19 June 2016

French for Beginners – What You Need to Know

LingQ_-_French_for_beginners_-_what_you_need_to_know

French was my first love when it comes to languages. In fact, there’s an expression in French: “On revient toujours a son premier amour.” It means you always go back to your first love. I love French; I love all the languages that I learn, but I have a special affection for French.

Though I studied French at school, I couldn’t speak it at the age of 16. Then I went to McGill University and had a professor who turned me on to French and to the French civilization. To learn a language you’ve got to really love the language, be committed to the language and want to be part of that community of people who speak it. That’s what happened to me. I got very keen and I ended up going to France for three years where I studied Political Science at L’institut d’études politiques in Paris.

Start learning French today! You can learn from engaging content and achieve your language learning goals more efficiently!

I highly recommend learning French. There’s a whole world that you can access so much better if you speak French. The language is spoken in other countries like Canada. It’s spoken in eastern Canada in Quebec and New Brunswick. It’s spoken in many countries in Africa. Not to mention Belgium and Switzerland. So it’s well worth the effort.

Here are some features of French for beginners about to set off on their language learning journey:

1. Pronunciation
French is fairly difficult to pronounce. It isn’t like English, Swedish or the tonal languages. French tends to roll along in a fairly monotonous range of tones. Also, there are the nasal sounds and then the way the sound is carried on to the next word. These are things you have to get used to as a beginner.

One thing I recommend insofar as pronunciation is concerned is to get used to making the ‘ur’ sound. There are lots of ‘ur’ and ‘aw’ sounds in French, and you kind of have to pick up on that as soon as you can and have it flow through your pronunciation. It can be tough to pick up on these sounds in your listening. The French slur words together, as we do in all languages.

2. Positive statements, negative statements and questions
You have to get used to what in English we call the ‘w’ words: what, where, when, why, who, how: quoi,où , qui , quand , pourquoi , comment. You should get used to those at the beginning of your studies as they are essential for making statements and asking questions. Try google translate to see what the corresponding words and structures are in French.

You can save these on LingQ, which I very much recommend you do because the system will give you lots of examples. The examples come in two sections on LingQ, either from our library or from a lesson you have already studied. The advantage of looking at examples from lessons you have already studied is that you probably know the words. Very often, if you’re reading in a grammar book you look at examples, but you don’t know the words. That’s not so very helpful.

3. Gender and number
There are languages, like Japanese, that have no gender and no number. French has both. In French pronouns and adjectives have to agree, even verbs have to agree. This can be difficult to get used to, but we have to have the confidence that we will eventually.

4. Verbs
Very soon you’ll discover that whereas in English we say I go, you go, he goes, only the ‘he goes’ changes, in French every form of the verb changes, depending on the person. You’ve just got to get used to it. It’s very difficult to remember these conjugations. You can spend all kinds of time pouring over conjugation tables. In my experience it’s a very unsatisfying thing to do because you forget them. You might remember them for tomorrow’s test and then you forget them, so you constantly have to refer to them and see them in context. If you’re on the computer, just Google “French conjugations” or “conjugation” of any verb and you will find what you are looking for. The same is true, by the way, with pronouns, adjectives. Anything you want to look at, you just Google and it will be there.

5. Tenses
The big bugbear in French for beginners is the tenses. Like with all grammar, the key to “getting it” is to simplify. I own a series of grammar books published by Dover. None of them is longer than 100 pages; they’re very short descriptions of the grammar. That’s the kind of book you need to have so that you can refer to the grammar from time to time, because in most grammars there aren’t that many issues. In fact, I think there’s probably 10 or so.

6. Conditional
There are things like the conditional which we also have in English: “I will go tomorrow”, “I would go if…” etc. The French do the same in their conditional. You have to learn the endings by regularly reviewing them in tables, seeing them in context and so forth.

Type some “if” “then” sentences in English into Google Translate and then grab those sentences and import them into LingQ. Then you can look for them in your regular listening and reading.

7. Subjunctive
The subjunctive is also a bit of a bugbear in the romance languages. All that means is there are certain expressions that describe the speaker’s attitude, like “you have to go”, “I want you to go”, “although you went” etc. At first the subjunctive won’t make sense, but once you’ve seen enough examples, it will start to make sense and slowly you’ll develop the habit of using the subjunctive form of the verb at the appropriate time.

8. Relative clause
There are some things they do differently. The French are not hungry or cold, they have hunger and they have cold. There are a few other things like that. Largely, it’s a matter of getting used to it. Try using Google Translate and type in a few English sentences with relative clauses and you will see how it works. Google Translate is a valuable tool, especially where French for beginners is concerned. Use it!

***

Even though I went through very quickly some of the issues of grammar, the grammar can be a bit of a stumbling block. Don’t let it be, get past it. Go past the grammar, enjoy listening and reading. Build up your vocabulary using LingQ, which I recommend, and go back and visit the grammar from time to time. Once you have some experience with the language, you’ll find that gradually, with enough exposure, some of these things start to become natural.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

13 June 2016

Biggest Mistake People Make in Language Learning

Biggest_Mistake_People_Make_in_Language_Learning

The biggest mistake people make in language learning.

The biggest thing that prevents people from succeeding and becoming fluent is that people stay with the beginner material for too long. They stay with the beginner book, course or lesson and never get beyond it. This is quite unnecessary.

If you buy a beginner book, which I think is a good thing to do if you embark on learning a new language, you can use it for a year. Keep on going back to it, but don’t try to master it. You don’t have to learn or remember the dialogues, the vocabulary, the grammar rules, nothing. It’s just an initial guide; something that you go back to regularly. You have to get away from the artificial environment of the beginner textbook, or whatever your teacher has you doing in class, as soon as possible. You have to get beyond it and into real language.

Take my experience with learning Czech as an example. I kept track of the initial stages. I started using LingQ’s Bookmark, a quick import system, to bring in articles from Czech newspapers two weeks after I started studying. Fighting my way through these, of course, clicking on every word, saving the words to my database, not really understanding it. I kind of picked my way through maybe 30–40%, most of it unclear to me, but I kept on doing it.

I had brought in something like 161 newspaper articles over three months. I started bringing in The Good Soldier Švejk and then I discovered Radio Prague. So I’ve read the equivalent of two books in Czech of adult authentic material intended for native speakers. Do I understand it all? No. Do I know all the words there? No. But I know a lot of it because now when I bring in a new text to my account in LingQ I can see that the New Words percentage is smaller. That’s just by reading,listening and not expecting to understand it all. Even though I listen two, three, four times, read it two, three, four times I don’t understand it, but it is all helping my brain get used to Czech.

The majority of people get the beginner book (I’ve got a beginner book handy here somewhere) and they never leave it because they never feel comfortable. They don’t feel they’ve learned everything in it. The beginner book is like that step into the swimming pool and then you’ve got to start swimming. So the biggest mistake people make in language learning is that they stay with their beginner material.

It doesn’t matter whether you can use the language. It doesn’t matter whether you can speak or write yet. What matters is how much can you understand, how many words you know, how familiar you are with the language and to what extent the language is starting to become a part of your brain.

So the biggest mistake people make in language learning is they stay with the beginner book for far too long. Within a month or two or three, depending on the language, you’ve got to get into the real language and ease your way in. I use LingQ to do this. It works for me.

So there’s my advice, don’t stay with the beginner material. The sooner you get into the real stuff, the faster you will learn. The objective is not to fully understand something after one or two months. The objective is to understand a lot after eight or 10 months and in order to do that, you’ve got to push yourself past that comfort level of the beginner book.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

6 June 2016

More Tips for Learning Russian

Tips_for_learning_Russian_(part_2)

Did you miss Tips for Learning Russian — Part 1? Check it out here.

In this the second part of the series, I wanted give more tips for learning Russian. I’ll explain about the writing system, cases, verbs of motion and aspects of verbs.

The Russian writing system is almost parallel to the Latin alphabet. This is no surprise because both the Russian and Latin alphabets come from the Greek alphabet. There are some letters that are unique to Russian, [IЖж] and then there are two characters that are both pronounced [Шш and Щщ]. I can’t tell the difference, and I’ve never worried about it.

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There are some things that differentiate the Russian writing system from its Latin counterpart. Russian uses a little B flat sign [Ьь ], which softens sounds. There are some letters that look the same as Latin letters, but they are in fact pronounced differently. What looks like a P is actually an R, and since it’s very much hardwired in our minds that that’s a P, it takes a while to get over that. It takes a while, but it eventually happens.

So the only advice on the alphabet is to get started on it. You’re going to be able to start reading with difficulty within a few hours, and then the more you read, the better you get at it. However, as I found when I started studying to Czech, it’s always easier to read in your own alphabet — always.

Word order is another aspect of the Russian language that takes some getting used to. Russian is very flexible and different in some ways. You can say “This is a book”, in English. The Russians don’t worry about articles, “This book.” [Это книга. You say “I read a book, the book, a book”, [я читаю книгу], but you could also say [я книгу читаю], so the word order can be kind of shifted around.

It isn’t word order you need to worry about when you want to ask a question in Russian, though. Then you have consider intonation. The words used are the same, but intonation often determines if it is a statement or a question.

These aspects of the language are minor in comparison to the three big bugbears in Russian: the cases, verbs of motion and the aspect of verbs. Everything else you can kind of get used to, but those three I’m still struggling with.

Cases

Some people don’t know what cases are. I had Latin at school and we had to decline latin noun bellum (war) as fast as possible. In Russian there are six cases. Latin has the vocative, which the Russians don’t have, although the Czechs do. With cases the concept is quite straightforward. If a noun is the subject of a sentence, “I go”, “The book is on the table”, then it’s in the nominative.

If you do something to the book, “I give the book to you”, “I give the book”, now the book is in the accusative because you’ve done something to it. If I give the book to you, I’m giving it to you, dative, donation, give, that’s the dative. Then they have a thing called the prepositional case, which is basically where something is “On the”, “At the”, “In the”, sort of like a location-type case. In that case, the noun will have a different ending. Then they have the genitive, which means to belong to something. So “Of the book” would be in the genitive. And they have a thing called the instrumental, “By the book”, “By my pen”, anything that implies what instrument or agent you used to do something. In that case, in the sentence “I went by car” the car would be in the instrumental. So those are the six cases.

With the cases, as a general overview, the concept is not difficult, but the specific explanations of why we use one case or another are extremely confusing. I’ll read from a Russian grammar book I have you will see what I mean. “The genitive case is used after words expressing measurement and quantity…”. That’s fine, “…but if it’s one of something it’s the nominative singular. If it’s two, three or four of something it’s the genitive singular. If it’s five or more it’s the genitive plural.”

Now, if that was the only rule you had to learn you could probably deal with it, but there’s a lot more. “The genitive case is used in a positive sense to express an indefinite incomplete quantity.” Okay, good for you. If you go on to the accusative, “The genitive case is normally used after negated verbs in the following instances: When the negation is intensified by another word; when a positive sentence is negated.” Of course, I don’t know what all that means. I have to look at the examples. “The dative is used to express the logical, blah, blah, blah.” I mean it just goes on and on.

The vast majority of prepositions don’t take the prepositional case, they take the genitive. Also, the same preposition will sometimes take the genitive and sometimes take the accusative. It’s extremely different. The endings, the tables, I’ve looked at those tables so many times. You can kind of half remember it for a day or two and then it’s gone, even if you understand the explanations after lots of examples.

I should say that I always use this grammar book as an example of how horrible grammar explanations can be. I have another book that I bought in Moscow which just has examples and with enough examples you can start to see it. However, what I’ve found is you just have to read and listen so often that certain phrases start to sound natural with their endings. It was much the same learning tones in Chinese. Trying to remember the individual tone for each character was very difficult, but with enough practice you eventually get better and better.

So, cases, that’s number one. You’re always, in my view, going to have trouble with the cases. Perhaps someone who attends a class and is studying it formally does better than I did. I was spending an hour a day listening, most of it in my car, or while exercising. It’s an interest thing, I’m not passing a test. However, I must say, given that I spent five years at an hour a day, a lot of people study it very seriously in class and don’t get as far along as I did and, besides which, I can understand so much.

This is another thing. When you don’t understand or you don’t know the cases it doesn’t prevent you from understanding, if you have the words. I learned all of the Russian vocabulary I know on LingQ. Some things remain a little bit fuzzy, but the important thing is that I can understand and enjoy the language. Learn about the country, the culture, even though you haven’t really nailed down the grammar.

What I tended to do was I listened to simple content to begin with and then I moved on to more difficult texts. Someone asked me on one of my YouTube videos, is it worthwhile listening to stuff you don’t understand? No, get stuff where you can access the text. If you can access the text, the transcript,import it onto LingQ as I did, save the words and phrases and you will eventually understand more and more of it.

Verbs of motion

The words “to go” in English appear like this “I go”, “I go tomorrow,” “I always go” etc. not in Russian. The verbs have tenses, change for tense and change for person, but that’s a minor problem.

The bigger problem is “you go”, which is multidirectional, “you go all the time”. If “you go and come back”, that’s one verb, but if you are “going there”, that’s another verb. If “you go on a means of transportation”, that’s another verb and that also has its multidirectional and unidirectional form and that’s just for “go”. Then there are “carry”, “come”, “fly” and “swim”, very difficult to get a handle on and to actually be able to reproduce. It doesn’t prevent you from understanding the language, but it is very difficult to nail it down when you’re speaking.

Aspect of verbs

I have read these definitions so many times. “If the action was completed, was supposed to be completed, might have been completed or was never going to be completed, then you use one form. But if, in fact, it was completed or might have been completed, except for the other exceptions, then you use this other form”. I don’t understand it. I’ve read them so many times. Here, again, it’s just exposure because you can’t be trying to go through all these logical explanations while you’re speaking. To my mind, you have to expose yourself to a lot of the language and then eventually start speaking a lot.

I could get into other issues that are different, but they’re minor. Like in Russian there isn’t only “where” but also “from where” and “to where”, and they are actually different words. Those are minor issues. The big problems in Russian are those three bugbears, cases, verbs of motion and aspects of verbs.

Now, the good news, Russian is fascinating. It’s a beautiful language. The country is fascinating. The culture and history are fascinating. The people who appear somewhat stoic are, in fact, very warm. They tend to speak their minds, say what they think and not worry too much about the details, but that’s what makes them so fun to be around. I would say, too, that in Russia there’s no compromise. I think that’s how they approach even artistic creation or sports. That’s why we see a lot of artistic creation in Russia, outstanding ballerinas, musicians and scientists. Certainly in hockey I find the Russians are just magicians. They’re artists and so they have a tendency to really commit themselves in one direction.

If you haven’t read Tips for Learning Russian — Part 1, check it out here.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

2 June 2016

Useful Language Learning Techniques – Conversation Exchange

Useful_Language_learning_techniques_-_Conversation_exchange

When I think back 50 years ago when I was studying Chinese, the idea that I could just get online and talk to someone through some magic computer was inconceivable. Nowadays there are a number of sites that offer the opportunity to connect with teachers. Some are free; in other words, just a pure language or conversation exchange. On some sites you hire a teacher or someone to speak to. If I can find a tutor on LingQ, I use LingQ, but when I can’t I’ll go to italki, which I find to be a great resource.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

In order to take part in language or conversation exchanges, you need to be at a certain level in the language. Until I have reached that level in the language, I don’t enjoy the exchange. Very often I’ll start at 15 minutes or half an hour and then as I progress in the language I’ll get up to an hour. I want to make sure I understand what the person is saying. That’s absolutely number one. Even if I can’t express myself well, I want to understand what the other person is talking about. I also want to be able to express myself well in the language because it’s actually quite stressful to talk over Skype. Even when we’re speaking well, it’s a more stressful way to communicate with someone than sitting with them across a table; It’s more stressful and I find that it’s a little bit more exhausting, too.

I’ve started speaking with a Ukrainian tutor twice a week and I still speak to my Russian tutor, and at the end of an hour I’m kind of exhausted. Even though I’m a proponent of input-based learning and that’s how I spend most of my time. For example, with my Ukrainian I speak two hours a week, but I’m constantly reading. I’m reading about and listening to Ukrainian history, and I often listen to Hora Más Que radio. So input is king, but the output is necessary. These conversation and language exchange sites like italki and what we have at LingQ are a very good way of getting that output experience.

As an example of how that works, I spoke to Deni from Russia who commented on one of my YouTube videos asking if we could talk a bit about learning Japanese. It was quite a long discussion because it’s very difficult to keep these things short, but we spoke in three languages: English, Russian and Japanese. We talked mostly about learning Japanese, first in English, then in Russian and eventually in Japanese.

What’s very interesting in this video, if you have the patience to follow it, is that I couldn’t get my brain out of Russian. I’ve been speaking and listening to mostly Ukrainian, then I had an hour of Russian with my tutor and after that I spoke with to Deni in Moscow. Even though my Japanese is stronger than my Russian, I really struggled to switch over to Japanese. It’s the first time I’ve had that difficulty. Normally, I can move over quite easily. Maybe it’s because I’d just had that hour of Russian beforehand and because I find the language exchange via Skype on the computer a little more stressful than just a casual conversation.

Do you ever find it difficult to switch your brain over to a different language?

30 May 2016

How to Memorize Vocabulary – Is It Even Necessary?

How_to_Memorize_Vocabulary_-_Is_It_Even_Necessary

In my opinion, the best way to memorize vocabulary is NOT to memorize vocabulary. I have always found that trying to memorize vocabulary is an extremely low-efficiency activity. No matter how hard you try, some words are going to stick and some words will not stick until much, much later. I believe that the best way to acquire vocabulary is through lots of exposure and meeting vocabulary items in different contexts.

The more content you consume through listening and reading, the more likely you are to encounter vocabulary items again, and every time you encounter them, you encounter them in different contexts. This makes the whole scope of the words’ meanings clearer each time. You get a better sense of which words they are used with. You really start to experience these words in live settings, and in settings that are high resonance.

Read the full article here on Medium…

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

23 May 2016

The New World of Language Learning

The_new_world_of_language_learning

Our three LingQ Academy Live students, Hanna, Emily and Tamás, are finally here in Vancouver. I had a short meeting with them and I explained my vision that, basically, we’re in a new world of language learning where learners are teachers, teachers are learners and we learn from the world around us. That’s essentially what we’re going to be doing over the next three months, learning from our environment and from each other.

Read the full article here on Medium…

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

16 May 2016

Language Exercises – It’s All About The Gains

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I want to talk about fitness and language learning and, particularly, CrossFit and language learning. We need to be fit in order to engage in physical activity. The fitter we are, normally, the better we do in sports, for example, in skiing or tennis, or whatever it might be. I think the same is true in language learning. We need to develop our stamina and physical ability to learn languages.

Read the full article here on Medium…

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

9 May 2016

Effective Language Learning: Listening and Reading

Effective_language_learning-_just_listen_and_read

I want to cover the issue of input-based learning that I have spoken about in two past YouTube videos in Chinese and Japanese. It goes by different names but basically amounts to spending most of your time on listening, reading, working on your vocabulary and becoming familiar with the language rather than on output-activities or grammar-focused activities. That doesn’t mean there is no output or that people don’t look at grammar, but it means that the bulk of the time is spent on listening, reading and building up vocabulary.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.
Why do I think this is a better way to learn languages? I have five reasons. First of all, because it works and it works very well. If you study the methods of some of the best polyglots on the Internet, or the famous Kató Lomb, you’ll see that they generally involve a lot of reading and listening. This has also worked for me.

When I learned Czech I only listened and read, and then gradually started speaking. I stepped up the speaking prior to going to Prague and I could understand everything the locals said to me when I got there. My speaking, which was already call it a low intermediate level, stepped up to maybe a middle intermediate level while I was there. You have to continue speaking, of course, but I was able to do all of that because I had a sound basis in the language and that sound basis came from a lot of listening and reading.

Number two, it’s easy. You can do it anywhere. You can do it while driving, washing the dishes – as I do – or exercising. Similarly with reading, particularly now. There is a LingQ iPad app, so if you’re studying on LingQ you can do so on your iPad. You can also print content and read it. You don’t have to go to a classroom and spend half an hour to get there and half an hour to come back. Also, in terms of effectiveness, if you’re listening or reading, you’re 100% with the language. In a classroom, half of the time you’re having to listen to other students who may not use the language as well as you do and so, to my mind, it’s much less effective than time you spend alone with the language.

The third reason that input-based learning is effective is that you’re not making mistakes. A lot of people are afraid to make mistakes. If you’re forced to speak, you’ll make mistakes. You’re listening; you can’t make a mistake when you’re listening. You might misunderstand something or your understanding might be a little fuzzy at times. You may have the wrong interpretation when there are words you don’t understand. None of that matters. That’s part of the process and things that are unclear and fuzzy at an early stage will eventually start to become clearer. So you’re not really making mistakes, but you’re in that stage of your learning where the brain is gradually becoming more and more familiar with the language. You’re learning more and more words and, of course, things are going to be unclear to you. So that’s an advantage.

A fourth advantage of listening and reading is you can choose what you want to listen to and read. Obviously, the first month or so you’re stuck with beginner material which is often not very interesting, but I encourage people to move beyond the beginner material as soon as possible to get into things of interest. I certainly find that if I find something of interest, even if there are a lot of unknown words, I’ll work hard with that text because it’s of interest to me. When I was learning Czech I was able to learn so much about Czech history, the history of Central Europe and the political situation in the Czech Republic. When I got to Prague I had all this wonderful background.

Finally, learning via an input-based approach is cheaper. You don’t have to spend anything. You can go to the library or find content on the Internet. There are systems like LingQ, which is much cheaper than going to class. It may be that someone else is paying for the class, but that doesn’t change the fact that the class is expensive. Inherently, because you have a trained professional there in front of students, someone has got to pay for that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to class, but if you do, I believe the main emphasis should be on input-based learning.

Input-based learning has a drawback, and that is for it to be effective you have to be motivated, disciplined, a self-starter. You have to be curious about things and go out and find content of interest. You have to have the confidence that you can succeed. This is often the problem with inexperienced language learners who have never really become fluent in another language. They can’t visualize themselves as fluent, so they kind of half defeat it before they start. They think they’ll never get there, and if you think that then probably you won’t. You have to be a positive, confident, motivated, independent learner. However, if you go to a class and you aren’t a confident, motivated, independent learner, you won’t learn either.

I mentioned in my Chinese video that they did a study of Chinese immigrants to Canada and found that in seven years (they followed about 3,000 immigrants who were taking ESL classes at government-sponsored schools) there was essentially no improvement, statistically no improvement. Those who spoke well when they arrived spoke well and continued to speak well, and those who didn’t speak when they arrived still couldn’t speak very well.

That’s just to say that very often in a classroom environment if the learner is not motivated, in other words doesn’t have all the qualities required to be an independent learner and to take advantage of listening, reading and input-based learning, they won’t be successful in the classroom either. So the classroom can provide a lot of social benefits and feedback and so forth, but even if you’re in a classroom, make sure that your main emphasis is on listening and reading, as well as building up your vocabulary.

I just learned Polish and Russian at LingQ. Join us at LingQ.com to power up your language learning.

3 May 2016

Introverts and Extroverts in Language Learning

Introverts and extroverts in language learning

There are so many myths surrounding language learning. You need to do this. You need to be that. You have to be musical. You have to have an ear for music. Some people have a talent. I don’t have a talent. I don’t believe any of that. One of these myths is that there exists a battle in language learning: introverts vs. extroverts, and that extroverts are the better language learners. I do not believe at all that you need to be an extrovert to learn a language.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

Language learning comes down to the three keys: number one, attitude. You have to be interested in the language. You have to like the language. You have to believe you’re going to achieve your goal. If you’re looking for something around the house and you go looking in a closet or through your different pants pockets, if you’re convinced that the item you’re looking for is there you’ll find it, in many cases. But if you’re not really sure that it’s there, you kind of half-heartedly look and in the end you don’t find it. Your belief that you can achieve your goal is very important and I think the first-time language learner has a problem: they’ve never done it before. But that’s one part of attitude — enthusiasm, interest, dedication and so forth. Attitude is 70% of the battle.

Number two is time. You have to spend the time. You have to spend a lot of time. Language learning takes time. It’s not three months to fluency. It takes a lot of time every day for many, many months or longer.

The third thing you have to do is develop this ability to notice. So often people are stuck with the way words are written in their own language and they don’t listen to how it’s pronounced in the new language. They’ll constantly translate expressions from their own language into the new language and don’t pay attention to how things are said in the new language. Alertness and attentiveness are extremely important.

Neither your attitude, willingness to spend the time and your attentiveness to the language require you to be an extrovert. Introverts can just as easily have those qualities. If I look, for example, at some of our members in our wonderful LingQ community, many of whom speak several languages, many of whom I’ve spoken to in a variety of languages, some might be extroverts, but a lot are introverts. It’s irrelevant.

An extrovert may want to get out there and speak right away. They’re perhaps more likely to be unphased about not understanding and want to show-off the few phrases they have. That’s all good. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not really an introvert, but I don’t do that. That’s not a necessary condition of language learning. I derive immense enjoyment from listening and reading and building up my vocabulary, building up my familiarity with the language, activities which are so enjoyable to me.

For the last two weeks I’ve been listening to Polish. I’ve been listening to podcasts and audiobooks, reading and really getting into the language. Doing these things doesn’t require me to be an extrovert. These are all introverted activities, if you want. I’m communicating with the language and through the language with the culture, but I’m not required to be an extrovert to do that.

My goal, eventually, is to speak and I know that these activities improve my ability to speak. Now, an introverted person may be more included to be afraid to expose their shortcomings in the language and make mistakes in front of others. Maybe they’re more afraid that they’re going to sound less educated than they are, less intelligent than they are. It’s possible. The solution, nevertheless, is to engage in these input-based activities and build up their familiarity of their vocabulary and their comprehension skills. That way, when they go to speak they will feel more comfortable.

I see no evidence that introverts are less capable in their own language. I see no evidence that they have a smaller vocabulary, that they read less, that they understand less, that they’re interested in fewer things. So if that’s true of their own language, I think it will be equally of a foreign or second language. They may behave differently in the new language or speak less at some gathering, but introverts typically have a lot to say when they are comfortable; a lot of things of substance to say.

If you’re an introvert, devoting yourself to input-based activities such as we do at LingQ, lots of listening and reading and building up your vocabulary, this is going to make you more comfortable because when you go speak you will have better listening comprehension, a bigger vocabulary. You’ll be better able to defend yourself and that’s going to make you more confident.

I think that very often the idea is that people who are extroverts and love to talk are going to do better. I think, initially, it’s a bit of a tortoise and hare situation. I think they’d be more like the hare, off the bat they’re speaking more quickly. But in the long run, in terms of all of the language skills that we normally talk about, listening, reading, speaking, writing, vocabulary, accuracy, all of these things, I don’t think the extroverts have an advantage.

So that’s my take on introverts and extroverts in language learning. Being an introvert is not an obstacle. I’m interested in hearing your opinion.

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1 May 2016

Have a Language Immersion Strategy

Have_a_language_immersion_strategy

I think we all know that language immersion is an ideal way to improve in a language. What do we mean by language immersion strategy? Obviously, it means being immersed in the language. In other words, hearing the language, reading the language, speaking the language, being covered head to foot, so to speak. Normally, this can be the situation if you live where the language is spoken. If you live surrounded by the language, you’re immersed in the language.

English not your first language? Read this post on LingQ instead.

Being where the language is spoken is no guarantee. In other words, you may in fact be immersed in the language, but don’t take advantage of it. We have many examples here in Canada of immigrants who live here for many years and don’t improve in English because they don’t take advantage of that environment. Part of the reason why they don’t is because, let’s face it, it’s not that easy. You have to have a language immersion strategy. You have to prepare yourself. You can’t just go there and expect somehow by magic that you’re going to pick up the language. When I went to Japan I didn’t go to school, but I learned Japanese. I spent a lot of time listening, reading and building up my vocabulary so I could understand what people were saying so I could interact with them. So you still have to have a strategy, even if you are immersed in the language.

If you are not where the language is spoken, then I think you could have kind of a related strategy, which is what I do. Right now I’m working on Polish, and I would like one day to go to Poland. I hope I do go. I don’t know when I will go, but I have that as a goal – to eventually put myself in a situation where I will be immersed and experiencing language immersion. So I spend a lot of time reading on the internet. At LingQ I use our Chrome extension to quickly import articles from Polish newspapers, while maintaining my Ukrainian and Russian.

So I listen and once a week or so I may speak. In other words, I’m preparing myself with the thought that one day I will be in that language-immersion environment and I’ll be ready to hit the ground running. So you do need to have a strategy, whether you’re in the immersion environment or whether you’re trying to create an artificial immersion environment and, of course, that’s much easier to do today than it ever was in the past.

Also, when I think of language immersion I think of French immersion. Here in Canada, Anglophone students do all of their schooling for the first seven, eight, nine years in French. By Grade 10 and 11 it tapers off a bit, but at least half their subjects are in French, even in those final years. Apparently – I know because I have three grandchildren who went through the program – the first six-seven years or so the kids speak to each other in French and then they are less and less inclined to do so, so the immersion experience becomes less of a full language-immersion experience. Also, they read in class, but they don’t have any handy tools to make that reading easier for them, and it is hard to read on science, history, math, whatever it might be, in another language.

I think that LingQ, including the Chrome Extension, would be very useful in this immersion environment because it adds another dimension. So they’re not just reading, they can listen to the text, they can save words and phrases. Also, I think the audio helps give some momentum. Reading in French as a 17-year-old was difficult for me. But if you have the audio, if you can easily look up new words and see the words you previously looked up and so forth, it just gives you more momentum and makes it a more complete language-immersion experience.