Do you speak any Spanish? How about French? German? It seems kind of crazy that about 60% of the world speaks more than one language, especially since that number plunges to 25% on US soil. But if you live here, you have probably heard the phrase a million times before (or said it yourself): “I took two years of Spanish in high school/college but I don’t remember a word.” We just don’t really need another language in the US in our day-to-day lives, unless we live in a community where it’s borderline necessary, like in Miami or other large immigrant communities.
That answers the question: why is learning another language so hard? If it’s not a way of life, it is unnecessary, and our highly efficient brains tend to drop information that doesn’t seem necessary. That’s why language apps that include gamification such as Duolingo and Babbel tend to spread – they become a part of your everyday life, like watching TV or checking Facebook as something to do with idle time. But even if you can get into the habit of using Duolingo, what can you do to make sure that it’s working? Learning a language online is only a part of your day in front of a screen. We’ve compiled a list of the 5 best ways to learn a language online fast and efficiently from our own experience, so that it becomes a part of your everyday life.
- Have a reason.
You’re not just going to learn a language online because it fascinates you unless you’re a true linguistics nerd. For the rest of us, you need a purpose. Whether it is a lifelong dream, a goal to get promoted, a better way to communicate with friends or family, or a way to prepare for a transnational move, you need the motivation to get you through those lulls in which you realize that learning something new is hard. And those lulls will come.
- Be consistent, form a habit.
You might have heard the myth that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Unfortunately, this is not true, and based on a misconception of Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s theory – it just sounds so good! When you form a habit, you can expect (1) a honeymoon phase of “this is easy!” followed by (2) a reality check in which your inspiration fades. This is where #1 becomes so important: even if you’re learning online, languages must be a huge part of your world, and seen as a necessity. Finally, (3) the habit becomes second nature. New evidence suggests that the length of this process can vary tremendously, but will usually take at least 66 days. If that seems like a long time, imagine how long it took you to start learning your own native tongue as a baby – most toddlers say their first words after at least a year of listening to their parents speak at them incessantly. Kids pick up languages like sponges, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.
- Prioritize regular contact with a mentor.
After some time, life gets in the way and motivation can get murky. Whether it’s in person or not, keeping up with your teacher can make or break your face-to-face or learning the language online. Make sure your language classes take priority, and think of it as a learning journey in which you also get to know someone very well.
- Quiz yourself.
How do you use baby steps to show improvement? There’s a reason that people use old-fashioned flashcards: they work. Get some cardstock, or now you can even use them on your phone with flashcard apps (both pre-made and filling them in yourself) as well as other exchange or language-learning apps. Take them to a doctor’s appointment and keep yourself busy while you’re waiting, use them to help wake up your brain in the morning, or literally any other situation in which your attention can be focused. Even 10 minutes per day of flashcards keeps your studying consistent and keeps you on track to see steady progress.
- Get others involved.
If you have a significant other or friend who is interested in online language learning, too, getting them into it with you can be very beneficial. Seeing others succeed will motivate you more to continue trying. Take advantage of your social networks (online or otherwise) and record your progress together. If you’re ready to see real progress, these steps will be vital to your online language learning experience. Get started today!