Learn to Speak a Language for your Trip in the Five Weeks
Can you learn to speak a language in five weeks? Not to complete fluency. However, you can make a great deal of progress in the next five weeks. Follow these five steps to learn how to speak a language for your trip abroad in the next five weeks.
How long does the language you want to speak take?
This is a hugely important factor in learning a language, time. If you want to learn a language that’s really closely related to English like, French, Spanish, or Italian, you can invest between 750 and 1,000 hours of focused, immersive, input and practice, and hit a very basic level of fluency. Those hours are researched-based. They’re done by the US government, and they’re used to prepare people for their missions in embassies and counselors abroad. Most of us aren’t like these people, however, where we get uninterrupted time to focus on learning a new language and do nothing else. However, I think it’s a really good rule of thumb to give an idea of how long it takes to learn to speak a language.
If you want to speak a language that’s a bit more different from English, like Russian, or Polish, or Lithuanian, think about taking twice as long to hit that same level of fluency. If you want to talk about languages that are completely different-think really far away from England- think Japanese, Korean, Arabic. There’s very little that those languages share culturally or linguistically with English, and they have a completely different writing system. To hit that same level of basic fluency, it’s going to take three times as long. To be a CEFR-B2 level (intermediate high speaker of that language) which gives you very basic survival functioning in a language, that’s how long it’s going to take.
Think about the next five weeks.
Do you want to go to Italy, order wine and impress your friends? Order meals on your trip to Paris? You don’t need 1,000 hours or 2,000 hours to do that. You can accomplish a great deal towards learning to speak a language well enough in the next five weeks.
Think about what time you have over the five weeks. If we talked about 1,000 hours to have a decent level of basic fluency in a language like Spanish for an English speaker, imagine what you can do with 100 hours. Divide that time over the next five weeks. That’s a couple hours a day.
Let’s say that you don’t have that much time. Maybe it’s just an hour a day or so that you have to study. That’s still 35 hours. You can learn quite a few words and phrases for your trip. It’s a great start.
Do you commute? If you ride in your car, a lot of audio programs are really great, as well as podcasts. Maybe you take the train into work. You can use your phone, make your own playlist, journal, speak. You can learn an entire language on your phone with the technology that’s available today. So think about it. Over the next five weeks you can make a serious dent in your language skills using time you already have slightly differently, perhaps listening while you clean the house, or do your errands.
Decide what your materials are going to be.
Much of my life has been spent with language materials. It’s my passion and my job. There’s so many great things out there, but depending on the purpose you want to use them for, they’re not always particularly useful.
Think back to a high school textbook. You might start on the first chapter on level one with greetings, and then, language to be used in a classroom. I don’t really think that you need that for your trip to Germany. Your materials as a beginner should phrase books. Phrase books are so incredibly useful for beginning language learners. A lot of textbooks do present some really good, useful, functional language. However, a lot of them present a lot of rules, grammar, et cetera. Great to know and certainly going to hurt you, but the whole purpose here is you want to get communicating.
To get right into phrase books, I suggest a couple of ways to do this. You can buy a phrase book. It’s great now that electronic versions with audio can be used right on your phone. Think of companies like Lonely Planet. It’s all presented in meaningful chunks- stuff that you can use. You don’t have to think about the grammar: just learn it.
Another way is to make your own phrase books. This is a lot of fun. This is also a great way to use the Google translate app. Of course, use it wisely, knowing that you are smarter than it. You’re going to have to be careful about translations, knowing that a human is always smarter than a computer. You can use the copy function and copy the words and phrases that you’re looking up onto a Google sheet. Fantastic thing to have right on hand- all the words and phrases that you want to know. For example, theme your studies. Think language for a hotel or language for transportation.
What are you going to do over the next five weeks? Are you going to study grammar that’s going to help you create language a really long time from now? Or are you going to get really practical and get right into that language for travel, which is survival, functional, useful, and the best way to start learning a new language.
Get ready to make a big fool out of yourself.
Making a fool out of yourself is one of the most important things in learning a new language, and one I believe discourages a lot of really intelligent people from sticking with it.
Learning a new language involves a great deal of failure. It’s not fun your self-esteem. But it’s those failures that provide you with opportunities to move forward. It’s never been more true that failing forward is critical in learning a new language. When we learn a language, we learn through our input. Think back to those phrase books. When you speak or you’re writing, you’re testing yourself. That’s going to always tell you how to fill in the gaps. So while the learning is really taking place from what you’re taking in, a hugely important part is what you’re putting out.
Each time you work these cycles where you’re dealing with input, and then you’re practicing that output, you’re constantly filling in those gaps. Basically, to get out of the novice level and into the, what we call the intermediate, you just have to memorize enough words and phrases to do so. Get back to that travel or phrase book, either the one that you bought, or the one that you made yourself, or the one that you got from a podcast, and get working on it. Use Voice Memos to document a speech sample each week. At the end of five weeks, the progress that you’re going to be able to see that you made.
Track your time over the next five weeks.
Track your time each day that you’re working on your language skills. We’re human beings. Life gets in the way, but there’s certainly time that we can all find- waiting in line, getting your car washed. Pull out your phone or your notebook, or your phrase book- whatever it is that you’re using to learn a language, and invest 20 minutes, or 30 minutes, here and there. The time all adds up. Even if you don’t do it perfectly over the next five weeks, you’re going to see pretty direct correlation between the amount of time you invest and your progress.
Self-assessment workbook with time tracker. https://reallifelanguage.lpages.co/self-assessment-workbook/
Looking for more resources? http://reallifelanguage.com/reallifelanguageblog/2017/01/14/self-assessment-workbook/