How to Learn a New Language Quickly and Easily
Learning a new language is often frustrating and ineffective. You study grammar, cram vocabulary words, yet still fail to become fluent. What’s the problem? According to American linguistics professor Stephen Krashen, traditional language instruction overloads our brain with too much conscious information and causes us to make mistakes that become ingrained.
Instead, Krashen advises a more natural approach he calls “comprehensible input.” The key principles are:
- Remain silent for the first 6 months, simply exposing yourself to clear and interesting content in the new language via media like cartoons, shows, or books. This allows your brain to unconsciously acquire language patterns.
- Ensure input is engaging, easy to understand (not too complex), and anxiety-free. Negative emotions or straining to understand impedes learning.
- After 6 months, start speaking through activities like conversing with a language partner. Your previously built mental language models will guide you to speak correctly without consciously thinking about grammar or vocabulary.
- Accelerate memorization of key vocabulary using “active recall” flashcards and “spaced repetition” to stimulate more neural connections. Popular spaced repetition apps like Anki are quite useful.
In essence, comprehend first, speak later. This allows our powerful subconscious neural networks to digest the complex foreign language input broken into a more manageable stream of information. Once your brain has enough language patterns mapped, speaking fluency emerges automatically. It’s how we learned our native language as children, and it’s actually the most effortless way to learn any new language.
Why Most Language Learners Fail
Krashen’s research found that most language learners fail because they violate the basic principles of comprehensible input. For example:
- They try speaking right away before their brain has enough mental models to guide pronunciation and grammar. This causes ingrained mistakes.
- They overload their conscious brain by simultaneously trying to control vocabulary, grammar, and other complex rules while speaking. Our working memory capacity for conscious processing is quite small.
- They use passive learning techniques like textbooks, flashcards with answers provided, or lectures in their native language. This does not stimulate neural connections for solid memorization nearly as well as active recall.
- Their classes and study activities cause negative emotions like embarrassment, anxiety, boredom or frustration. This raises the “affective filter” and impedes language acquisition signals from reaching the brain.
Key Research Behind Comprehensible Input Theory
Krashen developed his language acquisition theories over decades of working with adult immigrants learning English. A few key insights:
- After immigrants were silent for the “quiet period” of 5-6 months, a sudden speaking breakthrough began regardless of previous studying. Their brain had time to analyze enough input to start making output.
- Children who watched English cartoons for entertainment quickly became fluent in English from the comprehensible input, while adult immigrants who studied English grammar remained non-fluent.
- The brain acquires language in a predictable order, progressing from simple to complex grammar without needing instruction on the technical rules. It happens automatically through input.
Real-Life Examples of Comprehensible Input Success
- Children learning any native language
- Business managers working abroad
- Immigrants immersed in a local culture
- Foreign Exchange students living with host families
In all cases, beginners acquired near-fluency within 6-12 months solely by engaging in interested social interactions, reading, media and activities, not formal study. This underscores the brain’s innate ability to absorb language given the right comprehensive input conditions.
Conclusion “How to Learn a New Language Quickly and Easily”
In closing, acquiring a new language boils down to feeding your brain the right comprehensive input material, then allowing sufficient time for unconscious acquisition before testing your output skills. Comprehend first, speak later. Trust the innate neural networks that allowed you to successfully learn one language already. Reduce stress and consume interesting immersive input instead. Before you realize it, you’ll be fluently expressing yourself in your new target language.
For those interested in leveraging comprehensible input and spaced repetition flashcards to accelerate their language learning, some excellent apps to check out.