Learning to speak another language is easier and quicker than you think. Author and linguist Benny Lewis tells you how – in five easy steps
Benny Lewis, author of Fluent in 3 Months, struggled to learn foreign languages at school – but he can now communicate in over a dozen different languages. He insists that it’s never too late to become multi-lingual and is much easier than you expect – these are his tips for success:
A huge misconception is that you should spend a long time 'learning' a new language (usually through academic study) before you’ll be 'ready' to speak it. But languages aren’t learned – they’re lived. Practice makes perfect, so set yourself up with a (free) language exchange or (surprisingly cheap) language teacher online, and talk to a native right away. Your skills will improve through genuine use of the language. Immersion doesn’t require a plane ticket; it can be totally virtual. So you have no excuse not to start today.
My favourite tool for finding free exchanges and teachers is italki.com.
The cat-got-your-tongue feeling happens to all of us. Get over it quickly by investing a few hours in learning basic pleasantries – "hello", "thank you", "excuse me", and a few others – to ease you into conversations. Next, write out a quick intro about yourself in English, and have your online language exchange partner or teacher help you translate it well. Having a script to follow for the first few seconds can take off immense pressure and allow you to hit the ground running every time you meet someone new.
You don’t need a supercomputer for a brain to learn a whole new vocabulary. Successful language learners aren’t memory gurus; they simply come up with good ways to acquire new words quickly. One method is to use mnemonics – little stories that you attach to words. For instance, when I was trying to memorise the French word for train station, gare, I used the mental image of the cartoon cat 'Garfield' running through a train station. It sounds silly, but it works.
A free website with a host of mnemonics for many languages is memrise.com.
Many academic courses focus on reaching perfection, and punish you for every minor mistake. This makes many people hesitant to speak early on. Instead, I like a communicative approach that focuses on conveying your point and getting the gist of a response. Don’t be ashamed if you can’t conjugate a verb perfectly. Instead, try use more words – that may not have perfect grammatical features – to get the other person to understand you. The more mistakes you make, the more practice you get, and the faster you will improve.
The one thing that separates successful language learners from unsuccessful ones is passion for speaking the language. And your passion can dwindle if you spend most of your time doing tedious language exercises. Why not read a comic book in your target language? Or watch a movie, without subtitles? Or listen to streamed radio? Or go to a community or city district where you can practice your spoken skills?
Have fun with it, and your passion will never dwindle – and you’ll be speaking fluently before you know it.