3 Strategies to Learn Any Language Fast
Tilaran, Costa Rica August 2012
Wait, there are a half a billion Spanish speakers and I can’t communicate with them?
Well, at least not in their native tongue anyhow…7th, 8th, 9th, and half of 10th grade Spanish really wasn’t cutting it.
I don’t regret much in life, but dropping Spanish because I was a lazy high school student definitely qualifies as regret.
I decided that my journey traveling the world was going to be about doing the things I was delaying, putting off, afraid to face, or simply avoiding.
You know that thing that every time you think about it, you wish you would have actually done? For some people it’s learning to sing, for others it's starting a business, others wish they’d follow through on that book idea….these things usually lead us to the excuse:
But, I’m too old.
Fuck. If I hear one more person in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, say they are too old to do anything, I’m going to lose it.
Sorry, maybe that’s too blunt, but our society is filled with stigmas that make people insecure about achieving what they really want in life. Why? Because the onlookers caught in the rat race need something to talk about!
If you challenge the status quo and leave your hometown, what does that say about the people who decided to stay in your hometown? Of course, those people are going to say things like, “See you in 6 months when your little plan doesn’t work out for you.”
I know. Because they said it to me.
This creates a major mindset issue in the lives of people who want to live differently.
Just because hometown life worked for your parents or your neighbors, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
More examples of limiting beliefs that are created by society…
Example: 29 year old girl gets depressed because she’s not married and the biological clock is ticking.
Example: 38 year old workaholic thinks it’s too late to get into shape.
Example: 41 year old thinks it’s too late to go back to school.
Why? Just because most people go to school between ages of x and y, doesn’t mean you have to.
In fact, just because anyone does anything, doesn’t mean you have to.
Learning a language is hard and most people are lazy
Maybe you find it weird to hear someone on a travel blog and talking about discipline. You see, most people confuse travel with vacation.
Travelers set out on a journey to learn and grow, while vacationers are just looking for a quick break before going back to their old habits and routine.
In other words, nobody learns a foreign language on vacation.
Let's get into the nitty-gritty.
Language Learning 101
It doesn’t matter how many fancy courses you buy, if you don’t have a strategy that commits you to use them.
Give yourself a reason to learn the language.
Just learning a language because you want to probably isn’t enough reason for you to continue your studies. (You’ve probably wanted to for a while…how far has that gotten you?).
It’s time to put yourself in a situation where you need the language.
Strategy 1: Move abroad
If you don’t want to be treated as a foreigner forever, I suggest you learn the language. The respect you will get is absolutely worth it, I promise.
If you choose a tourist place where people speak English, you are probably never going to learn. If you view your stay in a foreign country as short term, you probably won’t bother to learn either. Trust me, the percentage of gringos in Costa Rica who are fluent in Spanish is very low.
You have to go to a country with the intention of learning the language. The best way is FULL immersion.
In the early days of Under30Experiences I knew I needed to get my Spanish game up to speed fast.
I spent time abroad and simply refused to speak English. When people assume you don’t speak their language well, they usually just switch to English to make it easy on you.
Still to this day, I employ a few tactics: 1) ignore that they spoke English and continue in Spanish 2) tell them I’m in their country to learn the language and insist we continue in Spanish or 3) pretend I don’t understand English.
Strategy 2: Date a foreigner
Quick, name a bigger motivator than sex! I thought so…
Coffee dates with foreigners can be both innocent and charming when you have to struggle through a conversation in a language that isn’t your own.
Getting serious are you? There are few things more satisfying than meeting the parents for the first time and being able to hold your own in their language.
Are you both trying to learn each other’s language? Take turns or switch off every other day speaking their language and your language.
This simple rule won’t allow you to switch back to English when the conversations get complicated.
One day you might find a keeper!
Strategy 3: Find a job that requires a foreign language
The strategy again here is to put yourself into a position where you absolutely must learn the language. I like to impress our travelers and sound professional when working with our vendors, so developing a good accent is extremely important to me.
One of my proudest moments was reading a review about our France trip that said our trip leaders, “knew the language and culture way better than we did”. My French isn’t great, but knowing how to properly pronounce names of places, understand directions, and order food goes a long way!
Even after three weeks in Rio de Janeiro leading our Brazil trip, my Portuñol got pretty good! That is, the art of turning Spanish words into Portuguese words and being able to communicate well enough to get around.
Okay, so you are happily married, have a great job, and aren’t moving abroad anytime soon…what then?
Why not find a job in your city where a foreign language is needed? Some of the best Spanish speakers that travel with Under30Experiences are emergency room doctors and nurses. If someone is dying in front of you who doesn’t speak English, you’ve immediately developed a need to speak Spanish.
Okay, some less intense options…
My good friend Daniel DiPiazza once challenged me to do a Ted Talk in Spanish. I didn’t do it, but I guarantee that would have been a great motivator.
Why not plan a trip where you know you’ll need a foreign language?
Why not find a friend and challenge them to achieve 5% fluency on the Duolingo app in a language neither of you have experience. Anyone down to learn Mandarin? Put money on it and have something at stake!
For more specific tactics and resources on things like music to listen to, blogs to read, and free apps to use, I recommend this article on Tim Ferriss’ blog.
The strategies above aren’t just going to help you learn a language, but these mindset shifts can create an outlook on life where anything is possible.
Learning a foreign language is just the tip of the iceberg.
Interested in going with me on a trip? Come with me to Peru for our Yoga and Machu Picchu trip that I'll be co-leading this summer!
Wanna learn more about how to grow your business, get in better shape, perform at your peak, and have more fun? Check out the Live Different Podcast.