26 October 2015

Should you try to learn two languages at once?

should you learn two languages at once? - steve kaufmann

Should you learn two languages at once?

Let’s talk about the common question, “Can I learn two languages at once?” or, “Should I learn multiple languages at once?”

I am asked this question regularly from my YouTube viewers. Pelle from Sweden, if I remember correctly, is studying Russian, and hasn’t been at it very long, but would also like to start studying German. So he asked what do I think, would recommend it or not.

(Check out my Tips for learning Russian and Tips for Learning German)

Well, I have a number of thoughts on the subject.

First of all, a person who is learning one language and wants to learn another language or even a third language is something that I fully understand and fully endorse. Once we discover the pleasure of learning a language, of discovering a language, even before we’re able to speak it the pleasure of exploring a new world of different culture, different history, different ways of expressing things, is very, very rewarding, enchanting, pleasurable and so now we want to explore some other language.

It is true that once we have mastered or become relatively good at communicating in a new language, we feel more confident and we’re better able then to learn a third, a fourth and a fifth language. In fact, I guess in Europe it’s more common that people speak two, three or four languages because there are so many different languages in Europe in a relatively limited area. It’s far less common in North America.

If I take the example of Canada, kids who study French in school mostly don’t end up speaking French, so even learning one language is a major achievement. All kinds of people I meet here in Vancouver say “wow, Steve, you speak all those languages? I would love to learn French or Spanish or something.” Of course, they don’t do much about it or they might have taken a course and have given up. So here in North America we have all kinds of people who can’t even speak one foreign language, but in Europe speaking several languages is quite common.

I don’t think it takes any special talent to learn two languages at once. I mean some people may do better than others, but everyone can do it. Some may pronounce better, some may have a larger vocabulary, different people have different interests, but everyone is capable of doing it and it’s a rewarding thing to do for everyone so I encourage it.

I’ve often said that the way French is taught here in Canada makes no sense because we’re teaching kids how to say certain basic things in French, hopefully correctly, when in fact the kids know that they will probably never have a chance to use French and certainly not in those specific scenarios that they like to teach in school. I’ve often felt that language instruction in our schools should be more a matter of discovery, learning to understand, building up vocabulary, exploring languages, even more than one language.

So exploring languages, even if it’s only sort of passively in order to understand the language and understand more about the countries, to learn about the countries through the language, learn about their history and culture, all that stuff is great, multiple languages, great. That’s part one of my answer.

Part two of my answer is while I know that there are some polyglots — and I’ve seen their videos — who can learn two languages at once or study two, three, four, five languages simultaneously, I prefer not to. So that suggests that there are some people who can learn two languages at once and some people who can’t. So some people like doing it and others don’t. I prefer to concentrate on one language because I find it so absorbing studying one language. It ties me up. I’m committed. I just can’t get enough of the language.

I know from experience that the more intensive, the greater degree of concentration on that language, the better I will do. In other words, I spent five years learning Russian an hour a day. I spent nine months learning Chinese seven hours a day. I did a better job on Chinese. The more intensive the experience, the better you’re going to learn, the more often you’re going to meet the same words again, the more your brain is going to get. It’s sort of that greater heat of intensity that is helping the brain absorb the new language, so my preference is always for a high degree of concentration.

I also like to explore, so at LingQ I’ll go and have a look at Dutch and discover that I can decipher quite a few of the Dutch lessons or Polish, which is a little similar to Czech. So I’ll do a little bit of exploring, but I won’t spend much time because learning another language is a lot of work. So it’s one thing to go and explore. I’ve explored Arabic, I’ve explored Turkish, all at LingQ, but it’s another to take on learning two languages at once. I know that if I were to engage in committing myself to learn any of those languages it would be a lot of work, a full-time job.

You can’t have two full-time jobs. So if my full-time job is Czech, the Czech language, then I’m going to be totally on to Czech. I might have 20% to spend on languages that I already speak to a fairly good level, so with my Czech I would occasionally listen to Russian so that I could maintain my Russian. When I went to learn Portuguese, even though I spoke Spanish and the vocabulary is 85-95% the same, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. It was difficult and I bought a book, for example, How Spanish Words Convert into Portuguese. Well, it’s not a matter of reading a list here and this Spanish word becomes this in Portuguese. No sooner have you gone through the list that you’ve forgotten it.

should you be learning two languages at once? - steve kaufmann

If you want to learn two languages at once you have to create habits in the brain and to create these habits, the greater the intensity of the exposure, of the workout, in my view the sooner you’re going to get a real good control of that language, even for relatively similar languages like Spanish and Portuguese, not to mention difficult languages or languages that are quite different from each other like Russian and German. What you can do is focus on one language for six months maybe 80% and then 20% exploring the other language. Then you can turn it around and go 80% on language two, say German in the case of our friend from Sweden, than just a little 20% on Russian and you can flip flop back and forth if you want.

I tend to get totally absorbed. If I look back at some situations that have occurred to me, I spent a year on Czech leading up to going to Prague. And, of course, eventually to be good at a language you have to speak a lot. You build up your potential through a lot of intensive listening and reading. You build up your familiarity with the language. You build up your vocabulary. You’re not too concerned about grammar; although, you refer to it from time to time because it helps you notice things. Then you have to start speaking and when you speak not only do you improve your ability to speak, but you also improve your ability to notice because you remember and you notice those things that you weren’t able to do when you were speaking and so you step up your speaking. So it’s all intense work.

In my case with Czech, it led up to me going to the Czech Republic and I spent five days there in Prague speaking seven-eight hours of Czech a day and I was very happy with what I had achieved. Then I said okay, now I’m going to work on Korean. So I worked on Korean for four or five months, not quite as intensely. Then I had a business trip to Romania, so I spent two months working on Romanian and I got the Romanian up to a level where I could kind of communicate and speak and talk about a variety of subjects and understand newscasts and so forth. Bear in mind that Romanian is 70% similar vocabulary to Italian.

When I was in the midst of talking to all these Romanians, there was a fellow there who was Czech and so I wanted to speak to him in Czech. I couldn’t find one word, nothing, gone, whoosh. Even though my Romanian is nowhere near as good as my Czech, because I had been focusing on Romanian my Czech was gone. Now, that would not happen to stronger languages like Japanese, even German, even Russian, but for Czech, which was not yet at that level where it was solidly anchored, I couldn’t speak a word.

Now because I visited the Czech Republic and Slovakia over Christmas and New Year with my son and his family who live in England, I’m back on Czech. Well, my Romanian is gone. I can’t say anything in Romanian. I understand, I can read and it wouldn’t take me a day or two to get back onto it. What I’m trying to say is that there is real advantage in focusing very intensively.

You can always revive your languages. I do this regularly, you go back to them. If you were to spend six months or a year on Russian, which is a full-time job, then you were to spend six months on German, during that six-month period you might want to spend 20% of your time just keeping the Russian on the back burner simmering there so you don’t fall back too far.

I never worry about what I might have forgotten or lost in Korean, Romanian or Czech because I know that in a day or two I’ve gotten it back, or even less. But on the fly like that, bingo, today you say you speak language X, go for it. I can do that in most of my languages, but I can’t do it in Czech, Romanian, Korean and so forth.

So, to summarize, by all means study more than one language, I think it’s a good thing. I think that our language instruction in our schools should be more of an exploration, discover more languages and cultures through language and stuff like that, rather than getting people to speak correctly. Obviously, where the language is required for work and that’s typically the case with English, that’s not the correct strategy there. You have to focus on enabling people to communicate.

So, yes, if you want to learn two languages at once that’s ok. Insofar as what I like to do when I study languages, I like to concentrate on one at a time, but that is me. I know there are other excellent polyglots who have a different approach with advice that’s different from mine.

To learn languages like I do, check out LingQ.com. Also Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more tips and motivation for language learning!

Posted in Learning Languages | Tagged , , | 6 Responses

19 October 2015

How Long Should it Take to Learn a Language?

how long does it take to learn a language?

How Long Should it Take to Learn a Language?

Language learning depends mostly on three factors: the attitude of the learner, the time available, and the learner’s attentiveness to the language. If we assume a positive attitude and reasonable and growing attentiveness to the language on the part of the learner, how much time should it take to learn a language?

FSI, the US Foreign Service Institute, divides languages into groups of difficulty for speakers of English:

  • Group 1: French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili
  • Group 2: Bulgarian, Burmese, Greek, Hindi, Persian, Urdu
  • Group 3: Amharic, Cambodian, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Lao, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese
  • Group 4: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean

FSI has 5 levels of proficiency:

  1. Elementary proficiency. The person is able to satisfy routine travel needs and minimum courtesy requirements.
  2. Limited working proficiency. The person is able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements.
  3. Minimum professional proficiency. The person can speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics.
  4. Full professional proficiency. The person uses the language fluently and accurately on all levels normally pertinent to professional needs.
  5. Native or bilingual proficiency. The person has speaking proficiency equivalent to that of an educated native speaker.

On this scale, I would call 2 above basic conversational fluency.

FSI research indicates that it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in group 1 languages, and 720 hours for group 2-4 languages.

If we are able to put in 10 hours a day to learn a language, then basic fluency in the easy languages should take 48 days, and for difficult languages 72 days. Accounting for days off, this equates to two months or three months time. If you only put in five hours a day, it will take twice as long.

how long does it take to learn a language?
Is ten hours a day reasonable to learn a language? It could be. Here is a sample day.

8-12: Alternate listening, reading and vocabulary review using LingQ, Anki or some other system.

12-2: Rest, exercise, lunch, while listening to the language.

2-3: Grammar review

3-4: Write

4-5: Talk via skype or with locals if in the country

5-7: Rest

7-10: Relaxation in the language, movies, songs, or going out with friends in the language. depending on availability.

To some extent the language needs time to gestate and often things we study today do not click in for months. On the other hand, intensity has its own benefits. I have no doubt that someone following this intense program, or something similar, would achieve basic conversational fluency in two months for easy languages, and three months for difficult languages.

To go from level 2 to level 4, or full professional fluency would take quite a bit longer, perhaps twice as long.

Posted in Learning Languages, Learning Techniques | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Responses

13 October 2015

English Will Remain The International Language


English will remain the international language

English Will Remain The International Language

The dominant position of English as an international language seems to create controversy in certain circles. Some French people for example, resent the increasing importance of English in the European community. Claude Hagège is a spokesman for this point of view. French used to be the language of diplomacy and the preferred language of international exchange. Educated people in Europe, as well as the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Middle East were proud to speak French. This is much less so the case today.

The Chinese government is promoting the teaching of Mandarin around the world, through its Confucius Institute network, in order to establish Chinese as the new international language. Yet the difficulty of writing Chinese characters, and the tonal nature of the language, make it unlikely the Chinese will become a preferred language of exchange for people who are not native speakers of Chinese.

To some, the widespread use of English is seen as advancing the political agenda of the English-speaking world. Esperanto, is offered up as an alternative, as a politically neutral international language. It also has the advantage of being quite rationally constructed and easy to learn, apparently.

Often, when I read or hear French or Mandarin or Russian or some other language I have learned, I reflect on the natural elegance and power of that language. Each language is a master-piece of human creativity, having evolved naturally during the course of centuries. In that sense, all are equally valuable and sophisticated in my view. Some are less useful than others, however.

The use of English as a highly convenient means of international communication is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. The relative power and influence of the United States and Britain will continue to decline. This will not, however, make English less useful. It will just make the political argument against English less relevant.

At the same time, in a shrinking world, I expect to see an increasing interest in learning languages, major regional languages, minor languages, threatened languages, artificial languages, all languages. The recent Polyglot Conference in Budapest is but one example of this.

The Internet makes it easier to learn languages, in ways that were not possible before. It makes it easier to connect with people who speak different languages. The future of language learning is bright, but the role of English as the main international language is unlikely to change.

Posted in Recommended | 12 Responses

11 October 2015

Do We Learn Languages Subconsciously?


Steve: Hi, Steve here on my seventieth birthday. I’ve got my two sons visiting, Mark, who is with LingQ whom you know and, Eric, who’s manning the camera.

Mark: Hi, all.

Eric: Hello.

Steve: Hello, right. So we thought we’d change the venue a bit.

Eric: We’re ready to go.

Steve: Okay, here’s the list of questions. We, unfortunately, don’t have time to get to all of them, but we’ll do as many as we can. Please keep sending them in and we’ll try to fit all questions in, if not this time then next time.

Mark: For the first question: Steve, would you or have you considered doing live meetups?

Steve: Live meetups. I mean yeah, sure. We can do them, we have done them.

Mark: We have done them.

Steve: We have done them. We use Google Plus on occasion or Skype.

Mark: Well, no, live meetups. Like face-to-face meetups, I think, when you travel.

Steve: Oh, yeah, when I travel.

Mark: You do them in Europe, for sure, when you go travel there. I don’t know if there are LingQers in the desert here, but I think you’re always quite happy to do any meetups that people want to do.

Steve: Absolutely, let us know. If you know where I’m going to be traveling we’d be happy to meet up, we’ve done it in the past.

Mark: And we’re happy to announce it on our forum and spread the word. The next question: You’ve talked about learning foreign languages as a subconscious process. What do you think? When we choose words…

Steve: I think what he means is when we speak do we deliberately choose words or do they just come full out.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I think it’s a bit of both. It’s a combination of both. I think one thing that’s very important when you learn a language is to trust your instincts. So rather than worrying about, did I chose the right word, is this the right word, is it grammatically correct, just let it flow out as much as possible.

Also, sometimes we have the time to think about the word, to think about the right form. To some extent we do that, but the more we can just trust our instinct and have the confidence to assume all the work you’ve put into your listening and reading is just going to enable you to speak more or less correctly. I think we just go with the flow is my advice.

Mark: Sounds good. When you’re using LingQ and you link a new word, what do you do with it? Do you study it; take it up to learn it?

Steve: Well, you know, I love linking. Particularly, I like using this sort of auto link mode where I’m using the arrow keys and then just going from blue word to yellow word to blue word. So if it’s a blue word of course I’m selecting it if I need it or if I know it I mark it as known. If I come to a yellow word, then I get to review it again.

Much of my reviewing of words is when I’m reading on LingQ. In fact, I’ll often read a text where I have no more new words. It’s all yellow words where I have created links and I go through again, sometimes I change the status and sometimes I change some of them to known. So linking words, it’s sort of my first contact with a new word and I know I’m going to meet up with these words again and again in the text, so that’s what I do with it. A lot of people like the flashcards; I do my word review more in the context of my reading.

Mark: For those of you who aren’t familiar with the different modes, if you click on the settings control on the lesson page you’ll see the different available modes. Auto mode is the default mode when you start, but some of you may be on different modes. Auto mode is certainly our preferred mode, but obviously there are few different options there you should probably get familiar with.

Steve: I tell you auto mode, once you get used to it you go through the lessons very quickly.

Mark: Especially using the keyboard shortcuts.

Steve: If you look at my statistics here on my 90-Day Polish Challenge, I don’t know, I think I’ve increased my known word total by 10,000 words, I think I’ve linked 5,000 words. I mean I’m right at the top in terms of the number of links I create and the number of words I learn. It has a lot to do with using that auto mode, so I recommend you have a look at it and get used to it.

Mark: Next question: How do you deal with proper nouns on LingQ, do you treat them as normal or do you ignore them?

Steve: Again, by enlarge this comes up particularly in Slavic languages where proper nouns, names of people, names of places and so forth can have many different forms because they’re declined just like any other noun. Mostly, I X them. I ignore them, simply because, if anything, I want to understate my statistics. In a Slavic language, you’re getting so many words as words that you have learned or known words and because you know one or two forms you know all the other forms. So I tend to not count the proper nouns, but you can go either way. It’s not obvious that _______ in Prague is the same noun as ________. I think it doesn’t matter. The statistics are for your own use, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Mark: Sounds good. The next question is: I always say obrigada because I am feminine, at least I think so. Whether I say ______ or _______ depends on what I’m referring to.

Steve: The agreement is always with what you are referring to. So when you say ________ you are referring to yourself and if you are a girl or a woman, obviously, the agreement there is feminine because you are saying I am obligated or I appreciate it, whatever. So if you say ________ my, my mother, it’s because mother is feminine. So the agreement is always with the noun that you are referring to.

Posted in Learning Languages, Q&A | Tagged , , , | 2 Responses

7 October 2015

Syrian Refugees Will Need to Invest in Language Skills



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.

Posted in Learning Languages, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 October 2015

Which Language is Easiest to Learn?

Q&A 4

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.

Steve: Okay.

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.

Kiran: Okay.

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.

Kiran: Yes.

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.

Kiran: Yeah.

Steve: Keep your questions coming and keep up the good work in the Challenge.

Kiran: See you guys next week.

Posted in Learning Languages, Q&A | Tagged , , , | 2 Responses

22 September 2015

Steve’s Answers on Your Language Learning Questions – Part 3


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.

Gabriel: Okay.

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.

Steve: Thank you, Gabriel. Bye for now.

Posted in Learning Languages, Q&A | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

17 September 2015

September 90-Day Challenge: 2 Week Update

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.

Posted in 90-Day Challenge, Learning Languages | Tagged , , | 1 Response

16 September 2015

Steve’s Answers on Your Language Learning Questions – Part 2

Steve: Hi, there. Steve again and…

Kiran: Hello. Kiran.

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.

Kiran: See you guys next time.

Posted in Learning Languages, Q&A | Tagged , , , | 1 Response

8 September 2015

Why Content is King

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!

Learn Languages Through Interesting Content

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.

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