HOW TO SPEAK ANY LANGUAGE IN 5 SIMPLE STEPS
A quick guide, full with value for independent language learners.
So you want to become fluent in a second, third or maybe even a fourth language?
There are tons of language learning materials out there and you can find a lot of language learning advice online.
You might be overwhelmed with all the information and maybe you’re not sure if you are learning a language in an efficient way.
Well, everyone learns languages differently but here is a quick test for you to check if you are on the right path.
Are you ready?
Here it comes:
Are you satisfied with your progress?
YES ? – Keep doing what you have been doing and try new learning methods from time to time.
NO ? – Stop doing what you have been doing and use the tips from this e‐book.
We often get the question; ‘’I want to become fluent in […..], how should I start?’’.
The answer to this question depends on a few things, but in this quick guide we’ll show you you a short, universal approach on how you can become conversational in the most popular languages in only 1 to 3 months and how you can reach fluency in 6 months to a year.
This quick guide also includes videos in which we demonstrate the techniques that we mention so don’t forget to also check out these videos!
Fluency here doesn’t mean speaking a language perfectly. For us fluency means that you can speak a language confidently and that you know how to express yourself well without having to think too much.
In order to follow the steps from this guide you don’t need to be in the country where the language is spoken. We have learned most of the languages we speak at home and so can you!
The content of this guide is the result of many years of research on how the world’s most accomplished polyglots (people who speak many languages) learn languages, and our experience testing a dozen learning methods and learning 10‐15 languages ourselves.
You can see us speaking in all these languages on our YouTube channel. We also use the techniques we discuss in this guide with our students. This has also them to become comfortable in a new foreign language, often in only a matter of months.
Now it’s your turn…
On your YouTube channel we have documented our language learning journey. Feel free to take a look for more language learning advice, but for now we recommend you to read this quick guide first. Now it’s time for you to boost your language learning too!
Check if you are really ready to learn a new language by asking yourself these 3 questions:
1. How will speaking the language change my life?
Do you have enough reasons to learn a new language. Are you motivated? Without enough motivation we tend to give up too easily.
Think about how much better your life would be if you would speak that language fluently. Would it help you in your career? Do you want to speak a new language for social reasons? Or do you want to have better experiences living or traveling abroad?
No matter what reason you have, you should at least have a few very good ones in order to stay motivated!
2. What will it take me?
Are you willing to do the hard work? Language learning requires a lot of time and effort. Of course, we are here to guide you. We’ll keep you motivated, give you the best study advice and provide you with the best materials to achieve success, but in the end it’s really you who has to put in the hard work.
The good thing?
Learning a language can be fun!
3. How much time am I willing to invest?
Are you willing to invest the time?
We have loads of techniques for you that will allow you to reach a conversational level quicker than ever. But in the end, the time that you spend with the language will be an essential success factor. There is no magic pill; learning a language takes time.
Are you still in? Yes?
Cool, let’s continue then!
Learning languages becomes more fun when you set goals for yourself and create a plan how you can achieve those goals.
Don’t be too ambitious; ‘’speaking fluent Russian by the end of this year’’ sounds cool but it’s not very specific.
Better, work with so‐called ‘’mini‐goals’’; goals that are relatively easy to accomplish within a few months or weeks.
When I was learning Russian my mini‐goals for the first 3 months were:
– Learn the 250 most important words in Russian
– Hold a 15‐minute conversation with a native speaker
– Travel to a country where Russian is spoken and speak only Russian with waiters, taxi drivers etc.
How I reached those goals:
1. I participated in the Language Boostcamp and took 2‐3 lessons per week with Lucas.
2. I studied 30 minutes per day with VocaBooster Russian.
3. I played around with other Russian resources like Assimil and Easy Languages.
4. After 3 months I traveled around the Caucasus using basic Russian.
When learning a language, being able to actually speak the language is the most important for me and that’s why my gameplan was focus on speaking skills.
Now make your own game plan and focus on the skills that you want to learn and the activities that you like to do. Make sure you set mini‐goals and and plan the activities that you need to do in order to reach your mini‐goals!
Now it’s time to get started for real.
You need to find good learning materials that teach you the most important words and phrases first. Learning from books that teach you difficult words and tricky grammar can be overwhelming, frustrating and time consuming, so don’t do that!
Instead: Learn the first things first!
Learning first things first is the key to quick progress in your new language.
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule) basically states that you get 80% of the results from 20% of the work. This principle can be applicable in language learning as well.
Languages contain hundreds of thousands of words but only a fraction of them are used on a daily basis by native speakers and only a fraction of those are words that you need for your first conversations.
Your first conversations in a new language will always be the same;
‘’What’s your name?’’, ‘’Where are you from?’’, ‘’What do you do here?’’, ‘’Do you live here?’’, ‘’For how long have you studied…..?’’.
To create your first sentences you need words like; I, you, to like, can, to do, today, to want, to be, expensive, big etc.
You will be surprised by how many things you will be able to say by knowing only 200 words and knowing how to use them. Of course your speech will be limited, but it’s a great way to start!
Bruce Lee once said; ‘’I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10000 times.”
Watch the video below to see how we can apply this strategy in language learning.
In order to help you to choose the resources to start your language learning journey with, we have made a list for you with reviews of some of the popular language learning materials.
Word frequency lists from the Internet
These lists are often generated from TV or written content which is not relevant for beginners. They are often free like this one on Wikipedia for example.
The words do not in most cases include example sentences, word‐by‐word translations, audio and grammar notes. It’s almost like learning words from a dictionary and we won’t recommend anyone to do this as there are more effective ways to study.
Our rating: 1 / 5 *
They do include a few useful phrases but we think most of what they teach you is irrelevant for beginners. Phrasebooks often focus on very specific situations like that are useful if you’re traveling in the country (like repairing a car or visiting the doctor), but they fail to focus on the social interactions you are the most likely to encounter.
We believe that reaching a comfortable level in social interactions is the first step in successfully learning a language. Once you reach basic fluency it becomes easier to remember advanced words that you need for those specific situations.
You can learn useful words and phrases from a phrasebook but we find most of the content unuseful and we therefore do not consider them to be an effective resource.
Our rating: 2 / 5 *
An Example of a phrasebook: Lonely Planet phrasebooks
Assimil Language Courses
Assimil language courses (books + audio) are very popular in Europe. They are also used by many accomplished polyglots. They come with interesting dialogues and good exercises. The quality of the courses varies as the content for each language is unique.
The dialogues are fun, and for some languages they also come with word‐by‐word (literal) translations, which helps you to understand how the language is constructed and what each individual word means.
Unfortunately they tend to include too many advanced words and phrases in the beginning. This can be overwhelming for a beginner and we would rather spend our time on learning easier and more useful words.
However, overall we think they do a good job. We use Assimil ourselves in addition to other materials and speaking sessions. We also recommend Assimil to our students.
Price: $80‐100 (book + audio)
Our rating: 3 / 5 *
Visit their website here.
You can also find the Assimil series on Amazon.
Another method is to ask native speakers to translate words and phrases for you that you want to learn. However, this can be very time consuming and costly.
Besides, you might not have a very clear idea about what you want them to translate in order to learn unless you have already learned many languages in the past.
Therefore, this won’t be the best option for most people.
Price: 100$ +
Our rating: 2 / 5 *
Duolingo is a free language learning app that offers lessons for more than 16 languages now (2016). It’s very easy to use the platform and it is nicely designed.
I studied Italian with DuoLingo until level 8. I found it a waste of time as he had to learn unuseful words for beginners such as, for example: skirt, socks, elephant, fork, bird, butter etc. You can learn hundreds of words like this but in the end you won’t be able to hold a decent conversation because you simply won’t need those words in your first conversations.
And if you are in a supermarket abroad and you need butter but you don’t know how to say it, then you can just look it up on your smartphone. You don’t need these words in order to become conversational.
So instead, we would focus on essential words that you need in order to make sentences like: to be, to have, to go, I, you, now, today, to speak, where etc.
DuoLingo also focuses a lot on writing which we don’t think is a very effective way of learning as a beginner. The focus should be on how to speak the language first.
When you learned your native language you probably learned how to speak first and only when you could speak the language already you learned how to write. So why focus on writing first now?
They do teach you a few useful words but overall I find it a very ineffective way to start. The gamification is great though, it’s very interactive and it’s also free. You might try DuoLingo as it’s fun to use but don’t expect exceptional results.
We have never heard of an accomplished polyglot that uses Duolingo as their main resource but it can be fun way to experiment a bit with the language.
Visit Duolingo here.
Rating: 2 / 5 *
Michel Thomas was a polyglot and linguist who mastered ten languages. He became famous for teaching Hollywood stars, politicians and business leaders in the US using the method which he developed by himself; the Michel Thomas Method.
The Michel Thomas method focuses on audio input. You don’t need any books, they say that you should just relax and listen. We love Michel Thomas as he really builds it up. In his courses he teaches you the basics of the language step‐by‐step. You do not only learn basic vocabulary but you also learn how to use new words and grammar structures straight away.
The “virtual” classroom situation on the recording lets you learn with others. You, as the learner, become the third student and participate actively in the class.
The content of their courses is limited so you won’t learn to use a large amount of vocabulary.
The original courses don’t come with books which is a pity. We think it’s alwaysbetter to hear and see words. The more associations you get with a word, the easier it will be to memorize it.
Recently they announced on their website that their new courses come with interactive exercises on your PC as well though.
Overall, we find the Michel Thomas courses to be some of the best resources for beginners to get started with!
Price: 120‐135 $
Rating: 4 / 5 *
VocaBooster (developed by LanguageBoost)
This course of exciting an eBook, audio files and Anki Decks has been specially designed for the purpose of teaching the first things first.
In this chapter we have mentioned a few good resources that you can use to learn another language but there are still a few issues with most of the resources that are out there at the moment.
‐ Many resources teach you words and phrases that are difficult for beginners.
‐ Many resources teach words and phrases that are not useful for beginners.
Trying to learn difficult words that you don’t need at the beginners stage can be very frustrating and above all, a waste of time!
Therefore we’ve created a course which makes use of the Pareto principle (80‐20 rule). We focus on the most important words and phrases that you need in order to hold conversations in your new language as soon as possible.
It’s the only resource out there in which you will learn the most important words in context with the aid of images, word by word translations, grammar notes and native audio.
The downside of the course?
Let’s be honest, we developed this course ourselves so let’s mention the downsides as well.
● VocaBooster isn’t as interactive as DuoLingo.
● It works the best for serious language learners who have learned a language successfully already.
● The course works better for those who speak a similar language already.
● You won’t learn how to speak the language just with this course. You will also need speaking practice with a tutor to learn how to use what you’ve learned well.
Price: 59 $
Rating: 4 / 5 *
Click here to see which languages are available!
Watch this video to see how VocaBooster exactly works:
Glossika is a language course developed by polyglot Mike Campbell. The course consists of 3000 sentences + audio in English and the translations in your target language. At the beginning the sentences are easy and short while more advanced vocabulary and grammar features are introduced as the course goes on.
Glossika makes use of spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned words and sentences.
We highly recommend Glossika for those who already have a basic understanding of the target language and want to become better (and faster) at making sentences.
Price: 80‐100 $
Rating: 4 / 5 *
Check out Glossika’s website
Now that you have a basic idea about how the language works and you have learned your first words, it’s time to start speaking! Don’t wait too long with speaking.
Practicing the words and phrases you have just learned straight away is the perfect way not to forget them and it’s fun!
We recommend that you start with your first speaking sessions after you’ve learned your first 20‐50 words and phrases in your new language.
This is the scariest part of language learning and many people don’t do this!
This is also why most people give up at this stage, but not you, right? If you want to becomea good language learner this is probably the most important step of all.
Why you shouldn’t wait too long to speak:
– Using the new words you have just learned in your speech will help you to memorize them better.
– By speaking you also find out what important words you are missing and what basic grammar features you need to know.
– Speaking a new language is exciting, adds the human aspect, makes it something ‘’real’’ and is good for your momentum.
Now you might think by yourself ‘’how can I speak a language if I only know 100 words (or less)?’’
Two things are important here:
1. You need to be creative.
2. You need a good teacher or conversation partner who can make you speak with limited vocabulary.
In the beginning the main goal of your speaking sessions is to simply interact in your target language with the basic words you know. At this stage it’s not important what you say, it’s more about trying to say something and keep the conversation alive.
Making mistakes is 100% allowed!
In this video we give a demonstration how you can ‘’speak’’ a language with very limited vocabulary. As you can see in the video, the role of the teacher is very important here, so make sure you find a good teacher online or join our bootcamps!
Go to Italki.com and select the language that you want to learn. There will be a list with all active language tutors. You can choose a professional teacher or a community tutor.
Again, everyone learns differently but if you’re like us and language classes in school never worked for you, we would suggest you choose a community tutor. You don’t need someone to teach you a language, you need someone to help you to speak the language using the words and phrases you have studied. Another benefit is that a community tutor often turns out to be cheaper as well.
Read the profiles of the available tutors and look for common interests and testimonials. Often they have introduction videos as well. Choose someone you think you’ll feel comfortable with and who shares the same interests as you.
A few important questions to ask yourself after your first training sessions:
‐ Do you like the classes? Are you having fun?
‐ Do you have the feeling that you are making progress?
If the answer to any of the above questions above is no, try someone else.
Choose an online tutor at a website like Italki and tell your tutor in advance that this is your first attempt to speak the language and that you would like to practice making your first simple sentences.
Asking questions is very important at this stage in order to keep your training session fun and interactive. You can ask your tutor basic questions like:
‐ How are you?
‐ What is your name?
‐ Where are you from?
‐ Where are you now?
‐ Do you speak English?
Ask your tutor to ask you the same questions and try to answer them. Have your tutor correct you in a smooth way so that you keep the flow of the conversation and write down new words in a notebook or in a Google spreadsheet so that you can revise them later.
It’s not a big issue if you forget new Vocabulary. We forget new vocabulary all the time! Our philosophy is that if you practice enough, new vocab will come back eventually and after forgetting it a few times there will be a certain moment when you will be able to memorize it.
There are also a few tricks that can help you to remember new vocabulary though.
Always learn words in context which means that you should always learn new words in a sentence, preferably with an image or even better, a feeling!
Research shows that we remember emotionally charged events better than boring ones.
Use the words that you’ve just learned straight away in interesting conversations to reduce the chance that you forget these new words.
We think that a good language tutor;
– Makes you speak as much as possible. You can learn grammar and vocab by yourself but you need someone in order to practice your speaking. Make optimal use of your time with a native speaking and speak as much as possible.
– Understands how difficult it can be to learn a language and gives you the confidence to speak. He or she should be patient and supportive.
– Corrects you in a comfortable way so you don’t lose the flow in a conversation. Keeping the flow in a conversation gives you confidence and makes the conversation more fun.
– Does not give you too many grammar explanations unless you ask for them. You can learn grammar from books and should focus on speaking practice during your classes.
– Does drills exercises with you (more about his in Step 5)
– Has interests in common with you
– Understands your learning goals and focuses on helping you to reach them.
– Uses methods that push you out of your comfort zone so that you have to try to say new things.
– Is a pleasant person to talk to.
Always try different tutors and continue with the person you like the most and you feel you make the most progress with.
When I was a student I thought that you had to have a special talent in order to become really good at a language. Later I learned that learning a language is actually a skill. A skill that you can learn with a lot of practice.
Some people might naturally have a better feeling for languages or have a better memory than others. However, we can assure you that with enough practice those who have always been bad at languages at school (like myself and Lucas), can become very good at learning another language too.
It’s almost like going to the gym. There are tons of tricks you can apply in order to gain more muscle in less time but in the end you need to go often and you need to put in some work hard.
Many language learning products claim that learning can be almost effortless.
Unfortunately, it’s not.
The real reason why some people succeed in language learning and others don’t is that some don’t have enough motivation and willingness to practice the language over a longer period of time. Sometimes it might just all seem to be too difficult, but in fact it’s only a matter of more practice.
If a baby can learn a language then so can you. It’s takes a child about 6 years to ‘’speak’’ their first language. We assure you that with the right attitude you can do it in much less time.
It took me at least one year to become comfortable in Mandarin. I consider learning and especially practicing Mandarin one of the most rewarding, fun and interesting investments in myself I’ve ever done. It’s literally changed my life and a new language can change your life too.
I recently shot a video with one of world’s leading Polyglots Luca Lampariello, who speaks 8 languages at a C‐level, on how you can get from an intermediate level to an advanced level.
Watch it here:
Study at least 15‐30 minutes per day everyday with one or more of the resources mentioned in step 3. It’s ok to miss a day but don’t make it a habit. Then, additionally, schedule a 30‐60 minute speaking session with your tutor at least 3 times per week if you aim for speaking with confidence in only a few months.
It’s still important to focus on the most important words and phrases. You can use one of the resources mentioned earlier in this post. Also ask your tutor for the specific vocabulary that you need. If you work as a translator, then the word ‘translator’ is obviously a useful word for you to learn.
Pay attention to how verbs and nouns change in different contexts and try to find patterns. That’s how you can improve your grammar in a natural way.
Have fun, make jokes, don’t take yourself too seriously and relax. Human beings absorb information better when they’re relaxed.
We thought it would be a good idea to give more tips on how you can get the best out of your online language classes. It will only be useful to apply these tips if you have followed steps 1 to 4 first and you’ve already learned the basics of the language.
To learn more about this in this blogpost (link will be added soon)
If you find it difficult to learn a language on your own, you might also check out the Add1Challenge run by our buddy Brian Kwong. He describes the Challenge as follows:
‘’The Add1Challenge is a private community of passionate language learners who have overcome shyness, gained consistent motivation, and even landed jobs in their new language. Learning together is better than learning alone.’’
Jan also learned Japanese and Cantonese in this challenge and we highly recommend to take a look!
As mentioned before we now also offer highly effective online bootcamps in which we personally teach you a new language in just 21 hours! We’ll use all the tips and tricks from this guide.
Classes will be in small groups of 2‐3 people.
Want to learn more about this online bootcamp? Click HERE
Unfortunately, we can’t cover every aspect in this short guide so keep watching for more emails from us.
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Thanks for reading this guide. We hope this was useful for you.
Talk to you soon!
Jan van der Aa
Jan van der Aa traveled to 100 countries and learned 10 languages before he turned 30. On his website he shares his language learning experience and helps people from all over the world to learn languages faster.