Books with covers in colors of flags of Europe countries, laptop and globe on a table in a modern … [+]
How fast can you learn a new language? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Andrew Cohen, Founder & CEO, Brainscape, on Quora:
I was once able to become remarkably conversational in French in less than 3 months, by discovering and using a powerful cognitive science principle that I later refined during my masters degree in educational technology.
That principle is spaced repetition: the process of reviewing concepts in customized intervals of time based on how well you know them. i.e. You review the harder phrases and verb conjugations more often, and the easier ones progressively less often … similar to how you’d do with paper flashcards when you were a kid.
I know that sounds super basic, but it’s literally the secret to optimizing your learning. Using a spaced repetition app like Anki or Brainscape (especially if you add your own flashcards) will ensure that every second is spent precisely attacking your greatest weaknesses, so that your new language skills accumulate by progressively shifting out the “forgetting curve” for each concept.
Each yellow “forgetting curve” i, ii, etc. represents the rate of forgetting after a single exposure to a word or grammatical concept. If you can time each repetition after the perfect interval, then the forgetting curve “flattens” and the concept becomes permanently ingrained.]
Contrast this technique with the lazier strategy of linearly filling out exercise books, playing trivial language games, or watching Univisión and letting the gibberish wash over your ears, and you can see for yourself. It’s night and day! Spaced repetition is the most powerful and underutilized secret to learning pretty much anything.
Assuming you’ve got a decent spaced repetition app setup, then really your true speed of learning ultimately depends on how much time you’re able to put into it.
Immersing yourself in a country or connecting with patient conversation partners—and studying 4 hours a day with a spaced repetition app—can potentially get you semi-fluent in just a matter of weeks. But attempting a more difficult language (Chinese?), with just a short weekly tutor session and minimal daily studying, could take you years or longer. It’s really up to you and your motivation.
If you want to geek out a bit more on the mechanics of language learning (including other core language learning principles like Active Recall and Metacognition), then I recommend checking out my full article “How brain science can help you learn a language faster”. It’s amazing how much we can take advantage of our brain’s natural language acquisition potential if we put real effort into it.
Best of luck with your learning either way!
This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.