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“Language hacking” is all the rage these days. For over ten years, it has been giving birth to numerous blogs and sites that aim to innovate the way people learn languages. Together with the ever-growing numbers of technological solutions and apps aimed at improving your language learning experience, language hacking is supposed to help you acquire your target language at record speeds.

But what is it really and how much of language hacking should you incorporate into your life to really improve?

The Basics of Language Hacking

The best way to explain what is meant by language hacking might be to start by saying what it is not. The movement sets itself mostly in opposition to the traditional teacher-classroom setting that many of us have grown up with. The idea has been popularised by Benny Lewis – the person behind the popular Fluent in 3 Months blog who aims to get you fluent in, you guessed it, 3 months.

But the general concept of hacking the learning process reaches above this one blog and is really aimed at making learning a language more effective and seeing quick improvements. What might be most appealing is that language hackers claim their tricks work for everybody – independent of age and “natural language learning capability”.

Anyone Can Hack Language Learning

In essence, the idea behind language hacking is that you have to make learning work for yourself. Especially in foreign language lessons at school, we spend hours upon hours passively listening to teachers while hoping to scrape by a high-enough grade to pass, instead of actually focussing on how to use the language. And certainly, there had to be a time when someone figured out a better way to things than that.

That is the soil where language hacking started taking root. It’s then easy to see why the concept of weeding out the unnecessary parts of learning and focussing on what you need to improve the most, became such a popular rallying cry.

The Truth Is Somewhere in the Middle

As with most fads, people have got very excited about language hacking and celebrated it as the newest and best way of acquiring a language. And surely, for some individuals, language hacking can be the best and only method of learning. For most, however, it would probably end up being better including some tips and tricks into their process than converting solely to the language hacking school of thought.

Taking some of the advice, such as dating someone with minimal skills in your own language to learn theirs, should be obviously taken with a grain of salt. It is not entirely certain how many people look for a partner solely based on what language they speak. Most likely, this “hack” works the other way – with a monolingual partner working as a trigger for learning said language – rather than what is suggested. Same is true for some of the other supposed tricks – only very few of us will be able to pick up and move to a country where our target language is spoken to fully immerse ourselves.

Take What Works for You

The somewhat hyperbolic suggestions aside, there are really some golden nuggets of advice to be taken away from the language hacking way of doing things. Mostly, it comes down to choosing what works for you and for your aims when learning your target language. For example, learning you-specific vocabulary can help you start using your target language early on which, in turn, helps in acquisition. Combine that with daily practice on Duolingo, and you might really see quick and sustainable progress.

So, while taking drastic steps, like full immersion and spending hours a day on your learning can, indeed, improve your language skills effectively, they might just as well serve to shock and alienate you from the process altogether. The golden middle path lies in choosing what works for you – combining traditional language learning with language hacking tips to create a system where you keep improving little-by-little every day.


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