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Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

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At some point in time, we all try (more or less successfully) to learn a foreign language. A lot of people, I’d even say the majority, tragically fail. What are the reasons for that? In several years of languageĀ  learning (I learned English mostly by myself, as well as French and Spanish) I have seen how people make the same mistakes over and over again. Still, these mistakes seem to be so ingrained into our language learning culture, that people all over the world make them, and that major policy makers and changers in the area of language learning are not undertaking any steps to do something against the repition of them. What are these mistakes?

Taking Classes

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One of the biggest mistakes people make while learning a foreign language is taking classes. You sit in a class for 2 hours a week with a whole bunch of gals and guys, the teacher is talking and most of the time you are listening to your own language, not the one you want to learn! One of the most ineffective ways of learning. You cannot learn in your own speed, as the teacher has to keep all students in mind, there is too much talking in the original language going on and student interaction with the target language is kept to a minimum. Basically, a private tutor, self study, a tandem partner…anything else is a better investment of time than taking classes. This is such a big thing that even Tim Ferriss, Mr.Productivity himself, posted something about it right here. Khatzumoto from All Japanese All The Time has some pretty strong opinions on classes, too. You can read his article right over here.

No realistic exposure

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There are some pretty cool textbooks out there. They are good at explaining the key points of the target language. What most textbooks lack, though, are realistic conversations. Most conversations are just too basic and/or follow an unrealistic setting. But learners still stick with them as their only source. They don’t go out of the bubble, grap a book that was written in the target language, watch a movie or listen to original music, no…they stick with the dull dialogues. Come on, who cares about the family father who is visiting long lost relatives in Colombia (of course, if that description fits you I apologize)? This is irrelevant to 99% of language learners! I want to have some real world dialogues. So even if it is hard at the beginning, it is paramount to get some real world exposure to the target language. Again, Khatzumoto has a pretty cool technique, where you are supposed to “harvest” (so to say) whole sentences and dialogues from books in the target language and learn them. Here, the method is explained, and right over here you can read what the best sources for sentence harvesting are.

Not enough exposure

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Grammar and background information about the target language is important stuff. But so is enough exposure to the target language. We all know that reading three sentences in the target language once a day is not going to cut it. Now I know that people are busy, everybody is. But there are possibilities to bump up the amount of exposure you get in a day. Listen to music in the target language while you drive your car, read a book in the target language while you ride the bus to work, watch your favorite movies in the target language (without native language subtitles, though, as that would destroy the learning effect). If you are serious about learning a language, you will find a way to get creative. Khatzumoto at has taken that exposure thing to a new dimension, and you can read about it at All Japanese All The Time.

Wrong materials

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Some books are just not good for learning languages. Their conversations are way too basic, they waste pages over pages for simple concepts and miss the deeper knowledge. But they have flashy pages. They are in full color. They have pictures. Basically, they don’t look boring, they look interesting and fun. But they won’t do the job! What should a good language learning book have? Each chapter should be clearly separated in different sections. If there are fill-in-the-gap exercises dispersed throughout the chapter, this is a no-go! There should be lots of dialogues, a lot of vocabulary and clear grammar explanations. Grammar, vocabulary and dialogues should be clearly divided so that it is immediately obvious what is what. A great example of a good textbook is “Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a Textbook” by Ronelle Alexander.

In coming blog posts we will look at different learning styles and analyze their pro’s and con’s. Stay tuned!

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