How to Learn a Language in a Week: Essential Tips and Two Unique Methods
Challenges are fun.
Whether you need to learn a language quickly or simply want to test your abilities, trying to learn a new tongue in just seven days is certainly a challenge!
That’s not a lot of time for getting all the necessary information into your head, so let’s get started.
Keep reading for how to learn a language in a week—with two different approaches.
- Language Learning Tips
- Speed Learning: How to Learn a Language in a Week Fast
- Deliberate Learning: How to Learn a Language in a Week Slow
Language Learning Tips
Whether you’re going to speed learn or take the deliberate approach (more on these in a second), here are some useful tips that are especially helpful for learning a lot of content in a short period of time:
- Focus only on what you need to know. Don’t get weighed down right off the bat. Decide what you need or want to learn and concentrate on getting those points down quickly and correctly.
- Choose a base resource. Find a beginner resource you like that will serve as a framework for your studying. There are plenty of free options available.
- Use a variety of learning methods. Utilize target language content in a variety of formats to keep your brain engaged—think videos, podcasts, blogs, etc.
- Practice listening (and speaking). If you want to verbally communicate at the end of the week, you need to practice listening to the language. Speaking is helpful too, but it can only take you so far if you can’t understand the response you get.
- Get comfortable making mistakes. You’re going to mess up. It’s unavoidable. But the sooner you make peace with not being perfect, the faster you’ll learn to use your mistakes to help you get better.
- Make it fun! The week will drag if it feels like work. Play games, use some apps, find a study buddy—anything to bring joy to your learning will do the trick.
Now, keep those tips in mind as we go through our one-week language learning methods below.
Speed Learning: How to Learn a Language in a Week Fast
Most people think of a week as one calendar week, or seven days in a row—basically, any given Monday through Sunday.
Learning a language within that time span means you have to pick and choose what to focus on in order to make as much progress as possible. It also means that if a situation comes up in real life that you didn’t drill for, you’ll probably be stuck.
This kind of fast learning usually means fast forgetting. Unless you work hard to maintain your level after the week is up, it’s unlikely that you’ll retain much in the long term.
But if you’re really in a time crunch, here’s how you can pick up the basics of any given language in just seven days.
1. Make a Realistic Plan
The first step of the fast approach is to decide where you want to cheat. Unfortunately, you can’t have it all.
For the sake of this guide, let’s assume your goal is to have a short conversation with a native speaker at the end of the week. If you have a different goal, you can draw up your own plan or tweak this one to suit your needs.
With the conversational goal in mind, you don’t want to spend much time on writing exercises or anything that isn’t speaking and listening.
For the next seven days, you’re going to have to devote just about every waking hour to learning to hear and speak your chosen language if you want to do this well.
Since you’re going to be cramming, it’s important that you know how to review your material properly in order to get as much as possible into your long-term memory.
2. Acquire Basic Structures First
With such a short time frame, almost everything that you learn is going to need to be straightforward.
Don’t spend too much time thinking about how the grammar 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” (or possibly “you”).
Learn phrasebook-style sentence patterns that you can reconfigure and drop new vocabulary into if needed.
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 out pronouns
- 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.
3. Heavily Drill Set Phrases
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 answer 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.
And just like above, learn to include simple variations that apply to your situation, such as, “I was just in [France], and now I’m here. Next I will travel to [Portugal].”
4. Focus on Structure and Vocabulary
Normally, I would advise spending a lot of time 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 simply match your voice to whatever you 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.
Instead, for most of your week of study—say, the first five or six days—you should really focus on learning and drilling your set phrases and structures while imagining yourself using them in conversation.
Any extra time you have should be spent on increasing your vocabulary. The more words you can find to express yourself while you learn, the better it’s going to go when you actually start speaking.
When you do speak, you should be able to perform well in conversation—as long as you stick to your patterns and phrases, that is. A week is enough time to build up a respectable repertoire of memorized phrases, and you’ll have the grammar and vocabulary necessary to try building off of them spontaneously, if you want to be really bold.
Deliberate Learning: How to Learn a Language in a Week Slow
Instead of thinking of a week as seven days in a row, we can also think of it as simply seven days—any seven days, spread out over weeks or months.
Sure, it will take you longer to see your progress at the beginning. But ultimately, this type of deliberate learning is going to be way more effective in the long run. Like, a night-and-day difference, even though both scenarios use the same number of hours.
So if you’re not truly in a rush to pick up a new tongue, consider learning a language in a week, slowly, with the steps below.
1. Spread the Week Over a Longer Period of Time
By carefully spreading out your time, you’ll remember much more from every study session.
Assuming you get eight hours of sleep per night, that leaves you with 112 hours in which to learn your new language. If you spread this out over four months, you’re looking at just seven hours per week.
This weekly time commitment is within reach for most people, even those busy with everyday obligations. If an hour a day still sounds like too much, consider that this can be done in chunks throughout the day: 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes at lunchtime and 30 minutes before bed.
Those are actually perfect lengths of time for study! The natural cycles of waking and sleeping are closely linked with memory and learning. Spreading out your studying over such long periods of time really will have a strong impact on how much you retain.
In fact, you may want to take advantage of spaced repetition technology, which has been proven to enhance one’s ability to remember information long-term.
Of course, 112 hours still isn’t enough time to master a language. But it is enough time to build up a good base of linguistic knowledge. Plus, sticking to a regular schedule for that long will build a strong habit of studying, which will encourage you to keep at it long after you hit the 112 mark.
2. Designate Clear Learning Goals
If you decide to take a language course, then someone else is setting goals for you based on the curriculum. However, you’ll still want to have some goals of your own in the back of your mind—the course writers probably weren’t expecting learners to be on such a tight schedule.
To get the maximum benefit out of your 112 hours, you’ve got to be realistic with yourself about what you’d like to achieve. Some goals include:
- Describing yourself and people you know. That includes information such as jobs, likes and dislikes, places of origin, etc.
- Asking for prices. If you plan to visit or travel in a place where the language is spoken, you’ll want to understand numbers and common transactional phrases.
- Understanding general, everyday vocabulary. This might include food items, transportation, directions, etc.
These are all achievable goals in this time frame. If you’re looking to be able to read and write instead, you can adjust the above goals to cover the information you’ll need for your specific situation.
3. Utilize Your Short Study Sessions Well
I do recommend finding 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 if you’re trying to make the best of the limited time you’ve got.
Even if you don’t want to commit to a meeting-based course, your base resource should be something that you can easily pull up, log into or flip open a few times a day. For instance, you might begin all your study sessions with:
These little bite-size sessions are short enough to keep you focused (no nodding off in front of a long lecture) and long enough that you can get into a groove and internalize the language.
It’s important to keep your learning sessions fun, too. A popular tactic is to watch videos in your target language that are relevant to the content you’re trying to learn.
In fact, watching videos helps you learn vocabulary and grammar in context, which means you’re more likely to remember the info when you need it in the real world.
You can watch authentic target language videos with an immersive platform such as FluentU.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
The important thing is that you go into every study session knowing exactly what you’re going to learn and exactly how you’re going to learn it.
Language learning can be hard work, but it can be a lot of fun as well!
Personally, I enjoy a time-limited challenge like the ones here. But either way, opening your mind to new things in new ways is what learning is all about.
So, now that you know how to learn a language in a week, don’t just sit there—get started!