Learning a new language (in my opinion) is one of most fascinating, but difficult things to do. I’ll never forget the overwhelming dread that I felt after landing in Nicaragua in 2011, when I realized that I had no ability to communicate, even after taking 6 years of Spanish classes in school. Sure, I remembered some vocab and small phrases, but I couldn’t have a meaningful interaction with anyone past “Hola! ¿Cómo estás?” Fast forward to 2 months later, and I was tutoring at a local elementary school, completely in Spanish. I wasn’t, nor am I currently, perfect when it comes to my Spanish skills. But, how the hell did I learn so much more in 2-3 months than I did in 6 years? The answer lies in actually speaking the language.
With little to no English being spoken, I was forced to start speaking Spanish from day one. Most of my sentences were caveman-like and the equivalent of “How get there?” and “Me need food,” but I was communicating. With each embarrassing exchange – i.e. the time I asked a server if the restaurant accepted dolores (pains) instead of dolares (dollars) – I improved. Without the ability to speak one’s native tongue, the path to learning a new language is much more rapid and direct. Armed with this knowledge, and with an impending trip to Portugal, I decided to see how quickly I could learn Portuguese. (Hint: It’s longer than 1 month.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the option of immersion by way of living in a Portuguese-speaking country, so I was forced to employ other strategies. I’d previously heard about an app called Duolingo from a friend and decided to check it out. For a free app, it’s pretty awesome and makes the learning process fun/interactive. Additionally, lifehacker and serial entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, has invested a few bucks into the program, and mentions it in a few of his blog postings dedicated to language-hacking.
One of Ferriss’ posts actually led me to the very helpful Fluent in Three Months – a blog authored by an Irish guy named Benny, who claims it only takes 3 months to conversational confidence in a new language. Here’s a video of him speaking eight.
Anyhow, Fluent in 3 Months is very promotive of a language exchange website called Italki. Here, one can find partners (free) or teachers (paid) to practice with via Skype – I signed up immediately and friended a few native Portuguese speakers. Equipped with some basic, and I mean basic, Portuguese, I logged into Skype and connected with my new Brasilian language partner. Cue the caveman speak (it felt like I was back in Nicaragua all over again). Three weeks (and multiple Skype sessions) later, I’m feeling pretty good about my ability to at least have basic interactions when I get to Portugal.
My process so far has been:
-Duolingo 2-3x per week for about 20 minutes
-1 Hour Italki/Skype Session 1-2x per week (30 minutes totally in Portuguese/30 in English)
-Listening to Portuguese podcasts and music as often as possible
The Italki sessions are the most beneficial, however, Duolingo helps with my vocab, and the podcasts/music are my way of mimicking “immersion.” Anything audio related also helps by showcasing correct pronunciation, which is crucial in the nascent stages of language learning.
I’ll check back in after my trip, and I’m sure that I’ll have some embarrassing stories to share with you. Tchau!