If you’ve been learning a language, or thinking of starting, you might have heard of language hacking. Sounds intriguing? Well, it is a very useful tactic that can help you learn a language faster than usual.
Made popular by Irish blogger Benny Lewis, language hacking is actually an old technique and one that is often used by experienced language learners. But even if you’re a beginner who has never learnt a new tongue before, language hacking can be a tool that can yield great results.
What is language hacking?
Traditional language learning follows a fairly standard process of learning the basics and slowly developing grammar and vocabulary. But language hacking aims to get you learning the useful stuff from the start, and get you using the language from day one.
Rather than learning until you ‘feel ready to talk’, the idea behind language hacking is that you get out of your comfort zone and speak from your first lesson.
The theory is that using the language makes you learn it faster than simply studying from a text book or video course. Yes, it can be slightly scary if you’re not used to learning languages or if you have some social anxieties. But there are a number of benefits of using language hacking to pick up a new lingo.
Does language hacking work?
Research shows that when we speak from day one and make ourselves use the language, it does reinforce new words in our minds.
And people who use language hacking often find that they experience faster language progress than those who don’t.
Another facet of language hacking is understanding that ‘fluency’ isn’t the goal. Instead, the focus is ‘making yourself understood and understanding native speakers’.
By this metric, attaining a usable level of language is actually very achievable for anyone, even those who have never studied a language before.
The techniques to hack your language learning
Let’s assume you want to learn French, as an English speaker. You’ve never studied French before but you know how to say words like ‘Bonjour’, ‘oui’ and maybe even ‘non’.
How can you speak French from day one, and even start speaking it with confidence in just a few weeks?
1. Pick the right language
An English speaker who has never learnt any other language who decides to learn Vietnamese might find themselves struggling. That’s not to say that learning Vietnamese is impossible, but picking a language that you either have a strong interest in, or one that is close to your mother tongue does give you more chance of success. And less chance of giving up.
2. Find familiar words
Many languages, especially European languages, have related words. These are called ‘cognates’ and are the words that share the same meaning in different languages. These can be extremely useful to focus on when starting out. Not all languages have cognates between them, but many do. For example, Japanese and Hindi both have many loanwords or cognates with English.
3. Build on the basic phrases
Simple conversations are the best place to start – so focus on the basics to get a solid foundation. Greetings and polite questions are obviously the first thing you will learn; For example “Hello, how are you?”, “I am fine, thank you. How are you?”
As we get more confidence with these basics we start to understand the pattern of the language and find our confidence with the sounds.
4. Speak from day one
The most important factor of language hacking is using the language from the start. This means finding a language partner or teacher who can help you find your confidence and build your skills. With this confidence you can build quickly, and this is where the hacking comes in.
There are lots of platforms online where you can find a teacher or language buddy, and one of the best is iTalki. I have used iTalki to learn Spanish and improve my Italian, and find it an invaluable tool for language hacking.
With access to teachers from all over the world, a vibrant community of language learners and lots of useful tools, iTalki is an essential for me.
Click the iTalki logo below to sign up and discover how useful this platform can be. (This is an affiliate link)
5. Manage your expectations
Learning a language does take time, even if you’re hacking it. As mentioned earlier, aim for understanding and being understood, or define your level of ‘fluency’ to give you something to aim for. But with language hacking you’ll find that your confidence in the your new language grows organically.
Learning a new language is a cool man skill and one that can be very impressive, and help you explore the world more.