As someone who grew up in a bilingual home, I was fortunate to learn another language in my youth. Recently, I decided to learn another and in my quest, I came across some "hacks" to help speed up my progress. These recommendations are real, field-tested techniques, not academic theory.
1. Perhaps the single most effective way to learn a foreign language quickly and colloquially is to find a girlfriend/boyfriend who is a native speaker of the language; especially if his/her English is pretty minimal.
This works so well because you both have a strong desire to communicate with your beloved — and perhaps their family and friends — and you spend a lot of time together. This works best, of course, when you are immersed in that language, living in that country.
Now, if you are already married or otherwise committed, I would recommend against using this hack…for fairly obvious reasons.
2. Learn the adverbs. Why the adverbs? Well, there are tons of nouns and verbs and adjectives. You will eventually need to know many in order to have a decent conversation, but that is a lot of work. Also, you can often figure them out from context. If the other person says something like “I like that XYZ” and is pointing at some object, you can guess that it’s an XYZ. Adverbs are different, and they can change the meaning of a sentence dramatically. Look at the following pair of sentences (adverbs are IN CAPS):
“John BARELY caught the train.”
“John ALMOST caught the train.”
Big difference in meaning, right? And it may not be obvious from context. The nice thing about adverbs, unlike nouns, verbs and adjectives, is that there are far fewer that are used commonly. If you learn 100 adverbs, you have significantly increased your ability to have a meaningful conversation.
3. In the 1980s, when I was studying Russian in high school, if we wanted a real copy of a Russian newspaper, we would have to find a way to get to Brooklyn to get expensive, two-week old copies of Pravda. Today, you have access to amazing new resources via the internet. Open a search engine browser and type in “[The language you want to learn] radio.” The results will include plenty of live streaming radio from all over - some from the mother country, some from the United States. Listen to it as much as you can stand. Even if you have no idea what they’re saying, you’ll be picking up the rhythm and melody.
Getting foreign-language TV online is easy, too. There are services similar to Netflix for many languages. There is music in your language on YouTube (trust me, there is — no matter how obscure). Look up the major newspapers in your language and pick through them, word by word. You can practice foreign language chat at sites like SharedTalk or My Language Exchange.
What’s the point? Think about how much English you heard before you ever uttered “Mama”. You probably heard tens of thousands of words. You need that sort of input to make sense of a language, and you can do it passively, just like when you were a kid.
So, just turn on talk radio or YouTube and you are off to the races — even when you aren’t paying attention.
I am going to put these tactics in practice and let you know how it is going. Tune in!