How to Learn a New Language Fast

Tired of those Rosetta Stone lessons? What if I told you there were better ways to learn more effectively than sitting in front of a computer or listening to an audio recording? Whatever level you’re at, you can benefit from new opportunities to use, practice and improve your language skills with these daily habits.

In my life, there are three individuals who’ve been successful in retaining new information using different techniques and with daily practice. Inspired by their methods, here are my top 4 suggestions how to learn a new language fast by making it part of your daily life:

LISTEN, READ AND ABSORB

Listen and download: They’re free, downloadable audio programs you can add to your iPod, smartphone or anything that has an mp3 player. To maximize your time, download them the night before and listen during your commute (in your car, on the bus, or while walking).

“Once you know 2000 words, you’ll know 60% of a language.”

This is the mantra behind SixtyVocab, which puts vocabulary building at the center of language learning. I can attest to this…. when I’m having a hard time putting a complete sentence together in French, I simply remember the vocabulary.

Get obsessed!

When my sister was in the midst of learning a language, she became fascinated with everything, and I mean everything, related to her current interest. Whether it was buying encyclopedia volumes of manga books, downloading music, enrolling in immersive programs (she took an executive-level Japanese course as a teenager, surpassed other C-level execs in her course, then spent her entire senior year of high school in Japan), and even applying to an international university (if Stanford hadn’t accepted her, she would’ve left for American University in Paris). She also took up Mandarin while in school.

Her hardcore approach instilled a much needed discipline to language fluency. She found ways to naturally embed learning in her life plan by doing what she already plans on doing — listening, reading and absorbing.

iTunes has a great selection of language courses you can check here. OpenCulture.comalso offers 46 language lessons online for free here.

WATCH FOREIGN TV SHOWS & FILM

There’s no better way to learn than through picture and sound. A former roommate from Brazil taught herself how to speak English by watching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer everyday in English with Portuguese subtitles. Brilliant, right? Sure, she would invert sentences when we talk. But she floored me with her keen ability to pick up cultural nuances (particularly sardonic American jokes) between English and Portuguese, which I thought would be lost in translation! Not only can she discern sarcasm, but she had impeccable comedic timing that impressed even her most critical American colleagues in film school. Bravo amiga.

Archive.org (the guys behind the Wayback Machine) is the best, totally legal source for watching full-length films online. You can also find foreign films and independently-produced documentariesIndieFlix offers a large library of independent films. It’s free to join for the first month, $5/month after.

ForeignFilms.com curates the best one assorted by top 100, new releases, countries and directors. The individual film pages then lead you to Amazon or Netflix for viewing. In that case, you might as well hit “pause” on House of Cards and check these titles off your list:
(1) Complex.com: 25 Best Foreign Films Streaming on Netflix Right Now
(2) TasteofCinema.com: 20 Excellent Foreign Films You Can Watch On Netflix
(3) Flavorwire.com: 50 Foreign-Language Films Everyone Needs to See

Enable subtitles and captions on Netflix before viewing.

Amelie , a beloved French film set in Paris.

Amelie, a beloved French film set in Paris.

MUSIC & LYRICS

Besides watching foreign films and TV shows, this is my second absolute favorite way to learn. Not only has the web made it easier to understand the lyrics, the digitization of songs allows us to rewind and replay certain segments repetitively… an important aspect in language learning.

Seven years ago, before my sister and I embarked on a backpacking trip through Asia, we filled her iPod with 15 episodes of House and a random assortment of songs from our combined iTunes playlists. Remember, this is back in the day when storage capacity for an Apple product was still low. 10 out of the 20 songs that made it through were Japanese, Korean and French pop songs. When we couldn’t understand a word, we surfed the web for the Japanese/Korean/French lyrics and their English translations. After 2.5 months traveling with the same 30 songs in tow, we sang them fluently — deliberately and unconsciously.

These songs also became a catalyst for conversation when we met other travelers who equally loved Yelle as much as we did (and still do). Music was the glue that held us together for a few fleeting moments.

But don’t worry, it’s okay not to understand the lyrics.

For inspiration, listen to NPR Music which has great programs with the perfect balance of dialogue, music and culture.

GO NATIVE

Nothing beats talking in a different tongue to get real-life practice. And you have to do it every day for at least half an hour.

If you’re learning Italian and have friends and colleagues who speak it, have them over for dinner and drinks, then practice conversing. Try not to break character. If you’re stumped, ask for help.

This was a typical scene in San Francisco with my international friends — some will curse in French, others express their feelings with Italian hand gestures, or rush you in Lebanese (yalla!). It forced the lot of us to learn much of each other’s culture and language even if it was just a few key phrases.

If a random stranger so happened to walk in on our charade, they may feel left out or take offense. But, personally, I would think it’s chic and sexy if I were in their shoes. It might even compel me to brush up on my Spanish lessons. But that’s just me.

If hiring a tutor is out of the question, consider joining online language learning communities like LiveMocha, where you can learn with a live partner for free. Or consider hosting international guests at home using Couchsurfing or Airbnb. I’ve met fantastic people whom I now call friends through these venues.

So OPEN YOUR EYES to new opportunities, DEVELOP DAILY HABITS to make learning automatic, and DO IT EVERYDAY to master it.