How To Learn A New Language

A lot of people have asked me how they can learn a new language. First, I am not a language teacher, but I am multi-lingual and have some suggestions.

As you’ve come to expect, with an an antimimeticisomorphism approach, I will have a few twists to offer. But first, let me tell you a story.

My mother tongue (original/first language) is French. I grew up in Montreal, Quebec and was a unilingual French speaker until the age of 7. We moved to Jamaica, an English speaking country and we were forced to attend English school since there we NO French schools available.

All I could say on my first day of class was “yes” and “no”, of course I had no idea what the questions were! I made a pact with my brother and sister that we NOT speak French to each other at all so we would learn more quickly. 40+ years later, we still don’t speak French to each other and only speak French to our parents (who are fluently bilingual).

So my first suggestion is to IMMERSE yourself in the language of choice. Today, that means reading, listening to Internet radio stations and watching movies or videos with sub titles or captions. Ideally, you watch a video in French with French subtitles and captions and NOT English ones… So you learn the Verbal/phonetic pronunciation AND the spelling at the same time WITHIN a real-life context. Don’t pause the movie – watch it in real time and just focus and concentrate. You need to trust your brain to assimilate and acquire a LOT more than you think you can. The subconscious part of your brain will pick up a lot of nuances like lip reading cues that your conscious mind won’t notice.

The minute you let yourself off the hook, you’re cheating.

It’s NOT easy to stay disciplined, but the payoffs can be tremendous.

When I worked in Europe, I got to understanding Flemish after only 1 week of being in business meetings. I couldn’t speak it, but I knew what was being said – to my guests’ astonishment. They were so incredulous they would ask me questions that I would then answer in English or French!

When I lived in Canada, I would travel to Mexico on regular vacations and became conversationally fluent with no additional effort. Immersion is the key.

Another great strategy is to place post-it notes on things around the house (door, window, toaster, fridge, carpet, floor, table, bed, etc.) with the translated name. Remove the post-it ONLY once you know the word by heart.

Learn A New Language, How To Learn A LanguageBuy yourself a VISUAL multi-language dictionary (or use an online site). It will help you find words for things you might not even know in your own first (primary) language!

Pick one with more than 2 languages and you might just pick up yet ANOTHER additional language while you’re at it!!!

Get yourself a friend or tutor to help you with pronunciation. Get this sooner rather than later because it’s a BAD habit that is hard to break.

By using ALL your senses (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) you will acquire the new language much more quickly and easily.

The hardest part of learning a new language is being self-conscious about how you sound when speaking. If you can’t get past that, you’ll always struggle.

Growing up in Montreal Quebec with TWO official languages, I worked hard to get rid of my accents when I was speaking either French or English. It took me at least 5 years and now is a lifetime trait I don’t have to worry about.

Last but not least, what makes you fluent in a language is vocabulary. Vocabulary is priceless. The more words, phrases and expressions you can learn the better, but the bare minimum of words you need to ‘get by’ conversationally is between 1,000 and 3,000 words.

That means you can ‘learn a new language’ in one academic semester and then focus on mastering the refinements of grammar and pronunciation.

Worried about having an accent – we all have one, just watch this short video that reveals

31 Different Accents

How To Learn English in 5 Minutes:

1) That’s not right……………………………………. Sum Ting Wong

2) Are you harboring a fugitive?……………….  Hu Yu Hai Ding

5 Responses to “How To Learn A New Language”

  • Hi There,

    Interesting video.
    Most of her accents seem spot on.

    Although, her Dublin and Belfast accents are incorrect.
    She speaks with a typical Hollywood Irish accent, which does not exist.

    No-one in Dublin or Belfast speaks like that.

    Liam [from Cork, Ireland]

  • Dr Marc,

    I have just finished listening and practicing using your speed reading videos.

    I now have to take notes while reading my textbook for exam purposes. How do I make notes while speed reading? I need to remember the information for exams.

    Also, I’m studying in the library among many other students. So, do you suggest that I use my finger all the time? Or is there an alternative?

    Thank you

    • Speed read THEN go back and take notes. You don’t want to start and stop – you want to get your rhythm. Reading is one task, note taking is another.

      ALWAYS use your finger – it’s the best way to synchronise your eyes. Using a pen is bad and a ruler even worse.

      At some point you’ll need to stop caring what others think as you use your finger. Chances are they will be impressed by your speed.

      If you must, try to point a book or something else between you and other students. I would find a cubicle out of the way – less distractions = faster reading.

      Good luck!

  • Hi Dr Marc,

    I had one question: How do you speed read an ebook? That is when the reading material is onscreen rather then on paper?
    Many thanks

    • You have two options: 1 is to use a Rapid Reader application, use the same speed reading technique on screen as on paper or print out the eBook (most recommended). I recommend the printed version because it’s been proven time and time again that we’re conditioned to read and write within our brains and it’s only the kids from today’s generation who may not have that in-built wiring.

      You’ve spent 10+ years reading and writing and THOSE synaptic pathways are fully developed – not to use them is like trying to play tennis with your left hand after playing right-handed for 10 years.

      I hope that helps!

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