8 little known ways to speed up your progress and learn languages faster
Do you want to learn a language faster?
If you know me, you probably know that I value productivity a lot, and that I am constantly trying to get more done by working less. I have collected for you eight things you can (and should!) do to learn a language faster, without having to find more study time.
1) Focus on the important words
Here is Tim Ferriss's (author of The Four Hours Workweek) best tip about learning a language:
"Content beats method every time"
In other words *what* you learn matters more than how you learn it. Start with learning the words and structures that you will use the most, and refuse to waste time on all the useless bits. Whenever you find a new word or a new structure, ask yourself "will I use it? How often?" - only learn it if the answer it "yes! very often." If the answer is "maybe... you never know", discard it without regret.
You will find that it's much easier to learn your vocabulary when you start using this method, just because you have fewer words.
Those "you never know" words should only ever be learnt by people who are already conversational.
2) Eat healthy food
"Garbage in, garbage out" is not only true for computers. It's true for your body and your brain too. You can't expect your brain to perform at its best if you feed on suboptimal food, which causes you to feel heavy and tired and triggers sugar lows and sugar highs on a regular basis
Do yourself a favour and upgrade your diet to include more salad, fruits and veggies, proteins and food supplements if you need them. It's not only good for your health, it's good for your language learning too: You will find yourself more focused, more motivated and your memory will work better.
My favourite tip! I can honestly say that sleeping is my number 1 priority in life. Do you sleep enough? Adults typically need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. If you sleep less than 7 hours, you are probably experiencing sleep deprivation. The consequences of sleep deprivation are bad memory, low motivation, a higher risk of eating unhealthy food (see above), a number of health risks and overall decreased productivity. Even one night of bad sleep will negatively affect your performance on the next day. But you will only notice it if you know what your performance looks like, when you have actually slept enough. If you have to choose between spending two hours learning a language in the evening, and sleeping earlier to get all the sleep you need, go to bed. You can learn a language at virtually any moment. Prioritize your sleep, and your language learning sessions will have a much better outcome.
Note: If you struggle to find time to learn a language, I strongly recommend your take my Time for language learning ecourse. You will solve this problem once and for all.
Ok, ok, I'm not your mom to tell you what to eat, when to sleep and to exercise more, but hear me out.
First of, Time you spend exercising isn't lost for language learning, since it's a perfect moment to multitask and listen to a podcast or audio lesson as you run, lift weight, stretch, etc. Second, exercising is excellent for your body, and your brain is part of your body. People who exercise regularly (like me) routinely experience creative thoughts and a better mood during and after exercising, and find themselves more motivated and with more energy to tackle their other tasks (such as learning a language).
Don't shy away from exercising out of fear that it will exhaust you. It's quite the opposite.
5) Watch your willpower
Numerous experiments show that we have a finite amount of willpower which gets depleted over the course of the day. Every decision we take, no matter how small, depletes our stock of willpower. Eventually we aren't able to make the right decisions (such as get our language learning done) later in the day because our willpower stock is depleted. There are two ways you can work around this annoying feature of your mind:
- Learn a language earlier in the day, while you still have some willpower available
- Purposely safekeep your willpower by removing unimportant decision making from your day. For example, I don't really care about clothes, so I wear a similar outfit everyday and all my clothes are interchangeable. This way I avoid having to decide what to wear in the morning. I also routinely prepare meals in advance, this way I eat what's in the fridge, rather than considering what to eat three times a day. And I keep my willpower for important decisions which affect my life positively, such as getting some language learning done.
6) Take advantage of your most productive time slot
Everyone of us as a time of the day when they are more productive. Are you an early bird or a night owl? You certainly know if you work better in the morning or in the evening.
Early birds should aim to schedule their language learning session in the morning, before getting caught in their days.
Night owls, on the contrary, should rather schedule your language learning in the evening, when their focus is higher. If you are a night owl, make sure that you will still have willpower available when your productive time comes.
I am an early bird, and therefore I always schedule all my important work in the morning. This is why you cannot have lessons or calls with me in the morning if you live in Europe. I keep the time between 6AM and 12PM to get most of my focused work done. Then, starting 12, I'm happy because my work is done and I can be fully available for my students.
When Benny Lewis created his video about the Silent Language Retreat, he was joking. For sure you can't learn a language with meditations alone, however, here are a few ways that meditation will indeed help you learn a language:
1) Increased focus. Since I meditate everyday, I have more clarity and almost never feel overwhelmed anymore. I have a much easier time focusing on what matters the most and shutting up the Fear or missing out. Four things you need to learn a language successfully.
2) Liberation from your thoughts. It will be easier for you to think in a foreign language if you are able to control your existing thoughts first. Since I meditate, I find it easier to code-switch (polyglot slang for "change the language I'm speaking in fast") and changing the language of my thoughts at will than ever before.
You can get these benefits with just 5 minutes of meditation a day (that's what I do). It's totally worth it.
8) Lucid dreaming?
I haven't tried this one yet, but it's definitely on my roadmap. Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D. , author of Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming dedicates a chapter of his book to the use of lucid dreams as a "rehearsal for living". He suggests that Lucid dreaming can be used to practice both physical skills and mental skills.
I know from personal experience that it is much easier to speak a foreign language in a dream (even a non-lucid one) than in waking. While you dream, the rational part of your brain is disconnected. This is the one that says things such as "I can't, I don't speak this language, I'm going to be unable to speak". Suddenly, you can and you do speak.
This leads me to believe that lucid dreaming is a giant practicing field for language learners, albeit an unconventional one. And as author Stephen LaBerge points out, we have every night to practice!
If you have experience with using lucid dreaming as a language learning tool, please send me a message, I would love to hear about it and learn from you.