A lot of you who have been following Tynan for a while probably understand by now that Tynan loves traveling and he's also learning Japanese these days. I'm sure a lot of Tynan's readers share a common passion for travel, and I'm sure a lot of you are either studying or planning to study a foreign language.
Now, does learning a foreign language have to be expensive? Do you need to register in a college course and spend thousands of dollars on tuition fees and so on? From my personal experience, and from the experience of several polyglots who have taught themselves to speak countless languages, the answer is no.
But when you're new to the self-study of a foreign language, it can be hard to know where to start, and especially what kind of textbook or method to purchase. So I've recently written a review on my blog, lingholic, of 6 methods that I consider worth looking into if you'd like to kickstart your study of a foreign language, based on my 6+ years of experience learning languages and dealing with textbooks, university courses, and methods of all sorts. I hope it'll be useful to you!
There are a lot of self-study language methods out there, and for the person looking to learn a language on their own, it can be hard and confusing to choose the method that suits your needs. There are plenty of great methods available to students wishing to learn a language on their own, and in this post I’ll try to tackle a few that, in my opinion, as well as in the opinion of some of the most well-known polyglots out there, are some of the best and easiest to go through. More extensive reviews with pictures and audio can be found on my website's "Reviews" page.
So if you were to ask “What’s the ‘best’ method out there?”, what could a seasoned language learner answer? Well, the truth is, there is no objective or universal answer to this question. Since we all learn in different ways, some methods might be more suitable to some people than others. Plus, different languages might need to be learned in different ways, again, depending on your learning style and on your ability to acquire and understand new grammatical structures and language systems. For example, I have learned Spanish very differently from Korean. Spanish is a Romance language very similar to French and English, languages I speak fluently. Korean, on the other hand, is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. While Spanish can often be learned in a more “inductive” manner, this does not always work with Korean. So you’ll have to keep this in mind when trying out a new or old method and when relying on your learning habits that might have worked in one instance, but might not work the best in another.
Other examples abound, but the point is, don’t get stuck on a method that somebody has recommended because it worked for them. Some people love grammar, literally. They find they can learn the language quickly and easily that way. Others simply loathe it. The bottom line is, read about a few language methods, and try out a few to get to know which one might be the best fit for you. In this post, I’ve picked some of the most popular self-study methods out there, and I’ve tried to give you a very broad overview of what they do, and if they are worth your time and money. Hope you enjoy
Average cost of the method: ~$50-70 for the Book + CDs Edition ($20 for the book only)
Available in: over 40 languages
Type of method: dialogues with minor grammatical explanations in footnotes. Audio, entirely in the target language, is included.
The first self-study language I will introduce is one of my favorites, and it’s the favorite method of several well-known polyglots, including Luca Lampariello, who speaks nearly 12 languages fluently, and Robert Bigler, a simultaneous interpreter from Austria who speaks many languages as well.
The method is called Assimil, and although it is not that well-known in North America, it is an extremely popular method in Europe. It's not the cheapest alternative out of the methods I'll be introducing today (roughly $50 to $70 for both the book and CDs), but it's an option seriously worth considering because of the quality and effectiveness of the method. So what is it, how do you use it, and why do I recommend it?
Well, first of all, Assimil is available in more than 40 languages. The series was created back in 1929 by Alphonse Chérel. From the website’s description, “[Assimil] enables beginners to acquire an average vocabulary of 2,000 to 3,000 words, learn the basic grammar rules, and gain a command of everyday conversation. The With Ease Series takes you to Level B2 [high-intermediate] of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in a few months.”
Each method consists of a coursebook with 100 lessons on average (~4-6 pages/lesson). Each lesson includes a short dialogue (getting progressively longer throughout the book), written in the target language (L2), together with a translation after each dialogue, as well as short exercises to test your comprehension. You are recommended to spend at least one day on each lesson and to review them every once in a while. As you follow through the dialogues, you listen to the audio and read through. The great thing about the audio is that it does not contain lengthy explanations in English. I believe this is good and important, because there is nothing as annoying (and useless), in my opinion, as audio CDs that are half in your native tongue, with things such as “repeat the following sentence” or “pay attention to this particular ending”, etc.
1. Assimil, you might have guessed from the name, encourages learners to “assimilate” the language, similarly to how you assimilated your mother tongue when you were a child. It’s very intuitive, but at the same time there are helpful explanations grammatical rules and language expressions in the footnotes. I've personally found this method to work surprisingly well. I've also had a few interviews with Luca Lampariello, an amazing language learner by any standards who speaks 12 languages to a level of fluency quite astonishing, and in Part 1 of our interview he says that this is the method he uses whenever possible to learn a new language.
2. I think the strength of the Assimil method truly lies in the fact that you get to understand how the language works without any lengthy grammatical explanations. The grammatical concepts are thrown at you through practical conversations, and you get to read short explanations about these concepts after having actually seen them used by people, which I think is really important. Additionally, the dialogues are usually very practical, and contain words and phrases that you are very likely to use from "Day 1" when starting to speak a language with actual human beings. Since the method also tries to use as little English as possible, it gets yourself to think in the foreign language as soon as possible.
Any downsides? Well, in fact, I’ve found this method surprisingly good and I haven’t found any major downsides to it. Nevertheless, here are two minor things that I could point out:
1. The dialogues do not have names of people, they are only numbered. It can sometimes be confusing to follow the conversations as, often, 3 to 4 people are having a conversation, so at times you’re not sure who’s saying what. It really is not a big deal, honestly, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
2. In the Chinese method, for some reason the author thought it would be a good idea to put an exclamation mark (or an interrogation mark) to almost every single sentence in the book (no joke, it’s quite amazing). Not a big deal but you’re sometimes wondering why the speakers seem that excited. I haven’t seen this in other Assimil books I’ve looked at, though. Luca Lampariello has said that he was rather disappointed with the Chinese method of the Assimil series, but I’ve found it to be thorough and worth going through nevertheless.
Average cost of the method: ~$20-55 (depending on the level for each series)
Available in: over 65 languages
Type of method: Each unit in Teach Yourself usually contains a dialogue with direct translations next or below the sentences, as well as exercises, translations, grammar points, etc., together with audio CDs.
The Teach Yourself Languages range is available in print, audio and CD packs, e-books, enhanced e-books (which utilize multimedia to enhance the learning experience), and will soon be launched as a series of apps for smart devices. Each new Teach Yourself product is graded according to a unique 5 level guide.
According to the Teach Yourself website, all of their language courses are suitable for beginners - they just get you to different levels of proficiency, at different paces of study. However, I have tried their Chinese method (Teach Yourself Chinese Complete Course, by Elizabeth Scurfield), and I’ve found it to be way too hard for a complete beginner in the language. Each unit introduces a whole new list of words and the pace is definitely too fast. In my opinion, this particular book is definitely suitable for a high-beginner (A2) or low-intermediate learner (B1).
In general, the Teach Yourself language series books are quite good, but many polyglots, as well as myself, prefer Assimil. Nonetheless, Moses McCormick, a polyglot who has studied over 50 languages, is well-known for using this method and he wholeheartedly recommends it.
So how exactly does the method work?
Well, it’s somewhat similar to Assimil. It’s basically a book that has dialogues included together with the audio, and you are directed through the various units and encouraged to go through exercises and so forth. However, the Teach Yourself method has, generally, many more explanations than Assimil, and therefore definitely more English. The method is also more varied than Assimil; as stated earlier, the Teach Yourself series has 5 levels, whereas the Assimil method has only 2.
Average cost of the method: $349+ for Levels 1-5
Available in: 27 languages (9 languages available in all 5 levels)
Type of method: computer software that uses images, text, sound, and video to teach words and grammar by spaced repetition, without translation. Everything is in the target language.
Rosetta Stone is by far the most well-known language learning tool throughout the world, and is the industry leader with $273.24M in sales in 2012. The company markets its more than 30 language learning products in more than 150 countries. The millions of customers include the U.S. Army, U.S. State Department, Reuters, and Marriott Hotels.
Rosetta Stone is a so-called computer-assisted language learning (CALL) software and it uses images, text, sound, and video to teach words and grammar by spaced repetition, without translation. Rosetta Stone calls their approach Dynamic Immersion; you basically learn the language by being immersed in it, without the help of your native tongue.
There are four units per language level. Each unit has four core lessons that are about 30 minutes long. The student then moves on to one of the following lesson modes: Pronunciation, Writing, Vocabulary, Grammar, Listening, Reading, Speaking, or Milestone. The Milestone is an exercise in which the student applies what they learned in the unit.
To use Rosetta Stone, a student needs the Rosetta Stone application software and at least one level of a language course. The latest major version of Rosetta Stone is Version 4 TOTALe.
Rosetta Stone is a computer program, so to use it you need a computer, but also a microphone. The reason for the microphone is that you get to repeat after a native speaker during pronunciation exercises, and the Rosetta Stone software attempts to evaluate word pronunciation and it gives you feedback (if you fail to pronounce the word correctly, you have to repeat until you get it right). When purchasing Rosetta Stone, a headset microphone automatically comes with the package, although the quality of the headset is not that good.
In a nutshell, then, Rosetta Stone is a program that immerses you in the target language; no translations are used. Only pictures, text, recordings, and videos. The program does not teach languages the “traditional” way using verb tables, grammar drills, and complicated terms such as “the predicative” and “the ablative.” If only the thought of hearing these words scares you, you’ll certainly feel comfortable with Rosetta Stone since none are to be found.
The program has several different types of exercises, including pronunciation, grammar, writing, and word association. Grammar lessons cover grammatical tense and grammatical mood. In grammar lessons, the program first shows the learner several examples of a grammatical concept, and in some levels the words the learner should focus on are highlighted. Then the learner is given a sentence with several options for a word or phrase, and the student chooses the correct option. Here’s a screenshot of what such an exercise looks like:
In another variation, a native speaker makes a statement that describes one of the photographs, and the statement is printed on the screen; the student chooses the photograph that the speaker described. In yet another, the student completes a textual description of a photograph, as you can see below:
In a vocabulary building exercise, the student pairs sound or text to one of several images. The number of images per screen varies.
In writing exercises, the software provides an on-screen keyboard to make it easier to type characters that are not in the Latin alphabet. So don’t worry if you don’t have, for example, the Spanish accents installed on your computer; you’ll be able to type them through Rosetta Stone’s software.
Average cost of the method: around $35 for sixteen 30 minutes-long audio lessons. Around $200 for the “comprehensive series”, which includes thirty 30 minute-long audio lessons and one hour of reading instruction.
Available in: Over 50 languages
Type of method: Audio-only method (in 30 minute-long lessons) with separate Reading Component. Listen to words and dialogues in the target language and repeat.
Chances are you might know Pimsleur from the amount of spam their affiliate marketers tend to send in your email inbox, with catchy titles such as “Learn a New Language in Only 10 Days!” This rather disappointing fact has somewhat, in my eyes anyway, tainted the reputation of this method. Anyone who makes a statement as bold and ridiculous as saying that you can learn to “speak” a language in 10 days probably has no idea what they’re talking about, or, just perhaps, they really want your money badly.
Now, before we delve into the pros and cons of the method, though, let’s take a look at what Pimsleur actually is. Pimsleur is almost exclusively an audio-only method, offered in over 50 languages (including English for native speakers of various other languages), and the method was developed by Paul Pimsleur (1927–1976), who was a scholar in the field of applied linguistics.
Pimsleur comes in a variety of programs, which you can have a quick glance at here. The programs are as follow: Quick & Simple, go Pimsleur, Basic, Compact, Conversational, and Comprehensive. The 4 first programs are really quite short, and do not cover more than a handful of lessons (10 at most, or 5 hours of audio). The comprehensive program, depending on the language, can be offered in as many as 4 levels, each level comprising 16 hours (16 CDs) of spoken language instruction.
All of Pimsleur’s courses have a separate Reading Component, which uses a phonetic approach to learning how to read. You start by learning the new sound system and how letters combine to make new sounds in the target language. Therefore, although Pimsleur is primarily an audio method, they teach how to read new alphabets such as Russian, Arabic, Korean, etc. The only courses that do not have a reading component are the non-phonetic languages (Chinese and Japanese). All other courses have several hours of reading practice that follow a very structured method, unlike Michel Thomas which is audio-only.
The way Pimsleur works is rather simple. At the beginning of each lesson, you get to hear a short dialogue (~2mn) in the foreign language you’re studying. At the beginning you do not usually understand much of it. However, after having listened to that dialogue, the next 25 or so minutes are spent covering the words and phrases that you heard in that conversation, plus some more. You are strongly encouraged to listen to the speakers and repeat after them.
If you’d like to listen to a free lesson, click here to see their list of languages and simple follow the “free lesson” link.
1. Highly professional voice actors with a very pleasant voice and clear pronunciation. This makes it easier to acquire a good pronunciation right from the start.
2. Similarly with Michel Thomas, Pimsleur is mainly an audio method, but they do provide some reading component which is great. While you will not develop extensively your reading and writing skills through listening to the tapes, you will get to read some vocabulary and assimilate some spelling rules. For this reason, however, I would encourage language learners to use Pimsleur in combination with another textbook method. Look for my other reviews to pick one that will suit your needs!
3. Extremely easy and convenient way to start learning a language. If you have never learned a foreign language before, you will find Pimsleur very easy of access. Beginner language learners are often kind of afraid of books and grammar and boring/complicated concepts. Pimsleur says adios to all that. Really, all you have to do is listen comfortably to the speakers and try your best to repeat after them. New words are also repeated many times, so chances are they will end up sticking in your long-term memory without too much effort on your part.
4. Great method to work on while commuting to school or work. For example, if you drive every day to work, and it takes you 30 minutes to commute, you’ll be able to go through one lesson each time you get to work. As you go through the lessons every day, you will really feel like you progress quickly which is a great motivation booster.
5. The lessons progress at a reasonable pace, not too fast, and not too slow either (although I’ve heard some complaints from people who feel the lessons progress too slowly, but I’ve found the pace to be good enough, since new words and phrases really stick in your memory). If you are an experienced language learner and you find the lessons to progress too slowly for your taste, you can always use a simple media player and accelerate the speed at which the audio is played.
1. Pimsleur is an expensive method. For most of us, this is a strong influencing factor when it comes to making the decision to purchase a language method. If money is not an issue, I’d say sure, give it a try.
2. The speakers are extremely professional and have a very clear voice. While this is generally a good thing, “normal” people who are not professional voice actors do not speak as well and as clearly as that. So you might find it hard to understand native content (such as the radio or movies) after going through the Pimsleur method given this discrepancy. Most language learning methods, however, are pretty similar. So you’ll just have to keep in mind the need to also listen to native content as you progress through your studies of the language.
Average cost of the method: ~$75 for the Total Series, which includes 12 hours of audio on CD.
Available in: 12 languages.
Type of method: audio-only method. Listen to a live lesson given by a teacher with two additional students, and repeat after the teacher.
Michel Thomas was a polyglot linguist, language teacher, and decorated war veteran who developed a language-teaching system known as the Michel Thomas Method. He claimed his method would allow students to become conversationally proficient after only a few days' study, and his clients included diplomats, industrialists, and celebrities. Michel Thomas passed away in 2005, so the newer products that came on the market since then have been developed and recorded by some of Michel’s former students who were trained to teach and pass down his technique.
The Michel Thomas method is a cheaper alternative to Pimsleur, but that doesn’t mean the quality suffers in any way; it’s simply a different method. While it's also an audio-only language learning resource, it differs from Pimsleur on a few important points.
Basically, the way the method works is that Michel (or the teacher teaching the language) and two students are recorded in a live lesson. Words and sentences and introduced with explanations, and within one hour you are expected to be able to construct simple phrases. You will learn the language with the students, hearing both their successes and their mistakes to keep you motivated and involved throughout the course.
Because actual students are involved in the recording, the pace of progress is realistic, and you almost feel as if you were in class with Michel and his students. Moreover, the students, at times, also ask for clarifications, for example concerning a grammatical concept or the pronunciation of a certain word, which well might be questions you have yourself in mind.
The method also tends to work in a more “inductive” manner (they let you “understand” new grammatical concepts through examples, rather than tell them to you right away). So you are sometimes given several drills around a certain sentence to make you understand how the language works, and slowly by slowly sentences are getting longer and more complicated based on what you have previously learned.
For example, in the Michel Thomas Spanish series, they will tell you that “Pablo is sick today” is “Pablo está enfermo hoy” in Spanish, and that “Pablo is a sick person” is “Pablo es enfermo”. So you are supposed to infer here the difference between the verb “está” and “es”, both meaning “to be”, through such examples (of course, you will have been exposed to these verbs and vocabulary prior to hearing those example sentences).
Another peculiarity of the Michel Thomas method is its high use of so-called “mnemonics”, or “memory-aides” to help you acquire and remember effectively newly-introduced vocabulary. Some examples can be downright silly, but that’s the point of a mnemonic, to come up with a silly association to make it stick in your long-term memory. To give you a simple example, in the Chinese series the teacher introduces the word for “where” in Chinese, which is nǎr (哪儿). The teacher then says the following sentence: "The poor man was 'nǎrwhere' to be found. Where is he now?” As you can see, through this menmonic, you will quickly remember that "nǎr" means "where" (or at least it's supposed to help!).
Michel Thomas is, overall, a great method that I would not hesitate to recommend. I think the strength of the method lies in its progressive building up of ready-to-use vocabulary, sentences, and expressions. They really try to give you all the tools necessary to enable you to make your own sentences as soon as possible, and to be ready to actually talk to real people. You do not get the kind of useless sentence such as “the elephant is behind the ball”.
The use of mnemonics is also something I personally find useful. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but I find that it really does help with the memorization of vocabulary, which is often something many students of foreign languages struggle with. Lastly, since real students are involved in the recordings, the pace is realistic, and useful questions that a normal language learner might have when going through the process of learning a particular foreign language are often asked.
The most obvious bad side to the Michel Thomas method is its availability in only 12 different languages. So, for example, if you are looking into learning Hindi, you’ll have to unfortunately look somewhere else (I heard the Teach Yourself method for Hindi is particularly awesome, by the way).
Other than that, if you are a very fast learner or you have had prior exposure to the language you’re studying, you might feel that the pace of the method is a bit slow. As stated before, since real students are involved in the recordings and they themselves go through the method with the teacher, you are tied to their pace of learning. You might also not be that interested in actually listening to the attempts of the students at repeating and translating after the teacher.
Finally, just as with Pimsleur, because Michel Thomas is an audio-only method, you will definitely not be developing your reading and writing skills. However, it’s great for listening on your MP3 or while driving to work.
Average cost of the method: 1book + 3 audio CDs: ~$22. 3 books + 9 audio CDs package: $50
Available in: Main textbook in 12 languages; various other textbooks combined in over 30 languages
Type of method: all-encompassing method mostly available in print (+ online courses through their platinum program), which covers vocabulary, grammar, and more through dialogues and exercises.
The Living Language series comes in 3 products: Essential, Complete, and Platinum. The Essential courses are meant for beginners. The package has one book and 3 CDs that teach basic vocabulary and grammar. The Complete courses cover beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. The package has three books and 9 CDs that teach more complex grammatical structures and more vocabulary than the Essential course. Finally, the Platinum courses contain the same content as Complete but with the additional tools of a language specific mobile app, a web course, and e-Tutoring included.
The Living Language website has a page with free downloads for PDFs in over 7 languages, plus phrasebooks in 12 languages and more. Check it out if you’d like to get a quick overview of what their method looks like.
From the method’s website, here is how they describe themselves:
The Living Language Method™ is not a game of charades. It doesn't force adult language learners to try to absorb a new language, like they could when they were babies. It makes use of all the tools that adults have at their disposal to learn efficiently and effectively, without clumsy guesswork or frustration, in order to really learn how to speak a new language. […]
It's easiest to learn and remember a new language when you use more than one sense. The combination of audio and visual input, along with written, recorded, and interactive digital practice, creates a true multimedia learning experience that actively engages you in your new language right from the start. In addition, special recall exercises move your new language from short-term to long-term memory.
This particular method is a bit more “all-encompassing” than the other ones we have looked at so far, with vocabulary lists, dialogues, many more grammatical concepts and explanations, comprehension practice, plenty of exercises, culture topic, and so forth. If, as the description of the method taken from their website suggests, you do not like “guesswork”, or, shall we say, learning in a more inductive manner, this method might be the right one for you. In this respect, Living Language differs quite dramatically from Assimil.
The Living Language method is extremely affordable (it's the cheapest alternative out of the 5 methods I've introduced here) and, on the whole, very thorough. If you have a look at the reviews on Amazon for their methods, you’ll see that most of them are 5 stars. From my personal experience using many different language methods, Living Language is definitely very professional, easy to go through, and affordable. I had been looking for a long time for a good Korean language method, and when I stumbled upon the Spoken World Korean series (made by Living Language), I was pleasantly surprised.
Depending on the type of learner you are, Living Language might not be the right fit for you, since it contains lots of explanations, grammatical concepts, and, as such, a lot of English. However, this is what a lot of people are exactly looking for. This is a more “traditional” type of method, and if you feel this is the right fit for you, go for it! Lastly, in the Korean series, I must say that I found the pace to be quite fast. From the very first chapter onwards, a lot of vocabulary and sentences are introduced. However, I do not think this particular book is representative of the whole method. In doubt, looks for reviews or download their free PDFs, and make a decision based on your own observation!
The best blog post I've read in a loooooooooooooooong time!!! Thanks Lingholic!
I've never used any of these methods for self-study. But it's an interesting overview of available resources!:)
As good and detailed as this post is, the post on Sam's website is even more detailed. I thought a lot of people might miss this point and assume his link is to a copy of this post. So if you have a passing interest in learning a new language, reading his post here is sufficient, but if you are, say, actually about to embark on learning a new language, I recommend heading over to Sam's website (link towards the top his post) and reading his post there as well.
Good observation Web~ I didn't attach any pictures to this post since it was already long enough, but I did include some previews of the methods (Assimil, Teach Yourself, and Living Language) on the blog. It can help to get an idea of what the methods look like, their style and format, etc.
By the way, if anyone has any questions regarding additional resources (either print or online) for learning languages, I'd be more than happy to help. Just ask here or send me a PM and it'll be a pleasure to help you out with anything!
Goldlist Method is a great method which works with any of the written courses, but should be started after the audio only courses. It's always a good idea to do the audio only ones first. I notice some very good new courses available on Innovative Language Learning. You get tons of audio which you can get hold of cheap on Audible, and the pdfs with copious study notes are free.
Hi David! Thanks for your comment. I'm a big fan of yours and enjoy your videos and your writing. Your ideas are very interesting, and I've learned a lot from your writing on short and long-term memory especially. I never heard about Innovative Language Learning before, but I checked out their site and it looks pretty good. I'll have to give it a try in the future.
As an aside, I was wondering if you'd ever be interested to do an interview? You have a lot of experience learning foreign languages, and I'm always interested in getting to know polyglots better and in understanding their way of working with the language. Will you be attending the polyglot conference next week?
I can't wait to read this properly. I'm learning Swedish at the moment and this is just what I needed. Thanks man.
Thanks for this post. Quite timely for me. Assimil looks great and I'm planning to try out their Spanish series. However, the link provided has either books or CDs, and if you get both, it looks like it is $70. What was the recommendation in the post, which I originally thought was $30-$35 for both? Thanks!
Hello Ike! Unfortunately, Amazon does not seem to sell the Assimil Spanish With Ease as a bundle pack with both the book and the CD included. You are also right in that the price of $20 only includes the book, and not the CD. The Assimil French With Ease sells for just above $50 on Amazon for the bundle pack, but in the case of their Spanish course I think you'll have to buy both items separately.
I will make the necessary corrections to reflect these prices. In any case, Assimil is my personal favorite and I would recommend it to anyone. There are cheaper alternatives, though. The Teach Yourself Spanish goes for just under $60, and you also have the Living Language Spanish book and CD bundle pack which is even cheaper ($45).
Very good article, indeed. Thank you very much for sharing with others of your unbelieveble experience with learning foreign languages. I wish you good luck :-)
Nice. I wonder if you ever tried Rosetta Stone.
I have tried Rosetta Stone and I wrote a review on my blog. You can check it out by clicking here.
Before going to Romania, I decided I'd try to learn a bit of Romanian. By almost any measure it's sort of a pointless language to learn, but I figured I'd get a kick out of pretending to my I didn't speak any for a couple days, and then all of a sudden surprising my friends by speaking it.
My friend Brian did me a huge favor by going to the library, checking out the Pimsleur Romanian I series, ripping it, and then sending me the MP3s. After finishing the first lesson, I was struck by just how much I enjoyed doing it. I've used Pimsleur tapes to learn Chinese, Japanese, and French (which I never finished and consequently don't remember), but it had been six years since I'd started one.
The returns on learning the first bit of a language are huge. While I don't have nearly enough vocabulary to have an actual conversation in Romanian, doing one half-hour tape every day for a month left me with enough to be able to ask directions, order things at a restaurant, exchange pleasantries with strangers, and buy things. I think I successfully made a joke in Romanian, too.
So after all that, I decided that I'm just going to learn every language. Pimsleur has a list of over fifty that they support. I'm going to start with the ones I'm most interested in that have ninety tapes instead of the thirty that they had for Romanian. I did the full ninety in Japanese, and it got me to the point that I could have actual, if a bit kludgy, conversations.
Learning a new language can be on of the most difficult yet rewarding things one can do with their time. If done correctly, one will fail numerous times, be able to express themselves in unique ways and have easier access to a new culture. Currently Language-learning has been quite the rage, with services such as Rosetta Stone and Rocket languages selling like hotcakes and blogs such as fluentin3months having massive success. New services, such as duolingo and italki are changing the landscape of language learning business and making language learning ridiculously cheaper, and more accessible to everyone. I’ve undertaken learning 3 different languages, with varying success in each, but with each subsequent one being much easier to learn. I’ve tried to see how fast the human mind can learn a new language, especially ones that are radically different from ones native tongue. Currently I’ve learned a good amount of Japanese, Chinese and German, with my Japanese and German being significantly better than Chinese, but still not good enough to be able to have effortless conversations, which means I must keep pressing on.
I’ve found learning languages to be a very dynamic process. Each language has its own way of expressing itself, Some are very clear, cut and use short, direct words, as I have found to be the case with Chinese. Others are more vague, longwinded, or emphasize particular things, such as Japanese having a verb ending that signals the completion of something. Regardless, learning a new language will definitely bestow you with a new way of looking at the world. Here I want to share 4 things to keep in mind that have radically helped me when learning languages.
1. Spend sometime understanding the aspects of the language you are about to learn. Specifically try to focus on sentence structure and how meaning is added to the sentence. For example, German is very similar to English, it is subject-verb-object (sometimes its gets mumbled up, but for the most part it is), is preposition heavy and is written in the same scripture, which makes it significantly easier to learn than say Japanese or Chinese. But German is also high agglunative, which means it building meaning by joining words together. German also has an emphasis on cases and gender that is not present in English.
This might seem obvious, but it is very rarely done. Before you embark on the journey of learning a language and learning detailed grammar rules for a specific cases focus on things such as how nouns relate in the sentence, where conjugation happens, and how important is it. A good exercise is usually to get sentences with varying structure and translate them into your target language, something tim ferris suggests in the 4-hour-chef. Exercises like this allow you to find the pattern that will most likely hold true in 80%+ of all sentences. This is makes for a very solid foundation that would otherwise take weeks if one were just frantically reviewing, and learning step by step, instead focus on what the majority of sentences look like, dissect the key elements, and apply them.
2. Find and use a handful of excellent resources at a time; get involved in online communities. The most important thing to keep in mind when one is beginning to learn a language is to find high-quality resources. Find online communities for your target language by googling something like “learn german forum” and see what people are saying, which books their recommending etc. Another good way to find solid resources is to go on Amazon see which books in your target language have good reviews/sales. When I started learning my first foreign language, Japanese, I bought 4-5 books on Japanese, enrolled in two podcasts, had various decks in my flash card program, ranging from beginner to advanced, and used 4 different websites. This was a HORRIBLE idea. Not only was grammar, and vocabulary introduced at different times in each book, but managing progress was very hard, with notes in one book, flash cards, on my computer, and trying to juggle which activity I should do next.