Learning a Second Language Effortlessly
Learning a Second Language Effortlessly has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. You can download the audio and study the transcript as a lesson at LingQ.
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann. I want to follow up my previous video, which talked about how the most important thing in language learning was to have fun or to enjoying it and that whatever was enjoyable was effective. Now, I must admit, in some cases that’s not always the case, but it’s a good rule of thumb, it works a lot of the time. Related to that is the idea that in language learning I always try to do the things that are the least amount of work, I like to do effortless language learning.
I borrow the word ‘effortless’ from two sources. One is AJ Hoge, who is a great teacher of English via the Internet. Hello, AJ, if you ever have a chance to see this video. A great man and his channel and website are called Effortless English. My other source is Taoist philosophy or Daoist philosophy.
When I wrote my book The Linguist: A Personal Guide to Language Learning about, gosh, it’s got to be eight or nine years ago, I began it with what I called ‘The Parable of the Crooked Tree’ because _______, a Taoist philosopher whom I refer to in my book, his basic principle in life was to just follow what was natural, what was effortless and don’t try and force things.
Typically, the Taoist philosophy was in opposition to Confucius, which had a whole bunch of rules of what you should do and shouldn’t do in order to be a great person. ________ had this parable of the crooked tree where his friend says, this tree is crooked and this lumber is not good for anything and your philosophy is not good for anything either. ________replied, well yeah, that’s because you have to make use of it for what its nature is.
A crooked tree, you can sit underneath it in the shade. I’m in the lumber business and sometimes some of those gnarly old trees produce very decorative lumber that’s very expensive. Anyway, Taoism is also about effortless _________. In other words, no effort, you’re not fighting it. I believe you learn better in that way, so I’m going to talk about all the things that I do that are easy and effortless and, therefore, in my opinion, more effective.
Don’t Try and Remember Anything when You’re Learning a Second Language
So the first thing is, normally, if I’m reading in a language where I read well enough to read away from the computer I don’t look up the words, it’s too much trouble. On the other hand, if I can’t read well enough it’s too much trouble to look words up in a dictionary because the minute you close the dictionary you forget the meaning, therefore, I read on a computer where I have an online dictionary. Once I’ve looked the word up, as in LingQ, it’s then highlighted so the next time I see it and the next time I see it in any subsequent material I can see that I’ve looked it up before. I can see the meaning and so forth, so I’m not just looking words up in a dictionary and then having to forget them.
Another thing that’s effortless, when you read grammar and I believe we should read grammar rules, it kind of helps give us a sense of the language, don’t try to remember anything. Don’t try to learn anything, don’t try to understand anything, just treat it as a spark, an exposure of something that might help you, eventually, get a sense of the language. So don’t worry about grammar.
Don’t do questions. As I mentioned, I did find an old Teach Yourself Czech here that I had bought many, many years ago when I thought I would try and learn Czech. I found it kind of useful, I go through it. It has questions, grammar drills, I never do them. However, what is very useful is to go to the back of the book and at the back of the book you’ll find the answers. So rather than having to try to answer the question, wracking your brain to come up with the right answer, just read all the answers because then you’ll get concentrated examples of whatever they’re trying to test you on, whether it be the dative case, pronouns or anything else.
So I find it useful, more than once, to read the answers to these questions. Again, it’s effortless. I don’t like doing the questions because it’s too much work. By the same token, when I read something I don’t like answering comprehension questions. I would rather have misunderstood the text, have my own interpretation of the text, then have to answer somebody’s question where I have to think about why this, that and so forth.
I have mentioned before the great Brazilian educator who said that nothing destroys the pleasure of reading as much as being asked questions about what you have read or being asked to analyze what you have read, so I avoid all of that. I mentioned the other day that Russian textbook on history, which was a wonderful textbook, where they had 20 sort of pre-reading questions and I don’t know how many post-reading questions. All of that is effort, I don’t do it. It spoils the pleasure of reading and/or listening.
Flashcards, again, I didn’t use flashcards very much, but I do find them a break. They’re easy to do, as long as they can be made as easy as possible. So I don’t have the flashcard with say the Czech word on the front and then the answer on the back, I put everything on the front. So the Czech word, in our system we have the English translation and the captured phrase. I just look at the front and I go through them very quickly. I don’t have to think, I’m just being exposed to them. There again, effortless.
Another one is this Gold List that I mentioned previously. I’m not convinced that it’s effortless, but there are elements of it that are effortless because you only write the words down. You write them down and you leave it for 14 days. You don’t try and wrack your brain. You don’t try to go over it again and again forcing your brain to try to learn something that it isn’t going to learn. The brain will learn naturally with enough exposure. It will learn some things naturally and it will learn all things on its own schedule and you can’t force it.
Here’s another thing, too, you sometimes get the purists that tell you that you must only use a monolingual dictionary. I never use a monolingual dictionary. It’s much easier to use a bilingual dictionary. If I’m starting out in a language and I have no words, rather than ‘book’, whatever, _________. If I don’t know many words in Czech a monolingual dictionary is useless, but even when I’m quite advanced I just find that a bilingual dictionary, here’s a word, bingo, I get this beginning of hint of what that word might mean.
I know that only through a lot of exposure will I eventually get the hang of that word, but I don’t want to spend my time trying to figure out what the Czech to Czech dictionary definition of that word is. I find it easier to use a bilingual dictionary, to me it is more effortless and whatever is effortless to me is good.
The other thing, too, don’t worry about things that you don’t understand and don’t worry about elements of the new language that are, basically, very strange to you. One of the things I find, especially in Asian languages but not only, there’s a tendency to introduce the names of every possible relative early on. English, actually, is quite poor in terms of defining family relationships, but other languages have many more words to denote your cousin, brother, your wife’s mother, your father’s father, a third cousin, older brother, younger sister, whatever, in Korean or in Czech and so forth. I can’t be bothered with it. Those are concepts we don’t have in English, it’s very difficult for me to understand. It doesn’t really matter, him or her, it’s good enough.
Similarly, if you’re in a language where they don’t have articles, like Russian or Japanese, you’re going to find articles difficult in English. Don’t worry about it. It’s going to take a long time before those things sink in. Conversely, I still don’t understand all the explanations about the aspects of verbs in Russian, but I kind of naturally get it more. Some of the time, some of the time I don’t. I am aware that this thing exists, I’ve read the explanations. Nah, don’t worry about things that are so very different. Similarly, in Japanese don’t worry about polite language at first because it takes a lot of exposure in order to have a sense for that.
All I’m saying is when you’re learning I do believe in this sort of Taoist approach. Do what’s easy. Do what’s effortless. Don’t answer questions. Don’t force yourself to learn things. Don’t cram things into your brain. Just do it easily, exposure to the language, trust the brain and I think you’ll end up learning at least as well.
So there you have it, effortless language learning. Thank you for listening.
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