How to Learn a Language Fluently when You Live in a New Country

So you're in a new country and you want to learn the language. Here are some tips to do that quickly, efficiently, and easily. This article is geared towards learning the language quickly and fluently, while using the resources that are available in that country.


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    Have a basic concept of how the words are pronounced. Listen to the radio, watch TV, or get them from a friend, native speaker, etc.
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    Read the language aloud , and repeat what you hear on TV, tapes, etc. aloud. This is probably the most important first step, because it gets you used to the sound of the language.
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    Memorize sentences and paragraphs or more, to get a 'feel' for the grammar, word ordering, etc. of the language. (And recite them to yourself.) By memorizing sentences, paragraphs, passages, etc., you will automatically be learning words in the process, and will be getting the context that gives them easy, intuitive meaning. As well as sentence structure, the sound of the words, etc. And you can choose from these words when creating your own sentences.
    • To make memorizing paragraphs and understanding easier, it helps to use a translation of a book that you already know. The bible or other religious book (even if you're not religious) is a great way to study and learn a language, because it's so easy to find translations of it in just about any language, the meaning is always the same, etc.
    • For help in memorizing paragraphs or sentences, it helps to say them quickly. It can almost become 'automatic' when you do that.
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    Carry around a 3x5 (or 4x6) index card, and write down words that you wanted to say throughout the day, but didn't know how to. Look these up when you get home, and write them on the card. Practice using them a few times in large, coherent sentences.
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    Practice translating paragraphs from a book into the language you're learning. This is a great way to stretch your knowledge and 'expression' within the language. It's OK to look up some words (or phrases) while doing this. The point is to learn new ways of expressing yourself, new words, to become more precise in your expression, etc. And translating the words of a well-spoken writer is a great way to do that.
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    Find a good grammar summary of the language. I.e. one that fits on 5-6 pages. It's much easier to learn one rule, with its exceptions, and apply it to everything, than it is to learn 2,000 different words independently. A good grammar summary will make those rules evident in a few words.
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    Practice your accent. Most native speakers regard it as a high compliment when you go through the effort of learning their language appropriately. And it's always fun to see if they will think you are a native speaker or not. Having a good accent will make it much easier for them to understand you. And to have a good accent, listen to good speakers a lot (i.e. on the radio,) and say sentences over and over again, with a relaxed mouth and tongue. When a language (accent) is spoken correctly, it's easy, the mouth is relaxed, and it is not forced.
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    Practice speaking. A language isn't learned by memorizing word lists and testing yourself on them. It is learned by speaking the language, becoming fluent with it, as you would a piano, or other instrument.


  • Don't hesitate to look up or write down a word that you don't understand, as you're memorizing or speaking with a native speaker.
  • Learning a language can seem tough at first (i.e. gathering all the basic words,) but that's what memorizing the sentences, paragraphs, and passages are for. They give you a quick, easy "reference" from which you can draw words, sentence structure, etc. They will help a lot towards creating your fluency, and will give you a quick 'feel' for the language.
  • If you're the wife or spouse of a military person, don't sit around at home all day. Get out and do stuff; give yourself a reason to learn the language. You will enjoy it more than you think. Don't expect to become fluent without talking with other native speakers. Memorize basic sentences such as "How much does that cost?", "Where is the grocery store?" "Do you have bread?" Etc. But also, work on memorizing some larger paragraphs from a book or newspaper, so you can have more meaningful conversation. Learning the paragraphs and sentences first will give you quick, easy use of the language, as well as will make you familiar with the words, sentence structure, etc., in the process.
  • Go through a particular subject, and learn the words appropriate for that subject. It's a lot like it is in your own native language. For example, go through a physics textbook, and learn the words and basic phrases of physics. Then for the next subject, learn the computer-related words (i.e. 'computer', 'Internet', 'modem', 'connect/disconnect,' etc.) Just like you do in your own language. And as always, practice using them.
  • Remember, you've already learned one language (your own,) so the 2nd is always easier, and so are the third, the fourth, etc.
  • For verb conjugations, it can help to go through them in an organized, "list" form. I.e. "I do," "You do," "He/She/It does," "We do," "You (pl.) do," "They do," etc., in quick repetition, saying it 5+ times. That's an easy way of learning all the tenses and forms for each of the pronouns.


  • Don't rely on other non-native speakers for your judge of 'how well you are doing.' Rely on the native speakers themselves.
  • Don't get caught in the trap of starting from the smallest possible pieces (one word) and trying to build your way up. The top-down approach, memorizing paragraphs, sentences, etc., is much easier and more meaningful than trying to put together 20,000 different pieces. The piece-by-piece way may 'seem' like a logical way to introduce a language, but it is slow, confusing, and very inefficient. Instead we often figure out the meaning of words based on their context (in paragraphs.) By reading aloud, memorizing passages and paragraphs, translating paragraphs from a book, carrying a 3x5 card around, learning the over-all grammar rules, using the language often, etc., it is very possible to become fluent in a language in less than 6 months.

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Categories: World Languages