How To Hack Language Learning

March 23, 2013
Year On TeamPower Skills

Original post by Eric Ruiz

My goal is to speak five languages by the time I’m 26. I’m 24 and I am up to three and a half! I picked up the language-learning bug while I lived in Spain and have been hacking language learning since. I was amazed at the number of international students studying in Barcelona. Many of them spoke at least three languages. I decided to brush up on my foreign language skills.

For the past few months, I have been teaching myself Italian. I have a background in Spanish, which gave me a general understanding of la bella lingua. I’d like to share what has enabled me to converse coherently with my Italian friends in a little over two months of serious studying—with no formal teaching.

Much of the inspiration for my new take on language learning came from Tim Ferris. He wrote the revolutionary The 4-Hour Work Week, and, like Tim, I share a passion for learning foreign languages. About three months ago, I stumbled onto this post he wrote, in which he details how to tackle learning a foreign language and why most language courses do not work.

I want to add my own insight and explain how I expanded on traditional language learning tips.

One of my biggest problems with my college language classes was that I found the material boring, and this made it hard for me to focus. I found I did best when I spoke, wrote, or listened to something that I was passionate about. In my case, this was soccer.

As a soccer nerd, I love the facts, dates, and names of the sport. I regularly look up player information and biographies, so I started reading the Italian Wikipedia pages. The other day I read Fernando Torres’ (Spanish soccer player) wiki. Because I already know a bit about him, I was able to pick out new words and understand sentences in Italian. This not only gives me something new and interesting to read but because I’m passionate about it, it sticks.

I aim to read about 5 different entries a day on topics that I love. This exposes me to hundreds of vocabulary words. You’d be surprised how much you can pick up after a few days of this.

I also bought several CDs of Italian music. I use my iPod non-stop, and now I am able to listen and expose myself to hours of Italian dialogue. This forces my brain to adapt and comprehend a new language.

Besides searching for hip-hop videos and violent knockouts, you can also use YouTube to learn a foreign language. I regularly watch interviews with Italian players. Once again, because I love soccer, I am able to understand what’s going on: Italian players sure complain a lot.

And finally, the most important thing to do is practice! I used to work at a bank and we had a few Italian customers. I used this opportunity to practice my Italian with them. Although I probably butchered their language, they were all very willing to help and guide me! I also often chat with my former Italian roommates via Skype and Facebook Chat. (If you don’t know someone who speaks a language that you want to learn, use this link to find some resources that might help!).

Above all, don’t be embarrassed to try! The more you practice—the more mistakes you make—the better you will get.

Two other tips:

  1. Read your favorite blog or website, and then read it again in your target language (this link from Google explains how to use Chrome to translate any page into the language of your choice). For example, I visit Italian soccer websites. Since I have a good grasp on what is happening in the soccer world, I am able to understand and follow along with the information in Italian.
  2. Do you have a favorite book? Read it in your target language! I found a copy of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” in Italian. Once again, because I am reading something I enjoy, the vocabulary and grammar sticks!

I hope this helps you conquer that new language you’ve been promising yourself to learn.


- Eric

About the Author:

Eric Ruiz is a writer, entrepreneur, and serial football player. Want to laugh, cry, and then laugh again? Visit his website! You can follow Eric @EricMartinRuiz.

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