22 TIPS FOR LEARNING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE

When I arrived in Buenos Aires in the beginning of 2010, I could barely order food in a local restaurant. Two years later, I calmly explained the mechanics of Russian grammar to a Guatemalan friend… in her native Spanish.

Today, I’m conversationally fluent in both Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, and low conversational in Russian. I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you it was easy or that there’s some shortcut or hack. I practiced my ass off. Honestly, I’ve seen the supposed “hacks” for language learning, and none of them worked for me. It took hours of study combined with stumbling through many, many conversations.

Here are some language learning tips I’ve gathered over the past few years:

1. Conversation, Conversation, Conversation. If there’s a “secret” or “hack” to learning a new language, it’s this: hours and hours of awkward and strenuous conversation with people better than you in that language. An hour of conversation (with corrections and a dictionary for reference) is as good as five hours in a classroom and 10 hours with a language course by yourself.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is motivation. I don’t care how cool your study guide is, you’re going to be far more invested and motivated to communicate with a live person in front of you than a book or audio program on your computer.

Guy and girl speaking a foreign language under red curtains

The second reason is that language is something that needs to be processed, not memorized. I’m no expert on language learning, but in my experience staring and memorizing a word in a book or with flashcards 100 times does not stick the same way that being forced to use a word in conversation a mere two or three times does.

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