I had a wonderful chat with Oscar del Ben last week. We swapped some interesting ideas, but one that fascinated me was him telling me how fast he learned English. Given I travel a lot, I was curious as to how he did it. Here's his thoughts -
Hey Sebastian, I think that in order to learn languages quickly, you have to use them. It took me a bit to learn English pronunciation, and I still make many mistakes without knowing it, but the trick is to continue despite the mistakes you make. When I was learning, my girlfriend said that there was no chance for me (bad memory, bad pronunciation), but I didn't give a damn.
Anyway, in my case I had some background from school, even though very little. What worked for me was reading tons of books in English, and then talk with other people via skype.
If you only read books, you'll be able to understand 70% of your target language in one month, assuming it's similar to ones you know (I've never tried wit very different languages). But by only reading you'll have no idea about pronunciation, so I encourage you to listen to music or audio as well. Note that you'll have to get the lyrics of the songs, otherwise it will be nearly impossible to understand, even if you already know the language.
With this, you can get very far, but you'll be missing communication abilities, because you never exercise your speaking abilities. To do that, find a friend who communicates in that language over skype (should be easy if you do english exchange), or practice alone by recording your voice.
The first time I started practicing via skype, I was a mess. I was able to write and read very well, but I couldn't speak. It took me very little to adjust my pronunciation though, so I'd say the bulk is knowing the meaning of words and then understanding their pronunciation.
The take home is that you need a reason to learn the language, otherwise it'll be harder. When I landed in Spain I didn't really learn much because I wasn't interested. In the last two months I picked up some books in Spanish and now I'm committed to learn Spanish, I like their culture and that's why I want to learn.
My girlfriend always says to start with grammar, but in my opinion you should start by understand dialog and text. If the written language is awkward, start with songs. For example japanese looks easy when spoken, but hard when written. (by easy I mean pronunciation is easy for us to make, Arabic is hard in that matter).
Finally, you'll see results gradually, but don't give up. It's harder for children to learn languages than you if you have the motivation.
P.S. if you want to practice Italian, let me know ;)
Okay, Sebastian here again.
Excellent stuff there. I'll second the start-with-words-not-grammar... grammar might be a good starting point if you're completely certain a language is going to be important to you. If not, definitely start with verbs and ways of describing things... I think it can be good to learn 50 to 150 words in a language quickly even if you don't know if you'll ever use - happy, sad, hungry, thank you, you're welcome, hello, how are you?, good, bad, some numbers, how?, what?, where?, why?, etc.
Most recent entry is about learning languages - but he's talking about programming languages this time - he codes in Ruby on Rails. I think his thoughts are useful here if you're working on learning, 'specially technical stuffs - http://blog.oscardelben.com/how-to-practice-or-learn-any-language-or-fram
The exact methods that Oscar explains might not work for everybody but what he is explaining is similar to other methods used. There are some audio courses that don't go into the grammar but instead build up your language by introducing words and phrases and these have been proved to be very effective.
Livemocha is quite good, and there are other Spanish learning software available. A mixture of a course that gives you a good foundation, lots of conversation practice (both adapted and natural) and using other resources will see you improve.
The rate of improvement depends on your circumstances and some will have the opportunity to practice more than others.
Actually I didn't know about that website, but I've saved it for later, it looks interesting!
Good post here. I'll be starting learning French soon so it's useful to have some suggestions of effective ways of learning a language quickly.
I wondered if either of you have seen AJATT? It's a blog/site detailing the methods used by the owner to learn fluent Japanese (in 2 years), but his ideas can be applied to any language. It's quite heavy on immersion; he advocates surrounding yourself entirely with the language in question which while not always practical, is definitely an interesting read.
Request: I got a fascinating email about thinking. I'm sharing my thoughts, but I'd appreciate yours too. It's kind of a difficult question - how do you think? But it's fascinating, so I'd like you to weigh in after reading this post.
Fascinating email from Huy Nguyen -
My name is Huy, 21 years old from Vietnam currently studying in Singapore. I've been reading your blog and I must say you're 1 hell of an inspiring guy! Recently I have been pondering on the topic of mindfulness/self-consciousness and I thought why not drop you an email to say hi and seek for some help :)
My current problem is my thought speed is restricted to how much I can spell the thoughts out (in words and sentence) in my minds. And that'd be really slow. Sometimes, I'm able to speed-thinking (if that's the right word). I don't actually need to spell out the words in my mind, just link to some picture/scene and somehow I'm able to articulate and understand the situation in my mind. But this is a very rare case and I'm not fully able to control it. Have you ever encountered this problem? Do your mind think in English as well, or some special-made brain language?
Every time someone sees me studying Japanese Kanji（漢字), characters the Japanese borrowed from the Chinese, and then used to represent Japanese ideas and pronunciation, I always get one or both of the following responses
1. Are you studying Chinese?
2. Is it hard?
In response to the first I always teach them and let them know that Chinese is significantly different than Japanese because Japanese people use three "alphabets" (they are in fact more like syllabaries), katakana, hiragana, and kanji, and because the grammar is substantially different.
The second though, is always a mixed bag. The U.S. Government states That Japanese, along with Arabic, and Chinese (and some other languages I forgot) are the languages that require the most time to learn for English speakers. But in my opinion, after having spent years studying on and off, Japanese is definitely one of the the World's toughest languages (at least considering it is actually spoken by over 100 million people) to become really fluent at (watch comedians, read adult-level literature, understand and differentiate slang and homonyms),but one of the easier languages to learn the basics to ( denoting location, modifiers, people, adjectives)