I don’t recommend Rosetta Stone. I don’t recommend Pimsleur. I don’t recommend Duolingo. What I do recommend is a combination of one of those language-learning programs combined with some Rain Man style learning shortcuts and out-of-the-box tactics developed by some of the word’s smartest polyglots.
When I started learning Spanish, I got lazy. In 6 months though, I learned enough Spanish to get around and have basic conversations. The kicker? I was only practicing about 20 minutes once every two weeks.
If I’d applied this method which I later learned, I could have attained B1 fluency at the least in those six months. I actually think it can be done in three with this system. This will work for any of the Latin-Languages: Spanish, Italian, and French. I have never applied it to any other language, so I can’t honestly speak to its effectiveness elsewhere.
I’ll compare the best language learning softwares in a minute (overall I recommend Pimsleur), but first we’re going to break down the two huge rules that make our entire learning process much shorter and easier:
Did you know that only 100 words make up roughly 70% of conversational English? These are words like we, the, where, who, what, how, etc.
There are 300 words which make up roughly 95% of spoken English. Learn those first 400 words and congratulations, you’ve attained 95% fluency in your target language!
Once you’ve knocked out those 400 words, focus on words that relate to your interests. If you’re going to be snowboarding in Argentina, you should look up words like snow, ski lift, mountain, etc. If you’re going scuba diving look up words like tank, dive, boat, etc. This applies to your interests in general.
Want a list of those first 100 words, plus a revised and expanded version of this post? Grab a copy of my Language Learning eBook!
2. Ultra-Efficient Time Management
Try to capitalize on activities that allow you to do two things at once. I do Pimsleur’s audio lessons in the shower every morning, while I’m cooking or doing the dishes, watering my plants, or cleaning the house.
I use the free Duolingo app on my phone while I’m waiting in line or using the bathroom.
I spend at least one hour every day learning a language with speech tools, audio lessons, or written lessons.
3. Diversify Your Syllabus
Don’t search for an all-in-one solution. In fact, do the opposite—use several different programs at once and lean on the strengths of each one.
- Pimsleur is great for learning how to use your target language in conversation. They cover a lot of commonly spoken sentences and phrases, and they have mastered the art of memory retention—just when I feel like I’m having trouble remembering something, they hit me with a refresher.
- Duolingo is wonderful for learning nouns and verbs in a visual, engaging way.
- iTalki is a service that connects you with native speakers of your target language. You can take video lessons for as little as $5 per half-hour lesson, or you can find people who are learning English and do some teacher-trading!
- Rosetta Stone is popular for a reason. It uses visual cues to embed words or phrases into your memory. For example, you’ll memorize the Spanish word for “apple” by see a picture of an apple with the word on it. If you can set aside thirty minutes to an hour each day, or at least a few times a week, you’ll learn quite a bit of your target language pretty fast!
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Wow, I’m going to have to try this! I did Rosetta Stone but it didn’t seem like I could get the hang of it even after a couple months.
That post-it note part is brilliant. I started using Rocket Languages Spanish and been very happy with it. I’m gonna have to try some of these other techniques with it!
The Rocket Languages forum is so insanely useful. To me, that made it a better choice than Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur in and of itself. Agreed on the desktop interface, it could use some updating. But the program itself works great!