And the same thing happened when I was learning German. I decided to watch “Friends,” my favorite sitcom, in German, and again, at the beginning it was all just gibberish.
I didn’t know where one word finished and another one started, but I kept on watching every day because it’s “Friends” I can watch it in any language. I love it so much. And after the second or third season, seriously, the dialogue started to make sense. I only realized this after meeting other polyglots.
We are no geniuses and we have no shortcut to learning languages. We simply found ways how to enjoy the process, how to turn language learning from a boring school subject into a pleasant activity which you don’t mind doing every day.
If you don’t like writing words down on paper, you can always type them in an app. If you don’t like listening to boring textbook material, find interesting content on YouTube or in podcasts for any language. If you’re a more introverted person and you can’t imagine speaking to native speakers right away, you can apply the method of self-talk.
You can talk to yourself in the comfort of your room, describing your plans for the weekend, how your day has been, or even take a random picture from your phone and describe the picture to your imaginary friend. This is how polyglots learn languages, and the best news is, it’s available to anyone who is willing to take the learning into their own hands.
So meeting other polyglots helped me realize that it is really crucial to find enjoyment in the process of learning languages, but also that joy in itself is not enough. If you want to achieve fluency in a foreign language, you’ll also need to apply three more principles.
First of all, you’ll need effective methods. If you try to memorize a list of words for a test tomorrow, the words will be stored in your short-term memory and you’ll forget them after a few days. If you, however, want to keep words long term, you need to revise them in the course of a few days repeatedly using the so-called space repetition. You can use apps which are based on this system such as Anki or Memrise, or you can write lists of word in a notebook using the Goldlist method, which is also very popular with many polyglots.
If you’re not sure which methods are effective and what is available out there, just check out polyglots’ YouTube channels and websites and get inspiration from them. If it works for them, it will most probably work for you too.
The third principle to follow is to create a system in your learning. We’re all very busy and no one really has time to learn a language today. But we can create that time if we just plan a bit ahead. Can you wake up 15 minutes earlier than you normally do? That would be the perfect time to revise some vocabulary.
Can you listen to a podcast on your way to work while driving? Well, that would be great to get some listening experience.
There are so many things we can do without even planning that extra time, such as listening to podcasts on our way to work or doing our household chores. The important thing is to create a plan in the learning “I will practice speaking every Tuesday and Thursday with a friend for 20 minutes. I will listen to a YouTube video while having breakfast.”
If you create a system in your learning, you don’t need to find that extra time, because it will become a part of your everyday life.
And finally, if you want to learn a language fluently, you need also a bit of patience. It’s not possible to learn a language within two months, but it’s definitely possible to make a visible improvement in two months, if you learn in small chunks every day in a way that you enjoy. And there is nothing that motivates us more than our own success.
I vividly remember the moment when I understood the first joke in German when watching “Friends.” I was so happy and motivated that I just kept on watching that day two more episodes, and as I kept watching, I had more and more of those moments of understanding, these little victories, and step by step, I got to a level where I could use the language freely and fluently to express anything.
This is a wonderful feeling. I can’t get enough of that feeling, and that’s why I learn a language every two years. So this is the whole polyglot secret.
Find effective methods which you can use systematically over the period of some time in a way which you enjoy, and this is how polyglots learn languages within months, not years.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “That’s all very nice to enjoy language learning, but isn’t the real secret that you polyglots are just super talented and most of us aren’t?”
Well, there’s one thing I haven’t told you about Benny and Lucas.
Benny had 11 years of Irish Gaelic and five years of German at school. He couldn’t speak them at all when graduating. Up to the age of 21, he thought he didn’t have the language gene and he could not speak another language.
Then he started to look for his way of learning languages, which was speaking to native speakers and getting feedback from them, and today Benny can easily have a conversation in 10 languages.
Lucas tried to learn English at school for 10 years. He was one of the worst students in class. His friends even made fun of him and gave him a Russian textbook as a joke because they thought he would never learn that language, or any language.
And then Lucas started to experiment with methods, looking for his own way to learn, for example, by having Skype chat conversations with strangers. And after just 10 years, Lucas is able to speak 11 languages fluently. Does that sound like a miracle? Well, I see such miracles every single day.
As a language mentor, I help people learn languages by themselves, and I see this every day. People struggle with language learning for five, 10, even 20 years, and then they suddenly take their learning into their own hands, start using materials which they enjoy, more effective methods, or they start tracking their learning so that they can appreciate their own progress, and that’s when suddenly they magically find the language talent that they were missing all their lives.