Getting to grips with a new language can seem challenging, especially if you need to learn it fast. Perhaps you have to move abroad for work, converse with overseas colleagues, or better communicate with a new partner or friends. 

But even if time is a factor, don’t be daunted or overwhelmed – having realistic expectations and setting small goals will help you conquer basic conversational skills. You may find you can communicate with native speakers much more quickly than you would have imagined.

Here are a few easy things you can do to hit the ground running.

Take every opportunity to speak your target language

Like any new venture, learning a language takes dedication. Experts agree that results happen fastest when we commit to our new skills, rather than choosing the easy option of speaking in our native tongue.

Your brain will have to work harder and think creatively to communicate in your new language, but the more you use it, the more likely it is to stick. This is why many of us have already forgotten the French or Spanish we learned at school – we simply didn’t apply it to our everyday lives.

Even if you aren’t able to live abroad, there are many ways to use your new language at home.

Surround yourself in your chosen language

Try changing the language settings on your phone and social media. Put aside set amounts of time to study or speak in your new language without getting distracted, and you’ll soon notice a difference. This type of language immersion is guaranteed to speed up the learning process.

If time isn’t on your side, discover how our Total Immersion programme could help you – with a customized and intensive curriculum of full day sessions, we aim to have you communicating in your chosen language in as little as a week.

Use your down time to learn

Think about the things you do to relax – reading, listening to podcasts, or watching television. Try looking at foreign language media, switching to podcasts recorded in your target language, or watching shows with the subtitles on.

Reading illustrated children’s books is a great way to start learning the basics because of the visual clues that accompany the words. Even if this seems like hard work at first, it won’t take long before new words and phrases begin to make sense.

Experience the local culture

If you can, plan a trip abroad so you can experience the language and culture firsthand. This will allow you to try out your new skills in the ideal setting. Set yourself achievable daily goals by ordering food in a restaurant, or asking where you can find specific items at the grocery store.

If you’re learning English, a stay in Oxford will quickly develop your communication skills, whether you are buying a ticket for the bus, talking to your host family in the evening, or ordering a coffee.

These kinds of interactions with native speakers will help you understand context and improve your confidence.

Practice with others

It’s important to have a native speaker or instructor help with your progress. Although repetition is key to learning, with nobody to correct you or give feedback, you could be repeating the same mistakes over and over.

With our one-to-one intensive programmes, you’ll be guided by trained instructors in one-on-one, face-to-face interactions using learning methods to suit you as an individual. It can also be beneficial to practice in a group setting, where you can converse with your classmates.

You’ll have regular feedback sessions so you know where to improve – and where you’ve mastered it.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

All too often we try to memorize long lists of words, and it can be frustrating when the grammar doesn’t come naturally.

Focus on fluency rather than perfection, and study practical topics instead of trying to recite long passages of text – chances are you’ll still be understood, and with practice, the grammar will follow.

Make mistakes

You will make many along the way, so have courage and approach every interaction as an opportunity to learn. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong – native speakers will appreciate your efforts. It’s very easy to be put off, especially in the early stages, but try not to be too hard on yourself.

Once you embrace mistakes as part of the journey and begin to learn from them, you’ll enjoy the process so much more.

Keep it up!

When you reach your language learning goal, don’t be tempted to let your new skill fall by the wayside. Use what you’ve learned and keep practicing – join a local language group, or find a partner to meet with regularly.

With this language under your belt, you may find taking on others is now much easier than before. You’ll go from strength to strength if you see it as an opportunity for lifelong learning.

A version of this article was first published by Berlitz USA.