How to learn a new language and become fluent quickly

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Welcome to the Curiosity Academy, StylistThe new learning center from where you can access workshops, how-to guides, new research and learn the latest skills from the UK’s most knowledgeable people.

There are few more rewarding challenges than learning a new language. It takes time and dedication, but being able to express yourself in a whole new language is extremely rewarding.

In fact, 64% of UK adults wish they had kept the foreign language they studied at school, according to a British Council survey. This could explain why the UK has turned to language learning more than any other country during the pandemic, with Duolingo language learning app data showing new learners on the app in the UK increased nearly 300% at the start of the lockdown, with Spanish and French being the most popular.

Plus, being bilingual isn’t just about being able to order a beer on vacation. As French teacher Marie Triboulet emphasizes: “Knowing another language allows you to see the world differently and to be more open-minded. It’s also great for brain health and even helps prevent dementia. Indeed, research shows that bilingual brains develop symptoms of dementia about five years later than their unilingual counterparts, while additional benefits include better memory and task management.

For me, learning Spanish has also really shaped my character; as much a personal experience as an educational one. From a first trip to Andalucia as a teenager, when I realized how far I needed to go and almost gave up, I am now a confident speaker and have used my skills everywhere from Spain. in South America and even at more local gatherings.

marie-triboulet-french-teacher
Marie Triboulet is a French teacher based in the United Kingdom.

Being able to speak another language gave me life-changing memories and helped me meet one of my best friends, Natalia (who introduced me to the indoor track of her native Madrid).

If you are tempted to learn a new language but are worried about the study involved, rest assured that learning can be really enjoyable. As English teacher Martin Lavin points out, you don’t have to stick to traditional education. “Books and music are just two examples,” he said Stylist. “I even know someone who learned a lot of Korean by watching K-pop.”

From setting goals to streaming a series, here are six expert tips to help you learn a new language and speak fluently faster.

Start with the basics

Whether you want to chat in German or flirt in French, there are two things to know: vocabulary (words) and grammar (how to adapt words and string them together). A great place to start is to get a quality book or download a trusted app for everyone.

When it comes to vocabulary, the amount of words in a language can seem overwhelming – dictionaries often contain over 100,000 terms. Fortunately, you only need a fraction of that amount to communicate effectively. According to television lexicographer Susie Dent, the the active vocabulary of an average person is 20,000 words, but academic Peter Howarth points out that 1,500 will reach an intermediate level with ‘a certain range.’

A good vocabulary resource will help you learn effectively by grouping words into categories, such as most used words and related words (similar words in both languages, for example, Acknowledgement in English means the same as gratitude in Spanish).

As for grammar, Marie recommends investing in a book with exercises to help consolidate your knowledge. Better yet, vocalize the exercises; it’s another way to put what you’ve learned into practice, ”she adds.

Editor McGraw Hill offers excellent learning resources for many languages.

Create a routine and set (small) goals for yourself

Martin reveals that there are many ways to make language learning part of your daily routine, “from changing the language on your phone to sticking verb conjugations on the bathroom door and even labeling things. household “.

That said, he recommends scheduling specific times of the week for studying – whether that’s finishing a chapter in a notebook each evening or watching a program in the language you learn every Sunday – to help you out. to stay motivated. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself, consider taking a course, having regular sessions with a qualified teacher, or even booking a test that you can work for: most languages ​​have a recognized exam framework, such as the DELE diplomas in spanish or TFSA certificates in Italian.

Goals like memorizing 30 words per week can also be encouraging, but Martin cautions they need to be specific, realistic, and short-term. “Saying that I want to speak fluently at ‘X’ time, for example, might be off-putting,” he warns, pointing out that “fluent” is a vague term anyway. “We are always learning new words; even in our own language, we cannot expect to understand everything.

I can attest to this: although I have been learning Spanish for almost two decades, I still regularly learn new words, especially jargon and colloquialisms.

Martin Lavin-English teacher
Martin Lavin teaches English to students.

Stream a television series

It may sound too good to be true, but watching TV (or a movie) does wonders for language acquisition, including beginners. “It helps you get used to the rhythm, even if you don’t understand a word,” says Marie. TV shows also offer contextual and cultural information, as well as authentic use like slang.

“Start with YouTube tutorials in something you’re passionate about,” suggests Marie. Another option is sites like CurrentU and Slow motion news, which provide video clips with transcriptions in English and your target language.

If you’re up for a series, several UK channels offer top-notch foreign dramas with English subtitles, including the BBC and All 4 Walter Presents. For subtitles in other languages ​​you will need an international platform like ARTE.tv Where Netflix.

It is also worth trying the national channels in the country concerned; for example I use Radio and Television Española, which provides Spanish subtitles for many shows. Watching Spanish shows with Spanish subtitles (while searching for keywords I don’t understand) is one of my favorite ways to learn. Entertaining and educational? Perfecto.

Read, listen, play

It is not only television that can stimulate language learning; from novels to newspapers and music to podcasts, there are a multitude of tools at your disposal.

“Start with the novels you’ve read in English; familiarity will provide useful clues, ”advises Marie. “Or try the ones with images like comics or non-fiction.”

Other handy tips include selecting books with simple modern prose (imagine an English learner trying to decode Shakespeare) and, at least initially, relatively short length. “While learning French, I have already tried a long classic,” says Martin. “It was too difficult and it kept me from reading anything else for about two years.”

As with all media, you don’t have to try to figure out every word as you learn. As long as you understand the basics, it doesn’t matter.

Music is yet another fun way to practice listening (I enjoy a bit of Latin pop and cheesy reggaeton when commuting to work or for a walk). Podcasts are also a linguistic treasure; you will find a large number of choices in many languages ​​and for all levels.

Go out and socialize

Needless to say, the more you use a language, the more confident you will become. Unfortunately, says Marie, people often avoid speaking in a foreign language for fear of making mistakes. “You don’t have to be perfect, don’t be afraid to be wrong,” she advises. Accepting that mistakes were inevitable was hard for me, especially as a perfectionist, but my Spanish improved quickly once I did.

Armed with this mindset, the opportunities to practice are plentiful. Sites like To meet are perfect for conversational exchanges and large language institutions, such as French alliance, Cervantes Institute and Goethe-Institut have branches in the UK with event programs that you can get involved with, even if you are not enrolled in a course. From cooking to cinema, these are also an interesting glimpse into a country’s way of life.

You don’t have to rely on language events or schools, but “Think outside the box. If you’re learning Spanish, try salsa or visit a Spanish restaurant or festival, ”says Marie. I enjoyed everything from Basque pintxo bars to flamenco festivities here in the UK, often meeting native Spanish speakers there.

To go abroad

While this is easier said than done at the moment thanks to travel restrictions, going abroad to fully immerse yourself in the country whose language you are learning is one of the best ways to learn it quickly. .

When I was 19, I made my first solo trip abroad for an intensive two-month summer course at the University of Salamanca. It turned out to be a personal rite of passage. Several hours of classes and daily activities, as well as the opportunity to chat with the locals, immersed me so much in the language and culture that I quickly gained enough confidence in myself to let go of my inhibitions regarding jargon. .

Marie is also the champion of traveling abroad and optimizing her time to “get out of the English-speaking bubble and meet the local population”.

If you are planning to study abroad, many institutions are welcoming international students again following the easing of restrictions linked to the pandemic, although UK citizens may need a visa to study in Europe after the Brexit, so be sure to check the requirements of the country of your choice.


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