Learn Something New in the New Year — Part 1: Learn a Language - Firefly Books Blog

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Learn Something New in the New Year — Part 1: Learn a Language

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Learn Something New in the New Year — Part 1: Learn a Language


A fresh new year has arrived and with it the opportunity for exciting new experiences in the year ahead.

Last year we made it our New Year’s Resolution to spread happiness, and this year our goal is to learn something new. To help us get started we turned to Charlie Burton and his new book GQ How to Win at Life, which is filled with expert advice on everything from food to fashion and from politics to parkour.

This small but mighty book is filled with achievable New Year’s Resolution ideas and is where we found inspiration for the first segment in our Learn Something New in the New Year blog series: learning a new language.

The Foreign Service Institute’s James Bernhardt and Catherine Doughty — whose words of wisdom are included in GQ How to Win at Life — are experts in learning new languages quickly, as they regularly assist American diplomats in becoming fluent in new languages, sometimes over the course of just a few months.

Bernhardt and Doughty insist that anyone can learn a new language in no time by following these five simple steps.

Good luck… or should we say Buona fortuna!


How to Speed-Learn Any Language

Step 1: Immerse Yourself Fully

“Learning by doing engages all the right brain processes and memory processes,” says Doughty. Aside from the obvious — watching the news in that language, travelling to that country — try changing the language on your computer. Also, watch online videos of native speakers doing activities you plan to do.

Step 2: Get Smart with Vocab

Learning the top 1,000 most frequently used words will let you understand around 70 percent of what you encounter. Get a list weighted for your purposes (rather than simply a “general” list), but do add in well-chosen, low-frequency words. “For us,” says Bernhardt, “the word for ‘embassy’ has got to be in the first week.”

Step 3: Don’t Sweat the Grammar

It’s ineffective to start off by rote-learning reams of grammatical rules. Much better to receive a short explanation of a point of grammar as and when you need it. So get using the language and wait for corrective feedback. This will either happen naturally or you can say to a friend: “If I keep making an error, please tell me.”

Step 4: Stick ‘Em Up

It’s a common memory tactic to label household objects with their foreign names using Post-It notes. However, people often make the mistake of writing the words on the front of the Post-Its; actually, it’s better to put them on the back, forcing you to mentally retrieve the word. If you can’t remember it, then it’s easy to check.

Step 5: Know Your True Friends

“True friends” are words in a foreign language that are nearly identical to their equivalents in yours. “That’s a good shortcut,” says Doughty. “But there are also false friends. Find a list of these so you know when you hear that word it’s not going to mean what you think it means.”



Get the book:

 GQ How to Win at Life

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