Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Learn Any Foreign Language

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RoPeCast, English as foreign language (Wikipedia)
by Gabriel Wyner

Language acquisition is complex; it's one of the reasons I love it so much.

You're dealing with 4 distinct, but connected abilities - reading, writing, listening and speaking - which are in turn connected to countless separate, yet related facts - grammar rules, vocabulary words, pronunciation, etc.

Figuring out how to work on each and every one of these aspects independently and as a whole has been a hobby as well as passion of mine for the last eight years.

While a comprehensive discussion regarding each aspect of this technique is quite a bit of content (thus the forthcoming book!), this should get you well on your way.

Begin with Pronunciation

To learn precise pronunciation, you need to train your ear in order to hear the foreign language accurately.

Learning how to articulate the language correctly from the start provides huge advantages: far better listening comprehension, better speech, faster vocabulary acquisition, and native speakers who will still talk to you within their language rather than changing to English.

How does this work? After a quick study of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as it works in the English language, you can utilize IPA in order to learn about the sounds in your target language.

Following this with carefully crafted recordings in order to train your ears (I'll make some available here for the languages I've learned and show you how to get them free of charge from web sources), you can hone your accent from day one and avoid years of drilling poor pronunciation patterns.

Zero Translations

The minute you remove English totally out of your foreign language studies is the second you start to think within your target language. You can do this from the first day.

Beginning with photos and eventually moving to basic definitions and fill-in-the-blank flash cards (see below), you can teach yourself the vocabulary and grammar in a language without the additional mental step of translating back and forth from English, and thus actually develop fluency rather than translation competency.

Use Anki when it comes to Vocabulary and Grammar

Anki is a free software tool that employs greater than a hundred years of study proving that memorizing an idea in intervals (for instance, solely on days 1, 4, 10, 20, 35, 60, and so forth) is substantially more efficient than studying at one time.

Anki automates these intervals, showing you facts at the ideal times to drive them deeper and deeper into your long-term memory in the least amount of time conceivable.

It's a faster way to memorization that gives you absolute control over what ends up in your long-term memory, and it is so effective that you will have the ability to memorize hundreds of words a week in 30-40 minutes a day.

The trouble with utilizing this software is that most people choose to learn translations.

Choose your Vocabulary Efficiently

Computational linguistics has given us new tools to study languages, and what we've found is that knowing the first thousand most common words in a foreign language will enable you to read 70% of each and every text you'll come across, but learning the next thousand will only give you 10% more (and the next thousand, 4%). Utilize this to your advantage!

Memorize the first a couple of thousand most frequent words, and then personalize to your very own desires. Why learn academic language if you only wish to travel? Why learn business language if you only want to go through scholarly reports? Choosing your vocabulary to suit your needs makes your practice time much more efficient.

So what does this look like in a new foreign language?

Stage 1: Discover the correct pronunciation of the language

This begins with understanding English pronunciation (assuming you're an English speaker), then moving on to your foreign language with a good pronunciation manual. You ought to recognize the sounds of your target language, how they're different from English, and all your new language's phonetic rules.

Stage 2: Vocab and grammar acquisition, zero English allowed

Begin with a frequency list and check off any terms you can represent with pictures alone (basic nouns and verbs). Place those in an Anki deck and learn them. Once you have some words to use, start setting them together.

You can use Google translate and a grammar book to start creating sentences (but ensure that what you stick into your Anki deck has zero English!), then get everything you write yourself double-checked at

Transforming them into fill-in-the-blank flashcards builds the initial grammar and connecting words. As your vocabulary and grammar develop, move to monolingual dictionaries as well as creating your very own definitions for more abstract words (again everything you write should be double-checked at

This builds on itself; the more vocabulary and grammar you obtain, the more vocabulary and grammar ideas you can define in the target language. Eventually you can deal with all the entries in a 2000 word frequency dictionary and any specific vocabulary you require for your particular interests.

Stage 3: Listening, writing and reading work

Once you have a suitable vocabulary and familiarity with grammar, begin writing essays and diary entries, viewing TV shows and reading books. Each and every writing correction (from an instructor or gets added to the Anki deck, which continues to develop your vocabulary and grammar.

Stage 4: Speech

At the point when you can write 'fluently', locate a place to immerse in the foreign language and speak constantly (literally! No English permitted otherwise you won't learn the skill you're attempting to learn, which is adapting to gaps in your grammar or vocabulary by going around them swiftly and automatically without having to think of it).

I prefer Middlebury College, but a handful of weeks in the target country will certainly do the job as well if you're very vigorous with sticking to the target language and not changing to English.

If you're very strict with yourself, your brain adapts very quickly and learns how to integrate all the things you learned in stages 1-3 together into fluent speech.

For more information, see

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