Did you hear the one about the guy in New York who learned how to speak over 20 different languages by the age of 17?
No, this actually isn’t a set up for a corny joke. A young man by the name of Timothy Doner from Manhattan, New York, whose native language is English, actually started learning how to speak another language, French, at the age of 8.
He says he didn’t learn to fully appreciate his “gift” until he was older and he started to learn Arabic for his Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13.
Since then, he has used a couple of the secrets found in this post to become the much admired polyglot that he is today. What’s even more impressive is that he was able to accomplish all of this without a teacher!
The reason for sharing his story was not to intimidate you, but to inspire you.
If you want to learn how to speak several different languages just like Timothy, then terrific! What you seek to accomplish will take a lot of patience and work, but it can be done—and this article will show you how.
You excited? You should be! Here are the eight secrets to speaking multiple languages fluently.
8 Simple, Straightforward Ways to Learn a Language
1. Start now
Yes, I went there. No sugar coating for this hard truth. Maybe you’ve been indecisive about which language to study or how to study. Stop hemming and hawing.
The sooner you start learning, the better.
Believe it or not, the best time to become a multiple language speaker is actually around the same time when you’re getting your potty training. (Hopefully this is when you’re a baby or a toddler!)
Further evidence supports this, generally proposing that children should be learning how to become bilingual (or multilingual) while strengthening both their cognitive and linguistic skills as early as the age of three.
But why is this so?
Well, the mind is in the best shape to take on learning a language—or even several different languages at once—during those pre-adolescent years. During the early childhood stages, the brain is better equipped to take in all of the different sounds and patterns that go along with learning linguistics no matter what language they’re being taught. In addition, their listening skills are at their best because, since they can’t really talk, they little choice but to listen! All of this then helps the baby or child regurgitate the information they’ve received. All in all, they’re able to mimic what they’ve learned at much better rates than either teens and adults can.
Despite the above being true, you’re never too old to learn anything! Your brain keeps developing and growing until you’re 25, and some say development continues even beyond 25. Even once it’s not technically still growing, your brain is still malleable.
Plus, we can simply take all of the above information about children learning languages and use it to our advantage. Just try learning the way that children learn!
Another lesson to be learned from children is that, if you do plan to start speaking several languages at once, it’s best to start now rather than later. The longer you wait, the more serious time and effort it will take. Remember, all that time you could spend learning will fly by anyway—and if you’re not studying, you’re that much farther from reaching your goals.
No more excuses. Start today! Take a break from reading this and watch one short video clip in the language you want to learn, or do it as soon as you’re done reading—but not a minute after! (FluentU has plenty of videos available to help you get started!)
2. Make language learning habitual
There’s a wise old saying that goes something like this: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
This applies to various aspects of everyday life, including learning how to master speaking new languages. To fully learn anything successfully, it’s imperative that you possesses good planning skills and form good study habits (well, it may not be absolutely imperative, but it does help!).
Planning ahead will give you a mental map to follow in order to successfully get the results you want. It also helps you set reasonable end goals so that you can try your best to accomplish them in the time frame that you want.
Here are some neat studying habits to keep in mind while you plan out the best ways to tackle your foreign language speaking mission!
- Think in your target language(s). No matter what you’re doing, try thinking of vocabulary only in that language.
- When speaking in a target language, only use that language! Seems simple, but this is often neglected. If you’re an English speaker trying to learn German, do your best to only think of German words when talking aloud. Don’t think of them in English and translate them into German and, above all, don’t ask what the translation is by uttering the English word to your partner!
For example, if you mean to say, “I want to go to the store” in German—which is “Ich möchte in den Laden gehen“—and you only know the words Ich möchte (I want) and Laden (large store) then try to form a sentence with those words as best as you can, even if you know it won’t make complete sense. Try to be create and dance around any unknown words until you get the meaning across. This will teach your brain to be more creative and nimble with the language.
Afterwards, write down what you missed so you can keep practicing.
- Try to speak in other languages as often as possible in everyday life. The goal should be for you to use all the languages you’re learning to speak at least once a day, in order to best familiarize yourself with how words and phrases in those languages are used.
Scribble out to-do lists, grocery lists, notes-to-self and memos in your languages.
Go about your daily routine and narrative everything you’re doing in your target language or languages. Try to keep track of any big gaps in grammar and vocabulary that are necessary to describe your day-to-day life.
- When studying, make it as interactive as possible. This includes singing along to songs in other languages as well as talking to the owner of the authentic ethnic restaurant down the street who only knows a handful of words in your native language. Anything you can do to actively use and play with the languages you’re learning is great for memory.
3. Introduce the sound of music to your study routine
Do you love music? If you answered yes, then did you already know that you can use your beloved music to help you learn how to speak languages faster?
Music and language learning practically go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly or crackers and cheese. Not only does music match up well with language learning (since, you know, music is also a form of language) but it’s believed that incorporating music into your studies aids your concentration and overall brain performance. Music can also be a great tool to help you learn multiple languages, as you can use the lyrics of foreign languages songs as lyrical study guides. The melody will make the language stick better in your brain, and singing along will boost your fluency.
Yes, indeed, if you’re open minded to listening to music in foreign languages, then you can always use music to your language learning advantage.
As you listen, pay close attention and do your best to follow along with the singer while keeping your ear out for exactly how they pronounce their words. Eventually, with time and lots of practice, you’ll actually be understanding what they’re saying including how they pronounce every syllable. After that, it’s only a matter of time and practice before those same natural, authentic sounds start rolling smoothly off your own tongue.
If you’re ready to get started on effectively merging music and language speaking together, then whip out your iPod (or whichever device you use to listen to music), find some foreign songs that you love and get to singing.
Try finding some karaoke style songs—which have only music, no words—and keep those too. Then, when you’re ready, you can start trying to sing solo!
4. Choose languages that have similar structures
This is a great secret strategy if you haven’t chosen which languages you want to study yet, or still have room to add one more to your study schedule.
When it comes to learning how to speak multiple languages fluently, a good strategy to implement is to learn languages that fall under the same language family, which are groups of languages that are linguistically linked based on one ancestral mother language. This ancestral tongue is commonly known as the proto-language.
For example, if you’re trying to learn how to speak Spanish but you know in your heart that Spanish isn’t the only language you want to learn how to speak, then it might be a good idea to learn a language with a similar structure, such as French or Italian, instead of something vastly different such as Swahili or Japanese.
In this case, Spanish falls into the same Indo-European Romantic language category as French and Italian, so these languages will be easier to learn at the same time. The grammar style and all the vocabulary will be very similar—you’ll just need pay attention to the handful of differences!
5. Be patient and don’t give up!
Out of all the secrets on this list, this might be the most valuable secret of all.
Having both patience and perseverance is the key to successfully teaching yourself how to speak any language.
Some might grasp language lessons faster than others, but everyone is different. There’s a chance that some lessons will come much harder than others, and some will require a great deal of effort to really learn.
No matter how fast or how slow you learn, it’s always important to remember to take your time, be kind to yourself and never give up.
A few tips to help you maintain a good sense of patience while you encounter hurdles on your language learning journey are:
- taking deep breaths
- pacing yourself
- stopping study sessions when you become overly frustrated
- realizing that everyone messes up
- chatting about issues with fellow language learners
- asking questions in online forums
- setting realistic and reasonable goals
Remember: It’s great to be enthusiastic, but if you’re impatient and always chomping at the bit to reach the next lesson, then this could turn into frustration. You may be harming yourself in the long run rather than helping.
6. Go for quality, not quantity
We understand. You like to show off your rad language skills by saying different phrases in other languages to impress your friends, family or even potential love interest.
You may not know a thing about Spanish, but if you say to someone, “te ves hermosa esta noche,” which is English for “you look lovely tonight,” then you’ll probably get the attention you seek.
While this is great, make sure that you go for quality, not quantity, as best as you can while learning to speak different languages. This means that while learning how to speak several languages at once, try to become as fluent in the languages you’re learning as possible instead of just trying to learn bits and pieces of many, many more languages. By doing so, you’ll really be able to engage in deep and meaningful conversations with others instead of being limited to only short phrases that may or may not lead anything.
In other words, if you don’t want to end up like this:
make sure that you put in the work to speak the language as fluently as you can. It’ll probably save you from some embarrassing situations.
And, hey, psst.
Did you know that there are some tricks to prevent mixing up languages in your head or in your speech? Try thinking in the languages you’re learning and using slightly different voices for each languages. Adopt specific faces for different languages. These are all great ways to help you speak various languages without mixing them up. These are just training wheels though—after a while you can kick them off and speak using your average voice and average facial expressions.
7. Cultivate passion
Having strong passion and drive for your languages sets the foundation for becoming a fluent multilingual.
No matter what the reason is that you choose to become bilingual, trilingual or a full-on polyglot, it’s important to still feel eagerness and enjoyment after days, months and years of intensive learning. Doing so will most likely keep you motivated enough to get the results you want.
That means you need to do what you want, when you want. If you’re only squeezing in a little study time at obscenely early or late hours, it will be hard to learn well and stick to your learning plan. Give yourself a time slot during the day that’s conducive to learning.
And if you like learning by the book that’s perfectly fine, but if you’d much rather learn by watching K-Pop videos, or if you find yourself procrastinating language study by watching news clips, then that’s okay too! Just have fun, digest as much content in foreign languages as possible, and you’ll soon find that this everyday language habit is quite easy to stick to.
8. Don’t go it alone
When it comes to being skillful at anything, whether that be cooking, hockey or mastering foreign languages, you can’t go wrong when you’re learning from the best.
Experience is the best teacher, but other people with experience, like these guys right here, can be the messengers to help guide you by sharing their most effective methods and making the whole process more painless.
If you’d rather explore how to learn languages with someone who’s on the same level as you though, instead of finding someone like a mentor or tutor, try finding language exchange partners. These will be people who are fluent in the language you’re trying to learn but are beginners in the language that you speak natively.
The more partners you have, the better you’ll be exposed to the language and the unique culture enriched with the language. For example, if you’re trying to learn how to speak Dutch, Arabic and Portuguese at the same time, then start finding people who are natives in those specific languages who are willing to work with you to help you learn whether in person or online. In exchange, you can help them out with English or any other language you know natively and that they want to learn.
Those are the eight secrets we’ve got to aid you towards fluency in any language you choose to study—even when juggling multiple languages at once.
Good luck on your language learning journey!
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You get a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.