How to better learn any skill or language

With the progress of technology, development of artificial intelligence, the power of computing, increased competition for skills on a global level, learning is paramount to remain employed and progress in the professional career.

The skills required for a human to remain in the game are the ones that cannot be made by a computer. Repetitive labor-intensive tasks are automated at a fast pace.

Learning and moving forward is not only critical for survival but also critical for happiness. The sense of fulfilment of the achievement is paramount. Either at work or with family or your passion.

In the past 10 years, I have learned countless new skills, some of them which I thought I would never study. Here are some of them :

  • 4 languages, either mastered or that allow me to survive in the target country,
  • Front and back-end programming languages Angular and the mobile app Ionic development, bootstrap CSS etc…
  • Growing a 10k follower base on Instagram up to 10k following
  • Computer music production, mixing house music (DJin)
  • Designed and project managed the development of a new corporate website

I don’t mean to say that I master any of them 100%. However, learning many different skills has allowed me to understand underlying concepts about the effective learning of new skills.

I share here some of the things that can make your learning faster and more meaningful.

Have fun while learning!

Information cannot get to your memory unless you have fun absorbing it. Not all subjects you need to learn are intrinsically fun to learn. You then need to trick yourself by finding a way to make it fun.

If you learn a language, focus on the vocabulary of your passions (your sport, your music, your professional context). It makes it more usable and fun. You can also watch series/movies, or read books in your target language.

For a skill you’re trying to learn, find a way to apply the knowledge for a personal project.

For instance, if you’re learning structural engineering, you can design your dream home, or a bridge, or something which you’d like to make yourself, and then you can test it in real life.

Be convinced that you can actually learn it

Often people doubt of their ability to learn a skill, especially after meeting the first obstacles on the road.

Don’t ever doubt of the ability to learn something. It will either be a matter of time or someone to explain the skill to you.

Give yourself a break, you will eventually know it. Move on to the next subject and come back to it later with a fresh mind.

Otherwise, ask a friend to explain the point from a different perspective. it might help you see it differently and understand it.

Explain what you learned to someone

One of the best ways to memorize and master a skill is by explaining it to someone else.

If you actually have to explain something you learned to someone, you cannot hide from the truth: you either know or you don’t.
When you’ll block onto a certain point, you will immediately know what to learn deeper.

An alternative is to write everything you know about the skill. If might not appear as fast, but you will memorize the information for a much longer time.

Have an objective with the skill you’re trying to learn

In order to achieve a decent level at any skill, you need to stick around long enough without quitting at the first issues.

One way to keep your mindset positive is to remind yourself of a larger objective. You should have a real need for a skill to continue learning.

If you’re learning a language, you can aim to move and live in the country in the next 6 months, or plan a trip in this country, with the aim of talking with locals in their native language.

If you’re learning a sport, sign-up to a competition down the line, in 6 months or a year.

Slow but steady wins the race

Your memory can absorb a certain amount of new information at the time. It works by frequent repetition of the same information over and over again throughout weeks and months.

You may be tempted to sit two hours every now and then, but in practice, it will make your learning experience demotivating, ineffective, less fun.. You’ll end up quitting altogether.

You need to focus on the long-term and not the short-term gains. Small steps will fix the skills in your memory.

Aim for 10-20 min day, every day. You need to find a suitable time in the day (morning, the first thing for instance), which you are not likely to replace with something seemingly more urgent to do.

First learn passively, then actively

Kids do not learn how to speak by learning how to read studying all the rules of grammar, conjugation or spelling.

They first mimic their parents talking, and learn progressively word after word, sentence after sentence. They start understanding, then start speaking one word, then the next. Before you know it they know how to communicate. Without ever opening a grammar book.

For instance, Duolingo approach is radically different than conventional learning.
In the first phase of your learning experience, you go through a passive repetition of words, then build simple sentences, without ever being taught any rule.

It puts emphasis on the regular practice of a small number of words and constructions.

Once you have a basic knowledge, and you have the gratification of being able to have a small conversation with a native, you will feel a limitation.
At the specific point, you’ll have the incentive to open the book and learn the language properly.

Learning cross-skills or other languages makes your learning faster

After learning several languages, you’ll probably end up knowing several languages with similar roots (Latin, Germanic, Slavic etc.)…

You’ll have encountered similar grammar rules, similar vocabulary. Your process for learning will become faster.

So if you’re stuck on Duolingo because you cannot learn further, just pick another language, it might motivate you and pull all your languages skill upwards.

Want to know more?

If you want to learn languages, I personally recommend Duolingo. It kick-started my learning of Italian, Russian and Ukrainian, and has helped countless friends to get motivated to learn.

If you want to read more about the process of learning, here is The Art and Science of Learning Anything Faster, The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Another interesting one from Tim Ferris, a Youtube video on how to increase your reading speed.

Last but not least, Tim Ferris dedicated en entire book on his learning techniques, with the application of the cooking skills as an example : The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life: Timothy Ferriss.

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