“Learn a new language in 4 weeks!”. Some language schools promise more than they can deliver. But there are several ways you can speed up your language learning, whatever language you are trying to master.
I’ve seen in my own learning process and that of people around me, that you can learn faster if you:
Find a good reason to learn the language
If you learn a language, you probably have a valid reason to do so. That reason can be anything from better job prospects by learning Japanese to fulfilling the requirements of your A-levels by passing the Mandarin exam.
While valid reasons, the pay-off is very far in the future and it’ll be hard to motivate yourself to put in the day-by-day work to get there. So why not set yourself some short-term goals, for example:
- If you learn Korean, tell yourself you can take a trip to Seoul after you prove to yourself that your Korean is good enough by having a 5-minute conversation with a Korean person in Singapore.
- If you’re crazy about Japanese cartoons, buy only the Japanese versions, so you have no choice but to learn Japanese to understand them.
Make the goals fun, and achievable in a couple of months’ time. Then when you get there, set yourself another 3-month goal. Each goal is a small step towards your final goal. There is really no way you can give your language learning your best if you are only aiming for a goal 3 years in the future.
Exercise regularly, not intensely
Maybe you are very motivated today and want to spend the whole day revising what you learnt in class. Don’t do it. It’s a lot better if you can put in an hour, or even half an hour of exercise every day. Learning a language is a process, not an event, and you’re only going to be able to get far enough if you don’t tire yourself out early in the journey.
Imagine to people plan to walk from Singapore to KL. One sets off running from the Causeway and covers 60 kms on the first day.Then is tired (not to mention totally dried out), rests one day, covers 10 kms the next day, gets demotivated and rests another 2 days, then runs another 50 kms.
The other aims to do 25 kms a day and hits that target every day. No more, no less. While less spectacular, the gradual and steady approach will get you there faster any time.
Experiment with different books, websites, tools
There are a lot of books out there, as well as websites, podcasts, schools and courses, to help you get there. Don’t assume there is one right way for everyone to learn a language. I personally need the peer pressure of a class to push myself to learn regularly, but others may do fine with a book, a CD and the occasional help of a friend. Be critical of any book or method you find, and change if needed. You can ask yourself:
- Is this book/class/method teaching me what I want to learn? Or does it focus too much on written language, business language, grammar? You’ll first need to know what you want to learn, of course. There are many language schools in Singapore, so you need not limit yourself to the class you find at first.
- Is the pace right? Some methods have more repitition while others cover any subject only once and then move on. Some repitition helps to ‘anchor’ things in your brain, but if you’re a fast learner, it can bore you out.
- Is the material engaging to me? Everyone has different interests. If you’re learning Mandarin and really interested in Chinese culture, you’ll probably enjoy materials which cover topics about Chinese history and tradition. If you just want to be able to do the groceries, you’ll do better with more practical materials.
Ask your friends for help
There is nothing wrong with learning from a teacher, but it has one disadvantage: you pay for every hour that you get taught. You pay a lot of it’s individual teaching; you pay less if you’re in a class, but then you share the teacher’s attention with all your classmates.
My wife is Chinese and I do speak Chinese with her in the course of daily life. Recently, we were out with another Chinese friend who is a teacher, and she spotted some tones which I got wrong. My wife would hear it but not bother to say. That made me realize I had to encourage her to point out my mistakes. Since she is around me a lot of times, it gives me the chance to root out the wrong pronunciations and grammar more quickly.
It’s understandable that your family and friends don’t always correct you, because it can be a “loss of face” situation. So ask people around you to correct you, and thank them when they do it. It’ll help you to iron out the mistakes before they become really rooted.
Coming back to the ‘learning a language is a process, not an event’ theme, it helps you to stay motivated to learn the language if you have realistic goals. You may want to speak Japanese fluently in one month, but if you’re starting at zero, it’s not going to happen!
You may have in mind how well you want to be able to speak or write a language. Ask your teacher or someone who learnt the language how long it will realistically take to get there. And if it’s a long way, set some milestones along the way. For example: “have a 5-minute conversation in Korean about general topics”.