This is a free tool to communicate in a new language within weeks.

It’s always worked like magic for me, even when I had no other learning resources (like speed-learning marwari while on a bus in Rajasthan). Give it a go and see what happens.

“L1”: your mother language.
“L2”: the language you are learning.

  1. Print the prolist, single-sided.
  2. Fill out L2 next to the L1.
    Don’t expect single-word translations for L1. Look for a way to express that meaning. Sometimes there is no direct translation. Sometimes there are multiple translations with different nuances. So don’t use google translate. I recommend finding these words on tatoeba.org, or language-specific “example sentence” dictionaries. 10% of what you fill out might still be incorrect. That’s okay, you’ll learn as you go, and can always erase and rewrite.
  3. Use L2 as much as possible.
    This is really step 0. Using the language is the best way to remember it, also the best way to keep yourself motivated. If you don’t know how to say something, then check the prolist (carry it with you at all times). If you need words that aren’t on the prolist, look them up.

    • If you know anyone who speaks L2: a friend, a bum, the deli owner, even a fellow non-native learner—talk with them. ‘More’ is better than ‘correct’. You will know the phrases “I don’t understand” and “could you speak slower” if you need them.
    • Or find people to practice with on skype. Try italki.com.
    • Make it a habit to talk to yourself all the time in L2. When you are driving to the store, say “I am driving to the store”. Sing songs with whatever you happen to know.
    • Translate what you observe “that man is sitting in a park with a sandwich, but he doesn’t seem to be happy”.
    • If someone is yelling at you “you’re always lazy, and you never listen to what I say”, translate this into L2. Everything becomes practice.

CONDENSED VERSION

The core of the prolist. You can usually learn it in a day and use its many useful variations:
 

Found pictures of a turkish prolist I once filled. Second and Fourth Pages missing:

First page — I noted turkish multiple nuances to “see”

For verb-y/rule-y stuff, I get it out on a separate piece of paper, simplify I as much as possible, then transfer it to the back of the first page. No right way to do this, I use my own little symbols.

Third page — added “more/most” etc as I found I needed to use them.

Group words (2nd page): “clothes, colors, counting, time/date/weekdays, weather” I will list in boxes on the back of the other pages. Then write a check by the group.

Phrases last — though “I don’t understand” and “could you speak slowly” are good ones to know sooner, to help you use L2. Use extra space to add whatever you find yourself needing to use.

ENJOY THE ACTION, FORGET THE RESULT

Using what you know must become more fun than the fantasy of already being fluent (this is a quick high that crashes fast). Anyone can fantasize, and it doesn’t get them anywhere. Speaking a language is like knowing a magic spell, even the basics are cool to use. Or say you enjoying playing video games. If a character teaches you “press x (jump) to continue…” you wouldn’t just ‘jump to continue’, you would be jumping all the time. Then you’d want to learn more.

Use whatever you know, no matter how ridiculous the sentence. If all you know is “I”, “water”, and a being verb. Say “I am water” and imagine yourself turning into a river. If you learned “cat” but not food vocabulary yet, say “I want to eat your cat”.

“I am water”

THE RIGHT ORDER

Try using L2 to express your ideas first, then look up what you don’t know.

It is tempting to do the opposite: cover L2 with one hand, test your knowledge of the list, and using rote memorization for what you don’t get. This is like a baby staring at notes on how to walk and not actually walking. Skip to the fun part.

Similarly, no need to understand all the rules of pronunciation first. Just learn the pronunciation word by word for what you need to say. Forvo.com can be great for this.

MEMORY TECHNIQUES

The best memory technique is using the language. Everything else should be meant as a crutch to preserve L2 in your head until you can use it as soon as possible, locking it in.

The strongest ‘memory preservation crutch’ I use for trouble words: connect what L2 sounds like in L1 to its meaning, then place this image in a location.

Say you keep forgetting the malay word for “difficult”, sukar.

  1. “sukar” is like sugar. Imagine Sisyphus struggling to push a huge sugar cube up a mountain. Sweating buckets and wailing.
  2. Place this image in a specific location. He is pushing the sugar cube up the stairs of your house.

It’s difficult pushing sugar cubes up the stairs.

More work, but it is a memory steroid. When I begin a new language, sometimes I’ll tick the trouble words on the prolist, go to a cafe, then make images for each and place them in the space of that cafe—someone sleeping on a table, something blocking the door. I never forget them—provided I later use them in real context.

That’s it. No need to read further unless you’re curious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEYOND THE LIST

Once you know everything on the list, you can pretty much communicate all core ideas you ever need. This could happen in one or two weeks… if you focus on developing the fun of using whatever you know (magic/video game analogy), and get in the habit of constantly using it no matter how incorrect or ridiculous you are.

Two practices you can use to go further:

STATEMENTS

Predict a situation you will soon be in. Learn longer phrases you could respond with, and preserve these in your memory. When you arrive in that situation, you will know just what to say. It’s like cheating, but a great confidence booster. If you want these statements flawless, you can use Italki’s free notebook/answer feature.

SHADOWING

Only this late do I mention listening and reading as practice, because people often excitedly assign themselves these at the start “I’ll read a novel in french” or “I’ll just start watching korean dramas everyday” and they become passive practices of wasting time.

But language shadowing is a great way to actively improve listening/reading and advance your vocabulary and knowledge of structure. The way I do this practice:

Get something small to listen to with a transcript — half minute of a film scene or podcast.

  1. Listen to it a few times (without reading anything)
  2. Listen to it while shadowing (do your best to mimic the sounds you hear aloud. If not continuously, pause every few seconds to echo them)
  3. Listen to it while reading the text
  4. Listen to it while reading the text and shadowing
  5. Now take a break to finally study the words you don’t understand
  6. Rewrite the text, saying it aloud as you do
  7. Finally, listen and shadow a few times again—this time walking/pacing briskly

After all that work, those phrases will be yours for a long time.

Shadowing and statements work well together:

  • Before starting college, I’d scheduled a meeting with a hindi professor because I’d already done the hindi prolist and felt I could skip the first year. I predicted the situation, wrote the questions I’d be asked “How did you study hindi?” “What interests you in learning this language?” etc. I found how to answer these statements flawlessly (native speaker on Italki corrected my translation), recorded myself and shadowed that. I was asked those exact questions, and I answered them. I skipped the first year.
  • When living in Taipei, I was invited to monthly movie nights where we would screen a film then everyone would discuss their thoughts on it afterwards. The first night, I gave a feeble answer, basically saying I enjoyed it. The next month’s movie was announced at the end of each night, so a week before the next month’s film, I looked up its plot, read critical reviews of the film, then collected the words and phrases I needed to express my own opinion on this film I’d never even watched. Did some shadowing. That night, when asked for my thoughts on the film, I gave them and was even applauded.

Be a ridiculous cheat. The point is once you realize actually using the language is the best way to lock it into yourself—and you can predict exactly what the situation will call you to use—you are handing yourself a method to master masses of language in short amounts of time. Not to mention this is a crazy dose of motivation. Start simple: learn exactly how to order a chicken sandwich at the Vietnamese deli.

Go for it.