6 March 2016

The Seven Secrets to Language Learning Success: Part 1


People often ask me how I learned 15 languages. I will tell you what works for me; you’ll have to decide if this can work for you. Here are the first four secrets to language learning success:


1. Spend the time

The first secret to successful language learning is spending the time. When I study a language, I spend at least an hour a day trying to learn that language, and I know that it’s going to take me months and months of continuous studying. But when I say study, I don’t mean sit in a classroom, I don’t mean answer questions or drills, review grammar rules or lists of words. What I mean is spend time with the language, listen to the language, read things that are written in the language or listen to songs that are sung in the language, even watch movies if you can. If you have friends who speak the language, spend time with them, even if most of the time you’re just listening because you don’t speak well enough to say very much.

The classroom can be very important as a place for you to meet with your friends, to find stimulus from a teacher, but in the classroom you’re listening to the teacher half the time or you’re listening to your classmates. What matters is how much time do you spend away from the classroom with the language. Spend that time with the language. Do it month after month after month and don’t let too many days go by where you don’t spend time with the language. Depending how difficult the language is – that means how different it is from your native language or from a language you already speak – the amount of time required might be years. If you can only spend an hour a day, it could be six months to a year to two years. If you can spend three hours a day, then it might be less than a year, but it does take time. There is no shortcut to fluency.


2. Do what you like to do

If you don’t enjoy studying the language, you won’t put in the time, so it’s important that you do the things that you like doing.

What I like doing – and something that has proved extremely effective for me – is listening and reading. When you are listening and reading you are relying entirely on your imagination to convert words into meaning. To me, that is a more intense learning environment than say watching videos, but there are other people who find success in watching videos and will watch videos over and over again.

When I start out with a language I will quite often listen to a short piece of content until I understand 50-70%, then I’ll move on to the next item. I always want to read whatever I listen to and I want to listen to whatever I read, certainly in the beginning. I listen to things that I like, where I like the voice and where I’m interested in the topic.

I think to be a successful language learner you have to enjoy the process, so you have to decide what it is you like doing. Do you like listening and reading? Do you like watching videos? Do you like just hanging out with people if that opportunity is available to you?

So it is important to do what you like to do, that’s going to be a major condition for success because if you like doing it then all of a sudden it’s the process of language learning that becomes its own reward. As a friend once said, “In language learning there is no finish line. If we do what we like to do, it’s the process itself that is the reward”.


3. Learn to notice

This is extremely important. The ability to notice is probably the most significant difference between people who are good at language learning and people who are not good at language learning. So how do you develop the ability to notice? There are a number of things you can do.

First of all, you need to make sure you get a lot of exposure to the language through listening, reading or, if you prefer, watching videos. You can’t notice something until you’ve actually consciously and subconsciously experienced it at some level. So you need to first absorb a lot of the language.

Next you have to hone your ability to notice. If I’m reading, I’ll often underline certain expressions or words. If I’m reading online I will save words and phrases to my personal database. Just the act of saving them helps me to notice. When I review these words as flashcards that again helps me notice. Some words I’ll remember, some I won’t, but it all slowly builds up this ability to notice.

If I’m corrected it may help me notice, it may not, but it certainly won’t necessarily correct me. Maybe an explanation from a teacher or an explanation in a grammar book will help me notice. That’s why I often review grammar books very quickly, again, not with the intention or in the hope that I’ll remember a particular rule or a particular verb ending, but because it’s part of the process, that continuous cumulative process of getting me to notice certain things.

Once I notice something, let’s say it was a correction in my writing, and then I look for it when I’m reading or when I hear the language, all of a sudden I start to notice it everywhere. As we notice things in the language they become a part of us, and pretty soon, because we’ve noticed it here and there, we suddenly automatically start using these words, phrases and patterns of the language correctly.

Now, the same is true with pronunciation. You can’t pronounce what you can’t hear, so you have to pay attention to how the language is pronounced. It’s not just the individual sounds you need to pay attention to, it’s the intonation, too. It can also be very useful to listen and imitate because that helps you to notice.

So whether it be pronunciation, correct usage, or the accumulation of words and phrases, it’s very important to hone that ability to notice. It starts with a desire to notice, the conscious determination or will to say “I’m going to try to notice the language’’.


4. Words over grammar

Vocabulary is much more important than grammar. In fact, if you learn words, if you have lots of words and if you learn these words naturally through lots of listening and reading, the grammar will eventually fall into place. Nothing prevents you from occasionally reviewing grammar rules in a small grammar book. It’s probably a good thing to do. I do it, but my major emphasis is accumulating words. That’s why at LingQ our number one measurable is how many words you know.

Now, some people say that the emphasis should be on learning chunks of words in the form of phrases that we can easily reproduce. Certainly this is a good thing to do, but the phrases themselves consist of words, so you still have to know what words mean and you can’t learn them in isolation. You have to learn them from meaningful content and that’s why when I save a word to my personal database at LingQ, not only does LingQ capture all the phrases where that word occurs, but the next time that word appears in any new context at LingQ it will be highlighted in yellow. In this way I’m constantly increasing my known words total, and my sense of how words are used.

Grammar, which is nothing other than a description of correct usage, is something that we can only learn gradually. Even if you memorize the rules of grammar, which can be very difficult to do without a sufficient amount of input, without enough of a vocabulary to follow a conversation or express your ideas, you would not be able to say very much. On the other hand, if you have a large vocabulary you will be surprised at how much you can say, especially if you’ve seen these words in different contexts. You’ll notice how easily you start to speak, often as not with the words in the correct order and in the correct form.

So, once again, focus your efforts on words and there are a number of strategies that can help you. Some people like to use flashcards, but my preference is to do a lot of listening and reading. I will also focus on one author during a particular period or on one subject area, which might be politics, history or economics.

What this does is ensure that a certain range of words appear more frequently. Because I’m staying with one author, Tolstoy for example in Russian, then I become familiar with his vocabulary. If I am listening to current event interviews, then I become very familiar with that vocabulary. So, occasionally, I’ll change my emphasis, change the author, change the subject area, but always try to focus for a certain period of time on one particular area of interest to get enough repetition so that I can steadily increase my vocabulary.


Click here to read Part 2!

28 February 2016

Forget the Dictionary! Create Your Own Dictionary

create your own dictionary

When it comes to learning a new language, some learners like dictionaries. They read them. They treasure them. They worry about getting the best possible dictionary. Some people even like monolingual dictionaries, in other words dictionaries that explain the meaning of a foreign language word in the language that they are learning. But what is the best method for me?

I don’t like using traditional dictionaries. Using them is like one-way love. I put a lot of effort into looking words up. I think things are fine when looking at the meaning in the dictionary, but as soon as I close the dictionary very little remains. I’ve already forgotten what I just read. I’m left feeling empty. With the ability to create your own dictionary, you could be wasting time.

Things are even worse with a monolingual dictionary, since the explanation of the meaning of the word I am looking up often contains words that I don’t know. I would have to look up those other words in order to understand the explanation, and that explanation may also have words that I don’t know. I don’t want to spend my study time leafing through a dictionary. I just want to go in and out, as fast as possible.

Of course I need a dictionary to help me read new and difficult texts in another language, especially at the beginning. I often have to look up the same word more than once since I forget the translation so quickly. So, in my view, the less time you spend to looking things up in a traditional dictionary the better.

So what I do, at least at the early stages of learning a language, is to just read online and use online dictionaries. In this way I get instant explanations and translations that help me through the text I’m reading. I can just stay focused on the meaning of what I’m reading, and not focused on the traditional dictionaries. You can create your own dictionary.

When reading away from the computer I simply let the unknown words go by me. I ignore them with the knowledge that if I continue reading, mostly online, I will eventually come across these words again and either understand them, or look them up online. Traditional dictionaries are simply too time consuming and inefficient. You need to create your own dictionary.

But even reading online and using an online dictionary is not enough. I want the feeling that that the words I looked up are not lost. I may want to be able to review them occasionally. I even want to be reminded that I have seen them before. What I need is a dynamic database of my new words and phrases, linked to real examples of these words in use, related to my reading and listening, hopefully consisting of real or authentic content.

What I mean by real content is anything that I’m genuinely interested in, not just learner content, written for language learners. By staying engrossed in meaningful content, I learn languages, and new vocabulary, faster than by focusing on the dictionary. The dictionary is just a tool to enable me to learn from my listening and reading.

It was my frustration over conventional learning material, with relatively uninteresting content, that caused me to develop LingQ. I was faced with a choice. If I used learner material, I had access to a glossary or word list. But referring to the word list, often on another page, was a distraction from my reading. It seemed that many of the words I wanted to know were not on the list, while words that I knew were there. On the other hand, reading things of interest to me was usually too difficult.

You can create your own dictionary!

At LingQ I can either find something of interest in the LingQ library or import something of interest from another source. I can save new words and phrases to my personal database for later study. The saved words or phrases, called LingQs, provide an explanation and translation. These LingQs are then highlighted for me when they appear in other texts later on. I can use Flash Cards and other tools to review them. Furthermore, these LingQs help create the statistics that track my learning activity and progress while I just focus on listening to and reading content of interest.

I like my language learning to be efficient and effective! I really don’t have a lot of time to devote to the language, maybe an hour or so a day.I want that time to be spent enjoyably, so that I will stay with it, and efficiently. I feel that whenever I take time away from listening, reading or speaking, such as when I am reading the dictionary, I’m not using my time efficiently, and certainly not enjoyably. But that’s just me, and it is up to each person to find their own way. On the other hand, I have learned 15 languages, including 7 since the age of 60.

22 February 2016

Input, Output, and Language Hacking Techniques

language hacking techniques

In my view, there are three divergent approaches to language learning, divergent in terms of their emphasis or principal focus. This is true whether we learn in the classroom, online or on the street. One approach focuses on input, another on output, and a third on what I would call shortcuts and some people call language hacking techniques. These techniques include grammar study, studying vocab lists and phrase books, heavy use of Flash Cards,”deconstructing the language”, memory techniques and so forth.

Any successful language learning program uses some of all three approaches. Where proponents of different approaches disagree is on the emphasis.

What “language hacking” technique do I use?

As many of you know, I favour an emphasis on input. The input should be interesting and meaningful for the learner, although this is harder to do for beginners. I believe that the preponderance of input based activities is just natural language hacking and a way we use language, even our own. In any conversation, especially if there are more than two people involved, we mostly listen. If we add to that our listening to radio, and television or classroom lectures, and then toss in reading, that wonderful human invention that enables us to communicate with the thoughts and ideas of people we do not know, in places, cultures and even eras, that are removed from our own little world, we are mostly consumers of input, not producers of output. This is the same when we learn a language.

I see three circles. One is large and represents input. This is where we acquire familiarity with a language, get to know its words and structure naturally. We prepare our brain for the language, so that the bits and pieces, grammar rules, or words and phrases can stick, eventually. We acquire this input from reading and listening to things that matter to us. These can be a novel, a newspaper article, a story, or a short content item from a beginner’s book. Talking to native speakers is a great source of meaningful input. It has relevance and credibility. It is, however, usually harder to arrange as a beginner, unless it is with a teacher, since we are not able to say much. On the other hand input activities are easy and inexpensive to do. We can listen or read while on a train, or listen while doing the dishes or going for a run. We can use dead time for our learning.

3 keys of language hacking

The next circle is much smaller and sits inside the first circle. It is the output circle, speaking and writing. That is where we train ourselves to use the words and phrases of the language that we learn passively from input. This is also a great way to discover our gaps, and start to notice them better when we listen and read. Our volume of output grows as we acquire more words and phrases from our input activities. At the beginner stage, it is difficult to engage native speakers in conversation unless they are good friends or teachers. It is often easier to start by writing, but that requires a lot of discipline. Our desire to produce output usually grows as we acquire more familiarity with the language, more words and phrases, and want to try these things out with other people. We usually know when we want to produce output.

The third circle sits inside the second circle and is a little smaller than the output circle. We spend less time here, but good language hacking will require you to check in every now and then. Books with lists of words and phrases, or grammar rules, are, to me, hard to understand and remember until we have had enough input. I have tried learning from phrasebooks as a beginner and I could not remember them. Because, I had no context. The same is true of grammar rules.

However, once I have had a lot of exposure to the language through interesting and meaningful input activities, these phrasebooks and grammar rules are easier to use. They can help me fill in gaps in my knowledge.

Language learning is still largely a matter of finding a way to enjoy the process. The golden trinity of Attitude, Time on task, and Attentiveness are the keys. Obviously if we enjoy learning, we will have a good attitude, put in the time and remain alert to the language. Different people enjoy different ways of learning.keys to language hackingWhat I have outlined here is how I like to learn, and this approach is at the core of LingQ. Some may call it a language hacking technique, but I call it a shortcut that can eventually lead all the way to fluency.

15 February 2016

Can Reading And Listening Help Your Career?


Recently, there is a lot of discussion about the primaries, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or our new Prime Minister in Canada. One thing that comes out in all of this is that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with conventional politicians, but also there’s a lot of uneasiness because so many people who used to be in the middle class no longer feel that they’re in the middle class. It used to be that if you had a good job in the local factory, perhaps your wife had a job in the factory, maybe your kids had a job in the factory. You were wealthy and you didn’t necessarily have a very high level of education. Many of those jobs no longer exist and they’re not likely to come back, so what can a person do?

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

Well, that’s where I believe that reading and listening, the same things that are so powerful for language learning, are extremely important in order for people to be competitive in the new economy. Of course there’s no guarantee that every educated person will get a good job, or even a job. However, there are all kinds of statistics that show that the degree of literacy of a person, in other words how well they read, how many words they know, all the things that are important in learning languages, are also the things that will determine how well you do in society, how well you do at school, how well you do in your job. Even technical jobs, the level of literacy required to read instructional manuals is very, very high.


Yes, there are problems with people who have reading disabilities and I think these people have to help themselves as much as possible. Other people may help them. We know, for example, that listening and reading are very closely connected. People who don’t read well also have trouble discerning sounds, to some extent, so these are things we have to work on, in other words, if we spend the time.

Again, just as in language learning, if you have an attitude that says I am going to improve my reading and listening skills, I’m going to improve my vocabulary. If you have that kind of attitude, you’re convinced that you’re going to succeed and you put the time into it. So you won’t be watching the football game on TV. You won’t be going to the bar to drink beer or whatever else it is that you do that might be wonderful. It might even mean taking time away from your family, but you’re going to devote that time to improving your reading and listening skills. This, in itself, will have a major impact on flattening out that widening disparity between the wealthy, who are mostly have a high rate of literacy, and the poor, who by and large don’t.

Now, there are always exceptions. There are very well educated people who have poor jobs. There are uneducated people who have good jobs. I’ve worked with people who have serious reading disabilities and who are excellent at what they do in very demanding managerial positions. There are athletes and singers. There are all kinds of exceptions. However, by and large, statistically, the better you read and listen, the better your vocabulary, the broader your knowledge, the better you do. In order to become better as a reader and a listener, you have to work at it, much the same way as we work at our language-learning skills.

9 February 2016

4 Steps to Self-Empowerment Through Learning


Elon Musk thinks a human’s hardware is her physical body and brain and her software the way she learns to think, her value system, her habits, her personality. Learning, for Musk, is simply the process of “downloading data and algorithms into your brain.”

We are, in fact, downloading data and algorithms with every day and every new experience. Human beings are learning machines. We spend our lives learning. We can’t help but learn. The only question is what we will learn and how it will affect our lives.

Unfortunately we have been conditioned by the school system to think that learning can only take place in a classroom. We need to take charge of our own learning. Here are four steps.

1. Forget the classroom.

As the influential German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer said in his book “Learning: The Human Brain and the School of Life”, learning doesn’t take place in classrooms, it takes place in our brains.

Roman school children learned from their masters and wrote things down painstakingly on clay tablets. Today we have electronic tablets that connect us instantly with knowledge and information that no Roman could have imagined.

But classroom education hasn’t changed. Teachers are perceived as the source of knowledge. “If they don’t teach we don’t learn.” The problem with this model is that it disempowers the most dynamic performer in the learning process, the learner. When we are dependent on others for our learning, we lose out.

For Musk, the greatest frustration with formal classroom learning is the “ridiculously slow download speed” of sitting in a classroom while a teacher explains something. Musk learned mostly on his own, through reading.

Good teachers know that their role is to encourage and stimulate, not just to teach. However, many teachers prefer their students to be dependent on them. Often in school, we are told not to get ahead of what the teacher is covering . This diminishes the learner’s curiosity, enthusiasm and independence.

Albert Einstein wisely said “ I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”. Create your own conditions for learning!

2. Work on becoming an effective reader and listener.

Reading and listening on our own are not only efficient ways of learning, they help us improve our communication skills. The top four skills employers are looking for in the modern workplace are: oral communication skills, listening skills, writing skills and presentation skills.These skills require high literacy and are most easily acquired through broad based reading and listening.

The better our reading and listening skills, the more knowledge we can acquire on. The broader our general knowledge, the more we can understand when we read and listen. When it comes to literacy and words, and general knowledge, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is either a virtuous circle or a vicious circle. This is true for conventional reading, and for listening to podcasts and the other sources of information and knowledge that we can find on the Internet.

In today’s job market, we have to constantly learn new technical skills. Technical material, manuals and the like, have some of the highest literacy requirements of any reading material, higher than for newspapers or popular literature, for example.

Be like Musk, equip yourself to learn on your own, rather than waiting for a teacher to download information to you in a classroom. Start reading and listening. The more you read and listen, the better you get at it.

3. Stop wasting money on ineffective learning methods.

Educational institutions are both ineffective and expensive. Public expenditure on education represents 5-7 percent of GDP in most developed countries, close to the amount expended on health care. In addition, many students graduate from university deeply in debt.

We often hear appeals for more money to be spent on education, more money for teachers, textbooks, and stakeholders in the present education system. Research on education assumes that learning is centred around a teacher in a classroom.

Yet today the teacher is only one of many resources available. The Internet has created a new paradigm. We are able to find not only books that can help us in our learning, but all kinds of resources, including online university courses, podcasts and more. Much of this is free. It is for the learner to decide how much of the learning should come happen in a classroom.

Learn on your own, and limit your exposure to a system that may saddle you with a large debt.

4. Even if you have trouble reading or listening, take charge of your future.

Some people have reading disabilities which prevent them from becoming powerful readers and independent learners. This is true whether the learner is in a traditional classroom or not.

If you are dyslexic, find out about the causes and what you can do for yourself. It appears that dyslexia is related to our ability to hear and process sounds and words.This is not surprising since when learning a new language, it is important to combine listening and reading, in order to understand what is at first incomprehensible. Combining reading with listening, and repetitive listening if necessary, is an important strategy, not only in language learning, but in improving literacy and overcoming dyslexia.

All learners, and especially people with reading problems, should actively search for the tools that can help them become effective listeners and readers. Poor readers are usually poor listeners as well. There is no shame in having these learning problems. They are widespread. However, there is no reason to be dependent on other people to overcome these problems. There are vast resources and systems available on the Internet to help people develop their learning skills.

Everyone should take charge of their own learning. Go for it now!

31 January 2016

The Importance of Making Mistakes


Making mistakes when speaking or writing a new language is not the same as making certain other kinds of mistakes, at least to me. Making mistakes in language learning is not only necessary, it is a good sign. If you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough to use the language.

If you are trying to master English, or any other new language, there are certain things that you are not going to remember, or get right, until your brain is ready. All you can do is to continue to use the language as much as possible, to read, to listen and to speak and write. Eventually that elusive word, or that difficult phrase, will start to become natural.

Each time you make a mistake, in writing or speaking, or are aware that you didn’t use the language as well as you would have liked, is an opportunity to improve. It means you are noticing aspects of the language. You don’t have to get everything right, but you need to focus on noticing how the language works. You might get something right one time and get it wrong the next time. That is all good. You now may start noticing these things when you listen and read. As long as you are trying to notice the language and not allowing yourself to get upset over mistakes, you will improve. The mistakes will correct themselves eventually with enough exposure, but only when your brain is ready.


So just keep enjoying the language and remember these points:

1) You should not be afraid to speak for fear of making mistakes. Your main goal has to be to communicate. You should communicate whenever you have the opportunity, without fear. But you have to build up your ability to communicate, and just communicating, by itself, will not do that. You need to make an effort to notice your mistakes, and to be happy when you notice them.

2) If you only communicate in the language without putting an effort into improving, you will not improve. Focus on noticing, noticing when you use the language, and then noticing again when you listen and read. This will you train your brain develop better language habits.

3) You need to continue to focus on input even while speaking and writing. You need to deliberately save new words and phrases. You need to be conscious of which words and concepts you were unable to express when you spoke, and go back to your input to look for them. Input should be 75% of your time spent studying the language, as we say at LingQ. Some immigrants to Canada seem to think that if they only get a job in an English speaking environment they will achieve English fluency. This is not true. Those people never achieve their English language potential.

4) You should work on pronunciation, deliberately and consistently but without worrying unduly. When listening, you should every so often focus on pronunciation and try to notice how your pronunciation differs from the pronunciation of the native. But don’t force it. Don’t become self-conscious about your pronunciation. The more you listen and notice native pronunciation, the clearer yours will become. The key thing is to communicate. Most speakers of foreign languages retain an accent, and that is not an obstacle to communication and may even be charming.

Try to do as much as possible on your own, and that means noticing your own mistakes. This is the approach we use at LingQ and it is efficient and cost effective.

24 January 2016

Want to Achieve a Language Learning Breakthrough?


What constitutes the essence of achieving a breakthrough in language learning? I think that the key lies in the word “linking”.

First of all learners must form emotional links with the language they are learning. They must be interested in the language, in the people and in some aspects of the culture. They don’t need to like all the people, nor all aspects of the culture, just some. Learners need emotional links to the language and, as much as possible, to the content being studied.

Second, the study must be constant and ongoing, linked from day to day. There should be no lengthy breaks in the chain, at leasts for periods of committed and intensive study of several months at a time. This is most easily achieved by daily listening to selected content of interest, content that is at the appropriate level of difficulty.

When I study a language on LingQ I try to get in at least one hour a day, every day. Most of this is listening to things that I find interesting. When I start in a language I do intensive listening, in other words repetitive listening to the same short bits of beginner content. As I progress I listen less often to the same material, but am driven by my interest, emotional and intellectual connection to what I am listening to and reading. I am hooked by the content, and that pulls me along.


I always read the transcripts for what I am listening to in order to “link” the written words to the sounds I am hearing. I do that by saving unknown words and key phrases to my personal database at LingQ, in other words I “LingQ” these words and phrases.

The words and phrases that I learn in this way are linked in my mind, and even subconsciously to the content where I came across them. In saving phrases I am linking words to other words in the same phrases, words that are meant to be used together. This creates a natural sense of how words are normally used.

I believe that this activity of reading, listening and LingQing, is helping to forge new neural links in my brain. These neural connections will become a new language network, my neural command centre for the new language, eventually enabling me to understand and speak the language naturally, without having to think about grammar rules.

Once I have enough vocabulary and listening practice to enable me to understand much of what native speakers are saying, I link up with an online tutor. My tutor at LingQ sends me a report with the words and phrases that gave me trouble. I study these as lessons. In this way I link the conversation to my listening, reading and vocabulary learning activities. The stimulus and feedback loop from a native speaking instructor is a powerful interactive link.

When I study at LingQ, the best measure of my activity level, and therefore of my progress in the language, is the number of LingQs I have created. The more LingQs I create from my active listening and reading, the more words and phrases I save, the more intensively I am building up the linkages that will bring me to fluency in the new language.

18 January 2016

The Two Stages of Language Learning: The Upside Down Hockey Stick


There are two stages in language learning: the initial intense study of a limited number of words, and the later more extensive approach to learning in order to acquire the up to 10,000 words needed to function at a professional level. These two stages make up the upside down hockey stick.

During the initial growth period – the blade of the hockey stick – progress is quick. Here you are learning the high frequency words and basic structures of the language. The most common 2,000 words account for between 75% to over 90% of all content. These words appear frequently and so they are easier to learn.

You should be listening and reading a lot, and repetitively to the same content, without worrying too much whether you understand all that well. Keep listening over and over, slowly moving on to new content. The more you hear and see words, in the same content and then in different contexts, the more likely you are to remember them. You need to do a lot of intensive reading and listening. You need to listen to the same content over and over again. You may start to use some of these words in limited situations.

If you do this you will experience a sense of elation, and early sense of achievement. From not being able to understand or say anything, you all of a sudden can actually understand something and be able to say a few phrases in the new language. Wow! But you still can’t carry on a conversation. You still can’t function at the train station, bank or post office even though you have studied dialogues based on these scenarios. In a way, you have an ornament and not a useful tool.


It is at this point that you move to the more extensive approach to learning. This is the long shaft of the hockey stick. It is the most difficult stage of the language learning process because it takes so long, and the sense of achievement is more elusive. It can at times seem like a journey without any progress. Nevertheless, you must continue. You need to expose yourself to a lot of content. You need to listen and read a lot, moving on to new content more frequently. You need extensive exposure, rather than the intensive exposure of the early period. At times it feels as if nothing sticks. But you are learning all the time.

If what you are reading and listening to is interesting, you keep going. It is your interest in the subjects of your reading and listening that keeps you going. Read widely. Read first in your area of personal or professional interest. Try also try to broaden your base by reading novels and other literature. Gradually you will start to notice words and phrases more and more clearly, and even remember them. Naturally and ever so slowly you will start to use these new words and phrases and they become a part of you.

The more you read, the better you get at reading. The faster you read the words you already know, the better you understand the meaning of content that you are reading, even if it contains unknown words. Your range of comprehension expands and your vocabulary starts to snowball. Yes, there are still words that you do not know, or have learned and forgotten. But your overall comprehension skills improve. You understand the surrounding context better. And soon you start to master those elusive lower frequency words that are so important to your understanding of more difficult content. Soon you even start to use more and more of your gradually accumulating vocabulary in speaking and writing.

Stay positive, keep listening and reading. Gradually start using the language more and more. All of a sudden, when you least expect it, you will feel that you have made a great deal of progress. The shaft of the hockey stick is longer and less steep than the blade. At times it almost seems flat. If you persevere you will find that the end result makes all of your effort it worthwhile.

10 January 2016

Do You Dream of Speaking Like a Native?


Speaking like a native is the ultimate goal of language learning. It is a goal that is almost never achieved. However, that is no reason not to aspire to this lofty goal, even in the knowledge that we will not get there. It is like wanting to play golf like Tiger Woods or play the piano like Charles Richard-Hamelin.

To pursue this dream we need to immerse ourselves in the new language, listening, reading, speaking, writing, and savouring the language. We need to commit ourselves emotionally to the language. We need to like the language, and at least some parts of the culture, in order to want to imitate the behaviour of the native speaker. The native speaker is the model, the unattainable goal that we want to emulate. We want to imitate how they pronounce, their intonation, their use of words. This means we really want to be like them, even to be them.


If you have not already experienced this phenomenon of transforming yourself into a fluent speaker of another language, you probably doubt you can do it. But I know you can. Once you have done it for one language, the doors open up to doing it for other languages as well. I have done it more than a few times. It is a wonderful experience, and yet I don’t speak like a native in any of the foreign languages I speak.

3 January 2016

5 Benefits of Speaking Multiple Languages

Need more motivation to make learning a language your New Year’s resolution? Here are 5 benefits of being bilingual or multilingual.


Imagine the scene: you walk into a bar in rural Japan. The bar owner looks nervous. He’s no doubt wondering how he will go about expressing the menu in body language. Then, to his surprise and delight, you start chatting in fluent Japanese. Yay! Or as the Japanese say, yatta!

So, instead of making the usual “I will join a gym, eat salad every day and hate myself after approximately 48 hours” resolution, make it your goal to start a language learning journey in 2016. Your brain will thank you for it.