Learn German faster and smarter: brilliant insights from Ted Talks

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There are a bunch of Ted Talks on language learning packed with practical and insightful strategies for effective and smart language learning. Some are funny and entertaining, others are serious and eye-opening, but all of them come with some tips that could help us get more out of the effort we put into learning German. Read about the key messages from 7 Ted Talks that I found fascinating and useful in helping me learn German faster.

Learning a language will change your life for good by Christopher McCormick

Let’s start off with learning about the benefits of learning languages.

In this Ted Talk, Dr. McCormick shares his personal experience of learning languages and how this changed his life. Key takeaways:

  • The process of learning languages changes you
  • Studies show that learning languages makes us smarter by enhancing our memory and analytical skills
  • Most crucially learning new languages helps us develop better attitudes towards others by serving as a window to new cultures, people and experiences. Learning just one UN language gives you access to hundreds of millions of people.
  • Countries which systematically encourage learning foreign languages do better economically and have more developed trade

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

Learning a language? Speak it like you are playing a video game by Marianna Pascal

Marianna has been teaching English in Malaysia for years. She discovered that being able to speak English had nothing to do with how well her students knew English. It was all about her student’s attitude towards English. Her key takeaways are:

  • Language is not an art to be mastered. It is a tool to be used and played with to achieve something.
  • It should not be judged on correctness, but effectiveness because in the real world what matters is not if you made a mistake in spelling a word or order of words. What matters is that you are understood and that you can convey your thoughts and ideas.
  • And most importantly, to achieve fluency, you have to focus on the person and the result you want to achieve and not focus on yourself

Don’t focus on yourself – focus on the person and the result you want to achieve.

Marianna Pascal

The secrets of learning a language by Lydia Machova

Lydia Machova is a polyglot who speaks 8 languages and loves learning languages. She posed herself a question – what do polyglots have in common? What enables them to learn languages faster than others?

She met and talked to hundreds of polyglots from all around the world. Her key takeaways are:

  • There is no bulletproof method. If you ask 100 polyglots, you will discover 100 unique ways of learning languages
  • The only common thread is that all those people simply found ways to enjoy the language-learning process. Different methods, but always personally enjoyable – this seems to be the secret of learning languages effectively.

Finding personally enjoyable method of learning is a secret to learning language effectively

from Ted Talk by Lydia Machova

How to learn any language in six months by Chris Lonsdale

Chris Lonsdale has been occupied with one question for years: How can a normal adult learn a new language quickly, easily and effectively? He posits that his personal experience and findings show that anyone can learn a language to fluency within 6 months.

Before sharing his key strategies, he rules out two factors that don’t matter in successfully learning a foreign language – talent and instant immersion.

The key principles of rapid language acquisition are:

  1. Focus on the content that is relevant to you. Learning stuff that has no relevance to you will make the process boring and teach you vocabulary that you cannot apply and reinforce.
  2. Use your new language as a tool to communicate from day 1 – don’t worry about mistakes, simply start communicating the basic thoughts and ideas.
  3. Learning a language is a physiological training that requires to train your muscles. Speaking and producing sounds implies certain muscle familiarity. Hearing and perceiving sounds requires familiarity. It’s not much different from physical training.
  4. When you first understand the message, you will unconsciously acquire the language. So knowing perfect grammar does not equal fluency, we should aim to understand what is being communicated.
  5. Your state of mind matters. If you are sad, worried, angry, upset – you are not going to learn. Also, language learners have to be comfortable with ambiguity. It’s fine that you don’t understand every single word. On the other hand, if you’re trying to be 100% perfect, then you will always despair and be upset.

How to talk like a native speaker

According to Marc Green, there are no shortcuts to reaching fluency. You can save a little time here and there, but there is no way around effort.

Milestones of language proficiency by Marc Green
There are no short cuts to fluency

Understanding this, it’s critical to put in the effort where the return is the highest. Marc suggests that one of such areas of focus must be sounding like a native. Turns out any learner can achieve that by prioritizing a few skills:

  1. Pronunciation – This is the most important principle. Work on eliminating or at least minimizing your accent as changing how you pronounce, changes how native speakers see and perceive you
  2. Colloquial Speechuse the words and expressions that the locals use. This is important as what we learn in the classroom is often not what the native speakers would necessarily use in daily life.
  3. Cultural traits – identify and adopt them. These are nuanced ways of saying things, it’s about body language and things like affirmations or surprise.

If you focus on one skill to learn languages more effectively, this should be improving your pronunciation.

From Ted Talk by Marc Green

How learning German taught me the link between math and poetry by Harry Baker

Harry is a poet and mathematician who loves how language combines both the precision of math and creativity and imagination of poetry. During his studies, Harry had a chance to study abroad for a year. He chose to go to Germany. When he arrived, his German was barely existing. As the year progressed, his fascination with the German language helped him learn German faster.

While learning German, he was unhappy about how traditional methods identified the milestones (A1, B2, etc.). He simply could not relate to that. As he progressed, he came up with his own milestones:

  1. You start trusting your instincts to experiment and say things
  2. Your first dream in the new language
  3. When you are able to understand or make jokes in another language

In this ted talk he takes us through each of these stages and shares his (sometimes hilarious) experiences and insights into how learning German helped him see more.


5 techniques to speak any language by Sid Efromovich

Sid Efromovich speaks 7 languages. Later he learned 4 while growing up. He learned an additional 3 after he turned 18. While his peers saw language learning as a strenuous, hard thing to do, Sid had fun and enjoyed every moment. He shares his 5 key techniques or skills that helped him master new languages

  1. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Relax – from the moment we are born we are told how to do things right. The golden rule of language learning is to embrace making mistakes.
  2. Scrap the foreign alphabet. Pay attention to sounds and language phonetics instead
  3. Find a stickler (a person who insists on a certain quality or type of behavior). Find someone who is a detail-oriented and will not let you get away with those mistakes. Someone who cares for your progress and encourages you to go on. Your teacher or tutor would be ideal for this role.
  4. Engage in “Shower conversations”. Sid would talk to himself in the shower imagining all sorts of daily life situations. Interestingly this also helped him identify the gaps in his knowledge. Certainly, this doesn’t have to be in the shower, of course.
  5. Buddy formula. Target language must be the best language in common. As people take the path of least resistance, if you both speak English, you will resort to that. Therefore, find someone who has no choice but for one reason or another to speak the language that you want to learn.

Why we struggle learning languages by Gabriel Wyner

Gabriel Wyner is a legend among language learners and is behind the language learning strategies and portal known as Fluent Forever. He starts off with dispelling the myth that kids acquire languages faster or better than the adults. So it turns out that the kids are not that special after all, They are simply exposed to their native languages for thousands of hours more than adults. In fact, adults, Gabriel states, are way better than kids at learning stuff. The problem is that we, as adult language learners, are often exposed to our target language only a couple hundred hours max. To make matters worse, most of the time in the classroom is spent talking about the language and not speaking the language.

So although adults are superior at learning things, we make one mistake when learning a language that slows down our progress. Namely, we learn things in isolation without breathing life into those new pieces of knowledge.

What Gabriel means is that learning a word and its translation does not create enough associations to that new target word in our brains – it doesn’t connect it to the past memories, existing knowledge, images, smells, sounds in our heads. So the new knowledge remains dormant and inactive.

Instead, we have to try to learn new vocabulary and grammar concepts through stories and by connecting them to concepts and knowledge that already exist in our heads.

What’s next?

Here you go. A great list of practical and insightful hacks to help you learn German faster. Whether you start working on your accent or start talking to yourself in the shower or change your attitude towards German and treat it as a video gam, these tips should definitely help you get closer to your much-coveted dream of becoming fluent in German.

Mach’s gut!

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