6 Strategies For Learning A New Language

These simple steps will help you achieve conversational fluency.

Matt Lillywhite
Dec 22, 2019 · 4 min read
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Photo by sean Kong on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself wondering why it’s so difficult to learn a new language?

If you’re anything like my former-self, your response will be something along the lines of “all the time.”

Right? We all dream about going on vacation without having to ask if someone speaks English, or being able to have a conversation with locals during lunch at a cafe.

But sooner or later, you realize that the dozens of hours spent on Duolingo each day is getting you nowhere. Because no matter how hard you try to remember vocabulary, it quickly gets forgotten due to a lack of motivation to incorporate the language into your daily life.

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself in the same position as you many times. But instead of focusing on methods that you find difficult, a better solution is experimenting with different techniques so you can see what works for you.

So below are a collection of strategies to help you learn a language more efficiently. Each one of these methods helped me to achieve conversational fluency in multiple languages, and I hope they do the same for you, too.

For the longest time, I struggled with learning vocabulary as I considered it to be complicated and difficult to remember.

But instead of learning random words (like what you were taught in high school), I’ve discovered that a better solution is focusing on frequently used phrases.

When you’re having a conversation with someone in a foreign language, you’ll probably be talking about your job, family, and other common aspects of your life.

Start by learning essential elements of a conversation such as verbs, conjugations, and sentence structure, so you’re able to build upon what you already know.

When you begin learning the most frequent 500 words in your target language, you’ll quickly discover that you’re able to understand what other people are saying in a conversation.

If you’re unable to fly to Mexico to improve your Spanish, I’ve found that a great alternative is changing the settings on your devices to operate in your target language.

If you’re anything like the average American, you’ll probably spend upwards of 4 hours each day on your phone. So whether you’re using it for work, gaming, or any other purpose, you have an immediate opportunity to integrate language learning into your daily life.

When I changed my phone & tablet to operate in Spanish, I quickly found that I was learning vocabulary for everyday applications such as the weather, calendar, and text messages. So within a matter of days, I was able to mentally translate most of what I was reading on my phone with ease.

If you want to go one step further, consider changing your social media accounts to be translated into your target language so you can passively learn throughout the day.

As well as reading in your target language, listening is a vital part of the learning process as you need to understand what people are saying in a conversation.

I’m empathetic to the fact that you may have limited amounts of time to sit down and read a physical book during your busy schedule. This is why listening to podcasts during your commute (or any other time of day) is a great way to learn a new language.

I’ve found that short episodes (20 minutes or less) tend to be a great way of remaining engaged with the content as they’re not exceptionally long.

So take a moment to search for podcasts that you’d enjoy, and listen to them whenever you get a few moments to yourself.

If you enjoy watching Netflix in the evenings, watching a few episodes of a foreign movie could be a fun way to enhance your language learning process.

For example, I loved watching several episodes of Narcos each day while studying Spanish.

It’s important to remember that language learning doesn’t need to be a tedious process of continually studying vocabulary & grammar. Because when you’re relaxing on the sofa, it provides an opportunity to learn in the comfort of your own home.

I’ve discovered that watching movies is a great way to learn pronunciation, become accustomed to a conversation in your target language, and understand the context of different phrases.

So next time you’re deciding what to watch on Netflix, consider turning on the subtitles and enjoy watching a movie in another language.

Being able to have a conversation with a native speaker is a strategy that has massively improved my ability to speak another language. After all, they give you feedback on your pronunciation, sentence structure, and various other elements of your speech.

Most people learn languages to expand their career options, improve their ability to communicate on vacation, or even as preparation for moving abroad.

So if you’re able to have regular conversations with a fluent speaker during the learning process, I’ve discovered that it will significantly improve your confidence whenever you need to speak another language in the future.

Although you may want to develop perfect fluency within a language, you’re inevitably going to make mistakes. After all, it’s impossible to improve without knowing what you need to focus on.

So whenever you make a mistake, think about how you can prevent it from happening again in the future, and then proceed with the process of learning a new language. Kim Collins said it best:

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.”

Remember: If you want to learn a new language, all you need to do is experiment with different techniques, and frequently practice the methods that work for you.

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