You may or may not know that I’m from Italy, and that english is not my native tongue. Here in Italy, we learn some basic english at school, but the level is so low that you’d probably have trouble talking in english with someone who just graduated.
I personally learned a bit of english myself because I needed to talk with some americans who lived here, or for doing my programming work. But my level was still low. Then, in 2008, I was told that I had to move for 2 months in the United States. What a great opportunity
At that point, I only had 1 month for upgrading my english skills. I wanted to meet some people once there, so I needed a method that could teach me english very fast.
Fortunately for me, there are many ways to learn a new language, and I was lucky enough to find one that works very well.
The following method is just based on personal experience, but I’ve talked with some people who confirmed it is very valid.
Learning basic grammar
The first thing you need to know is basic grammar. You could do this later, but it helps making sense of sentences, even if you don’t know some words.
If I wanted to learn spanish, I would do a google search for “spanish basic grammar” and dig through the firsts websites. Don’t spend much time on this, but look for structure or particular things. Get an idea of how a sentence is composed.
In my case I already knew basic grammar through school, but I still had to spend some time on it.
The best way I know to learn vocabulary is through index cards. I personally use and recommend supermemo.net, which offers many courses for different languages. Some of the courses are free, some are not, but the quality level is exceptional. I personally have a very bad memory when it comes to remembering thing, but this tool is fantastic.
Keep in mind that if you have specific needs then you don’t have to learn all the vocabulary, but you should rather focus on the niche you are interested in. This will also be easier to do as you’d me more interested and motivated.
Watching movies in the language you’re trying to learn is a good method for becoming familiar with the pronunciation and the idioms. Be sure to look at a variety of movies so that you can hear and learn different idioms. Also don’t worry if you have trouble understanding at first, it will get easier after a while.
Learning how to speak is a different story tough. If you don’t have access to people their native tongue is the one you’re learning, then I suggest chatting online. You may be surprised but there are many people willing to do conversation with you in their native tongue in exchange for the same but in your native tongue (perhaps english).
The process I just described is good for learning basics. But what if you want to gain a deep knowledge of the language?
In this case you should immerse yourself deeply in the language you’re learning. Get yourself a phrasebook and begin thinking in your new language. Look for words that you don’t know. Try to translate random sentences and see if you can. Also, read books in your new language, and always look for words that you don’t know. This is a tremendous way to learn beyond basics.
Of course if you have the opportunity you should interact with people who only speak the language you’re learning. If you’re forced to speak a new language, then you’ll learn it very quickly.
I’m curious to learn about other methods you may use. I’ll start traveling soon and I want to learn some other languages, so feel free to share your tips in the comments.