Learning a new language is never easy, and some people go their whole lives only speaking one. But some people successfully learn and use multiple languages in their lifetimes. Sid Efromovich is one such polyglot who speaks seven languages. In a TED talk he gave in 2013 he shared some of his techniques.¹
1. Make mistakes
Language is not like math, where making mistakes is unacceptable. Here, errors are actually encouraged because they underline the nuance of language and act as important tools. By constantly practicing, saying something wrong, and then discovering how to say it right, it is possible to hone your skills and become fluent in no time. If you keep trying to be perfect, you will never really use the language, and thus cannot learn quickly.
2. Scrap the foreign alphabet
Use your native pronunciation as a guide instead of the foreign spelling. For example, if you are a native English speaker and Portuguese fluency is your goal, seeing a word spelled “real” will make you want to pronounce it like you would in English. This will not help you learn the language. Instead, you should learn how to pronounce words based on a system of letters that makes sense to you, such as writing “real” as “hey-ou”, because that’s what it actually sounds like.
3. Shower conversations
To truly facilitate a safe and fun practicing environment, why not have a conversation with yourself in the shower? In practicing both sides of the conversation, you can improve fluency, enhance pronunciation, and use authentic language that you might use in the real world. The result can be greater fluency and a better understanding of what words or phrases need to be reviewed later.
4. Buddy formula
If you know someone who wants to learn your native language, and you want to learn theirs, a great strategy is to buddy up and help each other! An ideal language partnership involves two people who each want to learn their buddy’s native language. Generally, language partners meet on a regular basis and teach each other. This method is free and makes the process fun and engaging.
5. Find a stickler
A stickler is a guide who can correct your mistakes. A willingness to make mistakes is important, but sometimes an outside helper is the only way to learn from those mistakes and improve. The best guides are professional teachers from accredited schools. These teachers have studied language acquisition, know how people learn, and can correct you in a safe space.
When I practice a target language, I personally love watching YouTube. Find videos in the target language, play the scenes repeatedly, and practice speaking like the native speakers you watch!
Regardless of what language learning techniques you choose, the right combination of these strategies can lead anyone on the path to success. Good luck, everyone!
– Alex Vera, ESL Teacher and ICLS Blog Contributor
1. Efromovich, S. (2013). 5 Techniques to Learn any Language. TEDxUpperEastSide. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WLHr1_EVtQ