Language Learning for Busy People

Ideally, we would all have several hours a week to spend with a host person in their country. That’s perfect, right?

But, I run into too many people who say that if they can’t learn language in the perfect situation, they can’t learn at all.

Thankfully, that’s a bunch of hooey.

I’m fluent in Spanish. I got that way never ever having been in a Spanish speaking country. (I have now, and it helps my Spanish, but I got there without the perfect situation.)

To the people that say that they can’t learn unless they’re there in a country doing it full time and perfectly, I say…

Progress, not perfection.

Next week you’ll hear how I’m making progress imperfectly in Iraqi Arabic.

My Absolute Favorite Resource for Language Learning

This is hands down the thing that has helped me most in learning a new language.

Drum roll, please…

Yep, a website. But what a website! It doesn’t magically generate flash cards or drill me in grammar, oh no.

It connects me with people. As they say right at the top of their site: “Become fluent in any language while making friends with native speakers.”

That’s priceless.

Check them out!

Don’t say “teach!”

The most important thing when you’re looking for a language parent to help you speak their language is for you to change your language.

What do I mean?

Take words like

teach, study, teacher, learn, class, tutor

completely out of what you say to someone you’re talking to.

Use words like

friend, help, play games, speak, understand



When you say “teach” people immediately think “teacher.” That’s a title that’s earned in a lot of societies, and it’s likely the person you’re talking to won’t have it. It’s also likely better if they don’t. Read why here.

How have you found friends to help you with their language?

The fastest and easiest way to sound more like a native speaker!

When we’re learning a new language, we all have to pause and think in the middle of sentences, right?

So, what do you say while you’re pausing? “Ummmmm,” perhaps?

Is that what host people are saying?


Listen and observe and see what they say when they’re pausing. In some places in Spanish it’s “este,” where I lived in France it was “euh.”

Once you’ve noticed what host people say, say that! It’s amazing how much more native-like you’ll sound, immediately!

So, how do people fill in pauses in your new language?

How I grew to love 3 hour church services!

This is easy.

Get permission from the leaders, then make a quick recording of the music in the service every week.

Go home, get a friend to help you understand the words as much as possible, at least the gist of the song.

Listen to and sing along with the recording.

Repeat as you hear new songs.

This made all the difference in the world to how I experienced church in Benin!

Oh, and bring a frozen water bottle in a towel to rest your wrists on during the sermon to keep yourself cool.

How have you learned to enjoy church services in your host culture?

The worst question to ask someone about their language!

You’re talking to someone in your new language. You hear a word you don’t understand. You get the person to explain it to you. The meaning sounds a lot like another word you know in the language.

Temptation strikes.

You ask, “What’s the difference between these two words?”


Why is this the worst question to ask? Because people don’t think about their languages this way.

Here’s an example. What’s the difference between little and small?

You could Google it and come up with a technical answer, but you probably don’t know it off the top of your head.

You just know what sounds right.

And that’s how we want to be in our new languages, knowing what sounds right.

So, what should you ask instead?

“Can you give me some examples of other places you’d use that word?

“Would you use it in this sentence? How about this one?”

So tell me-what has your experience asking questions like these been?