How do you think you learned your native language? I think just by doing two things, which are completely crucial: listening and talking. Trial and error. That is it.
Now imagine how they wanted to teach us foreign languages back at school. I remember a lot of theory, lots of useless words, ton of writing and almost no speaking whatsoever. These tactics seem to be very inefficient.
Why you will not learn to speak a language at school
Because there is not enough speaking component. At least that is how it works in my country (let me know how is it in your country). Many people just cannot speak the language, because they do not practice speaking enough.
And do not get me wrong. I saw many people struggling with foreign languages. And I reckon it was not because of the lack of “talent” or intelligence. They were just following the school principles. And they probably thought it was enough. Essentially, they were not getting satisfiable results.
So they figured, they are not good at languages (because that is what teachers were telling them). Afterwards, they struggled even more. Basically, it was like a vicious circle (thank you, uncle Google, for this term).
When we think about it for a second. It makes a lot of sense. For teacher, it is much easier to test 28 pupils in their writing abilities, than in speaking abilities. And it is also a much cheaper solution. But marks don’t matter after all.
Now just try to remember your first few lessons in foreign language. I recall that we started by learning how to introduce ourselves. And then we learned numbers, colors and other meaningless stuff.
I am not saying these words are not important. They are, to some extent. But they are definitely not the core words. Just try to think how often you talk about colors or how often you use numbers. Besides, you can use your fingers for counting purposes.
Age is not an excuse
It is proven that adults can learn language faster than kids. Here is an article from polyglot (person who can speak more than 3 languages) about it: https://www.fluentin3months.com/adults-vs-kids/
It makes perfect sense. Because as adults, we should have much more knowledge in general. I think it all comes down to our beliefs. If these beliefs are limiting us, then it is impossible to pick up a foreign language until we change them.
In my opinion, limiting beliefs have got the origins in our fears. It could be fear of not being good enough or probably a fear of making a mistake (this one is huge). And as my favourite rapper says: you can do anything, you set your mind to. Which means, that first of all, you have to believe that it is doable and achievable. You have to know you are capable of doing it.
There are many people who learned to speak a language in older age. So just go for it. Do not think about it too much. Thinking can be very limiting. Sometimes.
Afraid of making mistakes? Then you have to do THIS
You have to make even more mistakes. It is as simple as that. You could be thinking: but what if I will embarass myself. What if other people will judge me. What if they will not understand what I am trying to say.
All of these fears are just fine. I have them too. In fact, everybody except enlightened people and sociopaths, have them. And I think that only way of overcoming the fear is by facing it. So go out and speak with people.
Yeah, you will get yourself into many awkward situations. Yeah, you will make a ton of mistakes. But that is just a part of learning process. You, simply, will not learn without making the mistakes. It is impossible. You have to accept it.
Now I realized that this fear of making mistakes could have something in common with perfection. We just want to be perfect right away. We want to achieve our goals as soon as possible. Unfortunately, none of these is gonna happen. Ever! So we should just accept our imperfection and move on.
Know your WHY, know your drive
This one is essential. In the past I was trying to learn a number of languages. I failed. Because I did not even know why I wanted to learn them. So I followed the same pattern over and over again. I started learning a language. In the beginning I was very passionate about it. But after few weeks, I just stopped. Because I did not know the reason why should I keep moving on.
Few weeks ago I changed my approach. I started with why (and this book inspired me to make such decision: https://www.amazon.com/Start-Why-Leaders-Inspire-Everyone/dp/1591846447)
I asked myself why I want to learn another foreign language. And I came up with this:
- I want to communicate with people in this language
- I want to explore their culture
- I want to understand what is Despacito about
Now, everytime I feel like not doing it, I will just take a look at this list. And it will help me to stay on a track.
In the past, the WHY was just non-existent. And I probably began learning the languages because it was cool.
Know your why. Stick with it. And you should be good to go.
Listen to your target language a lot
Songs are a very good start. They have helped me tremendously. You will feel the flow of the language. Then you will pick up the accent, so you will sound more like a native. And you can even sing these songs and use google translator for better comprehension. So you will understand what do they sing about.
Start small. One song a day is plenty. And you can always add some more as you go. You can read more about this method here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen – it is not directly focused on learning languages, but you can apply it in pretty much any area.
In the beginning you will not understand anything. And that is ok. You just need to get used to it. You will learn subconsciously a lot. Your brain will spot a lot of patterns.
As you get better, you can start watching cartoons for kids. Reason for this is simple, there is a very simple language used. Which is great for beginners (noobs). Then you can start watching movies with subtitles. In my opinion, it is better to use subtitles in your target language. This way, you train your ears and eyes at the same time. Since, when you watch the movie in foreign language with subtitles in your native language, you will not learn as much.
Sure, you will not understand everything. But not even Rome was built in a day. Just stick with the process and you will learn as quick as lightning.
I remember when I started watching movies in english, with english subtitles. It skyrocketed my progress. Whereas in movies, there is used a contemporary language. And you will acquire a lot of slang and a great number of useful phrases. Which you will never learn from a textbook.
Grammar is not as important as you think
Yo! If some of you native english speakers are reading this, you must be cursing me now haha. Because I bet that you have already found a ton of mistakes. And counting…
Anyway, grammar has never been my priority and
it will never change. I am going to explain why. (I am just editing this article, and I feel like I should change the direction I am heading to)
Thing is, that you can learn grammar without even realizing it. Right from the moment when you start learning a language, you are learning grammar subconsciously.
You recognize patterns. For instance, you realize that some languages use structure: adjective + noun instead of: noun + adjective. And you do not have to memorize this fact. It will come to you naturally. After you see hundreds of these stuctures.
And again, example with the kids. By the way, we used to be kids too (no shit). And we learned our native languages without studying grammar, learning to read or write. How cool is that. Now we can repeat this process again.
You could be thinking right now, that I do not study grammar at all. Here is my point of view: I think grammar starts to become important when you achieve a certain level. When you want to push your limit. It also depends what is your goal. If you want to become a great writer, you should study grammar for sure.
From now on, I will study grammar a lot more. Since it would be unfair if I didn’t. You deserve the quality. And I have to keep growing as a person.
25 words is enough to understand 33 % of written English
You need to know just 25 words to understand 1/3 of written English. Wow! I think that is just amazing.
Now, with as little as 100 words, you will be able to grasp 50 % of basic conversations!!!
Let me provide you wth some resources. So that you can see that you do not need to know all of the words in given language to actually understand it and being able to speak it. In fact, you will probably need much less than you think.
I picked 3 languages for this little experiment: Russian, Spanish and English.
Here we go
100 most frequent words: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_common_words_in_English
3,000 most frequent words: https://www.ef.com/english-resources/english-vocabulary/top-3000-words/
100 most frequent words: http://learningrussian.net/vocabulary/russian-words/top-russian-words.php
3,000 most frequent words: http://www.artint.ru/projects/frqlist/frqlist-en.php
100 most frequent words: http://www.vistawide.com/spanish/top_100_spanish_words.htm
5,000 most frequent words: https://www.rypeapp.com/most-common-spanish-words/
I was googling these lists in English. If you can speak Spanish or Russian, you can definitely find more relevant lists.
I just wanted to show you, that with 3,000 most frequent words, you get covered about 90 % of Spanish and English language. Which means you will be able to comprehend most of the content in: books, news, daily conversations etc.
Russian seems to be slightly different. With 3,000 words you will be able to understand just 76.68 %
These are just three examples. But I think you get the point. You do not have to know all of the words to speak the language. Maybe 3,000 looks like a scary number for you. But there are some learning methods which start with just 300 words. It is fascinating how much you can say with as little as 300 words.
Here is the resource showing what can you do with 300 words in English: https://www.fluentin3months.com/most-common-300-words/
My friend once showed me this video. I was stunned after watching it. It is basically next level to what I was talking about. It goes much deeper. But language he uses is very simple.
So if you want to know how predictable is the language, definitely go for it. By the way, it is a video made by VSauce. One of my favourite geeks. Well, he is the only one I know lol.
Speak from day 1
Speak, speak and then speak some more.
I love this approach, because it is the most natural one. And you can progress really fast with this method. One of the polyglots inspired me to try out this approach. His name is Benny Lewis. You can check out his story.
He started learning languages when he was 21! And many people were telling him that he had no talent for languages. Well, nowadays, he can speak like 10 of them. (not sure about the number, check out his page for more information)
Point is, if polyglot says so, it must work haha.
There are also other polyglots who are very inspiring. And most of them have the same approach. Speak from day 1 or as soon as possible
Here are my favourite ones
Vladimír Škultéty (Slovak polyglot) speaking 19 languages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrDPjGHAuk0
Tim Doner (American polyglot) speaking 20 languages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOiXtWcQ8GI
Benny Lewis (Irish polyglot) hacking learning languages – TEDx: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x2_kWRB8-A
You can find many more. These are my favourite ones. In fact, they have taught me a lot. Most important thing is, that learning a language is not a rocket science. You just need the right attitude and time for execution.
Are you lazy to read and write? Check this out
Once upon a time there was born a guy named Michel Thomas. He was a polyglot. (I think he could speak like 7 languages). This guy was teaching famous celebrities in US and also many others. Interesting fact – he had great results with most of the students.
His method was purely focused on speaking and listening. More than 5 million people bought his courses already.
The courses cover 12 languages: Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish.
I have been studying one of his courses for few weeks and I feel huge progress. And I study just about 15 minutes a day. Because I believe in consistency. I can already catch something when I listen to the songs. So yeah, it works. Also, many people who got fluent in multiple languages, reported that they started using Michel Thomas method.
And how do you learn languages?
Let me know what is your method. And what results you are getting with it.
Any input is greatly appreciated. Yes, even from grammar nazis.