Steve’s Answers on Your Language Learning Questions – Part 1

Steve: Hi, this is Steve. You may not know Kiran, he’s part of the LingQ team. You can’t see Sam, but he’s the cameraman. We’re going to try to answer some of the questions that you’ve sent us on our 90-Day Challenge and I hope that you are all working hard on the 90-Day Challenge.

We gathered some of the questions and there were a lot of questions. Some of them we kind of grouped together and thought it would be interesting if we had a question and answer, so Kiran here is going to ask. By the way, Kiran is working on Spanish and so is Sam. What were some of the questions?

Kiran: Okay. The first one here was: How do you learn vocabulary so you don’t get overwhelmed and forget the original vocabulary that you learned?

Steve: Okay. First of all, you do forget the vocabulary that you learn. That’s a given. In fact, it’s good to forget the vocabulary. If you forget it and relearn it, forget it and relearn it, forget it again and relearn it, that’s how you’re going to retain it. So I read and listen and, of course, the first time I come across a new word I link it, it’s now converted to yellow and then I’ll see it again. Not only do I forget the meaning, I forget that I ever saw the word before. It’s this process of engaging with the content, forgetting, relearning, forgetting and that’s how you learn. So that’s really not a problem. That’s how I see that.

Kiran: All right. So the second one is: Where do you find really good starting content for Polish, Japanese, Mandarin, German and Korean?

Steve: Okay. Obviously, these are five different questions that I received, it started with Polish. A number of Polish people told me that I shouldn’t do this Mendel Gdański. That it’s a 19th century novel and it’s not very good. I must admit it was very difficult, so I was happy to get off that.

I discovered in our library that we had some content from Real Polish, so I started doing that and the material there is phenomenal. I’ve been in touch with Piotr and I will talk more about that in my next video. Japanese, Mandarin, German, I’m not studying them. I’m studying Korean right now.

Everyone has to look. You have to look for your own content, things that are of interest to you. I can’t give you any answers. Korean, I searched some podcasts which I had transcribed. Part of language learning is being an explorer and you have to find your own resources.

Other than that, you can come on LingQ. We have content in our library (audio and text) and you can use those. They’re available for a free download if you don’t use all of the LingQ functionality which, of course, I recommend you do, it’s more effective. And you can ask on our forum, but you’ve got to look for it. Sorry.

Kiran: No, that’s good. We actually have a course on LingQ called “Who is She”, which is in Polish. One of the users was asking: How do you do the “Who is She” Course without any grammar and do we learn grammar when we have very few words?

Steve: Right. So there were two questions there. Obviously, when I’m doing Polish I’ve already done Russian, Czech, Ukrainian, so I have a sense of how Slavic languages work in terms of the grammar. I’m not too fussed about how the endings in Polish are different from endings in Czech or Russian, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t prevent me from understanding what I’m listening to.

There’ll be words that I don’t know, I look up those words and the grammar doesn’t bother me. At some point, I will go back in there and try to nail down better the specific Polish endings, but for the time being it doesn’t prevent me from understanding the story.

This other person asked me, in fact, he was studying Slovak and he said he only had a few hundred words and he can’t remember the grammar. Of course you can’t remember the grammar. I think someone else said he has trouble with the endings in German. Don’t sweat it. As Piotr of Real Polish says, we learn subconsciously and so you have to expose yourself to the language.

If you learn it subconsciously by experiencing it, you will have a much better grasp of the language than if you try to remember rules. Pretty soon there are so many rules and exceptions you forget the rules. Learn it through gradually exposing yourself to it and don’t worry about the grammar, until you’re so curious about the grammar you go back in, you look it up and then it starts to stick.


Kiran: Yeah, that’s a great point. Next question: Do you use music to learn languages?

Steve: Often people ask me that and the answer is no. First of all, not the music, I presume they mean the words of songs. The key in language learning is content, content is king. If you’re interested in songs, that’s a great way to learn because then you start singing the songs. I just am not that interested, I’m interested in other things. So whatever you’re interested in, go for it. Content is king or queen.

Kiran: Okay. Next question: What is your daily language-learning routine and how much time does one need to spend a day learning the language?

Steve: You know there is no rule. I think if you’re serious you should spend an hour a day, at least, but there’s no upper limit. That’s what I do, but 70% of that is listening. I can listen in my car. I can listen while preparing breakfast. I can listen in all kinds of different places, so listening is 75% of it.

I don’t really have a routine. Again, I like to do what I feel like doing. I have a stepper at home, I get on with my iPad and I read through a lesson in iLingQ on my iPad. After the stepper I might lift a few weights and I’ll be listening while I’m doing that. So it all adds up, but I grab some time here, some time there. There is no routine.

Kiran: All right. What do you do when you’re de-motivated, not interested or you’re not feeling like you’re getting anywhere or making any progress?

Steve: There were a number of questions like this. One person said I’ve been living in Spain and I’m not motivated and my Spanish is no good. Another person said yeah, Japanese… A number of people have this problem. First of all, don’t tell yourself that you’re not doing well, that’s a bad message. Whatever you’re able to do in the language is good, that’s better than zero.

Lots of people are just unilingual, so if you have some knowledge of the language and you’re able to say a few things you’re already good, but you’d like to get better. Here again, in my experience, the key is content. Do stuff that is interesting and enjoyable. If you like songs, go for songs. If you like movies, go for movies.

I must say, in my Polish, as I said, I started into this Mendel Gdański. It was very difficult, very dry, a little discouraging and then I discovered Piotr’s stuff and it’s just opened up this tremendous door for me. I can’t tell you what’s good for you; you’ve got to find the content that turns you on. Once the process of learning is enjoyable, you don’t care so much about am I making progress? You’re not measuring yourself against something, I didn’t achieve that. Forget it. You’re enjoying the language. You’re enjoying the songs. You’re enjoying this. You have this sense of wow! I listened to this, I didn’t understand it three months ago, but now I understand it.

I know from experience, and you have to take my word for it, if you continue to expose yourself to the language listening and reading the brain is going to do a lot of it by itself. Over the next few weeks I’ll talk to you about things that you can do to help your brain along, but the brain is going to learn as long as you keep enjoying the language.

Kiran: That’s good, very good. All right, last question: How do you avoid translating into your own language?

Steve: You can’t, at least initially. But, again, because the whole process is one of the brain getting used to the language, if you do this naturally subconsciously, as Piotr says in Warsaw there, gradually the brain will start seeing the text in the target language as meaning directly. It won’t need to translate, but it’s a gradual process. Initially, you’re translating all most all of it and then certain phrases now automatically have meaning in the target language and this just becomes a larger and larger percentage of what you’re dealing with.

I think I did videos about being patient. Don’t get impatient, you know, I’m still translating. You can still translate. Keep going and you’ll translate less and less and more of it will be instant meaning in the target language.

Kiran: All right.

Steve: We went beyond the two minutes, I think, but there you go.

Kiran: Well, there are a lot of questions.

Steve: We get a lot of questions and I talked a little bit longer. Just to finish off here, keep sending your questions in. Once a week I answer questions and I’ll do another video where I will talk about my experiences and some of the things that I’m discovering on the 90-Day Challenge.


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