There are so many promises of language hacks on the internet now, of how to get fluent in Chinese or even Dothraki in 6 hours. I don't like the term 'hack', I used to, I used to think it was very exciting and full of magical time saving properties, and then what happened? Well I spent more time trying to 'hack' my way to do something than it would have taken if I'd done a course for example, or sat down and read a book. It made me feel stressed and inadequate at times that I couldn't use my metro journey to put in 9 minutes of language learning. Also, I didn't enjoy it, not all things are improved by saving time - yes you Tim Ferris, with the 4-hour work week. I'm freelance now, work a 70 hour work week and love every bloody minute of it! Except the metro at rush hour, i'm not a masochist.
I've tried using apps and have written about 5 of the best ones for me here. However, they only get you so far before they become frustrating, I learnt my language by reading books, asking questions and probably watching too many Jane Austen series with my mum. I loved magazines (blog post on that topic here) and used to greedily buy Vogue, Elle decoration, the Sunday Times and whichever outrageously expensive art + design tome I could get my hands on the day they came out. Once, me and my brother had a physical fight because we only had one copy of Harry Potter on Christmas day and I thought he was reading it too slowly (it was his present, not mine). The next day my mum went to Waterstones in Llandudno to buy a second copy and like many families then had to fork out to pay for two copies of each new Harry Potter release to keep the peace at home.
So if language apps, hacking and technology aren't what I'm on about - what do I mean by 'A modern way to learn English?'
In essence, something I call LAYERED LEARNING.
What does layered learning mean? Well it's a combination of slow learning, and HIIT style bursts of learning.
Slow learning includes activities like:
- Sitting down with a fresh coffee (or nesquik if that's your bag) a pencil and a copy of your favourite magazine or book.
- Listening to a podcast while you cook Sunday lunch or do your ironing.
- Writing in a journal about the article you read or the podcast you listened to at the end of the day, discussing it in English with your language partner or in a class with your teacher.
Combine that with short bursts:
- Minimal pairs for pronunciation practise
- Intonation exercises
- Writing as many new expressions as you can watching a 5 minute youtube clip of native speakers
- Memorise 10 new words/phrasal verbs using a language app
Plan carefully at the start of the week, choose your media diet to make sure you're reading, listening to and talking about similar topics. Make sure you use words connected to the topic in your pronunciation practise and you'll find your progress is much more enjoyable AND efficient!
The key is to plan, while you're forming the habit
Whether you're studying for an exam, to improve in general or just to brush up, the approach is fairly similar.
- Be mindful. Please don't allocate 6 hours on a Sunday to 'study' i.e. reading a textbook halfheartedly until you can't bear to look at English anymore. The point of layered learning is that it's little and often.
- Plan. If you don't know what a Bullet journal is then start by watching this video.
- Get some inspiration with this pinterest board here!
- Use mind maps - These are my cornerstone. Most days should start and end with a mind map, you can keep it on your desk, in your pocket - anywhere! It's so useful for reinforcing what you know and planning any new things you want to study.
- If you need inspiration, Pinterest is a fantastic resource for this, just type 'your topic + mindmap' into the search to see what you can find. Here is an example below:
- Support - Like starting a new sport, it's a good idea to find a partner, it both motivates and supports you. The only time I've managed to consistently go to yoga was when I met a friend at 7am twice a week. Knowing she was waiting got me out of bed and into my yoga pants. Do the same with English. Start an English coffee meet up or film club, whatever interests you in your first language you can do in English.
- Sketches - Draw and illustrate your way to memory, it's both therapeutic and very effective, see this pinterest board for some ideas.
- Newsletters - sign up for motivating Newsletters in English. When you get a little bit of English sent to your inbox everyday, it's much harder to avoid! I like the fluentu newsletter and also you can trial their amazing app for free here.
- Apps - Using an app like memrise or Duolingo 10 minutes a day adds up to a serious improvement very quickly!
I'm also starting to follow my own advice with these things! I'll keep you updated on my favourite methods and also the ones that don't work as well - let me know what you think of them!