 stages of learning a language in a nutshell. It’s useful to know about them because knowing what stage you’re in can help you focus on the activities that will help you get to the next stage.
It’s so common to see people jump straight into advanced parts of a language without building their skyscraper from the bottom up.
This always leads to frustration, the loss of motivation, and ultimately, these people give up.
You’re equipped with the knowledge to effectively learn a new language now though, and you’re setting yourself up for success!
Now that you understand a little more about the language learning process, let’s take a look at some benefits of learning how to speak another language.
How To Learn A Language: Know The Benefits
Each language is important for different reasons, and different languages can open different doors for you.
Speaking Mandarin Chinese can help a business expand into Asia and reach its one billion speakers.
French is considered the language of culture and art, and is also one of the biggest influences of modern English. (Did you know 45% of modern English words come from French?)
Learning Portuguese can connect you with its 178 million native speakers on multiple continents. It’s also the official language of 9 countries!
Arabic is a language of diplomacy and one of the six official languages of the United Nations (along with English, French, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese). It also has more than 10 words for “love”.
You may already know what language you want to learn, but it’s important to understand that every language on earth opens different doors and opportunities.
While specific languages have their own benefits, learning any language in general comes with a lot of benefits that will help you in your everyday life.
A lot of people think studying a foreign language only has one benefit: being able to speak that language.
While communicating in a foreign language is definitely a huge self-confidence booster, you’ll also see that there are other perks you’ll pick up throughout your language learning journey.
Here are 7 benefits of learning a language that I’ve personally experienced:
Connect With New People And Learn About Other Cultures
When you learn another language, you’ll be able to communicate with a whole new group of people from different backgrounds and cultures. That’s why you learned it in the first place, right?
Not only this, but you’ll understand new cultures better, and you’ll build deeper connections with people you never would have met before.
More often than not, these people turn into lifelong friends, and you never know what opportunities will come from having friends across the globe!
Advance Your Career
If you want to work in a multinational or international company (or you already do), speaking another language can be a huge advantage that can help you climb the corporate ladder.
Whether it’s communicating with customers, clients, or colleagues, being able to converse in another language enhances your resume or CV. It can also lead to international job opportunities.
Or if the corporate life isn’t for you, you can start your own online business using your new language skills!
You can start an online store, become a freelance translator, or even teach English online.
Learning a language isn’t easy. Everybody knows this. It’s a journey that has a lot of ups and downs, and most people give up before they even reach a basic level of fluency.
Overcoming this challenge is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling things you can accomplish though.
It’s so gratifying to know you’ve achieved something most people only dream of.
In fact, once you know you can conquer learning a language, you know you can conquer anything in your life!
Travel Like A Local (And Save Money!)
Don’t fall for the tourist traps when you travel!
If you’re travelling abroad and speak to the locals in their language, you’ll find opportunities other tourists don’t even know exist.
Find out where the locals hang out, the best restaurants in town (and the best deals), and make memories that can’t be captured in a picture.
Boost Your Confidence And Impress Others
When you can hold a conversation in another language, you’ll become more confident in yourself and your abilities.
Not only will you impress your family, friends, and coworkers, you’ll also become more confident in other areas.
This can help you form a more positive outlook on life, and inspire you to pursue new goals and hobbies you may not have considered before.
Strengthen Your Decision Making
Did you know people make more analytical decisions when they think through a problem in a foreign language?
Thinking about different choices in a foreign language tends to remove the emotional factor, and allows you to think logically.
This can have huge advantages for people studying internationally or conducting business in the global economy.
If you have any bilingual friends, you may notice that their personality changes slightly when they speak different languages. Why is this?
Researchers have concluded that different languages have different perceptions of the world.
Speaking another language can help you see the world through a different lens.
You’ll begin describing objects and emotions differently, you’ll use more colorful language to express yourself, and you’ll expand your mind and be more aware of the world around you.
To have another language is to possess a second soul.-Charlemagne
These are only some of the benefits you’ll find throughout your language journey. While knowing another language is definitely a skill, it’s also a change in mindset.
The journey you go on to learn that language exposes you to new parts of the world, new ways of thinking, and new ways of communicating.
It’s a journey full of unknowns, but you’ll never find someone who regrets learning a different language.
Are you feeling motivated now? Great! Now that you know some of the benefits of learning a language, let’s take a closer look at your motivation.
If you know what motivates you, you can focus on things that keep that motivation alive.
Find Your Motivation To Learn A Language
You’re excited to learn a foreign language, and you can’t wait to get started.
Will speaking a second (or other) language help you achieve another goal you have?
Or are you interested in a specific culture, and learning the language will help you gain a deeper understanding of that culture?
These are two of the most common reasons people learn to speak a foreign language, and they actually have names: instrumental and integrative motivation.
What Is Instrumental Motivation?
If learning how to speak a language fluently in and of itself isn’t your ultimate goal, chances are speaking another language is just one step towards a bigger goal.
In other words, the new language is an instrument that will help you achieve a bigger personal or professional goal.
If you’re looking to add a language certificate or degree to your resume/CV or get promoted to a new job overseas, you are instrumentally motivated.
For people studying a language for instrumental purposes, there are a few keys to staying motivated:
- Making deadlines for yourself
- Setting target scores on proficiency exams
- Using a structured syllabus or study plan
If you are instrumentally motivated, the best method to stay on track is organization and self-discipline.
You will be focused on your ultimate goal, and staying on track with your language learning will take you one step closer to achieving that goal.
But what if you’re learning for another reason? Well, chances are you’re integratively motivated.
What Is Integrative Motivation?
Do you have a friend or partner whose first language is different from yours and you want to learn more about their language and culture?
Are you interested in movies, literature, or music from another country and want to understand them better?
If this is you, you’re integratively motivated.
This means you probably have some connection to the language already, and you want to learn more about the people who speak it, their culture, and their society.
Instead of getting that promotion at work or building up credentials, integratively-motivated people want to use language to build relationships and communicate more meaningfully.
For this reason, motivation to gain fluency is the ultimate goal. It is usually ingrained in these learners’ minds.
You don’t need deadlines, scores, or structured learning plans to stay on track.
Studies have shown that integratively-motivated learners usually gain fluency more quickly.
They also speak with a clearer accent in their target language because of the connection they feel to the language.
When you harness your motivation and find learning methods and programs that will keep that motivation alive, you are more likely to become fluent in another language.
There are a lot of different ways to learn a language, so you need to figure out which method is most effective for you.
Different Ways To Learn A Language
You’ve probably read other websites about language learning, and all you can find is generic advice that doesn’t really help you.
They have articles like “9 French Words That Are Hard To Pronounce” or “How To Say ‘I Love You’ In 56 Languages”.
These articles may be worth scrolling through if you’re bored or waiting for the subway, but they don’t actually help you learn a language.
Before you get started learning a foreign language, it’s important to think about how you learn best.
There are 7 main learning styles that can help you choose how you want to learn a language. You may only want to use one learning style, or you may find that a combination of them helps you learn best.
Visual or Spatial learners tend to process information best using images and visual cues or signals.
If you’re a visual learner, you prefer to draw pictures or diagrams to help you process information, and it’s easier to see an action performed instead of reading about it.
For visual people, you may want to learn a language using:
- Flash cards
- Video Lessons
- Picture books
Aural learners process new information best through listening. If you’re an aural learner, music can have an emotional effect on you, and you probably enjoy listening to background music while you study.
Aural learners may learn a new language more effectively with:
- Memorization songs
- Rhyming exercises
- Listening exercises
Verbal learners typically excel with speaking and writing. If you enjoy reading and love learning new words, you’re most likely a verbal learner.
If you’re a verbal learner, you should use these tools to learn a language:
- Language instruction books
- Popular books in the target language
- Online language courses
- Lessons with a native speaker
- Writing a blog or journal in your target language
Physical learners, like the name suggests, enjoy moving and using their bodies to communicate.
If you’re a physical learner, you can decipher body language really well, and you enjoy learning activities that require physical participation, like building a sculpture or putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
For physical learners, the best language learning techniques include:
- Interactive language learning apps
- Language immersion (online or in-person)
- Lessons with a native speaker
Logical learners want to know the “why” behind information. They enjoy strategy games like chess or checkers, and they like to be challenged intellectually.
If you’re a logical learner, your strengths include classifying information into different groups, creating procedures for different tasks, or planning future events. You love lists and you strive to see the big picture.
Logical learners will learn a new language best with these tools:
- Detailed instruction books that explain difficult concepts like grammar
- Structured language software that builds on previous content
- Systematic courses
Social learners work best in partners or groups. If you’re a social learner, you enjoy talking with others and providing and receiving feedback. You also incorporate some of the previous learning traits, but you thrive using these traits in a social setting.
You are a good listener, and you are usually a really good teammate.
For these reasons, social learners should consider learning languages with:
- In-person language classes
- Group lessons with a native speaker
- Language immersion programs (online or in-person)
Solitary learners, similar to social learners, incorporate the previous learning traits, but they prefer learning independently.
If you’re a solitary learner, you usually focus on goals and outcomes, and you always look for ways to learn more about and improve yourself.
Solitary learners could find these language learning tools most beneficial:
- Language instruction books
- Online language courses
- Writing a blog or journal in the target language
Most language learners jump straight into learning a language without considering their learning type.
This causes them to bounce around from app to app, teacher to teacher, or website to website, and have nothing to show for it.
Eventually, they get frustrated because they can’t find a website or app they like, and they give up.
Don’t be like them.
Take some time to think about what type of learner you are, and find language learning resources that use the techniques that will help you most!
Language Hacking: Quick Tips To Learn A Language Fast
Here are some language hacks that you can use to rapidly learn a language:
Cognates are words that are related in origin to other words. You can think of these words as being cousins.
They usually sound the same and look the same, and they can make learning new vocabulary really simple!
For example, 30-40% of English words have a related Spanish word. A couple examples of English and Spanish cognates are:
Learn while exercising
Studies show that you can learn more quickly while you exercise.
Nobody can speak a language fluently overnight. Like any other activity, you’ll make mistakes before you succeed. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. It’s all part of the process!
Find free resources online
There are a lot of free language resources on the internet, and you can use them right now! Do this before paying for a program to save yourself some money.
Immerse yourself in a language from day one
Listen to music or podcasts, read the news, and watch TV in your target language.
You may not understand anything when you start out, but doing this will expose your brain to the language, which can help you learn more quickly down the road.
The more consistent you are, the quicker you’ll become fluent!
Common Ways To Know If You’re Fluent In Another Language
There is no set level of proficiency you need to reach in a foreign language to consider yourself fluent. You can set your own target.
While different language proficiency tests and frameworks do their best to determine your level of fluency, this isn’t really possible because each person is learning a language for different reasons.
These tests and frameworks tend to measure fluency based on academic or professional levels of a language, so if these are your main reasons for learning a language, these are an excellent tool to measure your progress.
If you live in a foreign country and your main priority is using the language in shops, government offices, hospitals, and with your friends and neighbors, these exams may not be very useful in gauging your level of fluency.
To determine your level of fluency, and to figure out what you need to practice in your target language, think about these questions:
Do I still translate words in my head?
Chances are if you’re still translating words to your native language, you haven’t achieved a natural way of speaking with other people in your target language.
Do I ask people to repeat themselves very often?
If you’re asking people to repeat themselves, you may want to practice listening skills in your target language.
When someone speaks to you and you can respond without hesitation, you’re one step closer to your desired level of fluency!
Can I say what I want without pausing or hesitating?
When you can express your thoughts and emotions in your target language without stopping and trying to find the correct words, you have definitely achieved at least some level of fluency!
Can native speakers understand me?
The main reason to learn a language is to communicate with native speakers, isn’t it? When they can understand what you’re saying, it’s safe to say you’re fluent!
In addition to these questions, there are a few other ways you can measure your level of fluency in your target language. Here are some of them:
People don’t change the way they speak around you.
When people know you’re learning their language, they may speak more slowly or use basic vocabulary. When they stop doing this, you’ve proven that you can speak fluently!
Filling out paperwork or going to the doctor, town hall, or the hair salon doesn’t make you anxious anymore.
If you can do all of these things without doubting yourself or planning the conversations in your head beforehand, you’ve definitely achieved a comfortable, conversational level in your target language.
You’re aware of your mistakes.
This is very important as you learn more advanced concepts in a new language. If you know you’ve made a mistake while you’re speaking and you correct yourself, you should be proud!
Now you’re ready to begin studying a new language. You know the benefits of learning a language, why you’re motivated, and what type of learner you are. You can also find the best tools to help you learn a language quickly and effectively.
Remember to use the language hacks listed above to quickly learn new vocabulary and grammar, and remember the most important aspect of learning languages: Be consistent!