The five most useless pieces of language learning advice ever!
...in my opinion, at least ;-)
Feedback welcome, as always.
"Learn like a baby" bugs me too, but not for the same reasons. Mainly I think it's baffling advice because babies don't learn very efficiently. I mean, they get an attentive, interactive, native-speaker full-immersion environment for every waking hour of every single day of the year... and after four years they're only speaking at the level of a four-year-old! I'd like to learn a bit more effectively than that, thank you very much.
That was a very funny and true article! Another bad piece of advice that I have noticed "Don't care about the grammar! Native speakers don't have to learn it to use their language correctly so why should you?!"
True, but I don't want to sound dumb or lazy so it is worth the effort to learn the grammar and make minor mistakes here and there than to completely blow it and sound like I didn't bother to try.
Well written blog and I enjoyed reading it. You've raised some really good points. Some of the most important first words I ever learned in German were: bitte, danke, and "wo ist die Toilette, bitte." A Lingot for you. Thank you for sharing. :)
I've found that my brain has become more elastic as I learn and get better in more languages. As an example, I tried the German for Spanish speakers course early last year. It was very difficult, and I found myself translating the Spanish into English. Even at the earliest skills, it was a challenge. Fast forward to October, and I did some of the German for Russian Speakers course while I was waiting for Russian for English speakers to come out... something clicked in my brain, I guess, that allows it to not put everything into English, and I found it to be a lot easier. I'm doing Portuguese for Spanish speakers now, and the only time I really consciously am translating into English is when I run into a Spanish word that I'm not as familiar with, or I come across a grammatical concept that is challenging.
As far as speaking from Day 1 goes, not all of us are learning languages because we want to have conversations. As an introvert, the thought of going out and talking to strangers in any language (even English) is a little scary. Speaking is my least developed skill, and that's okay with me. If I need to speak Spanish, will I be able to speak it? Of course. I can pronounce the words, and I talk to my friend Duo every day. I may not be able to speak as well as I can understand you, but I can still say what I need to say.
I also agree that you should act like yourself. There are lots of awesome things to discover about other cultures, but that's something that you learn over time. Not all Americans like to watch the Kardashians, or put ketchup on their burgers... just because something is popular in another culture doesn't mean that everybody in that culture likes it, or that you will too. As you find stuff that you like, great! But you don't have to watch telenovelas just because you're learning Spanish, as an example.
Doing French from German or Spanish is part of my plan... I'm guessing it will be easier from Spanish, coz the two are fairly similar. Not sure I'd manage to do this from a language I'm not 95% familiar with, like you...!
Interesting, and you pick apart the cliches very well. I dont think it all rubbish though, I think what is probably closer to the truth is that the people giving each type of advice probably use it different to how you would expect. The one I stand behind is the first one, but only because I extrapolate it to mean "spend 12 hours every day attentively listening and analysing and attempting to communicate in any way possible with anybody that shows you even a flicker of attention", because hey it works for the little sods, why shouldn't it work for me :) . The thing is, if you were to say that to most people, they would run the other way. I have never interpreted it to mean something like "listen numbly to the radio and expect your brain to work it out for you" though. That is about the same level of common sense as "sleep with your textbook under the pillow and hope the infomation gets absorbed through proximity"...
I don't disagree with you - I think we need a lot of input, and, even more importantly, it's very much about active listening, rather than having the TV on in the background.
Well, having the TV on in the background can be helpful to get used to sounds and rhythms - at least being able to say - that's English, not Spanish or whatever. Active listening is better, but having the radio or TV on while doing chores has some benefit also.
Yes, definitely, having the radio on while doing chores or taking a bath is a great way of filling otherwise "dead" time. But while I do this, I try to listen consciously, even if I tune out mentally every now and again.
Good article. I tutor adult beginning English students. Our training told us to try to skip the translation part - "because it's faster" Even when I present a vocabulary sheet with clear pictures that the students recognize, they write the word in their own language next to the picture. and above the English word. I've started asking them to translate for each other, and as far as making sentences is concerned, giving examples of the construction, then EXPLICITLY explaining how it works (not the why, just the how), and I think they're learning much faster. II recommend Duolingo and languagetransfer.org, but I teach in a very poor area of town, and most of the students don't have internet access or smartphones - part of the great divide between middle class and poor in this country, let alone rich and poor.
Sounds like you've got your job cut out for you! I bet your students really appreciate all the the effort you put in.
Ja, mein oberst! I love seeing stereotypes crumbling.......especially: learn form day one! the biggest introvert discrimination i can think of+i am from postcom country so older people here are, after decades of forced isolation, super-scared to speak the greenhouse versions of foreign languages they were taught at "famous" socialistic schools.
Interesting perspective, language learning behind the iron curtain. When it that was still up, I learned Russian for a couple of years at school, and of course, there were no Russians to practise with. At least, though, we were able to take a school trip to Moscow, something that the Russian students were not able to do.
I think there is more than a nugget of truth to the speak from day one advise. I remember taking a language class were the fist things we learned were a few verbs, their command form and who to ask what someone was doing. After about an hour we could play a very simplified version of Simon says.
I get what you're saying, and I do agree with you. I've qualified this somewhat in the piece and also in the comments section. My concern is mainly with language course offerers using this phrase to raise unrealistic expectations.
I somewhat disagree on the point about translating/thinking in the language. For one I don't like your analogy :-p. According to your analogy, children never have to perform take off. They are always cruising (yes, you're not a baby, but you're pretty much built the same).
It's solid advice in the face of something like Duolingo that only ever encourages translation. The 'immersion' offered by Duolingo is designed to be the opposite of that; to make you keep thinking in your own language and practise translating from your L2 back to your L1. Something which I find fluent bilingual speakers struggle with (Germans are an excellent example of this, because their English tends to be so good).
I did make the point that it's very hard for children, too, and that takes them years to get to "cruising", and that this is glossed over by those trying to market certain language learning products.
I certainly agree that translating is tough, even on perfectly bilingual speakers, I struggle every time I'm meant to translate between two people. My brain isn't trained to do this and lacks the agility required. I think there's another blog post in that topic alone - thanks for the inspiration :)
Yes, but children don't have the existing language to use to get to cruising speed. The existence of the L1 is arguably beneficial or harmful for adult language learners. On the one hand, it allows for a stepping stone and a way to naturally communicate about ideas in a way that may aid the language learning process. On the other hand, with an existing method for communicating (or, particularly, thinking), the brain may find it doesn't need to acquire the second language.