Kjells Page

07.12.2006

How to learn languages easily

Fluent in a month - A new approach to language learning

Apply now to become one of the first persons to get Fluent in Spanish in a month in 2017!

Join me in beautiful San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico and learn to speak Spanish. By going straight to speaking in a supportive and stimulating environment and focusing on the basic vocabulary first, you become fluent very quickly. One month is plenty of time, especially for an easy language like Spanish.

The investment is 1000 Euros and one month of your life (you need to commit to the programme full time during the four weeks). You pay your own food and accommodation. There is a money-back guarantee for the case that you have participated in the full programme and do not speak Spanish fluently by the end of the month.

You can register your interest here.

If you want to learn languages other than Spanish, I am planning to partner with language schools in other countries in the future. In the meantime you can use the hints below to boost your language learning efforts.

About myself:
My name is Kjell Kühne. I am German and live in Mexico. I am fluent in German, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Indonesian and Lingala and have a basic knowledge in Tsotsil, Tseltal, Thai, Norwegian and Italian. I like languages and teaching. Right now I am working on overcoming the climate crisis with LINGO (the Leave it in the Ground Initiative). I want to share my insights on how language learning is easy and fun with the world.


You would like to learn another language?
Here is a collection of hints and techniques that can help you achieve it. 

Basic knowledge:

  • Every child can learn every language in the world, and so can basically every adult. You just need good methods and enough motivation to keep you going.
  • If you simply count together all the minutes and hours you have been speaking a language you will get a pretty accurate picture of the level at which you speak it. It is learning by doing, just as you learned to speak in your own language and improved with time.
  • There is no limited capacity - the more you know, the easier it is to learn more (more stuff to connect with), the faster you learn!
  • Memory draws from all senses. The more senses you involve, the easier you remember.
  • Emotions help memory a great deal. 
  • You learn to speak a word in the right context by speaking it in the right context - every other technique might or might not help to achieve that. Traditional language classes are unfortunately too often out-of-context. 

Your attitude:

  • Learning a language is fun! That's why we do it. If it's fun, it works ten times faster than when it's not. If you are working on something that is not fun, give yourself a break and do something in the language that you really like to do! This will be a lot more effective than struggling through tough things, and it will keep your motivation high.
  • Making mistakes and having them pointed out is a good way of learning. Use it as much as possible!
  • Learning a language is like filling a barrel with water: nothing of what you've learned ever gets lost. 
  • Seek out experiences that are at the upper limit of your ability. If it's too difficult you might loose your motivation, if it's too easy you might not learn anything new. 
  • Challenge yourself! 
  • Find accomplished learners, ask them how they have done it and use their best practices for yourself. (just like you do with reading this text) 
  • There is a certain chemistry between people, in language as in many other parts of human interaction. Look for people that have your wavelength and spend as much time with them as you can. 
  • Start right now! Don't wait for the language to come and knock on your door. You go and get it!
Practicing strategies:
  • In your dictionary check out the things you already know. Whenever you have nothing better to do, look up some things you are unsure about.
  • When you ask for new words, write them down or mark them in your dictionary, that way you can practise/recall them later on.
  • Ask for funny and strange words - you remember them more easily and they help with other things.
  • Use every chance to speak the language, big ones and small ones.
  • Write your own dictionary.
  • Edit and enhance your hard-copy dictionary with slang, special vocabulary, corrections.
  • Hold dialogues with yourself in your head.
  • Tell yourself what you're doing.
  • Look up things in the dictionary right when you need them.
  • Look up things in the dictionary right before you need them.
  • Translate some stuff to your friends or to yourself.
  • Stay clear of traditional language courses - they might ruin your motivation and give you the feeling the language is difficult. If you're having fun there, however, they're safe to visit. You can also use them for inspiration.
  • If you read texts, look up new words in the dictionary - sooner or later you'll have to learn them anyway. Fill the barrel! 
  • Let the other culture pervade your life. You never learn a language only, you also learn the culture. Eat the food, listen to the music, sing the songs, play the games, learn about the history, politics, do the sports, watch the movies, dance the dances,....!

Communication strategies:

  • People are happy to find somebody who speaks their language, especially when they're far away from home - give them a good time!
  • Immediately point out if some new word has anything to do with anything else that you know.
  • Tell others about your funniest/coolest donkey bridges. You'll remember those easier and you will encourage yourself to make more and even cooler ones. (more about donkey bridges under "Memorization techniques" below)
  • Ask people to correct you.
  • Ask people: did I say it right?
  • Learn funny expressions, to make people laugh.
  • Learn very polite/rude/cool things to say and try to find out exactly when to use them - surprise people! 
  • Describe unknown words/concepts with simple words, then ask for the real word.
  • New words: immediately use and keep repeating the new words for a while, until you feel you know them well.
  • Ask again and again if you fail to remember a new word. You never have to do this more often than 5-10 times, then you'll know for sure.
  • Try out new structures and grammatical rules immediately with a number of different examples. The more diverse, the better.
  • Use mimics for words you don't know and elicit the word.
  • If you have a strange gut feeling about any sentence, ask a native speaker how to say it right.
  • If you don't understand a conversation, catch one very "salient" word every once in a while and ask what it means - you'll be surprised at how much you get through understanding single words!
  • Be spontaneous, follow ideas that flush through your head, ask less-than-obvious questions.
  • Find people who you can understand very well. Spend more time with them, they're going to teach you a lot!
  • Find some nice people who can speak only the foreign language so that you have to speak only that language with them.
  • Hang out with people who speak the foreign language, rather than people who speak your own or English, etc.
  • Take difficult sentences, even if you know very little of the language, and let people help you to say them, going word by word. Try to make a very similar sentence with other words directly or shortly afterwards to establish the new achievement.
Memorization techniques:

  • Does the new word remind you of any other word in any language that you know? - Make the connection.
  • Play around with the words/the language.
  • Make up stories, songs, rhymes, whatever silly comes to your head.
  • If a new word reminds you of something, nail it down. This something can be used later on to verify whether you've found the right word when you're in doubt.
  • When you find a new word, build a sentence containing the word and use it. This can be the most likely sentence to happen with that word, or a very funny sentence that comes to your mind.
  • When someone tells you something with a word that you have never used but you would like to know, just form a phrase asking something that contains the word, commenting on something using the word, etc. The important thing is that you start using the word immediately on the spot! This is a very effective and fast way to incorporate new things into your active vocabulary.
  • Make up funny, strange, emotional "donkey-bridges". A donkey bridge is a picture or expression that contains the word and is easy to remember. Example: In Finnish heavy is raskas, light is kevyt. Kevyt reminded me somehow of "Kiebitz", a kind of bird. In Spanish, "rascarse" means to scratch oneself. So I imagine a guy sitting on the ground, scratching his ass, while a Kiebitz is sitting on his lap. The guy is obviously quite heavy compared to the bird who is lightweight.
  • You could build one to exactly meet the target, but in my experience it works just as well to build them to somewhere near the target.
  • If it is funny, it's easier to remember. If there is any emotion linked to the concept or picture, it's easier to remember. 

"Equipment":

  • Buy a dictionary. You could learn a language without it, but it can speed up your learning a lot. Those that have sample expressions/phrases are best. Having it always with you is a good idea. This way you can contiually learn new words/expressions, verify when in doubt, fill "empty" moments with reading around in the dictionary.
  • If you understand German, get the Kauderwelsch book for the language. If you don't understand German, try to find a book that contains word-by-word translations. This "method" saves you the hassle of doing explicit grammar. Through word-by-word translations you just get the grammar naturally!
  • There is a very interesting computer program called "Rosetta Stone". You learn through pictures without any translation at all. You also get feedback for your own pronounciation. The program is quite expensive, but through emule or azureus you can also get it for free from your virtual buddies. 
  • Find a book/dictionary that you like. If only looking at it and even more using it triggers positive emotions, this book is going to help you a lot in raising your motivation and really learning the language.
  • For learning Chinese, Pleco is your essential companion. For other languages install some other dictionary or just Google Translate on your smart phone.

How to keep it up:

  • If you speak a language once a month for a few minutes, it should be enough to keep it up. Some expressions might be less present, but you can always reactivate stuff you once knew by looking it up or hearing it again. Remember: nothing is lost! The only problem is that access gets difficult. But with language this doesn't matter much - there are always dictionaries or native speakers to help you regain that access.

About grammar:

  • Grammatical structure is an issue for linguists, not for speakers of a language. You don't NEED it, just as the native speakers don't need it. There can be some cases where it helps you to understand the ways a language works.
  • I ALWAYS look for the examples!!! We have a built-in machine that generates grammatical structures by itself from the input we get. This is the way every child learns the grammar of its language without ever reading a book about grammar. If we skip the examples and read the grammatical rules it is like reading the menu but not eating the food.

About confusion:

  • You start to confuse languages ONLY when you stop speaking/practicing one while you learn the other. It could even happen with totally unrelated languages, just because they share the status "foreign language".
  • If you do practise several languages at the same time, they will try to mingle at times, but generally the more you switch back and forth, the faster you will develop independent "infrastructures" in your head. Example: My Spanish was tops. Then I went to Brazil. After one month I was fluent in Portuguese. When I had the idea to speak Spanish again and tried, it was impossible!!! Everything came out in Portuguese. Not one sentence. I was really shocked. The following month I spoke Spanish to myself while continuing to communicate in Portuguese with everybody else. Now my Spanish is back to normal again, my Portuguese is good and I can switch back and forth between the two without problems.

Even more links and ideas.
If you know other innovative ways of learning languages, please let me know!