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Can you learn a new language in 5 weeks?

Recently, Memrise super user Tommo_Valkonen set out to find out if it was possible to learn a language in 5 weeks. Naturally, we were quite keen on finding out how he got on. Now, he’s here to tell us all about it!


I set out to find out. As of late I have been very interested in commitment devices, or forcing myself to be accountable for personal promises and goals. On 26th of February I decided to employ an extreme commitment device in order to reach a very ambitious goal: I promised to give a public speech at my university in exactly 34 days, with 10 minutes of it completely in French. The catch? I had never ever studied or spoken French in my life.

The main reason for having the confidence to try something like this was Memrise. I tried it because I was interested in growing my Russian vocabulary. After seeing how well it works, I decided to try a little French on the side, and then the idea was born. Discovering Memrise didn’t just make me realize how much easier learning vocabulary can be – it raised a question whether actually everything related to language learning can be done more efficiently.

In short, with 5 weeks of dedicated, smart daily practice (on average 1-2 hours per day) I was able to reach a strong conversational base in French. I built a vocabulary of around 1500 of the most frequently used words and phrases and learned the 5 most important verb tenses, which already takes you a long way into fluency. Concentrating only on the essential cuts the learning time immensely. I’m now able to deliver almost any kind of message across to a native speaker one way or the other, albeit being grammatically far from excellent (for now). But then again, the primary objective for any beginner learning a language should be the ability to communicate, not to be perfect. And yes, I delivered on my promise: I was able to give a 10-minute presentation completely in French in front of almost a hundred people, which is pretty cool to have in your back pocket 🙂

Even though the challenge was daunting, I rarely had thoughts about quitting because of the motivation and drive I was able to create for myself. Partly, of course, I didn’t want to let my audience down, but on the other hand I felt I was doing something important by publishing my project. And that’s an aspect of learning in general that consistently gets omitted. All the best methods and tools are useless unless you manage your motivation.

In the end I think the most important findings from my project are not related to French or even learning a new language specifically. It was about going out personally and discovering that yes, there are many different and more efficient ways to do pretty much anything. And what surprised me was that usually the key to efficiency was to go back to the simple and joyful. Vocabulary is easier to learn with funny image associations. Studying French grammar is more fun if you drink French wine and listen to French accordion music while doing it. Learning to speak a language is easier if you realize that opening your mouth is more important than opening a book. Conversational fluency can be reached more quickly by having conversations. And epic goals can be reached if you erase quitting as an option.

You can do it too. It doesn’t have to be done in five weeks, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be three or six months. The time it takes is a matter of choice and priority. The tools are all around you – the single greatest obstacle is you yourself. I had an awesome time with this project, and I will certainly repeat it with a new language someday. Now, whether or not you want to reach a specific goal in a specific time frame, these are some of the simple steps I believe everyone should consider in order to transform their language learning:

1. Be curious about finding better ways to learn.

2.Don’t be afraid of doing mistakes.

3.Don’t take your lack of motivation for granted – if learning becomes a burden, change something until you feel motivated again.

4.Boldly meet new people and speak their native language, enjoy their company and learn at the same time.

5.Never think it’s too late or that you’re simply not good enough. It’s not true, so use your time instead on reaching your dreams.

Discussion

2 responses to ‘Can you learn a new language in 5 weeks?

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