When you are learning a second language, there may be times when you feel like your progress has slowed to a crawl. When this happens, it might be time to shake things up and try an approach that accelerates your learning and keeps you moving in the right direction. But what can you actually do to speed up your language learning progress? Keep reading, because in this article, we’re breaking down 10 ways you can turn language learning on its head and jump start your learning progress.
1. Practice Every Day
Getting in some language practice every day is probably the simplest, most effective way to speed up your learning progress. After all, practice makes perfect! But this isn’t just an expression; research suggests that repeated practice using language can reduce the time it takes to master grammar rules! Consistency is key when it comes to practice, so try to make language learning a part of your daily routine, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day. One of the easiest ways to maintain consistency is to use a language learning app, like Mango Languages. Mango makes it easy to fit in short study sessions into your day, and has reminders to help you stay on track. And if you’re someone who’s really short on time, don’t worry! Science tells us that studying a little bit every day is better than attempting to cram everything all at once. So why not download Mango and try it today?
2. Go Abroad
Going abroad is one of the best ways to accelerate your language learning progress. When you’re abroad, you’re likely to be surrounded by a different language, or immersed in it. In an immersive environment, you’ll likely need to pick up on bits of a language just to get by every day – a real “trial by fire”. This gives you the motivation you need to learn the language as quickly as possible. Immersive environments are full of opportunities to learn “in the background” while doing other things (like visiting a museum or buying groceries) and can help you quickly develop the intuitions about language needed to use it effortlessly.
While abroad, it’s important to avoid a common trap that many learners fall into: the expat bubble. The expat bubble is when you find and stick with people who speak your native language while abroad, which can be tempting if you feel homesick. However, if you only associate with these people, you could isolate yourself from the language and culture you wanted to learn in the first place!
Going abroad may not be in your budget, but that’s ok! You can find immersive experiences wherever you are – just ask ACTFL’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, Heather Sweetser. If you live in a big city, try seeking out and interacting with members of a community who speak your target language. And if that’s not possible, create your own immersive environment at home! Try reading books, watching TV shows and movies, or cooking using recipes written in your target language. You can even change the language of your phone’s operating system! The sky’s the limit!
3. Don't be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Making a lot of mistakes while learning a new language can actually give your learning progress a boost, especially if you notice them. Noticing your mistakes can lead to subtle changes in your knowledge of a language which, over time, can lead you to speak more accurately. You can more easily notice your mistakes if you get feedback from people who speak your target language, or use tools like spell checkers and apps. Pronunciation tools like Mango’s Voice Compare feature can give you feedback on how much your pronunciation of certain words and phrases differs from that of a native speaker. Becoming comfortable making mistakes can also be a good way to lower language learning anxiety. When you lower your anxiety, you’re lowering a key barrier that is known to slow down learning. It’s no wonder then that language learners with less anxiety tend to be better language learners overall! However, remember that friends, teachers, and apps can only help you fix your mistakes if you actually make them! Don’t let your fear of mistakes stop you from using your language as much as you can!
4. Listen to What Others are Saying and Copy it Under Your Breath
Copying what others are saying under your breath is another way to boost your language learning process. This practice is called shadowing. The way shadowing works is pretty straightforward: copy what you hear someone say as quickly as possible, and try to imitate the way they speak. Repeating what you hear, under your breath, can help you improve your accent, the fluency of your speech, and how understandable you are while speaking – all in just a few months! Shadowing is flexible because you can do it pretty much anywhere, while watching a video on your phone, or on vacation. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to work shadowing practice into your daily routine!
5. Examine Common Sentence Patterns
Examining common sentence patterns can help broaden your understanding of your target language while also speeding up your learning progress. Most languages have sentences that are formed from only a few sentence patterns, such as the “subject-verb-object” pattern we see in English:
It may seem simple, but understanding basic grammar patterns can give you a template that will help you create endless new sentences. Additionally, be sure to focus on what’s important when you plan and prioritize your studies. Memorizing the 2,000 most commonly used words and a few common grammatical patterns, for example, can help you understand most of the language you will encounter. So it can certainly be in your best interest to tailor your focus on your language learning journey!
6. Study Something Else in your Target Language
Using your target language to study something else could help you make quick progress towards achieving your goals. For example, if you are learning French, try taking a French Literature course. You’ll learn all about the works of Victor Hugo and Albert Camus, and pick up bits of the French language along the way. Studying something else in your target language is an approach called content-based learning. Content-based learning works by immersing you in an environment full of meaningful language that is relevant to your interests. And, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, all of that language exposure (plus the discussion practice you might gain in a classroom) can lead to rapid improvements in your overall language skills.
Content-based learning is great because it can be done at any stage of language proficiency. If you’re just starting out, use children’s books, music, or even simple recipes to learn about your chosen subject. And if you are a more advanced learner, look for courses at your local community-college or take a class online! Of course, content-based learning functions best when you study something that interests you, so make sure you choose what to study wisely!
7. Make a Study Plan (and Stick to it)
Study plans are a must if you want to learn a language quickly. Making a plan involves setting goals for yourself and outlining what you will do to achieve them. For example, if your goal is to be able to read a romance novel in Spanish without using a dictionary, you may make a plan that includes learning date-related vocabulary, and practicing using words you know to guess words that you don’t. Planning speeds up learning by boosting your motivation to study a language. If you have well-defined reasons to study and a target to shoot for, you’re much more likely to go the extra mile to hit your mark. Just make sure that your plan has concrete expectations so that you follow through!
When making a plan, it’s important to make sure that the goals that you give to yourself are achievable and realistic. For example, you shouldn’t plan on reaching conversational fluency in just a few days. Allow yourself some time to feel comfortable in the language before diving in, especially if you’re prone to anxiety. At the same time, you should strive to set goals that are challenging enough so that you feel like you need to put in a little extra effort. Once you do reach your goals, take a moment to reflect and think about what you have achieved and what you want to do next. Then, make a new plan so that you stay motivated to keep learning and improving!
8. Read Anything You Can Get Your Hands On
Reading anything you can get your hands on is a surefire way to speed up your learning.
When you read frequently, you get lots of exposure to words, phrases, and sentence structures in your target language. The more exposure you have, the more likely it is that you’ll pick up on new language, as well as reinforce what you already know. If you don’t know where to begin with reading, the best advice is to start small and easy. Try reading simple texts like children’s books or social media posts to begin with, and work your way up to more challenging texts, like novels or blogs. If you’re interested in boosting your vocabulary skills in particular, make sure you combine reading with the next two tips on this: carrying a vocabulary notebook and using a dictionary.
9. Carry a vocabulary notebook
Carrying a vocabulary notebook around with you is a great way to quickly learn new words. Here’s how it works. Whenever you encounter a new word, write it down in your vocabulary notebook. Writing words down helps them stick in your mind (especially if you are a visual learner!). It’s important to make sure these words do stick, since vocabulary plays a big role in how well you can learn new words. So grab a pencil, get out there, and jot down some new words!
10. Use Dictionary
Using a dictionary is a tried and true method of supporting language learning and speeding up your progress. Language learners tend to learn more words when reading with a dictionary than when reading alone. This means that using a dictionary should help you learn new vocabulary quickly. Dictionaries provide useful information on new words, such as their definition, part of speech (noun, verb, etc.), and pronunciation. Online dictionaries like Word Reference are particularly useful because they also contain real-life examples of how words are used in context.
One caveat: Although dictionaries can be extremely helpful tools, you should strive to get to the point where you can use language without them. If you find yourself looking up the meaning of the same word over and over again, it could be a sign that you need to buckle down and use some strategies (like making flashcards!) to help you really learn it!
What Languages Can Be Learned Quickly?
In most cases, the languages that are similar to languages you already speak will be learned the most quickly. Similar languages share aspects of their vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and spelling. So if you’re studying a language that’s related to your native tongue, you should already know something about what you’re learning. The quickest languages for English speakers to learn are those in the Indo-European language family, particularly the Romance languages (e.g., Spanish, Italian, French, etc.) and the Germanic languages (e.g., Dutch, German, Danish, etc.). All of these languages are the most similar to English and so have many of the same features. For example, English speakers would need 600 classroom hours to reach working proficiency in Spanish (a similar language), but 2200 classroom hours to reach working proficiency in Mandarin Chinese (a dissimilar language)! For a more in depth explanation on what languages can be learned the fastest, check out our article on the easiest languages to learn!
How Quickly Can You Learn a Language?
There are many factors that can influence how quickly you learn a language, such as your age, motivation, and learning environment. Here’s a quick rundown: Adults tend to learn languages a little more quickly than children early on because they are more cognitively developed; motivated learners tend to progress more quickly in learning because they put in more effort; and learners who enter an immersive context tend to pick up on a lot of language right away because it’s all around them. As mentioned above, your native language has particularly a big impact on how quickly you learn a language.
What Language Learning Tools Can Accelerate the Language Learning Process?
Language learning apps are useful tools for accelerating the language learning process. The Mango Languages app is a great choice for speeding up learning because it contains research-backed content and proven methodology that helps you stick to a regular learning schedule. Other tools include YouTube, a fantastic and simple way to access endless hours of language content and input, and streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), which offer TV shows and movies in many languages. There are also likely to be plenty of podcasts recorded in your target language, so don’t be afraid to explore what’s out there!
So there you have it! If you’ve hit a wall in your language learning journey, these approaches could be just what you need to shake things up!