The secrets of learning a new language | Lýdia Machová


I love learning foreign languages. In fact, I love it so much that I like
to learn a new language every two years, currently working on my eighth one. When people find that out about me,
they always ask me, “How do you do that? What’s your secret?” And to be honest, for many years,
my answer would be, “I don’t know. I simply
love learning languages.” But people were never
happy with that answer. They wanted to know why they are spending
years trying to learn even one language, never achieving fluency, and here I come, learning
one language after another. They wanted to know
the secret of polyglots, people who speak a lot of languages. And that made me wonder, too, how do actually other polyglots do it? What do we have in common? And what is it that enables us to learn languages
so much faster than other people? I decided to meet other people
like me and find that out. The best place to meet a lot of polyglots is an event where hundreds
of language lovers meet in one place
to practice their languages. There are several such polyglot events
organized all around the world, and so I decided to go there and ask polyglots
about the methods that they use. And so I met Benny from Ireland, who told me that his method
is to start speaking from day one. He learns a few phrases
from a travel phrasebook and goes to meet native speakers and starts having conversations
with them right away. He doesn’t mind making
even 200 mistakes a day, because that’s how he learns,
based on the feedback. And the best thing is, he doesn’t
even need to travel a lot today, because you can easily have
conversations with native speakers from the comfort of
your living room, using websites. I also met Lucas from Brazil who had a really interesting
method to learn Russian. He simply added a hundred random
Russian speakers on Skype as friends, and then he opened
a chat window with one of them and wrote “Hi” in Russian. And the person replied, “Hi, how are you?” Lucas copied this and put it
into a text window with another person, and the person replied,
“I’m fine, thank you, and how are you?” Lucas copied this
back to the first person, and in this way, he had two strangers
have a conversation with each other without knowing about it. (Laughter) And soon he would start typing himself, because he had so many
of these conversations that he figured out how
the Russian conversation usually starts. What an ingenious method, right? And then I met polyglots who always start
by imitating sounds of the language, and others who always learn the 500
most frequent words of the language, and yet others who always start
by reading about the grammar. If I asked a hundred different polyglots, I heard a hundred different
approaches to learning languages. Everybody seems to have a unique way
they learn a language, and yet we all come to the same result
of speaking several languages fluently. And as I was listening to these polyglots
telling me about their methods, it suddenly dawned on me: the one thing we all have in common is that we simply found ways to enjoy
the language-learning process. All of these polyglots
were talking about language learning as if it was great fun. You should have seen their faces when they were showing me
their colorful grammar charts and their carefully handmade flash cards, and their statistics
about learning vocabulary using apps, or even how they love to cook
based on recipes in a foreign language. All of them use different methods, but they always make sure
it’s something that they personally enjoy. I realized that this is actually
how I learn languages myself. When I was learning Spanish,
I was bored with the text in the textbook. I mean, who wants to read about Jose asking about the directions
to the train station. Right? I wanted to read “Harry Potter” instead, because that was
my favorite book as a child, and I have read it many times. So I got the Spanish translation
of “Harry Potter” and started reading, and sure enough, I didn’t understand
almost anything at the beginning, but I kept on reading
because I loved the book, and by the end of the book, I was able
to follow it almost without any problems. And the same thing happened
when I was learning German. I decided to watch “Friends,”
my favorite sitcom, in German, and again, at the beginning
it was all just gibberish. I didn’t know where one word finished
and another one started, but I kept on watching every day
because it’s “Friends.” I can watch it in any language.
I love it so much. And after the second or third season, seriously, the dialogue
started to make sense. I only realized this
after meeting other polyglots. We are no geniuses and we have no shortcut
to learning languages. We simply found ways
how to enjoy the process, how to turn language learning
from a boring school subject into a pleasant activity
which you don’t mind doing every day. If you don’t like writing
words down on paper, you can always type them in an app. If you don’t like listening
to boring textbook material, find interesting content on YouTube
or in podcasts for any language. If you’re a more introverted person and you can’t imagine speaking
to native speakers right away, you can apply the method of self-talk. You can talk to yourself
in the comfort of your room, describing your plans for the weekend,
how your day has been, or even take a random
picture from your phone and describe the picture
to your imaginary friend. This is how polyglots learn languages, and the best news is,
it’s available to anyone who is willing to take the learning
into their own hands. So meeting other polyglots
helped me realize that it is really crucial
to find enjoyment in the process of learning languages, but also that joy in itself is not enough. If you want to achieve fluency
in a foreign language, you’ll also need to apply
three more principles. First of all, you’ll need
effective methods. If you try to memorize a list of words
for a test tomorrow, the words will be stored
in your short-term memory and you’ll forget them after a few days. If you, however,
want to keep words long term, you need to revise them
in the course of a few days repeatedly using the so-called space repetition. You can use apps which are based
on this system such as Anki or Memrise, or you can write lists of word
in a notebook using the Goldlist method, which is also very popular
with many polyglots. If you’re not sure which methods are
effective and what is available out there, just check out polyglots’
YouTube channels and websites and get inspiration from them. If it works for them,
it will most probably work for you too. The third principle to follow is to create a system in your learning. We’re all very busy and no one
really has time to learn a language today. But we can create that time
if we just plan a bit ahead. Can you wake up 15 minutes earlier
than you normally do? That would be the perfect time
to revise some vocabulary. Can you listen to a podcast
on your way to work while driving? Well, that would be great
to get some listening experience. There are so many things we can do
without even planning that extra time, such as listening to podcasts
on our way to work or doing our household chores. The important thing is
to create a plan in the learning. “I will practice speaking
every Tuesday and Thursday with a friend for 20 minutes. I will listen to a YouTube video
while having breakfast.” If you create a system in your learning, you don’t need to find that extra time, because it will become
a part of your everyday life. And finally, if you want to learn
a language fluently, you need also a bit of patience. It’s not possible to learn
a language within two months, but it’s definitely possible to make
a visible improvement in two months, if you learn in small chunks every day
in a way that you enjoy. And there is nothing
that motivates us more than our own success. I vividly remember the moment when I understood the first joke
in German when watching “Friends.” I was so happy and motivated that I just kept on watching that day
two more episodes, and as I kept watching, I had more and more of those moments
of understanding, these little victories, and step by step, I got to a level
where I could use the language freely and fluently to express anything. This is a wonderful feeling. I can’t get enough of that feeling, and that’s why I learn
a language every two years. So this is the whole polyglot secret. Find effective methods
which you can use systematically over the period of some time
in a way which you enjoy, and this is how polyglots learn
languages within months, not years. Now, some of you may be thinking, “That’s all very nice
to enjoy language learning, but isn’t the real secret
that you polyglots are just super talented
and most of us aren’t?” Well, there’s one thing
I haven’t told you about Benny and Lucas. Benny had 11 years of Irish Gaelic
and five years of German at school. He couldn’t speak them
at all when graduating. Up to the age of 21, he thought
he didn’t have the language gene and he could not speak another language. Then he started to look
for his way of learning languages, which was speaking to native speakers
and getting feedback from them, and today Benny can easily
have a conversation in 10 languages. Lucas tried to learn English
at school for 10 years. He was one of the worst students in class. His friends even made fun of him and gave him a Russian textbook as a joke because they thought he would never
learn that language, or any language. And then Lucas started
to experiment with methods, looking for his own way to learn, for example, by having Skype chat
conversations with strangers. And after just 10 years, Lucas is able to speak
11 languages fluently. Does that sound like a miracle? Well, I see such miracles
every single day. As a language mentor, I help people learn
languages by themselves, and I see this every day. People struggle with language learning
for five, 10, even 20 years, and then they suddenly take
their learning into their own hands, start using materials which they enjoy,
more effective methods, or they start tracking their learning so that they can appreciate
their own progress, and that’s when suddenly they magically find the language talent
that they were missing all their lives. So if you’ve also tried
to learn a language and you gave up,
thinking it’s too difficult or you don’t have the language talent, give it another try. Maybe you’re also
just one enjoyable method away from learning that language fluently. Maybe you’re just one method away
from becoming a polyglot. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The secrets of learning a new language | Lýdia Machová

  1. Desde pequeno tive vontade de aprender uma língua estrangeira além das ensinadas na escola (inglês e alemão). Escolhi aprender português por conta própria porque sempre achava bem exótico e agora estou escrevendo este comentário do meu escritório no Brasil 😉

    Falar outro idioma traz inúmeras vantagens para diversas áreas da vida!
    P.S. Minha língua materna é o russo. Quem quiser praticar, sejam bem-vindos!

  2. I enjoyed this video so much!!! Thank you, TED talk and Lydiá. I am currently learning Italian and this video just motivated me even more❤ Grazie Mille!

  3. I'm come from Vietnam,let me tell you my story.Vietnamese students have to learn English as an subject in their school,we always have to get good grades at school.The important things is:"We do it well" BUT we don't use it well,i know alot of students learned English for more than 12 years and they only can speak basics phrases,but about writing and grammar skills and analysis skills:better than a native English speaking.I hope Vietnam education about English will be more modern day by day.Also thank you for reading my comments =)))

  4. l need a friend to practice my English.Can we practice together?lf you want to learn Turkish,l also teach you.

  5. I watch movies and series in their original language with English subtitles and it helps a lot!

  6. i think these are not secrets but natural features of the language learning process

  7. i learn english and i know turkish if you are learning turkish i help you and you help me 🙂 for english add me fb ulker zade

  8. So inspired, I have learned English for 20 years. But I felt stressed because I thought it is too difficult for me and I doubted myself.
    But now, I start to love it, accept it and change the mind of negative thinking.
    I find fun now.
    Really enjoying the communication with other English speakers. They always give me innovative views from various perspectives.

  9. i learn english from watching the lord of the rings trilogy and grey's anatomy

  10. You can learn to speak several languages, but not necessarily write in them. That's okay! That's a whole other endeavor. Many, maybe most, people have little to no writing abilities, even in their native language.

  11. I love learning English. Everyday I try my best tao improve my English skill but i face some problems with speaking skill, I am a shy girl so i afraid communicate with other English learners. What should I do if i want to improve English skill?

  12. Wouldn't Russian would require that the guy actually learn the script too?

  13. I want speak English but I don't know how to do it. Does anyone want to speak English to me?

  14. Hey , Is there anyone who is looking for partner to talk in English and practise then plz let me know . Thnx in advance : )

  15. my method is simple I love listening to music in foreign language I love the sounds of the words I had learned most of my English from music I just pick any song listed and reach later to meaning of specific words in lyrics with English I also started to add Spanish language too

  16. Ur speech is so effective and influcing ..u give me confidence.. I wish i were with the audience to applaud.. Those great words of urs ..they pushing to go further and spend more time studying ..thx a lot

  17. Learning a new language is always different from one to another and you should never compare yourself to others, some people learn fast some people aren’t. It always takes a lot of time, effort, patience and of course money to learn. You have to have passion and courage to speak fluently. And when you already know the language, keep learning, never stop learning, every day is a new word to learn.

  18. For me, I find it easy to learn language by watching or listening to a certain language. But the commom barrier that kept me to learn it fully is when the language uses characters. It is very hard for me to keep up when reading stuffs. That why I ended up speaking bits of the language but can't make up a sentence or start a conversation. Quite frustrating to me.

  19. "Describe a picture to your imaginary friend" killed me! XD

  20. I learned counting number in French in couple weeks, now i can count four digits number in French.

  21. U'r amazing .. I feel that wonderful feeling every day in every new word I learn

  22. I always watched turkish series and suddenly I could understand but not speak 😂

  23. Lýdia Machová thanks for sharing your video. It motivated me to continue studying and learning languages.
    I studied languages such as English, French, Italian, but I haven´t been practicing ago. Consequently, I´ve lost my languages skills. In the future, I want to study German and LSM also.

    This video is useful to the polyglot person or wants to be it.

  24. Well let me start with the method right here; anyone who can teach me a little japanese? I'm in the process of learning the first "alphabet" hiragana and I want to learn to speak too. Can someone help me there? 😀

  25. I enjoy her explanation very much.. when i was a kid, i always dream to speak in many languages, so i can make friend from all over the world.. this video makes me want pursuit that dream again.. 💜

  26. I know how to speak physically American language, but I speak or understand others without knowing how or why.

  27. her tonality and sound is very satisfying and clear i loved the way she explains and didn't feel the time passed watching it

  28. So your saying the simplest way to learn a language is to enjoy it? 4:43

  29. It is amazing. I loved this video. It motivates me a lot💙 Thank you very much😍

  30. You are great.having such beautiful techniques and thanks for sharing your secret and methods to the aspirants of new learners and of course thank you TED team

  31. It is a great video because the same happened to me when I was learning English and now I am hoing to use the same methods to learn French.

  32. I have been learning English for 1 year.Even though I know a lot of words , grammar rules ,phrases and so on , I can not speak confidently.I think that It is because I don`t use words what I know , I don`t speak in English too much. I need partners…………

  33. The first step is wanting to learn. I've known friends who simply DO NOT WANT to learn the language of the country they are at and indeed they don't learn anything.

  34. You enjoy it because you are naturally good at it. My guess is it is genetic any polyglots are wired differently.

  35. Thanks for the tips (advices) I have been learning French on youtube and by subscription since April 2019 and enjoying it.

  36. Lýdia thank you for your speech. I have been learning English a lot of years, but a few months ago I have started to be more concentrated and I made my own system how to learn English more effective. My system is similar your system, but I need more patience. This is my first public comment. Thank you for your voice and thank you for your motivation. I'm going to continue with my education.

  37. i've been asked all my life about how i learned the languages that i know and i would say i don't know i'm just talented but really i enjoyed cartoon and songs and movies and books i learn for arts and to hear more of human imagination ❤️

  38. Is there anyone to help me in learning English language, please?

  39. I have my own way for learning new languages. First get a basic idea of the language and how to pronounce letters and some words. Second, Make a list of the most important 100 verbs, 100 adjectives, 100 nouns, 50 adverbs.. then mix all these together to make a cake lol just kidding 🙂 . Make a list of colors, numbers, etc. Put all these lists in front of you, then read basic, easy sentences from the internet and listen to how they are pronounced! Now, try to get a good idea to make sentences out of these lists (Grammar) .. Soon enough, you will be able to have full conversations with native speaks and express yourself well, simply because these lists are the most important words that everyone needs. Now, gradually, you will learn more words and grammars automatically as you interact with native speaks. I hope you find this way beneficial 😀

  40. I would like to know when is the right time to start learning new languages? Is there any way to learn multiple languages fluently and grammatically correct at once? Sincerely

  41. It took me 4 years to learn english. I still have work to do. Especially gramar, but i can keep normal conversation..even high level one. Everything thaks to movies, youtube and Music. Thank you.

  42. 2:04 brasileiros precisam ser estudados, brasilian people need be studied. Kkkkk

  43. Hi, my name is David, and i am from Odessa, Black Sea, Ukraine.I am satisfying by watching this video, now I learning English.Moreover, I watched this video without barrier's and problems.I understood 94% information.I'm funny!!!!

  44. Zaujimave. Aj ked znalost 5-6 jazykov nie je vobec vynimocna ani teraz, ani v historii. Polyglotom je clovek so znalostou (perfektnou) aspon 40 jazykov. Zatial maximum na Slovensku je znalost 52 jazykov aktivne.

  45. This video is a bit curious! You didn't achive a good english accent!

  46. If Emma Watson and Rose Leslie (who played Ygritte from GOT) had a baby…

  47. Still working on my Korean and Spanish! Being a polyglot is the goal ☺️

  48. I decided to learn Spanish and methods in the video are great so i cant wait to try them out, but another amazing thing which i realised in the end of the video was that you are talking in english ( my fluent language is Polish) and I was listening to you without any troubles and translations in my head!!!

  49. As everything in life, if you enjoy not just the result but the whole process, you will be successful

  50. I wouldn’t call myself a polyglot but I can say “hello” in 10 different languages and currently I can read Spanish, and korean fluently and I’m currently learning Chinese. I started learning languages because I want to travel and over time I fell in love with learning them! I think we definitely all have our own methods for learning. I’m hoping that Chinese will become my first language that I can be fluent in when I speak it.

  51. i watched narcos and el chapo. the only spanish words i learn are puta and pendejos 🙂

  52. C'est moi qu' écrit cette phrase. J'ai étudie français il y a deux semaines. Je ne sais pas si ma phrase est exacte. J'èspere je pourrai parler mieux français bientôt

  53. Nice video! But the fun is one of the most important thing in learning a new language I guess…

  54. Reading the comments, it seems to be common to speak more than 2 languages in most countries. I'm so impressed. I mean, as a japanese, most of us can't even understand English ( Even Chinese and Korean speaks better English than us ). I'm ashamed….  Anyway, I want to learn French or Spanish.

  55. It was all going so well until she showed all the FLAGS of the countries Lucas, who is BRAZILIAN , speaks the languages of. The Brazilian flag was not there! Misleading talk !

  56. I got another method which I didn't try but I imagine that it can work, so you if you love for exapmple english you can learn let's say Italian by being taught by native who can speak Italian perfectly 🙂

  57. It is important to discover what kind of learner we are. Our identity as learner. We are all different. Very good talk!

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