The Fastest Ways To Learn Any New Language

Wouldn’t  it be wonderful to learn any new language almost “effortless” in a very, very short time, even within hours while having fun ? What is the latest wisdom on accelerated language learning ? A very short answer up front: Yes, it is possible! Please find below a summary of the latest insights and methods collected from outstanding teachers and experts in the field and based on my 20+ years experience in accelerated learning & development where I have helped over 300 000+ People globally learn faster and better.

Relax and Learn – both go well together

With his blog post in 2007: “How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour” Tim Ferris initiated a 5 year long still ongoing discussion and exchange about the methods of accelerated language learning.

Not only did Tim introduce his approach to accelerated language learning but yet he attracted comments from very knowledgeable readers and experts.  With over six hundred comments this is now a treasure trove for language learners and teachers. Additionally to the wisdom shared in this place I have added further methods that have emerged in the learning & development & change management research over the last years.

KEY INSIGHTS

A) Motivation before Confidence

For any type of learning the key is first of all motivation and then confidence. If you are not convinced about learning a particular language none of the following methods will work for you.

Motivation can be stimulated by external factors (extrinsic).   Examples are your employer asks you to learn a new language or you move to a new country for work.  Having your own dream to be competent in another language or your objective to read one of your beloved authors in the original language are examples for internal motivational factors (intrinsic).

Usually intrinsic factors will be more sustainable than extrinsic factors and might keep you more likely on track . Try to identify at least one intrinsic factor for learning the new language.

Intrinsic motivational factors can be categorized and vary from person to person. This is based on the Harvard Approach of Negotiation
1) Security: example: understand and have access to information in local language, can ask for direction when travelling
2) Livelihood: example: will help generate income, do need to get a job
3) Belonging: example: can talk to people in their local languages, can have local friends
4) Reputation: example: local business partner respect me more when I know some words in their language
5) Self-determination: example: I can navigate myself through the foreign country, I can visit places where no foreigner has been yet, ..

What also helps for those who had already tried and fail to learn a new language is to analyze what has derailed you from learning the new language in the past. Was it the teacher, was it because you had to or was it the method, … ?

And often in our educational school systems we are forced to learn a new language, we have no choice. Nobody will investigate what our personal intrinsic motivational factors are nor would anyone explore what methods would work best for us individually.

B) Have a clear vision about your goal

What do you see when you close your eyes and think about learning the new language ? Do you see yourself reading a highly sophisticated book in this foreign language, do you see yourself writing  a business contract, are you watching a television show or are you standing at an ice cream stand at a beautiful foreign beach asking for your favorite ice cream in the local language ?
Get clarity for what you want to use the new language for. The amount of learning, the method and the effort differs if you just want to find your way when travelling through a foreign country or become a student at the local university or even work in a local company in this foreign country.

In his book the 4-Hour Work Week Timothy Ferris has shown in the chapter “D is for Definition” how to make your personal dream more specific. His example: If your dream is fluency in Chinese  this is still quite broad. Try to make it more specific to the level as: “My dream is to have a 5-minute conversation with a Chinese co-worker.”   It can be even more specific: “I want to talk in these 5-minutes about what I did last week-end and what movie I saw and what restaurants my co-worker would recommend…”

Recommended action: write down very specifically how your ideal state would look like

The clear vision about your objective will help you to identify your personal threshold. It will indicate how much vocabulary do you really need to learn and to which extend do you  need to understand the grammar, the number of characters if it is a pictorial language, etc…..

In the Chinese fluency example you would not need to read or write any Chinese characters. All what you would need is to speak and understand your co-worker about daily life leisure topics. (Movie, restaurant, leisure time activities).

Recommended action: like in the very specific example above write down in your native language what you would like to talk about with the other person. What questions would you ask and what answers you would give. Whatever your specific dream is try to write a story board for it. If it is for example to present to a local audience in a business context than try write the presentation you want to give in your local context. If it is to sign a contract than use the contract in your local language. The idea is to get a physical grip on your dream. Once you have a text, a story board, a contract or a presentation then put this content into google translate and see what kind of output you get in the target language. Then take the result and have google translate it back to your native language.  Analyze the results on what difference there are to your original text.

And with Tim Ferris approach you can quickly examine in less than an hour  how difficult it will be for you to get into the new language.
An example shared by Alan Little for the Russian Language using Tim´s grammar deconstruction approach
French: I have created an example and a small quizz on slideshare (3 slides).

Finally rate your objective on what effort it is for you to reach it. Use a scale of 1-8. An 8 I would rate if it is comparable to hiking up Mount Everest the highest mountain in the world. A 1 would be a stroll along a beach, a short walk with a friend through a forest. A 3would be walking up a mountain with 6000 feet in altitude. Relatit to what effort it means to you. If you are like the famous alpinist Reinhold Messner hiking up Mount Everest would be then just a 4. To sum it up it should be a relative rating and not absolute.

Would you like to get feedback from others by sharing what language you would like to learn, what intrinsic motivation you have, what your specific visions looks like and how you rate the effort to get there in the comment section of this blog post?

C) Learning Environment and Approach

Identify your personal learning barriers.

1) First Barrier: Mental: The Inner Game: Tim Gallewey
The game your mind plays with you before you embark on any new project such as learning a language. That is this little voice in your head that sets in once your exitement is over. The voice comes up latest after the 4th day (old Japanese Zen wisdom) you have decided on or started your  learning expedition.
It could go like this: “Hohoho, I told you, you have no talent in learning languages“. “You will never reach your goal, you do not have the time for it”. “You have no discipline, forget it.” “You do not like to sit down and learn all these words by heart, that is boring.” “You have more important things to do in life”. “Everybody is learning English now, why should you learn a foreign language.” “You have never have the budget to travel there anyways” “A new language in a few hours, you are crazy, it already took you 5 years to learn Spanish and you are still nowhere perfect” …

The Inner Game in more detail.The relaxed concentration or flow state is important. This happens when your inner voice is silent. Highly successfull sportsman always talk about it. Example is the world leading tennis player Roger Federer.

It won’t help if you fight it. Also the content is not decisive. If your inner voice would say instead “You are the best language learner that has ever walked this planet” or “I will succeed” or “I am so happy to learn this language” it might boost your energy but not get you into the relaxed concentration mode.

How to overcome this first barrier ?
The inner judgemental voice can be directed and focused on the task at hand by giving it a new neutral observative task.
Example:
– Technics shared by Professor of Linguistics Alexander Arguelles who speaks now 50 languages
– Read each new word out loud and listen to your voice
– Write on a piece of paper: The first rule is not to force yourself to remember or learn this word. Just enjoy. (see Michel Thomas)
– Focus your mind on the point below your navel – the so called lower dantian (used in QiQong practices)
– Sing the word
– Breath in when you read silently the new word and breath out afterwards and focus on the breath not on the learning of the word
– Hit a gong before you read the word
– Stand up read the word and sit down
– Superlearning uses also relaxation technics see research
– any more suggestions please leave in the comment section below…

Tim Gallewey demonstrates how he uses the Inner Game approach to teaching to non talented beginners tennis in an extreme short time

What I also do is to acknowledge in a nonjudgemental way what my inner voice creativly comes up with. I write it down in my diary. This will empty my head and eventually shut down my inner voice.
There is also the outer voices that I collect in this manner. Everybody will have an opion on how to do things and what you are capable off. Your mother, your father, your teacher, your best friend, the television, the newspaper, the next best-selling author on language learning, the language learning schools and platforms who use a certain methods, experts, professors, etc. The outer voices are a nightmare for sportsmen and famous team coaches. Roger Federer lately had to overcome this challenge. When he wasn’t successful in tennis the media started to talk about his age and suggested him to retire. Luckily he was able to overcome these voices and is now again the No 1 in tennis . There must be plenty more examples. Looking forward to your comments.

Some further evidence through scientific research is showing acceleration of learning as well as how relaxed concentration or mindfulness reduces stress:

Prof. Dr. Klaus Jantke showed in a research by one of his PHD Student Anja Hawlitschek that learning through games work best if students are not instructed up front. Just ask them to enjoy the game versus the benchmark group who was told to focus on the learning in the game. The first group of school children performed better in the post test.

Prof. Jon Kabat-Zinn on Mindfulness and the impact on health at the Google Academy

Beware also not to turn it against you by thinking that you only learn when you are in this relaxed concentrated state of mind. You always learn, but in this state learning it is just accelerated. As soon as you recognize conciously “Oh, now I am in the flow state” – it will be gone. It just happens, you cannot force it.

2) Second Barrier: Environment

Have you been told that the only place to learn is at your desk ? If you look at Michel Thomas approach in methods below you will see that the best place to learn is where you feel comfortable and do not think about that you must learn now. It can be your most comfortable chair, it can be when you are lying in your bed or if you enjoy driving your car than this is a good place as well.  First advice: learn whereever you are comfortable and have your learning material available. Do not put environmental barriers up. Do not choose only to learn in the language school that is 20 km away from where you live or have your learning material stowed away in a cupboard where you have to move other things first in order to get to it. Professor Theresa Marteau shows how little details in our setup of our environment have a huge impact (Video) on us such as our health behaviour. This counts as well for many other habits and for sure for our learning behaviour.

3) Third barrier: Time

Are you programmed that you only learn when you spent at least an hour with a teacher on the subject? Even if it is just 30 seconds do it. A quick glance in your material, a question to a friend how to say such and such a word in the language you are learning, etc. Remove any barrier that tells you that you need to have a minimum of minutes per day to learn your new language. Also it puts you under pressure when you did not find the time for it.
It is the net time spent on learning the language that counts not the quantative amount per day combined together. If you just learn when you have 30 seconds up to a few minutes this still can add up to a net time spent of one hour or more per day and it could be even more effective. Second advice: Drop your fixed time spent on learning assumption

4) Fourth Barrier: Money

There you are. You have just got the tip of the best language teacher alive, the best method that someone just recommended to you or the best place to travel to learn the language of choice fast and well. The only thing you are lacking is the money. You have the motivation, you would have the time and shute you do not have the funds.
Wait, there are so many others way to start to learn your favourite language just now while at the same time you start saving the money for the extradordinary opportunity that was recommended to you. Third advice: No money is no excuse. There are methods that are free to use, there is material that costs you only a few bugs.

D) Methods

Yes there are methods that will accelerate your learning versus pratices that will slow it down or get you off track. Key for all effective methods are they need to strenghten your confidence. My example is how kids learn to ride a bicycle or swim. Kids that use small bicycles with two additional stabilizing wheels when 5 years or younger will take much longer to learn to ride a bicycle without these stabilizers. They cannot build their confidance in balancing the two wheel bicycle. Kids that have a so called training bike which they need to walk with will learn how to be confident on a bicycle with two wheels early on. At the age of five they switch effortless without training to a normal kids bike. The same is with swimming. Children with swimmies will not build enough confidence in swimming without this support. Therefore in swimming classes swimmies are not used. To teach little kids to swim the modern swim schools have develop lots of small fun exercises that slowly build their confidence.

Fourth advice here: do whatever that is easy for you now while you investigate which methods are most effective and efficent for you. Latest research (HBS Working Knowledge)  has shown that performance is better of those that do things related to their objectives that are easy to do and can be done immediately versus those who only focus on the analysis first and undergo a thorough selection process of identifying the best methods before implementing those.

Fifth advice: use the learning practices that you enjoy and have fun with even if they might slow you down. Applying the language more important than the method itself.

There are plenty of methods available and they can be combined at your degression. Some are targeted at the first novice learner of the language and some can be added once you reached a certain level in the new language. Listening to the local radio station in the new language could be quite a challenge for the beginner.as an example. To summarize it into the Sixth Advice: Use of Multimethods is better than applying just one single method at a time.

In 1986 my best ever interpreter for my negotiations in China had learned English in one year from scratch. I asked her how she made it in such a short time to such a professional level. Besides having this intrinsic thrive to connect to the outside world and grap the new opportunities she had used a multimethod approach. As soon as she got tired with her textbook, she turned to an audio casette, then switched to television or radio, or tried to find other fun exercises to practice English. At a certain level she looked for any opportunity to have a conversation in English, mainly with foreigners. This way she would spent the whole day learning English by switching the methods as soon as she got tired with them during the day. She had build a total immersive learning environment around her. And on top of it her accent even though she started English in her 20s for was perfect. I could not hear her Chinese background.

In my many years of experience I noticed the following tendencies when people learn. There is preferrence or dominance of intuitive learning over analytical learning, social learning (learning with others) over autodidactive learning, face to face learning over virtual learning and immersive learning over detached learning and contextual learning (in sentences) over object modular based learning (learning the vocabulary and grammar rules) and repetitive learning versus associative learning. But once again the seventh advice is:
An as well as approach is better than an either or. You do not need to avoid any of the learning “styles” above. Add them all if you can. Besides feeling for example very comfortable with the intuitive approach this should not stop you using an analytical method from time to time. What will really slow you down is to focus on just one single method or on a few methods and apply those in a sequential order. There is no better way to fail then to apply a cascading approach. Industry at large and project management in particular have moved away from it. Today agile development is used and this is also the more effective  and efficent system for your language  learning project. 

Some usefull methods are already listed here:

Daniel Tammet – The Boy With The Incredible Brain [5/5]

In 2009 Daniel Tammet a memory champion or so called savant demonstrated how to learn a new language in just one week. In the video he demonstrated this capabiliry with the Icelandic language. It is an immersive approach supported by language teacher who acts as his coach during the week. He will use his mnemonic technics while participating in daily life and leasure activities. He is not sitting at a desk nor at a quiet remote place to acquire the new language. And what will your inner voice say if I tell you that with the wisdom collected in this blog post you could do the same as David in less than three days ? Looking forward to your comments!
Why these menomonic technics are so powerful is shown here with the Baker/baker paradox and loci-method Reference:  How to train your mind to remember anything
In the Baker / Baker paradox research psychologist showed a photograph of a person with the name Baker to the research participants. One group was told the name of the person and the other group was informed instead about  the profession of this person is that of a baker. A few days later when they showed the photograph of Mr. Baker again to the different members of the two groups, the one group who was told about the profession members were much more likely to remember the name of Mr. Baker.  To quote the world memory champion Joshua Foer: “If you want to make something memorable, you first have to make it meaningful.” Reference.

Immersive, associative and conversational confidence learning: Michel Thomas:  Michel Thomas, The Language Master Pt 1 of 3

The key objective of the Michel Thomas method is to build conversational proficiency in a very short time. The first rule he tells his students is not to try to memorize or to take any notes. He wants his students to be relaxed and concentrated. He teaches in a living room style setup. The students sit in comfortable arm chairs in a circle. I have used “Stuhlkreis” (Gestalt) settings myself. They support the energy within a group for long periods of time. So it is no surprise that students who spent 8-10 hours a day with Michel Thomas still find it enjoyable and exiting. Michel is not using any material nor a blackboard. It is a highly interactive conversational environment. Whereever helpful he will use associative technics and he is building up slowly and systematically the complex structure of the language. It is a coaching approach as he will also encourage the student to find the correct solution. This also strengthen the confidence of the learner.  And to no surprise if you watch the above documentary you will still learn some French without any effort.

Social Learning: Sugata Mitra: Watch Minimally Invasive Education through Social Play http://f4a.tv/frWCMz Minimal Invasive Education by Sugata Mitra discovered in 1999 in New Dehli

Watch how Tamil only speaking children between the age of 8-12 years taught themselves Biotechnology in English with the help of a computer and passed a test with the same results as a group of children at a private school who had a teacher in biotechnology. Sugata Mitra discovered self organized education of children with the help of the internet in 1999 in New Dehli. You will see that this is a universal capability of children. In whatever country he applied this approach it would lead to the same results, independent if it were in UK, Italy, Bangladesh or South Africa. 
It started out as an experiment with kids in a slum of New Dehli and how they would use an open space computer without instructions. The children achieved in this so called self organized learning environments fascinating and amazing results. In this social learning setting Sugata Mitra discovered that while 1 child is using the computer the four other children will give useful adice. Additionally these 5 children are surrounded by 10-15 more children who will also throw in their tips and hypotheses. When you test those groups of children in a pre and post test it will show that all the children will have learned. It even became more effective with a coach who did nothing else as to encourage the children and ask them open questions such as “how did you do that”, can you show again what you have done ?
Other examples for social learning is Toastmasters. There is no instructor in Toastmasters. It is the combined effort of a group of people to advance their communication and presentation skills. I have started a company Toastmasters club and have witnessed and was amazed myself how highly effective it is to help people to become confident public speakers and communicators in a very short time.

Tim Ferris: Watch Tim Ferriss: Accelerated Learning in Accelerated Times http://f4a.tv/wvXSxs 

In the video Tim introduces his Deconstruction Process to Learning anything from Languages to Tango Dancing , Swimming or Body Building.
He has developed a guiding process which he calls: DieSEL’s FaCE
1. DEconstruction (minimal discrete units (look for anomalies and extrems) – plus Pareto 80:20 principal)
2. The Opposite of Best Practice
3. SELection (elimination first)
4. Sequencing (in what order to do the minimal descrete units identified in Step 1)
5. Frequency
6. Compression (one page)
7. Encoding (mnemonics)
Plus the Rules of Behavioral Change
In the video above Tim talks about Linkword Language method and how it accelerated his language learning. It is an associative method. Free examples on the site will introduce you to the method.

Tim Ferriss on language learning

Professor Alexander Arguelles on Language Learning: speaks, reads and writes in 50 languages

Professor Alexander Arguelles uses an autodidactive approach. To learn a new language he starts with language learning books and materials from Assimil. It is a phased process where the learner slowly moves into the new language. The aim is to stop the learner from translating back and force and become competent to learn in the new language only. The method uses bilungual books and is sentenced not word based. Grammar is explained but very lighty at the bottom of each text. Professor Arguelles explains in the video the process to apply to the learning material. The final state is when you can say the sentences while writing them down. In the step before the learner will read out lout the sentences in the new language while listening to the recorded speaker. To get to this level of practices the students has to take several steps before. It is a repetitive autodidactical approach. A quick method to build up structures and pronounciation in a new language. A good method for those who do not feel comfortable in groups and enjoy autodidactical learning. I still would recommend the method to all learners to include it in your curricula.

Dr. Kató Lomb (1909-2003) spoke 16 languages. Born in Hungary she learned the first English when she was at the age of 24. She is also was one of the first symultaneous interpreters in this world. In this free pdf ebook she describes how she learned so many languages. Key for her was to have fun with the material. Instead of choosing a language learning course book she chose to read books in the target language that fits her interest. In her words “The traditional way of learning a language (cramming 20-30 words a day and digesting the grammar supppied by a teacher or a course book) may satisfy at most one’s sense of duty, but it can hardly serve as a source of joy. Nor will it likely be successful”.  Her saying was “One learns grammar from language, not language from grammar”. Polyglot Tim Ferriss in his blog post “How to learn any language in 3 months” recommends the exact same thing.

Sir Richard Francis Burton Method (1821-1890): learned 25 languages and understood 72. Sir Richard Francis developed his own method to accelerate his language aquisition. He is more systemic structuralist similar to Tim Ferriss. Key in the learning is to understand the basic grammar rules very early on and then fill it will vocbulary. The maximum time he spent learning a language per day was 15 minutes. Longer period he said is tiring for the brain.

Other methods that are now well known to the broader audience are Berlitz, who used total immersion learning from 1950s onward. EF who organizes language learning vacations and Pimsleur who starts conversational without grammar. And well known is Rosetta Stone who use Multimedia (Computer) for language learning.

E) Experience

My personal experience with language learning.
I commute every day at least 60 minutes in one direction. So now my car became my study place. Not only does this make my commute more fun at the same time I add new skills to my profile and become more attractive to my employer.
The best way I learn a language is to listen to others. Same as kids do before they start to speak.
I found this wonderful example for learning Russian and it costs nothing.
It is in German and the teacher is a Russian lady who teaches her husband a German in Russian. It is downloadable also through itunes. Details on the Russlandjournal.de website. I have downloaded the lessons to my iphone.
I have tried other tapes and casettes from other more known companies in this area but none has been so effective to learn to speak Russian than this one for me personally.

For my French I just listen to the news and discussions on the radio. The jackpot for me is when they talk about social media and learning. I can get an update on the topic or a new view point while enjoying myself and improving continously my French.

What method do you use ? What is your recommendations ? Looking forward to your comments.

To be continued soon.

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