Being fluent in a language is one of the most in-demand, employable skills there is (sorry, speaking fluent emoji doesn’t count), and the ability to communicate with people will be important until the end of time. Fact.
But there are 750,000 words in English, and Japanese or Chinese don’t even use the same characters as any European language. Learning to speak another language is hard work and whichever one you pick, you’ll need to put in some serious effort. There are, however, a few strategies and tricks which can help you super-charge your language learning.
Here’s how to become fluent – or at least very close to fluent – in just 12 months.
Months 1 – 3
Move abroad and immerse yourself
There’s only so much you can learn in the classroom. To truly become fluent, dive head-first into a life where you have to use it in every situation and all the time. Learning Spanish? Move to Barcelona, Playa Tamarindo or Buenos Aires. French? Time to spend a few months (at least!) in Paris or Nice. You’ll have to think on your feet and problem-solve every day. Before too long, you’ll find that understanding the language and stringing together the right responses becomes second nature. This is especially important if you’re learning a language with an entirely alien alphabet, like Japanese or Chinese. You’ll develop a far better accent, practice every day without even realizing, and it’s a great excuse to travel!
Try to follow the storylines and dialogue of a TV series in a different language. Deciphering the conversations while watching a scene unfold helps the language centres of your brain understand new information in a more interesting, puzzle-solving way, making you more likely to remember what you learn. Reading the subtitles helps you visualize sentence structure, and check that you’re really understanding what you’re hearing. Watching reruns of Friends can help perfect your English, for example (here are some other shows that are perfect your English skills), while watching Narcos on Netflix will get your Spanish up to scratch in no time.
Ask, ask, ask
‘No Comprendo!’ is not a phrase in your vocabulary anymore. Seriously, don’t ignore a phrase that you don’t quite understand, especially during your first few months as there’s bound to be LOADS that isn’t clear yet. If you’re speaking to someone don’t be afraid to ask them, or if you’re reading something and your mind boggles, just Google it. Studies show you’re more likely to remember things by researching than by learning them in class, because you’ve had to solve your own problem. And you can’t argue with science!
Months 4 – 6
Listen to podcasts
Commutes can be put to far better use than just eye-flirting with your tube crush. Begin your fluency training by downloading a course of ‘How to learn X language’ teaching podcasts and listen to one a day until you’re comfortable translating the spoken word. The BBC’s short and entertaining ‘6 Minute English’ series is a great, quick way to improve your English, for example. Next find a chatty podcast in the language you’re learning. Pick a topic you’re interested in (like film reviews or food), and get used to the natural spoken pace, colloquialisms and natural, unscripted conversation. It’s like having a chat with friends, without having to reply.
Practice and learn regularly
The key to learning any skill properly is consistency. Now you’re starting to get to grips with the language basics, set aside a regular time in your schedule to sit down and really focus. For at least one hour every day, revise those tricky grammar rules that leave you confused or commit to learning a whole new batch of verbs. Practice them the next day to really cement them in your long-term memory. Be strict (a bit like being on a diet or exercising) – the more effort you put in, the sooner you’ll see great results.
Talking out loud is one of the best ways to learn, though it can be tough when you’re still not confident. With fellow classmates of a similar ability, try tandem language learning and talk, practice and improve together – the spoken word will soon feel more natural. Plus, you’ll make a whole bunch of great new friends, which is awesome.
Months 7 – 9
From books, classic literature and magazines to the back of a cereal packet, get used to reading words strung together in correct sentences in all areas of life. Follow foreign news outlets, blogs and popular websites on social media so even if you’re procrastinating, time spent scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram is put to good use. Textbooks can prepare you for polite conversations and buying bus tickets, but the best way to expand your understanding of the language is to diversify the reading materials you’re exposing your brain to.
Now watch more TV…
… without the subtitles! Once you’ve got the hang of following the Spanish in Narcos, test your new skills by watching Los Tiempos de Pablo Escobar. This documentary series follows the true story of the drug kingpin’s life, and it’s entirely in Spanish. Elsewhere on the internet, Youtube channels can fast-track your conversational skills; for French, try subscribing to Oh La La, Hollywood Speaks French. Alternatively, try learning while you learn and watch Tedx Talks in another language. Not only will you pick up interesting new ideas from some of the world’s brightest innovative minds, the presenters also speak clearly and directly, making it easy to follow along.
Months 10 – 12
Talk the talk
Once you’ve completed your language-learning podcast courses, pack your headphones away. When you’re out and about, speak to actual human beings. Make friends with fluent native speakers outside of your class and only chat to them only in their language – there’s literally no better way to practice. If you’ve moved abroad, picking up a hobby is an easy way to meet new people with similar interests.
Keep your chin up
This quirky English phrase simply means ‘stay positive’ (you’ll know that if you’ve been paying attention in class…). Learning a language is hard. Some days will feel like you’re winning and that you’re almost fluent, while other days it might feel as though your brain has built a wall to keep all foreign languages out. A really high wall. Instead of letting it get you down, if you feel as though you’re struggling, look back over the previous months and take some time to realize how far you’ve come. Spend ten minutes reading your old class notes or translate a simple piece of text and you’ll see how much easier it feels than it used to – especially after a year! Persevere and you’ll get there.