Refugees are flowing into Europe. The newspapers, TV news and social media are reporting on the desperate plight of people fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere, or people who are simply seeking a better life in Europe. Europe is not the only area into which refugees are flowing. We are witnessing a massive movement of people. Whether this will prove permanent or temporary remains to be seen. In any case, these refugees will need to learn the language of the countries where they will settled.
Most of the world’s refugees are not to be found in Europe but in countries near their countries of origin. However large numbers have been risking their lives and the lives of their families , paying people smugglers to help them cross the Mediterranean in unsafe boats in order to reach a better life in Europe.
To the Europeans, this influx has sparked two kinds of responses. On the one hand there is a natural impulse to want to help people who are in danger or who are seeking a better life. On the other hand there is concern that the new arrivals represent a threat to established societal norms, common values and social cohesion. In other words there is concern that this large influx of immigrants cannot be absorbed by the host countries.
It is highly unfortunate that this movement of people is driven by people smugglers and is not part of an organized immigration program. I expect the result will be many problems for the emigrants and for the receiving societies. At some point this process will have to brought under control. This will require considerable political will.
Canada has been taking 250,000 immigrants a year, including refugees, for the past twenty or more years. In addition Canada has been receiving over 200,000 temporary workers per year for the last five years or so, many of whom end up remaining in Canada.
This is a large number of newcomers. While the Canadian system is far from perfect and subject to lots of abuse, by and large the results have been positive for immigrants and Canada. One of the most important factors affecting the successful integration of newcomers, whether in Canada or Europe, is language. Newcomers who learn the language of the country, find work, interact more easily with the host society and are happier with their new life. This can go a long way to overcoming tension which otherwise can easily arise between immigrants and locals. Even if the immigrant is comfortable in the local language, there can still be problems. However, everything becomes much more difficult if the immigrant has poor local language skills.
In the recent past, the policy of multiculturalism has tended to place the onus on the host country to be tolerant and open to the culture of the new arrivals. I think this approach is misguided. We are starting to see the limits of this approach in Canada.
As someone who emigrated to Canada with my family almost 65 years ago, I believe the responsibility for integrating and understanding the other culture rests primarily with the immigrant. The immigrant cannot expect to impose his or her culture or values on the host country. The successful immigrants are the ones who try to fit in and respect the values of the host country, not only when interacting with society outside the home, but even to some extent within their own homes.
The first step to fitting into a new society is acquiring the language. In Canada, those immigrants with poor language skills are often unhappy in their new country, even if they have a high level of education. These people often lack the confidence to function in the broader society, and end up living lives of frustration, low income and insecurity. This can carry on to the second generation. This is not a viable long-term solution neither for the immigrants nor for the receiving countries. We have already seen the tensions created by ethnic enclaves in different countries of Europe.
I don’t know how the present refugee crisis in Europe can be resolved. The better the reception for these refugees, the more people will be encouraged to come. They will come, not as part of an officially controlled immigration program, but they will just show up on Europe’s borders. There will be many deaths, and the people smugglers will profit. Ultimately Europe will have to say no, and will have to repatriate these refugees, and economic migrants.
These migrants are only a small part of the tens of millions of refugees in the world. It is to be hoped, that rather than focusing so much money and attention on this illegal flow of people, more money can be provided to the vast bulk of refugees who live in camps with insufficient food and medicine, and don’t have the money to pay people smugglers.
Steve: Hi there, Steve here to answer your questions with my sidekick Kiran.
Kiran: Hello everyone.
Steve: So we may as get right into them.
Kiran: Yeah, okay. We have a lot of good questions this week.
Kiran: The first one is: Do you recommend focusing on communicating instead of perfection?
Steve: Absolutely, perfection is unachievable. There is no language that I speak to perfection, even including English. The whole thing is communicating because it makes it real. You have a real purpose for learning your language. You want to communicate with other people and you make a mistake. As long as your message is coming across and you understand what they’re saying that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about perfection.
Kiran: Excellent. The next one is: If my native language is Spanish, do you think French would be an easy language to learn?
Steve: Yes. Well, it’s not easy, but it’s easier. The biggest factor is vocabulary. In my experience, the more similar the vocabulary, the easier it is to learn the language. So French and Spanish, I don’t know what the number is, but 85% of the vocabulary is recognizable. I mean it’s written different, it’s somewhat different, but it’s more or less there.
Was he saying he spoke French or Spanish?
Kiran: He actually speaks Spanish.
Steve: Well, you can’t assume it’s going to be easy. Even like Portuguese and Spanish, there are parts of the grammar that are different and words that mean slightly different things. So you can’t assume that you’re going to ace it, but you have such a big advantage because 80% of the vocabulary you’ll recognize. So it’s never easy, but it’s easier.
Kiran: Okay. All right, I’m going to read you the next one. In Mandarin, do you suggest learning traditional Chinese characters or simplified characters?
Steve: It depends on your needs and interests. When I learned Chinese we began with the traditional characters and then we moved to the simplified, so I have the advantage that if I’m in Hong Kong or Taiwan I can read the newspaper. I think nowadays practically most people are dealing with mainland China, The People’s Republic, so probably simplified is enough.
If you have the interest, I would start with the traditional, spend a bit of time there and move to the simplified. However, if you’re in a hurry, you want to get on, you want to read, just study the simplified. It really doesn’t matter. So much in language learning is up to you, what are your interests. I think either way is a good way to go, but if you learn the traditional it’s very easy to learn the simplified.
Kiran: Okay. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in language learning?
Steve: Well, I think the biggest challenge, because to me language learning is about getting something that is not in you, like the new language, is to get it into you.
Steve: It doesn’t come from inside it comes from outside, so the challenge is always to find meaningful, interesting content. When I went to study German back whenever it was, 1986-’87, (this was before LingQ existed) I scoured the secondhand bookstores in Vancouver to find readers. I didn’t want to look every word up in the dictionary, so readers that had glossaries. So if you can find interesting content and, more recently, learning Polish, as I mentioned, finding interesting content. It’s all about finding interesting content.
It used to be that you had to find content that had like a word list. Looking stuff up in a dictionary is very time consuming and very frustrating because you forget immediately after closing the dictionary. Nowadays with programs like LingQ, online dictionaries and stuff like that, the key is to find interesting, meaningful content. That’s the biggest obstacle, I feel.
Kiran: All right. What do you think about the FSI language series?
Steve: And in colloquial, I think.
Steve: Well, Colloquial is a bit like Teach Yourself. These are the sort of starter books where they say on the cover if you complete this you will master reading, writing, speaking and listening, which of course isn’t true. They’re basically introductory books to the language. Colloquial I think has gotten worse, as has Teach Yourself, because they put more and more English on their audio. All I want from them is some audio, some words, some explanations of grammar which I’m going to forget, but it kind of introduces me to the language.
Kiran: I see.
Steve: I find now I need those kinds of books less and less, but I still buy them because they’re handy to have. So Colloquial and Teach Yourself, those are introductory books, you buy them, you go back to them time and time again in your learning.
FSI is different. FSI is sort of like a system based on very repetitive drills. “This is a car.” “This is a blue car.” “This is my blue car.” I find those deadly boring. With all due respect to FSI, I got some for a couple of languages I just couldn’t stay with it. It gets back to this idea, and this is applicable to Colloquial, as well, meaningful, interesting content. It’s so important.
You can do a little bit of FSI, but I can’t do it. Again, I think it could be part of your language-learning program, but the biggest part of my time is spent, again, listening and reading to meaningful content, using LingQ, of course.
Kiran: I think this next one actually kind of ties in: Do you use a monolingual dictionary? This one user says he wants to start using that from low to intermediate; it helps him to become faster in the target language. Is that true?
Steve: In other words, I will always use a bilingual dictionary, until I am so good in the language that it’s almost like my native language. In which case, I don’t care. Most of the time, you’re looking for a quick answer. In LingQ we use the term ‘hint’ because when you see a meaning in the dictionary that’s not the complete range of meaning of that word, but it gets you started so you see the word in this context and that context.
I have used monolingual dictionaries and I end up with a bunch more words that I don’t know, so here’s a word I don’t know. I’m learning Polish and I look up the Polish definition of that word and there are more words that I don’t know. A lot of people claim that using a monolingual dictionary is good, I have never found that to be the case and I don’t use them. I use bilingual. It can be bilingual to French or a language that I speak very well, but if I’m learning Polish I won’t use a Polish dictionary.
Kiran: Okay. You said in the past that French is one of your strongest languages. So with that, do you ever keep learning new French words and vocabulary with authentic sources, such as _________?
Steve: No. I mean my French is at the point where it’s good enough, but I do a lot of reading in French and, just like any native speaker, you continue to accumulate words. You see them in different contexts, you might be curious and you might look it up. I don’t do any deliberate learning of French, but I do listen to and read French.
Kiran: Okay. Another question here: The user says I’ve been living in Australia since 2013. When I moved here I had just basic English, now I’m intermediate. I would like to achieve an advanced level, but still know very few words. What’s the advice?
Steve: Yeah. This gets back to the idea that, to my mind, to be good in a language you need a lot of words. A lot of people say I can be tremendously fluent with a few hundred words. This person here, (I don’t know if it’s a he or a she) if they’re living and working in Australia and they’re surrounded by native English speakers who have a large vocabulary, depending on their level of education, 40, 50, 60,000 words, if you’re going to communicating with those people you need a large vocabulary.
You’ve got to do a lot of reading. It all comes back to reading and listening. Get on LingQ, build up your vocabulary. When I study Russian, Polish, Czech, I want to drive that known words number up. As I’ve said, my goal in Polish is to get over 30,000 words in Polish. You’ve got to have that vocabulary and if you acquire the vocabulary through listening and reading your brain is also getting used to the language.
You’ve got to read novels in the language. I meet immigrants here and they say I can read fine, but I can’t speak. I know you read fine, I say, but have you read a novel? No. Well, get to where you can read a novel and you can enjoy reading a novel in the language.
Kiran: Okay. Well, that was it for all the questions.
Steve: Okay, we did it.
Steve: Keep your questions coming and keep up the good work in the Challenge.
Steve: Hello there, we’re here again. First of all, we have a guest today. We have my friend Gabriel from Brazil visiting who also has his own Facebook page.
Gabriel: Yes and a YouTube channel. We have everything, a website. The Facebook I am especially proud of.
Steve: And you speak how many languages?
Gabriel: I’d say I can have a decent conversation in 10, ay Phillip?
Steve: I have taken the questions that I received here on my channel and I kind of summarized them a bit. I wrote it out in my handwriting, I don’t know if Gabriel can read my handwriting.
Gabriel: There are some words here that are kind of tricky.
Steve: The format is that he’s going to ask me the question, I’ll give an answer and he may disagree or whatever. We’ll see how it goes.
Gabriel: It sounds great, okay. I’m excited about this. So the first two questions are a bit related. The first one is: In Swedish, how do you learn the different forms of the words in Swedish because there are different declensions? I, personally, don’t have a lot of knowledge of Swedish. The second one is: How do you basically learn Portuguese word conjugations, for example, ____ and ____? I have problems conjugating words in Portuguese sometimes. So how do you do that, Steve?
Steve: Well, you know, it’s a problem in a number of languages. There are a number of languages where the nouns or the adjectives change declensions and verbs change, person, tense and whatever. I have gone through the experience of trying to study the tables and I find that it’s not very helpful. I still review them because I come across different forms of a noun or a verb and I’m not entirely sure what form that is. Then I’ll Google for that noun or that verb and I’ll see the table, so I go back there regularly. It’s like going to the water cooler in an office, you go there for a glass of water and you come back. The main thing is you just have to get used to it.
Like the person that asked the question about Swedish and said there are so many different forms of plurals, I don’t even know that. I don’t even know that, but I speak Swedish actually quite well. It’s one of my better languages because I’ve spoken it a lot and I’ve listened to a lot of audio books on Swedish history and stuff.
What I do when I’m reading, for example from Portuguese, yeah ____ and ____ is kind of confusing, so if I’m reading a book I’ll underline it, if I’m on LingQ I’ll save that phrase. I want to help my brain notice whenever that occurs, whenever that appears, but it’s just a matter of a lot of exposure and there are no quick solutions, coupled with occasionally reviewing the tables. Like the person asked, when I come across a noun in Swedish should I remember all the forms. You can’t remember all the forms. It’s not even worth trying, you won’t. So that would be my answer there.
Gabriel: Yeah. Slavic language is the same. Like Russian, all the cases you have to know. It’s intense. So the third question here: How do you find the time, Steve? I’m guessing either learning or keeping up with this.
Steve: I mean the big thing is listening. I would say that 70-80% of my learning time is listening. So if I’m doing anything around the house, I’m listening. If I’m in the car, I’m listening. If I’m cleaning the garage, I’m listening. Exercising, I’m listening. The listening enables you to get up to that sort of critical mass of one hour, minimum, a day. If I listen to something and I don’t understand it, then I’ve got to read, then I’ve got to link it, then I’ll perhaps work on my iPad.
I do a lot of work, I should say, now on my iPad using iLink because it’s very handy, I sit down in a comfortable chair or I’m sometimes on my stepper at home. It’s a matter of trying to find ways to use dead time during the day.
Gabriel: I think this is really cool. Personally, I really like alternating into active and passive listening. Sometimes I’m driving around and I have a language ____, content, whatever it is. Sometimes if I have time and I can focus on the language, then I go for active listening. Then I’m really paying attention and maybe reading the content, as well, maybe on LingQ, maybe on something else.
Steve: I tend not to do that, I mean it depends on your definition of active listening. I won’t sit down and listen, I’d never do that, but if I sit down to learn I’m going to read or link. On the other hand, most of the things I listen to, unless I’m very advanced in the language, I’m also going to read. So in Russian Today I don’t have to read it, I’ll understand most of it. But, in my Polish for example, everything that I’m listening to I’ve read, I’ve linked and then I listen. However, I don’t just sit down and listen, I never do that, but everyone does their own thing.
Gabriel: Question number four: What is fluency?
Steve: You know you get this question all the time. To me, it doesn’t matter. I have done business with people who speak English whose native language is not English who make mistakes and they communicate. I’m sure that when I communicate in other languages I make mistakes. If you can communicate you’re good. We can always improve, yet I’m always glad that I’m able to do whatever I’m able to do.
I guess the definition simply of fluency is that you are comfortable handling, you understand what people are saying and you can communicate on a variety of subjects. Even though your pronunciation may not be all that great, you make mistakes, you’re sometimes at a loss for words and sometimes you don’t understand what they’re saying, by enlarge, you’re communicating and the person isn’t making allowances for you. That’s what it is.
Gabriel: Personally, I agree. I also agree that a lot of people put a lot of emphasis on it and they’re confused. Question five: Where can I find more upper beginner content for Polish? This ties into another question, as well: What are some resources for content?
Steve: This comes up all the time and it’s very important. We have, I think, some very good material for Polish at LingQ. This is the learner at LingQ who feels that he’s kind of done all those and wants to find more upper beginner content. My view is if you’ve done all of the sort of beginner, upper beginner, intermediate content at LingQ, it’s time for you to move into authentic content.
Now, having said that, I know, for example with Portuguese, this one LingQ member created this wonderful series of 20 lessons where she talked about her trip through Europe.
Gabriel: That’s so cool.
Steve: Ten minutes each. She’s with her friend, they lost their bags. It’s very much, call it upper beginner or lower intermediate, but she spoke naturally. So we hope that at LingQ more and more of our members… One of my first Brazilian Portuguese tutors, she did also sort of a diary. She took her kids to the zoo and all this kind of stuff. So to the extent that people will create simple diaries, simple conversations on everyday life, I think that’s what we don’t have enough off. We have the sort of learner-oriented this is a dog, Mary is eating her cake.
Gabriel: From the very beginning.
Steve: From the very beginning. Then you’ve got that upper level, which is podcasts.
Gabriel: Literature in Brazilian.
Steve: I have my Portuguese podcast, _______ that I listen to. I mean you have a lot of this kind of content say that our members at LingQ create, either it’s a diary, my thoughts on this or I talked to my friend, my husband, my wife, my girlfriend, my boyfriend, that kind of stuff. If we can get more of that with good sound quality with a transcript so that you can read it and learn the words, that’s what we really need more of.
As to finding content on the Web, you just have to Google. Maybe you take it and go to Google Translate to get the target language version of what you’re looking for, history of Poland or whatever. Historia Polski, okay, then you put Historia Polski and you’ll get a lot of stuff.
Gabriel: Google that, sure.
Steve: Sure, that’s what you have to do.
Gabriel: For instance, I think I went to LingQ in Spanish and I found some really cool content with the culture. So this lady was talking about the Day of the Dead and I wanted to learn about it, actually. Instead of going to Wikipedia I just saw it on LingQ, so it was pretty cool.
Steve: Now, obviously, in Spanish we have a lot more content than we have in Polish, Polish is a more recent language. In Polish I went to Piotr’s site, I’ve mentioned before, I got his stuff and I imported it into LingQ. So sometimes you have to go and find these resources.
Gabriel: That’s true.
Steve: Piort’s site does real Polish, by the way. RealPolish.pl, I’ll give him another plug.
Gabriel: I want to start Polish myself you know. I hope that knowing Russian will help me.
Steve: Oh, absolutely.
Gabriel: I guess the declensions…
Steve: The system is the same.
Steve: The endings are different, but the basic system is largely the same.
Gabriel: Excellent. Do they resemble each other every now and then? I noticed that between Croatian and Russian sometimes the endings of the words were actually similar.
Steve: Yeah, some of them. Like the instrumental, you know the m or i, that type, but the genitive might be a u instead of an i or something.
Gabriel: Interesting. Then question six: What was your experience like learning Korean, Steve?
Steve: Korean I’m finding very difficult because there are a lot of small, little words there that seem to have six or seven meanings, so when you look them up it’s not that helpful to the context that I’m reading. And, again, a bit of a problem with content that is interesting, yet at my level.
So I have these podcasts that I enjoy, but they’re a little bit difficult. One of them is this _______ that I’ve mentioned, he talks about literature. When he reads from ________ in Korean I’m lost. When he talks about _________ oh, yeah, I can follow him. So a bit of a problem with the language itself in terms of a lot of words that seem to have a lot of meaning. Again, it gets back to the whole content issue.
Gabriel: Yeah, absolutely. This may sound hilarious, but I’ve been trying to learn how to sing Gangnam Style in Korean.
Steve: Oh, yeah.
Gabriel: I probably sound hilarious, but I’m trying to…
Steve: We’ll have to get a video of you singing that.
Gabriel: Whoa! I’ll have to practice, but it should be fun. So question seven, I hope I can read this. Someone is asking, saying: I’m enjoying LingQ. I’m learning French and German. When can I start reading books of interest?
Steve: Okay. Well, again, I find that until I’m very good I prefer to read on LingQ. If on a page there’s like 10 or 15 words that I don’t know, that’s a problem. It starts to interfere with _______.
Gabriel: You’re grabbing the dictionary every five seconds, right?
Steve: Right, if the subject is something that I’m very familiar with or very interested in. Like history, you can actually have a lot of words that you don’t understand. But, if you’re reading literature, I find that you miss those words you’re missing a lot. So I tend to want to find say things that were written in the 19th century, older material that I can get free and import into LingQ.
How long does it take to get to a level where you can just pick up a novel and read it, it takes a long time. I can’t just, it just depends. It takes a long time, but I would try it. I would buy a book. Buy a book on something you’re very interested in and try it.
Gabriel: Personally, I fully agree.
Steve: One thing I don’t do is I don’t then look up every word and try and import it into LingQ. I did that for a while, but it’s just too time consuming and the benefits are limited.
Gabriel: I guess it’s nice to just either guess the content or if you understand 90% of the words you can simply…
Steve: Absolutely. What’s so ______ about language learning is you want to be doing different things, so read a book that you don’t understand, do some very simple content, pull something of interest into LingQ and link it. Do all these different things. As long as you’re engaging with the language you’re going to improve.
Gabriel: I think that’s quite fantastic. I’m surfboarding some Russian content into LingQ, actually. I had this lady actually do the audio for me, as well, so I’m really excited about that because I can study the words, I can take a look at them, I can do flashcards, which is awesome. I’ve been boosting my learning and my understanding, which is a lot of fun. Next question: How are you enjoying Polish and how are finding, I guess, consonant clusters?
Steve: Well, I’m enjoying Polish immensely. I enjoy the Real Polish from Piotr, but I’m also enjoying now an audio book. I bought __________, which is this book about Russian which I’ve read and English and now I’m listening to the audio book. I also found an audio book on Polish history. I’ve ordered some Polish books from a Canadian Web-based bookstore. I’m having some trouble. They won’t let you download eBooks from Poland for some reason. Anyway, I’m enjoying it tremendously and, of course, helped by my knowledge of other Slavic languages.
Insofar as consonant clusters, it seems that the Poles will go _______ for something that maybe in Russian would be ______. It’s not a problem, you just get used to it.
Gabriel: It just looks intimidating. It’s like oh, my God, there are all these consonants.
Steve: I mean how can you have a word that goes ________? Come on now. I shouldn’t say that. How can you have English?
Gabriel: The word through, for instance.
Steve: Through, those, bow, cough, rough, that’s pretty weird. To that extent, Polish is consistent.
Gabriel: I see.
Steve: Polish is consistent. The only one that isn’t consistent I discovered is the word for apple, which is ________. It’s not pronounced _________ it’s pronounced ________. So there are some sounds that disappear in Polish.
Gabriel: That’s interesting. Actually, I’m legitimately interested in picking it up or getting started within the next few months. I’m going to see your results and then…
Steve: Great! I mean it’s a great country. There are 40 million people. They’ve got a great history.
Gabriel: I have a lot of friends here, basically here in Vancouver, that have a Polish background. One of my best friends, he actually went to med school in Poland, then he came back and he speaks with his parents. I know a few words, but I’ve found some things tremendously hard, actually. Like the ___ sound.
Steve: It’s almost like a W.
Gabriel: I was trying to say the word ________ and then my friend said it sounds like you’re saying the word for Belgium.
Steve: Okay. Don’t worry.
Gabriel: I have to focus on pronunciation for Polish, for sure. The last question here, I’m interested in hearing the answer for myself. It’s a good question: What kind of advice or what advice would you give to your younger self?
Steve: In terms of language learning?
Gabriel: Yes, in terms of language learning.
Steve: You know it’s an interesting question. Really, when I read the book that I wrote 10 years ago about language learning nothing much has changed. Technology has changed, access to conversation partners on the Internet, content on the Internet, meaning this became an mp3 player. Fifty years ago I had open reel tape recorders.
No, once I realized that to learn a language you have to be motivated and it’s not sufficient to sit in a classroom. That was my experience in school, where the teacher would teach us French and we would pass the exam, but we couldn’t speak. Once I realized that it was all about motivation and spending the time and really engaging with the language, then that’s it. I I explore for content, I focus on structures that give me trouble, nothing much different.
Gabriel: Okay. That closes it. Would you like to add anything?
Steve: No. I just want to say we went a little bit longer today because we were fortunate to have Gabriel visit with us and provide his input.
Gabriel: It was a huge pleasure.
Steve: I’ve done some videos with him for his Facebook page and, hopefully, we’ll do some more.
Gabriel: Of course, with pleasure. It was fun to read the questions. Thank you, Steve.
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here, two weeks in to my 90-Day Challenge challenging the language of Polish. I’ve been working heavily with the material from Piotr from Real Polish, which I mentioned last time, both his 100 stories, which are great, and his podcasts. I’ve been downloading content from Radio Polski. The audio doesn’t necessarily match the text, but I’m reading the text. My vocabulary — I’ve added 5,000 words to my known words in Polish and I have saved another 4,000 words and phrases.
So those are words I’m studying. I might know half of them, I’m sure up to about 8,000 words or so in two weeks, but that’s based on knowing some Ukrainian, Czech and Russian. I don’t think I could do that in Turkish. Next year I’m going to go after a language that’s unrelated to anything I’ve ever studied. It might be Turkish. It might be Arabic. I don’t know yet. It might Greek or something.
Anyway, I’m enjoying Piotr’s material. I’m listening a lot and I’m going to start answering. His material, the 100 stories which I think are brilliant, he says don’t study grammar, just do the stories. You listen to the story, you listen to a different point of view and then you have these questions which I have not, up until now, been answering out loud. He suggests we answer out loud, but we don’t have to if we don’t want to. So, initially, I haven’t been and I think I’m going to start doing that.
I want to get myself out of my comfort zone in terms of vocabulary by reading things. I’ve already read a book on Polish history, I’ve gone to the Wikipedia page of Polish history and I’ve imported all of that into LingQ. I’m going through, because I’m interested in history, gaining words and phrases from the radio site, from the history sites and so forth and at the same time I’m doing the easier material that Piotr has in his 100 stories. So I’m on sort of a two track here.
Since I’m not quite familiar with all the vocabulary in Piotr’s stories, having imported them all into LingQ and created links and stuff, now I’m going to start actually answering out loud. I might do it just listening or I might do it while I’m reviewing in sentence view on the iPad so I can actually read the individual question or I can say the answer, go to the next sentence, see the answer and say it again.
All of these things I’m going to be doing (A) to increase my vocabulary, but also to prepare myself for speaking because come the beginning of October or soon into October, I want to have a conversation with Piotr.
Questions — send me your questions. When I say send them, just put your questions here at YouTube, we’ll gather them up and once a week I try to answer them.
Thank you and I hope you’re all working hard on your 90-Day Challenge. Thanks for listening, bye for now.
Steve: We’re going to go over your questions, which we’ve collected. Now, I can’t answer all the questions, but I’ve collected them to some extent and we’re going to, hopefully, answer most of the questions. So go ahead. Shoot, Kiran.
Kiran: Okay. The first one: Writing systems cause problems in language learning. How do you deal with different writing systems in Chinese and Russian, etc.?
Steve: Etc. exactly, Korean. I remember the question was like Chinese, how do you start listening and reading when you can’t read anything? What I did when I learned Chinese is I spent the first month only listening and using Pinyin. In those days, it was a different system for using a Roman or a Latin alphabet. So I listened and I read in the Romanization system that we used at that time and then, after a month, I went heavy-duty into learning the characters.
I learned the first 1,000 most frequently-used characters as a deliberate exercise. I would study 10 and, eventually, 30 a day, forget them, relearn them, separate from my reading and listening. After about 1,000 characters, I just learned the characters as I went. With a character-based writing system, you have to make a deliberate effort to learn the characters.
Once you get to a phonetic writing system, like Cyrillic script for Russian is really not very difficult because it’s kind of almost parallel to the Latin alphabet with a few other symbols. Basically, you learn it, you don’t really understand it. You start reading, it’s difficult to read. You continue reading and listening and, gradually, it becomes more and more comfortable.
The same is true for say the Korean script or the Kana script in Japanese. Those are easier to get used to and you get used to them as you read, but where you have characters to learn that’s a big chore. You have to do it and you have to do it every day consistently for a good few months.
Kiran: Okay. The next one: In English the spelling is so irregular that pronunciation becomes a problem. How do you deal with that?
Steve: Yes. In English that’s almost another situation where the writing system is different from the way the language is pronounced. Someone asked do you use the International Phonetic Alphabet. I don’t. My approach to language learning is whatever works for you. I’m not interested in learning another writing system because I have to get used to how those symbols are used to represent those sounds. So I listen to the sounds and I see how it’s represented in that language and I try to get used to it.
So, yes, with English you just have to get used to the fact that ‘ough’ can be ‘though’, ‘tough’, ‘rough’, ‘through’. You just have to get used to it. Personally, I don’t use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), but some people love it. It’s just a matter of choice.
Kiran: All right. Here’s another good one: I’m learning English in Vancouver. Most graded readers use the British accent. Is this a problem if I want to learn to speak with a North American accent?
Steve: Okay. The issue of accents comes up all the time not only in English, but in Spanish, in Portuguese. There are many languages where the pronunciation can vary from region to region, that is to say the native-speaking pronunciation. Personally, I don’t worry about it. My main job when I start learning a language is to make sure I can understand and that I accumulate a large vocabulary.
For Spanish, for example, I want to make sure that I can understand someone from Mexico, from Argentina, from Spain; in Portuguese, someone from Brazil and from Portugal. However, I then decide which pronunciation is the most useful to me.
Kiran: I see.
Steve: If I’m going to be working in Quebec, I want to learn the Quebec pronunciation. If I’m going to be working in Brazil, I want to learn Brazilian Portuguese. For the purposes of imitating the accent I focus on those sources that speak the way I want to speak and I try to imitate them, but I don’t limit myself to that. I actually will deal with a large variety of content. Typically, the vocabulary is extremely similar between Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Spain; Quebec, France. It’s largely the same vocabulary.
Kiran: Okay. Someone here who is using LingQ says: How many times should I study a lesson question? Should I focus on grammar, vocabulary, structure, how do I proceed?
Steve: Okay. In LingQ or if you’re not using LingQ, I believe that listening and reading is the most powerful way to learn the language to bring it in subconsciously. This is what I’m doing with Polish with the wonderful material that Piotr has developed. I don’t focus on should I learn the conjugation, should I learn the structure. While I’m listening, though, like what I’m doing with Polish, I’ll often use the sentence view in our iLink on my iPad and then I can really look at the structures to remind myself, to help my brain learn.
It’s not as if I’m sort of block studying conjugation tables. I wouldn’t say it’s a waste of time, but it’s limited in what it can do for you. Occasionally, I’ll refer to these and quickly forget it and so the bulk of my time is spent listening, reading and, of course, creating links saving words and phrases on LingQ. You’re just following the content, reading or listening to the content. You’re learning about other things and subconsciously absorbing the language.
As to how many times, again, it’s up to you. Typically, when I start I listen often to the same material because I don’t understand it very well. As I progress in the language I listen less frequently to the same lesson and, basically, I move on at LingQ when I’m bored. I don’t have to understand 70 or 80%, when I’m tired of the lesson I move on, but it’s all exposure.
Kiran: So when you are reading, do you ignore words and phrases that you find difficult to understand?
Steve: Absolutely. I’ll look up the word. I might look up three or four words. It still doesn’t make sense. I can’t make sense of this sentence. I can’t make sense of the lesson. I don’t worry about it. I’m confident and my experience tells me three months from now that will all make sense. Right now it doesn’t make sense. There’s no use beating your head against a brick wall, I just move on.
Kiran: One person is asking: I have online discussions with a Spanish-speaking language partner, his English is much better than my Spanish. I’m too embarrassed to speak Spanish, what should I do?
Steve: You know, when we speak a foreign language we are embarrassed and we don’t speak as well as in our own language. If you want to be totally comfortable, sound intelligent and all the rest of it, stay with your native language. When you speak a foreign language you’re going to sound dumb. You’re going to sound like a child. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s part of the package you just have to do it. I’m sure your language partner is quite content to patiently talk to you in Spanish and then you’ll, of course, help him or her with their English and that’s the deal.
What can I say? You have to break through that initial sense of embarrassment. Once you get comfortable using your new language and congratulating yourself for what you’re able to do rather than worrying about the mistakes that you made, you’ll find that you’ll develop this new habit of speaking with mistakes and enjoying it.
Kiran: Okay. The last one here: How do you get motivated to learn a new language? Related to that, what about learning two languages at the same time and what about learning dead languages like Latin, for example?
Steve: Or Ancient Greek.
Kiran: Or Ancient Greek, yes.
Steve: All right. The motivation is your interest, so if I’m interested in Ancient Greek and Latin I’m going to go after them. We have Latin at LingQ, we don’t have Ancient Greek, but the learning process is the same. I don’t know if there’s audio available for Ancient Greek, there is audio available for Latin and we’re using it at LingQ.
Learning two languages at the same time, if you’re learning them both from scratch, is difficult. I don’t do it because I find once I get motivated to learn a language I’m so motivated that I want to spend all my time on that language, so I really don’t have much time for a second language.
I don’t think it’s bad for you to learn two languages at the same time, in fact, to some extent, it may help you. It might be very good for the brain to keep things fresh. Because motivation is such a big part of language learning, in fact, if I’m motivated, like now to do Polish, I find it very difficult to take time away to spend on my Korea, for example.
Kiran: Okay. Well, that was it for this week.
Steve: That’s it? Okay. I hope we answered every question and continue on your 90-Day Challenge.
One of the most important ingredients for language learning success is interesting, captivating and meaningful content. I am rediscovering this truth as I proceed in my 90-Day Challenge in Polish. The discovery of Real Polish has been a major turning point in my Polish studies. The material that Piotr has created is outstanding, especially the beginner stories. The way in which the same material is repeated from different points of view and in different tenses is highly effective in helping us get used to the language. Piotr’s pleasant voice and narrating style makes it all interesting and captivating. Well done Piotr!
As Piotr says, we acquire languages almost subconsciously. The deliberate study of grammar rules is difficult because there are not just a few rules, there are many rules. There are more and more rules and exceptions and pretty soon it’s a great jumble of confusing instructions about something that we know very little about. Something we have had little experience with, a new language. That is why his approach to teaching grammar through simple but captivating stories with lots of questions allows us to discover the language, until we are so curious about some points of grammar that we go and look up some of the grammar rules. And when I do look up grammar tables, as I stare at a table of verb or noun endings, I still have trouble absorbing this material. So I go back to letting the language flowing into me through interesting content. Granted for this to work best, we need to have access to a glossary or better still, a system like LingQ in order to be able to make sense of it.
A lot of language instruction seems to focus on output or communicating. For example the task-based language teaching approach which tries to get the students to act out different roles. It seems that the rationale here is that if someone is going to be the retail clerk then they should pretend to be a retail clerk, act out the role, and that this will help them speak the language. I have quite a different approach. I feel that the most important thing is to get that language into the learner, through captivating input. Without this input, lots of it, through appropriate content, it is very hard to act out anything. Nor can any scenario which limits the language to what a retail clerk might hear be successful. The retail clerk may face a fairly wide range of language situations, and so a broader base in the language is necessary.
Another school of language instruction is called the communicative approach. This again is based on the idea that we learn by communicating. Of course eventually we want to communicate, but my experience is that the easiest way to acquire the language subconsciously and without stress is to allow language to flow in to your brain through content that captivates you. Once your brain has gotten used to the new language to some extent you’re now in a much better position to start communicating. At that point the specific technical vocabulary or type of language that you required for specific tasks can be quite easily acquired.
So we get back to the importance of content. One trend in language instruction is to teach subjects other than the language itself, in the target language. This is known as CLIL or Content and Language Integrated Learning. Unfortunately much of the use of this approach is focused on English which is perceived as the most important language to learn both for professional and academic purposes. However the same approach can be used for other languages. I know that I progress most rapidly in the languages that I’m learning, when I can read and listen to content of interest to me and in particular when the voice of the narrator is natural and pleasant.
To get started, though, we need an approach like Piotr’s beginner stories. This is an approached that I would like to see applied to other languages too. Now back to my Polish challenge.
Steve: Hi, this is Steve. You may not know Kiran, he’s part of the LingQ team. You can’t see Sam, but he’s the cameraman. We’re going to try to answer some of the questions that you’ve sent us on our 90-Day Challenge and I hope that you are all working hard on the 90-Day Challenge.
We gathered some of the questions and there were a lot of questions. Some of them we kind of grouped together and thought it would be interesting if we had a question and answer, so Kiran here is going to ask. By the way, Kiran is working on Spanish and so is Sam. What were some of the questions?
Kiran: Okay. The first one here was: How do you learn vocabulary so you don’t get overwhelmed and forget the original vocabulary that you learned?
Steve: Okay. First of all, you do forget the vocabulary that you learn. That’s a given. In fact, it’s good to forget the vocabulary. If you forget it and relearn it, forget it and relearn it, forget it again and relearn it, that’s how you’re going to retain it. So I read and listen and, of course, the first time I come across a new word I link it, it’s now converted to yellow and then I’ll see it again. Not only do I forget the meaning, I forget that I ever saw the word before. It’s this process of engaging with the content, forgetting, relearning, forgetting and that’s how you learn. So that’s really not a problem. That’s how I see that.
Kiran: All right. So the second one is: Where do you find really good starting content for Polish, Japanese, Mandarin, German and Korean?
Steve: Okay. Obviously, these are five different questions that I received, it started with Polish. A number of Polish people told me that I shouldn’t do this Mendel Gdański. That it’s a 19th century novel and it’s not very good. I must admit it was very difficult, so I was happy to get off that.
I discovered in our library that we had some content from Real Polish, so I started doing that and the material there is phenomenal. I’ve been in touch with Piotr and I will talk more about that in my next video. Japanese, Mandarin, German, I’m not studying them. I’m studying Korean right now.
Everyone has to look. You have to look for your own content, things that are of interest to you. I can’t give you any answers. Korean, I searched some podcasts which I had transcribed. Part of language learning is being an explorer and you have to find your own resources.
Other than that, you can come on LingQ. We have content in our library (audio and text) and you can use those. They’re available for a free download if you don’t use all of the LingQ functionality which, of course, I recommend you do, it’s more effective. And you can ask on our forum, but you’ve got to look for it. Sorry.
Kiran: No, that’s good. We actually have a course on LingQ called “Who is She”, which is in Polish. One of the users was asking: How do you do the “Who is She” Course without any grammar and do we learn grammar when we have very few words?
Steve: Right. So there were two questions there. Obviously, when I’m doing Polish I’ve already done Russian, Czech, Ukrainian, so I have a sense of how Slavic languages work in terms of the grammar. I’m not too fussed about how the endings in Polish are different from endings in Czech or Russian, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t prevent me from understanding what I’m listening to.
There’ll be words that I don’t know, I look up those words and the grammar doesn’t bother me. At some point, I will go back in there and try to nail down better the specific Polish endings, but for the time being it doesn’t prevent me from understanding the story.
This other person asked me, in fact, he was studying Slovak and he said he only had a few hundred words and he can’t remember the grammar. Of course you can’t remember the grammar. I think someone else said he has trouble with the endings in German. Don’t sweat it. As Piotr of Real Polish says, we learn subconsciously and so you have to expose yourself to the language.
If you learn it subconsciously by experiencing it, you will have a much better grasp of the language than if you try to remember rules. Pretty soon there are so many rules and exceptions you forget the rules. Learn it through gradually exposing yourself to it and don’t worry about the grammar, until you’re so curious about the grammar you go back in, you look it up and then it starts to stick.
Kiran: Yeah, that’s a great point. Next question: Do you use music to learn languages?
Steve: Often people ask me that and the answer is no. First of all, not the music, I presume they mean the words of songs. The key in language learning is content, content is king. If you’re interested in songs, that’s a great way to learn because then you start singing the songs. I just am not that interested, I’m interested in other things. So whatever you’re interested in, go for it. Content is king or queen.
Kiran: Okay. Next question: What is your daily language-learning routine and how much time does one need to spend a day learning the language?
Steve: You know there is no rule. I think if you’re serious you should spend an hour a day, at least, but there’s no upper limit. That’s what I do, but 70% of that is listening. I can listen in my car. I can listen while preparing breakfast. I can listen in all kinds of different places, so listening is 75% of it.
I don’t really have a routine. Again, I like to do what I feel like doing. I have a stepper at home, I get on with my iPad and I read through a lesson in iLingQ on my iPad. After the stepper I might lift a few weights and I’ll be listening while I’m doing that. So it all adds up, but I grab some time here, some time there. There is no routine.
Kiran: All right. What do you do when you’re de-motivated, not interested or you’re not feeling like you’re getting anywhere or making any progress?
Steve: There were a number of questions like this. One person said I’ve been living in Spain and I’m not motivated and my Spanish is no good. Another person said yeah, Japanese… A number of people have this problem. First of all, don’t tell yourself that you’re not doing well, that’s a bad message. Whatever you’re able to do in the language is good, that’s better than zero.
Lots of people are just unilingual, so if you have some knowledge of the language and you’re able to say a few things you’re already good, but you’d like to get better. Here again, in my experience, the key is content. Do stuff that is interesting and enjoyable. If you like songs, go for songs. If you like movies, go for movies.
I must say, in my Polish, as I said, I started into this Mendel Gdański. It was very difficult, very dry, a little discouraging and then I discovered Piotr’s stuff and it’s just opened up this tremendous door for me. I can’t tell you what’s good for you; you’ve got to find the content that turns you on. Once the process of learning is enjoyable, you don’t care so much about am I making progress? You’re not measuring yourself against something, I didn’t achieve that. Forget it. You’re enjoying the language. You’re enjoying the songs. You’re enjoying this. You have this sense of wow! I listened to this, I didn’t understand it three months ago, but now I understand it.
I know from experience, and you have to take my word for it, if you continue to expose yourself to the language listening and reading the brain is going to do a lot of it by itself. Over the next few weeks I’ll talk to you about things that you can do to help your brain along, but the brain is going to learn as long as you keep enjoying the language.
Kiran: That’s good, very good. All right, last question: How do you avoid translating into your own language?
Steve: You can’t, at least initially. But, again, because the whole process is one of the brain getting used to the language, if you do this naturally subconsciously, as Piotr says in Warsaw there, gradually the brain will start seeing the text in the target language as meaning directly. It won’t need to translate, but it’s a gradual process. Initially, you’re translating all most all of it and then certain phrases now automatically have meaning in the target language and this just becomes a larger and larger percentage of what you’re dealing with.
I think I did videos about being patient. Don’t get impatient, you know, I’m still translating. You can still translate. Keep going and you’ll translate less and less and more of it will be instant meaning in the target language.
Kiran: All right.
Steve: We went beyond the two minutes, I think, but there you go.
Kiran: Well, there are a lot of questions.
Steve: We get a lot of questions and I talked a little bit longer. Just to finish off here, keep sending your questions in. Once a week I answer questions and I’ll do another video where I will talk about my experiences and some of the things that I’m discovering on the 90-Day Challenge.
In a comment to a previous post, Stefan asked me how many words I thought I could learn in a day. We had quite a discussion on this, and I have given it some more thought.
If I take my own Czech studies, I have been at it about 6 months. It is all part time, one hour a day most of the time, some days much more, and for stretches of time, nothing. The main activity is listening, then comes reading, and saving words at LingQ, (LingQing). A smaller amount of time is spent on reviewing words in flash cards, and just recently I have started talking to a tutor online at LingQ.
So if we call this period of time 180 days, and if we use the statistics generated by LingQ, the numbers look like this.
“Known words” by this I mean only my ability to recognise the meaning, or a meaning: 25,260.
This includes non-words, numbers, names etc. How many I don’t know but let’s say 10%. So the number is really probably 23,000
Stefan made the point that Czech is very inflected and therefore this inflates this number compared to English. At first I agreed that this is relevant but now I am not so convinced. In fact we need to learn the different forms of the words, for tenses or cases, or person, whether in Czech or French, so each of these words does count, in my view.
“LingQs created” or saved in the system: 20,600
of which 7,425 have been moved up in status towards varying degrees of”known”. Note that I do not do a lot of flash carding and only move words up in status sporadically.
When I look at lists of these words in the vocab section, I know most of them, but certainly not all.This number includes 1725 phrases. So perhaps I should count this as 5,000 words. Even among the other so-called status “1” words, roughly 13,000 or so, there will be words that I know. but never mind.
So maybe I know, albeit passively, 28,000 words. Maybe. And I have been at it, although not every day, for 180 days. This means that I may have learned words at the rate of 155 words a day. Who knows? Maybe it is a lower number, but I believe it is at least 100 words a day. Most words are learned incidentally through reading, and especially through seeing the yellow saved LingQs highlighted in our texts at LingQ.
Note that I have read over 250,000 words at LingQ in Czech, often more than once. This is the equivalent of 3 average length novels.
I can read the newspaper fairly well.
Apparently Czech shares 40% vocabulary with Russian,(which I have studied, also in the same way at LingQ). By that I mean this is the number of words that are the same or recognizable, like zitra/ zavtra for tomorrow. English has 60% Latin based words, so I think that an English person who put the same effort into French or Spanish, could learn the same number of words in those languages.
I studied Czech a few years ago so that my statistics at LingQ for that language are not current. However, the statistics from my current Polish challenge illustrate the fact that we can learn or add to our “known words” total well over 100 words a day. In fact in the case of Polish (since I know other Slavic languages) it is over 300 words a day.
The conclusion is, you can learn 100 words a day, if you are willing to put in the time.
Well, it’s time to get busy Learning Polish!
I started by listening to and reading the series “Who is She” in our Polish library at LingQ, while working out on my stepping machine, using my iPad. I have gone through this course before so there are a lot of words that I have looked up and converted to yellow at LingQ. But a lot of them I still don’t really know. This doesn’t bother me because I’m quite convinced that learning and forgetting and relearning is one of the keys to eventually acquiring new vocabulary, or learning anything for that matter.
As I start my Polish adventure, I note that my known words total on my profile at LingQ is 6340. I would like to increase that to 30,000 words during the next three months. That means about 300 words per day. As I am starting with some material I have looked at before, initially the number of new words per day will be lower than this. This will gradually increase.
I have also found some intermediate material from Piotr at Real Polish in our LingQ library. His material is excellent. Piotr’s group also did our Polish version of “Who is She”. I really want to visit him if I visit Poland. The quality of his audio and the friendly tone of his voice really encourages me to learn.
This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
Hi. Language learning is one of the most enriching, rewarding, satisfying activities we can engage in. If you’re interested in this subject, please subscribe to my channel where I talk about my experience in learning 15 languages.
The most important task in language learning, in my opinion, is the acquisition of vocabulary, words. If we have enough words, we can make sense of what we’re reading or listening to and we can somehow express ourselves. Vocabulary is much more important than grammar. The grammar you acquire gradually as you become familiar with the language, with the words, but first of all you need words.
So how do we acquire vocabulary?
Well, I think there are two sorts of approaches. One is the deliberate study of vocabulary by reading vocabulary lists and trying to memorize them or doing flashcards, keeping handwritten lists, these kinds of things, the other is to learn through a lot of exposure. Now, the strategy that you adopt will depend on your personal preference and also, in my view, on how much time you have.
If you have a lot of time, six-seven hours a day as I did when I was studying Mandarin Chinese 45 years ago, then you can take an hour a day for the deliberate study of vocabulary. However, if you have one hour a day and two-thirds or three-quarters of that time, which I call dead time, is in your car, doing tasks around the house, walking the dog, then I suggest you don’t try to deliberately learn the vocabulary.
There is significant research which shows that what they call block learning, where you take some material and try to force yourself to learn it, review it many, many times and go through, for example, your list of vocabulary or your flashcards over and over in the hope of nailing that and mastering it, that is relatively inefficient and that interleaved learning, (interleaving, I suggest you Google the term) in other words, where you come across some information, then you forget it, you go look at some other information and you come back to that first information, so you’re sort of interleaving layers of different things, forgetting and relearning, actually enables you to learn things better.
Very quickly, the Law of Diminishing Returns sets in when we’re trying deliberately to learn something. It’s no longer fresh for our brain and the brain basically pushes back, whereas if you forget and come back to it you learn better. But if you have six-seven hours a day, there’s nothing wrong spending some time reviewing flashcards.
If I look at my own pattern where I consume a lot of content through listening and reading and acquiring lots and lots of words, if I had to review them all in flashcards or on lists I would spend my whole… I have to decide. Do I want to spend my time reviewing words in flashcards or do I want to spend that time listening and reading to things of interest. I tend to do the listening and reading, I find that I acquire words very quickly and I have an enjoyable time doing it.
Of course, speaking is also helpful. What you hear the native speakers say while speaking is what I call high resonance, just as interesting content is high resonance. You notice things better if you’re engaged in a conversation and you also notice when you weren’t able to find the words yourself and then you hear someone else use them. So that’s very, very good.
However, in my own case, I prefer to delay that speaking situation unless there’s a need, if I’m living in the country where the language is spoken. Otherwise, I prefer to delay it until I have something meaningful to say and can understand what the other person is saying. Otherwise, we end up with a very limited range of language that we’re exposed to like, “How are you?” “What’s your name?” “What’s the weather like?”
Therefore, again, I prefer to give myself that significant exposure through listening and reading, quite confident that the high-frequency words will appear very often, the medium-frequency words will appear less often, but I will eventually get them, and the very low-frequency words, some will stick and some won’t. If they’re that low frequency, maybe I don’t really need them.
Ultimately, the choice is with the learner and my preference is to study in an enjoyable way. If I were in a course somewhere working five-six hours a day having to write an exam, I might take a different approach. There you have it, that’s my take on how to acquire vocabulary.
I’ll continue once a week with these discussions on language learning and, if you’re interested, please subscribe to my channel. Bye for now.