Learning a new language: how to go about it?

Mariama

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I was a language teacher for a couple of years and I am thinking of going back to teaching individuals or small groups by Skype for instance or in person.

At school you learn your grammar and your vocabulary and you have to use these textbooks and TBH it is all frightfully boring, unless as a teacher you are allowed to make up your own stuff, but as the curriculum is strictly controlled over here and in the UK for example chances are teachers just have to follow the guidelines which kill all creativity.

My kids learned to speak English by playing games, watching movies and series. They started to understand French and German when they heard other people speak these languages, the way we all learned our native language. I learned to speak German (it was one of my subjects at school, but I couldn't utter one word) when I heard it all day long. It happened quite naturally. The same goes for my French and English. Although I studied these languages at teacher training college I only became more proficient when I went abroad and when I started being immersed in the language.

So, my question is: what did you do in order to learn a new language? What helped, what didn't help? Do people really need schoolbooks or can we just look for alternative teaching materials which could be more tailor-made?
Thanks! :)
 

H-KQGE

Dagobah Resident
Mariama said:
So, my question is: what did you do in order to learn a new language? What helped, what didn't help? Do people really need schoolbooks or can we just look for alternative teaching materials which could be more tailor-made?
Thanks! :)

I read text books! But I searched for a good one & luckily I found it. A combination of audio tapes & text & the differences in accents in different regions of the chosen country. A BIG thing that helped was thinking of a word in the new language before my native language kicked in. What didn't help was not having people to converse with in the chosen foreign language. When the opportunity to do so presented itself I latched on quickly & caught other nuances of the speech & thought. Watching people speaking the new language interact is & was useful too. Most importantly for me was having not just a genuine interest in learning a new language, but having a thirst for learning new things & an understanding of the importance of communication & culture.

Schoolbooks can be useful depending on the context - the individual(s) the environment, the teacher, & the deciding factor IMO, is the curriculum. And you're right about the UK (and many other countries) a teacher isn't really allowed to stray from the blatant propaganda & inaccuracies. Even if a teacher knows the curriculum is BS but has to "play the game", they can't do anything to make any kind of learning fun. It's a great shame to think that there are many students who could learn something (and provide something valuable to another person in later years or society) but "fall through the cracks" because they're bored stupid. I barely managed to keep awake during school, even through the subjects that I liked. Alternative tailor-made teaching materials are definitely needed I think. My mind goes to all the times in human history when a people were on the verge of destruction & had to still try & preserve their way of life & the knowledge they had. We definitely need a new way.
 
Learn from textbooks until you have the most basic words down.
After that, move on to entire sentences as soon as possible, do not learn any further words in isolation.

Grammar points are best learned in context as well. Get a language partner or tutor and talk to them every day, if possible.
Add sentences you learn to a spaced repetition software like "Anki". It's more convenient than basic flashcards.

Moving to countries in which your target language is spoken is slightly overrated because depending on your personality, culture shock will make you avoid social interaction for quite some time before you adjust yourself to the local customs and languages. There are foreigner bubbles, where all of your friends are other foreigners. Avoid this as well and go out on your own. This is all the more important if you learn an East Asian language(I am learning Chinese right now and have been living in China/Taiwan for these past 2 years) because the culture places importance on the idea of insiders/outsiders and you don't want to be the isolated outsider. Alcohol can help(especially in Japan, where people tend to open up under the influence; I am of course not recommending binge drinking)

Relationships can help as well, although not necessarily because there will always be a dominant language and you have to put effort into keeping up a good balance between the two languages. It works mainly because you're emotionally motivated and you don't want to feel embarrassed in front of your love interest. Then again, there are plenty of "lazy" couples, where English just becomes the main language in the interactions because it feels more convenient. Avoid that too.

There is a company("Glossika") based in Taiwan that produces around 3000 Audio sentences in your mother tongue and in your chosen target language. It improves on the old Pimsleur Audio method/Assimil. It is a boring but effective method, because it makes you actually speak sentences until you no longer need to think about them. You need about 3 months to go through 3000 sentences.

After that, if you desire to become proficient in your target language, you need to avoid becoming complacent with being fluent on a basic level. Lots of reading and continued daily interaction with friends/language partners helps with slowly progressing towards high proficiency.
 

whitecoast

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I currently am using some language software to learn Spanish (I'm halfway to "functional tourist"). I enjoy the interactiveness of it more than just reading. I read a book called "how to learn any language in 3 months", written by a polyglot, and it strongly emphasized talking with people from day one. Tall order in terms of self-confidence, but I definitely can appreciate his reasons for saying so. Watching TV shows in your target language is also an immense help for learning to identify words in speech.

I admit I don't really spend a whole lot of time writing in my target language though... I focus on speaking and listening, since that's how I plan to use it the most. Reading obviously is important too if you go traveling or just want to read books in the language.

The author also gave interesting tips for each language as well. Core verbs are critical, since often you can construct whole sentences just using those plus a smorgasbord of infinitives interchangeably to say A LOT. ;D
 

Voyageur

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Mariama said:
[...]

So, my question is: what did you do in order to learn a new language? What helped, what didn't help? Do people really need schoolbooks or can we just look for alternative teaching materials which could be more tailor-made?
Thanks! :)

I'm always amazed at Europeans (and the East's) ability to have such a good grasp of different languages (multiple languages in many cases), which seems to be their close geographical and interactive relationship to each other, unlike the West. As for learning, for me anyway, it was living and interacting within a non English speaking community day in and day out, trying to develop an ear and a tongue (the harder part) for the language. Writing a different language seems a lot more more difficult (masculine/feminine etc.). When traveling in Europe, would write down as many things as possible that I thought I would need to ask, and then really try and listen to the responses to sort out nuances, pronunciations and meanings - usually people would smile knowing I'd said it all wrong.

I don't have an appropriate understanding of some of the online methods, and reading from words and phrases within books can be a good way to think about the words and their meanings; and often their roots in still other languages. So this seems a challenging way to exercise the mind and tongue. Another thing, when I could listen in, was a French language radio show called 'C'est la vie', hosted by Bernard St-Laurent (now retired), who looks at French words and meaning and then how to use them - it's really interesting as the word use can be complex in meaning and in their use. Here is a link to one of the shows on the word 'Appartenir' (to belong) as an example http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/C%27est+la+vie/ID/2666694338/ and you can go back many years in episodes. Anyway, perhaps other languages have these types of shows that can help?
 

Ruth

The Living Force
If you've ever tried to learn Latin, then (I'm guessing) that everything else is easy!

I wish that wasn't the case, but a lot seems to be about repetition, repetition and more of the same: Like 'grooving' a channel. Children just seem to 'pick things up' where an adult requires an explanation for why, for example, there are 30 different ways to say some pronouns where in English we only use one! Why there are 12 different ways to say a noun and that depends on which of the 3 main declinations they belong to. Adjectives have to agree with the noun that they describe in case, number and gender. After that, verbs are a bit of an anticlimax and their endings and base will tell you who, when and what was done. They are usually at the end of a sentence and are used as a 'full stop'.

I am told that those people with a mathematic bent are better at picking up all these rules and applying them to this language. As, every sentence is it's own 'puzzle piece'. I think I'm going to have to resign myself to being at this level: :-[
http://www.doyouremember.co.uk/memory/dick-and-dora
Perhaps I shouldn't have tried to learn a 2000 year old language. :lol:
 
It can be very challenging to learn a language that is unrelated to your own mother tongue. The further apart two languages are, the harder it is to adjust your mind, of course. It forces you to learn about other perspectives and concepts.

I've always been impressed by Dutch people and their ability to speak multiple languages fluently in their early 20's. Same can be said about most Northern Europeans. It helps that English movies don't seem to be dubbed in their own language(like in Germany where I am from)

By contrast, it is usually hard to converse in English with East Asian students, unless they've spent significant time abroad. Japanese seems to allow for long sequences of vowels and the way they talk makes it very hard for them to speak other languages without a heavy accent. When I meet them, Chinese is usually the only common language we have so that it becomes difficult to move beyond small talk, because Chinese with a Japanese accent negates most of the tones, which leaves me guessing most of the time.

Sometimes you meet Japanese and Koreans in China/Taiwan that speak excellent English or Chinese and these are usually very smart and hard working individuals. But this is nowhere near as frequent as the fluent conversational English most Northern Europeans seem to have. I attribute this both to flawed classroom methodologies and the distance between Indo-European and Altaic(?) languages like Japanese/Korean.
 

annp

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Mariama said:
So, my question is: what did you do in order to learn a new language? What helped, what didn't help? Do people really need schoolbooks or can we just look for alternative teaching materials which could be more tailor-made?
Thanks! :)

Initially, I took a few classes in order to learn the basics, grammar and basic conversation. I also collected some textbooks and dictionaries for reference. I found audio tapes / CD's at my local library and would listen to them repeatedly in my car. Once I grew somewhat comfortable with these, I began to listen to or watch online television news and radio shows. Although the broadcasters speak very quickly, it helped me get accustomed to the accents and pronunciation and eventually I began to understand small snippets of conversation. I have also tried to watch youtube videos, but seem to have little patience for watching unless the topic is interesting – if it's just rote repetition, I noticed that I became bored rather quickly.

Later, I found some small conversation groups that met weekly - it's nice if there are some people who are fluent to help beginners, as well as those who are just starting to learn so it's not so intimidating. These groups helped me more than anything, because the most difficult part for me was to speak the language, even though I could often understand what was being said, trying to find the words to reply was a challenge, but continued practice really helped.

Another good addition is to find some children's or young adult books in the language - they are usually fun to read and not so difficult as to be frustrating when you are just beginning. I also rented movies with English subtitles - they were interesting to watch as well as helpful in learning idiomatic phrases that you usually don't find in textbooks.

Hope this helps!
 

Buddy

The Living Force
Mariama said:
So, my question is: what did you do in order to learn a new language? What helped, what didn't help?

Several years ago, I was trying to teach myself Spanish and German. The material I bought ranged in sophistication from children's books to advanced textbooks. Multimedia instructional methods ranged from dollar store CDs to that Rosetta Stone DVD.

What helped were pictures that associated things with words and pictures that associated actions with phrases. Also helpful was audio files of a foreign language speaker so I could hear the actual sounds of the words as well as the verbal and vocal patterns that make up the rhythm of speech. Also helpful was learning what, how and why certain words and phrases were commonly used in a wide variety of situations. That made me feel like my learning was exponential as opposed to limited to specific contexts or situations.

What was not helpful past a certain point was any and all the above. I realized my learning was majorly passive. I could understand more than I could speak and when I did speak I was too self-conscious and inadequate, despite the fact that there may have been no errors at all in the teaching materials or in my mental translations from English to another language.

I eventually became one of this Quora author's 96% of people who eventually abandon the effort:

_http://www.quora.com/What-are-the-best-ways-to-learn-a-language-as-an-adult

...though my abandonment was more like putting it all on a back burner until I could return to it in better shape, so to speak.

Mariama said:
Do people really need schoolbooks or can we just look for alternative teaching materials which could be more tailor-made?
Thanks! :)

My learning style is visual, or visual-kinesthetic. What I have learned is that I NEED interaction and feedback to correct and reinforce. I need to interact in that language, to see and feel that the other person is understanding me and responding so that mentally I can move through a conversation without getting hung up somewhere. The reward from experiencing successful interaction in another language is amazing and seems to be exactly what solidified those patterns that I can still recall after years of abandoning the studies!
 

Odyssey

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I took French for several years in school but it was never of the immersion type. The teacher still spoke English in class. I understand it a lot better than I speak it -- which isn't much.

The hardest part about learning a language, in my opinion, is hearing when one word stops and the other starts. Hearing an unfamiliar language sounds like one long stream of gobbledygook. Have a book for the basic sentence structures is good but constant listening, repeating and conversing is a must. I had a really good Spanish instruction CD, "Learning Spanish Like Crazy" and I made good progress but I had no one to talk to. Now, I'm kicking myself cause I lost it!

Maybe another good thing to try is to watch kid's videos in the language you're trying to learn, watch movies with subtitles and imitate the actors' speech.
 

Maat

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Mariama said:
So, my question is: what did you do in order to learn a new language? What helped, what didn't help? Do people really need schoolbooks or can we just look for alternative teaching materials which could be more tailor-made?

After some basics of course (and these basics should include where can I find by myself valuable information about vocabulary, grammar, idioms etc that I would not know), I would say that any support which is interesting to the one who learns does help. It could be movies, lyrics, papers of personal interest, books. Something that the person really wants to understand (that is where school fails a lot I think !!)
 

Temperance

Jedi Council Member
FOTCM Member
I'm a native Spanish speaker and was forced to learn English when I moved to the U.S. at the age of 11. Of course at that age it is much easier to pick up a new language, but I will still share my experience with you. We were taught language arts in a ESL(English as Second Language) class although it was the same books that kids in the other classes were using, with vocab, grammar, etc. The teacher never spoke to us in Spanish unless we truly didn't understand, which forced us to listen and try to reply in English. My particular style of learning is visual, so I was able to read and write English much before I could speak it with a proper accent, which was very beneficial for my grades in language arts. In my high school years I was tired of being made fun off for mispronouncing words so I spent more time trying to improve my accent. When I was taking Latin and French classes, even though I had an advantage from knowing Spanish, memorizing all the conjugations and declinations and all that was a pain, and never really stuck with me. So, from my experience, I would suggest to begin with a combination of listening, speaking, and reading. The listening and speaking should preferably be done in person, or at least Skype or a video, because we understand language not only by listening but by seeing facial expressions and movements of the mouth.
 

Kasia

Jedi Master
My „recipe” for learning foreign languages – first learn basic grammar and vocabulary (it’s a must IMO). Then listen to a lot of the same things (first easy sentences, then more complex ones, finally longer texts and dialogues). You should understand most of what you listen to! In the meantime do some reading. Speak only when you are ready, when you understand basic spoken and written texts pretty well. And the most important tips – learn regularly (best every day for about 0,5-1 hour) and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
 

Dakota

Dagobah Resident
FOTCM Member
I learned English also from songs, movies and series. In school I learned just french (my mother fought that I will not need English in my life :rolleyes:) and pretty much I can understand when somebody speak and write but I have lost my knowledge of writing on french.
Also, when I write on English I have to read after I write and from the sound I conclude is it writed right. But when I read post from the other people I can see big difference between their sentences and my. It is not nice feeling to see how my sentences are bad and short and probably for some people is hard to understand what I wanted to say, but I think that I'm progressing because now I read English every day, from forum and book. Couple days before my friend put some film to play, I didn't even noticed that subtitles are on English ;). Also, my desire for knowledge about metaphysics, ketogen diet and etc. pushing me hard to read more and hopfully learn to write on better English. If I wanna write a long post I need two hours :/, but is good exercises.

I don't did anyone spot this article, very stimulating:

http://www.sott.net/article/252099-Learning-a-new-language-expands-the-brain
 

Altair

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Kasia said:
My „recipe” for learning foreign languages – first learn basic grammar and vocabulary (it’s a must IMO). Then listen to a lot of the same things (first easy sentences, then more complex ones, finally longer texts and dialogues). You should understand most of what you listen to! In the meantime do some reading. Speak only when you are ready, when you understand basic spoken and written texts pretty well. And the most important tips – learn regularly (best every day for about 0,5-1 hour) and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

That's my approach, too. Listening podcasts in foreign language and dynamic immersion after building up basic grammar and vocabulary.
 
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