Learning a new language has many benefits: it can boost your career, make traveling easier, and even make your brain healthier. So it’s a bit of a mystery why many people are afraid of learning a new language as an adult. The Critical Period Hypothesis that says children learn languages better seems to instill this fear in adults that language learning would be more difficult and less enjoyable for anyone over puberty. But that’s not necessarily true.
In his answer for the question “What are the best ways to learn a language as an adult?” posted on Quora, CEO David Bailey shared how he learned the French language in just 17 days. The hours he spent per day may sound tedious, but most of his techniques actually sound like fun activities that other language learners would enjoy outside their language classes. So we took some of his tips and others to put together this list of language learning hacks that can help speed up your progress and make your studies more fun.
1. Listen to music (and sing along!)
Listening to songs in the language that you’re studying is an enjoyable activity that can also help you learn vocabulary words, pronunciation, and intonation. And singing along is not only a good training for your facial muscles when pronouncing words, but it’s also fun! Right, Kpop fans?
2. Watch TV shows and movies (and anime!)
Some learners of the Japanese language start as anime fans, and it’s this kind of interest that motivates them to learn and actually enjoy it; same with fans of Korean dramas and old French films. Aside from the entertainment value, watching TV shows or movies (with or without subtitles) can clue you in on the nuances of the language in different social contexts. This is especially true for languages that have honorific speech systems, as well as expressions or words that cannot be directly translated to your primary language.
A word of caution, though: don’t just pick up a term or phrase from a show and use it right away. Remember, the major point of this hack is for you to observe the subtle social contexts in which the language is used. If you’re not sure about something, do a bit of research or ask someone first to avoid offending someone.
3. Read children’s books
Language used in children’s books are simple so it’s a great way to learn basic sentence construction and vocabulary words, especially for beginners. You’d be surprised how entertaining children’s books are. And you know what’s better? Re-reading the books you read as a child, but this time translated in the language that you’re learning. Already knowing the story will help you guess the meanings of words and give you a clue on how they are used in the sentences.
4. Eat out
Frequent restaurants that serve food authentic to the country of your target language. Most establishments hire local staff, but if you can find one that has native chefs or servers, the better. Ordering from the menu will help you practice your reading and speaking skills. Additionally, if the cuisine is authentic as claimed, native nationals will also frequent the place, and you might be able to eavesdrop on conversations around you to practice your listening skills (…but don’t live-tweet it or something; really, don’t be that person).
5. Make friends
In learning a language, practice is key. And what better way to practice than with someone who’s been speaking the language since he or she was born? Interacting with native speakers will expose you to the natural speed and cadence of the language, forcing you to develop your listening and comprehension skills. Not to mention you’ll have someone who can correct you, give you pointers, and even introduce some native expressions that you often won’t find in your language text book. If you can’t yet travel to meet new friends, there are many social networking sites that you can join to meet other language learners from different parts of the world.
…But if you can find the time and the resources to travel, do it. It’s the best way to immerse yourself in the language in the most natural setting. Take public transportation and ask locals for directions. Eat at hawkers and haggle at bazaar shops. Go to band concerts and talk to local fans. Traveling is a fun “Swim-or-Sink” hack because you’re putting yourself in situations where you have no choice but to speak in your target language and, more importantly, do it in a socially acceptable manner.