They helped me learn one of the hardest languages in the world
What do you know about it? I didn’t know much until I moved to Budapest. And then it hit me: the language of my new country is one of the hardest to learn, in the whole world. Hum, well done, Diana…
Most of the foreigners living here don’t bother learning Hungarian. The locals usually tell us to quit and always mention the neighbor/uncle/friend who has lived in the country for 20 years and still doesn’t speak properly. Encouraging… But I decided to push through. I’ve been studying consistently for a year and I can already have intermediate level conversations.
Learning a language is not what they teach us in school. It can take up so many forms that it is really a matter of experimenting to find out what works better for you.
In this whole process, I found some tricks that helped me to learn the language, keep my motivation levels up, and maximize the time I spend studying. Let me share these tricks with you.
1. Surround Yourself With the Language
I am sure you have come across this tip. It is probably the most shared when it comes to language learning, and for a good reason: it works.
However, some people think this means you can live in a country and, simply by listening to people speaking around you, you automatically become fluent. This is not how it works. You must to make a conscious effort to learn from what surrounds you, otherwise, everything will sound like gibberish, and will continue to do so forever.
Most importantly, this only works from intermediate level upwards. Let’s be real: if you are American and hear a Chinese speaker for 3 hours straight, will you learn anything, if you don’t know anything at all about the language? No, you won’t.
But when you have a good foundation, this process works wonderfully. It’s like Lego. Some blocks start fitting into others and, suddenly, sentences make sense to you. And you also gain the ability to infer the meaning of some words when you understand the rest of the sentence.
There are two ways I put this into practice: by listening to Hungarian music and watching Netflix.
This feels particularly good to the procrastinator within you. Don’t want to study and prefer to watch TV shows? Great, do it! Just change the subtitles or the audio to your target language and you will be learning while having fun.
This trick is also the one that saves you the most time. You would be watching Netflix anyway, even if you were not learning a new language, right?
2. Speak With People
Why do you want to learn a new language? Most of us want to be able to communicate with others. Unless you are an academic, I doubt that your goal is to know all the grammar rules of your target language.
So, if your goal is to speak with others, well… speak with them!
Fortunately, the Internet has made the world a tiny place. Even if your target language is only spoken in a country halfway across the world, you can easily find native speakers online and practice with them.
You have two alternatives here: you can find a tandem partner, or pay for that service. If you go with the first alternative, you can find people on Facebook groups or on websites like Tandem. If you prefer the second approach, then Preply is a good place to start looking for a tutor.
3. Talk to Yourself
This does not mean you went crazy.
While you are cooking dinner, tell yourself what you are doing using your target language. When thinking about your to-do’s for the next day, try making a list in that language. On a trip to the shopping center, tell yourself the names of the items you see in the shops, and if you buy something, exercise the numbers by telling yourself how much money you spent.
Incorporate the language in your everyday life, even if in small amounts each time. You will realize that you don’t know many of the words you need, and when you don’t, look them up.
You might create incorrect sentences without anyone there to make them right for you, but you will still learn from this process, especially in terms of vocabulary.
4. Focus on the Language for a Whole Weekend
Think of it as a language retreat.
It’s important to keep the study sessions frequent and regular, but two whole days dedicated to the language is something that will give you a boost in your skills.
Try to program a weekend where everything you do has to incorporate the language somehow. Here are some ideas, all using your target language, specially designed for someone at an intermediate level:
- Watch films
- Read children stories
- Write in your journal
- Cook a new recipe
- Sing along to songs
- Meet up with native friends and use only that language
Let me warn you, this is will be tiring. It requires your brain to think constantly but, precisely because of that, it will also put you in the target language mindset, and everything will feel more natural after a while.
“To learn a new language is to have one more window from which to look at the world”
— Chinese proverb
Learning a new language is not a linear process. During some periods, you will make incredible progress, and during others, you will feel stagnated. But what matters is to keep going. It takes time, but time alone doesn’t do anything, you need to do the work, and you should make this work as seamless as possible.
Make the target language part of your everyday life, and incorporate it as something natural instead of a foreign thing that wastes your time and attention. This is the key to keep up the motivation and reach the finish line, if there would be such a thing in a language learning process.