Previous Next

Photo by Felicia Wong

Even if you don’t feel linguistically-inclined, it’s possible–with patience, diligence, and a sense of humor—to become fluent in a language in six months or less.

ALTHOUGH ENGLISH IS MY first language, I learned Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese as a child, picked up French in high school, and have recently became conversant in Spanish as I travel through South America. Over the years, I’ve picked up the following tips for expediting language acquisition.

1. Immerse yourself

It’s almost impossible to learn a new language, or at least to learn it rapidly, unless you begin thinking in that language. But how do you think in a new language you can’t yet speak?

Ingratiate yourself with the community and you’re halfway there!

The answer is to simply immerse yourself in it. Traveling in a foreign country allows you to continuously hear the sounds, rhythms, and inflections of a new language–spoken on the streets, in buses, on television, etc. Your brain will already start to process and interpret a new language.

Even better than simply traveling is being forced to “operate” in a new language by participating in a volunteer program, or working abroad. Best of all is being completely immersed with locals (such as living with a host family) and completely isolated from other native speakers of your language.

Immerse yourself with the locals, their music, culture, media, politics, sports, family, etc. Ingratiate yourself with the community and you’re halfway there!

2. Forget translating: think like a baby!

photo by Felicia Wong

How do babies learn language? Through imitation, repetition of sounds, and above all, by not being shy or self-conscious.

So what if your pronunciation is a little off, or you can’t remember the proper conjugation? Just start talking, even if it seems like babbling. Resisting the urge to translate everything into your native language can be the single fastest shortcut to fluency.

Rather than walking up to the restaurant or giving your host family a pre-memorized phrase for what you’re going to order, simply listen to how the locals order their food, and then imitate them as best you can. The same goes for greetings, small talk, etc. Watch their facial expressions as they say the words; study how they move their mouths.

Copy these expressions and sounds just like a baby would. Whether you understand what they mean exactly or not, eventually you will begin simply calling upon these sounds / phrases / words in appropriate situations. They’ll appear, as if by magic. This is the gateway to thinking in a new language.

3. How do you say?

Besides common greetings, the one phrase you should memorize and always have at the ready is the phrase is “How do you say that / what is that called?”

By being an inquisitive traveler, one who is always asking questions, you befriend the local people. You’ll find that over time they’ll open up to you, making it easier to initiate conversations. These daily interactions with the locals are your best teachers: set a daily goal for yourself of having X number of conversations each day–asking people about things you’re interested in, but don’t know the words for. Even if you can’t finish the conversation, you’re on the way.

4. Write it

After having conversations, jot down the things you remembered hearing but didn’t quite understand.

After having conversations, jot down the things you remembered hearing but didn’t quite understand. (This can serve double duty if you’re also taking notes for your travel blog).

Then go back and use your dictionary. Look up the words, piece the conversation back together in your mind. Then, next time you have a conversation, use what you learned.

When studying French and Spanish, I also used “grammar sheets” where I wrote down the various verbs to learn their conjugations. Besides helping me focus, they also became handy reference guides.


5. Use cognates and draw links

Ever noticed how some words appear exactly the same across various languages? These are called “cognates.” Unlocking the usage of cognates instantly gives you several hundred more words to your vocabulary. For example, most words ending in “ion” in the Latin languages are the same in English.

For example: information / información, donation / donación

Similarly, words across different languages often share the same root word, so drawing on what you already know will make it easier (e.g.: cheese is fromage in French and fromaggio in Italian). Studies have also shown that when you have mastered a second language, your brain becomes becomes better wired to learn subsequent new languages. Fret not, it gets better!

6. Local TV, movies, music

photo by Robert Paetz

Watch movies, listen to music, sing songs, and browse newspapers and magazines. It’s fun and helps improve your pronunciation and comprehension.

I often stumble when trying to read Chinese script because I don’t use it enough and there are no phonetic cues in Chinese characters. But by watching Chinese music videos and following the lyrics, I learned many new characters and also began pronouncing words more accurately.

In the same way, I attuned myself to rapid French prattling by watching French movies on DVD without subtitles and improved my Spanish by paying attention during the dubbed action movies on long bus rides in South America.

Salsa classes have also ensured I know my izquierda (left) from my derecha (right)!

7. Non-verbal cues

Beyond words, observe locals when they talk. Be it the Gaelic shrug or a slight tilt of the head, combining body language with a new tongue helps you communicate better.

This is especially important in cultures where language is closely linked to gestures. For instance, appropriate bowing and greeting in Japanese are inseparable, as with the hand gestures and intonation in Thailand. Picking up on non-verbal cues added a new dimension to my interactions with Thais, as I learned the appropriate bowing of the head and a deep enough wai (palms together) to accompany my greetings.


8. Get emotional!

Photo by Robert Paetz

Emotive experiences often etch impressions onto our memory. Make full use of embarrassing / funny / angry experiences by linking them to the new language.

I learned, quite unfortunately, the importance of the special “ñ” character in Spanish because saying “Tengo 24 anos” instead of “años” meant I told everyone I had 24 anuses rather than being 24 years old.

Needless to say, the embarrassment helped correct my pronunciation for good! Similarly, negotiating with shady cab drivers or nasty vendors also helps you learn numbers rather quickly so you don’t get ripped off.

9. A world of friends / then going solo.

While individual classes can be highly beneficial for unsurpassed attention, group classes with friends can greatly aid learning. Having a friend to practice with helps you get better, and you can also learn from the different mistakes different people make.

On the other hand, venturing out solo in a foreign country forces you to speak with local people–say the person riding next to you on the bus, or standing in line at the market. It also prevents you relying on a friend with stronger language skills to do the talking for you in key exchanges such as asking for directions or buying food.


10. Practice at every opportunity before and after you travel.

Ever felt really “rusty” and lacking confidence in a language despite having taken classes or used it (or even mastered it) at some other time in your life? Languages are alive and require exercise. Find avenues to practice wherever and whenever you can.

For instance, I don’t get to use French very often in my daily life, so I found a French penpal to exchange emails. I also keep in touch with people I met in France and French travelers I met in the course of my travels. Writing in French on FaceBook (www.facebook.com) walls does wonders and even helps you learn some local slang!

Language Learning

 

About The Author

Felicia Wong

Felicia Wong recently left a diplomatic career to be with her fiancé, travel photographer Robert Paetz. They are currently traveling through South America but split their time between California and Singapore.

More By This Author

view all →
  • David Miller

    One suggestion: Kids!

    Kids often speak more slowly, with less complicated grammar, and so are easier to understand. Teach a local kid to speak some English in exchange for teaching you his / her native language.

    It's easier to lose your ego around kids, to not care how you "sound."

    They can be your best teachers.

  • N. Chrystine Olson

    Chiming in on #6. Watching game shows in another language works wonders. While waiting out several rainy days in NE Madagascar, I latched on to the evening broadcasts of "Jeopardy" in French. With a dictionary in hand it definately helped with my vocabulary.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/david-miller David Miller

    One suggestion: Kids!

    Kids often speak more slowly, with less complicated grammar, and so are easier to understand. Teach a local kid to speak some English in exchange for teaching you his / her native language.

    It’s easier to lose your ego around kids, to not care how you “sound.”

    They can be your best teachers.

  • mike stansfield

    I travel to quite a few European countries in my work and find that if you shop in the local shops and have a drink in the bars off the main streets you'll have to speak in the local language. As you get older you get less self-conscious too. A smile and a little hesitation invariably brings out sypathetic help and brightens everyone's day.
    Another tip – speak to older people. The young just want to practise their English

  • http://www.wranglingrhinos.com N. Chrystine Olson

    Chiming in on #6. Watching game shows in another language works wonders. While waiting out several rainy days in NE Madagascar, I latched on to the evening broadcasts of “Jeopardy” in French. With a dictionary in hand it definately helped with my vocabulary.

  • mike stansfield

    I travel to quite a few European countries in my work and find that if you shop in the local shops and have a drink in the bars off the main streets you’ll have to speak in the local language. As you get older you get less self-conscious too. A smile and a little hesitation invariably brings out sypathetic help and brightens everyone’s day.
    Another tip – speak to older people. The young just want to practise their English

  • Lola Akinmade

    Great tips! Currently trying to learn Swedish. Hopefully I can master it in 6 months :)

  • Schalk

    Sorry I did'nt really think while typing that.

    How can I prepare myself, language wise, before going to Spain.

  • http://www.lemurworks.com/lola Lola Akinmade

    Great tips! Currently trying to learn Swedish. Hopefully I can master it in 6 months :)

  • Schalk

    Im moving to London in the next month or two. From there on I want to go to Spain just after the High Season. What would be a good why for me to prepare before embarking?

  • Schalk

    Sorry I did’nt really think while typing that.

    How can I prepare myself, language wise, before going to Spain.

  • Camilo

    Hello,

    totally true, my first language is not english and im here writing and reading thanks to the steps mentioned above.
    I am originally from an Spanish speaking country and since three years ago i moved to an english speaking country. I did learn by my own self , and I have found spanish people around me that cant speak or understand english because they dont interact with sociaty , or the locals , or media that is not spanish.

    PErsonal efford is also an essencial key to succes!

    Gracias

  • Eric

    Thanks! These practical tips will help me – and many other readers – take the plunge and learn another language!

  • Camilo

    Hello,

    totally true, my first language is not english and im here writing and reading thanks to the steps mentioned above.
    I am originally from an Spanish speaking country and since three years ago i moved to an english speaking country. I did learn by my own self , and I have found spanish people around me that cant speak or understand english because they dont interact with sociaty , or the locals , or media that is not spanish.

    PErsonal efford is also an essencial key to succes!

    Gracias

  • http://www.compellingconversations.com Eric

    Thanks! These practical tips will help me – and many other readers – take the plunge and learn another language!

  • QuaChee

    Hey this is a cool and great share! Very inspiring. I'm planning to brush up on my languages and this really helps! :)

  • Free Software

    Interesting article – i want to learn spanish and I think this will help a lot!

  • http://www.quachee.blogspot.com QuaChee

    Hey this is a cool and great share! Very inspiring. I’m planning to brush up on my languages and this really helps! :)

  • http://www.fileprompt.com Free Software

    Interesting article – i want to learn spanish and I think this will help a lot!

  • Peter Allen

    A great site! The first I have seen like this.
    As an Englishman living in France, a great tip is: Don't look to see how to spell a word and then think you know how it is pronounced. Listen, Listen and Listen to the locals. Ah! That's how it is pronounced. Now look at the spelling. It works.

  • http://www.floridayachtsandvillas.com Peter Allen

    A great site! The first I have seen like this.
    As an Englishman living in France, a great tip is: Don’t look to see how to spell a word and then think you know how it is pronounced. Listen, Listen and Listen to the locals. Ah! That’s how it is pronounced. Now look at the spelling. It works.

  • David

    When I was learning Swedish, I found that reading comic books and joining a local choir helped immensely in my picking up the language. Music especially can help ingrain a language into your operating system.

  • Shan

    ehm.. cheese is FORMAGGIO in italian, not FROMAGGIO :)

  • Amanda

    Great tips, but I actually read this article for its title – fluent in 6 months! I think for the average person (ie not a linguistically gifted person – some people are just good with languages, but most of us aren't) 6 months isn't really realistic. I teach English in Australia and have a lot of students who come to my classes who were told by their agents in their home countries (in Europe or South America) that 6 months is definitely enough to become fluent and then they could study postgrad degrees or get a job using their qualifications from home – and a lot of them end up very disappointed and in great financial strife because they just can't manage it in 6 months, even immersed in the country.

  • http://notaballerina.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    Great tips, but I actually read this article for its title – fluent in 6 months! I think for the average person (ie not a linguistically gifted person – some people are just good with languages, but most of us aren’t) 6 months isn’t really realistic. I teach English in Australia and have a lot of students who come to my classes who were told by their agents in their home countries (in Europe or South America) that 6 months is definitely enough to become fluent and then they could study postgrad degrees or get a job using their qualifications from home – and a lot of them end up very disappointed and in great financial strife because they just can’t manage it in 6 months, even immersed in the country.

  • Vulcan

    i never ever heard Russian or Persian but I learnt both or atleast understand most of it
    I already knew 6 more languages before so it added to my language skills

  • Vulcan

    i never ever heard Russian or Persian but I learnt both or atleast understand most of it
    I already knew 6 more languages before so it added to my language skills

  • thailand holiday

    Very good post. Many thanks !!

  • http://www.mysamuiholiday.com thailand holiday

    Very good post. Many thanks !!

  • Bianca

    Hello =),

    I've been living in France for a year now, I'm 14 and am never allowed out :P. Even though I've had so little emmersion through this year, I've learnt an enormous amout. I wouldn't say that I'm fluent, but I can say everything that I want to and if not, locals are always happy to help. This year I hope to be getting out and (since I am home-schooled, I have a limited amout of friends here) making more friends. Hopefully, given another 6 months, I'll be speaking and underderstanding perfectly, thanks =). I'll keep your 10 steps in mind =)!

    – Bianca

    http://www.kissmyfishy.blogspot.com

  • http://www.kissmyfishy.blogspot.com Bianca

    Hello =),

    I’ve been living in France for a year now, I’m 14 and am never allowed out :P. Even though I’ve had so little emmersion through this year, I’ve learnt an enormous amout. I wouldn’t say that I’m fluent, but I can say everything that I want to and if not, locals are always happy to help. This year I hope to be getting out and (since I am home-schooled, I have a limited amout of friends here) making more friends. Hopefully, given another 6 months, I’ll be speaking and underderstanding perfectly, thanks =). I’ll keep your 10 steps in mind =)!

    - Bianca

    http://www.kissmyfishy.blogspot.com

  • Simon Middleton

    I live and work in Andalucía, Spain and I have been learning Spanish for the past 4 years and I think all the tips are fantastic – for me, points 2 and 6 were the fastest way to fluency.

  • http://www.askolive.com Simon Middleton

    I live and work in Andalucía, Spain and I have been learning Spanish for the past 4 years and I think all the tips are fantastic – for me, points 2 and 6 were the fastest way to fluency.

  • Craig

    I have to agree with Amanda: it's impossible to achieve proficiency in six months.

    As an English teacher I would say it takes most good European students until they are in their late teens or early twenties to achieve proficiency. If they ever do. Asian students often take longer as English lessons start later in most Asian countries (or at least have until recently).

    Having the advantage of learning some languages as a child, the author has a big advantage over those of us who where never exposed to another language. As the pre-frontal cortex develops it becomes less and less easy to learn a second language. If you already have a second language under your belt, on the other hand, it is much easier to learn a third, fourth, fifth…

    There are some solid language learning tips here, but fluent in six months? Perhaps.

  • http://indietravelpodcast.com Craig

    I have to agree with Amanda: it’s impossible to achieve proficiency in six months.

    As an English teacher I would say it takes most good European students until they are in their late teens or early twenties to achieve proficiency. If they ever do. Asian students often take longer as English lessons start later in most Asian countries (or at least have until recently).

    Having the advantage of learning some languages as a child, the author has a big advantage over those of us who where never exposed to another language. As the pre-frontal cortex develops it becomes less and less easy to learn a second language. If you already have a second language under your belt, on the other hand, it is much easier to learn a third, fourth, fifth…

    There are some solid language learning tips here, but fluent in six months? Perhaps.

  • Karen Banes

    Loved this article – and totally related to number 8. After telling someone that I was embarazada (pregnant) because I didn't speak Spanish better when I actually meant I was embarazosa (embarrassed) because I didn't speak Spanish better, I never made the same mistake again. I also once managed to ask a furniture salesman for a bedside table with cojones (testicles) when I actually wanted one with cajones (drawers). Again, not a mistake you make more than once!

  • Karen Banes

    Loved this article – and totally related to number 8. After telling someone that I was embarazada (pregnant) because I didn’t speak Spanish better when I actually meant I was embarazosa (embarrassed) because I didn’t speak Spanish better, I never made the same mistake again. I also once managed to ask a furniture salesman for a bedside table with cojones (testicles) when I actually wanted one with cajones (drawers). Again, not a mistake you make more than once!

  • Yohanes Liu

    As a person who speaks Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkian, Hakka, Tio Ciu, English and Spanish (the first two are my natives languages), I agree with the points. I learn English at schools and I teach myself Spanish with help from online friends. It took me about 8 months to be able to talk quite fluently in Spanish. Two tips I'd like to share:

    1. Speak, speak, speak
    Even if you don't have a partner with whom you can practice the language, talk to yourself. When you feel like cursing someone in the bad traffic ;-), swear in the language you're learning.

    2. Write a diary
    Try to write a journal of your daily activities using the language you're learning. You'll learn a lot of new vocabularies and you'll run into grammatical problems which will make you curious how it should be written. Solve it!

    3. New words? Remember it but don't force too hard to remember.
    It's useless to keep saying, trying to plant the new words in your mind. Instead, remember it for a while and let it go. When you encounter it next time, slowly it will emerge from your memory. The next time you see it again or when you'll need to use that word, you'll have it forever.

    Just my two cents.

  • trevor

    get rosetta stone the fast way to learn!!!

  • looseduke

    Interesting, but you made a mistake: in Italian, the correct word is 'formaggio' not 'fromaggio' as you stated.

  • Yohanes Liu

    As a person who speaks Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkian, Hakka, Tio Ciu, English and Spanish (the first two are my natives languages), I agree with the points. I learn English at schools and I teach myself Spanish with help from online friends. It took me about 8 months to be able to talk quite fluently in Spanish. Two tips I’d like to share:

    1. Speak, speak, speak
    Even if you don’t have a partner with whom you can practice the language, talk to yourself. When you feel like cursing someone in the bad traffic ;-), swear in the language you’re learning.

    2. Write a diary
    Try to write a journal of your daily activities using the language you’re learning. You’ll learn a lot of new vocabularies and you’ll run into grammatical problems which will make you curious how it should be written. Solve it!

    3. New words? Remember it but don’t force too hard to remember.
    It’s useless to keep saying, trying to plant the new words in your mind. Instead, remember it for a while and let it go. When you encounter it next time, slowly it will emerge from your memory. The next time you see it again or when you’ll need to use that word, you’ll have it forever.

    Just my two cents.

  • looseduke

    Interesting, but you made a mistake: in Italian, the correct word is ‘formaggio’ not ‘fromaggio’ as you stated.

  • Marianne

    I love these tips. Thanks you so much.

    I'm from a Spanish speaking country and I landing in the USA with no ENGLISH at all. I was first afraid and trying to translate everything. NO WAY.

    Just go, try to listen and get involve with the culture and yes, I did fool myself and I still do hahahaha but I learned it and I'm loving it. Now, I'm trying to learn Japanese and again paying attentions to the culture, how the say things and asking a lot of questions helps a lot. And thanks to KIDS I'm learning too…

    Let's see how the Japanese goes. Wish me luck. Great Article.

  • Marianne

    Ok, I can see that I wrote this very quick and with a very poor grammar. My apologies. :)

  • http://www.purpledcreative.com Marianne

    I love these tips. Thanks you so much.

    I’m from a Spanish speaking country and I landing in the USA with no ENGLISH at all. I was first afraid and trying to translate everything. NO WAY.

    Just go, try to listen and get involve with the culture and yes, I did fool myself and I still do hahahaha but I learned it and I’m loving it. Now, I’m trying to learn Japanese and again paying attentions to the culture, how the say things and asking a lot of questions helps a lot. And thanks to KIDS I’m learning too…

    Let’s see how the Japanese goes. Wish me luck. Great Article.

  • http://www.purpledcreative.com Marianne

    Ok, I can see that I wrote this very quick and with a very poor grammar. My apologies. :)

  • Kerry

    Great suggestions for any language learner. "Think like a baby" is my favorite piece of advice from this list, and possibly the most useful – especially if you have few resources to help you learn a language in an unfamiliar land.

  • http://goeasteurope.about.com Kerry

    Great suggestions for any language learner. “Think like a baby” is my favorite piece of advice from this list, and possibly the most useful – especially if you have few resources to help you learn a language in an unfamiliar land.

  • Claudine

    So the difficulty of the language should not matter. I am supposed to be trying to learn Spanish this summer!

  • http://www.vacation-tip.com Claudine

    So the difficulty of the language should not matter. I am supposed to be trying to learn Spanish this summer!

  • Clara

    It's also important to let go of your stage fright, not worry about your accent so much and make many mistakes. It should only help you to learn and if you make a cross-cultural mistake, that is your cue to laugh.

  • Clara

    It’s also important to let go of your stage fright, not worry about your accent so much and make many mistakes. It should only help you to learn and if you make a cross-cultural mistake, that is your cue to laugh.

  • Sean Daily

    Also, joining local organizations such as the Alliance Francaise (similar organizations exist for Spanish and Italian speakers, and other countries/languages) that have email lists that list (or they themselves organize) conversations groups and other events does wonders to find other interested learners/speakers. Time spent speaking and listening to MULTIPLE speakers (at all levels of speed and fluency) is everything, and you have to get yourself out there to really learn a language.. it can't happen only during the 2 weeks you visit the country every year or two. I go to 2 or 3 different French conversations groups per month and get to network and talk with people of levels from very beginner to French natives who attend to create community, and it really helps keep my tongue and ear tuned between visits to French-speaking countries.

  • http://greenlivingideas.com Sean Daily

    Also, joining local organizations such as the Alliance Francaise (similar organizations exist for Spanish and Italian speakers, and other countries/languages) that have email lists that list (or they themselves organize) conversations groups and other events does wonders to find other interested learners/speakers. Time spent speaking and listening to MULTIPLE speakers (at all levels of speed and fluency) is everything, and you have to get yourself out there to really learn a language.. it can’t happen only during the 2 weeks you visit the country every year or two. I go to 2 or 3 different French conversations groups per month and get to network and talk with people of levels from very beginner to French natives who attend to create community, and it really helps keep my tongue and ear tuned between visits to French-speaking countries.

  • Tibi Puiu

    OK, this is wonderful! You have no idea how much this article has helped me get past some issues I had with foreign languages. I'll follow-up this post with a reply, 6 months from now, with my new found French and German skills (the languages I want to learn).

    -Tibi

  • http://www.lostartofblogging.com Tibi Puiu

    OK, this is wonderful! You have no idea how much this article has helped me get past some issues I had with foreign languages. I’ll follow-up this post with a reply, 6 months from now, with my new found French and German skills (the languages I want to learn).

    -Tibi

  • toast

    'gaelic shrug'? gallic shrug surely?

  • Joe | A New Band A D

    Working in a bar is a really good way to learn too – your job is all about communication and you can overhear all sorts of conversations as you work. Joe – http://www.anewbandaday.com

  • Rick Overman

    Great post!!!! , like the baby technique… :) , the problem with learning is memory, the problem with memory is that the more you force yourself to remember something the quicker you forget it. solution? dont try to remember so hard but just absorb it as natural as possible.

  • maria

    I like this advices! I'll add some of the tricks that helped me (native Bulgarian) learn English and German. Of course as a foreigner you should first try learning the language itself. If you learn a dialect, you'll need a couple of weeks to understand the others if you change your location. Every language has some specific melody and to start speaking it fluently, you just need to remember whole expressions and take good care of the intonation (even if your name sounds differently and funnier in a foreign language, you should try pronouncing it properly). If you can't visit the country where the language you learn is native spoken, I highly recommend playing some Computer games (like RPG's). During game play you need to listen, read and finally see the whole story in pictures and you need to make decisions on your own-the best practice at all! Don't forget to use simple and short sentences.Use your arms and legs, before looking at the dictionary. Finally be aware of learning the words without their meaning (respectively not learning all meanings). If you do that, you'll surely have troubles speaking fluently. And remember!! It's better to speak incorrect, but fluently, than otherwise.

  • Ian

    Don't delude yourself – you're not going to be "fluent" in 6 months. I spent 5 years in France and it took at least 2 years of daily speaking to become fluent, having already taken many courses in university before arriving. Now I live in Taiwan – and if you think you are going to learn 3000 characters in 6 months, it's just not possible. Not to mention mastering the tones and learning a grammar which is completely unlike any Western language. You can make great progress in 6 months, and the list is a good one. But don't dream of being fluent in that time, you can't rush learning a language, your brain needs time to absorb it. Anyway, what's the rush? Enjoy the journey, especially if you're living abroad. :-)

  • Loic

    Travelling is the best way ever to learn a new language. But you've to meet people and, of course, don't be shy. You'll improve fastier whatever the mistakes you do.

  • Mooie

    I can't but agree with much said. As soon as I realised perfection isn't the key to communications, it all became easier – mainly due to the fact that I started to believe in my own ability to learn another language well enough to be able to communicated with others. I'm not as far advanced in my linguistic skills yet, only knowing four (Germanic) languages (Swedish, English, German and Norwegian), understanding a fifth (also Germanic) language (Danish), but I do intend to learn a handful other languages over time, such as Finnish, Dutch and Polish. Maybe also French, Russian and some Asian language. Now, some might wonder why the heck one shall learn multiple languages, instead of one "universal" language, such as English; to me it's the nuances in the languages that fascinates me, the small details which might not easily be expressed in English. It's also naïve to believe everyone else speak or understand English. So, no – if I go to a place for an extended period of time, I'll absolutely learn the language used there. If not before, I will at least try to pick up something while there. So, my addition; KISS – Keep It Simple Silly/Stupid. Don't worry, it'll work out. No need to make things more complicated than necessary.

  • Leisureguy

    Very good thoughts. Let me add a couple: P.J.T. Glendening wrote a very helpful little book Teach Yourself to Learn a Language, now out of print but available through secondhand books sites. He provides excellent advice, including a core vocabulary that can take you far in any language (the essential words: man, woman, day, night, week, tomorrow, yesterday, bring, take, and so on). He also emphasizes the importance of learning both the ordinal numbers (first, second, third, and so on) as well as the cardinal numbers (one, two, three, and so on)—when you're on the phone and get a phone number or an address or want to tell someone the time and date to meet, you'll need those numbers. One key skill, usually learned in the first foreign language one learns, is not to fixate on a particular set of words you want to say, but to think about the idea and communicate it in words that you know. If you want to say particular words, you can readily get "stuck" because you don't know some word, but if you're willing to paraphrase using the words you know, you can talk around the difficulty. This skill probably accounts for the success of a Finnish experiment: most students study three years of German, but an experimental group studied a year of Esperanto, followed by two years of German (with the Esperanto continued as the language in geography classes). The Esperanto group, at the end of the three years, knew German better than those who had three years of German: they were more fluent, for example, and they found it easier to communicate. The idea was that in learning Esperanto (which was specifically designed to be easy to learn), they also picked up all sorts of skills in language learning in general, which they then used in learning German.

  • M Graves

    The 24 anos story is amusing, and it actually is a useful way to start a conversation once you have started getting conversational. The subte sound variations can indeed be embarassing. When I was first learning spanish I was ill and my wife came in to ask me how I felt and I said to her in spanish "soy mujer ahora, tengo hombre" rather than "estoy mejor ahora, tengo hambre"… I essentially told her "I am woman now, I have a man" rather than "I am better now, I am hungry" Needless to say when I tell this story to all of my latin friends they think it is hilarious

  • Stefu

    I was sent to Japan for a large construction project for six months. Working with a crew of 15 non-english speakers was a real hoot, since I knew no Japanese at all! Talk about total immersion! The amount of confusion at first was daunting, but by constantly trying (and making many, many mistakes) I slowly began to "get it". I found that body language and intonation was as important as the words themselves. But the best teacher was a man in my apartment building teaching his child to talk. I tuned in to the slowly spoken, gently repeated reinforcement of the father, and my Japanese improved exponentially! It was like getting the keys to the kingdom. Of course, even after six months, I wouldn't call myself fluent by any means, but I can easily make myself understood in almost any situation. Make mistakes, speak and act like they do, study constantly, and practice, practice, practice….

  • VitaminCM

    Good article. I often wonder how long it would take me to become very proficient in a language if I moved to a foreign country. I think I could get it pretty quickly. This makes me feel more confident.

  • Pingback: EDITing in the Dark » 10 Steps to learning a language in 6 months

  • Spanish Classes

    I think for a first time foreign language student 6 months is extremely generous to become fluent. You may be conversational but fluency can be a lifetime goal depending on aptitude, work ethic, and access to language resources and practice. http://www.letutor.com

  • Pingback: RobSayers.Com - How to learn a language

  • Pingback: 10 steps to becoming fluent in a languag … « Babel 2.0 microblog

  • Pingback: ichat第三期:时空穿梭;考研&工作;英文学习 | Chars Lee

  • Pingback: Mundo Real: Aprende un nuevo lenguaje en 6 meses (o menos) - ALT1040

  • Pingback: vBharat.com » 10 Steps to Becoming Fluent in a Language in 6 months or Less

  • Pingback: EdTech @ ADW » Blog Archive » 10 Steps to Becoming Fluent in a Foreign Language

  • Pingback: ::A Geek in Korea:: » Blog Archive » Things to do before you die.

  • Pingback: 50 Things to Do Before You Die | One-Stop Information Centre | BennyKusman.com

  • Language Quiz

    Very nice post. I digg this post for future reference, very descriptive and informative.

  • Learnitalianlanguage

    nice post. immersion has been my way of picking up Spanish myself. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Pingback: 9步让你的英语在6个月内流利 | 英语,文化和交流

  • Riddle

    Thx for the article! maybe it will improve my english! :-)

  • Pingback: 50 Things to do Before you Die « Lucas Davenport’s…

  • Pingback: Selección de Noticias y Blogs [13] « Raul Barral Tamayo’s Alpha Blog

  • Jessica

    Hello! This is a lot of great information. Becoming “fluent” is obviously a long, on-going process, because there are always topics that come up, with words that you don’t understand if you have never heard them before. However, with open ears it is amazing to see how much you can really understand in a language, and in time you are able to also contribute to the conversation, yourself. I find myself listening in to Spanish conversations between people, when I hear them, and for the most part I can understand everything they are saying. Sometimes there is a word or two that I hadn’t heard before, but usually the rest of the sentence makes sense, so I can still understand mostly everything that is being said. You have give a lot of great advice here, thanks!

  • Sean

    Thanks for the great article. I am trying to learn Russian, Spanish, and Italian. Myhappyplanet.com is a cool social media site for people trying to learn languages. There are lots of free written, audio, and video lessons on this site. You can also make friends with native speakers in the language that you want to learn.

  • Sean

    Great recommendations. I particularly like the idea of a diary in the language you want to learn. Thanks.

  • Sam Heset

    I think the only way to learn a language is to go and live in the country!

  • Pingback: The Blog - AskOmar.com » Blog Archive » Week In Review - July 28

  • Veronica

    This article and all the posts are definitley a big help! I am moving to Spain in a couple weeks for almost a year and know very little Spanish (I took German in high school and college and have only taken an intro to Spanish class with a horrible teacher). I have been trying to study as much as possible, but I know it will be the immersion that will really do it! These tips have definitely given me a better idea on how to make the most of it and hopefully become as fluent as possible!

  • Christian Lindmayer

    In my opinion the best way to learn a language is to live in the country. Because you HAVE TO use the language and this improves your skills.

  • Pingback: 50 Things to do Before you Die « To see before you die

  • westly

    Tanks!!

  • Jim

    I’m an english teacher living in Korea. As I was reading this article, someone rang on my door bell. I knew it was probably an evangelist (people I usually don’t like dealing with anyways) so I didn’t go to the door, but really I should have opened up to have a conversation. I’ve been here 6 months and I`ve been studying Korean quite a bit these days. I listen to Korean all the time but I rarely give myself a chance to try to have a conversation. So I suck. (In Korea, you can get along pretty easily without knowing Korean whatsoever). So if you really want to learn here, you do need to forget your shame and just go for it. I’m hoping to grow a pair soon so I can do it before my year contract is finished.

    However, a big reason why I haven’t tried to have conversations is because my knowledge is so limited. I’ve always thought that I need to learn quite a bit of the language before I attempt to have conversations. But I’m starting to think that’s a foolish way to think. I`m not sure. Anyways, don’t be a pussy like me (excuse the language) and just try your best to follow the author’s advice. It seems very good to me. One thing to add though is I don’t think you can get anywhere very fast without studying on your own (learning the grammar and vocabulary). Well at least it can`t hurt.

  • http://www.vivisit.com/ Vietnam Hotel Travel

    My own experience: be local, be talkative and be confident.

  • gary

    actually it does hurt. you didnt learn the grammer before you learnt english. to become fluent at a native level you have to learn your new language the same way you learnt your own native language. Letting go of worrying about the grammer will work wonders, otherwise it just slows you up.

    • guru

      one of the best comments i’ve heard so far is from Gary (July 2nd 2009), which is don’t let worries about grammar (or anything else for that matter) slow you down. It’s important to enjoy learning the language, which means you recognise your strengths and build on them.

  • http://www.fengshui-services.com/ Fengshui Master

    Well I think I am pretty good with languages and I agree with this article. For myself, I learned a lot through friends, fun, parties, flirting, and I succeeded because I was never scared.

  • http://www.letutor.com/spanish-classes-in-phoenix/ Spanish classes

    These are all very good tips. I make my #1 piece of advice to be to loose your inhibitions. Don’t be self conscious. Children make tons of mistakes while learning to speak and you will to. It is part of the process.

  • http://englishwithmarypitt.blogspot.com/ Aryana

    You’re truly right with that even you don’t feel linguistically-inclined, it’s possible–with patience, diligence, and a sense of humor—to become fluent in a language in six months or less. This happened to me, I learned the English language in less than six months. I used to work for a non government before and it’s really frustrating that you can’t speak and understand a certain language because I never dared to make an effort to learn. That’s the reason I decided to invest in learning English online.

    It needs an effort but it’s truly rewarding.

  • Rick

    And it’s really important that you enjoy learning, if you’re not pressured with what you’re doing you will endure discouragement

    Thanks for sharing these, very interesting!

  • Rick

    And it’s really important to enjoy learning, if you’re not pressured with what you’re doing you will endure discouragement

    Thanks for sharing these, very interesting!

  • Zingo

    Nice article! Just a tip: ‘cheese’ in Italian is ‘formaggio’, not ‘fromaggio’ as you wrote! ;)

  • http://www.icheapairfares.com/blog Fresh Airfare

    Watch you favorite dvd movies with the subtitles (of the language your learning) turned on. For example, if you’re an American learning English, watch Goodfellas or Pulp Fiction, with the Spanish subtitles on. This is fun and hilarious way to learn some new Spanish words and phrases.

  • http://responsivetravel.com/ Emma

    Great tips! I’ve learned French over the past few years, and even though I’m at an advanced level it is still amazing how fast it slips away if I go even a couple months without practicing. Movies are a great option, as well as finding the local l’Alliance Francaise. I’m inspired to go out and learn another language now!

  • http://www.studycli.org Robbie

    I couldn’t agree more with this article! I founded a Chinese language school in southern China that adheres as closely as possible to essentially all of these principles.

  • Sveva Canizzaro

    First of all, people, it is possible to be completely fluent in a language in six months, but by my experience, only through total immersion. Also, the italian word for “cheese” was spelled wrong; Formaggio, not fromaggio.

  • KoreanObsessed

    Thank you so much! I am a middle school student who is Korean, but I don’t know Korean, and I am determined to learn it and surprise my mom on her birthday…

    I absolutely love learning languages and am currently taking a Spanish elective class. The “24 Anuses” story is so funny!

    Please reply if you any tips on how to learn Korean, etc.

  • Luca

    It’s FORmaggio not FROmaggio… That’s actually kind of a bad example… Almost a faux amis, of which there are plenty between Italian and French :)

  • jenna

    heyy, I need to become fluent in a language fast, but I CAN”T TRAVEL…I am having family move into town, and they speak Dutch only. My dad spoke dutch fluently but after the years he doesn’t remember it all. How can I become fluent?

  • Mark

    I am a British person living in China, my wife is Chinese and I speak nothing but Chinese throughout the day, I am totally immersed in Chinese life and culture.
    I’ve been learning Chinese for about 5 years, I spend at least an hour each day learning and revising on top of my day to day language use.
    In my own estimation I am still a beginner
    The idea of becoming fluent in 6 months is ridiculous. It will take me 5 more years to become as fluent as a typical Chinese 10 year old child.
    I suspect an English person hearing me speak Chinese would think I was fluent, but this is an illusion. Most language learners like to create such an illusion of fluency to impress people around them.

    • Robert

      Your headline probably draws in readers but it’s absolutely and categorically misleading. The average adult mind CANNOT become fluent within 6 months, unless that person did nothing else but study and eat, sleep and think in that language. Further, not all language acquisition is equal. Much easier to go from English to French than from English to Chinese.

      True fluency requires a vocabulary of around 20,000 words. And not just passive, but active as well. That many brain connections takes time. Or an extraordinary brain. And those of us who have “an extraordinary brain” aren’t reading articles like this. They don’t need someone to tell them “be brave”. Why? Because they have NO DIFFICULTY recalling the appropriate vocab and grammar .

      So how do you learn a language? Daily practice. Reading, writing, speaking. Repeat. The best advice I can give: dedicate at least 1 hour a day to studying. You want to improve quicker? Make it 2 hours. An hour in the morning. An hour at night. Want even faster? An hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon, an hour in the evening.

      The forget about a time-line. Your brain is unique. It will take you anywhere from 6 months to 10 years to “get it”. Assuming you are of average intelligence, an hour a day will get you to fluency in around 5 years.

      • Heather Carreiro

        Thanks for sharing Robert. As a linguist, ESL teacher and a person who has studied several languages to intermediate levels of fluency, I totally agree with you.

  • Kirsten

    It’s so true about media…I’ve found 10+ Mexican and South American bands and singers that I love and, even after not using Spanish (outside of some on-again-off-again studying bouts) for 2 years my Spanish is better than the last time I used it. Finding music you like will make you want to listen to it often, and when you do you’ll often automatically try to translate it, and notice words you don’t understand and occasionally look them up online and learn new vocab!

    Watching movies with subtitles in Spanish is also really helpful. It’s not as hard to learn/retain a language as people think!

  • http://www.learnanotherlanguagehq.com Peter

    In my opinion the best way to learn a foreign language is opportunity to speak with natives. When you travel to other country you have to communicate with people from there and you immerse yourself in the new language and in that culture.

  • Pingback: 4 Strategies to Make the Most of Language School Classes

  • Pingback: 4 Strategies to Make the Most of Language School Classes | iTravelMags.com

  • Pingback: Giordano Bruno » Come imparare l’inglese senza studiare l’inglese

  • http://www.sierrasurvey.com David Page

    Step Zero Point One: Fall in love and shack up with a local who speaks no English.

  • http://budgettravelintentions.com/ Jeremy B

    Outstanding! Makes me want to move to another country right now and immerse myself in a language. I have 2 kids – 2 and under. So I am very well aware at how they pick up on language and are so good at it. Repetition, listening, non verbal clues – it’s amazing. I guess we lose a bit of that as we get older. We can learn a lot from kids and language is a good reminder of that.

  • Sanstree

    Thanks for the article! I completely agree with you! Immersion is everything and being “like a baby” is also the shortest way of learning a language. The grammar should be studied last and words should be picked up on the way. What matters most is intonation, rhythm and body language.

    My first foreign language was English which I studied 10 years at school and when I finally went to England, I couldn’t understand a word they say! It took me 2-3 years to live with a British family to become relatively “fluent” in English. (I still do a lot of mistakes though)

    The second language I was learning at school (Russian) was pretty much spoken at home and although I hated studying cases at school I picked up some basic spoken Russian while travelling. Now I never use Russian to speak to anyone but I am fond of Russian books that still keeps the language in use.

    I have been living in India for a year and due to the lack of time didn’t do any hard studying but slowly slowly common words just stuck in my head so after one year living in India I can pretty much use Hindi while shopping, travelling, bargaining, conversing about health, weather and family. I also observe my 3 year old daughter who speaks Hindi, English, some Punjabi and basically will absorb a rhyme of any language sung to her.

    So yes, I think, you can learn a language only by having fun!

  • Pingback: Foreign Language Withdrawl & The Not-Learning Blues « Hannah In Motion

  • http://belizecityvacations.com Belize city

    Fantastic article. Yes you are right, that listening to the media and popular culture helps you get the latest catch phrases. Especially like english, where so many people use slang.

  • WJ Wang

    The part about learning from songs and music is especially true! Learnt quite a few words from songs and their lyrics.

    Better still if a learner can gradually capture the words being sung just by listening to a song. I think he/she will then be well on his/her way to being able to listen to this new language effectively.

  • http://Runbumps.org Dustin

    It was fun to read this. It confirmed a lot of what I’ve experienced while learning.

    My embarrassing experience was when I swapped the word skin with ass. I told my wife her skin looked good in front of her entire family.

  • Luke

    I really enjoyed this, Felicia. Some great tips, and I couldn’t agree more with #2 – overcoming inhibitions is key.

  • Pingback: How I Learned Guaraní in Paraguay

  • http://www.johnfranco.org John

    I will implement tips 1 and 3 mainly. Thanks for these great help.

    By the way, the picture on point 8, was taken here in Cuenca, where I am living right now. That’s the main church!

    All the best

  • lendell

    well, that was a very impressive article, however, i think this not pertains to majority, i mean, how about for the people who wants to learn other languages but cannot travel, or they were not able to meet someone whom could they talk or to learn from? Tip No 11. Study language by reading books / buy DVD materials to learn proper pronounciation, other materials that could help. Self Taught. :)

  • vivekanandan

    ya its really useful tips for the language learners if learners can improve the language proficiency with this tips
    thank you

  • Pingback: Great link – 10 Steps to Becoming Fluent in a Language in 6 Months or Less | internationalschoolcommunity

  • max

     In italian is formaggio not fromaggio

  • http://www.onlinefrenchcourse.info French Online

    Immersion is definitely the big one – I spent 6 months in Russia and was practically fluent by the end. Here’s what helped a LOT – I listened to one of the multilingual news radio stations like VOA or Radio Free Europe EVERY day. First I would hear the news in English, then I would hear it in Russian, and because I KNEW what the news was about I could guess and fill in the gaps in my Russian. It happened almost unconsciously and I could understand everything by the end. You could do that even if you weren’t in the country, of course, but it is more effective when you are immersed in the language all day. You don’t want to learn just news-speak of course :)

  • Dharmasivam.r

    I am dharmasivam i done mba in tamil nadu now my english is average i want improve my self  how can i improve myself. 

  • Cynthia Rooaarr

    i agree me and my friend are trying to learn korean but we are to young to travel.

  • Kkumasaran

    suberb

  • montasir shammed

    thank you so much ,Iam sudanes and my mothertounge is arabic and I want learn english  so I read this topic to improve my self

  • http://www.facebook.com/hang.xiong Hang Xiong

    This article is quite helpful for me! I am now living in the country speaking that language. Every minute, I feel the force to be a master of the language. I cannot follow the lectures well and usually miss the important points. I cannot call the service number of my phone card to fix my problems. I cannot participate the chatting with my colleagues at lunch time, although they tried to let me in…Maybe I need to a host family house, convert to use a English operating system, stop using bilingual dictionaries. Anyway, I should immerse myself in the language more deeply.

  • Ghudai

    The nice thing is that speaking a second language means that you are a second person, when I speak another language I feel like someone else
    http://www.lalinguaarabapertutti.com/index-E.htm

  • Bedieutt2000
  • Jane Norris

    This is really great advice. If your looking for a way to expand your vocabulary try these books the helped my german a lot http://www.lexiabooks.com

  • Samanemakh

    some people said that learning a foreign language does not necessarily needs the learner’s mother tongue…..is that true……

  • Davide

    in Italy we say “formaggio”, not fromaggio ;-) thanks for your tips!

  • Langman

    There are some fantastic tips here but I really feel that the title can create a problem.  As an English Teacher I understand the process of learning.   I have also moved to another country and learnt to speak French.  Fluent in six months is quite simply not possible.  It’s misleading and will lead people into many crisises of confidence.  You have nothing to sell so why use this title?  To think like a baby is also a wonderful theory, but the reality is that we are adults, and we think like adults.    

  • Ginko9

    spam!

  • saffsdfsa

    gf

  • sfs

    gf

  • Shivanidhand

    absolutely right steps 

  • Vince

    thanks for this..I had a crash course of German language in Berlin last 2011. And this blog really help me a lot to master my fluency auf Deutsch!;)..Vien Dank. Thank you!

    Vince

  • Matteo

    CORRECTION: Above you said that “fromaggio” is the Italian word for “cheese.” Actually, the correct word is “formaggio.”

  • Andrea

    I’ve
    been contracted to develop a website and a phone application that can
    help people in a particular Country to learn their three different
    dialects. It’s a multimillion $ Project to be funded by the Government. I
    understand that a lot of scamming bullshit is going on online but you
    won’t need to spend a dime of your all we need is the service of person
    that has the knowledge required which would be magnanimously
    remunerated. I don’t know much about language software design, if you do
    or if you know anyone that can partner with me on this please mail me
    now without any delay: andrea123youdo@yahoo.com I’m waiting… Success!!! 
     

  • Andrea

    LET’S PARTNER INTO PROSPERITY: I’ve
    been contracted to develop a website and a phone application that can
    help people in a particular Country to learn their three different
    dialects. It’s a multimillion $ Project to be funded by the Government. I
    understand that a lot of scamming bullshit is going on online but you
    won’t need to spend a dime of your all we need is the service of person
    that has the knowledge required which would be magnanimously
    remunerated. I don’t know much about language software design, if you do
    or if you know anyone that can partner with me on this please mail me
    now without any delay: andrea123youdo@yahoo.com I’m waiting… Success!!! 
     

  • Kckshan

    great advice

  • Bob

    This is all good advice but I do think that these kind of articles have a tendency to make people feel inadequate if they don’t become fluent in a language in six months (as, from a standing start, ie: not speaking a similar language already, almost nobody does).

    For starters:

    : you didn’t “pick up” French in high school. You learned French in high school. The concept of “picking up” a language makes it sound like you were just passively sitting there letting the French flood into you. In fact I’m sure, if you reached a decent level, you actually worked pretty hard.

    : the fact that you already spoke some French made it a lot easier when you started to “pick up” Spanish.  Somebody who’s never studied a Romance language will take a lot longer.

    : Despite telling us you “became conversant” in Spanish by travelling around South America, we later learn that you’ve studied Spanish, too, using grammar sheets. 

    I’ve met people here in Spain (where I live) who, after 6 – 12 months in the country say “I just can’t learn Spanish, it’s not going into my head at all”. That’s because they have the impression that you can just “pick it up”. When in fact every native English speaker I know who speaks Spanish fluently has had formal classes and, like you, put in the dull hours studying verb conjugations etc.

    Having said all that . . . Obviously formal classes are no good whatsoever if you don’t do all the things you mentioned so I certainly don’t disagree with any of your advice.

     all the best

    Bob

  • Karan Joshiya

    Nice

  • Ronnel Ilagan

    wow thanx for the tips.

  • Jamie Lee

    Thanks. I plan to get these emotion ASAP.

  • Rodrigo Maia

    Precious tips! Thanks!

  • Waleed Warsame

    Ill be moving to the country so.. no way I wont immerse in the language.. thanks alot for the tips by the way.

  • Deshraj Sharma

    actually think is that I often speak english so how can I immerse in english language…..

  • James MrMaverick Bryant

    Well,you practically confirmed what I planned to do. Appreciate it.

  • Harshit Kracken Raikwal

    Kudos to you, Felicia! Every word in the article is worthy to be read.

  • Sally Jones

    Language exchange has worked for me, I speak with my language partner 3 times a week and it has really helped me to become fluent. I really like the tools offered in http://www.easylanguageexchange.com/ and when your on a budget, it helps that there are useful sites like these :)

  • Margarita Tañedo

    Thanks for the Tips it can help me to be fluent in english speaking.

  • ratpackboii

    immersion is the best way to learn a language :)

  • Christian Mastrolorenzo

    just a little note: cheese in italian is FORmaggio, not FROmaggio…too many people make this mistake (source: i’m italian) :)

  • Dongato

    I find it is easier to learn a language while dating a person of that language. In between bouts of passionate banging, you can do vocab drills.

  • Jeanie

    I’ve currently been in france for a week and am here for 5 more months… I’m on exchange from Aus so I really do hope i pick up on the language because at the moment I can’t talk to anyone at my french school and it sucks, but I’m trying!

  • zenlifeonline

    Really useful hints there- amazing what you can pick up by watching TV!!

A week into my German course, during a group exercise, the class clown struck with an...
First came Meteor Garden, then came the soundtrack.
Once you get to a certain point in language learning, you hit the inevitable plateau. ...
40 ways to wish your friends and family a happy 2012.
Matador is sponsoring a sweet contest for language lovers and learners at the...
Not only do you need to learn a new way of moving your pen, a new way of reading and how...
It can take time, effort and some experimentation to figure out the best way to progress...
From our own editors to tourism bureaus to hostels around the world, this is our...
Associate Editor Michelle Schusterman reviews Mango Language's new program aimed at...
Do we really need to teach students outdated idioms like "It's raining cats and dogs"?...