5 September 2013

Why do we learn languages?

I derived immense enjoyment from listening to audiobooks and podcast, reading books, watching movies and participating in the cultures of the languages that I learn. Undoubtedly the amount of time that I enjoy my languages in this way is far greater than the amount of time that I am able to use the languages in talking to people. The goal is to talk to people, but most of the enjoyment comes from these seemingly passive activities. Of course, learning the languages through these somewhat passive activities, eventually enables me to speak comfortably.

5 September 2013

All learning is self-learning


We are conditioned by schools to think that our learning has to be directed by a teacher in the classroom. However, learning is inevitably a process of self improvement and personal growth. What matters most is what we as learners  do, whether in the classroom, or outside the classroom. A teacher cannot force learning on a student.  The teacher, or the classroom, are not the only resources available to us. The Internet is an amazing resource, as I have said many times. We can find language content, grammar references, and even articles about learning.

While surfing the web for articles on self-learning, I came across something I wrote three years ago, Six Steps to Effective Self Learning . My views have not changed.

On another occasion, while googling in order to understand the difference between the words “imparare”  and “apprendere” in Italian, I came across this interesting article called “Imparare a imparare” (Learning to learn).  The writer, Luciano Mariani, discusses the importance of setting one’s own goals and organizing one’s own learning activities, in order to become a learner for life.

Mariani’s blog,  www.learningpaths.org , in English and Italian, is devoted to issues related to motivation and learning, with specific reference to language learning.

3 September 2013

About learning German, some details about the language

Some people wanted more details about the language itself. Motivation is key and the rest will follow, but here are some observations about German.

31 August 2013

About learning German and other subjects

If you aren’t motivated to learn German, it is not difficult to get motivated. Anyone with motivation, can become a good language learner.

29 August 2013

Mein Weg zum Deutsch lernen

Wir lernen Sprachen am besten wenn es macht Spaß. Es muss interessant sein. Für mich war es immer so.

27 August 2013

About learning Spanish

The most important thing in learning Spanish, as in learning all languages, is the motivation. The language itself is quite consistent, and is relatively easy to learn.

26 August 2013

The power of listening


My grandchildren in Vancouver attend French immersion school. This means that their classes, most of them, are in French. French immersion is very popular amongst English-speaking parents, because it enables their children to go to a school where there are fewer special needs learners.

On the positive side, students in French immersion develop good French reading skills. However, they understand spoken French fairly well, but only fairly well, after years of French immersion school. Their speaking skills and pronunciation are not as good as they should be, in my opinion. They have a strong vocabulary, and therefore can easily learn to speak the language well if they are motivated to do so and have the opportunity to speak a lot.

However, at school, the only French they hear comes from their teachers. I remember when I was in school, I didn’t always listen very attentively to my teacher. The other students were usually quite a distraction, or maybe I spent most of my time trying to distract them. I don’t remember. Listening to the teacher in the classroom is not enough. I would like to see the kids be assigned listening on MP3 players in order to improve their comprehension and pronunciation, but also to develop the skill of listening.

Most of my language learning time is spent merely listening. I do this all the time while performing other tasks. Yet some people claim that they are unable to focus while listening in this way. I feel this is a skill that can be developed. Probably it is an important skill to develop while kids are at school. If people develop the ability to download audio lessons and listen and learn, they can use a lot of dead time during the day to acquire knowledge and skills in various fields, throughout their lives. Listening is a powerful way to learn!

You won’t be surprised to know that I think LingQ is an excellent way to develop listening skills. Children could be assigned interesting content to listen to and read, and asked to save words and phrases (create LingQs) from these texts. Their knowledge of these saved words and phrases could easily be reviewed on the cloze tests that are a part of the LingQ system, as a measure of their activity and to motivate them to complete the assignments.

Compared to the enormous cost of our school system, and our expensive university system, the tiny little MP3 player could be a powerful yet inexpensive tool, if only people were trained to listen.

22 August 2013

Idiomas: Aprendizaje pasivo y activo

Para mí, esa distinción no es tan importante. El aprendizaje de idiomas es un proceso integral. La escucha y la lectura son actividades de comunicación con el idioma. Son las actividades de base para prepararnos a hablar. Una vez que empezamos a hablar tenemos que hablar mucho, y sin preocuparse ni de la gramática ni de nos errores.

22 August 2013

Active or passive language skills, youtube and more

I think the difference between active and passive language skills is overblown. Language learning is an holistic process.

19 August 2013

The long road to language learning success

language learning

It takes a long time to learn a language. I have sometimes compared language learning to an upside down hockey stick. There is an initial quick steep climb, followed by a long straight period when we are often not aware of our progress. That early climb, when something unintelligible all of a sudden becomes meaningful to us, is most gratifying. The long road to fluency, slowly acquiring new vocabulary and new habits, requires a lot of determination and perseverance.

One of my Youtube viewers, atf300t, left the following comment on one of my videos:

“When you start learning a new language, your progress is quite noticeable — you knew nothing and now you can understand simple text and slow speech. However, after some time, it may appear that you do not make any progress. At this point, majority of extrinsic motivated individuals often become demotivated and stop learning.”

He went on to say, in a comment to another video:

“I do not think it’s correct to say that immigrants who go to those language schools are not motivated. If they were not, they would not go there. They may have plenty extrinsic motivation – chances for a better career, earn more money, etc, still they do very poorly. What they lack is intrinsic motivation to learn the language. Only _intrinsic_ motivation makes one a successful autonomous learner.”


  1. Not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside.


  1. Belonging naturally; essential.



So what does this mean?

It means that if you are trying to learn a language for someone else, or for some objective outside yourself, e.g. to get a better job, to improve your pay, to please someone else etc., you are likely not to stay the course. You will start to waiver along the long road to fluency and you won’t get there.

If, on the other hand, the desire to learn the language comes from within, if you truly like the language and if you enjoy learning it, then you will stay the course and eventually achieve your goal.

There are things that you can do to increase your intrinsic motivation. Ideally the language interests you for its own sake. But what if the language and culture don’t interest you, but you have to learn it anyway? My advice is to try to find some small aspect of the language or culture that does interest you. Work at it. Your taste for the language can be developed. It is a long road to fluency, so you are best advised to find a way to make the process enjoyable.