The quickest way to learn a language for a Reddit / online forum addict

Friday, January 07, 2011

This is a tip alluded to here a few times before, but considering how effective it is for the right audience (an active Reddit / forum user with an interest in a language that is relatively easy for an English speaker to learn), here it is in laid out in greater detail. Norwegian will be the language used as an example here, but feel free to replace it with any other language you intend to learn, as long as it is also in the same class in terms of difficulty for an English speaker.

Let's say you spend a lot of time on a forum somewhere or on Reddit, reading discussions about politics and religion and who knows what else. Let's also say that you're kind of interested in learning a language spoken in Western or Northern Europe, a relatively easy one for English speakers to learn such as Norwegian, Dutch, French, Danish, and most other Category I languages. Being relatively easy, learning the basics of these languages doesn't take that much time. On the other hand, since any language will still require years to reach fluency (only months for a good working knowledge though), what is needed is a lot of exposure. Here's how you can take the time you use lurking on and participating in these discussions and put it to use in learning a new language.

Step 1: learn the basics of the language you want to know. Although grammar is similar and English cognates are easy to find, some parts of Norwegian will still be incomprehensible if you have not learned the basics. Knowing that the plural is -er or -r in most cases, that the definite article is put on the end (hus = house, huset = the house), that Norwegian has two or three grammatical genders, that you can form the passive just by putting an -s after a verb (Jeg gir en bok til deg = I give a book to you; Prins av Wales er en tittel som gis til den eldste sønn av = Prince of Wales is a title that is given to the eldest son of...) and so on will be essential in understanding the language, and spending a few days really working through the grammar will be well worth it. In theory one could just pick all this up through context, but it is far more effective to have the basic grammatical rules laid out for you.

Do not feel the need to learn every single aspect to the grammar of the language, just the essentials. You can always go back later on when you need to clarify something. In fact, you can easily begin working on Step 2 and Step 3 as long as you give this step some attention as well.

Once you have done this though you can go on to the next step:

Step 2: get an add-on or extension that will allow you to translate instantly without leaving the page. On Firefox you may want to go with GTranslate, on Google Chrome there is Translate This, and there are tons of others out there to choose from. Most important is to have an add-on that does not require you to leave the page though, as you will be using it all the time. Selecting and quickly translating text will look like this.

Step 3: find a site that has roughly the same content you can't stop reading on other sites. Politics, religion, economy, history, whatever you find yourself spending hours and hours reading and discussing will be just as interesting in another language. For Norwegian one site with a lot of this is, but most news sites will have a comment section below published articles and these are often just as filled to the brim with comments as in English.

And now all you have to do is find a long thread or two or three or four to follow and lurk on. Let's see what we can find on Here is their politics and society forum, here is their religion, philosophy and ethics forum. In spite of being spoken only by some 5 million people, it is easy to find threads that reach dozens and dozens of pages in length. Here's a thread on Ahmadinejad and his remarks on the Holocaust (14 pages so far), here's one entitled "why are scientists not spiritual?" (35 pages), here's one on long-distance relationships (21 pages), and here's one on a reality show called Paradise Hotel (just as shallow and pandering as any other reality TV in North America) that is 206 pages so far.

Great, so let's follow a thread on religion and see how it works. This thread on Sharia in Norway should be a good one to read. Let's see what is being said there.

Kom over = came across. Norwegians like to drop pronouns in the same way English speakers do ("found a nice place to eat today..."). Next up a user who reads the site and comments:

Good, "er en direkte motsettning til" = "is a direct contradiction to".

Next up is a quick comment:

This is where learning the basic grammer beforehand comes in handy. Though the translation given by Google is good enough, knowing the basics will mean that you will recognize "det er" here as "it is" and not "there are". I.e. "It (the site) is no unserious that it is not worth burning a single calorie to discuss it."

Okay, let's switch threads to a more positive one. Let's go over to society and take a look at this thread, on "what is good about Norwegian society?".

Once again basic grammar will help out a bit here: "What I like about the Norwegian society" as translated by Google is "Ting jeg liker ved det norske samfunnet", or literally "Things (lit. thing, but it is not pluralized in Norwegian) I like about the Norwegian society".

Next comment is very easy:

Followed by a less positive comment:

(The lottery is probably referring to Norway's oil wealth)

And that's about all there is to it. After following enough of these discussions you will eventually come to use the translator less and less, and will almost certainly begin to feel the urge to participate in one yourself. The urge to correct someone who is wrong on the internet is no less strong in another language.

And while you're at it, you may find something that piques your interest one day in the job and education forum, and any friends you have made online may be willing to help you out in the application process as well.

The only thing this tip will not help out with is listening comprehension, since it is about how to make best use of the time you would otherwise spend reading pretty much the same thing in English. To improve your listening comprehension you'll need to watch loads of TV and listen to a ton of radio, and of course talk with people. Finding the opportunity to do so will only become easier if you have already made a lot of friends online that you have never needed to use English with, and beginning to watch Norwegian TV online will certainly happen as a result of reading the endless threads on one show or another, whether serious shows like Luksusfellen (a show about people learning how to get out of debt) or others not quite so serious like the previously mentioned Paradise Hotel and many more. It's quite an interesting experience to watch a show like that in another language - those that watch too many of them in their native tongue will begin to feel like they're wasting their time, but for you as a student of the language even the most dumbed-down reality show will be an educational experience.

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