August 21, 2016

How to learn a foreign language fast and well - short answer

A Slovak journalist once asked me to write a short paragraph about how to learn English fast and well. It is very difficult to summarize something like that into a few sentences, but I tried. Very simply put, learning a foreign language can be compared to learning how to play a guitar. If you want to learn how to play a guitar fast and well, you need two things (except for the guitar obviously):

  • spend a lot of time listening to someone who plays the guitar well 
  • spend a lot of time practicing. 

In the world of foreign languages, this translates into:

  • a lot of input (listening and reading) 
  • a lot of output (speaking and writing). 

The approach of a beginner and an intermediate student will be different of course, but the learning philosophy remains the same.

When it comes to listening, the best thing to listen to are radio or TV talkshows, where the language is real (unlike in movies, or textbooks) and where there are no silent moments, like in movies or TV series for instance. An even better thing to watch are youtube videos (vlogs), where people speak in first person and talk about what they have been doing recently, where they went, what they think about this or that etc.

When it comes to speaking, more important than who you’re talking to is, how often you have the chance to talk to someone. Ideally, you should be able to talk to someone everyday, but at least an hour a day, three times per week. A good exercise is to talk to yourself in the foreign language.

Your ideal conversation partner should be different depending on what your level in the foreign language is. If you are an American learning Chinese for instance and you are a complete beginner, your ideal conversation partner is an American, who speaks Chinese fluently (they will be able to explain to you the language much better than a native speaker). If you are an intermediate or advanced student a native Chinese speaker is better.


  1. Please make more videos so we can see your beautiful smile!

    1. :) Thank you. I made one today actually. It will be on youtube in a few hours.

  2. Vladimir,

    I just stumbled upon your information today while following the rabbit hole (my silly term for following many click-through links) from a TED talk. I can't tell you how inspired I am after listening to your video in 19 languages! (The jigsaw puzzle based on "Cafe Terrace at Night" in the background was rather epic as well.)

    I adore languages and have learned bits and pieces of quite a few, but nothing close to your fluency. Sadly, I have rarely found someone with whom to practice, so the majority of what I know is lost over time unless I continually refresh my knowledge. I guess it's the same in every other aspect of life - you may not fall off the bicycle when trying to ride after a long hiatus...but it's definitely a wobbly start when you first begin pedaling.

    I've always been considered somewhat odd by those around me who can't fathom why I would study another language, let alone many. (born and raised in Texas with no international travel) It is a HUGE relief and wonderfully exciting to find you and others with similar interests, that you have prompted me to search out.

    You have my most sincere thanks and undying gratitude.

    Best Regards,


    1. Hi Dee,

      thank you very much for the nice comment.

      There are a few language learning forums online with hundreds of thousands of members. If you need to look for like-minded people, that is the place to go:)

      Thank you again,

      Kind regards,


  3. I love learn languages and It is my passion learn them:)
    I agree with you about each line that you said for us.I learned English in my own,by the way, Recently, I returned for my Chinese learning. I need of all you help. Bye-bye

    1. Hello Michael,

      feel free to read some of the articles I wrote about learning Chinese here on my blog, or watch some of the videos on my youtube channel. Maybe they will help a bit.

      Good luck,


  4. Hey Vlad :).

    What was your work when you were abroad, but your Chinese was still in the early stages? Just curious really, since now you work in Chinese!


    1. Hello Rom:)

      I was a student actually. Then later I worked as an English language editor in a TW company.

  5. Szia Vladimir,
    Marcin vagyok és Lengyelországból szarmazom. Most magarul tanulok, mert magyar nyelv nagyon szép. Kérdezhetek valamit? (concerning Hungarian audio materials? On that stage my creativity in Hungarian ends, but I'm at a beginner level right now, so I have to switch into English). For me one of the way to be more familiar with the language I'm learning and to feel the rythym & melody is to watch videos in that particular language with subtitles. I've searched youtube as well as internet sites of Hungarian national tv channels but I haven't found any :( Every broadcast is dubbed and there's no version for deaf people, so there is no way to find a Hungarian broadcast with Hungarian subtitles :( Any suggestions. I'll be more than grateful!

    1. Hi Marcin, I'm not too sure I can help you because I've never looked for anything like this, but my friend Martin did some youtube videos with English subtitles:
      Also, there is a Hungarian audio library for the blind with free audiobooks. You just have to find the text to go with them: Good luck.

  6. Viadimir 你好