My question is: what is the fastest/easiest way of learning a new language nowadays? Any new methods or techniques?
I don’t think there is an easy and fast way! There are also many different things that work better for some and others that work better for others. As Chu mentioned, you’d have to try different things to see what works best for you, and that you also enjoy. If you find them too much of a chore you won’t do them, at least that’s how it is for me.
In my case, this is what I found worked best for me:
Learn pronunciation alongside the first 500-600 most frequently used nouns/verbs (better yet 1000). I do that alongside other things but focus on that since that helped me to build a base with which I can look at other parts of the sentence and get more context out of them. Those few hundred words make up to 70-80% of words that you’ll see/hear in basic material or everyday speech. But don’t expect to have a proper conversation as you still need grammar to tie everything in together.
A frequency dictionary helps but you’ll probably want to skip the first 50 or so since they count pronouns, conjunctions and adverbs etc among which don’t really mean anything without context (and grammer).
A quick to do that is to use SRS (spaced repetition software), something like Anki, Supermemo or Lingvist. I personally like Anki as it is the most flexible when it comes to creating your own flashcards.
While useful it shouldn’t be the only thing you do, that can be supplemented by other things but Anki is great since it doesn’t take much time and you can see easily measure your progress and there’s all kinds of cool add-ons you can get. For example, if you learn 20 cards every day, in 30 days you’ll have picked up 600 words – and remember at least 80-90% of them. This will come in handy when it comes to doing grammar exercises or reading simple texts and from there you can build on the vocab.
Even if you ditch the flashcards later, picking up those few hundred words quickly at the beginning makes things easier later on. Another thing you’ll want is to make sure the words are pronounced by a native speaker or at least a quality text-to-speech program. Forvo is a great website to get the pronunciation for some common languages.
But generally, for learning new words quickly and remembering them, SRS is far superior to any other method I’ve tried.
I’ve always found grammar hard because in order for it to stick you have both do passive and active learning. Passive is the easier of the 2 since you just read or listen to something to hear what grammatically correct sentences sound like. It’s also when you read an explanation of what the rule is and how it’s used. But then you actually have to learn how to use it and that’s when it becomes active. I personally like doing quizzes and tests but basically anything that you can do that requires you to actively recall the correct grammar will help make it stick. I also find it repetitive but when it comes to grammar, repetition is key!
For learning verb conjugation, I did find these courses by Memrise to be very good (French and Spanish):
Learn French Conjugation
Learn Spanish Conjugation
They cover the most common verbs (both regular and irregular) and while a bit repetitive, you’ll know them pretty well by the end of it.
Speaking / Writing
At first most learning is going to be passive since one simply doesn’t vocabulary or grammar to output anything substantial aside from a few phrases but don’t let that discourage you. The sooner you start to use what you do know the better it will stick and this part of it is all too often neglected. Start small and work your way up. You absolutely have to produce in the target language in order to make real progress. There’s no way around this. It’s also the best way to put into practice anything that was being studied in the passive mode.
A Jay had mentioned Italki – and I second that. The tutors there are great and pricing pretty decent. It’s a great way to practice talking. Even if you do it badly, as JP says, better than not at all. You will improve. In addition to Italki, there are also language exchanges. This might be a better option if you don’t want to (or can’t) spend money on a tutor or instructor.
The difference here is that you’ll spend half your time speaking in your native (or fluent language) and the other half in theirs (ie, the language you are learning). Now I haven’t tried these yet but these are ones I found that seemed pretty good to me and plan to check them out sometime:
Speaky - Social network to learn languages online
Free virtual language exchange site using Skype by Dickinson College | The Mixxer
Writing is a bit easier in that you can check what you are doing as you go – but don’t do that until the end or you’ll never get through the sentence! The nice thing is you can get feedback on your own (for example you can write what you want to say in your native tongue, pop it into a translator like DeepL and compare its translation to what you wrote). Another way to check is to use a grammar checker. I like these two for Spanish and French.
But even better is to get feedback from other native speakers by using something like Lang-8. This is another language exchange except what you do is correct other people’s written entries. In turn they correct yours. I used it a lot when I was studying Japanese and found it really useful.
Two things that really make a difference is to be consistent and to set goals. If you’re not consistent and there’s large gaps between studying or doing some form of learning you won’t make any progress. And depending on what your goals are you might want to look at doing a proficiency test, especially if what you’re aiming for is fluency. But even if just conversational language is your goal, I would still recommend looking at the requirements and studying towards that. It’s a great way to add some structure to your studying and makes things more efficient when trying to figure out what to focus on. It’s also a great way to get a real measure on your progress as you work your way towards fluency.
Ok this ended being a bit longer than intended, but hope it helps!