9 Tips for Learning a Language (Fast)

I have always loved languages. I still remember the day when I realized there are other languages than Finnish. A song in English came on the radio and I was fascinated. I remember asking my parents if anyone could just come up with a language of their own. I spent the rest of the day making up words that sounded a bit like Finnish and a bit like gibberish.

When I was 10 years old, we started studying English at school and I was so excited. A year later I wanted to take German as an elective. At 13 years old, we started studying Swedish at school. Languages have also been a hobby outside of school. I have self-learned Turkish and I am now trying to do the same with Spanish. Languages are a passion of mine, and that is why I felt like I might have something helpful to share to others about learning other languages and doing it faster rather than slower.

1. Have a clear reason why

While I learn languages as a hobby of sorts, if I do not have a very clear reason why I want to learn a particular language, I am not going to make progress as fast. "It sounds nice" can be enough of a reason to begin, but soon you will need to be thinking of something else. As an example, I started learning Turkish five years ago because I saw a video on YouTube and in it, the language sounded so beautiful. After some time, I started to become interested in the culture, music, and so on, which made me have an internal motivation to keep learning. This is very important for consistency.

2. Listen to music

I love learning by listening. This might not be everyone's favorite way to learn, but it is definitely helpful for several reasons. Listening to music in your target language is a great way to start picking up some words and also for listening comprehension. I generally try to write down what I hear and then check it against the lyrics to see how well I did and which words I maybe misspelled or misheard.

3. Watch TV

I became somewhat addicted to Turkish TV shows in the beginning and that really sped up the process. I was having a hard time finding shows with subtitles, so I had to start watching without subtitles early on and although it was difficult, I kept going. I would recommend choosing something you are really interested in, for example, if you love documentaries, find documentaries in your target language and so on. Another way to do this is to watch a dubbed version of something you've already seen.

4. Have someone to practice with

Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, it is very easy to connect with people who are native speakers of your target language. In my experience, people are often very glad to do a language exchange, but you have to find the kind of people who are actually willing to talk, correct and give feedback. Through language exchange, I have also learned new things about my own language, which is always an eye-opening and exciting experience.

5. Record yourself speaking

I recently watched a video of a guy who learned fluent Finnish in a few years, and he had recorded himself in the very early stages. It was a great reminder of how much hard work pays off, and most importantly, it will help you with pronunciation. You could even send the voice recording to a native speaker and ask for feedback to help you identify the parts you need to pay more attention to.

6. Change the language of your devices

I  used to have my phone's language set to Turkish for years and it is a great way to be exposed to the language and to do a bit of forced learning. When your phone is not working properly and you try to find the right settings, being able to do that in another language is very motivating and a fun challenge.

7. Read books

It took me a long time to be able to start reading in Turkish and when I did, it was just a very simple and short romance novel. I would advise on starting with children's books or maybe translated novels because on average, they tend to have simpler language and structure. Reading books and writing down the words I don't know was the way I improved in English as well.

8. Write

I haven't done nearly enough of this, and it is ever more obvious to me now that I try and write in English. I have been reading a lot and passively receiving, but not creating myself. Forming coherent sentences can be hard at first, but it gets easier the more you practice. Spell checks are a life-saver when writing in any language, but with a foreign language, it can be especially useful. Online communities are a great platform for sharing your progress and getting feedback.

9. Start speaking now

Do this as early as possible, even if you are only just mumbling to yourself. I made the mistake of not speaking in many of the languages I started to learn, and that has led to the unfortunate situation where I am fully capable of understanding what is being said, but I struggle to answer even to the most basic of questions, purely because I have not practiced. Do not be afraid of mistakes, they are your only way to fluency. I need to keep telling this to myself all the time, and slowly but surely I am getting better at it.

And a quick book recommendation at the end: Jhumpa Lahiri's  In Other Words is a great book to read for anyone who is into languages. I really enjoyed her interesting story about learning Italian as an adult.

What are your tips for learning a language? Which languages are you currently learning, or do you maybe have a dream of starting? Let me know in the comments below so we can all learn something new. If you would like to read more about language learning, I would be more than happy to write more! I am planning to make a resource list for language learning if that would be something people are interested in. 

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