What, when, how
I get asked a lot about how I go about teaching myself a language. Many people think it’s impossible to do on your own without the help of:
Well, I’m here to say, you can teach yourself a language. But there’s an if, a big IF.
IF you know:
- What to learn
- When to learn it
- How to learn it
I outline those things here and also have a free 5-day email course that includes the exact 5-part formula you need to learn any language.
What does not work when you teach yourself a language
Let’s start with what doesn’t work. There are many methods available to teach yourself another language. However, most of them have a very low success rate.
In their TED Talk, Scott Young and Vat Jaiswal say learning in a traditional classroom has a success rate of less than 1%. Apps and programs also fail language learners producing only a 6% success rate.
Even moving to a country and immersing yourself in the language has mixed results ranging from almost no learning to fluency.
What does work
The only proven method to teach yourself another language quickly is by extreme immersion.
Extreme immersion involves being in a country in which the language is spoken and English is never spoken. When I say extreme, I mean extreme. It’s worth it though because extreme immersion can result in proficiency as quickly as 12 weeks.
Extreme immersion has two significant drawbacks:
- It requires that you travel to and stay in a country for at least 12 weeks
- The first few days are exceptionally difficult since you must translate every word
These drawbacks may make extreme immersion impossible for most people. Work and social obligations, and the expense of travel, particularly when not working for those 12 weeks, is something most people just can’t afford to do.
Speaking is the key to learning another language
The reason extreme immersion works so well and general immersion has varying results is the amount of interaction – the amount of speaking and listening.
Language learners who speak often with native speakers learn the language fastest. Those who speak less often with native speakers learn the slowest.
In the case of extreme immersion, someone learning the language is only speaking with native speakers which results in learning a new language fast.
How to teach yourself another language
The question then is how does someone get to the point of being able to speak?
I know from personal experience that grammar is one of the biggest barriers to speaking a foreign language. When you focus on grammar, you are focused on learning the rules of the language. This is very different than focusing on the meaning of the language. If your goal is to understand (listen) and express yourself (speak) in another language, then you must be focused on meaning.
The reason languages exist is for communicating. We think grammar is important but is it? Believe it or not, it isn’t. Grammar is not necessary for communication – at least in the beginning.
If an English language learner says, “I go museum today”, native English speakers understand the intent of the communication despite the incorrect grammar.
It is counterproductive for the English language learner to spend weeks or months learning how to use helping verbs, when to use the -ing ending, which preposition to use, and how to attach the article to correctly say, “I am going to the museum today.”
Learn just what you need to get started.
Don’t worry about the conjugation of the verb (some languages like Chinese don’t even have verb conjugation) or if the correct preposition is used. Stop focusing on grammar and start putting together simple sentences that will get you communicating.
Speaking and listening is the key to teaching yourself another language. You need to interact as quickly and often as possible with other speakers. This means focusing on speaking, not on grammar.
Teaching yourself another language
To teach yourself another language you need to
- Learn the words you will use most often
- Learn key phrases
- Begin speaking right away
- Speak as often as possible
Most used words
To determine the words you use the most, start noting the words you use throughout the day and create a list. What you say in English will be similar to what you say in the language you are learning.
Your words will depend on your needs and your location. The most common words include such things as:
- To go
- To want
If you are a tourist then museum, train station, and hotel are more important. But if you’re traveling on business you may need to know office, appointment, and client.
If you are traveling to Thailand, beach, curry, and sun are more important. If you are traveling to Norway fjord, herring, and ice would probably make the list.
Key phrases help you teach yourself a new language
Key phrases allow you to say many things and have to translate only one or two words.
“I want” is a key phrase.
It allows you to ask for many things simply by translating (and thus learning) one or two words.
I want ______ (coffee, taxi, rice, help, beer, more, this, two, etc.)
Another key phrase is “to go”.
I want to go _____ (here, hotel, train station, fast, now, again, with you, etc.)
Speak the language right away
Having learned the most-used-words and key phrases you can speak immediately.
Speaking immediately cannot be overstated.
You must get past the fear of speaking in another language and you must start to build your confidence in speaking a foreign language as fast as possible.
The big take away from this article is that speaking and listening are the keys to learning another language – in case I was unclear.
The biggest language learning myth says adults have a hard time learning the language. That isn’t true. Adults have a hard time learning a language when they don’t start speaking right away.
The bottom line is language learners who speak more learn the fastest.
This is why extreme immersion works. In extreme immersion, you are speaking the new language all the time. Speaking and listening are the keys to learning another language – the more you speak the more you learn.