top of page

Guide: How To Acquire A Language

For over 30 years we have known that learning speak language is not the same as learning math for example - and yet those old school methods continue to be used to this day.

I failed every language class that I took in high school, and this made me think to myself “I am not smart enough to learn another language”.

Years later I began studying Spanish on my own (from 0) and just one year in I saw an old friend who finished all 4 years studying Spanish in our high school.

When we started talking about it, I proposed to her that we have a small conversation, and the first thing that I said “So how are you?” - she didn’t understand - yikes...

So why do we continue to teach languages this way in schools?

I’m not going to be able to answer that question, but I can tell you how I learned to NOT learn, but rather acquire languages. This is how I got from 0-Fluent in 3 years, and how I live here in Panama 100% in the Spanish language.

Welcome to the world of acquisition!

Summary: How To Acquire A Language (Methods)

I have been acquiring languages and learning how to improve upon my methods for years. These are my favorite methods that I have found - but don’t worry if you don’t like some of them!

To succeed you really only need one or two methods that give you listening, reading, speaking, and writing practice.

These are the methods that I use, summed up:

  • Listening To Music In The Target Language

  • Journaling In The Target Language Using Google Translate

  • Watching Comprehensible Input Videos

  • Reading Stories

  • Using Apps Such As Duocards, & Clozemaster

  • Playing Games In The Target Language

  • Putting Phone In The Target Language

  • Watching Movies, or Series (Daily)

  • Following Instagram Pages Of Native Speakers

  • Imitating Native Speaker's Accents (On YouTube Interviews)

Below we’ll go over all of the specifics of these methods.

If you would like to read about one method in particular, feel free to click on the method below under “Table Of Contents” and it will take you right to that method.

Now, let’s learn how to acquire a language!

photo of logo that says "101 - Acquire Languages"

Table of Contents

What Is Language Acquisition? 🤷‍♂️

Language acquisition is like how we as humans naturally pick up our language just by being exposed to the language without explicit instruction from a teacher.

This includes exposing ourselves to the language through reading, writing, and listening, and as a result, our brains absorb vocabulary and grammar rules. This is exactly how we all learned our first language, and it doesn’t just work for kids!

We as adults can leverage these same techniques, and we also have advantages.

- Such as our abilities to focus, choose interesting content, and understand meaning using our mother tongue to learn our target language.

The key to the world of language acquisition lies in two words - Comprehensible Input.

What Is Comprehensible Input? 🧏‍♂️

Comprehensible input is: messages that are understood by the listener despite them being slightly above their current level. Or as I describe it - content that you understand 60-85% of.

When you get this kind of input, your brain starts connecting the dots and figuring out the rules naturally, like magic!

This helps you learn new words, grammar, and how to use them in real-life situations. Even at the beginner stages where you know very little you can get comprehensible input through something called “TPRS” or Teach Proficiency Through Reading & Storytelling.

How Much Should You Understand When Listening To Comprehensible Input?

I personally live by the following rule: If I understand between 60-85% - that’s a good source of comprehensible input.

Anything below or above that number will be too difficult or too easy, and therefore, I will learn very little with my time spent.

A picture of the acquire the language logo with big letters that says "Comprehensible input - Comprehensible input is: messages that are understood by the listener despite them being slightly above their current level. Or as I describe it - content that you understand 60-85% of"

Methods For Getting Comprehensible Input 📈

During the beginner stages (A1-A2) your choices are much more limited. What I have done in the past to get past these levels is by listening to and watching TPRS videos on YouTube.

The one other thing that I do a ton at these stages is that I listen to music and memorize all of the lyrics. Acquiring a language through music is extremely easy to do for most people, and it gives great results for those who do it!

However, once you read an A2-B1 level your options start really opening up. At these stages I write a journal every day using Google Translate, I read and write stories using Google Translate to understand and find words that I don’t know.

I also start watching tons of B1-B2 level videos on YouTube. If you’re interested, these are all 13 of the methods that I use when learning a new language.

My Favorite Language Acquisition Techniques 💡

I personally have about 2,000 hours of learning languages under my belt. Over the years I have always tried to tweak my learning methods and find others that better suit me. In this list, I am going to give you all of the methods that I currently use to acquire vocabulary and grammar.

Acquire A Language With Music 💽

Acquiring a language through music is extremely easy and fun to do. The reason why it works so well is that you're not just reading text, your reading expressive phrases.

Blue photo of music note that says "How To Learn A Language With Music"

We have all felt all of the emotions that are expressed in music, so much so, that you might think "I couldn't have described that feeling/experience better myself"

When connecting information with an emotion, or experience, it is much easier for our brains to store that info in our long-term memory.

Not only do emotions help us, but musical elements such as rhythm help us to memorize the lyrics too!

Lastly, any connection you make through the language will help you learn it, so if you love certain musicians that speak a language, you’ll have more motivation to learn it.

Journaling Using Google Translate 📓

One of my favorite methods that I always preach is keeping a journal that you write in daily - in your target language. I start this right when I begin a new language and it has served me like you wouldn’t believe!

Just go to Google Translate, write your journal entry into the translator, and write word for word what it gives you.

I also let Google Translate read it aloud to me whenever I am in the beginner stages of a language so that it can help me improve my pronunciation at the same time.

Photo of my language journal that says "How To Journal In Spanish"

If you want a tutorial on exactly how I leverage this technique check out this article.

Language Exchange Apps - HelloTalk & Tandem 🎎

Join language exchange programs, either in person or online, where you can connect with native speakers eager to learn your language while you pick up theirs.

Talking with them regularly will level up your speaking, listening, and comprehension skills naturally. You’ll probably even make new friends that will hold you accountable for studying!

My favorite app that I use to find language partners is HelloTalk, however, I have heard from some people that they much prefer Tandem. Below are pictures of both and a brief explanation as to how they work.

Collage of screenshots showing how HelloTalk app looks while using it

HelloTalk is a bit like if Instagram and Twitter had a baby that was dedicated to people who want to learn languages. I recommend this app 10/10. The best part is you get all of this value for FREE!

Collage of screenshots showing how Tandem app looks while using it

Tandem from my experience is not as much of a "community" as HelloTalk. It's more like the Tinder for language learning - compared to the IG/Twitter type approach that HelloTalk takes.

Watching Comprehensible YouTube Videos 📲

When you were a kid learning your mother tongue, you were surrounded by the language - just as this was essential for your first language, it is for learning any other language too.

Comprehensible input videos will most likely be what take the place of being in a country that speaks (primarily) your target language.

Currently, I am in the beginner stages of learning French, so I listen to videos for about 1 hour a day. There is no perfect amount of time you should employ this technique, however, the more time spent hearing the language the faster you will improve.

Reading Stories 📚

One extremely important goal to have is to find content so interesting that sometimes you forget you are listening to it in another language.

If you like stories, this can be extremely helpful for you to achieve that. Personally, I’m not a huge fan, but I do it anyway because I know it will help me acquire new vocabulary.

If you want a good website to find stories in your target language I recommend:

Using Apps Such as Duocards, and ClozeMaster

While I don’t 100% recommend Duolingo due to its slow and strung-out curriculum, I do suggest that you use some apps such as Duocards, and ClozeMaster.

Both of these apps focus on giving you important materials that introduce you to extremely important vocabulary for everyday use.

These are all of the apps that I use when learning a new language:

Playing Games🕹‍🕹

Another way that we can engage the target language in a fun and interactive way is by playing games. If you don't know which games are good for this method, check out this short article I wrote reviewing the best games you can play to learn a language.

Cartoon character playing video games that says "Games To Learn Spanish

I use this method once or twice a week, and depending on the game, I get really important niche vocabulary for whatever topic the game is about.

Changing Phone Language 📱

Once you reach an A2-B1 level I highly recommend that you switch your phone's language to your target language.

This method not only helps us learn a ton of vocabulary through natural acquisition, but it also gives us yet another way to constantly be interacting with the target language.

Collage of screenshots showing how to change your phones language settings

**How To Change The Language Of Your Phone**

Personally, I used my phone in Spanish for 2 years, and one day my brother wanted to check my settings and said “Dude, I don’t understand this” and I switched it back to English for him.

When he was done using my phone and I saw all of my settings in English it shocked me

- it had become more foreign looking to me than Spanish. Weird, right?

Movies, TV Series 💻

Currently, I pay for Netflix so that I can have a big selection of native content to look through at any given time. To progress in my French, for example, I watch one episode (40 Min) of a native-level French show every day.

Even though I am a beginner and I can only understand about 40% of the subtitles, with the imagery, acting, and general context I can understand about 65% of what is going on.

My advice for how much you should understand is between 60-85%.

If you understand more , you need to find higher-level content to keep progressing at a fast pace.

If you understand less, you might be in too deep to be acquiring, so choose something simpler.

Make Your Instagram Time Worthwhile ⚖️

One thing that I always do when I start learning a new language is that I follow the best IG pages about that language.

Usually, these pages post about pronunciation, topic-based vocabulary, grammar rules, and common mistakes.

This helps because maybe you don’t have time to watch a full video on common mistakes, for example, but you can watch a 30-second video on one particular mistake that you might be making.

You can also follow people who speak your target language so that you can practice your ability to read by looking at their descriptions and comment sections.

Imitate Native Speakers - Importance Of Speaking Wrongly 🗣

I know not everybody in our community agrees with me, but I have found it extremely important to speak “incorrectly” - what do I mean by this?

I mean that we should learn to use the language like natives, the rules are not as important, as communication. Instead of trying to sound fancy and high class, I prefer to speak like 99% of people.

This means that in Spanish, for example, I don't pronounce a lot of the Ss, I shorten and connect words, and I speak with a completely different accent than in my mother tongue.

This makes it easier for people to understand me - and for me to understand others.

Whenever you hear yourself saying, for example - “He esta’o e’perando tre’ hora’ “ instead of “He estado esperando tres horas” it will be much easier to understand natives when they say it like that.

Natives do not speak like teachers do when they give you lessons, so what can we do? Imitate native speakers in YouTube videos - especially interviews, and try to sound like them.

Do this often, and eventually, you won’t need to try. I only have learned Spanish for 3 years, and I have surprised native Spanish speakers when they found out I’m a gringo.

It's not because I speak just like them - but because I speak enough like a native that they just think “Huh I wonder what country in Latin America he’s from.”

Make A Study Plan To Reach Your Goals 🙇‍♂️

The last thing I want to make clear to you about acquiring a language is that you need a study plan. Depending on your level that plan should change to easier or more difficult materials.

If you want an example of what I do - below is a chart of how I am breaking up my time to learn French right now. In total, I spend 1 hour and a half a day learning.

A graph showing how I split up my study time to reach my language goals asap

Conclusion: How To Acquire A Language

Acquiring a language is something that we can all do as adults, we just have to choose the materials that best suit us and keep ourselves engaging with the language.

Personally, I was able to acquire Spanish within 3 years and I would say that personally I never “studied” - that’s to say, with a workbook, memorizing conjugations through charts, etc.

If you want to do the same thing, just follow the methods mentioned above, choose your favorites, and make a schedule/plan to expose yourself to the language every single day.

If you are curious as to how long it will take you to get to to fluency, check out this article where I go over all the abilities, hours needed, and estimated vocabulary needed to reach each level.

Have a wonderful day/evening/night ¡Hasta luego!

- Ben


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page