How to Learn a Language the Lazy Way
Learning a language is tricky because you always end up thinking there is one special trick you have to do, study grammar points for six hours a day and vocabulary for ten, then spend the next eight hours on speaking practice. A surefire way to learn, all you have to do is: give up on everything else in your life.
That’s not fun. And if you’re a lazy guy like me, it’s not going to work.
Language learning is first and foremost about understanding and engaging with a language. You can study grammar points and vocabulary all day and still struggle when someone finally comes up to and asks ‘Posso pegar essa cadeira?” You’re at a loss even though you’ve spent the last 5000 hours of your life studying a language.
Put your brain on stand-by mode
How about you watch Netflix for a bit? Turn off everything related to your native language and what a show completely in your target language, with subtitles in your target language too. Give up on understanding things 100% all the time. Lower your standards, try to see if 40% understanding is enough for you to get the big picture.
I’m not the first person to say how much more fun it is to binge-watch Terrace House then to read that same stilted textbook conversation practice for the ninth time. I honestly try to fit time in my schedule to find a good show in Japanese, just to stay on point even if I’m not going hard on my study habits.
Listen to your favorite Haitian rap when you’re trying to learn French, or maybe Zaz so she can help you Oublie Loulou. Don’t focus on active learning all the time.
You don’t always think about everything you say. You have canned responses for greetings, you say bless you when you hear a sneeze and you always forget to say thank you when someone gives you a gift. These things come naturally.
Let go of what you think your target language should sound like and focus on listening. Take in information, and put yourself in situations where you have something that you can respond to. Find a pen pal and just ask them about their day and if they like that show you just finished watching, start a conversation that you can listen to for practice but also for fun.
Have a drink and stop being right all the time, stop worrying about making mistakes and start making mistakes.
Active learning is reinforcement
Maybe you’ve been hearing your Japanese friends say ichiou all the time and you’re curious about what it means. Maybe you’re curious about why that cute person freaked out when you said something you thought would be completely normal. Maybe you just really want to read Nikolai Gogol in the original Russian, and you’re curious what the name Akaky Akakievich really means because it sounds kinda like it might be a joke.
The goal of language is to communicate, to understand and to make yourself understood. Grammar, vocabulary — these are tools that help get the point across, but the real progress will come when you spend time trying to engage in a conversation, to capture the essence of what is being said and respond appropriately or to make yourself understood.
Learning a language by using it may not give the fastest results in the first month, but after six months you’ll feel more natural speaking your target language, compared to if you had just spent the entire time running grammar drills and practicing stilted scripts.