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  • Cecilia Viana

How to learn any language fast


In his TED talk “How to learn any language in six months,” Chris Lonsdale, a New Zealand linguist, educator and psychologist graduated from the University of Canterbury, explains how to learn a language, any, fast. To be precise and as the title indicates, in six months.


But how, only in six months ?! For skeptics, it may be impossible. Some spend years studying without achieving results, or making very little progress. Others go far in a very short time, leaving the rest open-mouthed. Perhaps, without knowing it, they apply the principles and actions that Lonsdale teaches us in his talk seen almost 30 million times.


Let's get to the point: Lonsdale tells us about five principles and seven actions that lead to learning a language without spending all our lives on it.


The 5 principles to learn a language quickly


Principle 1: Focus on the language that is relevant to you.

According to Lonsdale, we learn to use tools by using them, but learning happens faster if these tools are relevant to us, if we really need them. For example, if you started working in a restaurant, it will surely be more useful to learn food vocabulary, its pronunciation, questions that customers can ask you, their possible answers, etc., than to study the parts of the body or how to write a formal email, for example. It is important that you define your priority, and that you focus on it first.


Principle 2: Use the new language as a tool to communicate from day one.

Don't wait to know more, to be able to speak better, to understand everything or to have perfect pronunciation. As soon as you learn a few words, don't miss the opportunity to use them. In fact, it would be nice to generate those opportunities. In this case, waiting does not help.


Principle 3: When you understand the message, you will unconsciously acquire the language.

You don't have to understand every word. The goal of languages ​​is to communicate; if the main message was understood, mission accomplished! Little by little, you will understand more and more.


Principle 4: Physiological training.

You have to be able to identify and pronounce sounds that are not in your native language. The latter can literally cause pain. Lonsdale says that if your face hurts, it means you're doing it right!


Principle 5: Your psychophysiological state matters. If you are sad, anxious or upset, you will not learn.

If you are not well, either emotionally or physically, your mind is going to be elsewhere, and you are likely to learn little or nothing.



The seven actions for rapid language acquisition


Action 1: Listen a lot. Listen as much as you can, it doesn't matter if you understand or not. Listen to patterns and rhythm.

Why listen if I don't understand anything? Because listening is not just about understanding words, but about identifying rhythms and patterns, to later copy them and make your way of speaking more natural. Each language has its music.


Action 2: Focus on understanding the meaning before understanding the words. Body language can help you understand much of the communication.

If you ever had to speak on the phone in another language, you may have found that it is a bit more difficult than doing it in person. This is because we cannot see the other person's facial expressions, which carry meaning and help us understand. Don't underestimate the power of body language!


Action 3: Start mixing. With 10 verbs, 10 nouns, and 10 adjectives, you can say 1000 different things.

You don't need to know thousands of words to communicate on a day-to-day basis, especially when you're just starting out. You can say a lot with a little.


Action 4: Focus on the core, on what is really important.

3000 words allow you to say 98% of things.

For this, Lonsdale recommends one focus per week:

  • Week 1: Start with the "toolbox": questions that are relevant when learning a language, such as: "What is this?", "How do you say ...?" and “I do not understand." All these questions and phrases must be learned in the language we are studying, of course.

  • Week 2 - 3: learn pronouns, common verbs, adjectives (you, that, give, cute, etc.). Talk like a baby.

  • Week 4: learning the “glue words”: although, but, then, etc.


Action 5: Get a "language parent".

Lonsdale explains that when a young child speaks, it is with simple words and combinations, and with strange pronunciation. Maybe nobody understands them, but parents surely do. With their parents, children are in a safe environment; they make mistakes, but these are not a problem: communication is possible, and that is what matters.

Now, a “language parent” has rules to follow to keep this environment safe. He or she:

  • Strives to understand what the person is saying

  • Does not correct mistakes

  • Confirm that you understand using the appropriate language

  • Use words the person knows.


Action 6: Copy the facial expressions. Observe a native speaker, and pay attention to how they use their face when pronouncing words.

Just as there are sounds that are not in your native language, there are facial movements that when speaking your language you do not make. First, you have to recognize them, and then copy them.


Action 7: Address, connect. Avoid the "common" way of studying, which consists in making a list of words with their meanings in your native language. Use images, which are much more effective.

It is easier to remember something when it is associated with an image. Spending a few more minutes looking for an image that illustrates the word we want to remember is nothing compared to remembering that word forever and saving time searching for its meaning a thousand times.


Now, if it were so easy to learn a language, everyone would be bilingual, or polyglot. Personally, I think that the difficult thing is not the learning of a language in itself, but being constant, and not giving up in the slightest hint of frustration. I really think it is possible, and I thank Chris Lonsdale for educating us with such a valuable talk.


I invite you to go beyond my notes and take a few minutes to watch the video and listen to Lonsdale; It's really worth it!




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