How To Train Your Brain To Learn A Language

Simple steps to help you achieve conversational fluency.

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Photo by Nicole Wolf on Unsplash

How often have you tried to learn a new language, and then quit because you found it to be difficult?

For the longest time, I often stopped learning a language because nothing seemed to be working, and I couldn’t remember anything apart from the French translations for “Hello” and “Thank You.”

I was stuck. No matter how hard I tried, my attempts to learn a foreign language always failed. But while reading Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, I came across the following quote, which forever changed the direction of my language learning journey:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I realized that I could give up on my dream of being able to speak another language, or I could alternatively find techniques that train my brain to learn more efficiently.

So below are a collection of methods that I’ve used to learn several languages and achieve conversational fluency within a matter of weeks. Apply these to your life, and I’m sure they will do the same for you, too.

One of the biggest reasons that people struggle to learn a new language is because they use counterintuitive methods such as beginning the learning process with basic phrases & grammar.

Instead, a better way to learn a language is by starting with the most commonly used words as they’re the ones that you’re going to encounter more frequently. Quoting an article published in the BBC:

“If you learn only 800 of the most frequently-used lemmas in English, you’ll be able to understand 75% of the language as it is spoken in normal life.”

Whether I’m learning French, Spanish, or any other language, I’ll always begin the process by learning the most commonly used words to understand a majority of written text. For example, I’ll start by learning the translations for verbs, conjugations, and other essential elements of a language that I’ll need to construct a sentence.

When you begin implementing this technique, you’ll quickly find that you’re able to understand a lot of what you read. So consider making a list, memorizing the translations, and practicing until you’re ready to understand the content you’re reading with ease.

According to a study by the University of Edinburgh, learning a new language by singing song lyrics can be a great way to memorize new vocabulary:

“Results suggest that a “listen-and-sing” learning method can facilitate verbatim memory for spoken foreign language phrases.”

The ability to listen during a conversation is a vital part of learning a new language. So it’s essential to find enjoyable ways to integrate listening into your daily routine.

Over the years, I’ve found that listening to music in another language allows me to better understand sentence structure, the pronunciation of different words, and how grammar is applied to different tenses.

Singing along to your favorite foreign music obviously won’t make you fluent in a matter of days. However, it will undoubtedly enable you to quickly understand spoken vocabulary during a conversation.

Even if you’re able to understand what people are saying in another language, the skill of listening isn’t beneficial unless you know how to respond during a conversation.

I’ve discovered that meeting people at language events is a great way to improve your speaking ability. For example, I was able to make loads of new friends and practice speaking French while living in Toronto.

Alternatively, I’ve also found that changing the language settings on your Alexa/Google Home can allow you to practice having a conversation with a device in your target language.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Flora Lewis, who beautifully speaks about the benefits of learning a new language:

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”

Remember to keep improving your ability to read, listen, and speak in a foreign language, and you’ll eventually reach conversational fluency with ease.

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