Useless Language Learning Advice - My Top 5
Here you go:
[I posted this a few days ago on the German forum, so some of you may have read it/commented already]
Opinions always welcome :)
I think the most annoying things about these pieces of advice is how they are often stated so matter-of-factly, that they disregard the various learning styles people possess. The big pet peeve of mine is the think in the language message - I've consistently found it to impair my progress in terms of frustration and motivation, compared to when I've simply not bothered. It comes entirely naturally in time, without even having to think about it, so the idea to do it consciously just ends up being really counterproductive. I find it to be a by-product of good practice habits, especially through producing output in the target language.
Perhaps it works for some, but yeah, the professing of its universal worth regardless of the individual is certainly annoying. :P
It's funny how we said more or less the opposite. ;-) It really shows that no single strategy will work best for everyone!
Haha, it is quite amusing to note side by side, structurally similar too. Reading your post made me think though, it could also be a question of perspective. While I never go out of my way to think, ‘right, I'm going to think just in L2 now.’, for me the process as I examine it seems to be that I start out very consciously trying to translate from L1 to L2, accounting for syntax changes and such, at a very slow pace of course, but over time that speeds up and with exposure it eventually becomes mentally quicker (and comfortable enough for me) to simply come straight out with L2 without even thinking about L1. But for me, this isn't a conscious action to think in L2- it simply works out that way.
Ah yes, that's another good one... it does kind of happen naturally once you've had sufficient exposure. I also find that I'm fairly "fluent" in my head long before my mouth follows suit, which can be quite frustrating at times ;-)
they disregard the various learning styles people possess
I see the idea of “learning styles” tossed around quite a bit in the duolingo forums. It's a seductive idea but there is very little hard evidence (i.e. scientific studies) to support it.
Before you recoil from what I'm saying, I'd invite you to read this piece by a respected cognitive neuroscientist:
I read the article, very interesting - however, and far be it from me to contradict a respected cognitive neuroscientist, I found that I don't mind the rather "unstructured" style of Duolingo, with no clear grammar lessons (other than a few measly explanations), while a friend of mine absolutely hated it, because she learns best when rules are clearly presented. I prefer the intuitive approach, she doesn't. As a former teacher (very short-lived career), I noticed that some students responded better to some techniques, while others did not and required a different approach. That might not necessarily be a "learning style", however. I think it's all got to do with how our brains are trained to process information. You can't learn something unless you understand it. And not all of us understand things the same way - think back when you were in Chemistry class (or Physics, or Maths, or even Languages, depending on your strengths). I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all teaching style. To give you one example from my own student past - I used to like Maths, until I got this really bad teacher and suddenly I did not understand anything anymore. I almost flunked because of her. Then a colleague took pity on me and tutored me for a few hours (hours, not days or weeks, and we're talking a whole semester's worth of knowledge) and suddenly it was all clear as day. So maybe there is something here - only called differently?
I've actually read that before, but it's not really relevant other than the fact that we used the same phrase - my error was probably simply the use of the phrase ‘learning style’ rather than ‘learning preference’ or something to that effect. Given my use is a bit ambiguous as it wasn't really said with such a context in mind, a ‘learning style’ as I use it refers to ways in which you can approach learning which more readily engage your interest based on your own personality traits (rather than the more mechanical focus the term takes in the article). When your interest is more engaged, you will be naturally inclined towards increased motivation.
An example of me and a friend - I find comparing and contrasting to be intensely interesting, and love to compare, for example, German to English grammar, and to English and Scots words. Rather than purely learning the language from the point of view of wanting to be able to speak it, I find equally enjoyable the process of seeing how the language is similar to and how it differs from languages I already know. My friend likes the idea of being able to speak in a different language, likes the idea of the sound of the language, but finds the grammatical side of things largely demotivating. Taking these personality factors into account when approaching my own language study methods, and when approaching those of my friend, ensures that both of us can increase motivation, and therefore productivity, and avoid burning out as best as possible (useful for any form of prolonged study, but especially study of language).
So essentially, this, as I've been discussing it, is more about self-study methods which best serve to keep your interest and enthusiasm at good levels, which is always useful. No one likes trudging through something they have no interest in ;) It isn't at all about learning vs. teaching styles, as is often spoken about in schools.
When your interest is more engaged, you will be naturally inclined towards increased motivation.
I very much agree with you and generally agree with the idea of finding ways and methods that you find personally appealing. However I think the danger with “learning styles” is the idea that, (putting the question of motivation aside), different individuals are taught more effectively in different ways depending on whether they are an ‘auditory learner’ or a ‘visual learner’ or a ‘nasal learner’ (as per this Onion satire piece), when, as the earlier article points out, an effective way to learn something is going to be effective across the whole population and an ineffective way is going to be ineffective across the whole population. We can indulge our individual “learning style” too much and trap ourselves in approaches to learning that are ineffective in that particular domain. A stereotypical example is the young primary age student who spends a great deal of time writing up their notes in a variety of coloured pens with various attached ‘prettifications’, just because that's what they like doing.
Yeah, auditory vs. visual and all that is definitely not the kind of thing I was intending to refer to. I didn't realise the phrase ‘learning style’ referred so specifically to this sort of thing. I'll be sure to use ‘preference’ in future, haha! I found my preferences through experimenting with much of the cliché language advice as discussed in this topic.
I remember finding, for example, the ‘speak from day 1’ idea to be extremely demotivating in practice - it actually ended up giving me a false start in one of my languages due to how terrible I found the experience. But nevertheless, some people swear by it, and I have no doubts that if I were to be comfortable with the process of speaking such unknown sounds to a stranger myself, I'd have a fair bit to gain thanks to the immediate feedback (in contrast to my false-start experience, another attempt gave me a decent basis of pronunciation in Scottish Gaelic, but nevertheless I didn't find the experience motivating as it feels so much like stabbing in the dark - I don't like to not understand :P).
My two cents...a comparison between generalities and specifics is also taking place in this discussion.
And to think this is how I learned English :)) I forced myself to think in English and I would have entire conversations in my head (granted, a huge percentage of that was probably completely wrong). The funny thing is that nobody told me to do that (there was no internet available at the time - or rather it was prohibitively expensive, so it was kind of like it didn't exist). It just felt natural to me at the time. I now do it with Spanish and find it helps. Just goes to show that not all of us learn in the same way. That's why I don't usually give advice - I just tell people what I did, if it helps them, ok, if not, at least I didn't push my own views on them ;)
I also find that I'm fluent in my head long before my mouth follow suit... which is frustrating - I suddenly find myself not being able to "perform" when confronted with a real live person, when a few hours ago back home, I knew exactly what I wanted to say and how!
Really interesting! Best one is “Start speaking the language from day 1”, it sounds like a weight loss miraculous machine!
Really good post, haha. The "act like a foreigner" one might be the most dangerous piece of advice.... I met a French-learner once who insisted on acting French-y while speaking French and it was horribly embarrassing. As you said, it's good to imitate cadence and speech rhythms, and that has nothing to do with behavioral stereotypes. (Although I can already think of another caveat -- it is indeed important to learn and follow the rules of politeness when you're in another country; don't hug a French person; don't try and give bisous to a Japanese person...).
That said, the "learn like a baby" one is my personal pet peeve.
Adults actually have a lot of advantages over children when it comes to learning languages! That's been pretty solidly scientifically proven at this point.
While it's true that children will almost certainly speak with a better accent, adults are able to pick up vocabulary much more rapidly than children. Adults have better memory retention and are overall much less likely to forget words or grammatical points. Children have terrible retention. Thus the many stories of kids who could speak a language at age 5 but no longer can speak it at age 5 and a half because they were pulled out of the immersive environment. Finally, adults, being more capable of understanding abstract concepts, are able to use more advanced vocabulary words correctly from the start.
After a year of learning French, I am able to read novels in French, converse with native speakers, watch Godard films, read Le Monde and talk about European politics. After a year of learning English, I'm pretty sure I wasn't far beyond "mama" and "doggy." I'll stick with adult learning abilities!
(I will say this: one advantage that children do have over us is the presence of one or more highly-dedicated adult, native-language tutors who are working on teaching them 24/7. And if they make mistakes, people are so much more understanding. But kids are not smarter than adults, no way.)
That's pretty impressive after just a year of French!
I completely agree with what you're saying here re. how young kids learn. BTW, here's a real great short article on this topic:
I agree with most of that, but the translation thing. It should really be a goal to think directly in your target language as soon as possible, although I agree it can't be done on day one. What I mean is you should put effort towards that goal, and not just wait for it to happen automagically. Just like immersion is useless without any effort, thinking in your target language needs to be forced a bit in the beginning, as soon as you've learnt the basics needed to make simple sentences.
At least that's my opinion. It seems hard to do early on, but it gives a huge head start to learning a language (and serve to diminish the useless "But, why? It's not logical!" reflections).
I think trying to think in your target language is difficult without some form of immersion. If you've got english-speaking things everywhere, then it's impossible to truly think in a foreign language unless you think about what you're going to think about, essentially. At least this has been my experience with it. I've been learning spanish for many years before I even discovered duolingo and I'm trying the best I can to try to leave english out of it, but it's hard, haha.
It depends on your discipline. What I do is I imagine dialogues (or monologues) in my head in my target language. When I hit a wall because I don't know how to express something, I look it up a dictionary.
You don't have to think in your target language 24/7, only when studying or practicing it. The one thing that is clear though is that we simply can't learn a language without effort.
I had a friend once who was from Brazil, and spoke six languages. I asked him what language he thought in, and he said it depended on what he was thinking about. Most of the time he thought in Portuguese, but since he was a missionary in the US, he things religious things in English or Spanish. He thinks about food in Italian. I don't know if that is common, but that is what he related to me.
Fairly common I'd say... I do that to a certain extent, but the divisions are not quite as clear cut for me.
For me I think it's usually as simple as what language I've been using most recently. If I've been watching French TV all day or hanging out with French friends, I'll end up thinking in French. If I've been working and chatting in English, I'll probably be thinking in English.
For some reason, there are two themes of dreams that I have that always seem to be in French:
(1) Spiritually significant, maybe vaguely religious-seeming dreams that I usually wake up from feeling very energized and happy
(2) Dreams about being embarrassed, confused or misunderstood that I usually wake up from feeling mildly upset
It's funny because these are pretty much opposites, but I guess it makes sense given what I use French for. On one hand, I've been reading a lot of philosophy, theology and literature in French. On the other hand, my social experiences with French tend to involve a lot of anxiety about my accent and whether or not I sound like an idiot and grammatical mistakes and subtly differing social norms and so on. So I guess both of those feelings are reflected in my dreams. :P
@BastouXII - WOW! I can't tell you how happy I am to know I'm not the only one who does that. Every time I told people that's what I do they would look at me funny :))
Next time someone makes fun of you for doing that, tell them someone who speaks 6 languages uses this trick. That should shut them up! :-P
I've been dreaming in French. Weird, they are not particularly interesting dreams.
I wish that worked for me... but we all learn differently, there's no doubt about that.
I'm going to plagiarise your "automagically" in one of my next posts ;-)
Don't worry about plagiarizing me, I've stolen it myself from I can't remember where, but it struck me probably as it did you!
A good article. The crazy suggestion to "act like you’re of X nationality” is something new for me. Other advices indeed have some grains of truth but should not be overestimated. I suspect the cause of the overestimating is that older learning methods were too dry and relied mostly on grammar drill, so when people discovered more natural methods they became euphoric. The main thing here is to understand which style is better for you personally and to keep critical way of thinking. There is also difference of the languages - in some you can minimize grammar or vocabulary drill, in some not. But drill or not - it is better to analyze what you are doing before (or after? :)) it becomes second nature.
Completely agree. Nothing's more off-putting that pages and pages of grammar exercises or lists of vocabulary. You need to forge some emotional/life connection with the language for it to enter into your long-term active memory.
Act like you're from X nationality is what I do and I think you are underestimating the power of this advice. When I started learning Spanish I spoke from day one with my friends. Even if it was only "Qué tal?" or "Hola". It was less awkward when I was talking to them in more serious discussions. I also imagine myself as a Colombian when I speak Spanish because it makes the experience much more interesting. Therefore, I watch Colombian telenovelas and I just steal the personality of the characters. It is the same with English, I just picture myself as someone from New Orleans. And it is not about stereotypes, it's about the accent, learn from the culture, the way they speak etc.
However, I agree with the talk like a baby. This tip is almost useless, because like you said, babies/ toddlers make a lot of mistakes when they talk and they have a 24h training and it takes them years before being fluent and mastering the language. But I kind of see what they mean by talk like a baby. When I was in Japan for two weeks in a family, even with my small knowledge, I keep talking and talking (baby talks), short sentences. I was saying things like "It's beautiful" "It's cold" etc.
The tips that I usually give to people are : Watch movies, TV shows, youtube videos ; Read books, small articles ; Talk to someone ; Make it fun
I think the "Act like X Nationality" is more talking about making an affectation of a stereotype. Like, I'm learning French, so I am going to be like the chef in The Little Mermaid. "Ho Ho ho, Mon Cherie, Oui oui..." This kind of acting is socially insensitive I think. Be yourself, just speak French.
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences on this topic, I guess every kind of advice works for someone ;-)
Definitely agree with drawing on as many sources as you can, and having FUN with it. It's so much easier today than it was 30+ years ago when I first started out.
"An adult language learner would do well take a leaf out of their book and not get bogged down in examining every single idiomatic expression in minute detail. “But it’s NOT logical!” is not an argument you can ever throw at a language and expect to win. Nor are you likely to hear it from a toddler"
That's so true. I often read the question "why" in Duolingo. But the great deal of language you just have to learn the way it is. Grammar is a way to explain language, but no language is created using a grammar book ^^
Yup. I do like to read grammatical explanations, they are useful up to a point, but I also know when to just let it go and accept that something is how it is.
I think this is the key - being able to identify when the why is relevant, and when it's not.
For example, I remember wondering why there were seemingly random prepositions without an object sitting at the end of so many German clauses; of course, they turned out to be the prefixes of separable verbs. This is an important ‘why’ - to understand why these word-fragments are positioned where they are (i.e. which circumstances trigger such an occurrence, and which prefixes such circumstances apply to), and to understand that the ones that happen to be the same as a preposition aren't prepositions.
But then we have such ‘whys’ as the reason we use ‘there is’ in English, and ‘es gibt’ in German. While the why might be interesting if there can be found a historical reason for these sorts of phrases, worrying too much about the different verbs in said phrases, purely from an understanding perspective, might serve to do little than cause confusion and/or frustration. It's one of those instances where I just thought, ‘okay, it expresses the idea of existence - it is what it is’, and moved on.
In my experience, German grammar offers way more satisfying "why" explanations than English. French is about right in the middle, Spanish and Italian between French and German and Esperanto is just great, even more than German.
The place where I got entirely stuck with French was when I got to the point where the why explanations stopped making sense to me and/or they made sense, and I applied them (so I thought)... and then still got things wrong, without being able to understand why..
I found with Russian that the rules, for me, are at least as difficult if not more so (and exceedingly numerous) but when I actually got to grips with a rule, I could use it correctly, and when I got it wrong, it was possible to understand why and where and how I'd got it wrong.
That was the point at which I realised I was probably as good as I was ever going to get at French ;)
(Of course, it's possible I'd do better if someone explained it in a way that made more sense to me, but I fell in love with Slavic languages and ended up decamping almost entirely, if imperfectly, to being a slavophile. Me and Romance languages had an amicable separation and I think we are both happier that way ;D)
(Though I am planning to dip my toe into French for Russian speakers, as a way to practise Russian and a last ditch attempt to make my French be less... inconsistent, shall we say?!)
Reading French (real French, by proper French prose stylists) you see the word "en" thrown in front of verbs all the time. Sometimes they're there, sometimes not, but I swear the sentences mean all the same thing.