How to learn languages more efficiently.

Discussion in 'Off Topic Area' started by AndrewTheAndroid, Jan 15, 2015.

  1. AndrewTheAndroid

    AndrewTheAndroid A hero for fun.

    When I was in school learning French as a young lad, I was absolutely awful at it and I hated studying it. More to the point I hated how we studied it. The teacher had us write out 100's of lines everyday for this stupid guessing game we always played. I can safely say that I wasn't the only one in the class that hated it either. The only time anyone picked up a French dictionary in class was so that they could learn swear words. I studied it for almost 10 years in school and almost none of it stuck. I was bad at it that my parents and teachers decided that attending the mandatory classes in High School would have been a waste of time.

    A few years ago I tried to learn Chinese and failed mostly because I didn't really know how to study languages. I only knew how to learn the way we did when I was in school. So I got frustrated and ended up losing my motivation.

    I am currently 4 months into my second crack at Chinese and I can safely say that I have learned more in the last 4 months of studying than my previous ten years of French.

    I am by no means a fluent speaker or really that good at all but I want to share some of the things I've learned these past four months to help other's with their confidence.

    The first thing I did was change my attitude in several ways. The way I was learning was clearly not working. You cannot make someone learn a language they clearly dislike, especially in a way that they dislike. I decided to look up different online programs and read a few different blogs from language learners on how to learn languages.

    One theme that keeps coming up is to have measurable short and intermediate time goals. Long term goals although important don't have to be a priority because you need to be learning stuff that you can use right now. My first goal 4 months ago was to see how long it would take me to get HSK one down. Then my goal was HSK 2 and that took another two months. Next on my list is HSK 3.

    If I had of just said I want to learn Mandarin and then looked at the 5000 word vocabulary need to pass just the spoken part of the HSK 6 test, then I definitely would have quit again.

    To go even further on goal setting you can even set weekly or even daily goals to improve your language learning. I don't personally use weekly goals yet, however I do set daily ones. They don't even have to be all that complicated. I always make my daily goals extremely simply. I never say I am going to learn x amount of words or spend x amount of time studying. I simply say that I am going to open a website(I use memrise), open a book, talk to a friend in Chinese, ect... The simpler the goal is the easier it is to make it a habit.

    The next thing that really helped me is what I placed my focus on while learning. I focus almost exclusively on vocabulary. In my opinion all the knowledge of grammar and how the language is structured is not going to help you one iota if you do not have the words to express what you want to say or understand what others are telling you.

    It's kind of like having a great car but no gas to put in it. Inversely you can get a lot further sooner with just basic framework and a lot of gas.

    Grammar, IMHO, is something that can be learned a long the way and a little at a time while you are learning phrases and such. I don't think it's all that important to applied language learning because let's be honest, many people don't know the grammar of their native tongue yet speak it fluently.

    If you can get the basic sentence structure down and have the words to express yourself, then that will suffice in many day to day situations.

    This brings me to my next point. A few days ago I was flipping through one of my textbooks and read a sentence that translated to "Today is your birthday." I just laughed at it because I've never actually said that in English and can't really imagine using it in Chinese. It's not something I need to use. The stuff that you use is the stuff that will stick with you.

    The things that you talk about in English (or whatever your native tongue is) then that is probably what you are going to talk about in Chinese. Therefore the words you use in English are probably going to be the words you use in Chinese (except, ya know, in Chinese). ;)

    Another thing I briefly want to talk about is the use of mental triggers to get you in the mindset of your desired language. Anything that can help you start thinking in your desired language is a good thing and should be used when you study. Often I like to listen to music while I study. However I try to keep it to tunes that either have no lyrics or the lyrics are in Chinese. Other times I will have a Chinese movie playing in the background. Really it can be anything that helps warm up your mind and keep you in the mindset of learning your language.

    This one may be obvious but I think it is important. You need to find a learning system that works for you. Personally I love Spacial-Repetition-Systems. Two of the best on the web, and I also use them, are Memrise and Anki. I am confident that if they had these systems in place when I was in school then I would have done a lot better.

    However no matter what style of learning you end up using, the most important thing is to actually use the language you want to learn. Just like you can't be a black belt without doing some sparring(unless it's Tai Chi;)), you won't be able to speak a new language without speaking the language.

    Even if you are an introvert like me, or can't find any local speakers, there are strategies to accomplish this. You can use skype to call anywhere in the world from your basement. If you're too shy for doing face to face interactions you can simply turn off your camera.

    One last thing I want to talk about for now is to remain positive and focus on the aspects of your new language that are easy and/or similar to your native tongue. I could harp on about how Chinese characters are not at all phonetic, or how difficult the tones are, or any number of things. But what does that accomplish other than to demotivate me? Nothing.

    I'd much rather focus on positive things like how basic the grammar is, how when you learn a word/character is doesn't change, or when a lot of my friends whom also study Mandarin at a much higher level than me say it actually gets easier as you advance. Focusing on the positive aspects of learning a language has done far more for me than bemoaning about the negative parts of it.

    I apologize if this article seems a little broad, as I wanted to go over I bunch of different things that all helped me to enhance my language learning skills.

    The main resources I use are Memrise, Anki and for general tips about how to learn languages I use Youku/youtube, and

    I'd love to hear your thoughts and/or recommendations for learning resources.
  2. Madao13

    Madao13 Valued Member

    Thanks whitepanda!
    I always wanted to learn a couple of languages but I didn't know from where to start. Now I got a clue :p
  3. AndrewTheAndroid

    AndrewTheAndroid A hero for fun.

    Awesome man. What languages are you interested in studying?
  4. Xanth

    Xanth Valued Member

    Good stuff !

    Immersion is probably the best method, but least practical. I've heard that military language training is to basically throw you into the ocean and see if you swim or not. Hearing it, seeing it, thinking it and speaking it are great suggestions. I like your line..
    so true! I took 3 years of German in high school. I wasn't allowed to take it in 9th grade because my councilor thought I'd fail due to my poor English/grammar grades. Turns out I was the best speaker in the class all three years and that I found English/grammar boring so I never applied myself.
  5. Wildlings

    Wildlings Baguette Jouster

    Good post, I agree on most things. :)

    I do study grammar though, I like having a general idea of how the language structures work, or I'll see them as more difficult than they actually are. I don't really learn rules, I just need to read them and get a general understanding of what I'm going to learn. A matter of personal preference I'd say.

    I'd like to add that reading a lot is another terrific way to learn, though you have to find a compromise between "this is too easy" and "I need to look up half the words" when choosing materials.

    If you're looking for resources, this article describes a method that seems similar to yours - the author is a well-known polyglot so you may find it interesting.

    Good luck with Chinese! Keep us updated.
  6. Kemposhot

    Kemposhot Valued Member

    I've used memrise as well and find it to be very helpful especially if you have a basic understanding of a language.

    I second the Skype usage, especially with native speakers, italki is a great site where you can find many native speakers of different languages who want to teach you and have you help them with English.

    I've found fluentin3months to be more motivational than anything as well. YouTube is full of people who make videos going around after studying a language and practicing with native speakers. Might be worth checking out!
  7. Fish Of Doom

    Fish Of Doom Will : Mind : Motion Supporter

    spot on, panda! i learned portuguese in great part by watching cartoon network, since i knew most of the dialogue by heart when watching the typical reruns and it's similar enough to spanish that i managed to pick it up really quickly. subtitled movies and a brazilian sensei completed the package and left me relatively fluent, although by now i'm quite rusty because i haven't used it regularly in years.
  8. SWC Sifu Ben

    SWC Sifu Ben I am the law

    [ame=""]How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity - YouTube[/ame]
  9. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    I took German at Uni and loved it. Just in the zone at the time. Other languages I've not had good success with.

    The thing I had to do when learning Cantonese (my wife's native language) was total, complete immersion. I also could NOT learn via the way most people do - which is memorising phrases and conversational items. I would forget - especially with Cantonese because the tonalities are so complicated ( 11 as opposed to 4 for Mandarin, IIRC )

    I had to go back to utter basics. I started with the lowest level children's primer with the basic sounds that begin to make up the words and go from there. That was the only way - literally back to the egg.
  10. AndrewTheAndroid

    AndrewTheAndroid A hero for fun.

    I am also not very good with tones and that is just with the 4.5 in Mandarin. I work on them while I am studying, however when I speaking to someone I don't worry about them. I've found that if I speak fast enough and the person I am chatting with understands the context then they won't have much trouble understanding what I'm saying.

    What do you think your level is now? And how long did you study for?
  11. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    My level is zilch now - oh I can remember a bit - but after we moved away from the area where my wife's family in the States lived and the visits between family in the PRC and here became more and more infrequent - I quit learning. One has to be around it and over the last several years, I've not been around it.

    To make matters worse, my mother-in-law constantly spake Mandarin to me - they are deeply programmed with the idea that a foreign person may not speak your regional dialect - Cantonese, Hu (Shanghai) and so forth, but everyone in the world speaks Mandarin.

    To this day, I've trouble keeping many things separate - mixing up bad Cantonese and Mandarin - people look at you as if you've lost your mind, lol.

    Funny thing, my second child could not speak English for ever so long - having lived in the PRC from the time he was two until he was nearly five - when he first came back and began kindergarten, he was considered a FL speaker, lol.

    You could get by without pronouncing tones correctly in Mandarin ( basically just variations of "urr", "err", lol ) but that wouldna fly in Cantonese, everything is about the tone - gotta have it right, too low, too high, not flat on one end, too flat on another. Not quite 'sing-song' but it approaches that.

    Cantonese is a very harsh language as well - as opposed to the smoother (in my ears, anyroad) Mandarin.

    I always said that Cantonese was the sound of stinging bees, the sound of women arguing at the Mahjong table, lol.
  12. AndrewTheAndroid

    AndrewTheAndroid A hero for fun.

    I've had a different experience. My friends often scold me for not speaking Kunming Hua. I've joked with them that me learning the local dialect would be as useful to me as it would for them to learn Bavarian German or Cockney English.

    If you don't use it you lose I guess. I could be way off base but it seems it seems like being around it motivated you more to learn. Now that you're not around it as much you've lost a lot of your motivation for it. Other than moving back to Asialand, do you think that there is anything else to get you motivated to learn it again?

    I am really interested because I am moving back to rural Canada in a few months. Luckily my mom told me a new Chinese family moved to town and took over the gas station. It was the biggest news since the Tim Hortons opened up in town.
  13. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    I'm having a right laugh at this. Much needed today, thank you.

    Well, you were dead-on with my motivation - yes, definitely being in Guangzhou was the primary motivator, secondary having so many of the wife's relatives near us for a long time in the States - and I'm sure you know how that is - everything's about which relative to visit that evening, what foods will be eaten, etc., - one does not simply show up at Yima's, eat and leave, for god's sake - its hours long ordeal - so yeah! that was motivational - no doubt about it, lol.

    There's talk about visiting this summer. I've not been in years, especially after baa baa died - that might do it. On the other hand, were were supposed to have gone to the U.K. this past year and warn't able to make it due to familial and other complexities.

    If you're worried about loosing touch linguistically - you can always subscribe to the myriad Chinese satellite and cable station packages - one can subscribe to the dialect of their choice and have it running 24/7.

    The people who've taken over the petrol station would be delighted to have visits from you, I can most assure you of that. They'll talk your ears off - that I promise :)
  14. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick

    The British invaded half the known world so we didn't have to use subtitles. :p

    Serious answer: I learned to speak fluent Indonesian in less than 6 months because I watched some of my favourite movies with Indo subtitles on. Also having my wife and her family speak only in Indo forced me to learn it quicker. It helps to pick a language you will actually use. One which shares the same letters as English (or whatever your native tongue might be) makes it easier.
  15. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    lol. Oh yeah, Panda -
    With Cantonese, its all about the tone, with Cockney, its all about the rhyme, lol.
  16. matveimediaarts

    matveimediaarts Underappreciated genius

    There are a lot of good Russian sites, so I use those for practice reading and listening. "News" sites are excellent because they are usually illustrated and that reinforces the text. My teacher suggested watching children's shows/movies in Russian, and I enjoy that. :D Hope this is of some help.
  17. Van Zandt

    Van Zandt Mr. High Kick


  18. Unreal Combat

    Unreal Combat Valued Member

    As someone who speaks Chinese and is trying to learn Thai for a trip to Thailand later in the year I couldn't agree more with you.
  19. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    You lived there a bit? What part?
  20. matveimediaarts

    matveimediaarts Underappreciated genius

    LMAO!! I was thinking more along the lines of or Some ninja's got their brain in the gutter. :p Besides, the screenshot there tells me "dream marriage" is designed for English speakers.

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