After studying Russian for 4 years, the most I could tell was - “ya nipanimaju paruski”, which means “I don’t understand Russian”. This was 4 years ago.
Since then I’ve learned 3 foreign languages. Spanish in 2.5months. German in 4 months. Italian in 11 days (I had an advantage of knowing Spanish). I didn't even bother learning Portuguese, since I was able to communicate myself in Portunhol when I lived in Brazil.
While learning these languages I managed to put it into a very predictable process. A process that would allow anyone to learn a language in 2-3 months if executed correctly.
And in this article, I’m going to explain this process.
I have to confess though. These concepts were not created by me, but borrowed by various language learners and put into my own unique process.
And that’s how I would tell you to do it. Take what you like, leave what you don’t like and create your own language learning process.
Table of Contents
No matter which language it is - there’s only a handful of words, and phrases you’re using on a daily basis.
In English, we only use no more than 600 words 80% of our time.
In my case it’s more like 90/10, as I don’t pay too much attention to expanding my vocabulary in my target language.
Only when I move to a passive learning phase, that’s when I expand my vocabulary outside of these 800 words.
In any case, knowing this, it’s much easier to tackle the language. Out of hundreds thousands words that there are, there are only a few hundred words we need to remember.
It makes it so much easier to learn them.
Michel has dissected the language into the smallest and most important pieces. He has figured out these most common words and has connected them to the English language to make it easier to remember.
How much easier can it be?
He has also analyzed language patterns and explained them in very memorable and creative ways. I can still remember some of the grammar lessons he has taught me in Spanish.
To wrap things up - Michel Thomas is my go-to virtual teacher whenever I begin to learn a language.
And his method represents 80/20 at its best.
P.S. Language Transfer is the closest thing to Michel Thomas that I've found and is free.
When I was thinking about why I did not know anything in Russian, it was definitely it.
We were memorizing words, sometimes reading and trying to crack grammar, but it never worked out.
After 4 years of studying the language I could not say more than that “I don’t understand this language” in Russian.
When I look back to it - we never actually practiced the language.
Whenever we were asked to speak in the language, we would get super conscious about our pronunciation, would not want to make mistakes and would lack vocabulary.
Yet, when I started learning Spanish - I knew I had to change it and booked 5 speaking sessions via . I paid for it upfront, so that I wouldn’t want to quit and come up with a bullshit excuse not to attend.
After listening to Michel Thomas tapes for almost 2 weeks, I had a good grasp of the language, knew all the most important words and phrases.
I started jumping on calls and would struggle. I mean… Really struggle.
I would have google translate in front of me, and translate most of the things. I would ask my language buddy to translate most of his words in English and I would read from my notebook…
My brain was boiling after every 30min session I had.
If I hadn’t paid for the sessions, I’m not sure if I had gone any further. But because there was a commitment from my side (and committing with money is a pretty good beginning), I went ahead…
And you know what?
After another 5 sessions - I was less terrible. Small win, but a very sweet one.
This one was another reason why I didn’t learn Russian at school.
We had only 2 classes per week 45 min each. That means we were studying around 90 mins every week and around 360 minutes every month.
If I did my homework (which I never did), it would have probably gone over 500 minutes per month.
9 months of studying every year equal to 4500 minutes per year.
Depending on the language it usually takes around ~1000 HOURS to reach a conversational level in any language.
So over 4 years of time, I accumulated only around 300 hours of studying. Which means I got over the A1 or A2 level (supposedly) in these 4 years.
And with that… You’re pretty much useless...
Combine it with lack of practice, it means - ZERO.
So the change I made learning new languages was...
I crammed my studying into the first 2-4months so I would get to B1-B2 level so that I could learn more passively.
By passively I mean - by overhearing conversations, reading books, watching TV series or listening to the podcasts.
I have to mention it to you though… These first 2 - 3 months will be a big struggle.
You’ll have doubts whether you’re able to learn a new language, whether you have enough brain capacity… You’ll question the methods.
It’s like any other new skill you’re going to learn.
The “old” you will drag you back to stay in the comfort zone and not go too far away from it.
You’ll need quite a bit of fuel to overcome this initial inertia… But once you do, you can start “floating” in space.
When I started learning Spanish, I had only less than 2 months to learn it before my University restarted.
I knew I had very little time, and needed to study with intensity. Knowing myself well enough, I knew I was able to put in 4-5hours of studying everyday and I knew I had enough energy to sustain it for at least 2 months.
Which brings me to another point…
A recent question I started to use setting goals:
“What if I had a gun pointing to your head and told you to have to achieve this goal in 6 months? What would you do?”
This was the exact situation I was in.
I had 2 months and I had no other option - I had to take off and make sure in a “floating” state by the time I started my University.
I started thinking all the creative ways I can be incorporating language learning into my already tight schedule (I was preparing for a marathon, going to the gym, and working 8 hours per day).
So I decided to dedicate the first and last 30mins of my day to learning vocabulary.
While going to work, gym, or when jogging - I would listen to either Michel Thomas or books in Spanish.
Whenever I was back at home, I would have a 30min session with my language buddies.
What I didn’t do though - I was not tracking my progress on how well I’m doing.
The reason for that?
I knew it was pretty damn hard to measure success in language learning. I didn’t want to hurt my morale by doing the tests, at least for these 2 months.
So I had this overarching goal - reach B1 in less than 2 months. I broke it down to how many minutes of each activity it would take me to reach this level.
I did it on an excel spreadsheet and tracked the activities.
Duolingo - 2x30mins/day
AnkiDroid - 30min (spaced repetition/flashcard) /day
Listening - 60mins/day
Talking - 30-60min (depending on the time I had).
Fun - 30-60min. Reading books, watching tv series.
Journaling - 30mins/day.
I would mark boxes green if I completed the activities and red if I didn’t.
I created this accountability system and loved following it. It allowed me to be accountable, yet not too harsh on myself if I didn't have a certain level of fluency by some point.
If I did 80% of the activities everyday - I was more than satisfied as I knew I was on the way to fluency.
This is a very different approach than the one I was taught at school.
Back at school, I was afraid of making any mistakes.
When starting learning new languages, I had to throw out my old set of beliefs and replace them with new ones.
Vulnerability isn’t something that we were taught at school, but if you want to learn a language quickly - that’s the only way to go.
My goal was to make as many mistakes as I could, so I could learn much quicker.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve made such ridiculous mistakes, that I wanted to hide under the sheets.. But instead, I laughed together with my language buddies…
And what’s interesting - I learned the quickest from these ridiculous mistakes. They were stamped in my brain.
Later on I took the exact same approach teaching others business related things.
Make more mistakes - as fast as possible and learn from them.
Taking on this piece of advice you can excel in any area of life.
People are super nice to each other. Especially when you’re learning their language.
Whenever they hear a mistake, they smile, but don’t tell you anything.
So to combat that - I was making sure to tell everyone that whenever I made a mistake - I wanted them to tell me that.
How else would I learn?
Otherwise, I would keep repeating the same mistake over and over again, without realizing I’m doing something wrong.
I would much rather be told I don’t know something than be living my life thinking I’m doing everything right.
If language learning isn’t fun - it’s not very likely you’re going to stick with it for a long time.
From learning Russian in the classroom I learned the way NOT to learn the language.
Learning Spanish, I flipped it completely. Whenever I had to choose books to read - I would read about what I love - football. I put some self-development books into the mix as they were pretty easy to read and I had them on my to-read list in any case.
I watched football, tv series and movies that I would normally watch in my chosen language. In other words - I was doing everything in the language that I would normally do in English or Lithuanian.
What I added was - music & singing along with it.
(I didn’t do it with German though, as I couldn’t find any music I would enjoy. Sorry German friends)
I've been writing my journal daily (with a few exceptions) for over 7 years.
It was something I learned from my great mentor (who I haven’t met) - Jim Rohn.
He was insisting on keeping journals on everything.
There are many benefits of doing that and if you want to learn more about it - here’s the article I wrote more about it.
However, I was doing it in English & knew it would help me if I started writing in my chosen languages.
So every evening I would write for 15-20mins about my day.
I would have a list of words, phrases I would want to include in it. They were the ones that I would get stuck with when working on my vocabulary via DuoLingo.
While trying to incorporate these words/phrases I had to be thinking in this language, so it worked very similarly to speaking. Just without direct feedback.
This is not the most practical tip I can give you, but if you have a chance - it certainly helps.
So when I started learning Spanish - I decided to surround myself with Spanish people. I found a few language exchange groups in Southampton (where I lived at that moment) and went to every one of them.
I also posted on Facebook groups that I was looking to help Spanish people to practice English and vice versa.
My network of Spanish friends in Southampton expanded significantly and then it happened…
I found a Spanish girlfriend, with whom I was able to practice my language skills every day.
The relationship didn’t last long… But enough for me to improve my Spanish significantly. (the Spanish temper was way too much for me to handle)
But it gave me so much practice and opened up the doors to understand the Spanish culture and people.
I didn’t do the same with German or Italian, but thought it was worth mentioning it here.
It was Friday.
By that time I was studying for 4-5 hours daily for the last 1.5monts. And the last conversation I had with my language buddy gave me no reason to be happy about it.
I couldn’t remember even the most simple phrases, and couldn’t understand him… What’s worse - I started to doubt myself.
“Do I really think I can learn a language so quickly?”
“Maybe these methods don’t work… A bunch of bullshit”
So I decided to leave it for a weekend and not be doing anything related to language learning.
Instead, I went to a SPA, watched football and did nothing. I was being as lazy as I could…
I swear… On Monday I felt as if I was Neo, getting a cable to the back of my head and installing a new skill... I suddenly could talk, write and even think in Spanish!
It was for sure the turning point & I understood that whenever my brain is melting and I can’t anything else - I achieved my goal.
That’s what I was aiming for learning other languages or learning completely new skills.
Another mistake that we were repeating at school - we were learning things that we would not use often…
Or if at all…
Instead, choose the topics you’re talking about everyday NOW and be learning about them in your chosen language.
I remember when I started learning German and hired a teacher to help me out with grammar and give me some guidelines on the language itself.
Around 10 lessons in - she gave me a list of words she wanted me to talk about.
I refused & told her I’ll not be learning these words.
They were about car parts.
They were not simple words like a tire, window, but rather parts of the engine…
I didn’t know these words in my own native language, nor did I know them in English… Nor did I intended to use them.
And this is usually how I was evaluating which words I want to learn.
If I didn’t know them in English - it was a 100% no-go.
It’s super important in the beginning to ONLY learn the words you’ll be using. Our brain doesn’t have an unlimited capacity and you for sure don’t want to put vocabulary you’ll not use in it.
Even though I knew classes were a waste of time with my previous experience - I still wanted to take them.
To feel part of the group, and learn together.
Fortunately, I didn’t have enough money to move to another country, pay for the classes and accommodation.
Class environment is the most ineffective to learn a language.
Even though classes are usually split into levels - not everyone is equal and not everyone makes the same mistakes or has a certain vocabulary…
Instead, take 1v1 classes, which are far more effective, and can skyrocket your learning.
However, don’t ever assume that your teacher knows the best way for you to learn it. Don’t give away control to someone else. Discover how you learn best yourself and design a learning plan accordingly.
Otherwise you’ll be learning about car parts, or stuff that you’ll never use (and forgot within a days).
Learning a new language, or any skill is a difficult task.
You’re going to make many mistakes on a daily basis or even on an hourly basis.
It’s easy to start and pity yourself.
“You’re not smart” “You can’t learn such a simple thing…” “You can’t stay disciplined for a few days…”
I’m experiencing this even now.
But then I go back and think about what I’ve achieved, smile and then tell these magic words to myself:
“I LOVE MYSELF”.
And that self-criticism evaporates and enthusiasm takes place.
This the most important tip I can give you not only in language learning, but going through life, trying new ventures, and living your unique life.
There's a great book on this topic by Kamal Ravikant
As with melting your brain - it can seem that you’re not learning much and the progress you’re making is way too little.
At some point you'll doubt youself and question whether you can learn the language in 2-3 months.
I felt I’ll never learn the language. Especially if you tend to measure results constantly, it’s easy to fall into this trap.
Instead, have a look at what you’ve achieved since you started learning the language. Are you better than you were 2 weeks ago?
If so - you’re on the right track.
There’s nothing else to worry about, you’ll get there.
Your brain will play a trick on you saying everything you do is wrong - but it isn’t. It’s slowly processing the information you’re feeding your brain. It will one day be there.
There are multiple ways of learning new vocabulary.
I’ve mentioned DuoLingo and AnkiDroid so far.
There’s also a method I used (though not extensively) and enjoyed it - mnemonics.
Using mnemonics means associating words, phrases to something more memorable & creating stories with it.
I was not making stories myself (although there are lots of people who are very very successful with it and claim to be able to learn language even quicker), I chose to use already created mnemonics via this .
An easy way to expand your repertoar of learning.
If you’re going to start talking very early on - which I recommend, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll not have a huge vocabulary to fall back on.
What do you do in that case?
It actually relates back to embracing the mistakes and being able to have a good laugh at yourself.
But even when you guess, there’s a very big chance you’ll be right.
Especially if you’re an English speaker learning one of the romance languages like Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese or Romanian.
There are sooo many similar words.
As I was writing this, I looked around my table and could identify 5 items that are super English and Spanish. Here they are:
Sofa - sofá
Mobile - móvil
Coffee - café
Incense - incienso
Car - carro
It doesn’t stop with nouns. The same goes with verbs, adjectives and other parts of the language.
And if you follow my advice, Michel Thomas will pretty much give you all them.
For those of you who are not used to doing that - it might seem a bit strange.
Especially when you do that in public.
And actually - Michel Thomas audio course encourages that too.
Don’t be scared to do it. The more you repeat it in your head, the easier it will be to remember once the time comes to practice your skills.
I was thinking about what I say during the conversation when I meet my teacher or a Spanish speaking friend.
When you study a language so intensively, you’ll inevitably experience this as you want all your thoughts go into the language.
The internal dialogue you have with yourself is replaced with a new language.
It could actually be the first of this list.
Don’t get me wrong, language learning is a difficult thing, and there will be times when the going gets hard.
That shouldn’t discourage you from doing.
However, what helps is when you have your why you’re learning the language. Without it, I doubt I would’ve learned 3 languages.
Here are some of the reasons why I wanted to learn Spanish:
Reasons for learning Italian, and German were pretty much the same - except the climate.
Additionally, I wanted to master a skill to learn things quickly - a skill that has helped me greatly in business.
Expensive you might say.
Well, when I was traveling, my budget was only 500e/month.
My first workaway experience was in Gran Canaria, where I was painting beds, and doing other things for 16hours/week.
For that I was able to live with other “workawayers”, practice the language, and live 2mins from an awesome beach.
Since then I did another 2 workaway experiences. One in Sevilla working at the hostel, and another in Italy, where I was working at the vineyard.
The Italian experience though didn’t take me that long, as the internet wasn’t great & I wasn't able to work from there.
When I moved to live in Madrid, I was astonished by the beauty of the girls who were living there.
I was going out every couple of days.
It was very exotic for Spanish girls to see a tall, blond, blue-eyed European talking to them in Spanish.
What they liked even more was the phrases I learned.
Here’s my favorite one:
“Me gustaría ser baldosa para besar el suelo que pisas”. Translation: “I would like to be a tile so you could step on me”.
Silly phrase, which I kept repeating to every girl I started talking to in the club.
It got me more dates than I could go to.
Because I was doing it so often, I had the entire conversation thought out and knew exactly how these girls are going to respond.
It made it much easier for me to get their numbers.
No, you don’t have to live in a country to completely immerse into the culture.
It certainly helps, but it’s not the only way.
When I was living in Southampton, I was able to immerse myself in the culture pretty easily.
I arranged meetings with people via Facebook groups, went to language exchange groups, sang and danced to the popular hits at home.
I also tried to learn local cuisine & watch series online to understand the language and the culture.
It was slightly more difficult with German, as I didn’t particularly like their music, nor food.
However Spanish, and Italian were lots of fun.
For Spanish - I was listening to bachata (and learned how to dance it later on), as it was slow enough to understand all the words.
Italian - classic Italian music from the 80s.
Portuguese - bossa nova.
You want to have a dictionary at your fingertips at all times.
I can’t count how many times I had to stop in the middle of the road, take my phone out and look up how the word “x” would be in my target language.
Not only you’ll see the word at that moment, you’ll remember it much easier because you’ll remember the location you stopped at to look it up.
I did the exact same thing during the conversations with my language buddies.
Whenever I had classes online - I would simply have google translate in front of me at all times. I would be translating words, phrases, and entire sentences on the go.
My tip though - if you’re looking for a dictionary app, look or one that has verb conjugation, especially if you’re learning a language that is heavy with it.
Whatever subject I’m learning now - be it business, machine learning, attribution models, copywriting - I do it during the first and the last 30mins of the day.
The first 30 mins of the day are the most productive, and my mind is still fresh.
There’s no preoccupation with other things, and my brain is going at 100%.
When I complete these 30mins - I already feel I’ve accomplished something in the day, which is an amazing feeling to have in the beginning of the day.
The last 30 mins of the day is very different. I’m mostly tired and pretty sleepy. However, I found that my brain is able to keep the information I’m giving it. It seems that at night my brain starts processing all the information and putting everything into shelves.
Language learning requires willpower and each one of us has a limited amount of it.
That’s why having a set routine is super important.
What you don’t want to have is having these extra questions in your head: “when should I study? Where should I study?”
Instead, you want to know exactly what times of the day you’re going to do certain things.
Plan your days, & weeks to the detail, yet allow yourself to improvise.
What I was doing - at the end of the day I would go over what I’ve accomplished that day and I would write down in my diary what I wanted to do the following day.
I wrote down the exact time I’m going to be studying a certain thing and & where I’m going to do it.
The following day I would not need to waste my brain power for it and could focus on learning.
Whenever I completed an activity, I would cross it off my to-do list, which would give me a dopamine buzz and focus on the other one.
I’m doing it up to this day.
In fact, I wrote down an article on 77 productivity habits that helped me learn languages, reach 6-figure monthly income & much more.
Back when I was studying these languages, I didn’t understand the impact it will have on my entire life…
Yes, I did learn 3 languages, which allows me to live in far more countries and feel comfortable there (right now I live in Mexico)...
Even more important - I acquired a skill that is transferable to many areas of life…
This skill is learning how to learn and do it damn fast. .
This is the skill that allowed me to reach mid 6-figure personal income, scale an ecommerce business to $2.8M, $3.5M and $6M in monthly revenues…
If you’re curious to know how I transferred these skills into business - read my article here.