Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to Hack Language Learning: Part One

How to hack a language, or how to hack learning a language, is something I've been pondering over how to write down - and frankly I'm still not sure I quite have it; but that surely won't stop me from writing about it!

So you know I'm not pulling these out of thin air, I'm a native English speaker who also speaks German, Spanish, Italian, French, some Russian and Latin (just began these two recently and I love them!), with words and phrases (and plans to become conversational) in Dutch, Greek, Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, and I'm debating Yiddish, Hebrew, Thai, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Swedish and Swahili.

Before you click away, I want to let you know that I'm serious and I think I've stumbled on something that works - not to say I'm necessarily the first to have thought of it, but it's a sketch of a method I've developed/used by drawing from multiple sources and experimenting on my own.

Here are the basic rules I follow to the best of my abilities:

  1. Relax
  2. Phase Out the Inner Critic
  3. Learn What You Want
  4. Use Imagery
  5. Every Day

Relaxing is tremendously important. Our ability to learn, our retention and comprehension, are all improved when we are physically and mentally relaxed. When you're learning a language don't be uptight, don't worry about remembering, just relax, take it in and enjoy the experience, the sounds, the shapes of the letters. You really don't need to fret over remembering everything, even if it's for a graded class. Trust yourself to handle it.

Phasing Out the Inner Critic is also important because to learn you need to be OK with making mistakes. It is possible to cautiously learn a language, but you will learn a language much, much faster and more fluently if you are unafraid of making an error. If you have never read an Inner Game book, you really should - if there's not one in your field, read the original and apply the techniques to whatever you need. This shift in mindset is effectively tuning out your criticizing, self-conscious adult commentary and allowing your child-like, effortlessly intuitive and enthusiastic self to take control - which can sometimes be difficult - often with fantastic results... after all, the ability for language acquisition in children is well known and I'm confident it can largely be reclaimed if we allow it.

Learn What You Want doesn't mean skimp on areas of the language per se, but learn the language you want to! If you don't really want to learn something it's going to be painstaking work instead of fun and having fun makes learning significantly easier.

Using Imagery means to think creatively about the language - develop images or scenes in your mind around words and phrases. Try to involve yourself in the images/scenes and the more vivid they are, the better. I tend to think of silly situations for words and phrases initially as I've found the absurdity and sometimes comedy helpful for recall, but I create more realistic scenes as I grow more comfortable.

Every Day is about how often you should learn the language. A little every day is far more effective than a big chunk of time every now and then. The trick here is to not only take some time to study the language on a daily basis (even if you only have five minutes), but live the language on a daily basis - practice it while you're waiting in line, driving, cooking, you name it.

Part Two will go over more specific details, strategies, tips and language hacks. Thanks for reading!


  1. That's good advice. I'd love to be bilingual.

  2. in for part 2. :D
    $upported!return bro. :D

  3. bookmarking this page to help me in spanish thanks

  4. Thanks for this post, I'm working on learning Spanish now. I'm Looking forward to your next post

  5. I'd love to learn more languages. I'll try out these thechniques :)

  6. great tips. going to try some for sure.


  7. Hehe, awesome. It's hard to commit, I find.

  8. You know I really think I should try learning Chinese with this. thanks

  9. ahh thanks for the tips (Y) gonna use it to help improve my learning of chinese =)

    followed ,

  10. fuark, how long did it take to learn that many languages brah?

    followed, supported.

  11. Learning Japanese right now. I have Kana down pretty well. This post is really helpful since I'm just starting on kanji.