Challenges are fun.
There are a lot of people out there who enjoy doing language learning challenges.
Doing things fast is also fun.
And trying to accomplish the great mental feat of learning a language as fast as possible is tempting for many.
But have you ever heard of someone learning a language in 10 days?
Sounds impossible, right?
Well, like with so many things, it all depends on how you look at it.
Speed Learning vs. Deliberate Learning: What Does It Mean to “Learn a Language in 10 Days”?
We can look at that figure, 10 days, in two very different ways.
Most people would probably think of that as 10 calendar days, one right after the other—one week’s Tuesday to next week’s Friday.
Learning a language—in any sense—within that time span is obviously really tough, if not impossible, so you’d have to pick and choose what to focus on in order to make as much progress as possible. There’s simply too much to manage. You’d have to cut corners in your learning, so if a situation came up that you didn’t drill for, you’d probably be stuck.
Also, fast learning usually means fast forgetting. Unless you continue to work almost as hard to maintain your level after your 10 days pass, you’re not likely to retain much in the long term.
There’s another possible interpretation of that figure, though.
We can take the number of total waking hours in 10 days (160 hours) and spread those study hours out over a longer period of time.
This type of deliberate learning is going to be way more effective in the long run. We’re talking a night and day difference with exactly the same number of hours in both situations.
If you spread this out to five hours a week for eight months, you’ll see huge gains in ability. Suppose we’re talking about a language closely related to English like Spanish or French—don’t be surprised if you find yourself reading newspapers and having conversations before those “10 days” are up.
Still, we thought it might be fun to consider potential plans for both options. We’re not suggesting it’s possible to actually completely learn a language to fluency in 10 days either way, but considering how you would go about it if that was your intention could be a great way to kickstart learning a new language. Depending on which approach you use and how exactly you go about it, you might be surprised how much you end up learning in a 10-day period.
Whichever route you take—even if you do both!—you’ve got to go at it with a plan.
Learn a Language in 10 Days Challenge: Two Approaches
For either of these plans, you’ll want to use at least one beginner resource that allows you to work on the specifics laid out below. There are plenty of affordable options for this, and you’ll want to choose something that’s suitable for your own goals.
However, we would recommend using FluentU regardless of your goals, as it’s easily adaptable to either approach. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. Also, with one FluentU account you get access to all of our languages, so it’s a great solution for both regular learning and off-the-cuff language challenges, not to mention perfect for aspiring polyglots of all kinds.
Approach #1: Learn a Language in 10 Days Fast
Decide What’s Important to You and Make a Plan
The first step with the fast approach is to decide where you want to cheat. Unfortunately, you can’t have it all.
The guide below is going to focus on the goal of having a short conversation at the end of 10 days with a native speaker. If you have different goals, you can draw up your own plan or tweak this one to suit your needs.
Keeping that goal in mind, you don’t want to spend much too time on writing exercises or anything that isn’t speaking and listening.
For 10 days, you’re going to have to devote just about every waking hour to this if you want to do well.
And since you’re doing so much cramming, it’s important that you review your material over and over to really get as much as possible into your long-term memory.
Acquire the Basic Structure in the First Few Days
With such a short time to learn, almost everything that you do learn is going to need to be pretty straightforward.
Don’t spend too much time thinking about how the grammar really works or why this preposition goes with that case. You probably don’t even need to talk much about “he,” “she” and “they.” A short conversation is mostly going to be about “I.”
Learn phrasebook-style sentence patterns that you can reconfigure and drop new vocabulary into at the drop of a hat.
For instance, you could learn “My name is X.” From that pattern, you can quickly learn “My name is Y,” “My name isn’t X, it’s Y,” “His name is Z” and so on.
The main grammatical points you should focus on in the first few days are:
- How to negate sentences.
- How to switch pronouns out.
- How to turn sentences into questions (and vice versa).
These are extremely useful and extremely common “grammar things” in any language. They’ll come up in even the simplest of spoken interactions.
Heavily Drill Set Phrases and Simple Variations
Whether you’re in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam or Moscow, Russia, people always ask the same things:
- “Where are you from?”
- “How long have you been traveling?”
- “How long have you been learning this language?”
- “Why are you learning this language?”
- “Where are you going next?”
If you can give answers to those five questions, you’ll sound like an expert in whatever language you’re speaking.
Think about some of the most common questions—just like those—that you’ll be asked when you first tell someone that you’re learning their language.
Use those questions and their answers as a framework for learning vocabulary and grammar—for everything you learn, think about how and when it might appear in your conversation.
Focus on Structure and Vocabulary over Accent
Normally, I would advise spending a lot of time on getting your accent as close to perfect as possible, right from the beginning.
But that takes time, which is a luxury you don’t have. You’re going to have to do your best to match your voice to whatever you can hear.
If you have an ear for accents or can at least get the rhythm of native speech down, you’ll impress whoever you’re speaking with anyway.
For the first five or six days, really drill those set phrases and structures while imagining yourself using them in conversation.
Use any extra time you have to increase your vocabulary. The more words you can find to express yourself, the better it’s going to feel when you actually start speaking in 10 days.
When you do, you should be able to perform surprisingly well in conversation as long as you stick to your patterns and phrases.
10 days of practice is certainly enough time to build up a respectable repertoire of memorized phrases, plus the grammar and vocabulary necessary to build off of them spontaneously.
Approach #2: Learn a Language in 10 Days Slow
Chances are, if you follow the plan above, you’ll be amazed at your progress after 10 days.
But after 30, 40 days? Not so much. You’ll retain a handful of words and phrases, but most of that knowledge is going to disappear fast.
However, this next approach will show you how to use your time in a way that gets you permanent results.
Spread Your 160 Hours over a Longer Period of Time
By carefully spreading out your time, you’ll simply remember much more from every study session.
The natural cycles of waking and sleeping are closely linked with memory and learning. Spreading out your studying over days and weeks really does have a strong impact on how much you retain.
You’ll also build a habit.
In fact, you may want to take advantage of spaced repetition technology (which is proven to enhance one’s ability to remember information in the long-term), using apps or software.
No, 160 hours still isn’t enough to master a language. But sticking to a regular schedule for that time is enough to build a strong habit of studying your language, even well after you’ve passed that 160 mark. When spread out, it’s also enough time to build up a good base of permanent knowledge that you can continue to add to.
By contrast, if you try the 10 days of full-time learning, it may still be fun and rewarding, but you’ll more than likely be burned out, and have little to no long-term vocabulary retention.
So let’s see how to do this the smart way.
Specifically, Spread Your Hours over 4-8 Months at 5-10 Hours a Week
5-10 hours a week is within reach for most people, even those busy with everyday obligations.
A regular 45 minutes a day puts you just over five hours a week, so you’ll hit your 160 hours in about six months.
45 minutes a day sounds like a lot for busy people, sure. But three 15-minute sessions, or a 30-minute session and a 15-minute review? Those are perfect lengths of time for study.
Lay Out Your Goals
A course can let someone else do the thinking to set your goals for you, section by section. However, you’ll still want to have some goals of your own in the back of your mind—the course writers weren’t necessarily expecting people to be on a tight schedule.
To get the maximum benefit out of your 160 hours, you’ve got to be realistic with yourself about what you’d like to achieve.
At a minimum, you can and should be able to describe yourself and people you know. What they do, what they like and dislike, and where they live.
You should be able to ask for the prices of things and know the general vocabulary you’re likely to come across when you visit or travel in a place where the language is spoken.
These are achievable goals, and holding on to these abilities over time will make you proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Benefit from Short Study Sessions
Find a solid course that keeps you moving at a good pace. Floundering around looking for ways to learn isn’t going to be helpful, especially not when you’re trying to make the best of the limited time you’ve got.
You’ll want to set things up so that you can simply log into your app or flip to the next chapter in your textbook for a couple of short chunks a day. Don’t want to look at a screen? Put on your headphones and cue up an audio lesson.
These little bite-size sessions are short enough to keep you focused (no nodding off in front of a long lecture) and yet long enough that you’ll find yourself getting into a groove and internalizing the language.
Language learning is work for a lot of people.
But it’s fun for a lot of us, too.
Personally, I enjoy a time-limited challenge like the ones here.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if one way happens to be more efficient than the other. Opening your mind to new things in new ways is what learning is all about.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.