Language Hacking 101: How to Make learning English Simpler

Does learning English seem like a huge undertaking? Is it something that you just don’t feel ready for? Or do you understand grammar and are able to write, but you don’t feel “ready” to speak yet?

Well today I’m going to show you some hacks [tricks that simplify something] that have helped me a lot in learning conversational French and Catalan.

I’m not fluent in either of these languages, but I’ve never had a class, and I’m perfectly comfortable communicating in either of them with native speakers. 

Figure out which of these tips are the most relevant to your English learning. Whether you’re a complete beginner or have been learning for years, you’ll be able to greatly improve your English (or other foreign language) speaking skills! 

Learn the Similarities of English to Other Languages You Know Well

When you learn a new language, chances are that you’ll find at least a few similarities of it to a language that you already know

spanglishFor example, the majority of the English language is Latin based. So, it has a lot in common with Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, etc. It’s just learning what these commonalities are. Once you figure them out, you’ll realize that you already have a humungous (very large) vocabulary in English. Some examples for English are: 

From Spanish:

  • The ending -ción often becomes –tion (for example, transportación is transportation in English)
  • The ending -iendo/-ando often becomes –ing (for example, editando is editing)
  • You can sometimes drop the –o,–a, or –e from the end of a word (for example, aspecto is aspect)

From Portuguese:

  • The ending -ção often becomes –tion (decoração is decoration)
  • -endo/-ando often becomes –ing (transformando is transforming)
  • You can sometimes drop the –o,–a, or –e from the end of a word (carro is car)

You’ll find a lot more examples just by trying to read a bit in your target language. 

And it’s not just Latin languages that will facilitate your learning English. It has a ton in common with Germanic languages (like German and Dutch) and Scandinavian languages (like Danish and Swedish), too. You can even find similarities between English and Chinese if you look hard enough. 

If you’re Algerian you probably speak French and Arabic. French is one of the langauges that is most similar to English, and Spanish has tons of words that are derived from Arabic. The fact that you’ve already mastered two languages will make learning a third that much easier. 

When starting to learn Catalan, one of the first things I started doing was reading the news in Catalan. Naturally, having never studied Catalan in my life, I didn’t understand everything, and I didn’t expect to. But I’m fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese and I know some French, too, so imagine all of the similarities that I was able to find! 

In fact, there aren’t too many words or expressions in Catalan that I can’t relate in some way to one of the other languages I’ve learned, the important thing is to pay attention to the details! 

Even if you only know one language, you’ll find a lot of similarities if you can get creative (I learned Portuguese in the same way as Catalan, using Spanish as a base).

Minimal Grammar

A bunch of vocabulary won’t get you very far without some grammar, but it all interrelates. 

One of the first things that I noticed in Catalan is that the pronouns are very similar to Spanish. 

Spanish (me, te, se, nos, vos, se) 

Catalán (em, et, es, ens, us, es) 

Learning the differences made it easy to start asking basic questions, for example 

Spanish: Como se llama?/Como te llamas?  

Catalan: Com es diu?/Com et dius?

Also notice that the “you form” in both Spanish and Catalan changes from the “you (formal) form” just by adding an S

With both French and Catalán, I started doing a free course online, which helped me figure out some basic grammar rule. I recommend Duolingo

However, grammar can quickly get boring, so for now, just try to learn the basics. Later once you’ve reached more conversational fluency, you can worry about explaining what you already know (remember to learn like a child!). 

Learn the Survival Phrases

Once you understand some (very) basic grammar in the language you’re learning, then it’s time to master the survival phrases

survival phrasesThese are the phrases you need to help you start speaking with native speakers right away–from DAY ONE. It’s the first thing we teach our students at the RealLife English Fluency Center and it’s actually surprising how many advanced speakers don’t take advantage of them. 

To learn the survival phrases in English, be sure to read this article

Free Present: A Revolutionary Guide to Connecting Your Life to English

Cultural inspiration

This step is actually crucial throughout your learning experience, but learning some basics of the language is going to help you to understand the cultural aspects of the language better. 

cooking in englishSo what are these “cultural aspects”? In English, we call them Lifestyle English. These are the things that you already enjoy doing, but in English. Some examples are listening to music, getting hooked on a great TV show, or cooking traditional dishes with a recipe in the target language. You can find tons of ways to get passionate about the language if you just get creative. To get some more ideas, read this

The important thing that is going to really help you take all aspects of your fluency (vocabulary, pronunciation, comprehension, speaking) to the next level is surrounding yourself with the language

What really helped me with both French and Catalan was listening to a lot of music, radio, and podcasts. Think about how a baby learns her first language. She hears it for almost two years before she even utters a word! So the more time you can spend each day listening to English–even if you don’t understand everything–the faster you’ll be able to start speaking and the more quickly you’ll learn. 

I’m sure that when I started learning Catalán I spent at least an hour a day listening to the language without having to dedicate extra time to “studying,” and while having fun. I would listen to podcasts on my way to classes and to music while working or cooking. 

Make Friends Who Inspire, Motivate, and Support Your Learning 

There are tons of ways that you can meet people to learn English (or any other language with) in your city. I used CouchSurfing to meet a French guy to do a language exchange with when I was living in Brazil, and we’re still friends! 

Remember, these friends don’t necessarily need to be native speakers. Just find anyone who you can have fun practicing with. Going to language exchanges is an amazing way to do this (in Barcelona, for example, there are TONS of these). 

language exchangeMaking friends who speak the language you’re learning is, in my opinion, the absolute best way to motivate your learning. You’re going to want to improve so that you can communicate and understand them better. If you can get a girlfriend or boyfriend that speaks the language your learning, then that’s even better! 

Remember, your friends should inspire and motivate you to keep learning. They can be a great source of English for Life to you (ask what series, music, and podcasts they like). Furthermore, they will support your learning by correcting your mistakes and holding you accountable to keep improving. 

Try to find ways to motivate them to correct you a lot (for example, buy them a beer if they agree to correct every mistake you make in the next 15 minutes). 

Don’t Panic if you Don’t Understand

It’s easy to get scared when you don’t understand people right away. But you’re an extraordinary English learner to have made it this far. So don’t give up! Remember the survival phrases and just try your best. If someone doesn’t understand you, then try to explain it in a different way. 

Pay attention to your body language–be friendly, and smile. If you are open, people will almost always be more than willing to help you! 

It’s Not About Talent, it’s About Passion!

mandela languagePeople always tell me that I must have a talent for language learning when I tell them how many languages I speak. But my skills are far from perfect in any of them and I’m always striving to improve. 

The number one thing that has helped me to learn languages is PASSION. I love learning languages–but even more than that–I love communicating with interesting people from different places. You can learn SO MUCH from every person you meet! And to be able to do that, we need to have a base of communication.

A lot of people speak English, but where’s the challenge in always speaking my own language? 

Like what you read? 

Learn more about how to connect your English to your life and never miss another update!

And comment below! What changes can you make right now to how you are learning English (or another language)?

  • Awesome article, Ethan. You hit the nail on the head in so many ways. Spanish helped me learn A LOT more Portuguese in 1 month than I had in 6 months of Spanish, and I can see that in other languages too.

    About the survival phrases, I can't overemphasize that. You can be actually communicating in a new language in a matter of minutes just by learning a handful of phrases and using those phrases to learn more and have fun asking questions.

  • Hello… It's an awesome article… Indeed! I'm from Venezuela and I'm very fluent in English… My new goal is to learn French… But I find it very complicated. Can you recommend me a web page o something where I can find audios, podcasts, videos, vocabulary, classes, whatever… Thank you very much!

  • I want to be very fluent in English and then learn German or French. your article is very good, very usefull, thanks.

  • […] this reason, today we’re going to have a basic, but very practical English lesson: English for Cafés and […]

  • […] French is far from perfect, but I sure learned a lot in a short amount of time without living in France and without needing to learn […]

  • Alex says:

    Thank’s a lot for this article Ethan!

  • Jussára Spader says:

    Colorful article, Ethan! It was great to see you speaking Portuguese. Kudos for your courage and initiative. Thanks for all your efforts and suggestions.

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      Thank you for your support, Jussara!