How to Learn a Foreign Language—Quickly.
By Alfonso Borello
If you are in a hurry, full-immersion is the ticket. Let's skip introductions and analyze some fundamentals which have been used by many polyglots and world travelers. Some tools require a small investment while others are free. Expensive courses are not necessary because they are designed with patterns of instant gratification but in the real world they are ineffective because languages are spoken naturally and often with colloquialism. You can definitely use them later if you have deep pockets but only for reinforcement. This is good news but remember that nothing was ever achieved without willpower. If you are weak on that side, learning a foreign language will surely help you to develop willpower because the challenge is real. Let's get started.
1. Setting up the ideal environment with a study room. Avoid distractions of any kind by segregating yourself in a room with no noise. If unable use over-the-ear headphones and face a white wall while sitting at your desk. Use a chair with comfortable arms. Rest your feet on the ground without putting too much weight.
2. Before your daily session, close your eyes and listen to soothing music, instrumental only, preferably baroque. After endless studies experts agree that baroque music by composers such as Albinoni, Corelli and Mozart relaxes and prepares your mind for good learning and retention.
3. Your first source of material must be listen-only. A dialogue of 200 words or less with no grammar explanation. The concept is simple, you must familiarize yourself with the new sounds. Listen several times until it almost becomes a familiar song you can't get off your head. Do not take notes. Pay particular attention to short words, conjunctions, and words which are very similar in sound to your native language. Some languages are tonal while the majority are not, but the speaker will always have a cadence which is absolutely essential to absorb; most likely a short sentence will be always pronounced with the same cadence.
4. After several sessions of listen-only, it's time to pick your material and listen again by following the written words; do this several times until you feel comfortable. Again, pay particular attention to short words and familiarize yourself with conjugations. If you are terribly curious about some words, use Google Translate to find out the meaning. Listen again without looking and notice the position of the verbs. Always master the present tense first. Remember that speaking is communicating. Speaking in a baby-like manner is less erudite but it is perceived with respect as straight-to-the-point communication. You don't need a lot of words, you need positive words that are visual. Always use short sentences in your dialogue and always ask questions; nod your head briefly when someone is talking to you. Use the words 'I' and 'I want' as little as possible; they are annoying to most cultures.
5. Now it's time for reading. Imitate the speaker with pace and intonation; of course you need material that is read out loud by a native speaker; gather such material and practice out loud by imitating with the same pace and intonation. Repeat at nauseum. Listen without reading, imitate, and read again with the material in front of you.
6. Writing. It is important that you learn how to write your words. All these steps are absolutely essential for mastering any language. Remember first grade at school? Of course you do and it goes without saying. Listen, look at the words, imitate, read and write. Learn new words slowly. Use a large board if possible.
7. Essentials. Watch videos on YouTube. Commercials are best because they are short and to the point. You can watch the news in any language you can imagine, this is of course your second choice. Movies are OK; unfortunately they're too slow because silence and music are designed to drive emotions to the extreme and the dialogues are infested with bad words; you will not learn fast but they are good enough for mastering colloquialism.
8. Make friends on Skype and talk to them. Some will be patient enough to help you, a few will not. You need friends who will help going up, not down. You should make a list of 100 words that are positive and reflect your personality. People will judge you by the quality of your lexicon. Negative words and cliché must be avoided because they are meaningless. You are what you say and people want to be around you because you instill confidence.
Alfonso Borello has written numerous books for learners of foreign languages. You can find out more on his blog at http://www.alfonsoborello.com