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How to Learn Another Language Quickly!

Is it possible to learn basic commication in 40 languages? Certified language instructor and interpreter Eric Dondero R. shares the tips he's learned to help others master new languages.

Learning another language is not an easy task. However, there are shortcuts and even a few tricks that can be employed to make the job a little easier.

Over the years, I have learned over 20 languages. I have also learned survival skills for another 20 or so. I learned my first second language, the hard way. I have learned all the others using accelerated learning methods, many developed by others, and some by myself.

My own language learning journey started with Spanish. I picked up some survival skills in the language as a sailor in the Navy after port calls in Spain, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Afterwards, when I attended college, I took some Spanish courses that brought me to a basic level. But I desperately wanted to go all the way.

What followed were several years of difficult yet self-determined study. This included: studying the same textbooks over and over, memorizing textbook glossaries, countless hours listening to language tapes in the car, lots of Salsa, Tejano, and Latin Pop music, Mexican radio and television, and most importantly, frequent trips to the border.

Even after 6 to 8 years of study, I had only reached the advanced level. Finally, I headed to Mexico for 3 months to teach English at a well-known college in Tampico. This extended period of total immersion in a Spanish-speaking environment pushed me over the top to full fluency.

Reaching the top and becoming totally fluent was a tremendous achievement. It felt truly wonderful. I would encourage anyone to follow the same path. But the amount of effort and time I invested for fluency in Spanish was enormous.

I did not learn my other languages in the same manner. Before I ventured into learning other languages I invested some time reading books on language learning methods, accelerated learning, advanced study techniques, and brain development. For my next language - Italian - I cut the language learning time in half. For French and Portuguese I cut the time it took me to learn Italian by half. Since then, I've been able to learn other major world languages to a medium level of fluency in about a year.

So, what are the tricks?

  • Build Your Vocabulary - There is a core group of about 50 to 100 essential words in any language that should be mastered right away. These words include prepositions, question words, a few adjectives, and some selected nouns. Once you learn these words, many other words can be understood eventually through context.
  • Memorize Vocabulary Words - Word lists should be memorized and then reviewed many times over. Saying the new words out loud, rather than just reading them silently, helps greatly. Word association, imagining an equivalent word in your native language, can also be helpful. Flash cards might seem a little low-tech but they are quite effective tools for this. Even Post-it Notes placed on household items with the vocabulary word listed can help. To gain maximum retention, the vocabulary list should be reviewed daily for a week or two and then again weekly for at least 4 to 5 weeks.
  • Always Read Aloud! - Don't just read new phrases and vocabulary silently to yourself. Read aloud. Studies show that this helps you retain new vocabulary at a much faster rate, plus it helps with pronunciation.
  • Don't get Bogged Down by Grammar - Let's be honest. Grammar is a dry subject. It can be an absolute incentive killer. So, just start out with a brief overview of prepositions, definite and indefinite articles, singulars and plurals, adjectives, and most importantly, pronouns. Put off learning conjugation for verb tenses for later on. Just learn enough grammar at the start to get you by. If you make mistakes no big deal. Native speakers can understand what you are saying 90% of the time through context.
  • Study Phrase Books - Always carry a phrase book with you for the targeted language you are learning. Study it at every opportunity: standing in line at a grocery store, waiting for a train or bus, over your morning cup of coffee, or while relaxing in the yard.
  • Immersion - Look for every opportunity imaginable to use your languages skills. The best way of course, is to physically go to the actual country where your target language is spoken, even if it's for a very short time. I cannot stress enough how critical an element this is. Look for any excuse to travel to a country where your targeted language is spoken. The next best thing is to visit an area in your city or town where the language is spoken. Hang out at cafes, libraries, malls, bars, and other locations and engage foreign language speakers with simple conversation. Make friends with native speakers. Invite them over for dinner or a few drinks. Tell them that you want them to speak to you only in their native language. Date a native speaker. The absolute best way to immerse yourself quickly is to find a boyfriend or girlfriend who speaks the native language you are trying to learn.
  • Watch Television and Movies for Your Targeted Language - These days television stations are available in a whole range of languages over satellite and on cable. Watch them for an hour or two every day and try to pick out familiar words and phrases. Additionally, try to mimic the tone and accent of the speakers. Go to the local video store and rent movies for your targeted language. Have a 2-hour review session of vocabulary before you watch the movie. It's even better to watch them more than once.
  • Listen to Music in Your Targeted Language - Give your native music a rest for a short while and experiment with some music from a country of your targeted language. Many of the national bookstore and CD chains now have excellent World Music sections. Listen to stations and programs on radio for your targeted language. You can tune in to some of these stations on-line.
  • Listen to Language Tapes! - Purchase some language learning tapes and listen to them as often as possible. First read the accompanying booklet to get a feel for the vocabulary and grammar. Then, listen to the tapes while relaxing at home, while driving to work, on a Walkman when jogging or while working out, and even while in the shower. Be a maniac with the tapes. Don't just listen to the tapes in your easy chair or in your car once a day. Listen to them around the clock. You need to listen to the tapes about 15 or 20 times before they really start to sink in.
  • Take Language Courses By Computer - Whether on-line or a software program, computer language courses provide good visualization for learning vocabulary words.

    Immerse yourself in the language learning experience and you will learn much more quickly.

    Eric Dondero is a Certified Language Instructor and Interpreter in Houston, Texas. He speaks over 20 languages. He is the author of "Worldwide Multilingual Phrase Book." At or

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