There’s more than one way to learn a language quickly and effectively.
It’s not about having a natural talent for languages or taking the most expensive course, but instead about adopting the right language learning mindset and putting energy into your studies.
So, instead of telling you the way to learn a new language in three short months, we’ll give you three different and highly flexible strategies that will translate into success.
- Learning a Language in 3 Months: What It Means and What It Doesn’t
- 1. Take a 3-month Language Immersion Trip
- 2. Spend 3 Months Learning a Language with Authentic Video
- 3. Mix and Match Language Learning Strategies with Self-study
- How to Keep Learning After 3 Months
Learning a Language in 3 Months: What It Means and What It Doesn’t
Before embarking on your linguistic journey, ask yourself what you mean when you say you want to “learn a language” in three months.
You’ll need to set reasonable, concrete goals. Fluffy words like “fluency” with abstract, subjective meanings, make for equally fuzzy motivation. Instead, try to define your goals in terms of linguistic feats you’d like to be able to perform 90 days from now.
Are you looking to be able to have pleasant everyday conversations? Read the news? Make new friends? Give a rousing speech, pen a great novel or pass through society masquerading as a native speaker?
In thinking about goals like these, try to form them in terms of your four core language skills—listening, speaking, reading and writing—and on linguistic actions rather than arbitrary benchmarks (e.g., being able to talk to strangers at the bar, rather than something like learning 500 vocabulary words or memorizing the past perfect tense).
Most learners who are able to study their language full-time (or close to it) for three months can reasonably aim to navigate everyday conversations successfully, understand the majority of what they hear, be able to express themselves clearly in simple terms and be able to engage with media like TV and newspapers.
Every learner and situation is different. What’s important is that you focus on your defined goals, use your language every day and take an approach that works for you as an individual learner.
Here are three of those possible approaches.
1. Take a 3-month Language Immersion Trip
Immersion learning is popular for a reason: It works.
For most aspiring language learners, and especially those who want to make giant leaps in progress in just a few months, it doesn’t get better than immersing yourself in your target language. Not only will you be presented with endless daily opportunities to strengthen your speaking and listening skills, but you’ll also have an unrivaled chance to amplify your language skills by learning about the culture surrounding the language.
Before starting an immersion trip, do a bit of initial research into your target language. Learning strategies can differ greatly depending on how closely related your target language is to your first language or one that you already speak well.
So, if you’re heading off to spend three months in French immersion and your native language is English, start by brushing up on the similarities in sounds and word parts between your two languages. If you’re studying Chinese or Arabic, on the other hand, start by learning about the most challenging differences between these languages and those familiar to you, like their different written scripts and difficult sounds.
And then fasten your seat belt, put your seat back in the upright position and prepare for takeoff.
Month 1: getting comfortable with your language
In your first month of immersion language learning, your main objectives are learning to recognize words and phrases in your language, overcoming the initial anxiety and discomfort of speaking and starting to use your language right away.
The primary goal is to become more familiar and comfortable with the language.
So, here’s your game plan:
- Begin with a basic vocabulary list and start learning the essentials of everyday communication immediately.
- Hang out in parks, cafes and restaurants, spending as much time as you can listening to people talking in public places.
- Immediately get started watching TV, movies and other videos to see and hear what your new vocabulary actually sounds like and how it’s used.
- Watch children’s shows where the characters speak slowly and articulately about practical topics like shapes, colors and animals. Want an alternative to the purely authentic? Muzzy BBC has created animated video series for children that teach a variety of languages, and they may just be a great option for adult learners who enjoy going the fun and colorful route.
- Put yourself in situations where you have to navigate typical customer service conversations.
- Seek out at least one conversation partner early in your first month who has the patience to have slow, simple conversations with you as you build your skills.
Most important of all in your first month is to make mistakes freely and overcome your speaking anxiety. The shy and the introverted can find this part more challenging, but you’ll never start truly learning your language until you accept that you’re going to be making a lot of mistakes in the next three months. Each mistake is a crucial step in your learning process.
Month 2: structure and experimentation
By the start of the second month, you should have a few hundred words and several dozen handy phrases you’re able to use confidently in one-on-one conversation. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on your first linguistic baby steps, and get ready to break into a jog in your second month.
- As soon as you feel like you’re understanding a (slight) majority of what you hear on your children’s shows or other beginner TV shows, raise the bar.
- Try out some documentaries and familiar animated films dubbed into your target language. The documentaries will usually employ a slow, exaggeratedly articulate speech that’s easier for learners to understand, and revisiting your favorite childhood Disney movies will help your comprehension by letting you hear your target language in a very familiar context.
- As your vocabulary grows, pay closer attention to grammar and basic rules that will help you be better understood. Refer to a good book or website to learn basics like the past tense or noun gender, but try to do most of your learning by actively paying attention to native speakers and making mental notes about when they use different verb forms or articles.
- Strive to have new and different conversations every day—repeating the same coffee order every morning is good for warming up, but it doesn’t count as “learning” anymore when you’re just repeating it over and over again. Try ordering some new things off the menu every day!
Input-based learning is the priceless result of immersion. You get to soak your brain in linguistic material every day, and opportunities to listen and speak are unlimited. Since by now you should be completely unfazed by making mistakes, push yourself harder and abandon your remaining conservative impulses.
Month 3: sprinting to the finish
By now you’re used to speaking your target language every day. Even though you still make errors at nearly every turn, and even though you’re still fuzzy on the details a lot of the time, you get the gist of what’s said to you more often than not, especially when someone’s speaking to you clearly without too much background noise or other distractions.
The third month of immersion is all applied learning. You’ve been soaking up the language for two months and practicing it as you go, but now it’s time to start really using it organically like a native speaker would.
Here’s what you’ll be doing in this third month:
- Totally shut down your first language, both inside and outside your head. Switch all your electronics to the language you’re learning, forego your favorite English-language series, go on a social media hiatus and strive to think in your target language whenever possible.
- Soak your ear in your language every single day. Watch TV, listen to the radio and continue eavesdropping in public parks.
- Strive to find TV and video content that challenges you. If you understand more than about two-thirds or three-fourths of whatever you’re watching or listening to, it’s time to bump up to the next level.
Most importantly, seek out conversation at every turn. Find as many one-on-one conversation partners as will have you, and when you’re feeling extra ambitious, sit down in a small group conversation and do your best to offer some on-topic interjections while you follow along.
After three months of immersion, some learners will still struggle to understand rapid native speech or to express their thoughts clearly, while others may have more trouble with reading instructions or writing texts and Facebook messages. That’s normal!
Remember that your goal was never to be perfect at the end of three months. Check back in with the goals you set before starting, then give yourself a giant pat on the back for the past three months.
At-home alternative: living room language immersion
Jumping up and spending three months in a foreign country might not accommodate everyone’s schedule, budget or life all of the time, but thankfully there are a few substitutes that offer a viable alternative for the most motivated and dedicated.
Jump into the 21st century and take advantage of all the digital and analog hacks available today for creating a language immersion environment without leaving home.
2. Spend 3 Months Learning a Language with Authentic Video
Not so long ago, time and money were the biggest roadblocks cutting off would-be polyglots from their language learning dreams. Then the Internet came along and basically took care of those two things, just like that.
If you like the structure of a formal course but relish the freedom of individual study, learning online could be right for you.
If you need the flexibility of studying whenever your hectic schedule coughs up 20 free minutes or if you can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on language courses, it’s time to think about learning a language online.
As an example, I’m going to show you how to use FluentU to get the job done. Many of these suggestions, though, apply to using other programs or no program at all.
As you browse and watch video content sorted into six levels, you can click on the interactive subtitles to view in-context definitions of unfamiliar words. Practice the words you’re learning with FluentU flashcard decks—you can even import your own vocabulary and design your own digital flashcards.
Month 1: getting your newbie feet wet
In your first month using FluentU, start out with some of our beginner level videos and get ready to start exposing your ears and brain to your new language.
- Before watching your first videos, be sure to review the Vocab tab beneath each video, where you’ll find key words and phrases from the video along with their definitions.
- If it helps you getting started, download the video transcript and read along with it. You can even print it out and take notes on it.
- Review your vocabulary in video flashcards, where you’ll find short video clips with transcriptions in your target language and English, along with contextualized definitions above.
- Find speaking opportunities and start practicing what you’re learning early! Check out our essential guide to Skype language exchange for tips on where to find conversation partners online.
Once you’ve spent a few weeks calibrating your ear to recognize the sounds and words of your target language and have tried it out yourself in a few Skype sessions, it’s time to start putting your language to work.
Month 2: exploring real-life situations and developing real-life skills
In your second month of using FluentU, fast-track language learners can bump up from the first level of beginner videos to the second. As you strive to become competent in understanding and using your language, try to focus on videos of real people in real-life situations, and imitate their language use when you’re practicing.
- Start challenging your ears by watching some of the beginner level videos without subtitles. Don’t worry about understanding every single word, but do strive to follow the main ideas and the flow of the conversation.
- Beef up your vocabulary by developing a reading habit in your target language. We’ve got all the best recommendations.
- Ramp up your conversation time and aim to speak your language for an hour or more multiple times a week (or more whenever possible). If you’re getting burnt out on Skype exchanges, try finding local language exchanges through websites and social networks like Meetup and Couchsurfing.
- You could also consider finding a language tutor for extra practice. WyzAnt is a great option for finding a tutor in your area. You can see how much each tutor charges per hour as well as some of the ratings that other people have given them. If you’re all about online language learning, check out Verbling. It allows you to explore hundreds upon hundreds of language teachers from all over and find the one who’s perfect for you.
In the second month of online language learning, you’ll want to find as much conversation time as possible alongside your continued study through video and vocabulary lessons. This should be the period where you feel that your vocabulary and listening comprehension both really take off, preparing you to jump into the deep end in your third month.
Month 3: applying your intermediate skills
After two months of using FluentU or similar immersion platforms, you should be more comfortable hearing and understanding your target language. Pushing through to the intermediate level will depend on constantly and actively exercising your language muscles and doing heavier lifting every week.
- Start watching Intermediate level videos on FluentU, and make a point to explore the menus and watch videos on multiple topics (like arts and entertainment, business and health and lifestyle) and all formats (such as music videos, news and TV shows).
- Turn off the English subtitles. After watching each video once with the target language subtitles alone, watch again with all the subtitles off.
- Make sure that you play your way through each video’s learn mode, learning new words in context as you go.
- Use your active skills every single day. Speak or write in your language as often as possible to exercise the part of your brain that produces (rather than interprets) language. For feedback on your writing from native speakers, try a penpal exchange site like Lang-8. LingQ is another great online practice option that provides you with the support of native speakers, who can give you feedback on your writing or pronunciation.
- Find a series in your language to get way too into. Whether it’s a sitcom, drama or thriller, getting emotionally involved in the characters and their storylines helps your brain process the language more naturally and gives you a fun way to use your language skills.
The nice thing about FluentU is that it doesn’t matter how fast you progress—you can move easily from beginner to advanced according to your own pace and interests. The interactive subtitles make any video at any level approachable to every learner!
It works because it’s organic. Memorizing and repeating verb conjugations from a workbook is helpful for some, but most learners learn better and more efficiently when they engage with the natural language just as its native speakers use it every day.
Throw in a couple cool mini-movies and TV shows and you’ve got a language learning program you’ll actually look forward to working on every day.
3. Mix and Match Language Learning Strategies with Self-study
Sometimes you’re your own best teacher.
There’s no rule out there that says you must follow one particular program, trademarked method or exact formula to learn a language. Especially for experienced language learners and those in touch with their own preferences and learning styles, cherry-picking the best parts of existing programs, websites, apps, books, podcasts and social networks to design an individual learning plan can be the best way to go.
You know how you learn best, but keep in mind that you’ll want to address a few key areas if you want to reach overall competence and comfort with your language. Focus on training yourself in your four main linguistic skills:
1. Listening. A good listener is a good language learner. If you hope to use a language effectively, you’ll need to train your ear and brain to recognize things like unfamiliar vowels and identifying where one word ends and a new one begins in everyday speech.
2. Speaking. Use it or lose it. As you listen and take in more linguistic input, using that new knowledge to form your own words, sentences and conversations is the practical application that makes the learning stick.
3. Reading. The emphasis on reading in a second language will differ from learner to learner. For some, learning to read captions and public signs will suffice, and others may want to be able to follow a trending Twitter hashtag or read the latest political news in their target language.
4. Writing. Like reading, the amount of time you devote to writing in a foreign language will differ based on your own learning style and preferences. For most, chatting on Facebook and keeping a daily journal are good ways to ensure you practice your active skills every day.
As you design your own language learning routine, keep these four skills in mind, never neglecting the first two. Here’s an example of how you might piece together a self-study routine to learn a language in three months.
Month 1: laying your linguistic foundations
In the beginning stages, build up the basics.
The basics include recognizing and understanding spoken sounds, using your guidebook phrases and working towards mastering the basic vocabulary of 500 or so words you need to navigate everyday life successfully.
- Start out with Duolingo or a flashcard app like Memrise to begin building your basic vocabulary, and be sure to practice every day—even if it’s only for a few minutes. You need to start building a habit at this stage.
- Soak your brain in the sounds of your language. Explore language learning channels on YouTube, watch simple children’s shows and listen to podcasts.
- Start speaking the language daily within your first week. You can find conversation exchange partners on sites like iTalki or ConversationExchange.com.
- Read a Wikipedia page about your hometown, your favorite band or your professional field. Use your familiarity with the subject to learn as many words as possible in context and look up the rest.
By the end of the first month, hopefully you will have rooted out the parts of your routine that aren’t working for you, identified the areas that challenge you most and gone Googling for extra online resources to help get the language down. Then it’s time to take your basic vocabulary and finely attuned ears into month two.
Month 2: picking up the pace
While you continue studying your language from every angle, it’s time to focus on speaking and conversation and let the rest follow.
- Speak your language daily or as close to it as possible. Aside from online exchanges and social networks, you can check around places like your local university or community college or immigrant resource center to search for more real-life conversation partners, or you can post ads on sites like Reddit or Craigslist.
- Create a customized feed with Feedly to follow your favorite blogs and websites in your target language.
- Prime yourself with periodic grammar lessons from books or web pages, but don’t try to memorize the rules you read about. Instead, try to notice when native speakers use the forms or words discussed, look for patterns related to when they do or don’t use certain verb endings or definite articles. Then imitate them.
When you’re studying on your own, you can make people and social interaction the focal points of your learning rather than learning a certain number of vocabulary words or a particular verb tense.
In the second month, challenge yourself to understand as many new kinds of input as you can.
Then comes the home stretch.
Month 3: broadening your linguistic horizons
Your focus in your third month may depend on your particular goals with the language (like whether you’re prepping for a backpacking trip, a job interview or an exam).
Even so, all learners will benefit from getting as much speaking and listening time as they can.
Broaden your linguistic horizons with these tips in your third month of self-study:
- Widely diversify the kinds of video content you’re watching by using a site like Streema to find and watch local TV stations all over the world. Be sure to include videos of real people having realistic conversations like on talk shows or sitcoms (as opposed to animated cartoons or newscasts).
- Continue to speak every day via Skype or other exchanges, and focus on using what you’re learning from your TV and video time. Discuss topics you’re learning about on TV shows or in documentaries. Strive to use the new phrases and words you’ve learned while watching them.
- Add to your Feedly feed some news sites, pop culture blogs and other written material that challenges you. Practice writing about these topics by chatting with native speakers on an app like HelloTalk.
How to Keep Learning After 3 Months
Regardless of the method you choose, your language learning will hardly be done after three months.
After those first three months, you’ll still find yourself frustrated that you can’t understand what’s being said at times. You might find yourself speaking beautifully and confidently one day only to return to stammering and struggling the next.
Even though you can certainly learn a language in three months, the truth is that you’re never really finished. As you continue on your language learning journey, remember to use the same principles discussed here to keep building on your progress.
Keep watching TV and movies, use the best websites and apps for refreshers and, above all, keep using your language, listening to it and speaking it whenever you can.
If done right, learning a language in three months will just be the beginning of a lifelong linguistic journey, the benefits of which will continue to grow throughout your multilingual life!