Ten killer tactics for learning a new language

Monday, April 12, 2010

One note to start: I've started a new label called language learning tips, as there are now far too many posts of that nature scattered across a variety of labels and it's high time they were all gathered together.

Now, on to the ten killer tactics: these actually aren't written by me - Nathan from Korea Beat sent me a link to a page here called ten killer tactics for learning a new skill, and a few notes on how they apply to learning a certain skill (a language) may be helpful.

1. Clearly identifying the level you want to achieve - very true with learning a language. There is complete native-level fluency, functional fluency, passive fluency (e.g. learning Portuguese and being able to read Spanish as well), etc. etc. On top of that each language has specialized terminology that may be applicable to one's field. Those who work in geology will want to be able to explain their field in the language they are learning, while others won't need to know much about geology at all.

2. Setting time aside every day - of course. Just keep in mind that a day not spent studying is a day spent forgetting.

3. Develop a game plan - due to point #2, personally I would always recommend a game plan involving as much effort as humanly possible. Learning a language is akin to an airplane taking off, where a certain speed has to be reached in order to do so. If your method is akin to putting your foot on the gas, then taking it off for a bit, then putting it back on for a bit and so on, then it will take forever to reach the required velocity. If you don't have the time required to learn a language in such a short time, then at the very least keep up a steady effort per day and hopefully plan out a future situation where you will be able to achieve this terminal velocity (taking a month off of work and living in Germany during that time, etc.).

4. Invest in top-quality resources for learning. True to a certain extent (the best way to learn a language is to invest the money needed to simply go to a country and live there for a year or two or three), although I've found old textbooks available online for free to often be superior to newer ones developed after the advent of the internet. FSI courses for example. Before the internet the only way to learn a language on one's own was to buy a textbook with tapes and learn from that, so the textbooks of yore were often packed to the gills with detail as it was impossible to simply go online to find other examples of the language. So learning from textbooks doesn't necessarily have to cost anything now.

5. This one pretty much resembles #3 so no further comment.

6. Use something in the real world to work on as you learn. Yes, very true. Spending an hour on a textbook conversation only to learn that Character A has gone to the market for some fish and potatoes can be quite tedious. That's why I recommend methods such as using Ted.com videos in order to learn two things at once. Finding books online in your target language from Wikisource or Gutenberg is also a good idea. Instead of just reading a textbook conversation in French, you could be reading Plato's Republic for example.

7. Gather support for this skill growth - yes. If you are learning a language online a good idea might be to contribute to the Wikipedia in the language you are learning. Mark your edits with a

tag in order to make your edits invisible so as to not irritate other users with any grammatical mistakes you might have. Then other users can check to see if what you've written is correct and then remove the tag. You will know once you've reached the level where you don't need the tag anymore.

8. Share the progress you make with others - this one doesn't seem to be strictly necessary, though it can't hurt.

9. This one resembles #6.

10. Get started. Now. Not later. In fact, one could sometimes say that if you haven't already started then that may be a sign that you won't see it through. Remember, it takes about 10,000 hours to become really good at something, and if you are really determined to succeed at something chances are you will have already started. Unless there is a financial barrier (can't afford a piano/good enough computer/art supplies/etc.), of course.

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