Is it possible to go from beginner to conversational in 3-6 months? Of course. Even while working full time and keeping up with your social life? For sure! If this sounds useful to you, keep reading..
Talking from experience from learning several languages myself, to advance fast and efficiently, you mainly need two things: consistency and good methods. Consistency means that you make sure to spend some time every day studying, rather than several hours in one big chunk. So let’s get into the first basic point:
What are some good methods?
For a method to be efficient, it needs to be in line with how the brain actually works. Many traditional methods seem to completely ignore this. Examples of bad methods include:
– Studying tables of verb tenses before you can even have a basic conversation
– Studying vocabulary based on themes like numbers, animals and colors
– Learning words out of context
– Focusing on reading before you’re used to the sounds of the language
– Having long but scarce study sessions
– Studying in a boring way
If you look at what actually matters when learning a language, you will make much faster progress, and it will be a much more fun and interesting process.
Examples of good methods include:
– Having conversations with natives, no matter what level you’re on!
– Using spaced repetition
– Learning words with an emotional connection
– Making sure you all of these in your study routine: speaking, listening, reading, writing and vocab training
– Focus on speaking and vocab more than grammar
– Finding material and study methods that are fun and interesting
– Getting comprehensive input
– Getting used to the sounds of the language before putting too much focus on reading
– Learning words in context
– Speaking as much as possible! (Yes I say this again!)
One thing to point out though is that a method is only efficient if you’re actually doing it. Equally important is that you find it enjoyable. You can have the most efficient method in the world, but if you don’t like it, you won’t do it, or you won’t do it a lot or with good focus. The more you enjoy it, the more you will do it and the more focused you’ll be. That makes a big difference. But only good methods isn’t enough. Let’s get to the second basic point..
How to get consistency?
You have probably tried and failed to learn many things in your life. You have probably succeeded with some things too. It could be playing an instrument, a sport, how to ride a bicycle, learning a profession, how to write good articles and so on. No matter how you succeeded, you most likely had to do it a lot, and if you wanted to succeed fast, you needed to be consistent. Meaning, you do it every day, even if it’s just a little. So how do you become consistent?
1. Enjoy the process
You probably have experience with this. Maybe you at some point got obsessed with playing the guitar, or learning tricks with a football, or creating new outfits for your SIMS characters as a kid. And you got really good at it. If you become obsessed with learning something, you will automatically find time for it and just do it, a lot.
The same goes for language learning. And even though you don’t have to be obsessed to be successful, you do need to enjoy the process since that will you the motivation you need to be consistent. There are mainly two things that will make it enjoyable:
– The learning material and the teachers are fun and engaging.
– You can feel the progress.
If the material is engaging you’re going to want to use it and learn more. If you have a teacher you connect with, the lessons are going to be fun and interesting. You will look forward to the classes, pay attention, and do your homework.
OK, so let’s say you found some awesome and interesting material and a great teacher, but you just can’t seem to find the time to actually keep up with it. Or you do have time but you just somehow don’t get to it. This happens a lot, and that brings us to another extremely important point..
2. Creating good habits
We have all done it. We decide that now is the time to start learning to code, lose that weight, start doing meditation every day, or whatever it could be, and you felt so motivated, and you were so into it…only to realize after a week or two that it wasn’t enough. You bought a gym card, but you didn’t even finish the first month. You signed up for a yoga course but you stopped going after three weeks. This is because willpower is a very limited resource. Willpower alone will never be enough. So what to do? In order to be consistent for a longer period of time, you need new habits. Fortunately, creating good habits is a skill like any other, and it can be learned by anyone. Creating good habits is a whole science in itself and I can’t go through it thoroughly enough in this article, but some basic points include:
– Setting goals (extremely important!)
– Set the initial bar low enough (very common not to do this)
– Setting up the environment (never ignore this!)
– Writing down and/or visualizing your goals often (ask Jim Carrey)
– Having rewards and/or penalties
– Be a realist, not a perfectionist
– Be very clear with your intentions, on why you’re doing it
How long does it take?
This will depend on many things. What are your goals? What are your methods? How much time can you spend on it and how focused can you be during that time? An example: Hungarian is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world. A few years ago, I managed to get to a somewhat conversational level in Hungarian in three months. But I spent many hours every day studying, and I was having conversations with natives. On the other hand, I spend five years in school learning Spanish, but could barely have a simple conversation by the end of it. And Spanish is much easier than Hungarian!
For an English speaker, Swedish is one of the easier languages to learn, and if you really want to and you set aside some time for it every day, you could reach a conversational level within months, no doubt about it. You just need to be consistent and have good methods. And most importantly, enjoy the process!
Where do I start?
This will depend on many different factors and will be the subject for another article. In this article I wanted to cover the basics. But in short, if you:
– Create a good routine where you sit down and study most days of the week
– Find engaging and comprehensive material and efficient methods that you enjoy using
– Have conversations as much and as often as you can
Then you’re on a great path!