All you need to learn any european language in less than three months

First of all – why can I write about learning languages in a profound way? Why isn’t it just another sensation-seeking “all you need to…” list?

I speak more than six languages on such a level that I was able to use them effectively at work. Among them are German, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese.

I studied one year of Economics in Rome starting with zero italian. The university level courses and exams were completely in Italian. You can double-check with any person who has studied in Italy that this is really possible. I have worked in Mexico and Brazil in a Fortune 500 Company on important projects speaking spanish and portuguese. I have also worked in China and now speak fluently chinese, but this is a totally different story. Chinese can’t be learned in three months, but European languages can.

Between my 23rd and 28th birthday I added italian, spanish and portuguese to my german and english. And this was in parallel to my engineering degree, world travelling and a full-time job after graduation.

I wanted to write this post for years, but postponed it every time because I know too much about learning languages. Therefore let me keep it short this time, so you can have immediate practical use of it instead of reading only about theory. I can get into the details in later posts.

Now enough of prelude, directly to what you need to learn a european language in only 3 months:

  1. Environment: An environment which forces you to speak your target language (key to success: immersion)
  2. Mind set: The will and the self-confidence to stick with the local language and not fall back into a more comfortable one, i.e. english or your native language. You will feel stupid because people treat you as uneducated if you speak their language in a broken way, if you speak like a child, most people treat you like one. You need to overcome this feeling and stick to it, it will pass after two months. (key to success: persistence and suppression of a false sense of pride)
  3. Tools: The shortest grammar available (about 100 pages), a basic vocabulary book with the most important 2000 words, a dictionary and an audio course with recordings of native speakers; any will do, the simpler the better. (key: focus on the essential),

Really, that’s all you need to learn a european language. Think for yourself why I focus only on the these three factors: environment, mind set and tools.

Sure, I realize that few can afford to get into the right environment, but I believe you can all start with the tools and with your mind set.

Lack of will power can be circumvented by putting yourself into a situation where you have no choice but to do it, i.e. you can trick yourself into doing things which you lack will power to do (reading hint: Predictibly Irrational, Dan Ariely).

Another tip: Read the grammar from the back, also the basic vocabulary book. Strange? It isn’t. In most grammar and vocabulary books I have seen, the key words of a language are found in the back. For example words of positioning (above, under, next to etc.), question (what, where, when …). But I am getting into too much details already.

So this is what you need to do:

  1. Read the grammar book in 1 day. Don’t focus on the details. Just get an overview.
  2. Flip through the vocabulary book in 1 day. Don’t try to remember anything. Just get an impression.
  3. Listen to the audio recording of the audio course while you are reading. Don’t try to understand anything. Just get a feeling for the language melody.

Do NOT:

  1. Most importantly don’t get a non-native speaker as your first teacher to teach you pronunciation. The accent of your first teacher sticks with you for a lifetime! Seriously. I apologize to all the non-native teachers out there, but you must admit that this true for most people. I am not talking about grammar and vocabulary. For all other purposes than pronunciation, you can have any teacher you want. For all topics other than pronounciation a non-native speaker is even better as they understand your difficulties whereas native speakers seldem struggle with grammer.
  2. Don’t get hung up on details in the beginning, the only exception being your pronunciation.
  3. Don’t focus on your mistakes, that only stops you from expression yourself inhibiting you to learn the language and actively using it.
  4. Don’t get stuck by looking for the perfect tools, the perfect book, the perfect audio recording. There is none.

Generally – don’t let anything get in your way of learning a language, just start. Overcome your procrastination. There is no ideal moment, no distraction-free environment. A time slot doesn’t open up, you have to make time.

Just get one the books I told you have and start – with reading your grammar book, browsing the basic vocabulary or listening to an audio recording. It doesn’t matter. Just get momentum.

All the issues above have their practical reason, I spare you the details and explanations for now. I may get into it in later posts, but I wanted to give you quick-start instructions without the distraction of too much theory around it. It would only stop you from learning a language.

So, what’s the most important step now?

Go to a book store, buy a grammar, a basic vocabulary book and an audio recording.

Or even better. Go to a search engine look for those things. Give yourself 30 minutes only to download the most important files, and stop there. Don’t exceed 3 minutes, or you will get lost in surfing.

Have fun learning and talk to you in 3 months! šŸ™‚

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British Museum in London: Host of the Rosetta Stone

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