The beginning of language learning journey is full of questions. You can’t be sure of almost anything you say. How could you? You know almost nothing.
So how can you check if the sentences you produce with such effort are correct? Especially if you don’t have any contact with native speakers. Ultimately, the purpose of practicing any language is to get to (at least) communicative level in a foreign language of your choice. You definitely don’t want to utter some incoherent and half-baked sentences.
As you know, I’m a very zealous supporter of talking to yourself. It’s one of the best (and free!) ways to improve your fluency. Some people actually suggest that one of these days it will lead me to sitting half-naked on the park bench and mumbling to myself while feeding pigeons. But I’ll take my chances!
So how do you tackle this problem? How do you make sure that what you want to say sounds natural and would make every native speaker smile and nod with approval?
If your first and final answer is “Google Translate!!!”, I have bad news for you.It’s still a very imperfect tool, incapable of distinguishing between various differences of the words.
I mean, just take a look:
The solution I would suggest is combining the powers of Google Search Engine and Google Translate.
Google Search Engine gives you instant access to millions upon millions of sentences which you can compare your efforts with.
Let’s take a look at how you can make it happen. Closing the entire feedback loop shouldn’t take longer than 1 minute.
Translate A Phrase With Google Translate
Some time ago I wanted to use the phrase “padół łez i rozpaczy” (literally “vale of tears and despair”) in one of my articles. I admit this phrase is very rarely used, even in Polish. It’s quite a depressing idiom used to describe our world. And I love it.
It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to say it. The first thing I did was checking the translation in Google Translate.
Does it look ok? No idea. Like I said, I have never used it myself. I also have never seen it being used anywhere.
Google The Phrase In Quotations Marks
That’s why our next step is to check how often it is used by native speakers. First of all, we need to learn how to make our search more precise. Our weapon of choice is “quotation marks”.
Using quotation marks
Putting terms in a quote indicates a sentence and will be searched for exactly in this composition. And this is what we get:
1 result?! Seriously?! What’s more, .pl means that somebody from Poland tried to use it before and even put it in the book! It is kind of disappointing. I really wanted to use it. But hey! Let’s check if the phrase “vale of tears” is more popular.
It turns up 351k results. Much better. If I had chosen so, I could have used it. Now just to prove a point, let’s check how many results it turns up without quotation marks.
As you can see, with over 1 million results it turns up 4 times more results than the same phrase with quotation marks. If I didn’t know better, I would say that it’s quite a common phrase.
Don’t Let It Limit Your Creativity
All the languages are constantly evolving. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to coin a new great word? That’s why you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you say something silly.
Not longer than one year ago I told my supervisor that “we can’t jaywalk through the planning process”. He said that it sounds weird. But hey! I still like this phrase!
So that’s what I do at the beginning of my language journeys (and even much later) to make sure that I don’t mutilate a given language too much. You see, now you have no excuses not to write to somebody in a language you’re currently learning!
You slowly open your eyes. You’re in your bed. It’s nice and warm. You know you should get up and start the day but somehow you cannot force yourself to do this. The blissful numbness is radiating from every pore of your body. You try to lift your head but to no avail. Getting up seems impossible.
Maybe you’ll just lie here for a few more minutes and… BAM! You’re asleep. As a consequence, you’re late for your work and get fired. Your spouse realizes what a loser you are and she decides to leave you. You end up getting homeless and fighting with sewer rats over the leftovers from Thai restaurant.
Alright, so maybe I’ve exaggerated a tiny bit. But that’s exactly what the comfort zone feels like.
It’s blissful and cozy. And that’s the problem.
Well, the simplified explanation goes like this: we use automated sets of behavior in every area of our lives. It makes perfects sense. If they are automated, it means that the energy expenditure is considerably limited while executing them.
Take a close look at your speech patterns in your mother tongue. It might turn out that you use a relatively limited number of words and phrases in everyday life. And bear in mind that it’s your mother tongue! The problem is even more conspicuous in foreign language learning.
Our vocabulary defines the borders of our perception and thinking. It’s good to constantly keep on pushing them.
The following piece of advice is equally valid for beginners and advanced learners.
Identify words/phrases which you repeat frequently
You can do it on your own with a little bit of mindfulness or with a help of your teacher. Just take a piece of paper (or use the ready-to-use template at the end of the article!) and note down all the words and phrases which you tend to repeat way too often.
They usually tend to fall into one of the 4 categories:
That’s a great place to start. Have you ever noticed how often your repeat “I think that…” in a foreign language you learn? Sure, it’s a very basic phrase. And necessary one as well! But it’s also damn boring. There is a variety of counterparts in every language which can make your way of speaking more colorful.
“I believe that … ”
“I’m convinced that…”
“I trust that … ”
“I reckon that … ”
And the list goes on and on …
Adjectives are used to describe nouns. That’s why you can go wild with your creativity! Sure, you can say that some guy is big. But why not:
He is a great hulk of a man / huge / of considerable size / enormous / gigantic etc.
A place to start:
I have a very strict rule for my language students. Excluding absolute beginners, you can’t use “good”, “bad” and “interesting” during my classes. I kid you not. If I hear any of these words, my eyes turn red and start twitching. I haven’t hit anyone yet but I sense that this day is approaching inevitably!
Of course, you can find other words which you tend to overuse. We all have our wicked ways. I’m definitely guilty of using “creepy” and “awkward” almost every time when I speak English.
In most languages, they don’t give you as much creative freedom as adjectives. However, it’s still worth substituting some of them.
A place to start:
I like to start with synonyms of “explain”, “use” and “convince”. General usefulness of these words makes them easy to apply in almost any context.
Probably the hardest category to substitute. Only one piece of advice here. Try not to use the word “thing”. Every “thing” has its name. Use it!
Once you’ve identified the words which you use way too often, it’s time to substitute them.
But how do you find good synonyms?
The best way is to ask your teacher or a befriended native speaker. But if you don’t have this luxury, feel free to use a dictionary of synonyms, i.e. Thesaurus.
Here is a short list for some of the popular languages.
It’s important that you understand (more less) the difference between meanings of different synonyms!
When is the good time to substitute a word?
There is only one reliable indicator of the time when you should start substituting some word. Once your active recall of this word is effortless and immediate.
Only then. It means that the word is entrenched deeply in your long-term memory and you no longer have to use it frequently in order to remember it. And that’s actually the GREAT reason not to use it any longer or drastically limit its use. At least during your language practice.
I would actually go as far as to say that every time you repeat words and phrases you know actively, you waste your time. Every sentence is a new opportunity to grow as a person (and as a learner!).
Don’t waste it!
Now go on and put this method to good use and increase your vocabulary size!
I’m definitely a weirdo. I enjoy learning grammar! Declensions, conjugations, possessive pronouns.
I love them all! And there is a good reason for that! They are simply one of the easiest things to learn in most languages!
Of course, let’s be perfectly honest – learning them is easy. However, using them without any hesitation is another story. Here are a few methods you might use tolearn grammar effectively:
The Classical Method
Repeat everything till your eyes and brain start bleeding. Not interested? Read on!
Look For Patterns
Let’s play Sherlock Holmes for one moment. The first thing I do when I learn grammar of some language is establishing some patterns.
For example, take a look at the weak declension of adjectives in German (it is used when there is a preceding definite article (“der-word”).
Can you see it? Rock n roll horns created of “-en”
And the rest of this table is just “e”! Quite simple to remember, isn’t it?
The Four German Cases
Can’t remember the order of German cases? Maybe if I NAG(ge)D you would! 🙂
2. Create Some Stories
This is my absolutely favorite method since you can use it with combination with mnemonics.
It definitely requires some concentration and creativity. It might be difficult at the beginning.
You have to shake up your rusty imagination!
Example 1 – German possessive pronouns.
Here you have a list of German possessive pronouns. It looks pretty random, right? Nope, there is actually some cool story hidden there!
I gave her MINE TIN(y) SIGN – and her EER(ie) UNSER (answer) was really EER(ie). Who knows, maybe it’s too abstract for you. Let’s try something different then. Let’s assume that I(h)R stands for Irina Shayk. Or some sexy pIRate if you’re a woman.
Now our little story can go like this:
MEIN DIME SIGN(s) IR(ina) – my UNSER (answer) is O(h) YEAH! IR(ina) !
As you can see, this method doesn’t always cover the pronunciation in 100%.
But that’s alright. In most cases, your brain is aware of that and can correct these mistakes.
Example 2 – Swedish objective pronouns
What about some (singular) objective pronouns? When I was learning Swedish I memorized them, more or less, like this:
There are so many ways to memorize these conjugations! But of course, they depend on many things – your native tongue, other languages you speak and your entire “database” of different names, notions, etc.
Being Polish, I would choose to memorize the first three endings with a word “OAZA” (eng. oasis). I think that this approximation is good enough. AMOS can be easily (for me!) associated with my beloved artist Tori AMOS who puts AIS on AN(t).
Something To Remember
Treat this method as crutches. It helps you to unburden your memory by memorizing grammar in an effortless way but it’s not a substitute for practice. You need to use the language to automate the use of grammar,
Q: Can you always find some associations? A: Yep. Just use your imagination!
Q: But what if it doesn’t work? A: Then try harder! Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Good luck and let me know what you think about this method!
What would you do if you had more energy? What could you learn? Who would you help?
How often do you feel that you should do something but somehow never manage to do it? Of course, you WOULD and COULD BUT you feel tired or are not in the mood or … (insert some random excuse).
If I got a penny for every time my clients tell me “Nope, I didn’t really learn because ya know how it is”, I could buy a solid aluminum bat to whoop all those lame excuses out of them.
Where does your energy go?
There might be a lot of reasons why it is so. But have you ever considered that you are wasting away all your energy?
Concentrated energy is powerful beyond measure. It can be like a powerful laser beam of creativity and knowledge. Wherever you direct it, it spreads well-being and shoots up people’s IQ. But the problem is that usually, it’s not like a laser beam. It’s get diluted into hundreds of tiny rays which can’t do sh*t.
So where does your energy go? Why are you squandering it when you could do so much good in this world?
I’ve prepared a list of energy devourers. Stuff which might be as well called parasitic creatures feeding on every good fiber in your body and processing it into the grey lazy goo holding you captive in your armchair.
I’ve been guilty of all of them and I’m still trying to purge some of them from my life. And so can you. You owe it not only to yourself but to everyone who you’ve come to contact with.
I still remember when I read a 4h Work Week of Tim Ferris for the first time. It was like a door to the new world. The world of endless possibilities. But there was once concept which stood out. The concept of “information diet”.
Tim argued that you don’t need to read newspapers every day. Nor do you have to visit the news websites in order to be up-to-date. It was beyond me. “Does he not understand that I’m an educated person and I need to know STUFF?!”.
At that point in time, I was devouring every newspaper and weekly news magazine I could lay my hands on. Not only did I have to read them every day but I also had to read them cover to cover. No news was small enough.
If you find even a tiny bit of yourself in this description I beg you – stop! Stop doing it. You’ll never be up-to-date. You will never be able to keep up. But that’s not even the point. The point is that you don’t need it.
Will you become a better person by reading that the bomb exploded in Somalia killing 20 innocent children? Or that some psycho ran over a child and left him for dead? Or maybe you enjoy reading about the latest corruption scandals in your government? I hope not. I really do.
Because that’s the nature of news – they are supposed to be scary and negative. They are supposed to prey on our lowest emotions and instincts. We keep on coming back because we want to know about all the dangers which lurk in the dark. As if it was supposed to help you.
2) Social Media
Have you heard about the FOMO syndrome? It’s one of my favorites ailments of our modern times – the Fear Of Missing Out.
This terrifying voice in the back of your head which keeps on telling you that if you don’t check your Twitter or Facebook account RIGHT, FU**ING NOW you might miss some important piece of info. Or some funny quote. Or a picture of your friend doing something crazy things.
There are just two solutions which might help you
A) Delete your account.
You still have your mobile and e-mail box. Do it and save months or years of your life. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to see the following sum-up of your life in your final days
“Jim, what a loser he was, spent 6053 hours of his life on Facebook, 5300 hours on Twitter and 2000 browsing pictures of cats”
B) Start blocking it with software
It’s no shame to admit that you have no control over the use of social media. But if it’s true, and you don’t want to delete your accounts, try blocking them with this software:
There is also a third group, rare as legless unicorns – people who can actually use social media with moderation. But I don’t trust anyone who says so by default. Almost NOBODY has such a strong will.
I can’t entertain you with any personal story here. I don’t own TV and haven’t watched it since 2003.
I’m pretty sure that there is no purpose of having one. Why would you have to go through the trouble of watching hours of some worthless junk in order to see something interesting? You can find everything on the internet anyway,
“Kim Kardashian has a huge cyst on her right buttock who does a great impersonation of Gary Oldman” (disclaimer – I made it up). That’s worth reading. Maybe a little less than “allegedly lured by tacos, a man shot in buttocks by pellet gun”.
But seriously – how can anyone care enough to read this garbage?
It’s even worse when you realize that most of your conversations are made of bad-mouthing your boss or friends. If the gossip is the last thing standing between you and the awkward conversational silence, what does it say about the quality of these conversations?
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
5) Having an opinion (when it doesn’t matter)
You know the type. People who always have to have the last word. You begin a polite conversation and just a moment later their faces wear this demonic expression of madness. They start splattering saliva all around the table as their eyeballs turn white.
How can you not agree with them?!
How dare you?
Don’t you know that X is better than Y?!
And how could you vote for W instead of Z?
My take? I take my part in the discussion or give advice when asked but at the first sign of any emotional uproar I back off. I don’t care enough to lose 30 minutes of my life and a big part of my emotional reserves trying to convince somebody. I have better things to do with my time.
6) Caring too much about what other people say and do
I don’t believe that you can force somebody into any kind of change. You can only let them know that you’re there if they need you. I’m trying to help anyone I can, both online and offline, but I’m not going to waste my time to shove my advice down their throat and convince them that it works.
7) Stop being jealous and comparing yourself
It’s still a bit of the problem for me. But in the past, it was much worse. “Why can’t I be taller or have more money?”. “Why everybody seems to know what they’re doing with their lives?”
It all started fading away when I began to work my ass off. You won’t have time to compare yourself to others when you concentrate on being better each day.
8) Learn how not to worry about the things you don’t have any influence on
Because why bother if you can’t change? I know quite a handful of people who live their lives through problems of other people. They worry that a friend of some distant friend is sick. Or that somebody they don’t even know had a car accident.
It’s sad. It really is. But that doesn’t mean that any part of your day should revolve around such events. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care. Or that you’re a cold-hearted bastard. You simply save your energy for the things you can change.
9) Curb your internet time
It’s fascinating. You have the biggest source of information in the universe at your disposal. Yet, most of the time you use it for some mindless entertainment.
I don’t know many people, myself included, who show any restraint when it comes to the use of the internet. I’ve tried a lot of strategies to somehow regain control over the way I use the internet. To no avail.
And that’s ok. I was too weak to do it and I accept it. I learned not to trust myself when it comes to this matter. These days I simply turn off the computer when I want to get more productive or simply block every single page that I consider a waste of time.
I’m sure that you have some songs that make you cry. Now you can make others cry as well while you sing in your target language!
Alright, I admit – that sounded like a bad advertisement! Anyway, I highly recommend that you check LyricsTranslate.com.
What is this magical website?
The website contains over 280k translations of all kinds of songs. The translations are available in dozens of languages. Sure, you won’t always find the song you want, especially if it is acid, vegetarian dubstep. But don’t be picky – simply move on to the next song which interests you.
However, if you’re really desperate, you can request somebody to translate the lyrics for you! I guess it’s also worth mentioning that it’s FREE like the lead-laden air we breathe in!
How does it work?
Search for the song you’d like to hear and when the original lyrics appear, simply choose the language which they should be translated into. Let’s try to find one of my favorite songs of Bon Jovi – Bad Medicine.
Great, isn’t it? Now find the backing track on youtube and you’re ready to go. Sing your heart out!
If you want someextra language practice, you might register on the website and start translating the lyrics to help others. Have fun and pass this article to the fellow language learners who have musical inclinations!
I’m sure that you know many ways to improve memory and IQ. Learn a language, usemnemonics, get enough sleep, exercise and blah, blah, blah.
But what if they are too boring? You’re a descendant of great explorers after all!
Where’s the adventure?! Where is the madness chasing away the shadows of conservatism? What if the method for the perfect memory is licking your knee while wearing a helmet filled with cottage cheese?!
I guess we will have to wait a bit for the final answer. But find comfort in the fact that scientists are relentlessly looking for out-of-the-box ways to boost your memory.
Just take a look at this bizarre list!
1. Clench your right fist
Picture by: Robbie Veldwijk
Pretty weird, isn’t it? Scientists from Montclair State University established that a group of volunteers who clenched their right fists while acquiring new material and then clenched their left fist when recalling that material remembered more than control groups who didn’t clench their fists at all.
2. Hold Your Urine
You’ve heard me right. Next time when you have to go wee-wee, hold your horses. It seems that holding your urine improves decision making before choosing an immediate or a delayed financial reward.
The research was appreciated all around the world – a Dutch scientist conducting this study, Mirjam Tusk, was actually awarded IgNobel.
3. Spend a Few Minutes Looking At Trees
Picture by: Andreas Krappweis
If you are not a nature-loving and tree-hugging hippie you might want to reconsider – staring at a photo of trees or a brisk walk in the woods can improve your memory and attention performance by 20%.
4. Think Aloud
A study with 30 younger and 31 older adults showed that thinking aloud boosts the performance of older adults on a short form of the Raven’s Matrices (Bors & Stokes, 1998, Educational and Psychological Measurement, 58, p. 382) but did not affect other tasks.
In the replication experiment, 30 older adults (mean age = 73.0) performed the Raven’s Matrices and three other tasks to replicate and extend the findings of the initial study. Once again older adults performed significantly better only on the Raven’s Matrices while thinking aloud. Performance gains on this task were substantial (d = 0.73 and 0.92 in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively), corresponding to a fluid intelligence increase of nearly one standard deviation.
Source: “How to Gain Eleven IQ Points in Ten Minutes: Thinking Aloud Improves Raven’s Matrices Performance in Older Adults” from Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, Volume 17, Issue 2 March 2010, pages 191 – 204
5. Sniff Rosemary
Picture by: Hagit Berkovich
One study revealed that memory in healthy adults could be improved by the aroma of rosemary essential oil. People in a rosemary-scented room performed better when it comes to remembering events and being aware of the need to complete tasks at particular times (McCready & Moss, 2013).
6. Wear Red
You must admit, there is something intensive about this color. Russell Hill and Robert Barton, two researchers at the University of Durham, have systematically analyzed all the matchups of the 2004 Athens Olympics.
In 2008 they conducted the analysis of the teams of England’s Premier League from 1947 to 2003 which brought similar results.
The theory has it triggers feelings of dominance among the players wearing that color while having a threatening effect on the opponents.
7. Eat Cocoa Flavanols
It seems an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age.
Participants with the memory of a typical 60-year-old improved to that of a 30 or 40-year-old after only three months.
They drank a mixture high in antioxidants called cocoa flavanols for three months and performed better on a memory test in comparison with people who drank a low-flavanol mixture.
But before you start smearing chocolate all over your body with a manic look on your face read this:
To consume the high-flavanol group’s daily dose of epicatechin (one of flavanoids), 138 milligrams, would take eating at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day — about seven average-sized bars. Or possibly about 100 grams of baking chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder, but concentrations vary widely depending on the processing. Milk chocolate has most epicatechin processed out of it.
So I guess we will have to wait till some new product is created. Shame.
8. Chew Gum
Doing it might increase your recall by 20% on a short test due to improved blood flow to the brain. Additionally, it helps you to stay more focused on a task. On the other hand, it increases your chances of beings socially isolated if you can’t help but smack your lips!
9. Eat Walnuts
Picture by: Adrian van Leen
Why? Well, walnut? (shut up, I AM hilarious!), The research showed a significant improvement in learning skills, memory, reducing anxiety and motor development in mice fed a walnut-rich diet.
Scientists suggest that “the high antioxidant content of walnuts may have a contributing factor in protecting the mouse brain from the degeneration typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease.”
10. Ignore Stereotypes
That’s one is pretty ironic – if you remind older people of stereotypes about age and memory, they will perform worse in tests (Hess et al., 2003). One can only wonder if this phenomenon has the same effect on blondes. Anyway – ignore stereotypes and you’re good to go.
Why don’t you give them a try? Just don’t use them all at the same time. That might be awkward.
Are you going to use any of these methods? Let me know!
All your life we've been told that the only place where talking to yourself can get you is a padded cell. And yet, somehow it landed me a job in one of the top corporations at this side of Milky Way.
You might ask - so what's so special about this story? Well, I learned Swedish in order to get the job in less than 4 months without talking to anyone in Swedish. And while working 50+ hours per week.
I also managed to break up with my fiancée and started drinking after a 1,5-year break of abstinence. So if you're expecting only rainbows and unicorns go somewhere else. I'm pretty sure there is a lesson somewhere in this story but I can't quite put my finger on it.
Here is how it happened, more or less, and how you can duplicate the results. Hopefully without crippling your private life.
Discovering Swedish - Beginnings
"It is such a beautiful-sounding language", I said to myself. I was standing in the middle of a bookshop in my hometown. My then-girlfriend who recently had moved to Sweden was pointing at some sentence in a textbook and asking me to read it.
I tried but my effort was mediocre at best. Why do you pronounce these f***ing letters so randomly?! Here is some foretaste:
It was about 8 years ago. Shortly thereafter we went our separate ways, and I was left with just a few words. Quickly I lost interest in this language and moved on with my life.
Rekindling Of Interest
About 2 years ago I started feeling this unbearable itch to switch a job. At that time I had been working close to 3 years in the Industrial Automation industry while teaching English, German and Statistics and I really started feeling bored.
After browsing some job offers it hit me that there is a considerable amount of positions for Swedish-speaking people and almost no competition since this language is considered a pretty exotic in Poland. And there was my solution - learn Swedish and go into corporate. With my skills and languages, how could I not make a career?!
I wish I could bitch-slap myself then and get back 11 months of my life. But that's another story.
How To Learn By Talking To Yourself
Word of warning
It's necessary to give you some background before I go into details. Back then I already spoke 5 foreign languages including German and English. Since they belong to the same language family as Swedish it gave me the upper hand I was also obsessed with mnemonics - that makes remembering much easier.
I've never been a big fan of language textbooks. Not only are they pricey but also (usually) structured in a pretty moronic way. I mean - who really needs to know the names of 30 professions when you can't even ask "where is the nearest toilet?".
That's why I bought just a simple grammar book and dictionary. Total cost? About 25$. Not bad for the skill which has brought me a hundred times more since then.
Always know your limitations. I knew mine. One of the main problems which I had to face was lack of time. I had a full-time job after all. And a fiancée.
That's why I had to define my priorities. I knew that an interview would be conducted in Swedish and I had to be classified on (at least) B2 level to get the job. That's why I decided to focus my efforts on speaking and listening. Throughout the preparation period, I read only about 4-5 articles.
Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
Enjoyment? What a load of crap. If you want to get results quickly, learning won't be pleasant. You can't have it both ways. If you don't feel exhausted after learning session it simply means that you haven't pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.
Deep work leaves you drained (Cal Newport is the unquestionable authority in this field). That's why top performers don't do it for more than a few hours. And this is exactly all the time which I had during the day.
One of my favorite mathematicians of all time Henri Poincaré had the following routine:
He undertook mathematical research for four hours a day, between 10 a.m. and noon then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.. He would read articles in journals later in the evening.
And I do understand why. After every learning session, I felt like a shred of a man. Maybe I cried. I don't really remember. I wanted everybody to leave me alone - and they did eventually. Now I remember! The lesson is: there is a price to pay for everything.
My Chamber Of Madness
This is how I called my room at that point in time. What another name is there is for the room where you spend most of your time by talking to yourself?
But coming back to the story - after buying a dictionary and a grammar book I got home and for the first few days, I started outlining the grammar. That was an easy part. I knew that the biggest challenge lies in pronouncing things correctly. Back then I didn't have any consistent method for learning pronunciation.
I also started learning tons of vocabulary. And that's why my learning style is so different from others. You might frequently hear that you don't need a big vocabulary to talk with someone in your target language.
And that's true. But the problem is that you need a lot of words to UNDERSTAND somebody. It's natural that your passive vocabulary will always be bigger than your active one. Even in your native tongue. But you need to know them in order to understand because the context won't always save you.
That's why after learning about 2k words I started listening to Sveriges Radio and conducting my proper learning sessions. Remember Rocky training? It was exactly like this but absolutely different - I was sitting at the desk and talking to myself. For hours. I covered about 4k in Anki and created thousands of sentences.
On my way to the company's seat, I still was coming up with excuses for why I should call them and tell them that I found another job. Or that I got sick. Or that the homework which ate my dog got sick. Anything. Maybe the car will run me over.
She entered the room. I held my breath. I was scared sh*tless. Then I heard the first question:
- "Can you tell me something about yourself?". I did. In details. Who wouldn't expect such a question?
- "How did you learn Swedish?", she asked.
- "On my own. At home. I talked to myself a lot."
- "But I'm asking seriously", she gazed at me in disbelief.
- "That's the truth", I mumbled
20 minutes, 2 questions and one grammar test later the interview was over. I don't think she believed me. I don't blame her.
Two days later I got results of my language evaluation. I was on the B2 level. The job is mine if I want it. I do. I want to work there. It turned out that I didn't want a relationship with my fiancée half as bad. I broke up with her. I couldn't stand constant arguments.
I'm not even sure. I guess it's better if you draw your own conclusions.
Did you know that Mark Twain used to memorize a lot of stuff thanks to (silly) rhymes? Well, now you know. And it’s the best recommendation and reason why you should do it as well. Actually, I should finish this article right now!
Ok, small rant first. So many people complain that learning is a drag. Do you know why learning is painful? Because it’s no fun. And it really does baffle me. As a society, we seem to place a high value on humor and wittiness.
Yet, almost everyone seems to ignore it when it comes to learning! A peculiar paradox I might say.
What about you? Are you guilty as well? Probably.
The chance is that you were stripped of the need to have fun while learning by the soulless system of education. But good news everyone! With some intentional effort, you can get it back!
First, let’s take a look at what you can use rhymes for:
Untap Your Memory’s Potential Using Rhymes
Here is one of the hundreds of rhymes I’ve used to learn vocabulary.
поэтому что всегда заявка когда ты звезда на вес золота моя поездка
(because there’s always an order when you’re a star
my trip (ride) is worth its weight in gold)
le manque d’air sur (la) marche d’un escalier
(lack of air, on the step of stairs)
You see my friend how terrible my rhymes are. You might even feel sorry for me right now but I’m going to high-five myself anyway for this fine piece of art!
USE RHYMES TO MEMORIZE (FUN) FACTS
It’s one of the rhymes which I’ve used to memorize what Cecilia Payne became famous for.
Cecilia Payne doesn’t need mars cause she discovered composition of stars
USE RHYMES TO MEMORIZE DATES
The Spanish Armada met its fate in fifteen hundred and eighty-eight
If I’m not mistaken this was actual rhyme used by Mark Twain
And of course, these are just a few of hundreds of possible application of rhymes. With a little bit of creativity, you can memorize anything this way.
SO WHY WOULD YOU DO IT?
For better recall
If you still recall alphabet by singing ABC Song then you KNOW how powerful rhymes (and melody) can be. No need to be ashamed, you’re not alone. We’re strong in numbers.
But don’t take my word for it. Look around to find some real-life examples. What would you remember better – a bunch of some unrelated words liar, pants and fire or a powerful rhyme: liar, liar pants on fire!
Because it’s fun!
You can basically come up with any silly rhymes you want. There is no judging. You don’t have to show them to anyone!
Learning must go through your emotional filter in order to be processed effectively. That’s why emotional memory is a critical component for the learning process.
Sure, rhyming some words might seem time-consuming. And I guess it in comparison with mindless cramming. But in the long run, you can actually save a lot of time.
I can guarantee you that there’ll be many situations when you memorize some words after rhyming them and you won’t have to review them ever again! They will be etched in your memory.
For experimentations’ sake
Come on, you’re basically talking to yourself rightnow reading this. Writing some kick-ass rhymes won’t harm your respect in the ‘hood! Who knows, maybe you’ll develop some mad rap skills as a bonus after some time?!
I’m not a fan of rap so I prefer (actually LOVE) cheesy rock lyrics and rhymes. And that’s basically how my rhymes sound – cheap and cheesy. But if you prefer something more sophisticated e.g. Eminem’s lyrics, go for it. Try to imitate them. Or simply copy them, throw away some word and insert your own!
BONUS TIP: And remember – you are not allowed under any circumstances to call your friends homies!
I have the greatest pleasure to introduce my friend and ex-student – Mariusz who I had the honor to teach (Swedish) not so long ago.
Mariusz started his journey with Swedish in March and thanks to the super effective mix of grit, right methods and mnemonics got to (almost) B2 level at Swedish. The level was assessed by one of the language schools in our hometown at the beginning of October.
How fast is that? Pretty damn fast if you ask me! Especially since he had only a 1,5 h lesson once per week for just 4 months!
Warning: if you’re new to the world of mnemonics, please do not think that we’re having a really bad, acid-induced trip. Instead click hereto hop on the list and get your own 7-part mnemonics course.
Without further ado – enter Mariusz!
How to memorize grammatical genders with use of mnemonics
Come along for a stroll! How I memorized Swedish A1 level ett-gender nouns. It is known that there are only two grammatic genders in Swedish and they are described with their proper indefinite articles – ‘en‘ or ‘ett‘.
The first one covers, depending on sources, about 75% of all the nouns, while the other the remaining 25%. It was obvious, that with the aim to pick always the correct one, it’s sufficient to memorize the smaller group of nouns. So I made use of mnemonics.
I’m not certain why but from the very beginning I have already imagined the en-nouns as green and the ett-nouns as light blue, particularly while revising vocab with Anki, and I colored at least the ‘ett’ ones.
As I was wading through, at first, quite big amounts of upcoming words and the number of the blue ones began to grow, I felt the need to arrange them, preferably into one vast made-up Loci. Then I created a picture of a seaside in my memory.
The sea (ett hav) seemed to fit my needs the best because the only bigger blue objects that I came up with were the sky or the planet Earth, too vast to take up a virtual walk along. So I landed by the Baltic Sea on a beach I am familiar with because I’ve spent my holidays there many times, taking long runs in the sand in early mornings.
Having appeared there once again, I saw in front of me the extensive mass of water reaching up to the horizon on my left and right. Although the sand was yellowish, I realized that after every step I took left a footstep (ett spår) illuminating with bluish light (ett ljus). Cool, isn’t it? I looked around hastily and to my surprise, I spotted even more phantom-like bluish objects.
The nearest one was a table (ett bord ) with my Swedish grammar book, opened on a site with a test (ett test). I always feel pain (ett ont) when I make a mistake (ett fel). I left it as I found it and continued to explore the surroundings to find something more inspirational.
Not too far away, more or less halfway of the left-side shore, there was a stage on which a music band played a sort of heavy metal, sounding similar to the Polish metal band… oh, I forgot, what was its name (ett namn)?
Seepsteen (Sias van Schalkwyk)
Oh yes, the name was Vader. Maybe to spice up the atmosphere of the heavy and furious songs, the weather (ett väder) at the venue was about to get bad (such a shame!), as I saw a big grey-blue cloud (ett moln) thereover.I gave the gig a better look.
Seemingly, the frontman had a sibling (ett syskon) in the same band, but the difference between them was that, unlike his brother, he wore a weird blue beard (ett skägg).
Maybe that’s because he’d always had a big ego (ett stort ego) and wanted to show off? Or simply got crazy on drugs (ett knark). Apart from that, whenever he didn’t sing he sipped his beer (ett öl). And…
If you would like to know how my short story continues, I can only say, that on the right side of the beach one can see a big company (ett företag) which processes the water (ett vatten) to make it clear again before letting it into the sea.
Not to mention other countless objects. If one day there’s no more place available at the seaside, I’ll certainly check what’s behind the distant tip of land so that I could go on with my travel. And you’re invited too!
Let’s take a look
That’s not a place to sugarcoat anything so let’s get straight to the meat of the matter.
Have you noticed how static Mariusz’s picture is? There is very little action and far too few emotions. If you see a book which reminds of your mistakes you should punch it time and time again! Guys on the stage should go crazy since they are likely to be stoned!
Action and emotions are the mortar of your associations. If used appropriately, they can increase your recall manyfold.
too few distinctive places
I don’t know exactly how the said beach looks like. But the thing about beaches is that there are not many distinctive places there to place many pictures. It might work assuming that we don’t flood such a scene with too many associations but in the long run it’s not good enough.
Variations of this method
You might say that the example used in this article was pretty useless, after all, there were only two articles. What about German where there are 3 of them?! Or about Russian where the grammatical gender is not even specified by an article?!
Well, the main principle doesn’t change – we just need two distinctive locations to memorize the grammatical gender. Logically, the nouns which don’t appear in any of the stories placed in these locations must fall into the third gender category – piece of cake!
That’s it, have fun and let me know if you decide to use this method (or have used it already!).
I guess that I didn’t take this one, crucial thing into consideration when I published my article about fun ways to read.
Some people have the short attention span or even add ADD. And it’s quite difficult to read anything with such a condition. Or to do anything for that matter. You know how it goes – halfway through an article tears come down to your eyes and your brain starts yelling
It’s like being drunk – you start with one activity (like reading), your mind goes blank and just a few moments later you realize that you’re arranging matches in the order of importance.
“How did I get here?”. And it happens to the best of us.
This video serves us as a grim reminder of our times.
As you know Wikipedia is available in many languages. What you might not know that there is the magical link in the left top corner of the website which randomly chooses some Wiki page for you!
How AMAZING is that?!
I’m seriously addicted to browsing Wikipedia daily. And I hope you can get hooked on it as well.After all, there are not many beneficial addictions around, so don’t be picky!
Instructions are staggeringly simple:
1) change the language of the Wikipedia to your target language (in my case it’s often Spanish and French) 2) click this wonderful button 3) start reading
Advantages of this approach
It’s not a perfect solution (but is there really such a thing?!) but you have to appreciate the obvious advantages of this method
1) You get your daily reading practice done (duh!)
2)The reading material is diversified
3) If you get bored you can switch what you read within just a few seconds
4)You boost your creativity. It’s a great way to ensure the constant inflow of interesting information.Since creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, it’s a great way to improve your problem-solving skills
5)You increase your general knowledge. You’ll be shocked how many breath-taking things you can get to know in just 15 minutes per day.If you aim at being silver-tongued and well-rounded, it’s definitely the way to go!
Go ahead, give it a try! And let me know if you find something interesting!
You start reading some article or book and within seconds you feel overwhelmed with vocabulary. Which words should you learn? ALL of them?
That's a little daunting prospect, isn't it? But good news everybody! You can create your own frequency list out of any text you want, and you can do it for free!
But first things first.
The main advantage of frequency lists
It helps you to use your time wisely. I know you have thousands of things to do. That's why you should be concentrating on the words which occur the most frequently.
Once you master the most useful vocabulary, you can focus your effort on learning less common words. Such strategy guarantees that you'll be able to immerse yourself in the language much faster than usually.
To get you started, here is the link to frequency lists of over 40 languages:
Of course, be aware that there are always differences between frequency lists of spoken and written language. You should always take it into consideration and adjust it to your goals.
How to create your own frequency list in less than 1 minute
Yes, it's really that simple. And you don't have to know how to program to do this. The name of the solution is Word Cloud.
There are countless uses of this tool but just a few days ago it dawned on me that it can be really useful in language learning. There are many websites of this kind which I'll list at the end of this article but the one I like the most isToCloud.com.
It presents words in a really clear way and it's very user-friendly. Let's take a look.
As you see, there aren't many options and there is even a little question mark on the right in case you have any doubts.
Usually, the only thing you have to do is paste the url with the article into the Page field and that's it! Alternatively, paste a text directly into the Text field.
You know it, I know it, pretty much everybody knows it.
You should try reading more in your target language.
But it's hard. It's hard to force yourself to sit down and to do it. And that's why 99% of articles suggest that you should read something which is interesting to you. And it's a really great piece of advice. Seemingly, I mean.
Why? Because sometimes, even if you're at an intermediate level, pure interest is not enough to pull you through an article. I love neuropsychology, physics, and statistics.
But reading about it with my bad French would be as fun as sticking needles in my back and pretending that I'm a hedgehog. So no, that's not the way I start reading.
So how do I do it?
Well, the article's title probably gives away a little bit about what I read. I start with things which I consider a huge waste of time. BUT only in the languages, I'm fluent in.
That's why I prey on my most primitive instincts to keep myself focused on reading. I hope that this list will help with your studies. And please don't judge me, I'm just a man!
1. COMIC BOOKS
Let's be clear about one thing - I don't consider comic books to be a waste of time! So go ahead, unleash your inner child!
Usually, the storyline and pictures make it a breeze to finish reading and keep you coming back for more! Here's the website with free comic books in 9 languages (including English): Comicbookplus.com
2. BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Because who doesn't like dragons and fluffy stuff? The biggest website with free children books is: ChildrensLibrary.org
They have books in thousands of languages! Well, not really, but definitely in over 30 languages! And here's the website with picture books: ChildrenBooksForever.com
3. SONG LYRICS
One of my favorite ways to learn. Emotions and melody create a powerful mix which makes reading really enjoyable. What's more, lyrics are usually short so they don't require a lot of attention.
Simply choose a band singing in your target language and google the title of the song + lyrics/text. It works for most of the languages. Of course for the languages which are more exotic, you might want to check the translation of "lyrics".
Most of the time I choose to read comments on Reddit, YouTube and below some interesting articles elsewhere. Usually, they are either quite witty or interesting which makes them really appealing.
I personally hate any kind of gossip. It sucks time and energy right out of your life. But you can't deny that as people, we're generally nosy. That's why I try to use this vice to my advantage and read gossip-related online magazines.
To find such websites try to google: "news about celebrities" or any word combination of that kind.
It's a safe bet that you have heard about short-term memory (a.k.a. working memory).
But have you ever considered it a potential source of problems with knowledge acquisition?
Personally, it took me a long time to see it that way. We all know and have heard about not multitasking and about avoiding distractions when we try to do something productive.
But as it turns out these are merely a part of the bigger picture. But first thing is first - capacity of working memory is often described using Miller's number. Basically, it means that you can memorize 7 (give or take 2) bits of information.
What's more the duration of short-term memory seems to be anything from 20 seconds up to 40-50 minutes, depending on the kind of information and the way of encoding?
Let's try to imagine a process of memorization in some picturesque way.
A funnel might be the capacity of our working memory, while donuts are bits of information we want to absorb. Let's say that the information is stored when a donut passes through the neck of the funnel.
So what might go wrong?
What narrows the neck of the donut funnel?
In other words - what decreases the capacity of working memory? Well-known culprits are:
Lack of sleep
We all have met some guy (once or twice) who say "I swear man, I can pull a couple of all-nighters without any problem" But then you look at him and it turns out that he's having a feverish conversation with a chair.
Depending on the study, a week of sleeping 4-5 hours per night seems to be an equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. In the meantime, your brain burns through the sugar stored in your body making you crave all the sugary goodies.
Did I mention that the first parts of the brain which fall victim to sleep deprivation are the ones responsible for higher order thinking? Because who really needs abstract thinking when you barely stand on your feet!
Remedy: try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night
Lack of exercise
Shortly - many studies have proved that exercise stimulates new brain cell growth, increases connections between cells, and improves attention span.
Remedy: run fatty, run!
Your brain is a powerful and formidable machine which needs its fuel to function properly. And let's be honest - you know that McDonald won't cut it.
Remedy: in order to keep your brain well-oiled and ensure the formation of new brain cells feed your brain with proteins, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B, folate, zinc and drink much water.
Stress triggers the Flight-or-Fight response. As a result, your body releases hormones like adrenalin or cortisol.
You know the feeling - your heart rate increases, your hands get all sweaty, you feel the surge of anxiety mixed with energy. And the thing is that, of course, such a reaction is completely natural. The problem appears when you face chronic stress.
As a result, you may fall victim to obesity, depression, ulcers, sexual dysfunction.
Remedy: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Remember to do something to unwind every day. Get a massage, play with your kids, feed the pigeons - whatever floats your boat.
In today's world, it's considered normal to multitask at work or at home. Many people take great pride in doing many things at the same time, or in switching from one task to another. It saddens me greatly.
Cognitive costs of such a behavior are really huge. That's not a big deal when you don't work on anything productive at the moment. But if you really want to be productiveand achieve some goal, you should learn how to focus on just one thing in any given moment.
Such an approach helps to tune out all the distractions and get the most out of your time. And don't be one of those people who say "BS, I know how to multitask productively". You can't.
Remedy: turn off your mobile-phone! Buy ear-plugs (this is my method) and find some quiet place to work on your project(s).
How to widen the neck of the donut funnel?
Trying to stuff 20 or 50 donuts through the narrow neck of the funnel would be plain crazy. Logic tells us that we should do something to widen the neck of the funnel.
So how can we do it?
Well, there are temporary solutions like medication and electrical brain stimulations but I guess they are a bit risky. More permanent solutions cover two things:
Let me quote you results from one of the latest studies concerning working memory (it can be found here):
Crystallized intelligence (Gc) is thought to reflect skills acquired through knowledge and experience and is related to verbal ability, language development1, and academic success. [...] While previous studies have indicated that gains in intelligence are due to improvements in test-taking skills, this study demonstrates that it is possible to improve crystallized skills through working memory training.
Such a training concentrates mainly on mnemonics. It is important to know that memory uses them to trigger various physiological responses.
Depending on the techniques you use, mnemonicsmight include tastes, touch, emotions (fear, love, anxiety, pleasure), images, sounds, etc. All together they help you to remember better.
What's more, since all the images created with help of mnemonics are placed in different locations, it's much easier to "widen" the neck of our donut funnel and increase the amount of information you acquire.
The second method which can help us with widening the neck of the donut funnel is called "chunking". The essence of this method is to break up strings of information into units, or chunks if you will. It simplifies such a string and makes it easier to memorize.
It seems impossible to memorize it quickly. But let's try to slice this string into smaller 3-digit strings.
424 862 365 935 636 235 861
Now let's imagine that these numbers express how far you were able to throw a rotten herring. You started with a decent throw of 424 m then it got better. And so on.
If you are a sports fan you might try to use 4-digit chunks and treat them as the time needed to run a 400 m. Be creative and come with some other way of breaking up this string!
The main takeaway is that you can improve your working memory by either unburdening it or by training it. As always - it's not easy and takes dedication. But once you take the first step in the right direction it gets only better.
Think ahead and imagine how much you can change and achieve in your life if you only improve your memory. And don't put it off. Choose the first strategy which you want to implement and start using it!.
I'll leave with a great talk about working memory. Enjoy!
Not to mutilate anyone, of course, but to have his confidence, strength, KNOWLEDGE... (and it's sure as hell more interesting than being "Jeff, an IT guy.")
And we all know that no assassin would be complete without secret knowledge of poisons. With knowledge like that - who would ever tread on you?
But what does it have to do with learning?! I rush to explain.
Usefulness In Learning
There are many principles which help us to understand how to memorize more effectively. But there is one which has a key function in our lives.
Your brain discards most of the information you come into contact with. It is useless. Why would you remember some date or a name of an obscure plant?
SURVIVAL - that's what important.
And needless to say, your profession is indispensable to your survival. Cooks remember recipes better than most non-cooks. Programmers have a better memory of code than people who simply dabble in coding.
And the list goes on... But let's concentrate on USEFULNESS.
Who Would You Like To Be?
I know that you have your profession. This is what you're great at and you stick to it - fully understandable. But what if you could create a set of characters to improve your life (and your learning curve)? Just like in role-playing games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons).
You could be anyone you want, even if just for a day!
The Power Of Belief
But does pretending to be someone you're not make some knowledge useful? Yes, it does. It does if you choose to believe that you can be that person. Our brain is the most magnificent thing in the whole universe. And it has a truly breath-taking quality.
It can't tell fiction from reality. Just look at what power of belief can do to you:
I've prepared a list of 5 popular food products which contain various poisons. Of course, such products would be lethal only in extreme situations (and large doses) so take it with a grain of salt!
cherries - contain cyanogenic glycosides
Cherry (Prunus cerasus), as well as other Prunus species such as peach (Prunus persica), plum (Prunus domestica), almond (Prunus dulcis), and apricot (Prunus armeniaca). Leaves and seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides. (Wiki)
"When the seeds of cherries are crushed, chewed, or even slightly injured, they produce prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide). Next time you are eating cherries, remember not to suck on or chew the pip" (http://listverse.com).
apples - their seeds contain cyanide
"Apple seeds are very often eaten accidentally but you would need to chew and consume a fairly high number to get sick.
There are not enough seeds in one apple to kill, but it is absolutely possible to eat enough to die. I recommend avoiding apple eating competitions!" (http://listverse.com).
"Most people are unaware that marlin has been documented to accumulate harmful levels of mercury.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health guidelines for fish consumption indicate that any fish with a mercury level greater than 1.5 parts per million (ppm) should not be consumed in any amount.
Marlin, especially large specimens, have been found to contain mercury levels as high as 15 ppm, or 10 times the EPA limit." (Source: http://takemarlinoffthemenu.org)
Potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, of which the most prevalent are solanine and chaconine. Solanine is also found in other members of the Solanaceae plant family, which includes Atropa belladonna ("deadly nightshade") and Hyoscyamus niger ("henbane") (see entries below). The concentration of glycoalkaloid in wild potatoes suffices to produce toxic effects in humans. (Wiki)
"Potatoes (like tomatoes) contain poison in the stems and leaves – and even in the potato itself if left to turn green (the green is due to a high concentration of the glycoalkaloid poison).
Potato poisoning is rare, but it does happen from time to time. Death normally comes after a period of weakness and confusion, followed by a coma.
The majority of cases of death by potato in the last fifty years in the USA have been the result of eating green potatoes or drinking potato-leaf tea". (http://listverse.com)
Prepare "The Action Plan" - A Story That Is
We also tend to remember stories better than facts.
That's why, to remember these poisons better, we can come up with some interesting story.
Let's say that you have an imaginary enemy called Bob. And, to put it gently, you're not the biggest fan of his. Why not invite him for a fancy dinner?
Compose the aforementioned products into the meal which Bob won't ever forget. Let it be a reminder to him that nobody messes with the assassin!
The huge takeaway from this article is that our brain creates its own reality. If you believe it - it's true.
Sotry to be creative- come up with your secret alter egos which can help you to memorize information better from the fields of your interest. Fake it until you make it.
And remember to put your knowledge to good use! I guess to balance this article, next time I should write about being a druid and healing...!
What other poisonous food ingredients do you know?
Can you feel it? We're going on an adventure! By now, you should have everything we need to start learning.
If you've read the first part of this guide you should have some grammars book. Internet sources are also acceptable but book is always more reliable.
But before we start, just a small disclaimer.
THE SMALL DISCLAIMER
The process which I'm about to present work like a charm for me. But we're all different, so remember that your approach might vary from mine. That's why you should consider tweaking them a little bit so they're more tailored for your needs.
This part of the guide will seriously get you started but of course, it's not possible to cover all complexities of particular languages. I'm selective.
I don't give a damn about being 100% correct at the beginning because nobody cares. You know what is really tiring? Stuttering with perfect grammar every second word.
Sure, you'll make mistakes but it rarely happens that they are serious.
- "I really do love rapes officer!" - "Pardon me? You are a sick and twisted person! Oh, wait! Did you mean grapes?" - "Oh yeah, me thanks and love you long time!"
You see? At least you're politely making a conversation.
TWO MAIN BRICKS OF YOUR LEARNING FOUNDATION
There are two things which you should know before learning anything - your baseline and general outline of the subject you're about to learn.
So what's baseline?
This is the manner in which you can refer what you already know to the material you want to acquire. It's possible most of the time. However, sometimes you have to be really creative!
When you learn a new language, you can, of course, compare it to the ones you already know.
If yours is only to read or write - it's still the approach I would choose as it helps you to build a grammatical scaffolding where you can later set vocabulary.
Grammatical correctness usually follows quickly once you start speaking. To depict the said process, I'll use Esperanto as an example.
It's much easier than most languages and that's precisely why it is perfect. Just like scientists who use simple organisms to understand more complex ones. I'll use an easy language as an example so you can later transfer this knowledge to more complex ones.
HOW TO USE THIS PART OF THE GUIDE?
I suggest the following - go through it (more or less) step by step. It'll set you on the right path.
But the most important advice which I can give you is - ignore ALL the other things from further steps until you cover the ones you're actually trying to learn. It takes the burden of overthinking off of you.
When should you move to the next step?
Once you can use the structures from the current one with confidence. Of course, feel free to change the order of these steps and adjust them to you if you feel it suits you better.
FIRST BABY STEP- Personal Pronouns
The first question which we have to ask ourselves is: what elements of language are the most important? The answer is - the ones which you can't substitute with anything else.
That's why I always start with personal pronouns (subject pronouns). For the sake of brevity, I'll limit my examples to a singular form.
Step 2 - PRESENT TENSE
Once we get a grasp of subject pronouns we can move to present tense. This choice begs the same question as before.
Why present and not past or future tense? Assuming that we have really little time at our disposal, we can always say something like:
"I eat dinner yesterday" "she goes there in 3 days"
Sounds terrible - I'm pretty sure we all agree here BUT It helps you to get your message across! If there are more than 1 present tense in your target language, it's better to choose the one which's used for general events
Step 3 - CONJUGATION
Esperanto makes everything simple. All verbs in present tense have endings -AS.
Obviously, in a language of your choice, you'll face more conjugations. And the great thing is that you know how many because you learned beforehand what the grammar outline of your target language looks like. (You READ it, right?)
Now we have to learn how to construct:
Questions are least important as you can always ask one using an affirmative sentence and changing your tone of voice.
AFFIRMATIVE SENTENCE (in present tense)
POSSIBLE TRAPS: In many languages the order of the sentence is fixed - e.g. The conjugated verb is always the second sentence element in German.
Be aware of it.
Let's select some verbs, so we can start creating sentences.
Short list of the most useful verbs:
an = povi must / have to = devi should = devi might / may = povi have = havi be = esti get = ricevi give = doni take = preni want - voli need = bezoni buy = aĉeti sell = vendi go = iri come = veni
and 3 nouns
money= mono time= tempo book = libro
Now the best part - building sentences:
mi prenas libro = I take a book ŝi vendas mono= she sells money vi havas tempo= you have time
Please note that these sentences are incorrect (we should add -n to nouns in this case) - I'm trying to show the process of grammar acquisition as precisely as it is only possible.
As for now, we know nothing about declension. Nevertheless, such sentences can be understood without any problem.
Typically, we can negate either a verb or a noun. The most important for us is how to negate verbs. In English, we use the adverb "not" to do so. In Esperanto, we can do it using "ne" before verbs.
Mi ne havas mono = I don't have money ŝi ne vendas mono = she doesn't sell money vi ne havas tempo = you don't have time
Some most popular ways to form a yes-no (i.e. close-ended) question in many languages is to use intonation, inversion (present in English), inflection, auxiliary verbs (do, have, etc. in English) or a grammatical particle.
The latter is true in, among others, Polish, Esperanto and French. In Esperanto, we use the particle "ĉu".
love = ami Do you love money?= ĉu vi amas mono ? Do you have a book?= ĉu vi havas libro?
If we want to learn some more details, it's great to know the most popular interrogative words:
List of interrogative words
which what whose who whom where when how (much, many, often) why
Who = kiu, what = kio Who do you love? = Kiu vi amas? What does he want?= Kio li volas?
Step 4 - OTHER USEFUL PRONOUNS
The final step to make our sentences clearer and fancier is to learn some more personal pronouns
POSSIBLE TRAPS: You have to be aware that in some languages you can encounter many categories of pronouns depending on the case.
my - mia your - via his - lia her - ŝia
Let's add two adjectives to spruce things up a bit:
big - granda* cheap - malmultekosta*
* All adjectives in Esperanto end with -A
My book isn't big - Mia libro ne estas granda His time isn't cheap - Lia tempo estas malmultekosta
me - min you - vin him - lin her - ŝin
She loves you (yeah, yeah, yeah) - ŝi amas vin Do I need her? - ĉu mi bezonas ŝin?
Why are they so great?
Because you can simply learn them, point at some object and grunt:
"This!" "Not this, that!"
this - (ĉi) tiu that - tiu these - (ĉi) tiuj those - tiuj
This person is stupid - Tiu persono estas stulta He gives that money - Li donas tiu mono*
* I still make mistakes on purpose. It should read "li donas tiun monon".
List of indefinite pronouns:
enough little less much more most several few fewer many more most no one nobody neither none everybody everyone all both someone something some anyone anything either any
Someone = iu, everything = ĉio She knows everything = ŝi scias ĉio Someone wants you = iu volas vin
after although as as far as as if as long as as soon as as though because before even if even though every time if in order that since so so that than though unless until when whenever where whereas wherever while and nor but or yet otherwise so either...or not only...but (also) neither...nor both...and
The ones that are the most important to me at the beginning are: because, and, but, or, after, before, that, that's why, to, although, if, until, since, although, otherwise
Conjunctions give us this nice feeling of confidence when we speak. They combine two or more sentences and add a great touch of logic and cohesion to them.
because = ĉar I love you because you're pretty = Mi amas vin ĉar vi estas bela
understand = kompreni I understand that's why I sell = Mi komprenas tial mi vendas
That's it when it comes to grammar basics. More to come!
You can create your own context and the world within a language. You'll have time to adjust the accuracy later.
As long as use logic and try to avoid any idiomatic expressions you should be understood.
Know the general outline of grammar before you start
Learn grammar step by step, once you feel quite comfortable within some grammar structure - move on
If you want to start speaking as fast as possible, learn the thing which can't be substituted with anything else first
Your brain craves sense and meaning - create your own context, have fun, start saying some silly stuff!
Embrace imperfection, we all have to start somewhere