You might have heard of polyglots who know several languages, but do you know any hyperpolyglots? These are people who speak a really large number of languages—some say at least 6, others 11 or more.

I count myself among them! I grew up speaking only French and started learning English in middle school, then German, then Latin and Ancient Greek, then Italian… and I never stopped. I have studied 21 languages to date—some for decades and others for just a few months.

Here are 4 tips I’ve gathered over the years as a professional language learner and teacher—and a bonus tip for advanced learners!

Tip #1: Identify your motivation

Understanding what you’re trying to achieve by learning a language can have a positive impact on your learning. For instance, when I started studying Turkish, I wanted to meet people and get around in Turkey, but my greater purpose was to gather data for my dissertation. I knew this would be my one opportunity to complete the project and if I didn’t, it would set me back another year. Knowing and reminding yourself of your motivation will keep you moving forward when things get tough.

Tip #2: Practice consistently

In my experience, setting aside 15 minutes a day for practice is more efficient for acquiring a language than doing a single three-hour block once a week, especially if you’re not an advanced speaker. Think of it like the compounding principle of money: Saving a little every month over a long stretch of time is a lot more effective in the long run than trying to save a lump sum right before retirement.

Illustration of a bear standing on its feet with a paw to its ear, listening to something in the distance

Tip #3: Record yourself

This is one of my very favorite learning tricks—I record myself speaking the language, then I listen carefully and give myself some feedback. (You can also ask someone else to take a listen!) Sometimes I just talk about whatever topic I want, other times I record myself while I’m on the phone, or I ask a friend if I can record a conversation we’re about to have. On the one hand, listening to those recordings allows me to feel proud of what I can do in the language. And on the other, it gives me an opportunity to hear myself make mistakes, get stuck in the middle of a sentence, or not understand something that’s being said to me, and then to really zoom in on the issue. Listening to the recordings gives me time to think about what went wrong and learn a useful new word or phrase for next time.

Tip #4: Be compassionate

Being kind to yourself while learning a language will do some magic for you! There are many ways to apply self-compassion to learning, for example:

  • Remember that it takes time to build both accuracy and comfort using the language (ever noticed how those two get in the way of each other?), so set realistic goals.
  • Be patient if you don’t reach those goals as quickly as you were hoping!
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t sound how you'd like after one, two or even 15 years. Trying too hard to perfect an accent can give you performance anxiety, which hinders your progress.
  • Mistakes are a healthy part of the learning process so welcome them and use them to improve.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other learners. There is room for all at the language-learning table!

For advanced learners: Pick someone to imitate

One good strategy if you've already been studying for a while and want to polish your speaking is to pick someone as your model and focus on trying to sound like them. When I do this, I try to select someone that I identify with at multiple levels—similar education level, same gender identity, even sense of fashion when possible! It’s easier to find a model when you are surrounded with speakers of your target language, but it can also be done through online platforms. This strategy will bring your attention to aspects of the language and culture you may have missed otherwise, like not just what to say but how to say it.

Which of these tips will you apply to your language practice this week?