How to Get Insanely Better at Learning a Language

Screenshot of a Google translate mobile app.

Learning a new language, or learning enough foreign language vocabulary to be able to effectively get around in a different country requires work. Lots of work, consistency, and time. Learning a new language becomes that much harder if you’ve never been exposed to the language, so what are you to do? What is the fastest way to learn a language? What’s the best way to get better at learning a new language?

There’s a few things you can do.

I’ve traveled to a few non-English speaking countries on vacation like Paris and Madrid – most of them I was not fluent in the language; however, I didn’t have a problem getting around. Why? Because I took the time and put in the work required to learn a foreign language…but I didn’t just stop at “book knowledge”. I found ways to take learning to the next level and you can, too!

Here are the five ways I leveled up my foreign language learning abilities. This is how how I got insanely better at learning a language.

1. Get technical assistance.

I like to use apps like Duolingo to help me learn a new language, or even just the basics. Consistent practice of 30XP a day keeps confusion away, lol! There’s also the famous Rosetta Stone software and online sites like Babbel, Busuu, News in Slow, and other online courses. Additionally, there are a ton of videos on the web where you can watch a foreign language tv show or listen to a native speak. While traveling Google Translate is my best friend. Not only can I type words to translate in English and the other language through text and voice, but I can use the camera function to read pretty much anything. That’s what I call supreme technical assistance.

2. Listen in different environments.

I learn best in a quiet, indoor, temperature controlled environment. I like to wear headphones to listen closely to the verbal nuances of my chosen language of study. It works great for me and I’m able to pick up on subtle differences, but how often am I in this kind of controlled environment abroad? Almost never. Straight off the airplane I try to decipher the muffled directions from the airport PA system. There are cars honking and vrooming by on the street when I’m trying to focus and listen to directions to the nearest museum. Even at dinner it’s difficult to hear as I place my order at the highly rated yet noisy restaurant filled with patrons speaking the language of the country I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time. What’s a girl to do?!

I like to practice Duolingo on my phone en route to work on the DC metro. It helps me to stay focused on the words despite the activity and distractions around me. Try listening in your car with the windows rolled down, outdoors in a park, or even at a coffee shop – wherever you can listen outside of your norm is beneficial. All I’m saying is try to switch up your typical location and you’ll be a bit more prepared to handle the added noise to the language-barrier as you travel.

3. Talk to people.

If you’re lucky enough to be near a native speaker, let them know you’re trying to learn a new language and ask to speak to them in their native tongue. Nine time out of ten I learned that people are more than willing and dare I say, exited, to assist. Is there no one in your immediate area? Branch out. There are plenty of online language learning clubs and some apps offer paid services that connect you with native speakers. Alternatively, don’t sleep on meetups! is a great forum that groups people together with similar interests and is completely free. Check to see if there are local language meetups in your area and start a conversation. If not, start your own language learning meetup to connect with other learners.

4. Speed it up.

Real-time conversations at a normal pace are hard to come by if there aren’t speakers in your circle. Then again, you have options. Heck, even if the person you want to practice with doesn’t speak the language you’re learning at all, I recommend speaking to them anyways. How does that work? Respond to their conversation or questions in the language you’re practicing then translate your response for them. I’ve done this many times and I’ve also converted another person’s words into the language out loud. Ask if you can do this or at the bare minimum, do it silently in your head. I find when learning a language at home – in your own pace and your own time – you forget that native speakers speak quickly.

The speed at which the language is naturally spoken is faster than the speed in which we learn … and it comes as an initial shock when fully immersed abroad. What did he say? Is that the same language? That’s not what I learned?! I didn’t quite pick up all of the words…something about an exit? This struggle is as real as it gets! By practicing conversations at a real-life pace – fumbles, screw-ups, and all – I’m able to convert and translate conversations at the appropriate speed and ultimately keep up to tempo during vacation.

5. Take the 24hr Translation Challenge.

What is it? It’s my challenge to YOU. For 24hrs, translate everything you see and hear into the language you’re learning. Product labels, billboards, street signs, songs, websites, tv shows, everything. One of my favorite things to do is translate a song then try to sing it in the same tune. I can’t sing, but it’s still fun to try! Participating in this challenge will do three positive things for you: 1) show off and/or strengthen all you’ve learned; 2) highlight words you still need to learn; and 3) increase your translation stamina. Language immersion takes up energy that not many people acknowledge. By mid day it’s easy to feel tired and forget what you’ve learned or want to verbally “shut down”. This challenge helps increase stamina so that you don’t fall into that stress.

I say all this just to say: don’t just stop at “book knowledge”, take your foreign language learning to the next level and you can feel more confident traveling abroad!

Do you have any suggestions on how to improve language acquisition skills? Share them in the comments below!

Antoinette | Frolic & Courage

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