Language Strong: Learning a Language on your Own

Discussion in 'Everything Else' started by Kozushi, Aug 17, 2019.

  1. Kozushi

    Kozushi More than 2500 posts

    Since this is an international community using English as its medium I expect many of us have suffered through learning at least one language (English at least!)

    I wanted to bounce some ideas for learning by oneself off of my virtual mates here to see what you think about some approaches I've taken.

    Of course learning a language with a teacher, in a classroom or in a tutoring situation, providing the teacher is competent, is the best and fastest way to learn by far. I don't think this is disputable at all!

    However, if you're learning entirely alone, this is the approach I've taken:

    Buy "grammar in context" books. What I mean is books with titles like "Korean Grammar" or "German Grammar" that provide lots of example sentences for each point of grammar. I find the grammar is absolutely crucial for learning any language and having example sentences is crucial also to show how to use the grammar. But, in addition to this the example sentences, which had better have translations below them, teach a great deal of vocabulary, which is also in context. I see these thick grammar in context books as both grammar and vocabulary builders, and are simply ideal, as long as they are thorough and thick enough!
    Since I'm studying alone and learning to converse is out of the question, the immediate goal is to learn to read and write. So, I copy out each example sentence by hand after thoroughly parsing it. This takes a lot of time, but it all mostly sticks in my memory, the new vocabulary included. I'd rather cover the material slowly but retain most of it, than to just read it only to forget most of it.
    After these books, it's time for easy "readers" of the language. Again, having a translation available to make sure you're understanding the target language properly is critical. I've found that these kind of books are not hard to find and go all the way from easy stuff to high brow literature. Basically, anything that can help me avoid looking up individual words in a dictionary is great, as looking up individual words slows down the process.
    The last level is to read, preferably out loud to practice pronunciation, real stuff, and using the dictionary when needed. This is as far as I'm concerned the "fluent reader" stage. Anyone who can read fluently should be able to pick up the spoken language with some practice when the opportunity arises. Of course there is video online we can watch in the modern age!
    mikhael likes this.
  2. Ian V

    Ian V Double-Digit Post Count

    Hi Kozushi,

    Very interesting post from you here so a bit of personal experience if it will be of any help or interest.
    Firstly my experience is with German - I was stationed in Germany while in the army and immersed myself in the culture - I did a basic German course offered by the army which does little other than get you to ask for directions, tell someone a little about yourself and ask a couple of questions. The useful part was it was taught by a German and so you heard it spoken as it should be.
    I agree with your method of copying things down - but here is a useful thing to try - copy it down and read it a few times - the next day do a written translation into English and then the next day do a written translation back again. It won't be exactly the same but will get you writing and thinking in the language and also get you used to saying things in a different way. I used to do small articles from magazines - current affairs or the garbage gossip magazines it all helps.
    I found reading short stories very helpful - I like short stories anyway so maybe this was a method meant for me.
    I read short books targeted at teenagers and found them to be very useful.
    I also would always read the stuff on the back of packets or containers as a useful way of building vocabulary and I also found that following directions is sometimes more difficult than reading an article because of the somewhat clipped way that they are expressed.
    Listening to the news is good because it tends to be good grammatically and also there may be visual things to help you along.
    I was also given a school book by a teacher which was for Germans aged 14 - 15. It was to teach them English so there would be a short article in English and then questions in German which would have to be answered in German. An interesting exercise.
    What language are you learning by the way ?

    Best of luck,

    Kozushi likes this.
  3. Kozushi

    Kozushi More than 2500 posts

    German is a very important and interesting language. I'm working on Korean. I'm not a beginner by any means but I have a long way to go to become like I am with English and French. Because Korean is not related (well, all languages are related actually in some way or other, but scientifically/technically speaking it is not related) at all to English, it is a different kind of study than the kind we do with related Indo-European languages. For instance, once you get to a certain level in French you start to notice that you already knew most of the intellectual-register words because they are from the same Latin stock that English draws its intellectual vocabulary from. With German I suppose the situation is more reversed as it's the more common words that are shared with English: for instance "hand" "und" and "finger". Also, European languages share the same alphabet which helps a lot. Those same three aforementioned words in Korean are 손, 와/과/하고/그리고, 손가락. The grammar also has absolutely nothing in common with European languages either (well, like I said, there are always some connections because humans originated in one place, but that's a whole other kettle of fish I suppose). So, the big difficulty with Korean for a native Western-language speaker is that there is no point at which you are done learning new vocabulary until you've slowly and ploddingly gotten very advanced with it. The Indo-European languages all share a great deal of vocabulary, root words and grammar. When you jump outside of this family of languages you're jumping into the dark. Having said all that, when I'm actually speaking with a tutor, I learn quite quickly in spite of the language-family barrier. Having someone right there in front of you correcting you and explaining new words in the target language makes a huge difference.

    I read Korean and I work through grammars and similar by copying the example sentences and reading them out. I listen to spoken Korean in my car. The copying out work is painstakingly slow it seems, but the stuff does however seem to stick better in my mind and I guess I'm learning correct spelling and training penmanship which includes hand-eye coordination in general. Another element of Korean which is very important is the Chinese-derived vocabulary which makes up about half of the dictionary and about a fifth of the words on the page. This is a whole other study involving learning the couple thousand most commonly used Chinese characters/roots in Korean, mnemonics for them etc. Quite fascinating but of course very slow!
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2019
  4. jef

    jef I am a student of strength. Certified Instructor

    Learning a close language is not too hard (I learned Spanish by myself, as a native French speaker), but learning Czech was a bit more challenging : different grammar and basic vocabulary. Being immersed helped a lot: my choice was to speak the language or not speak at all...
    If you are interested in different approaches to language learning, Lydia's mentoring is great: Language mentoring
    Her TED's speech on the subject is also on the page and gives some ideas.
    (disclaimer: I saw Lydia's TED's speech in advance when she rehearsed at one of our Toastmasters meeting the week before).
    Kozushi likes this.
  5. Jacques van der Merwe

    Jacques van der Merwe Triple-Digit Post Count

    Great post @Kozushi. This resonates with me as I'm about to formally learn French. I've been living in Swiss Romandie for some time now and have picked up "French" informally, via just listening and interacting with colleagues and friends. My French is rubbish and I'm quite embarrassed that I've never taken the time to learn it properly. One of the methods I'll be using is spaced repetition using the software Anki. Are you familiar with it?
    Kozushi likes this.
  6. Kozushi

    Kozushi More than 2500 posts

    I have heard good things about that software.
  7. Kozushi

    Kozushi More than 2500 posts

    Very cool that you've seen her in person! Wow!

    I watched the 10 minute TED talk and looked up the goldlist method afterwards. I notice she recommends bilingual books as a key part of learning (one of her three methods.) It all seems to jive with my own approaches. Basically, it is clear to me that if you can get people to one on one talk with you and tutor you you'll learn the fastest by far. I've made the fastest jumps in learning Korean this way. The problem is finding people who will do this with you. Certainly being in a class with a native speaker who knows how to teach is second best. But this isn't learning alone. Learning alone is the problem. It is encouraging seeing her recommend a method (Goldlist) involving writing out and parsing/translating/reading out loud text in the language as this is a lot of what I do. The Goldlist method to me seems to be founded on the idea that you need to come back to the same words and patterns again if you are to remember them. This is natural, almost common sense I'd think. If the words and grammar don't repeat frequently enough, they probably aren't important yet at this stage of the process anyhow. I've certainly noticed with my Korean that I can follow any kind of conversation about the day to day. I'm already "fluent" as far as this stuff goes. My next step is to fully understand the news and Korean literature - novels and poetry. This is a huge jump though because we are going from a word-stock of maybe 5000-8000 words that I already know into a vast sea of 20 to 30 thousand words. Of course, these all depend on context (news-worthy words tend to repeat for instance) but also they are founded on the same stock of root-words. I actually know most of those root words, but it's when they are combined that I get lost since there are a lot of homonym root-words in Korean (borrowed from Chinese but losing the pitch accents!) Probably just patience is required more than anything. My methods are likely fine. In any case, when I read French or English literature (not the news - I understand the news 100% in both languages) I do find myself picking up the ole dictionary every several pages, a little more with French than English but not much more. My Korean is coming along I suppose.
    jef likes this.
  8. mikhael

    mikhael Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    @Kozushi, may I ask what is your native language?
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  9. wespom9

    wespom9 More than 500 posts Certified Instructor

    Tim Ferriss talked a lot about this in "The Four Hour Chef". Don't be confused by the title - he uses cooking as the medium to talk about his method of learning. He has many fans here I know, but don't get caught up in the hyperbole he tends to get caught up in - his methods are legit. I wish I had done this when I first went to Italy and spent 3 months learning the typical way, which basically left me useless. I have been refining my study with this method in preparation for returning in October this year. Obviously I have some background, as well as a month of being immersed in the language the first go around which helped greatly, but I feel very confident after periodically practicing this method.

    In a nutshell - DiSSS - Deconstruct, Select, Sequence, Stakes. Deconstruct is making basic building blocks, breaking the work up into manageable pieces. Very important for language. Selection is finding the 20% that gets up 80% of the results. This goes along with Sequencing - which order to learn things in. I'll stop here because this is so relevant.

    In languages, indo-european and specifically latin based (french, spanish, italian, etc) the conjugations are endless. The key is to find a few useful "starters" focus on remembering the infinitives ( to buy, to eat, to sell, etc). If you simply learn the I/you/he/she/they for a few important sentences, such as:

    (I) have to
    I need to
    I want to
    I can (or more usefully, can you)
    I cannot
    I am going to

    If you learn these, simply attach the infinitive. For example, in italian the infinitive "to eat" is "mangiare". Instead memorizing the conjugations (mangio, mangi, mangia, mangiamo, mangiate, mangiano) for this and 100 other verbs, of which many have special rules, I simply remember "mangiare".

    Devo mangiare (I have to eat)
    Ho bisogno di mangiare (I need to eat)
    Voglio mangiare (I want to eat)
    Posso mangiare (I can eat)
    Vado a mangiare (I am going to eat)

    As you can see, I know the conjugations for the first list above, and with that all I use is the infinitive and I've unlocked conversation.

    I could go on and on also about learning methods shown to help you learn and proven to do so better than rote memorization, but I'll stop here for now.
  10. Kozushi

    Kozushi More than 2500 posts

    I'm English Canadian. I was schooled in French though, which is popular with some families in Canada. It's called "French Immersion". Sort of interesting because it produces people who are more comfortable with English for day-to-day life but at work or more schooling, French. Depends on the individual of course. Those who didn't take their schooling so seriously obviously won't have so good French at the end of it, and their English, hahaha... depends, depends...
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
  11. Kozushi

    Kozushi More than 2500 posts

    Rote memorization doesn't work past a certain stage. If new words and grammar are not in meaningful sentences or even paragraphs, even if you remember the "rote" stuff, you can't put it together in a meaningful way nor understand when it is.
  12. SMalishev

    SMalishev Double-Digit Post Count

    I'm conversational in Russian and entirely self-taught. I started just before adolescence, and can attest to the sentiments above that learning a foreign language gets much harder the better you get.
    I will write some bullet points about my experiences language learning.
    • Definitely start with a book. I found free online resources don't teach as well as books from a publisher(not saying that all online resources are useless, though!). Hopefully it will be a book that won't shield you from grammar, but won't expect you to memorise all the endings straight away
    • I listened to music in the target language (that I was genuinely interested in) and tried to sing in a copycat manner to learn the sounds without having a partner. This was done over about 2 1/2 years before speaking with anyone in the target language (ideally, use this for practice and start conversing once you have the vocabulary to do so, and not a moment after)
    • Read aloud! why do children get read to aloud? why do they then read aloud to adults? it's a very important skill, even if it's rarely used. Imagine being conversational in your own language, but not being able to read aloud well. not good. In the case of Russian, if I come across an unfamiliar word I have to guess where the stress lands and it causes a pause in my reading
    • Find a way to write to people in your target language. There are a few mobile phone apps that help, and is a safe way to hear expressions, learn the conversational style and put it into practice yourself. Write down words that you read and translate, but not all of them at once! Learn which words you see often, they will likely be parts of conversation like the words "only, just, simply, because, due to" and will return benefits quickly once learned.
    • Learn to read the IPA alphabet, so when looking up words in your target language, you have an idea of how they are pronounced even before you hear it spoken. (very important in russian)
    • Once you're comfortable with casual text conversation, you mustn't delay speaking with a native speaker if you haven't started already. Find someone patient and don't overthink what to talk about, even if you can recite songs and hold text conversations, you will be nervous, your ears will get hot and you'll stumble over words. just keep at it
    • With grammar, ensure you understand the high level concepts before memorising every single prefix/suffix. It helps to memorise little phrases with some various grammar, as you'll get a feeling of "To express X, I must use the Y grammatical case". The first grammatical thing I would recommend entirely memorising is verb conjugation

    Hopefully these points help, I have likely forgotten about some things I wanted to write, but oh well...
    My goals with the language are to travel to a Russian-speaking country, and put my skills to the real test :D
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  13. c_e_UofU

    c_e_UofU My Third Post

    Grammer books are super helpful. Obviously the best teacher is immersion where that's possible. I'm an English speaker (American) that lived in Africa for a few years so I learned French, and as much as I could about the local dialects. I got to a point where I could communicate decently enough in one of the main ones of Togo (Ewe). Grammar and verb conjugation was the toughest part. I felt like reading the same book in English (or whatever your maiden language is) and the desired language your learning is helpful. Make sure to read it out loud and then start talking to people who speak it as their maiden language and they'll help correct you in areas you're struggling.
  14. Tarzan

    Tarzan More than 500 posts

    This may sound like a stupid question from a single language speaker but..
    When you are bi-lingual and speaking or writing in a language that is not your native tongue, do you think in the other language or do you think in your native tongue and translate it before you write it or say it?
  15. jef

    jef I am a student of strength. Certified Instructor

    The concepts are language-less, but then, to express them, I don't think in French (my native language) if I am speaking another language.
    I always think in the target language, almost from the beginning of learning a new language.
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  16. jef

    jef I am a student of strength. Certified Instructor

    Actually, for us, it was more "Wow, she is giving a TED speech", as we knew her before. :)
  17. cheldelformai

    cheldelformai Triple-Digit Post Count

    When you reach a certain fluency you start to directly think in the 2nd language
    I'm an Italian native speaker who's living abroad since several years. Most of my day I speak (and think in) English, German and Spanish.
    Sometimes when texting with Italian family/friends I have to translate back to Italian...
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  18. Anna C

    Anna C More than 5000 posts Elite Certified Instructor

    If you think in words. Some people think in pictures!

    Until I read that book I had thought that everyone's thoughts were mostly words, as mine are. When I talked to my husband he described his thoughts and they are almost all pictures. Makes you realize how different our brains are, when we assume things are the same!

    Great thread...
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  19. SinisterAlex

    SinisterAlex Still New to StrongFirst Forum

    Have any of you tried Duolingo?

    Immersion is great for learning a new language. For optimal results - move to a country that speaks the language you want to learn.
  20. SMalishev

    SMalishev Double-Digit Post Count

    It's funny this gets mentioned, as i've never thought of it like this before.
    I have tried to force myself to think in my second language (in order to practice), but find I can't keep it up for long. I can really only think in words if i'm "running a simulation" and can hear the phrases being said in my head. My brain just defaults to something like Anna C describes which is a combination of pictures, "movies" and accompanying sounds in my mind.

    Also, I thought of more tips from my experience learning a foreign language:
    • Watch a movie that you will find mildly interesting. Watch it in the target language with no subtitles at all. Then, watch it again sometime with subtitles only in the target language, and try and find the script to the movie online. from the script, translate individual words until the sentences have meaning. Then watch certain scenes again with those new words.
    • Try to read books that are written in a more literary style. They can be children's books, but the main thing is to try to get a feel for the writing style of people who love writing and write well.
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