Learning a new language is often a goal that arises over time – we intend to learn a language for a country we want to travel to or work in, or perhaps we aspire to learn a language we share with new family members or colleagues. It can also be a personal goal to master a second language to expand our knowledge of the world – plus, there are many personal and professional benefits to learning a second language, such as improving your memory and your problem-solving skills.
When you want to get the basics down quickly – and business requirements are one of the most common reasons for time being a factor – your focus naturally turns to how you can achieve this task fast. Taking the steady path of building your level of fluency step by step is overtaken by the need to understand and be understood in record time.
If speed is of the essence, here are five tips to help you get started and achieve your short-term language-learning goals, as well as lay the groundwork for advancing your skills in the longer term.
1. Set Realistic Goals
If you know why you need to learn a language fast, you have half the information in your hands already to create some realistic, practical goals. If you need to get the basics down by a set date, work that into your plan – and if you need to be able to cover certain topics, be sure to prioritise the vocabulary you may need (see Tip 2). Before you know it, you will have the foundations in place for a learning plan that you can stick with until you achieve your goals.
Remember to be both realistic and yet ambitious – if your plans are too difficult and expansive you may feel overwhelmed, but if they are too easy you may feel uninspired and demotivated. You want to achieve a satisfying outcome, not be derailed by an ill-fitting plan of action. Then, when you meet your time-sensitive goal, you may still feel enthusiastic about deepening your learning over the longer term.
2. Focus on the Essentials
As well as focusing on what may seem like ‘essential’ beginner’s phrases – such as ways to introduce yourself, ask for directions and order in a restaurant – remember to learn vocabulary that fits with your reason for learning. For example, if you are learning a new language for work, imagine starting a conversation with a new colleague. What might you talk about? Is there any vocabulary or terminology that it will be helpful to know? Try writing a list of useful phrases you can use (and that it would help to be able to recognise) so that you have the confidence to embark on a conversation sooner rather than later.
Remember: the 100 most commonly used English words make up around 50% of all written English! In the hope that the same can be said of many languages, it is reassuring to think that so few words can contribute to so much understanding. Perhaps this fact is one of the reasons why from 2024 onwards, GCSEs in French, Spanish and German will focus on the most commonly occurring words in each language, using vocabulary frequency to determine word lists.
3. Speak and Be Heard!
This is no time to be shy. If you want to upskill quickly in a new language, you need to practise, and the best way to practise is to use the language in contexts where – shock horror! – you might make a mistake. In fact, making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn!
Look for opportunities to connect with other language learners, or – even better – native speakers who can gently correct your mistakes and help you learn from them. While spending time in a country that speaks your language of choice is an ideal way to do this, it may not be the easiest or most achievable for any length of time. As an alternative, ask your language school for advice on suitable local or virtual ways to practise speaking with others – or perhaps utilise Zoom, Teams and other networking software in the office to get into the same room with colleagues, even when working from afar.
4. Immerse Yourself in the Language
Look for ways to include the new language in your everyday life – through listening to foreign language music, podcasts and radio (which you can do while running or at the gym!); watching TV programmes and films (use subtitles, especially at first, to help you translate the words); and reading news websites, books and magazines. When you combine this with regular speaking practice, you are exposing yourself to the sound and musicality of the language, as well as deepening your understanding and correcting your pronunciation (and pronunciation can be key to your understanding, as well as to being understood).
And if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the wealth of new words? Use the remote control, pause and rewind, and keep a language app or dictionary to hand to help you make sense of any new words as you go.
5. Speed Up Your Learning with a Language Course
If you are not quite sure where to start, sign up for a language-learning course designed with business in mind. Even a short language course could lay a strong foundation for future learning – and, as with so many things these days, you can access a range of language-learning courses virtually from wherever you can connect to the internet. Look for opportunities to customise a course to meet your needs, whether you are learning for personal reasons or motivated by professional development.
It is possible to learn a language to a useful level in a short amount of time, but it will take time, energy and determination. If you would like to support your learning with some extra language training, we can work with you to create a bespoke training programme that fits with your requirements.
All our courses can be taught online. Contact us today to find out how we can help make your language-learning goals come to life.