Language Hack: Learn Words from Natives

Some of the best language learners advocate speaking from day one.  Even if you’re lucky enough to be living in an area where your target language is spoken, often it is pretty difficult to jump into speaking so quickly.  I developed this trick to get native speakers to act as my own personal vocabulary coach and it works wonders.


First off, you’ll need some basic sentence constructions for phrases – such as “where is…” and “what is this called?”  Just a few such sentences are sufficient to get you well on your way.  It’s also good to know the phrases for “excuse me,” “please,” “thank you,” and “I don’t speak/understand well.”


  1. Spot something you want to find out about and approach a native, speaking the phrase for “excuse me”
  2. Say the basic phrase (eg. “where is/are…”) in a confident and direct voice
  3. Pause, screw up your face a little and look confused for just a half of a second
  4. Turn your confused face into a big smile, as if laughing at yourself, and mime out the word you’re looking for.  If you can, make a guess at what it might be called.
  5. 9 times out of 10, the speaker will understand exactly what you’re looking for and be happy to supply the [obviously] missing word.
  6. Repeat the word after the native slowly at first.  Usually they’ll gladly correct your pronunciation a few times until you get it right.


There you are!  If you do this just a few times a day, not only will you learn plenty of vocabulary but you’ll also have natives gladly helping you with your accent.


Remember, you don’t actually need to be looking for a bookstore to ask for one!  Nobody is going to follow you and make sure you go to the place that they suggest (unless they’re the overly-helpful sort, in which case, all the better!)


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