I don’t recommend Rosetta Stone. I don’t recommend Pimsleur. I don’t recommend Rocket Languages. What I do recommend is a combination of one of those language-learning programs combined with some Rain Man style learning shortcuts and out-of-the-box tactics developed by some of the word’s smartest polyglots.
When I started learning Spanish, I got lazy. In 6 months though, I learned enough Spanish to get around and have basic conversations. The kicker? That was practicing about 20 minutes once every two weeks.
If I’d applied this method which I later learned, I could have attained B1 fluency at the least in those six months. I actually think it can be done in three with this system. This will work for any of the Latin-Languages: Spanish, Italian, and French. I honestly have never applied it to any other language, so I can’t honestly speak to its effectiveness elsewhere.
I’ll compare the best language learning softwares in a minute (overall I recommend Pimsleur), but first we’re going to break down the two huge rules that make our entire learning process much shorter and easier:
1. Choose Your Words Wisely
Time-hacking entrepreneur Tim Ferriss (author of The Four Hour Workweek) brings to light a convenient shortcut to language-learning: There are 100 words which make up roughly 70% of spoken English in conversation. These are words like we, the, where, who, what, how, etc. which we use almost constantly.
There are 300 words which make up roughly 95% of spoken English. Learn those first 400 words and congratulations, you’ve attained 95% fluency in your target language!
Once you’ve knocked out those 400 words, focus on words that relate to your interests. If you’re going to be snowboarding in Argentina, you should look up words like snow, ski lift, mountain, etc. If you’re going scuba diving look up words like tank, dive, boat, etc. This applies to your interests in general.
2. Use Your Time Wisely
I do Pimsleur’s audio lessons in the shower every morning. I use the free Duolingo app on my phone while I’m waiting in line or **ahem** using the bathroom. I spend at least one hour every day learning a language with speech tools, audio lessons, or written lessons.
3. Pick a Comprehensive Language Learning Program
I’ve tried a little bit of everything. My personal choice is Pimsleur. I feel they do a great job of reinforcing new words after you’ve learned them. It seems like just when I’m starting to forget a word I’ve learned, they throw it back at me in a sentence and it refreshes my memory.
The other reason I like Pimsleur is because they teach conversational language. In other words, it’s the best way to learn to use words in a sentence. They actually teach the words as used in conversation rather than an index-card style of approach.
Like I said, one language program certainly isn’t for everyone. Pimsleur is my favorite, but maybe Rosetta Stone or Rocket Language is better for you. Either way, combine my language hacks with Pimsleur and you should be conversationally fluent within 6 months if you put in the time. You’ll be able to carry on simple conversations within the first month. I can’t stress this part enough: you should not start learning a new language without a learning problem like Pimsleur to supplement it with. Free apps on your phone are nowhere near enough. If you’re serious about learning, shell out the cash and start working towards your goal.
- One of the biggest things you should do when learning a new language is start speaking it right away. iTalki is a great service where you can find language lessons with native speakers for as cheap as $5 per hour. As I mentioned before, the Rocket Languages forum is great for asking questions, but I recommend you still do lessons for actually using the words you’re learning.
- Another out-of-the-box learning technique I use for nouns is post-it notes. I grabbed this idea from Sabina Trojanova over at Girl vs. Globe. Simply write down a bunch of nouns in your target language and place them all over your house. Door, window, sink, etc. People might think you look like a serial killer, but it really makes the words stick in your memory.