The more I learn about learning, the more I realize how much of a role psychological factors play in whether or not you learn something.
As such, if you are trying to learn a new language, it may be a better approach to think of ways you can “hack” your psychology for bigger gains.
Here are 3 hacks that can help you learn a foreign language.
The Sink or Swim Hack
This hack is very simple: put yourself in a situation where you have learn the language or you will fail miserably.
For example, you can enroll in classes at a foreign university, perhaps to obtain a degree, where the principal language is not your native language and you can’t use any translation services.
I recently met some medical students from Germany who are studying here in Colombia. All of their classes are in Spanish, so guess what they have to do? Yup, learn Spanish. If they don’t, they fail and lose out on all their time and money.
You can do this in different ways, like promise to give a public speech in your target language, or develop a part of your business that caters to speakers of your target language.
In this way, you’ll utilize the incredible power of fear of failure. Once you realize it’s sink or swim, your efforts to learn will take a leap forward.
The Speak-No-English Hack
This hack is also very simple and requires zero money to do: simply decide that you will not speak English (or your native language) for 1 month.
Under NO circumstances are you allowed to speak in your native language. Put your family, friends and neighbors on notice. They will have to speak to you in your target language, otherwise you can’t speak to them.
This is best accomplished in the foreign country which speaks your language, so that you can go about your daily activities without too many problems. Arrange for that trip abroad you’ve always wanted to take. Just do it.
Or, maybe a month is too long for you, if that’s the case, try a day. I recently was helping a Colombian girl with her English over an hour one afternoon, and it took me 10 minutes just to get her to stop speaking Spanish!
What you want to do is force your brain to acquire the language by refusing to speak in the one you already know.
The’ Long-Haired Dictionary’ Hack
This hack I’ve known about for some time, but some Colombians I met gave it the name as I state it here. A “long-haired dictionary” is a girl who speaks your target language.
Some girls might try to speak to you in English (or your native language), but others will insist that you speak to them in their language. The latter is preferable. It’s especially helpful if she also knows English, so she can serve as your dictionary during your conversations.
This hack will hook you psychologically into a context that interests you (greatly ), you will see your abilities skyrocket.
Learning anything new is a matter of being able to deal with failures, mistakes, and setbacks as much as anything else. The psychological fortitude to keep going in the face of these is what often makes the difference between a successful learning project and an unsuccessful one.
I lost all my motivation to learn Portuguese after I realized I wasn’t going to stay in Brazil for very long. I didn’t have a special girl, and I wasn’t in a sink-or-swim situation. So, after a really promising start, I grew incredibly lazy.
I understand this as a psychological phenomenon as much as any “vice.” Your language learning has to be something that is hooked on to your life, something that really matters to you, otherwise it will drop off. Very few human beings have the wherewithal to learn languages ‘academically’ without some sort of payoff.
But if you can hook language learning on to your life using these hacks, the payoff is huge.