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How I learn Languages

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fanatic
Octoglot
Senior Member
Australia
speedmathematics.com
Joined 5693 days ago

1152 posts - 1817 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, French, Afrikaans, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Dutch
Studies: Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, Modern Hebrew, Malay, Mandarin, Esperanto

 
 Message 1 of 29
16 January 2010 at 2:24am | IP Logged 
This is chapter three from my book about to be released called, Speed Learning.

3. Learn a Language

I have always been intrigued by the idea of learning another language. Way before I ever went to school I wanted to be able to speak in a language that none of my friends or family could understand. I saw it as a means of secret communication.

When I discovered that the girls who lived next door learnt French at school I begged them to teach me French. They were only too happy to “play” school in the back yard and give me lessons. They wrote the lessons on a blackboard and gave me written notes although I was too young to read. I retained what they had taught me up until the time I started high school and took my own French classes.

Since I left school I have learnt more at night classes and with home study courses than I ever did at school. I have come to the conclusion that I could have learnt the equivalent of six years’ school French in just six months by myself.

Many books and websites tell you that you need to spend at least three hours a day working on your language or you are wasting your time. Not so. I spent no more than 30 minutes a day learning survival Italian and spoke the language reasonably well in less than two weeks. It was enough for the basics and it enabled me to travel with my family on an Italian ship and to survive in Italy.

I learnt German spending between 20 and 30 minutes a day for around six months. Each day’s study was broken up into several chunks. I would spend five to ten minutes in the morning playing my lesson for the day on my cassette player and follow the text in my textbook. Then, at morning coffee I would take out my textbook and read the lesson through. I would do this again in my lunch break and again at afternoon coffee break. I often commuted to work so I would read the lesson through on the train morning and evening. Had I driven my car I would have listened to the lesson on my tape player as well.

Then, when I arrived home, I would play the tape again in the evening and read the lesson through again. Most of these sessions lasted five minutes and, I would say, a maximum of ten to fifteen minutes. I was able to hold simple conversations with my German friends after around six weeks. After six month’s study of around 30 to 40 minutes a day I was able to speak the language in Germany without difficulty.

The best approach is to break up your study time into small periods. By breaking my study time into small chunks of five to ten minutes I was easily able to reach my objective.

On weekends I would try to spend some extra time using my other tools. While I was walking by myself in the street I would talk to myself in my target language. I would talk to myself while I was driving. I would hold conversations with myself and try to construct the sentences by myself. This was the language I wanted to use. I usually carried a small dictionary so I could look up any words I didn’t know on the spot. This was the language I needed—not the language that somebody else thought I should need or would be good for me to know.

I have written about learning languages in more detail in my book, Fast, Easy Way to Learn a Language, but I will outline my basic method.

First, buy several textbooks and courses. You need audio as well as a printed textbook to learn how the language sounds. Audio is essential. If you are serious about studying the language you should buy a language course that is recorded entirely in the language you are learning. That will get you used to listening to dialogue in the language as well as encourage you to think in the language.

I highly recommend the Assimil language courses. They follow the above approach to learning languages and the lessons are broken up into an easy amount to learn in one day. Each lesson has a humorous picture cartoon to illustrate what you have learnt and the lessons are written in ordinary spoken language with humour to make learning pleasant. They recommend you read and listen to each lesson until you simply understand it. You don’t have to worry about committing anything to memory or learning conjugations or grammar. They then follow with an active phase where you go back 50 lessons and translate from your own language to the new language and you do some exercises. By this time you find the whole process to be simple. I have bought Assimil courses for more than a dozen languages.

Buy a small dictionary you can carry with you as well as a larger dictionary for serious study.

Second, read the explanations for pronouncing the language and for reading the written language. Listen to the recordings to ensure you are hearing the correct pronunciation.

Third, work your way through the lessons as fast as you can manage. Don’t worry about memorising it all at the moment. You are just acquainting yourself with the language for now. Don’t let yourself be bogged down by stuff you don’t understand. Make a note of it and move on.

Fourth, buy a notebook so you can write the vocabulary you need and your own notes on the language. This is in addition to the textbooks and courses you are using. Write the words that you will need. Begin with the words that hold the language together, I, me, you, he, she, we, they, with, also, after, before, in, out, on, under, may I? Can I? I would like, now, soon, later, immediately, tomorrow, today, yesterday, if, because, when, how, why, where, where is, good, bad, difficult, easy, very, more, less, much, while, yes, no, not, what is your name? My name is, please write that down, do you speak English?

As well as greetings and polite expressions, hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me, I am sorry, I beg your pardon.

Verbs such as to have, to be, to want, to understand, to know, to speak, to see, to eat, to drink, to open, to close, to come, to go. In many languages you can learn “I need, I want, I would like, and follow it with the infinitive, like “I need to sleep, I want to go, I would like to see,” and so on.

Concentrate on the important words that you will use at the beginning. Choose textbooks that teach the spoken language rather than narrative and formal language. Languages have large vocabularies but only a small vocabulary is used everyday. Concentrate on learning the useful, high frequency words. Around one hundred words make up more than fifty percent of written text or spoken language. Learn the hundred most common words and phrases of spoken conversation and written text and you are well one the way to mastering the language.

Break up your study times into several short sessions each day. Make a routine. Study in the morning while you have your breakfast or travel on the train or bus. You can use an mp3 player. While others are listening to music, you are learning. Read your books while you have your morning coffee, waiting in line at the bank or supermarket. Sometimes I get strange looks when I bring out a book to read while I am waiting in line at the bank or post office. I usually just say that if I had known how long the line was going to be I would have brought two books to read. I am making good use of my time. It is better than just standing in line and letting my mind wander. If I don’t have a book with me I often talk to myself in the language I am learning. I talk about the people and things that I can see or what I would like to be doing, or what I will do after I have been served.

Use the Internet to supplement your study material. You can print out the day’s headlines from an Internet newspaper in the language. You can listen to radio broadcasts and record them. It is not difficult to find podcasts to download. You can also make use of the Internet translation facilities to translate a page from a foreign newspaper. The search engines, Google and Ata Vista have translation options. The translation may be a bit strange but it can help.

Also, play with the language. Talk to yourself in the language. Read comics or joke books. Read magazines that interest you. Listen to music sung in the language. Try and find the words to the songs on the Internet.

Watch movies. This offers several options. With DVDs you can watch the movie in your own language with foreign subtitles or watch it in the foreign language with subtitles in your own language. When you are familiar with the language you can watch the DVD with both sound and subtitles in the target language so you can both hear and read the language you are learning. Next time you buy a DVD, check the language options on the back.

Read grammar books so you understand why words change with the way they are used. You don’t have to memorise declensions, just understand them. You will learn them naturally as you practise the language.

And importantly, find people you can talk with in the language. Find a club or religious organization where you can talk with native speakers. Do an online search or check the local telephone directory.

I also plan for immersion days or half days when I can immerse myself in the language. I plan with language lessons, reading, a movie and music while I eat food from the language area. That might also include a visit to the club or organization where everyone speaks the language I am learning.

Twenty Suggestions

Here are twenty suggestions I give for learning languages as taken from an interview on learning languages at http://www.foreign-languages-guide.com/assimil.html:

1. Use more than one textbook. Use them simultaneously.

2. Have at least one audio course for the correct pronunciation and for aural understanding.

3. Learn the words that hold the language together. Learn the most frequent words and the most strategic words. "I would like," I am, I have, I am going, I need, I want, can you help me? Where is?

4. Read material you enjoy. Read magazines that interest you, visit web sites in the language. Read comics and joke books. Read novels you enjoy or biographies when you are able.

5. Join a club or organization where the language is spoken.

6. Speak with colleagues on the job if anyone speaks the language you are learning. Conduct your business in the language if possible.

7. Keep a journal or diary in the language.

8. Speak to yourself in the language. Hold imaginary conversations with yourself.

9. Do a little every day.

10. Reward yourself for each new achievement.

11. Don’t get discouraged if you lapse in your study. You can always make a comeback and it is always easier the second time around.

12. Don’t get discouraged if you simply cannot understand some point of grammar or you simply have some block in your learning. Just keep going. Your problem will sort itself out.

13. Write emails to people or organizations in your new language. It is fun. You will probably never meet the person you are writing to so who cares if you make a mistake.

14. I prefer audio courses that are recorded entirely in the language I am learning so I am encouraged to think in the language.

15. Work your way through the course as fast as you can and leave the technicalities of grammar, exercises and explanations for later, and then go back to the beginning and learn the lessons in greater depth and complete any exercises. Keep forging ahead while you do this.

16. Carry a small pocket dictionary with you so you can look up any words immediately that you need or don’t understand. Make sure it is a two-way dictionary.

17. I like to learn language in context. I don’t like word lists and I don’t use flash cards. I don’t say others shouldn’t use them – I just don’t like them. I do teach a fun method for learning word lists and vocabulary but I still prefer to learn new words in context.

18. Watch foreign movies. This is easy with DVDs where you can change the soundtrack to the language you want. Watch with subtitles until you are reasonably familiar with the language.

19. I make mini-immersion days where I just live in the language. I talk to myself in the language, I listen to music, read books, study some lessons, review old lessons, watch a movie, eat food associated with the language and country, and generally spend the day only thinking in my target language. I save things I enjoy for the day, like reading comics and joke books, short stories I enjoy and playing my favourite music. My Internet activity will be all in the language as well.

20. I try to enjoy learning the language. I treat it as an adventure. I don’t treat it as something I have to do. I don’t treat it as work. I don’t take it seriously—it is all fun and games. I play at learning.


Using Links to Learn Vocabulary

There is a saying in Europe that you have to learn a word and forget it seven times before you have learnt it properly. We can eliminate most of the effort and frustration of learning a foreign vocabulary. We can use the linking method to enable us to learn a useful vocabulary in record time. Here are some examples.

When I say to make a mental picture, actually do it. Don't just agree with the picture - see it in your mind. This forces a high degree of concentration. This forces active learning instead of passive learning.

French

Cochon is pig in English. How do we remember that? Cochon sounds like cushion. We join the sound alike, cushion, to the meaning, pig. I picture having small pigs on my lounge instead of cushions and I tell my visitors, pull up a pig and take a seat. That reminds me of the meaning of cochon. It tells me that cochon is French for pig.

Livre is French for book. I picture that I always leave my book behind at mealtime. I always forget to take it with me. I join livre with leave. Make a mental picture of leaving your book behind and someone running after you to give it to you, and you have it memorised.

Voudrais is an important word to learn. Je voudrais means I would like. Voudrais sounds like food tray. If you are hungry you can picture yourself saying, I would like a food tray. And it is a phrase you would use often so it will quickly go into your permanent memory.

There are a lot of words that are similar in French and English so you will find many words are close enough to remind you of the meanings.

German

English is a Germanic language so German is not too difficult for English speakers. Many words sound the same or similar, like Hand, Fuss (foot) Haus (house) and even Strasse for street is not far removed. Verbs like gehen, (go) kommen, (come) and sagen, (say).

Komm hier means Come here. We have a head start but we still have a large vocabulary to learn.

Hemd is German for shirt. The hems on all of my shirts are frayed. Picture your shirts with frayed hems and you have it.

Tisch means table. Imagine a huge dish with legs and you use it as your kitchen table. Picture it.

Kissen means pillow. Picture kissing your pillow. (Kuessen means to kiss; close enough that you don’t need a reminder. Just don’t mix it with Kissen.)

Teller means plate. Your bank teller always hands you your money on a plate. See yourself at the bank and the teller is handing you your money on a plate.

Indonesian

Here are some Indonesian words to show the method doesn’t only work for European languages.

Sudah means already. Sudah sounds like Sue ta or Sudan. Your mother says, Say ta (thank you) to Sue (Sue ta) and you reply, I already said it.

Makan means to eat. I am hungry so I will make an omelette. “Make an” sounds like makan. It is a bit weak but we will only need to remember this for a couple of minutes. We should revise our memorised list within five minutes of committing it to memory.

Boleh means to be able. I am able to dance ballet. See yourself dancing ballet and saying to someone you are able to dance ballet.

Baik (pronounced bike) means good. I simply picture I am a good bike rider or I have just received a good bike worth thousands of dollars as a present.

Let’s see if this method has worked for you.
What is French for pig?
What is French for book?
What is French for I would like?

What is German for shirt?
What is German for table?
What is German for pillow?


What is Indonesian for can or to be able?
What is Indonesian for already?
What is Indonesian for the verb to eat?
What is Indonesian for good?

The fact that you could translate from English to the foreign language means the words have passed to your active vocabulary. If you just recognised the foreign words when you heard them or saw them it means the words are in your passive vocabulary. That is good but you need the words to be in your active vocabulary. The fact that you could call out the foreign word means it is already in your active vocabulary. That is more impressive. It usually takes time for the words to enter your passive vocabulary and then, with use, pass into your active vocabulary.

To put the words into your long-term memory, just keep revising your lists, making the mental pictures as you need them. After a while you won't need the reminders any more.

This is great if you are studying for an exam.

I don’t believe in working at learning a language. I play with languages and make it a form of enjoyment. It might help to pretend you are learning the language to be a spy or an undercover agent. Find what motivates you and do it.

33 persons have voted this message useful



NuclearGorilla
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5333 days ago

166 posts - 195 votes 
Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Japanese, French

 
 Message 2 of 29
16 January 2010 at 3:23am | IP Logged 
Thanks for sharing this. While I don't think there's much in there that would be new to someone who's read a lot on the topic, it's a good collection of general tips and ideas.

Parts of this seem really familiar, actually, as if I've read them before. Maybe I'm having synaptic troubles.
1 person has voted this message useful



fanatic
Octoglot
Senior Member
Australia
speedmathematics.com
Joined 5693 days ago

1152 posts - 1817 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, French, Afrikaans, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Dutch
Studies: Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, Modern Hebrew, Malay, Mandarin, Esperanto

 
 Message 3 of 29
16 January 2010 at 4:33am | IP Logged 
A student asked me to help him learn a basic Japanese vocabulary using this method. He supplied the words from his textbook and we learnt 150 words and their meanings in an hour and a half, a rate of 100 words per hour. That is an excellent return for your time.
5 persons have voted this message useful



Captain Haddock
Diglot
Senior Member
Japan
kanjicabinet.tumblr.
Joined 5315 days ago

2282 posts - 2814 votes 
Speaks: English*, Japanese
Studies: French, Korean, Ancient Greek

 
 Message 4 of 29
16 January 2010 at 5:33am | IP Logged 
Glad to hear I'm not the only one who doesn't like flashcards.
1 person has voted this message useful



Kinan
Diglot
Senior Member
Syrian Arab Republic
Joined 4113 days ago

234 posts - 279 votes 
Speaks: Arabic (Written)*, English
Studies: Russian, Spanish

 
 Message 5 of 29
16 January 2010 at 8:26am | IP Logged 
wow, great post, i certainly have learned many usefull tips.
Thanks a lot.
1 person has voted this message useful



OlafP
Triglot
Senior Member
Germany
Joined 3982 days ago

261 posts - 667 votes 
Speaks: German*, French, English

 
 Message 6 of 29
16 January 2010 at 1:54pm | IP Logged 
fanatic wrote:
You don’t have to memorise declensions, just understand them. You will learn them naturally as you practise the language.


I'll keep that in mind for my Russian, albeit I don't fully believe it. Native speakers make grammar mistakes, too, so getting a feeling for the language may not be enough. If someone's native language is a highly inflected one, this may entail a different idea of what it means to master a language. It all boils down to what level of proficiency you want to reach. It is a legitimate standpoint to learn a language only to the point of being understood, but this is not the right thing for me. Life is too short to remain on the surface of all things.

fanatic wrote:

Komm hier means Come here.

Maybe it's just a typo, but I'll mention it anyway before someone commits this into memory. "Komm hier!" is not correct. Instead, you would say "Komm her!". "hier" is more about static places and can be used alone, like "Ich bin hier." (I am here), whereas "her" is used with directed motions and always tied to a verb, even if it is split up in a phrase.

5 persons have voted this message useful



Cainntear
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Scotland
linguafrankly.blogsp
Joined 4558 days ago

4399 posts - 7687 votes 
Speaks: Lowland Scots, English*, French, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic
Studies: Catalan, Italian, German, Irish, Welsh

 
 Message 7 of 29
16 January 2010 at 2:24pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for sharing, fanatic.

There's a couple of things I disagree with, but I might start new threads to discuss them.

OlafP wrote:
fanatic wrote:
You don’t have to memorise declensions, just understand them. You will learn them naturally as you practise the language.


I'll keep that in mind for my Russian, albeit I don't fully believe it. Native speakers make grammar mistakes, too, so getting a feeling for the language may not be enough.

I half agree with fanatic here, in that I do not believe in memorising tables of declensions or conjugations. When I learned French at high school, we started with full verb tables for the present tense. I was faster than most of the class at the singular conjugations (I, you (familiar), he/she/it), but the others were faster than me at the plurals. However, over the course of the first year, my plural conjugations got quicker until I was faster than all of them, and their speed stayed the same.

What that demonstrated to me was that I was learning the conjugations one by one through use, whereas it appeared as though my classmates had developed a good memory of the table and were relying on "looking it up" in their heads every time.

Memorising endings can be useful in that it lets you look them up without carrying a book, but if your brain finds it too easy to look up, you'll never learn it.

"You don't need to memorise conjugations, just understand them."

What does he mean by "just understand them". I would interpret that to mean that if you study the declensions a little, but aren't able to actively recall them on demand, your brain will remember them when it hears them, and that will in turn help you speak.
1 person has voted this message useful



Cainntear
Pentaglot
Senior Member
Scotland
linguafrankly.blogsp
Joined 4558 days ago

4399 posts - 7687 votes 
Speaks: Lowland Scots, English*, French, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic
Studies: Catalan, Italian, German, Irish, Welsh

 
 Message 8 of 29
16 January 2010 at 3:07pm | IP Logged 
fanatic wrote:
If you are serious about studying the language you should buy a language course that is recorded entirely in the language you are learning.

I've brought this idea up in another thread discussing the same topic:
Thinking in a foreign language...

Edit:tags

Edited by Cainntear on 16 January 2010 at 3:08pm



1 person has voted this message useful



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