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How to Start Learning a Language

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There are many different ways to learn a foreign language, and almost every method has fans at HTLAL. Here are some popular possibilities. Read through these, and pick out something which seems like a good fit.

There's no need to find the perfect method. In fact:

  • Spending all your time searching for the "perfect" method is counter-productive. It's better to just jump in and try something.
  • The biggest obstacle to learning a language is usually motivation. The best technique is the one you're actually going to use.

You can start with a popular course (or two)Edit

We have a list of Frequently Recommended Courses that are available for many languages. All of these have stood the test of time, and they're known to get results. Some people like to start out with a single course. Other people like to use two different courses, with different strengths, and alternate between the two.

The goal of these courses is to help you learn the basics. As you get more advanced, you'll find that you need to combine your studies with actually using the language. In fact, good advanced courses are hard to find, and none of them cover the all the vocabulary and skills that you'll ultimately need.

You can look for a "roadmap"Edit

Lots of polyglots have a personal method that they use to learn a new language. You can use their advice as a "roadmap", giving you an idea of where to start and how to proceed. When browsing through these roadmaps, you may notice that personal learning styles vary enormously.

As with courses, pick something that seems useful, and try it. As a student, your job isn't find the perfect method and then convince the world that's it's correct—it's to find something that's good enough, and then get started.

Iversen's Guide to Learning LanguagesEdit

Iversen speaks and reads a remarkable number of languages, and he's been providing at excellent advice at HTLAL for many years. He's summarized this advice in his Guide to Language Learning, a series of 5 threads explanining how he organizes his learning process, uses translations, studies grammar, learns vocabulary, and improves his pronunication and listening comprehension.

This is systematic and thorough method, with much detailed advice. It involves quite a bit of explicit studying, especially at the beginning.

All Japanese All the TimeEdit

This method was described by Khatzumoto, and it's described in more detail on the AJATT page. (If you're willing to pay US$0.01 and give him your email address, he also has a nice one-page summary for sale.) This method essentially replaces as much of your native language as possible with the language you want to learn, with heavy use of immersion and spaced repetition software. There's not very much explicit study of grammar—Khaztumoto discourages people from using grammar books until they can actually read them in the new language.

People have a weird tendency to take one part of this method and apply it mechanically, in isolation. This sometimes ends badly. Dubious approaches to AJATT include (1) listening to vast amounts of completely incomprehensible Internet radio while waiting for a miracle, and (2) copying thousands of boring sentences out of your grammar book into an SRS deck and grinding away at that, with no other exposure to the language. A hint: If you're laboring endlessly, making no perceptible progress and waiting for a miracle, you're probably on the wrong track.

Speak From Day 1Edit

This method is promoted by Benny Lewis. He talks about it on his blog, and he's published a detailed, well-edited book . Based on his posts and his book, the method appears to be :

  1. Find someone to speak to.
  2. Learn just enough to establish communication, often using phrasebooks and other sources.
  3. Figure out what your biggest problem is, and try to fix it.
  4. Repeat (1) to (3) until you can communicate.
  5. Once you can commuicate, study grammar to fill in any gaps and fix your problems.

Benny places a great emphasis on being friendly and using culturally appropriate body language.

Gabriel Wyner's approachEdit

Gabriel Wyner is an opera singer who learned several languages. He wrote up a nice explanation of his personal approach and he has published a book . His approach combines many common techniques, including SRS, grammar study, reading, listening and immersion. Not everyone will progress equally quickly, but lots of people have used similar techniques successfully.

You may want to start looking for resourcesEdit

Once you know the basics of your language, you'll probably want access to books, movies, websites, TV series, YouTube videos, radio stations, comic books, magazines, music and so on. Do you know where to find these? Can you buy them online? Can you borrow them from your library? (And what about people who speak your language?)

Certain methods, such as AJATT, rely heavily on native media from the very beginning[1]. But even if you base your learning on a course, having easy access to cool materials in your new language will help with your motivation. And it never hurts to have a couple kids' books, cool comics or science magazines sitting on your shelf—if nothing else, it will help you measure your progress.

You need to discover your motivationEdit

Your motivation and reason to learn a language will help you across the obstacles and through the rough times in the years to come. So, do you really want to learn the language?

Some of the motives that are usually not enough by themselvesEdit

  • It would be cool to speak it.
(and especially "I want to speak/learn another language", with no real motivation for any specific one)
  • The script looks nice.
  • My school/parents/employer force me to go to the classes.

Some motives that keep people goingEdit

  • I love the culture and want to access more of it.
    • My favourite author writes in the language.
    • I love their cinema.
    • I have a big stack of awesome comic books and TV shows in the language.
    • It's a must for my hobby.
  • It fascinates me. The sound, the look, the everything!
  • I have always felt attraction towards it; it keeps appearing anywhere I look.
  • I love to visit the country.
  • It would enrich my professional and/or private life a lot.
    • My collegues/boyfriend/wife's family/business partners speak the language
  • I am seriously considering moving to the country where it is spoken.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. The Wait That Kills: Before You Pwn Books, You Must First Own Books

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