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Learning a new language can be one of the most frustrating and mentally challenging undertakings in your life. Yet contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out process. In fact, learning a new language doesn’t have to take years. Trust me, I speak from experience.
When I met a German girl (now my wife) while studying abroad in Australia, she asked me to come back to Germany with her. Being a lovestruck college student with a travel bug and no real long term plans, I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes,’ and soon found myself living in Bavaria.
The issue was, however, that without being able to speak German, I couldn’t talk to her parents or even find a job. So I vowed to myself to learn to speak German as fast as I could. Thinking it would take 6 to 12 months, I dove in and was surprised when I managed to accomplish this feat in under 90 days. Here’s how I did it.
Language Learning Apps
The first step was learning the basics. Essentially, I needed to take a German class, but didn’t have the funds or the flexible schedule needed to attend classes in person. So my next best alternative? Language learning apps. Today, there are dozens of language apps on the market, all with varying styles and approaches to learning a new language.
For me, the language learning app from Busuu resonated with my learning style. With its quick video lessons, user feedback, and focus on basic grammar, it fit the bill perfectly. Plus at only $14 per month, it was a much better deal than taking full-blown live classes locally.
I hammered Busuu lessons every day, leveraging every scrap of content the app offered. In fact, I did each lesson twice to make sure the vocab was really sinking in. In the end, I’m not sure a language app alone will get you there, but it is an awesome starting point for establishing the fundamentals.
My next layer of learning took place through local TV. Every evening my girlfriend and I would lay around our apartment and watch TV. And every night she’d ask me if I’d prefer to watch in English. But I always declined.
By watching television in your target language, especially sitcoms and soap operas with their melodramatic lines and expressions, you start to pick up key words and phrases. Most of the time they’ll be talking too fast and things will go right over your head.
However, what you’ll start to notice as time goes on is that you know more and more words. When combined with the context in which they’re said, you’ll start to understand the other words and phrases they’re used in conjunction with. Watching German sitcoms might seem like a silly way to learn, but it really works.
This might not be a possibility for everyone, but immersing yourself in your target language is a surefire way to learn quickly. Think about it—your feet are held to the fire. You have to learn, or you can’t get by.
The sheer volume of language you hear when you’re immersed in a culture helps to drive home your learning. All day, every day you hear nothing but the language you’re trying to pick up. In my case, I was hearing German from the time I got up in the morning until the time I went to bed.
This is 10x more effective than taking lessons for an hour per day, then sliding back into your first language for the other 23 hours. In short, practice makes perfect, so when you get practice 24 hours per day, it really accelerates your learning.
This is my secret sauce of language learning. As I picked up new vocab through my Busuu language app, I’d label everything in our apartment with a post-it note. I’d write the German word for the item on a little yellow post-it and slap it on.
This way, everything was labeled in German and the words were constantly in front of me. In a way, it almost forced me to start thinking in German. The cheese in the fridge was no longer “cheese” – it was now “käse,” because that’s how I came to know and understand that item.
For purposes of vocabulary retention, I honestly believe there is no better hack than my post-it trick.
Between my language app lessons, full immersion, TV time and post-it note hack, I was speaking conversational German in less than 90 days. I still had to ask people to occasionally slow down when speaking to me, and struggled to find some words here and there, but I knew more than enough to get by and hold down a job.
For those that don’t think they have the time or mental bandwidth to learn a new language in just 3 months, I can tell you that it is possible. And it’s actually fun. I loved pushing myself and learning something new every day. To me, the challenge of learning was almost like a game, and the stimulation I got from it kept me incredibly sharp.