However, it’s not quite as difficult as it may seem. You just need the right strategy and you will be on your way to fluency quicker than 99% of all other language learners.
Today I want to share with you “how I did it” mainly to help beginner language learners get a better understanding of the process, how to make it more efficient, and how to make it enjoyable, while still reaping massive results.
Let’s get started.
Language Learning Can Be Easier Than You Think
There are hundreds of thousands of products in the language learning market, most of which are inefficient because they don’t provide a strategy.
Learning a language is a beast of a challenge, one that takes a lot of time. Without a strategy, goals and habits in place, it is very hard to succeed.
From the beginning, my aim wasn’t just to reach a somewhat conversational level, but to fully understand the language, to read, listen, to it as well as I can in English.
I therefore researched strategies for about a month before stumbling on a blog about a guy who learnt Japanese in 18 months. The blog can be found here. I had a native Japanese friend at the time check his Japanese for me and she told me that he was incredibly fluent and wondered if he lived in Japan for a long time as he sounded amazing.
That’s when I knew I had finally hit on "the strategy” for language learning. Whatever this guy was doing, he was doing it right.
How He And I Did It
When I look back on the “formula” I used to understand Japanese in 18 months, it all comes down to 4 things which I have described below.
Believing In Your Success
Start believing that you can actually do it. It’s crazy how many people start learning a language while thinking that they could never actually learn it in the first place.
Not picturing yourself speaking Japanese in 2 years time, will inevitably lead to quitting.
If you can start believing that you can and will become fluent in Japanese then you provide yourself with enough motivation to set you in the right direction of learning Japanese.
Of course, just believing in yourself won’t get you anywhere but it does keep you on track.
Daily Action — Listening, Reading and Study (In The Form of Spaced Repetition)
Learning a language has to be a daily activity. The human brain throws away information left and right, therefore you need to be in contact with your language as often as you can.
To do this you will need 2 things.
(i) An Immersion Environment
Turn as much as your life into the target language as you can. Try to read and listen to as much of the target language, everyday.
This is a crucial part of the strategy I used to become able to understand Japanese in 18 months. You may be thinking that you don’t have time to be immersed in a foreign language, especially if you have a job and a family, but you do. The immersion environment doesn’t have to be 24/7. Obviously the more hours the better but if you only have 5 hours a day for listening to Japanese then that’s still 5 hours of useful input.
Work with what you’ve got.
Language learning involves lots of memorization, and if you want to memorize large quantities of information over a long time, then you need a spaced repetition system, or SRS.
An SRS is a program that uses electronic flashcards to test whether you have remembered a piece of information or not. It isn’t just that though, the idea is to make the frequency of learning a piece of information high enough so that you don’t forget, but also low enough so that you don’t waste your time.
This is an essential tool if you are attempting a behemoth of a challenge like learning a language.
There are many programs out there but I recommend Anki which is free to download and has a lot of plugins, tutorials and even an online user manual to help you.
Remembering the Kanji/Alphabet
This stage may differ on the language. If you are learning a language like Japanese or Chinese then you will find that reading is 100x harder due to the crazy number of weird "scribbles" that they have.
These Kanji (Hanzi in Chinese) take people using normal methods years to master.
Well, a clever guy called James Heisig designed a method for conquering the Chinese reading/writing system.
Note: The method can be applied to any foreign alphabet but it's kind of useless for something like French or German.
The idea is that each general use kanji has an English keyword. You implement an SRS program to associate the English keyword with the character while also learning to write each character by hand.
It’s incredibly effective and will reduce the time spent on learning kanji from years to literally months (2 in my case).
It’s not recommended at this stage that you pause studying kanji to learn grammar or even learn grammar alongside kanji. Learn kanji first, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, just start today and keep it going.
For Japanese learners, once you finished this stage, learn Kana in the same way.
Learn 10,000 Sentences
While you are in your Japanese environment you will want to pick out sentences for studying, which is known as “sentence mining” or “sentence picking”.
You should aim for 10,000 grammatically correct, native-like Japanese sentences or phrases.
Why should you learn sentences?
They beat learning individual words as you get situational context, insight to grammar structures, and you get your brain used to real Japanese.
Try not to translate them either, you want to just understand them. The same goes for grammar. Attempt to understand grammar but don’t learn grammar rules.
Learning grammar rules in order to use a language is like learning quantum physics in order to drive a car. — Khatzumoto, All Japanese All The Time
If we could be like computers and abide by rules then grammar would be a piece of cake and so would language, but it’s just not how human language, nor the brain, works.
Wrapping It Up
Learning a language is a big challenge, one that most people find difficult to get started with due to lack of a strategy. All you need is a method, the belief that you will succeed and daily action. All that remains then, to reach fluency, is time.