This article is inspired by a speech given by Chris Lonsdale at TEDx Talks, Lingnan University. Chris Lonsdale is a psychologist, linguist and educator from New Zealand who travels around the world and shares his knowledge on how to reach fluency fast.
Any adult can learn a second language in 6 months
For his entire professional life, Chris has been obsessed with the question "How can we speed up language learning?" As a young, passionate psychologist, he travelled to China in 1981 with the goal of becoming a native speaker in Mandarin Chinese as quickly as possible. He reached conversational fluency in as little as 6 months, and within 2 years, was speaking like a Chinese native speaker. Noticing how much other learners were struggling, he devoted his career to developing a set of core principles and rules that language learners all around the world use today. His main conclusion: That anyone can learn a language in 6 months.
Think about this for a second. Do you think you'd be able to pick up a language in 6 months? This may sound crazy - but get ready, because you're just about to learn an easy and effective framework on how to do so.
But first, let's debunk 2 crippling myths
Myth 1: You need talent to learn a language. FALSE. This is one of the biggest misconceptions of language learning. Talent actually has very little to do with language acquisition. Generally, there is nothing innate or biological that makes certain humans more predisposed to learn faster than others. We all have the same potential.
Myth 2: Immersion matters. FALSE. Believe it or not, but immersion per se doesn't matter. It's not enough to simply drop a human in a foreign environment and expect fluency to naturally emerge. As they say, "A drowning man can't learn to swim".
Ok, so what's the secret?
In its purest form, the trick is pretty basic: Look at what native speakers do, identify core principles, and then apply those principles to your life. The secret to fast learning is to follow a handful of fundamental principles. Sounds pretty simple right? If you're up for the challenge, follow this guide of 5 Principles and 7 Actions, and enjoy the results!
1 Focus on language content that is relevant to you
We master tools by using tools; we learn tools the fastest when they are relevant to us. For example, say I have to submit a document written in Mandarin tomorrow to the Chinese Immigration officials. It's very important that I finish this document tonight. This means I'm putting myself in a situation or environment that makes my language skills highly relevant.
2 Use your language as a tool to communicate from day one
Speak the target language wherever you can with people around you. When you go about your daily life, or while walking to the market, school and bank, try to use the target language as much as possible.
3 When you first understand the message, you will unconsciously acquire the language
Comprehension has proven to be even more important than grammar. Understanding the content or meaning of something before or while you absorb words or phrases is crucial in the formation of a language.
A language is much more of a physiological exercise than a way to acquire knowledge. Becoming familiar with new words and expressions is about absorbing sounds. This takes muscle practice! You have 43 main muscles in your face, and you must learn to control these.
5 Psycho-physiological state matters
Your state of mind will impact your learning speed. Being happy, relaxed and curious will help you learn faster. Being sad, depressed and frustrated will have the opposite effect. To achieve the ideal state of mind, you must develop a tolerance of ambiguity, and get used to not understanding every new word you come across. Learning is supposed to be a fun experience, so make sure to enjoy yourself, be comfortable and avoid anger.
Let your brain subconsciously soak everything in. Absorb rhythms and patterns. Don't worry if you don't understand everything at first.
Before understanding every word in a sentence, strive to understand the meaning of something being expressed. Observing someone's body language can often help with this.
Be creative. Language is a creative process. Mix together your knowledge and have fun. 10 verbs x 10 nouns x 10 adjectives = 1,000 possible phrases. Essentially, you can start speaking with a very small number of words.
In the English language, knowing roughly 3,000 words will cover 98% of the words you need in everyday conversations. The rest is icing on the cake.
5 Get a "language parent"
Find a language parent—a partner who is willing to help you and communicate with you.
Observe how native speakers speak, and how they use their mouths when they express themselves. Get these facial muscles working correctly.
Every concept you know can be seen as an image stored inside of your mind. Creating visual cognitive imagery is an effective way to create pathways in your mind, and a smart method to easily memorize new words and phrases. Habitually connect sounds to your internal representations and let the brain subconsciously take care of the rest.
Follow these rules, and you'll be fluent within 6 months!
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart." ‒Nelson Mandela