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Deconstructing a language and streamlining the learning process

I've recently read 2 articles from the blog of author Tim Ferriss on language learning. The basic gist of them is that, by breaking a language down into its component parts and learning it in a methodical way, basic fluency can be achieved in far less time than by using traditional methods.

The first entry gives a small number of sentences that cover most of the grammatical ins-and-outs of a language which you can have a native speaker translate for you. Once translated , you can then use these sentences to learn the language's rules of grammar very quickly.


The second one gives a list of the 100 most commonly used words in written and spoken English which, apparently, make up about 65% of all communication in the language. You then translate these and have enough to start conversing and reading to build your confidence, fluency and vocabulary.

He also suggests reading and speaking about topics you're already interested in in order to build a reasonable vocabulary about one or two topics. This allows you to practice the grammar rules and high frequency words straight away without having to worry about tons of new terms you don't understand.


Has anyone here attempted learning a language like this with any success?

4 years ago


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I haven't tried it quite so systematically as that, but his ideas have merit.

It seems almost too simple, though, to try and figure out a whole language based on a few sentences. I think it sounds like a nice overview of the language, and would try it and see how it goes, but there's a big difference between having a brief outline of the grammatical rules and actually getting usable ability out of it.

However, learning words by frequency is a great way to form a vocabulary you can get a lot of mileage out of despite its limited size. Reading about topics you're interested in is also a good method, though it can get frustrating if you start trying before you have your foundations properly set. Still, if you're interested in what you're studying, it can be really enjoyable and encouraging, so if you're up for a challenge, I'd say go for it!

4 years ago


Yeah that's pretty much what I would've said too. The high frequency words and specialised vocabulary would definitely help towards having conversations and things sooner to develop fluency but I'd wonder how much of a language's grammar can really be understood through just a handful of sentences.

Then again, even if it just gives enough of an understanding to get you going you could gradually learn the rest through conversation.

Thanks for the input. Maybe I'll put it to the test with a language that's not on Duolingo yet :-D

4 years ago