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Learning a second language is one of the most interesting aspects of studying that far too few people take advantage of. A second language is more than just a new set of words, with the power of language, it’s essentially giving yourself a second lens to look at the world through. That’s one of the reasons I was so interested in this question.

I’ve been trying to pick up German recently. I’m in a German class but it’s more than just for class. I would genuinely like to learn German for a trip I’m planning to take after graduation. That being said, I’ve been struggling to find an effective strategy for picking up the language. Have you mastered a second language? If so, what do you think is the best language learning strategy?
-Adam

I wouldn’t say I mastered a second language but I have become reasonably proficient in a couple. I certainly wouldn’t impress any locals but I would be able to communicate. The most interesting aspect of my language learning history isn’t the depth of my knowledge but the absolute lack of investment I made to get that depth of understanding. I’ve invested less time studying languages than 90% of students that have reached my level. That’s because (short of a few early classes that I got almost nothing from) I’ve focused on using only highly efficient strategies for learning.

There really is one super effective strategy for learning languages but accessing that strategy isn’t easy. I think about language learning in two steps. The first step to learning a language is the hard part.

1. Brute Force

The first step to learning a language is plain old brute force memorization. You need to find some ways to reach a basic level of proficiency in a language. These strategies are almost exclusively about finding good ways to memorize the information you’re learning. Since they’re almost purely about memorizing information their typically extremely tough to follow through with. That being said, you can’t move on to step two until you’ve spent a good amount of time in this step.

Once you’ve learned somewhere around a thousand of the most common words in a language, ideally closer two thousand, you begin to gain access to the second step of memorizing languages.

2. Immersion

Yes… You’ve probably heard of this strategy a million times.

Most people that discuss immersion fail to discuss the fact that it’s locked off to 90% of the students trying to learn a language. Immersion in a language is almost completely useless until you gain a significant vocabulary in that language. Don’t waste your time immersing yourself until you’re proficient because it’s going to be significantly more stressful than it has to be.

By immersion, a student can use partial or full immersion. Most people learn their first language through full immersion. When you were a child, your parents taught you to speak by just speaking in front of you day in and day out. After a few years of complete immersion you started to get a grip on the meaning behind the words. This can be imitated, to some extent, by spending time immersed with people speaking the language you want to learn. That’s much easier said than done.

Partial immersion tends to be a much more practical strategy for the average student. Partial immersion is adding a second language into your day to day routine. Some examples of this may be reading exclusively in your second language, turning your computer language to that second language, spending time with people that exclusively speak that second language, or many other similar strategies.

If you’re looking to master a language then partial immersion is one of the most practical and effective strategies you can use. While you can’t immerse yourself in most subjects like history or science, language is one of the most immersive subjects in the world. Once you start to practice immersion regularly you’ll find yourself even beginning to think in your second language. It is the absolute best language learning strategy.

That being said, immersion is a strategy that’s only accessible after you’ve gained a basic understanding of the language. That involves many many hours of brute force memorization strategies being used. Are you looking to learn the best brute force memorization strategies for language learning? Check out our article on that.

Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night and get better grades than 90% of your peers? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow along and check out the archives. Also, check out the ebooks in the sidebar for more tricks your teachers won’t tell you about.

Q/A – What’s The Best Language Learning Strategy?

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5 thoughts on “Q/A – What’s The Best Language Learning Strategy?

  • December 27, 2015 at 4:57 pm
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    Completely agree that you need a basic understanding of the language before immersion can be useful! When I was 13 I went to France and lived in a house with a family for 5 days and previously to that I had little interest in learning the language so barely knew the basics. We communicated largely through our signs and my English-French dictionary was a lifesaver. If I’d gone on the same trip when I was 16 and had begun to love the language I’m certain I’d be proficient in the language now!

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  • December 18, 2015 at 8:04 am
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    I don’t even know how I ended up right here, but I assumed this publish was once good. I do not recognise who you are but definitely you’re going to a well-known blogger when you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

    Reply
  • December 15, 2015 at 6:22 am
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    I’ve also heard that you need to know about 1000-2000 words in a foreign language in order to try to communicate with native speakers. It sucks for me, because I have terrible memory, so quick memorizing of many words is hard for me… Even when I manage to do it, I forget 90% of it a day after a test. This has always been my biggest problem when it comes to learning new languages.

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  • December 11, 2015 at 9:11 pm
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    I totally agree – but I think it would make sense to add another part to the “brute force” method of learning a language. While memorizing a large amount of words is a solid strategy, and it will “force” you to associate your native tongue with a new language, you should also force yourself to USE the words in complete and grammatically correct sentences. Simply memorizing words isn’t enough – a lot of languages I have encountered have differing grammatical systems from English… for example, the idea of assigning a gender to nouns which exists in many European languages but not in English.

    Once you’ve memorized correct grammatical usage of the words you know, immersion becomes easier and more natural.

    Reply

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