The secret is that there is no secret. Just putting in the time, and getting lots of exposure to your target language. That said, getting exposure might seem intimidating if you don’t know how. But don’t worry, it’s actually super easy! Here we go…
How to Learn a Language, from someone who has been submerged in language-learning theory for years, has heard straight from the mouths of the world’s most accomplished polyglots how they did it, and has absolutely zilch interest in any personal financial gain from sharing this knowledge:
1. DO NOT USE ROSETTA STONE.
2. Use Assimil, if you really want to spend some money. Bonus: it costs about a quarter as much as Rosetta Stone. But you don’t actually need to spend any money to successfully learn a language! Just keep reading…
3. Find musicians who sing in your target language. Download their songs and put them on your mp3 player of choice. Get obsessed with them. Sing along even (especially!) when you don’t know the words and are just making sounds that vaguely resemble what the singer is saying. This part is not a joke: I am 100% serious about this.
4. If you like TV, watch a show in your target language with no subtitles. No cheating allowed. Turn off those subtitles. Make it a game: watch an episode and then summarize what you think the story line was. Then go look up an episode recap online and see how much you got right.
5. Think of it as learning what a speaker of your target language would say in a certain situation, instead of learning how to translate what YOU would say in that situation. For instance, to ask how things are, an English-speaking person sometimes says “How are you?” whereas a French-speaking person says “How is it going?” or even “How are YOU going?” Don’t try to ignore this weirdness – embrace it! Laugh at it, savor it. Get used to saying new and different things in the same old situations, and memorization will suddenly become a LOT easier.
6. When you talk, imagine that you’re mocking somebody – not necessarily in a mean way, but just doing an impression of them, poking gentle fun at the way they talk. If the person you’re imitating is a native speaker of your target language, your accent will instantly become miles better.
7. Read texts from day one. Don’t worry about “difficulty levels”. Pick up the hardest novel ever written in your target language! Open it right up with no fear and play a game called “How many words on each page do I already understand, or can I guess the meaning of?” Give yourself a reward (chocolate, a drink, a mini dance party in your room) for every full page you can get through in this way, regardless of whether any of your guesses were actually right!
8. I was gonna try to make this a ten-item list, but honestly there’s not much else you need to know. It doesn’t really matter what core resource you use (Assimil, FSI, Teach Yourself, Colloquial, Living Language, Linguaphone…) as long as it’s not Rosetta Stone. What matters, much more than the core resource you use, is the amount of exposure you can get to your target language – the padding to fill in all the cracks in your day when you’re not doing worksheets or translation exercises or whatever. That’s what this post is sneakily all about.
The secret-that’s-not-a-secret is regularity: do a couple of the items on this list every day without fail, even if it’s only for ten minutes, and after six months you will be kicking butt. I promise you that.
Reblogging this to point out that I have now made item 1 into a link. If you were wondering about that particular piece of advice, check it out!
And remember: any method that works for YOU can be worth doing. We all learn in different ways. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that more money = more quality. That may be true for many things in life, but not for language-learning!