I like to collect all sorts of nonsensical sayings about language learning. There is an overabundance of them, but one of my favorites is: "children learn quickly."
"Nonsense?!" you might say with indignation. "Don't all children speak well at a young age?"
I don't think we should be putting on a pedestal the mental achievements of a being for whom one of the more impressive skills is the ability to fart and sneeze simultaneously.
But let's not rely on guesses and assumptions. It's time to put on some "scientific" trunks and dive into the sea of scientific research to find out what the real pace of children's learning is.
Why Adults Learn Languages Faster
SIZE OF VOCABULARY IN CHILDREN AGED 1-7 years
To be able to count anything, we need to start with basic data and look at the average vocabulary of children aged 12 months (when they start to say the first words) up to the age of 7.
Due to the availability of data on this subject, I will use the numbers given for an average American child. I think that these numbers will still be a decent reflection of the average child for other languages, especially considering that English is one of the most lexically developed languages in the world.
Remember that in linguistics, there is no single and strict definition of a word. Depending on the data, one word is, well, just one word (a unique selection and order of letters). In other studies, the word and all its inflections are counted as one word. For example, according to this classification, the words "jump," "jumped," "jumping," etc. are treated as one word. If you see a particularly large number in this table, it means that each word is counted separately.
Children speak their first words around the 12th month. Some children need a little more time - about 16 months. However, it is believed that the later time horizon is still within the norm.
At 18 months, children usually use about 50 words (but we don't worry too much unless they have less than 10-20).
At 24 months, children usually have expressive vocabulary of 200-300 words (but we don't worry too much unless they have less than 50).
At the age of 3, children can have 500 to 1100 words in their vocabulary.
At 5-7 years, children have a vocabulary of 3000-5000 words.
SIZE OF VOCABULARY IN CHILDREN - EXCEPTIONS
Of course, it is worth remembering that this is average data. Depending on the child's intellectual predisposition and the upbringing, he or she may develop faster or slower.
For example, a child in the ninetieth percentile at 16 months knows the same number of words as a 26-month-old child in the tenth percentile.
Why this range?
There is at least one study (Hart and Risley, 2006), which suggests that the size of the vocabulary of a child aged three is closely related to the number of conversations that adults have with this child. Interestingly, the differences in language development and IQ in such children were still visible at the age of nine!
It is, of course, only a curiosity for anyone interested, especially current and future parents.
Let's return to our example. We already have the most important data; now, it is time for some calculations to prove that adults learn languages faster than children.
How Many Words a Day Does an Average Child Learn?
As an example, let's choose a 5-year-old child. And not just any child! Suppose he is littleJohn von Neumann, and he already knows 6,000 words - a number that is well above the average for this age.
Of course, let us assume that the child of this age also has decent grammar and can put these words together quite appropriately.
This extraordinarily well-developed child had about 1,825 days from birth, or 1,460 days since pronouncing the first word, to master 6,000 words.
His average learning pace is therefore:
3.29 words per day (from birth)
4.11 words per day (from 12 months)
How do these numbers make you feel?
I can only assume that "Well, four words a day. Respect. Hats off. How do they do it?!" is not the first thought to cross your mind. There is nothing impressive about these numbers. Instead, they show one thing: young children learn very slowly.
If you can stand the deadly pace of learning 5 words per day, you'll do better than our wise, exemplary child. It's heartwarming, eh?
It is worth remembering that for every person, also for a child, the so-called snowball effect applies.
The snowball effect states that the greater your knowledge (especially in a given field), the faster you can learn.
It means, more or less, that the older the child is, the more new words will be learned per day on average. Many sources say that later in adolescence, this number ranges between 10-14 words (Lipsett / Mehrabian and Owens numbers are from Language Development - An Introduction; Robert E. Owens, Jr .; Allyn and Bacon; 1996).
I will repeat my question: Is such a pace in any way crazy and exceeds the capabilities of an adult? Surely not.
Remember that the snowball effect also applies to you - the more words you know, the faster you will learn more. Besides, as an adult, you have a whole range of attributes and skills unavailable to children:
All these factors make you a real harvester of knowledge!
Adults Learn Languages Faster - Summary
Let it be said again - adults learn languages faster than children!
I have witnessed incredible language acquisitions of people who thought that they could not learn quickly (or that it was impossible), and who within 10 months reached the level of B1 / B2 in the language of their choice (you can read more about it here).
Such a pace of learning exceeds the abilities of even the most gifted children. I think that if we would like to learn something from children, it would be to be persistent in pursuing a goal.
I hope that moving forward you will be more optimistic about your abilities!
Not everyone is equal in the kingdom of languages. There is one group that is mercilessly oppressed — one group which suffers from a crippling disease called SOCIAL ANXIETY.
It’s a terrible, terrible malady. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to keep your fears and anxiety in a padded cell of your brain. They always scrape their way out to feed your soul with poison. Even if only through the cracks.
But does it mean that you can’t learn a language because of it? Hell no!
I used to suffer from anxiety-induced panic attacks in the past. I sat in my room for days with curtains closed until I ran out of food. Those days are, luckily, long gone. Although anxiety still looms the dark corners of my mind.
So if you are also a victim of this condition – don’t worry. Here is the list of six ideas that you can use to learn to speak a foreign language with social anxiety.
How To Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety
1) Don’t find a teacher, find a friend
There is a good chance that you don’t want to talk to others because you don’t know them.
You don’t feel comfortable baring your soul in front of them. Every cell in your brain sends you warning signals – watch out; they are out to get you.
But you don’t feel this way around friends or people you trust, do you?
That’s why this is probably the best way to approach language learning for those anxiety stricken. You won’t be able to get any panic attacks or feel anxious with a friend by your side.
Discussing anything becomes much easier when you grow attached to another person. You don’t even have to suffer from anxiety to be able to benefit from such a relationship.
Having such contact with another person drastically changes the way you experience lessons. You don’t sit in front of a stranger who doesn’t give a shit about your day or well-being. You sit in front of someone who cares. Such a bond makes all the conversations much more meaningful and memorable, as well.
That’s why you should pay close attention to a person who will become your language partner or your teacher.
Look for similarities. Try a lesson to make sure that this person is trustworthy. And, what’s most important, don’t be a weirdo. “Hi, my name is Bartosz. Do you wanna be my friend?”. Ugh.
2) Talk To Yourself
What 99% of people seem to miss is that you don’t necessarily need countless hours of talking with others to be able to communicate freely in your target language.
Because almost all hard work is done in solitude. Learning vocabulary, grammar, listening. All that you can do on your own.
Of course, it’s great to have some private lessons from time to time to make sure that you are on the right track. But other than that – you will be fine on your own. You can create your feedback loops to make sure that you are speaking correctly.
Talking doesn’t necessarily mean discussing philosophical treatises face-to-face. It’s perfectly fine to stick to written communication. In the era of the internet, you are just a few clicks away from millions of potential language partners.
Here is a list of websites where you can find some language exchange partners:
We might be the pinnacle of evolution, but in some regards, we are no different from your average gopher or a sloth. You can easily get conditioned to react to specific circumstances in a given way.
Why? Habituation. That’s why.
Habituation is a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentations. Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus which is no longer biologically relevant. For example, organisms may habituate to repeated sudden loud noises when they learn these have no consequences.
Habituation usually refers to a reduction in innate behaviours, rather than behaviours developed during conditioning in which the process is termed “extinction”. A progressive decline of a behavior in a habituation procedure may also reflect nonspecific effects such as fatigue, which must be ruled out when the interest is in habituation as a learning process. – Wikipedia
c) LOW ANXIETY LEVELS (face-to-face conversations)
go to a nearby language café and talk with others
find the nearest language meeting on MeetUp.com and go there
Any start is a good start as long as you start.
5) Reframe your thoughts
There is a good chance that you have heard about reframing your thoughts. The basic premise is very simple.
Every time you catch yourself being anxious about some situation, you should look at it from a different perspective.
Instead of saying, “Gosh, she sure wouldn’t like to talk with me,” you can change it to, “I bet she is bored right now and would love to have a nice chat with me.”
I know. It sounds corny.
The first time I heard this piece of advice, I felt as if a ragged hobo tried to jam a lump of guano in my hand, saying, “Just pat it into your face, and you will gain superpowers.”
Little did I know that this advice is as brilliant as it is simple. Much water passed under the bridge before I finally started applying it.
But why does it work? Because such is the nature of memories. They are not set in stone and perennial.
Research conducted by Daniela Schiller, of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and her former colleagues from New York University, shows us something truly amazing.
Schiller says that “memories are malleable constructs that are reconstructed with each recall. We all recognize that our memories are like Swiss cheese; what we now know is that they are more like processed cheese.
What we remember changes each time we recall the event. The slightly changed memory is now embedded as “real,” only to be reconstructed with the next recall. – Source
So what does it all mean?
It means that adding new information to your memories or recalling them in a slightly different context might alter them.
How much? Enough for you to recalibrate how you perceive the world around you! It’s up to you how much you want to reshape your perception of reality.
6) Decide whether you really need to speak a language
It seems like a strange statement. But the truth is that not everyone needs to learn how to speak a language.
Before you dive into the language learning process, be sure that it’s something you want. You shouldn’t feel pressured into doing so just because others do. You don’t want to spend hundreds of extra hours on something you are not going to use.
Remember that every language, even the tiniest of them all, is a skeleton key to the vastness of materials – books, movies, anecdotes, etc. It’s fine to learn a language to be able to access them all.
Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety – Your Strategies
Here is a quick summary of all the strategies mentioned above.
Don’t find a teacher, find a friend
Talk To Yourself
Write instead of talking
Reframe your thoughts
Decide whether you really need to speak a language
How To Learn To Speak a Foreign Language With Social Anxiety – Summary
Overcoming your language learning anxiety can be hard, but it is certainly doable. When in doubt, always keep in mind that our reality is negotiable to a large degree – if you believe you can change, it is possible.
What’s more, you shouldn’t forget that the real work is always done in solitude. Teachers or language partners might show you what to concentrate on, but it’s up to you to put this knowledge into practice.
You don’t have to limit yourself to activating your vocabulary only through speaking. Writing is also a very desirable option.
Before I explain how to improve listening skills in a foreign language, I have one thing to confess.
You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve ignored this skill! I was convinced that mastering grammarand vocabulary is, more or less, enough to have a decent conversation with foreigners. And that these competencies will take care of the rest.
Boy, oh boy, was I wrong! Of course, like all the theories, it all seemed rosy until it got confronted with reality.
How to Improve Listening Skills in a Foreign Language
My “Brilliant” Theory
Years ago, I was obsessing about German. I rolled up my sleeves, got down to work, learned about 8000 words, and got a pretty good grasp of grammar. I could say almost anything I wanted without being too vague. It felt great!
Not so long afterward, I got a chance to visit France. I met an elderly German couple there. “That’s my chance to socialize! That’s my chance to SHINE!”, a naive thought crossed my mind. I approached them and asked them some questions. You know, just an ordinary small-talk. What happened just a moment later left nasty scars on my linguistic self-esteem.
What came out of their mouths was absolute nonsense. They could have, as well, farted with their armpits. My face went red as I asked them, time and time again, to repeat what they had just said. Just one more time. But slower. DAMN YOU! Slower and clearer, I said! And there I stood with glassy eyes, staring at the debris of what was once my theory.
Listening as a Key Language Competence
I guess what I am trying to say is that listening is critical. Since the failure mentioned above, I’ve met many people who are fully functional in the language of their choice just because they understand what they hear.
It’s not that surprising when you think about it. EVERY complex skill consists of several smaller elements. These elements, in turn, are composed of even tinier parts.
Roughly said, communication is nothing more than being able to understand what you hear and being able to express yourself. But as I so painfully learned, listening is much more critical. That’s what makes any social interaction possible.
Since then, I established listening and speaking as a core of my language skills. These skills require an immediate response.
Listening provides you with more sensory channels, such as emotions, hearing visual stimuli (when you listen and watch something). That’s why it’s much easier for you to remember real-life conversations than excerpts from articles.
The final and essential reason to opt for listening is that nobody cares if you read or write slowly. While doing these things, you can typically take your time to double-check anything your heart desires.
“Smith is such a slow reader. I think I’ll fire him.”. Yep, I also have never heard of such a situation. However, it is essential to note that writing and reading are interconnected with speaking and listening. And the progress in any of these areas influences one another.
Improve Listening Skills – Find the Right Resources
Do you have to go through the preparation before the listening practice? Of course not. But don’t be too surprised if you end up getting frustrated quickly or bitterly realize that your progress is excruciatingly slow.
So, where should you start?
FIND THE RIGHT RESOURCES
You might wonder what “right resources” means. The answer is – it depends.
Beginners / Intermediate Learners
If you fall into this category, you should find some simplified materials where the speech is slower, clearer, and ideally – transcribed.
If you’re at least on a B2 level, it means that the only right solution for you is to lay your hands on original programs, talk shows, movies, etc. in your target language.
GET YOUR RESOURCES HANDY
Do you know this annoying feeling when you promise yourself something, and then you can’t seem to force yourself to follow through?
Why is that?
Well, the research (and experience) has it that if you need to spend more than 20 seconds to start doing something, there is a big chance that you’ll fail. The “activation time” should be as short as possible. Choose one or two programs to listen to and make sure that they are just a click away.
Come to terms with the fact that you are not going to understand everything for a long time.
Listen as often as it’s only possible. Listen while doing household chores. Do it when you’re at the gym. Listen when you’re in a car. You get it. LISTEN!
Don’t get annoyed when you don’t understand something. Stress is your archenemy in learning. It’s like with Tibetan throat singing. You won’t be able to wrap your head around it at the beginning. Hmm, I need to work on my comparisons.
And no matter what, don’t give up, you softie! Grin and bear it!
Do not translate into your native tongue. You should be entirely focused on a speaker, not the translation process.
Listen to something you enjoy.
Prepare before listening – quite often it’s possible to check what the news or some program is about. Thanks to this knowledge, you can prepare vocabulary beforehand. If you’re not sure about words that might be used, try to brainstorm them.
Remove distractions – you know why. Interestingly, they’re a welcome addition when you already understand much as they make your listening practice more natural.
Set a goal. You can listen for meaning, for sounds, for tones, for a melody, or stress.
If you find listening incredibly dull, try to gamify your practice – e.g., give yourself 1 point each time when you hear a word starting with P. Or drink one shot of Tequila. Just make sure it’s fun for you!
Build sound recognition. Do you know the most distinctive sounds of your target language? No? Then move to Part 3 of this series. Such knowledge can considerably accelerate your understanding capabilities!
Be aware of how the language changes when it’s spoken. I can’t stress this one enough. If you know how the sounds connect, when they are deleted or inserted, you’ll need much less time to progress!
Look at this example: What are you going to do – Whaddya gonna do?
Being aware of the fact that when a consonant of one word neighbors a vowel of another word, it makes you pronounce these two separate words as one, can help you tremendously with your listening practice.
That’s why you pronounce – “it is” as one word – “itis.”
Another example from English is the transformation of [d] and [y]. When these sounds neighbor each other, they are transformed into [dʒ]
[d] + [y] = [dʒ]
Strategies To Follow During Listening Practice
Throughout the years, I’ve managed to come up with quite many solutions on how I can improve my listening capabilities. Digest them at your own pace, take what you need, and ignore the rest.
Listen for the gist of the conversation. Once you understand it, move on to details
When you watch materials in original, observe mouths of actors/hosts and read their lips.
Try to understand the non-verbal communication of your speaking partner (actors, etc.).
Listen to the melody of the language
Once you get accustomed to the melody of the language, try to separate the ongoing flow of words by (e.g.) pressing your fingers against a table whenever you hear that some word is accented. It’s my favorite trick. Interestingly, sometimes, when I listen to French and perform the said activity, I can understand almost every word. Once I stop, my understanding goes down significantly.
Listen to the first and last letter of a word. It’s especially helpful when you’re just starting your listening practice. In this case, this technique will help separate different words. S ..sm…(smile?), smi…(smirk? smite?), smit… (smite?!), smith (I knew it!)
Use logic to conclude what will follow (get in the habit of guessing).
Listen to a recording more than once. At first, to understand the gist and then to get details.
Slow down the speed of recording. For this purpose, use Audacity, AllPlayer, or simply YouTube.
Speed up the speed of the recording to extend your comfort zone and then move back to an actual pace.
Remember that listening is an active process, note down any phrases or words which you find interesting or don’t understand.
Improve Listening Skills – Summary
Improving listening skills is one of the two most important language skills. Unfortunately, it’s is also terribly time-consuming.
The strategies mentioned above will undoubtedly help you to get faster to the finish line, i.e., understand your target language. Still, you need to keep in mind that the secret sauce is patience. Permanently banish any thoughts of giving up. It is the only way to become successful in language learning.
That’s all, folks! Do you know other listening strategies to improve listening skills? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments.
I wonder if you’re like me when it comes to tracking your progress?
I used to hate it passionately. I mean, how much geekier can you get? And all these vain people scrupulously jotting down their weight. Pathetic!
And then, one day, I decided to buy myself scales. I joyously stepped on them to see that I hit 100 kg mark. WHAT?! I came to my senses around that time and started tracking, not only my weight but my learning progress as well.
Can you imagine a runner who runs around and one day shouts out: “I’m gonna win a marathon”! And then an older man standing nearby strikes a conversation, something along these lines: – “That’s amazing! So what’s your best time so far?” + “Best? Uhmm, dunno, really. I guess it’s not that important to me.” – “Have you ever run a marathon before?!” + “I’m not sure. But once I ran so long that my feet hurt and I had an ouchie.”
That would be weird, right? And yet, a lot of us do it. The question is: Why?
Why You Should Track Your Progress in Language Learning – Habituation
Not only is it a cool word, but also one of the most critical (and frequent) processes that occur in our lives!
Habituation is a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentations. Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus that is no longer biologically relevant. For example, organisms may habituate to repeated sudden loud noises when they learn these have no consequence. The Almighty Wikipedia
And therein lies the rub. We get used to our current skills level. And that’s why we NEED tracking. The best part is that it does not need to be sophisticated to be effective.
At the bare minimum, it should be able to show you if you’re moving in the right direction or moving at all. The chance is that you’re spinning your wheels knee-deep in a turd ocean of self-admiration!
6 Ways To Track Your Progress In Language Learning
My idea of tracking my progress is quite tightly connected to the core language competencies: reading, writing, listening, vocabulary, grammar, and speaking.
Of course, to start tracking anything, you need a place to note your progress. Remember, it doesn’t have to be high-tech. You can use a notebook, Google spreadsheet, Excel, or Calc (Open Office).
I assume that you already use Anki. If you don’t, download it immediately (unless you use some other spatial repetition program).
ANKI makes tracking your progress easy. The first important piece of information for us is the number of words you’ve covered so far.
If you see that within a month you’ve moved from 406 to 700, it’s a clear sign that you’re on the right path.
The second thing worth tracking is the recall rate (especially correct mature).
This piece of information tells us how well you remember the information you learn. If it’s alarmingly low (below 40-50%), it’s a signal that you should seriously consider improving your learning techniques.
Usually, we either read e-books (e-articles) or paper ones. In my opinion, you should track the medium which you use more frequently. When it comes to reading, a good tracking criterion is to note down the number of pages you’ve read.
It doesn’t matter whether you listen to podcasts, music, or watch TV-series. Tally it up and enter the data.
If you write mostly online, start counting how many words you have written (use Word Count Tool). Otherwise, start counting the number of pages you’ve written.
It’s not the easiest thing to track. I’ve never done it as I prefer tracking words. But if you know that speaking is your absolute priority – go for it. Check when the Skype conversation or a meeting with your friend starts and when it finishes, and sum up the total number of hours.
If you put effort into your learning, I’m sure that after just a few weeks, you’ll be amazed to see what you’ve accomplished so far!
It sounds daunting, and I agree. But for me, it comes naturally. As I’ve written before, preparing the outline of grammar is something that should be done before you start learning a language on your own.
Once you have it, start crossing out the grammar topics which you’ve covered or just put a date next to them. It shows how much further grammatically you should get to achieve a certain level.
You can admire your hard work at any time. Open Excel and take a look at yourself, you sexy, hard-working beast! And that helps you stay focused.
3) instant feedback
You see when you slack off or that your learning methods need a change. The data don’t lie! Also, it helps you see patterns in your learning.
4) you don’t focus on the negative
It’s a sad fact, but we tend to focus on negative things in life. Your successes stop giving you joy after a couple of days. We lose sight of our achievements. Your language log will keep on reminding you about them!
Track Your Progress In Language Learning – Summary
Tracking is a powerful tool in language learning. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it. Of course, you don’t have to go over the top. It’s enough that you start tracking elements that are the most important to you.
I love how language learners usually approach grammar. Or grammar books to be more precise! These vademecums seem to adapt the form of slimy, leprosy-ridden yet magical gnome. You know that if you rub its butt long enough, it will grant you your wish. You will be bestowed with the knowledge and wisdom of the language of your choice.
The ultimate prize sounds great. But somehow, it doesn’t entice you to lay your hands on this filthy creature. Not too often anyway.
No wonder. One look at any enormous grammar book sends shivers down my spine.
Because opening a grammar book is like teleporting yourself into the middle of a language maze. It’s hard to find your way out. Everything seems to be so random and chaotic.
Rules. Rules. More rules. You take a left turn, and you get punched in the stomach. You turn to your right, and you get kicked in the head. Only when you take a few steps back and leave the maze, you begin to see things differently. There are patterns. A lot of patterns. And there is one object, almost the artifact, that can grant you this kind of perspective.
The Grammar Cheat Sheet.
A Case For Grammar Cheat Sheet
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner in language learning or a mean linguistic son-of-a-gun. A grammar cheat sheet should be an indispensable part of your learning arsenal.
Before I dive into some of the main reasons why you should embrace grammar cheat sheets, I want to share with you a story about my youngest student.
I usually don’t teach kids. It’s a frustrating experience. I am sure that most parents can relate to! Anyway, Adrian is ten years old and a really bright kid. Although amazingly lazy.
Our first lesson revealed that his collective vocabulary amounted to about 40-70 words. After four damn years of his formal English education, he couldn’t say, well, anything. Of course, he couldn’t even use the words he knew in a sentence.
Not a very promising beginning, right?
However, after explaining the most basic English and writing them on his grammar cheat sheet, something seemingly impossible happened.
He got it, I didn’t even expect it, but he got it!
Eleven hours into our English adventure, he is already able to build basic sentences in 4 tenses he knows. Sure, it takes him some time. The sentences are far from perfect. He still needs to resort to the grammar cheat sheet now and then. But again – 10 hours of dedicated learning beat four years of education.
I’ve had a chance to see more of such success stories with adults. But somehow, this story is the one that stuck with me.
6 Reasons To Create A Grammar Cheat Sheet
1) It Gives You Clarity
Grammar doesn’t look half as scary when it is on one piece of paper. Just take a look at the Japanese grammar cheat sheet (don’t worry if you don’t know Japanese – neither do I.)
Everything is presented in a clear and transparent form. One glance at this page makes us want to learn this language!
It also helps you to concentrate on all the most critical aspects of the language. It’s much easier to notice different patterns. And pattern recognition is something of tremendous value in enhancing memory, mind you!
2) It Decreases the Activation Energy
Activation energy is the initial energy needed to start acting. The more time and steps it takes to start doing something, the higher the chance you won’t do it.
Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.
People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (…), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the “set” being judged.
Repeat this ritual a sufficient number of times, and you end up with the full-blown I-f**ing-hate-grammar syndrome.
The cheat sheet is clear and straightforward and thus should encourage you to learn grammar.
4)It Promotes Learning Independence
Having just one piece of paper that provides you with essential information about the languages can help you become a more effective independent learner.
Whenever one of my students doesn’t know how to create some grammar construction, I always refer them to their cheat sheets. On the surface, it might seem bizarre.
“What the hell is this dude getting money for?”
But the thing is that building a sentence is like doing puzzles. Every piece of a puzzle is a word. Grammar tells us where the given piece should be placed. That’s why, after taking a look at the cheat sheet a couple of times, every student becomes intimately familiar with it.
Using the language ceases to be some voodoo magic. It becomes a logical step-by-step process of putting puzzle pieces into their rightful place.
That’s also the reason why it’s much easier to convince my students to talk with themselves. They don’t need me so desperately anymore.
The said piece of paper can substitute a teacher to some degree!
5) It Helps You Relearn Languages
A lot of knowledge we acquire throughout our lives gets forgotten. At least this is how we commonly refer to the phenomenon of not being able to recall information. However, perhaps the more accurate word, in this case, is “inaccessible”.
As it turned out, even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.
Psychologists Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage from the University of Bristol found out in another research that:
(…) even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.
Maybe one day, you will be forced to take a break from language learning. Perhaps because of work, family, or general suckiness of life.
Either way, when all the bad things fade away, you will have your cheat sheet to refresh your memory quickly. It will give you an excellent general overview of the most critical parts of grammar. Psychologists Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage from the University of Bristol found out in another research that:
6) It Makes You More Fluent
There is this great saying I love.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
The same goes for grammar. We are cognitive misers. We don’t want to use our deposits of cognitive energy if it’s unnecessary. That’s why we cling to the grammar constructions we feel warm and comfortable with.
Seeing all the other constructions, which you don’t use at the moment, in one place can be thought-provoking. It acts as a reminder of different possible ways to express yourself and jars you out of grammar lethargy.
Because, all in all, this is what grammar is – the scaffolding which enables us to build proper sentences. And you can’t make even a ramshackle hut if all you got are some measly sticks.
The Most Important Rule For Creating a Grammar Cheat Sheet
There is just one rule you should keep in mind if you decide to create your grammar cheat.
Make it clear and concise
Your cheat sheet shouldn’t be bigger than one A4 page. It should only contain all the essential grammar rules.Resist the temptation to jot down all the grammar exceptions and constructions nobody even uses.
Blah, blah. It sounds obvious. But very often, once you start creating your cheat sheet, the urge to include as much information as it is only possible sprouts uncontrollably. All so well known voice whispers, “Dude, don’t forget to increase THIS rule. And THAT one as well! Screw it! Rewrite the book! Muahahaha.”
The next thing you see is a 40-page behemoth. If you need more information, you can always create a second grammar cheat sheet for more advanced concepts.
However, usually, it is unnecessary. All you need are the essential rules. You will pick up the rest once you start surrounding yourself with a language (and using it).
Grammar Cheat Sheet – Summary
For reasons I am yet to grasp, grammar cheat sheets are underappreciated and underutilized tools in language learning. While it may take some time to prepare one on your own, it is usually a much better choice than buying one.
Reason? Most of the paid ones suck big time. Don’t be afraid to put some time upfront. You will reap the benefits of this investment for months (or years) to come.
You keep looking nervously at your phone. It’ll be alright; you keep telling yourself. Still, your body doesn’t seem very convinced. Your palms leave sticky stains of sweat on the tabletop in a final cry for help.
Just one more leap and your dream job will be yours. But what to do to make this leap count? Is it even worth making it?
Let’s dig into numbers before I show you how to prepare for a foreign language interview.
The list goes on and on. What’s more, it turns out that it is also a great decision money-wise!
” Assuming an average starting salary of almost $45,000, a 2% “language bonus” average over 40 years, and also a 1% raise annually, you’d have an extra $67,000 by the time you retire. Since you can learn a new language (or two) pretty quickly, that’s a pretty good investment of time “.
Of course, not all languages have the same value. German and French are worth $128,000 and $77,000, respectively, compared to $51,000 for Spanish.
Do you know Japanese or Russian? In that case, you can count on much more!
Now that we’ve established that knowing a language is worth something let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of acing the foreign language interview.
The first station? Mindset.
How to Prepare for a Foreign Language Interview – the Right Mindset
I have never bought corny slogans like “be yourself.” That’s a lazy way of thinking. If I were a pimply, adolescent and were after a girl out of my league, such advice would be useless.
If the girl I like the counterpart of my dream company, then I don’t want to be a pimply loser. Nor should you.
Be ready to step up your game. Trust me; I know a thing or two about language interviews. I’ve been on both sides of the table. I have interviewed and have been interviewed dozens of times in 5 languages.
The first thing you need to know is that the pre-interview preparation is what matters. No amount of luck will shelter you from the unwillingness to put in some hours beforehand.
All the tips are ordered chronologically for your convenience. From the ones, you should use days before the interview to the ones which will be useful hours before it starts.
How To Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview – Strategies
1) Learn Answers To The Most Common Interview Questions
It never ceases to amaze me. There is an infinite number of questions an interviewer might ask. Yet, these are the ones they tend to ask the most:
1. Tell me about yourself
2. What do you know about or company?
3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
4. Why did you leave your last job?
5. What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?
6. What do you do in your current role?
7. Why would you like to work for us?
8. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
9. What kind of qualifications do you have?
10. Why would you like to work for us?
Yes, that’s it. Preparing answers to just these ten questions should drastically boost your chance of getting your dream job.
Of course, the chance is that some companies have slightly different questions sets. If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, visit:
The website gathers all kinds of information about different companies – interview questions, salaries, and so on.
Once you prepare the answers, rehearse them aloud. Do it as many times as necessary.
How many times exactly?
It depends on your current language level, of course. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to recite these questions without any hesitation and unnecessary pauses. And there is a good reason for that. If you stutter in the stress-free conditions, at your home, imagine what will happen when the stress kicks in during the interview.
You will crash and burn.
2) Learn All the Basic Pleasantries
Imagine eating a delicious cake. Your palate experiences a surge of exquisite sensations. What bliss! But then the last bite turns out to be a lump of dung. How do you think you would recall this event?
Negatively doesn’t even come close to describing this experience. But how does it relate to a language interview?
Many candidates are relatively well-prepared when it comes to answering the questions. Very often they don’t know how to exchange everyday pleasantries.
Why is this small element of an interview so important? Because it’s the end of a particular experience.
The peak-end rule says that: If an interviewer sneezes, know how to say “bless you” in your target language. If he says, “thank you for your time and have a wonderful day,” know how to say “likewise.”
People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (…), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the “set” being judged.
If an interviewer sneezes, know how to say “bless you” in your target language. If he says, “thank you for your time and have a wonderful day,” know how to say “likewise.”
3) Prepare Difficult Phrases To Trick The Interviewer
This step requires greater sophistication, but it can be, without any doubt, called the secret sauce of acing the foreign language interviews.
I came up with this sneaky strategy years ago and had battle-tested it many times. Its implementation will immediately make you stand out from the crowd.
Prepare at least ten phrases/idioms which are quite sophisticated. Next, repeat them aloud in the sentences until they become your second nature.
For example, instead of saying:
“I also think that …”, try saying, “Having said that, I would also like to add that … “.
Boring? Maybe. Does it sound more impressive? Hell yeah, it does!
The Purpose of Using Difficult Phrases
The purpose of this strategy is very simple. Such phrases are easily memorable. They distinguish you from others. They will help to artificially boost your potential language level, regardless of how high it is currently.
What’s more, it doesn’t matter if you talk with a native speaker or not. If the interviewer, who is a non-native speaker, doesn’t understand some phrase you say, 99 out of 100, he won’t ask you to explain it.
Why would he? That’d be humiliating! He’s the guy who should know this stuff! If you heard a guy saying:
“I don’t want to sound like a philodox* but I would dare to say that… “
Would you ask him what a philodox means? I guess not. If I didn’t know what the word means, I would just start thinking about why someone would fill some poor dogs**.
And what if you talk to a native speaker?
Even better, in this case, they will know what you said and would probably be in awe because of your fantastic language skills.
* From the Greek philos, meaning love, and doxa, meaning glory, a philodox is a dogmatic person who is especially fond of his/her own opinions
** Phil dox? You know, it sounds like “fill dogs,” right? Anyone…? (Walks away disappointed). It was funny in my head!
Bear in mind that the example mentioned above is a little bit over the top since it’s a very rare word.
4) Prepare Difficult Grammar Constructions
Prepare a few sentences with more advanced grammar constructions that you don’t use normally and rehearse the hell out of them.
Try to build sentences which are as universal as it gets. You have to make sure you can use them at (almost) any point during the interview.
5) Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses To Dominate The Interviewer
I admit. “Dominate” sounds somehow wrong. I don’t suggest that you pee on your opponent to mark your territory and show who is the alpha wolf in this herd.
Every language learner has one language competence which prevails. Be it listening or speaking since these are the ones which count the most during the interview.
By knowing which of them is the strong suit, you can direct the interview into the direction desired by you.
Listening as the Main Strength
If you are a better listener, try to limit your speaking time by asking questions.
For example, the interviewer asks you, “Where do you see yourself in 3 years?”. You give a short answer and then smoothly parry with, “Actually, I’ve been wondering… I would love to stay in this company as long as it’s only possible but can you tell me what other employees think about it?”.
You nod enthusiastically as you listen and then ask another question, “So what do they like the most about it?”.
People love to talk about themselves so you can try to ask the interviewer about his personal experience in this company.
Just a word of warning. Don’t be creepy and socially awkward. You should try to come across as an enthusiastic and inquisitive person. Not a nosy weirdo.
Speaking as the Main Strength
If you’re more of the silver-tongued devil, you should minimize the speaking time of the interviewer. Try to give lengthy answers to every question.
And don’t worry about talking too much. It’s a verification of your language level, not an ordinary interview in your native tongue. Dazzle the poor bastard with your linguistic prowess!
“Hi. It is X from the Y company. Am I speaking with Mr. X?
“I am calling to verify your language level. Shall we start?”
“Of course. Let me introduce myself and say a few words about my previous job/life / other fillers.”
You can’t talk all the time. But at least try to minimize the chance of not understanding the interviewer.
And if you’re feeling unsure about the question? Then you can always salvage yourself by posing a question back.
“So you would like to know……is that correct?”
Just ask the interview to reformulate the question, and you should be fine.
6) Immerse Yourself In A Language Prior To The Interview
Don’t dive headfirst into the dark water. At least dip your fingers first! Warm up before the actual interview by surrounding yourself with your target language!
Listen to some music in the morning
Watch a movie or listen to the radio
Talk to yourself or some other person in your target language
I would suggest doing it for at least 1 hour. But obviously, everything depends on how much free time you have on your hands.
7) Bonus Advice: Apply For Other Positions With Your Target Language
If you’ve found your dream job at some company, it would be a shame if you failed you just because stress ate you up.
That’s why you can put some extra effort and apply for other positions with your target language. Sure, you don’t want to work in other companies but, at least, you’ll get some extra practice!
How To Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview – Summary
As you can see, acing the foreign language interview is not about luck or simply having a perfect command of your target language.
It’s more about having the right attitude, being prepared and using the right strategies. Once you understand it the world is your oyster!
There is no better way to start a piece on the benefits of talking to yourself than to quote Mr. Jones.
“One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody’s listening,” Franklin P. Jones.
You must be thinking now – is there a BAD way to do it? Of course. Believe me, It’s definitely an art. Just like basket weaving.
But seriously – we take our ability to talk to ourselves for granted. I tried to google “talking to yourself” in some languages. The result? Usually, people are trying to make sure that they don’t have schizophrenia.
Taking to Yourself – Why so Many Bad Associations?
Every time, every damn time, when I mention to somebody that I love talking to myself out loud, they give me this weird look. They probably think that I put on my trench coat, get on the bus, sit near some nice old lady, and rub myself while blurting out some incomprehensible words.
That’s a grave misunderstanding. If used the right way, “self-talk,” as psychologists refer to it, can be a handy tool in your mental arsenal. It can, I kid you not, improve almost every area of your life.
No more shameful hiding in the shadows. Embrace your inner voices, and let me walk you through the benefits of talking to yourself!
Cognitive Benefits Of Talking To Yourself
What does the research say about the benefits of talking to yourself?
Research from the University of Michigan found that those who worked through their stress about giving a speech about their qualifications using “you” rather than “I” performed better and were less tormented by anxiety and self-doubt.
When people think of themselves as another person, “it allows them to give themselves objective, helpful feedback“, says Ethan Kross, associate professor of psychology and director of the Self-Control and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Michigan
In another study, psychologists Gary Lupyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Daniel Swingley (University of Pennsylvania) conducted a series of experiments to discover whether talking to yourself can help you to locate lost objects.
Long story short – they established that speaking facilitated search, particularly when there was a strong association between the name and the visual target.
You see? Not only children can augment their thinking while doing some tasks!
Are there any other benefits other than being more likely to stay on task, staying focused better, and showing improved perception capabilities?
Sure! Better memory. Think about it – when you talk out loud, you stimulate more sensory channels than when you subvocalize. You hear the sounds. What’s more, even though you may not realize it, your body feels sounds as they are conducted through your bones.
Fun fact: Bone conduction is one reason why a person’s voice sounds different to him/her when it is recorded and played back.
Last but not least, whenever you say something out loud, you engage your emotions. One of the most potent ingredients to boost your memory.
Research is great. But experiencing something first hand is even better.
Choose some words you’d like to memorize and shout it out angrily or with joy and afterward start laughing like a madman. I’ll be amazed if you can’t recall it a few days later.
Here’s a good example. I’m sure you remember this scene if you have seen the movie.
I hope that by this moment, you’re at least muttering to yourself!
Benefits of Talking to Yourself – Overcoming Stage Fright
Everybody has his favorite tricks to deal with anxiety. But the one which I find the most effective is preparing yourself for what’s about to come.
Have a presentation?
Stand in front of the mirror and go through your presentation as many times as it’s necessary to turn it into a brilliant performance. Who knows? Maybe you will enjoy it that much that you will join Toastmasters.
Have an interview?
Collect the list of 20-30 most frequently asked questions and rehearse the crap out of them!
Want to confront your boss about the long-overdue raise?
List all the possible questions that may come up during such a conversation and prepare your answers. Doing so will put you in a much better position when push comes to shove.
And so on. You get the idea.
Proper preparation kills stress and anxiety.
Benefits of Talking to Yourself – Practicing Languages
What if I told you that you could learn a language without uttering a word to anyone else but yourself? You would probably think I’m crazy. And I certainly am. After all, I’m writing an article about talking to yourself.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I learned Swedish (B2 level) to get the job in less than four months without talking to anyone in Swedish (but myself). And while working 50+ hours per week.
Self-talk enables you to concentrate on your weaknesses. Such deliberate practice can significantly improve your language level.
How to Talk to Yourself?
All conversations are based on the “action-reaction” principle. Somebody asks you some questions – you answer. It goes on and on. That’s why, if you want to prepare yourself for conversations with, say, friends from abroad, you should list potential questions that might come up, together with answers to them. Don’t forget about taking into consideration the interests of potential conversation partners!
Of course, you don’t have to come up with all the questions by yourself.
I want to recommend two fantastic websites which I have been using for many years:
It’s only weird if you make it weird. You don’t have to rush to your friends to brag about this, nor do you have to write an article about this (sic!). It’s just a tool to make you a better person.
It’s perfectly normal. Do you know that computer scientists do it as well (not that it means anything!)?
Rubber duck debuggingis an informal term used in software engineering for a method of debugging code. The name is a reference to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer in which a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck. Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different inanimate objects.
So don’t be a weirdo and don’t feel ashamed to talk to yourself!
Other Benefits of Talking to Yourself
That’s right. You might use the self-talk for various things, such as:
Energizing and motivating yourself – you can psych yourself up with: “Come on!” “Let’s go!” “You can do this!”. Martial artists have been using screams for hundreds of years to give them some extra energy. I’m pretty sure there is a good reason for that.
Playing devil’s advocate – find the weaknesses in your argumentation. Try to debunk your theories. Saying your options out loud and elaborating on the pros and cons can help bring the right choice to light, and you might be surprised at the unexpected direction your thoughts take when they’re audible.
There are just a few things in this world which make me angry and sad at the same time. But the one that takes the cake is reading almost every month for the past few years that soon, oh so very soon, learning languages will become obsolete.
Sure, it is pointless. Why bother? Technology will solve the problem of interlingual communication. So better not waste your time. You’ll be better-off watching re-runs of The Kardashians.
How many people have given up even before they started? Without even realizing that many, oh so many, years will pass before any translation software or magical devices will be able to do a half-decent job.
But is it really only about communication? Have you ever wondered what other benefits language learning has to offer?
The following list includes 80 benefits of language learning. Some obvious, some surprising. I’ve been hand-picking them for many months from different scientific sources.
The list is a work in progress. I’ll keep on updating it every couple of months. Feel free to write to me if you spot somewhere some benefit which is not on the list.
It’s also worth noting that there is a large body of research to confirm each of these benefits of language learning. Although, I usually quote results of just one or two studies to keep this list more concise.
Purpose of the list
The main purpose of this list is to make you realize how many benefits of language learning there are. I hope that such knowledge will help to pull you through all language-learning plateaus.
What’s more, I also hope that it will help you to inspire others to pursue language learning. Your children, spouse, parents. It’s never too late.
Treat is a language-learning manifesto. Print it, hang it on the wall. And every time you feel like giving up, hug your dictionary and stare at this list for a couple of minutes.
Amazing benefits of language learning
If you learn a foreign language…
1. Your brain will grow
Johan Martensson’s researchshows that after three months of studying a foreign language, learners’ brains grew in four places: the hippocampus, middle frontal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus (gyri are ridges on the cerebral cortex).
What happens when you learn languages for more than 3 months and you’re serious about it?
The right hippocampus and the left superior temporal gyrus were structurally more malleable in interpreters acquiring higher proficiency in the foreign language. Interpreters struggling relatively more to master the language displayed larger gray matter increases in the middle frontal gyrus
According to researchconducted by Julia Morales of Spain’s Granada University, children who learn a second language are able to recall memories better than monolinguals, or speakers of just one language.
When asked to complete memory-based tasks, Morales and her team found that those who had knowledge of multiple languages worked both faster and more accurately.
The young participants who spoke a second language had a clear advantage in working memory. Their brains worked faster, pulling information and identifying problems in a more logical fashion.
When your brain is put through its paces and forced to recall specific words in multiple languages, it develops strength in the areas responsible for storing and retrieving information (read more about improving your short-term memory)
Do you remember how hard listening was at the beginning of the language journey? Pure nightmare! And since the brain has to work really hard to distinguish between different types of sounds in different languages, being bilingual leads to improved listening skills (Krizman et al., 2012).
Further references: Lapkin, et al 1990, Ratte 1968.
4. You will have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence
In 1962, Peal and Lambert published a study where they found that people who are at least conversationally fluent in more than one language consistently beat monolinguals on tests of verbal and nonverbal intelligence.
Bilinguals showed significant advantage especially in non-verbal tests that required more mental flexibility.
References: Peal E., Lambert M. (1962). “The relation of bilingualism to intelligence”.Psychological Monographs75(546): 1–23.
5. Your attention span will improve
Photo by Lex Mckee
A study from 2010 shows that bilinguals have stronger control over their attention and are more capable of limiting distractions.
When asked to concentrate on a task, the study’s bilingual participants showed an increased ability to tune out distractions and concentrate on the given task.
They were also better equipped to interpret the work before them, eliminating unnecessary information and working on only what was essential.
Great news everyone! The recent evidence suggests a positive impact of bilingualism on cognition.
So what exactly does it mean?
The research found that individuals who speak two or more languages, regardless of their education level, gender or occupation, experience the onset of Alzheimer’s, on average, 4 1/2 years later than monolingual subjects did.
What’s more, even people who acquired a second language in adulthood can enjoy this benefit!
I’m not a fan of multitasking since it’s harmful to your productivity.
However, according to researchconducted by Brian Gold, learning a language increases brain flexibility, making it easy to switch tasks in just seconds. Study participants were better at adapting and were able to handle unexpected situations much better than monolinguals.
That’s great. But the real question is – why were they better?
The plausible explanation is that when we learn a new language, we frequently jump between our familiar first language and the new one, making connections to help us retain what we’re learning.
This linguistic workout activates different areas of our brain. The more we switch between languages, the more those brain zones become accustomed to working. Once they’ve become accustomed to this type of “workout,” those same areas start helping to switch between tasks beyond language.
Learning a foreign language improves not only your ability to solve problems and to think more logically. It can also increase your creativity, according to Kathryn Bamford and Donald Mizokawa’s research.
Early language study forces you to reach for alternate words when you can’t quite remember the original one you wanted to use and makes you experiment with new words and phrases.
It improves your skills in divergent thinking, which is the ability to identify multiple solutions to a single problem.
Language learners also show greater cognitive flexibility (Hakuta 1986) and are better at figural creativity (Landry 1973).
It sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But before we move on, let’s clarify what executive functions are:
Executive functions (also known as cognitive control and supervisory attentional system) – is an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution. – Wikipedia
The body of research has shown that bilingual individuals are better at such processes; suggesting an interaction between being bilingual and executive functions.
As Anne-Catherine Nicolay and Martine Poncelet, a pair of scientists from Belgium, discovered in their research, learning a language improves individuals’ alertness, auditory attention, divided attention, and mental flexibility. The more you immerse yourself in the new language, the more you hone your executive functions.
In another study, Bialystok gave study subjects a non-linguistic card-sorting task that required flexibility in problem-solving, filtering irrelevant information, as well as recognizing the constancy of some variables in the face of changes in the rules.
Bilingual children significantly outperformed their monolingual peers in this task, suggesting the early development of inhibitory function that aids in solving problems that require the ability to selectively focus attention.
10. You will be better at problem-solving (even at maths!)
In one study, bilingual children were presented with the problems of both mathematical (arranging two sets of bottle caps to be equal according to instruction) and non-mathematical nature (a common household problem represented in pictures) and were asked to provide solutions.
They were rated on scales of creativity, flexibility, and originality. The results confirmed that the bilingual children were more creative in their problem solving than their monolingual peers.
One explanation for this could be bilinguals’ increased metalinguistic awareness, which creates a form of thinking that is more open and objective, resulting in increased awareness and flexibility.
If you want to create a crazy brainiac, teaching your child another language is a way to go!
According to new research, babies exposed to two languages display better learning andmemory skills compared to their monolingual peers.
The study was conducted in Singapore and was the result of the collaboration between scientists and hospitals. Altogether, the study included 114 6 month-old infants – about half of whom had been exposed to two languages from birth.
The study found that when repeatedly shown the same image, bilingual babies recognized familiar images quicker and paid more attention to novel images – demonstrating tendencies that have strong links to higher IQ later in life.
Amazingly, children seem to absorb (even) multiple languages effortlessly.
“The power to learn a language is so great in the young child that it doesn’t seem to matter how many languages you seem to throw their way…They can learn as many spoken languages as you can allow them to hear systematically and regularly at the same time. Children just have this capacity. Their brain is ripe to do this…there doesn’t seem to be any detriment to….develop[ing] several languages at the same time” according to Dr. Susan Curtiss, UCLA Linguistics professor.
Past studies have shown that babies who rapidly get bored with a familiar image demonstrated higher cognition and language ability later on as children (Bialystok & Hakuta 1994; Fuchsen 1989).
A preference for novelty is also linked with higher IQs and better scores in vocabulary tests during pre-school and school-going years.
How many monolingual speakers know what adjectives or gerunds are? Not many. It’s natural. They simply don’t need such knowledge. However, learning a second language draws your attention to the abstract rules and structure of language, thus makes you better at your first language.
Research suggests that foreign language study “enhances children’s understanding of how language itself works and their ability to manipulate language in the service of thinking and problem-solving.” (Cummins 1981).
It sounds like a cliche but let’s say it out loud – your chances of employment in today’s economy are much greater for you than for those who speak only one language.
Multilingual employees are able to communicate and interact within multiple communities. With the rise of technology which enables global communication, such an ability becomes more and more valuable.
What’s more, knowledge of a foreign language conveys, among others, that you’re an intelligent, disciplined and motivated person.
Even if being bilingual is not completely necessary in your field, being fluent in another language gives you a competitive edge over your monolingual competitors.
Of course, feeling that the above is true is one thing, but what about cold hard facts?
In a survey of 581 alumni of The American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Arizona, most graduated stated that they had gained a competitive advantage from their knowledge of foreign languages and other cultures.
They said that not only was language study often a decisive factor in hiring decisions and in enhancing their career paths, but it also provided personal fulfillment, mental discipline, and cultural enlightenment. (Grosse 2004)
15. You will enhance your confidence and sense of achievement
Confidence always increases when a new skill is mastered. Learning a foreign language is no different. It boosts your self-confidence and makes you feel this nice, warm feeling inside.
Knowing a language also makes you more interesting and let’s face it – who doesn’t want to be more interesting?
Evidence from several studies shows language students to have a significantly higher self-concept than do non-language students. (Masciantonio 1977, Saunders 1998, Andrade, et al. 1989).
16. You will score higher on standardized tests
Photo by Dennis Skley
Bilingual students consistently score higher on standardized tests in comparison with their monolingual peers, especially in the areas of math, reading and vocabulary.
How much better are their results?
Results from the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test ) show that students who completed at least four years of foreign-language study scored more than 100 points higher on each section of the SAT than monolingual students. (College Board 2004)
Even third-graders who had received 15 minutes of conversational French lessons daily for a year had statistically higher SAT scores than their peers who had not received French classes. (Lopata 1963)
17. You will think faster
In a small study, bilingual people were about a half-second faster than monolinguals (3.5 versus 4 seconds) at executing novel instructions such as “add 1 to x, divide y by 2, and sum the results.”
Andrea Stocco and Chantel S. Prat of the University of Washington who conducted the research say the findings are in line with previous studies showing that bilingual children show superior performance on non-linguistic tasks.
References: Stocco, A., Yamasaki, B. L., Natalenko, R., & Prat, C. S. “Bilingual brain training: A neurobiological framework of how bilingual experience improves executive function.” International Journal of Bilingualism.
18. You will have better job security
Mastering a language is a skill that requires a lot of time, discipline and persistence. Many people start learning and give up half-way.
That’s why employees who have knowledge of a foreign language are much harder to replace. Of course, the rarer and /or more difficult the language, the stronger your leverage.
19. You will earn more
It comes as no surprise that the knowledge of languages can add a little something to your salary. However, the amount you can get varies significantly from country to country.
So how does it look like for the citizens of the United States?
Albert Saiz, the MIT economist who calculated the 2% premium, found quite different premiums for different languages: just 1.5% for Spanish, 2.3% for French and 3.8% for German. This translates into big differences in the language account: your Spanish is worth $51,000, but French, $77,000, and German, $128,000. Humans are famously bad at weighting the future against the present, but if you dangled even a post-dated $128,000 cheque in front of the average 14-year-old, Goethe and Schiller would be hotter than Facebook. – (www.economist.com)
In the UK, employees who know a foreign language earn an extra £3,000 a year – a total of £145,000 over their lifetime
Companies are prepared to pay workers earning the national average of £25,818 as much as 12% more if they speak or learn a foreign language. For higher earners, the figures are even more startling.
Those earning £45,000 could see a potential cash boost of 20%, amounting to an extra £9,000 a year or £423,000 over a lifetime. – (www.kwintessential.co.uk)
As you can see, knowing a foreign language can be certainly profitable. But please bear in mind that people who know 2 foreign languages earn much more and the reports typically don’t take rare languages into consideration.
20. You will enjoy increased mobility
There are many reasons why people leave their homeland and move to other places. Some look for a better life, others try to find political freedom, love or religious tolerance.
Whatever the reasons might be, knowing foreign languages significantly increases your mobility by removing language barriers and increasing the chances of employment.
What’s more, a stay abroad can positively influence your employability even if you come back to your motherland.
The risk of long-term unemployment after graduation was 50% lower for mobile students than for non-mobile students. Even five years after graduation, the unemployment rate of mobile students was still 23% lower. Also 50% fewer mobile students (2%) than non-mobile students (4%) needed more than 12 months to find their first job. – The Erasmus Impact Study
The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first. – Steven Pressfield
Learning a foreign language is one of the most complicated skills out there which one can master. It’s not your typical “to-do list” which usually consists of just a few, simple tasks. To arrive at your final destination (i.e. mastering a language) you need to learn how to prioritize effectively.
Every language learner faces dozens of decisions each day – what should I learn? When to do it? Should it be reading? If yes, what should I read? And so on.
The constant flood of problems you face every day, helps you to become an efficient learner who knows what is important and what is not.
22. You will make new friends for life
Photo by Sanja Gjenero
Arguably, this is one of the most phenomenal benefits of language learning. Your language skills tear down all communication barriers in the world. In the era of the internet, you can find friends in every corner of the world. Africa, Asia, New Zealand are just a few clicks away.
23. Your memory retrieval will improve
Research at the intersection of cognitive science and education has shown that retrieval improves learning in significant ways. Each act of retrieval changes your knowledge, improving the ability to retrieve knowledge again in the future.
References: Nunes, L. D., & Karpicke, J. D. (in press). “Retrieval-based learning: Research at the interface between cognitive science and education”.
24. You will become a better decision-maker
According to a new study, multilingual speakers are more resistant to conditioning and framing techniques, making them less likely to be swayed by such language in advertisements or political campaign speeches.
It seems that foreign-language speakers are more sensitive and observant when it comes to the words they hear and read.
According to new research, the ability to learn a second language may depend less on linguistic skills and more on the ability to recognize patterns.
In the said study, Frost and colleagues measured how well American students in an overseas program picked up on the structure of words and sounds in Hebrew. The students were tested once in the first semester and again in the second semester.
The results showed a high positive correlation between recognizing patterns in the shapes and learning another language.
“These new results suggest that learning a second language is determined to a large extent by an individual ability that is not at all linguistic,” says Ram Frost of Hebrew University in Jerusalem who conducted the study.
“It’s surprising that a short 15-minute test involving the perception of visual shapes could predict to such a large extent which of the students who came to study Hebrew would finish the year with a better grasp of the language,” says Frost.
The findings could have broader implications beyond language learning.
“This finding points to the possibility that a unified and universal principle of statistical learning can quantitatively explain a wide range of cognitive processes across domains, whether they are linguistic or non-linguistic,” concluded the researchers.
Researchers from Spain and Germany found that the process of learning a language and acquiring a wider vocabulary has the effect of stimulating the same part of the brain as having sex or eating chocolate.
Language learning triggers a part of the brain known as the ventral striatum, a pleasure center that is activated when people are involved in activities such as sex, drugs, gambling or eating sugary foods.
References: Pablo Ripollés, Josep Marco-Pallarés, Ulrike Hielscher, Anna Mestres-Missé, Claus Tempelmann, Hans-Jochen Heinze, Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells, Toemme Noesselt. “The Role of Reward in Word Learning and Its Implications for Language Acquisition”.
27. You will increase your general vocabulary
The results of the recent study showed that bilingualism is highly correlated with the breadth of vocabulary knowledge and reading skill.
In other words, bilingual participants have a larger size of vocabulary knowledge and they enjoy better word reading skills.
References: Zohreh Kassaian, Saeedeh Esmae’li (2011). “The Effect of Bilingualism on L3 Breadth of Vocabulary Knowledge and Word Reading Skill”.
28. You’ll enjoy other cultures much better
Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs.
That’s right. By learning a new language you will be able to gain insights into a different culture, access and enjoy the different entertainment, arts, and customs that have developed in different regions over the centuries.
You won’t have to be forced anymore to listen to movies with mediocre dubbing. No more awkward mumbling while singing songs of your favorite Japanese band!
29. You will be a more aware spender
I must admit that I didn’t expect that language learning can have such a side-effect. But hey! Would science lie?
Anyway, speakers of multiple languages have also been shown to be more self-aware spenders, perceiving “hypothetical” and “real” money (the perceived difference between money on a credit card and money in cold, hard cash) more similarly than monolinguals.
One of the implications of the study, according to its authors is that “people who routinely make decisions in a foreign language rather than their native tongue might be less biased in their savings, investment, and retirement decisions, as a result of reduced myopic loss aversion.”
References: Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa and Sun Gyu An (2012). “The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases”.
30. You will increase information exchange and flow of ideas
If you think English is enough to get all the information from your area of expertise, think again.
Knowledge of languages improves international information exchange thus contributing to various improvements and developments at a national, regional and local level.
Speaking other foreign languages enables you to tap into the vast ocean of information which was not previously available and to pass it on to others.
31. You will increase your global (political) awareness & understanding
While studying another language, you not only learn how to communicate in that language, you also get to know a lot about the country, the culture, and the people. As you progress, you begin to better understand and sympathize with the people who speak the language.
Discovering their history, you experience their pain, share their victories. You begin to see the world through their eyes. And then the magic happens – you create a connection between your own culture and language to theirs and you develop a deeper understanding of your own language and culture.
That often makes you more aware and appreciative of the unique qualities within your own language, people, and culture.
32. You will learn other languages faster
I know. Learning your first foreign language is always hard. You have no plan. You have no idea what you’re doing and where you’re going.
However, mastering one language teaches you the mechanics and structure behind any language (ok, maybe except Basque). That makes learning another language much easier!
33. It will be easier to find a spouse
Loneliness sucks. But thanks to your awesome language skills you might be able to drastically increase your options pool.
You will gain instant access to millions of new people who might be your potential partner. Even ordinary holidays might turn into a love story!
34. You will learn consistency and persistence
Achieving conversational skills in a language takes anywhere from 4-12 months. If you aim at native-like fluency it might take much longer.
The language learning journey is fraught with obstacles. Overcoming these adversities is what boosts your confidence and builds character. Every victory, no matter how small, makes you better equipped to handle future challenges and build consistency and persistence.
35. You will improve the chances of college acceptance, achievement, and attainment
Photo by Sigurd Decroos
The study conducted in 2011 found that students who were in rigorous programs in high school—that included three years of foreign language study—were more likely to get better grades in college and less likely to drop out. (Horn &Kojaku 2001)
Another study showed that high school seniors with two or more years of foreign language study showed significantly improved performance on achievement tests in English when compared with non-foreign language students. (Bastian 1980)
36. You will improve basic skills development
A study of 13,200 third and fifth graders in Louisiana public schools showed that, regardless of race, gender or academic level, children taking foreign language classes did better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not. (Dumas 1999)
37. It will benefit academic progress
In Other Subjects According to the 2007 report by the National Council of State Supervisors For Language:
Strong evidence shows that time spent on foreign language study strongly reinforces the core subject areas of reading, English language literacy, social studies, and math.
Foreign language learners consistently outperform control groups in core subject areas on standardized tests, often significantly. (Armstrong & Rogers 1997; Saunders 1998; Masciantonio 1977; Rafferty 1986; Andrade 1989; Kretschmer & Kretschmer 1989)
One study found students scored significantly higher in math and language arts after one semester of foreign language study 90 minutes per week. (Armstrong 1997)
Students who started kindergarten in the first Kansas City foreign language magnet schools in 1988 had surpassed national averages in all subjects by the time they reached fifth grade. These foreign language students performed especially well in mathematics. (Eaton 1994)
Foreign language students within an urban magnet program scored well above anticipated national norms in both reading and mathematics and higher than the average of all magnet two school participants, even though they represent a broad cross-section of the local community. (Andrade 1989)
Mastering the vocabulary of a second language enhances student comprehension and abilities in reading, writing, mathematics, and other subjects. (Saville-Troike 1984)
Bilingualism fosters the development of verbal and spatial abilities. (Diaz 1983)
Students learning a second language in elementary school surpassed those who were not in English reading and language arts tests. (Mavrogenes 1979).
38. You will outperform others on IQ tests
Bilinguals outperform similar monolingual persons on both verbal and nonverbal tests of intelligence, which raises the question of whether ability in more than one language enables individuals to achieve greater intellectual flexibility (Bruck, Lambert, and Tucker, 1974; Hakuta, 1986; Weatherford, 1986).
39. You will improve your communication skills and adaptability
Constant struggles with expressing your thoughts in the early stages of language learning force you to change your approach to expressing yourself. You adapt and simplify your thoughts to facilitate communication. The unusual side-effect of this process is that you become a more effective communicator!
40. You will learn how to manage time effectively
Most of us have a job, study, family and other stuff to take care of. That’s why learning a language requires some serious time management skills. Students of foreign languages become experts at using time productively. After all, how many other people listen to language podcasts on their way to work or at the gym?
41. Second language study benefits understanding and security in the community and society
Research suggests that attitudes about other groups and peoples are formed by the age of ten and are often shaped between the ages of four and eight. Learning a language at a young age helps connect a child with another culture while they are still open-minded and have not yet begun to restrict their views of others whom they perceive to be different. (Curtain & Pesola1988)
Many people dream of having their own business. The main problem they usually encounter is deciding on what they should do. There are thousands of companies of different kinds. How can you make sure that yours is special?
The answer is easy – copy, or to be more precise – copy ideas from other countries. It doesn’t matter whether you want to open a restaurant or start a tech business. Start googling in the language of your choice and soon enough you will find lots of ideas you can copy!
43. You will be sexier
A report commissioned by Michael Thomas, the Hollywood language teacher who has taught celebrities such as Doris Day, Emma Thompson and Woody Allen, highlights some exciting benefits of language learning. According to a report commissioned by Michael Thomas, Britons who learn a foreign language tend to be happier, richer and are considered as sexier than those who can only speak English.
Although the report is about Brits, I would say that it’s a safe bet that language speakers are universally more attractive!
44. You will be more intelligent
The American Academy of Neurology has conducted research which shows that speaking more than one language increases the number of neural pathways in the brain, allowing information to be processed through a greater variety of channels. They’ve also begun to demonstrate that multilingualism improves development in the brain’s areas of executive function and attention, regardless of learner’s age.
45. You will find it easier to learn
Embracing foreign language learning increases your global awareness and understanding. This way, not only do you learn how to communicate in that language but also get to know a great deal more about the country, the culture, and the people. This knowledge is invaluable!“Connecting and joining together with people we have never met and are not related to goes to the very soul and core of our being as humans.” Source: http://www.qlanguage.com.hk/language-learning-increases-global-awareness-understanding/
Learning a new language inspires and encourages you to explore a culture that you have previously only had a slight knowledge of or, worst still, no knowledge of whatsoever. As you progress, you begin to better understand and empathize with the people who speak the language, you learn about their struggles, their history, and even their idiosyncrasies. Simply put, you get a much closer and fascinating insight into what makes them tick!
Moreover, as your empathy and knowledge of their culture grow, something magical begins to happen: you form a connection between your own culture and language to theirs, and you begin to gain a deeper and more profound understanding of your own language and culture. Very often, you become more aware and appreciative of the unique qualities within your own language, people and culture.
“In an age of global interdependence and increasingly multicultural and multiethnic society, early foreign language study gives children unique insight into other cultures and builds their cultural competency skills in a way that no other discipline can do. “The age of ten is a crucial time in the development of attitudes toward nations and groups perceived as ‘other’ according to the research of Piaget, Lambert and others. At age 10, children are in the process of moving from egocentricity to reciprocity and information received before age ten is eagerly received.” (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)”
“Exposure to a foreign language serves as a means of helping children to intercultural competence. The awareness of a global community can be enhanced when children have the opportunity to experience involvement with another culture through a foreign language.” (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)
“The positive impact of cultural information is significantly enhanced when that information is experienced through the foreign language and accompanied by experiences in culturally authentic situations.” (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)
Experiences in learning a second language and learning another culture will facilitate teachers’ interactions with their students’ learning experience. Competent teachers understand that positive self-concept and positive identification with one’s culture is the basis for academic success. (Lemberger 1990)
Foreign language learners are more tolerant of the differences among people. (Carpenter & Torney 1974)
49. You will learn how to learn complex skills
Many people disregard this fact but learning a language is one of the most challenging skills out there. To acquire native-like abilities in understanding, speaking, reading and writing a language, as well as a knowledge of the culture of those who speak it, could take anything from five years to a lifetime.
know how to define your problems and offer a viable solution
As you see, there are many skills you have to learn to master a language. But there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
Once you learn how to master a language, it becomes easier to tackle other skills.
50. Language learning gives you a better understanding of the arts
Another benefit of learning a foreign language is being able to understand and appreciate the arts of another country at a more profound level. As you learn the language and history of Greece, for example, you begin to understand Spanish music, films, and literature.
Let’s take the literature as an example. Very often, the true meaning of words is lost during the translation. Some things simply cannot be translated. Your native language doesn’t have the same words or phrases as every other language. Learning a language will allow you to truly explore the texts you’re reading.
51. It narrows achievement gaps
There is a large body of research proving that learning languages can narrow achievement gaps (source: NEA Research, December 2007)
Children of color, children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and English Language Learners make the most significant proportionate achievement gains from foreign language study.
Early foreign language study is less dependent on previous verbal learning than most other elements of the elementary school curriculum, and this allows some students to succeed who have otherwise experienced repeated failure in school. (Curtain & Dahlberg 2004)
A study of 13,200 third and fifth graders in Louisiana public schools revealed that, regardless of race, gender or academic level, children taking foreign language classes did better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not. (Dumas 1999)
Foreign language study can help to alter the trajectory for children of average intelligence and narrow the achievement gap. (Garfinkel & Tabor 1991)
Cincinnati’s Foreign Language Magnet Program has a student population that is 57% African American and 43% Caucasian, with 52% of the total receiving free and reduced lunch. Achievement for these children far exceeds national norms in both reading and math and participants in the foreign language magnet program on average score higher than the average of all Cincinnati’s many magnet programs. (Andrade, Kretschmer & Kretschmer 1989)
In a four year study by McGill University, working-class students did just as well in a foreign language as middle-class students even though their English skills were not as good. (Holobow 1988)
52. It makes your traveling more exciting
“The limits of your language are the limits of your world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Knowing only one language (i.e. English) is very helpful – no one can deny it. But it can get you only as far as the most popular tourist attractions and resorts. On the other hand, knowing more than one language opens up your vacation destination possibilities. Speaking the language of a given country allows you to travel freely and get off the beaten path. And no, you don’t have to be fluent.
Most locals appreciate and reward your willingness to communicate in their native tongue. I’m not a much of the traveler myself, but whenever I spoke the language of the country which I was visiting, the reaction was nothing short of heart-warming! I was encouraged and praised for my language skills, even though I made dozens of mistakes.
53. You won’t be left behind
Many would argue that bilingualism is becoming a progressively necessary and essential skill for anyone who wants to keep up with today’s rapidly increasing global economy. As more and more people recognize the importance of learning an additional language, those who only speak one language will begin to get left behind in our shift towards a more integrated and connected global society.
54. Language learning benefits higher-order and abstract thinking
Speaking a different language means that you are constantly confronted with new ways of thinking about the thing you thought you knew.
Mixed metaphors and phrases change the way you think, and benefit abstract and creative thinking since you acquire multi-faceted view on the world.
As your brain works to process a new language, memory, reasoning, and analytical thinking are heightened.
55. You will get access to information of higher quality
Your information is only as useful as your sources of information. Looking for it in only one language isolates you from thousands of other sources, research results, etc. Very often, they are the ones who offer an interesting angle on the matters of your interest because of cultural differences.
56. You will improve your general communication skills
The above is true in many ways. The apparent benefit of language learning is that a new language gives you the ability to communicate with different people on more meaningful levels.
The less obvious is that by practicing it, you also hone your communication skills generally. You acquire new perspectives and skills that help you express yourself better and understand others more completely.
Finally, learning a new language makes you think differently about your own, providing clarity, complexity, and a deep understanding of others.
75 % of the world doesn’t speak English at all. Do you know what it means for your business? It means that you’re limiting your pool of potential customers. Sure, it might not be the case if you have a small grocery shop. But for others conversing in the client’s language helps to understand his needs.
58. You will become better at playing instruments
Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash
Several of the studies reviewed in a 2011 paper by Finnish music and education researcher Riia Milovanov and her colleagues, showed that mastery of more than one language as well as mastery of music involves higher levels of executive control.
These are the mechanisms responsible for the overall management of cognitive resources and processes – including attention shifts, working memory, reasoning, and switching between tasks.
Learning and practicing something, for instance, a second language, strengthens the brain,” said Ping Li, professor of psychology, linguistics and information sciences and technology. “Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger.”
Li and colleagues studied 39 native English speakers’ brains over a six-week period as half of the participants learned Chinese vocabulary. Of the subjects learning the new vocabulary, those who were more successful in attaining the information showed a more connected brain network than both the less successful participants and those who did not learn the new vocabulary.
The researchers also found that the participants who were successful learners had a more connected network than the other participants even before learning took place. A better-integrated brain network is more flexible and efficient, making the task of learning a new language easier. Li and colleagues report their results in a recent article published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.
The researchers defined the efficiency of brain networks in terms of the strength and direction of connections, or edges, between brain regions of interest, or nodes. The stronger the edges going from one node to the next, the faster the nodes can work together, and the more efficient the network.
Participants each underwent two fMRI scans — one before the experiment began and one after — in order for the researchers to track neural changes. At the end of the study period, the researchers found that the brains of the successful learners had undergone functional changes — the brain network was better integrated.
Such changes, Li and colleagues suggested while reviewing several related studies, are consistent with anatomical changes that can occur in the brain as a result of learning a second language, no matter the age of the learner, as they reported in a recent issue of Cortex.
“A very interesting finding is that, contrary to previous studies, the brain is much more plastic than we thought,” said Li, also co-chair of the interdisciplinary graduate degree program in neuroscience. “We can still see anatomical changes in the brain [in the elderly], which is very encouraging news for aging. And learning a new language can help lead to more graceful aging.”
Meanwhile, Li and colleagues have begun working on interactive ways to teach language using virtual 3-D-like environments with situation-based learning to help the brain make some of those new connections more effectively. Such studies hold the promise that the process of learning a second language as an adult can, in fact, lead to both behavioral and physical changes that may approximate the patterns of learning a language as a child.
Another study from 2017 hinted that foreign-language speakers turned out to be less averse to violating the taboos that can interfere with making utility-maximizing choices. As a consequence, they can make better decisions.
Learning a language is always a challenge. It takes sweat and tears. But amazing things happen once you achieve at least communicative fluency. At that point, you can relax and use your language skills to acquire new knowledge effortlessly.
For example, I spend at least 2-3 hours per day learning medicine in English, German, and Spanish.
This way, I can improve my language and general knowledge at the same time.
62. You will have a wider perspective and more options
Another great news for language learners is having more opportunities to find a job and develop professionally.
A wider perspective and more options is based on in-depth interviews with humanities graduates from the 1970s onwards and captures something of the diversity of career paths followed by graduates in so-called ‘non-vocational’ disciplines.
References: 2006 report by the Higher Education Academies
The research from 2014 shows that simple mistakes in spelling or comprehension that our brains tend to make when taking linguistic shortcuts (such as how you can easily read “tihs senetcne taht is trerilby msispleld”), are easier to avoid for multilinguals.
Reference: Albert Costaa, Alice Foucart, Inbal Arnon, Melina Aparici, Jose Apesteguia; “Piensa” twice: On the foreign language effect in decision making (2014)
64. You will see and experience more
Another benefit of language learning is having a chance to experience the world in a much richer way.
“Thierry et al. studied how having different words for different colors in one language might affect the perception of that color as compared to a language that does not discriminate between those colors. In Greek, “light blue” is distinguished from “blue”, not simply as a different shade but as a whole different category of color. In this study, bilingual and monolingual Greek/English participants were shown different shades of blue and light blue as well as green and light green (for which a distinction is not made in Greek) and ERPs were recorded. Electrophysiological measures showed a distinct pattern for the bilinguals indicating that they were perceiving the two colors as completely separate.”
This phenomenon is also evident in Japanese. The language has basic terms for light and dark blue, which may help you perceive the color in different ways (Athanasopoulos et al., 2010).
65. It will change the way you think financially
Language has also been shown to change the way people think financially. A study covered by Jessica Gross on the famous TED.com found that “Futureless language speakers are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year than future language speakers” (Chen) because their language was tailored to the present.
Knowing more languages can help you in the long run economically, as you will have more ways of thinking about the same things. So, in the long run, learning, a second language is an investment in your future.
66. It will encourage you to engage in a critical dialogue with yourself
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lonely cowboy roaming the language wasteland or you learn in a group. Language learning encourages the development of self-management skills.
An essential part of these skills is engaging in a critical dialogue with yourself by continually questioning whatever you’re currently doing. Not a day goes by without asking yourself the following questions.
Am I using this word correctly?
Should I use this or that grammatical construction?
Does X sound natural?
Reference: Honeybone, A., Brossier, V. (2000) ‘The University of Hertfordshire environmental French program’ in King, A. (ed) Languages and the Transfer of Skills (London: CILT), pp. 102-109
67. It will teach you patience and increase your determination
Have you ever heard of delayed gratification? If yes – congratulations, if not, please allow me to quote the omnipotent Wiki:
“Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. A growing body of literature has linked the ability to delay gratification to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.” Source: Wikipedia
So what does it have to do with languages, huh? Language learning is the pinnacle of delayed gratification. Maybe with the exception of the beginning of this process.
So what does it have to do with languages, huh? Language learning is the pinnacle of delayed gratification. Maybe except the beginning of this process.
You see, initially, the language gains are massive. You seem unstoppable and find great joy in learning. However, after some time, most learners hit the language learning plateau.
Gains are not that significant anymore. You can learn for many weeks and still have doubts about whether you make any progress. This trial by fire teaches you patience, humility, and determination. This is the skill which many learners transplant into other areas of their life like improving their health, learning how to play an instrument,m, etc.
Many language courses involve working in groups and making formal presentations in front of an audience. It’s just the sort of teamwork and presentational skills which employers tell us they are looking for.
By carrying out such tasks, language learners ae in reasoning clearly and in presenting focused arguments.
The mention of such courses in your CV might be a welcome addition for many employers.re trained to think structurally.
Reference: King, A., Thomas, G. (1999) The Guide to Languages and Careers (London: CILT)
69. You will improve your ability to formulate problems
I have already mentioned that one of the benefits of language learning is being able to tackle complex issues. A side effect of this skill is being able to formulate problems clearly. After all, you can’t solve anything if you don’t know what stands in your way.
Ordinary people are often perplexed why serious language learners devote so much time to their passion, “What’s in it for them”? “Why do they have to be so weird?!”.
The truth is that most language learners start small. They want to learn one language for the sake of work/relationship, etc. However, once they get the taste of success, they want more. So they learn another language and then yet another one! The party never ends. Let’s be honest. For most of us, the first language is just the beginning.
Achieving full language fluency is certainly not easy. The internet is filled with all sorts of advice on how to do it. And that's on top of all those shiny lists of language learning tools. No wonder, after all, these are extremely important elements in the whole process. However, in a whirlwind of all kinds of language learning discussions, it's easy to lose sight of one thing - the criterion of utility.
The utility criterion tells us one very simple thing - we should preferentially use things that are directly applicable in our lives.
It doesn't matter how much time you spend going through your textbooks. If the language is not part of your life, the textbook will most often be thrown in the corner at the first sign of a life/time crisis.
It is not difficult to imagine that you are going on vacation for 2 weeks and completely neglect your studies because YOLO, and "let's party dude!". Or suddenly you get sick and you feel so weak that you lack the strength to lift a book.
Sure, you can blame this state of affairs on your lack of willpower or the adverse conjunction of the planets, but the fact is that your contact with language has been neglected because it is not a part of your life!
Full language fluency - languages as a versatile tool
Perhaps the entire system of education is to blame. We are used to thinking that language is yet another school subject. Or thinking that learning a language is drudgery and that "I will cram a couple more words and then I am finally free and will do something interesting."
We forget that language is a tool. And not just any! We're not talking about a rusty knife with a bent handle.
We're talking about a cool Swiss army knife!
There are many ways to integrate languages into your daily life to guarantee that you will achieve full fluency.
Remember that the deeper the integration, the greater the chance that you will learn the language not only fluently but also quickly.
Foreign languages as a tool for entertainment
Broadly understood entertainment is certainly one of the easiest changes you can make. There are so many ways to relax after all! What's more, nobody has to force us to do it. I am yet to hear a mom yelling at her son, "Stop learning , you dweeb. Watch something for once. Oh! I have failed as a parent!".
Here are a few "entertainment" categories that you should include in your daily plan:
Remember that no activity is a waste of time if it is done in a foreign language.
1) Full language fluency - Music
Music is not only a great tool to improve your listening comprehension, but it can also help you to remember words better.
If you don't know what to listen to in the language of your choice, I highly recommend the Music Map website. It allows you to quickly find a lot of exciting artists based on your current musical tastes.
In other words - enter the artist's name and enjoy the sweet view of dozens of other artists.
Here is an example for Rammstein:
2) Full language fluency - watching movies / series
Films, and in particular TV series, are one of the pleasures you don't need to convince anyone of. Often, no more than a few days is enough to get an incurable condition called "one more episode-itis".
Here is a list of some interesting sites where you can watch TV series or movies in the original language or dubbed. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section.
I recommend Netflix in particular. You can change a default language of TV series and movies there as well as enable subtitles.
And all this without worrying that the link on the page does not work or that you will see for the 10th time in one day "Do you want to meet singles in your area?". It is one of the best language investments I've made over many years.
3) Full language fluency - exploring interests
Like most people, you are probably quirky. You have your own world, and your own interests to which you can effortlessly devote lots of time. Why not use it to get one step close to achieving full language fluency?
It doesn't matter if you are interested in reading thyme dregs or a 50-meter chinchilla throw. I guarantee you that a little googling is enough to find forums or websites of people who share your passion.
https://techcrunch.com/ - TechCrunch contains absolutely all the news from the world of technology that you could think of.
www.universeofmemory.com - So what if this is my site? I never said I was objective! On the site you will find a lot of articles about effective language learning, productivity, and memory improvement.
4) Full language fluency - gossip magazines
I will say it again - nothing is a waste of time if it is done in foreign languages! The next time your husband catches you reading about Brad Pitt's iron buttocks, just shout shrilly "I'm learning! Do not disturb!" Or do it in German to fluster him. That works better than a pepper spray.
I feel dirty writing this, but here are some recommendations:
If you are hellbent on keeping the last link connecting your childhood with the cold and cruel world of adults alive, I recommend taking up computer games. Especially those that are rich in various dialogues.
The best site where you can find computer games in many languages is Steam.
The modern world is not a welcoming place. If you have any hopes of becoming a force to be reckoned with, you need to develop and sharpen your skills continually. Just a moment of inattention is enough to get mangled by the competition, who will then proceed to graciously stomp over your carcass. Terrible. I know.
I recommend finding your preferred sources of specialized information in languages of your choice. This is the easiest way always to be one step ahead of most people in your industry.
It is worth mentioning that deep integration of a foreign language into life is not all butterflies and rainbows. Initially, you may feel strong resistance from the brain. This pink, slimy bastard will try to talk you out of trying to surround yourself with a foreign language, "John, don't learn Korean! What will neighbors say?".
You should be ready for it. It will pass with time. However, it remains an open question how much time will be needed for this.
If you already have some experience with intensive language learning, you probably won't need much time to get used to new experiences. If you're inexperienced, accept that you'll need up to a few weeks.
Achieving Full language fluency - Summary
Often the main difference between a person who has mastered a language and the one who has given up is the extent to which they have made the language part of their lives.
Each additional activity performed in a given language anchors it even deeper.
Such integration will make your learning fully resistant to the turmoils of life. The border between "cramming" and normal life will begin to blur, and eventually it will disappear.
You will always know when this moment will come, as it is truly unforgettable. It reveals itself in the following question: "Did I read / hear it in a foreign language or in my native tongue?"
There are many factors affecting word difficulty i.e., your ability to learn and recall them.
No wonder. There are dozens of factor at play here. Unfortunately, typical explanations of what affects these processes are severely lacking. Every time I hear that "you probably don't read enough," I do my best to toss 1 kg of plastic bags into the ocean. Die mermaids, die!
Let's conduct a thorough analysis of the factors that you should take into consideration if you have a hard time learning vocabulary. Some of them will be obvious; others will probably surprise you.
Why words are difficult to remember
As you can imagine, there are lots of elements which you have to take into consideration to fully answer this question. Some of them have marginal meaning and have very little research supporting their validity.
Others are simply beyond your control. A good example is parts of speech. For instance, research generally shows that they are easier to remember than verbs or adjectives (Philips 1981). They are also encoded in different parts of the brain than verbs.
The question is, "Does it matter?" Of course not. You still have to learn both nouns and verbs. The same goes forlexical difficulty.
That's why I am going to focus on the ones which can seriously impair your learning ability.
Factors affecting word difficulty
Factors affecting word difficulty
1. Lack of a learning system
2. Regularity of exposure
3. Timing of repetition
4. Retention intention
5. Pronounceability (i.e., how difficult it is to pronounce)
6. The usefulness of a word
7. Emotional saliency
8. Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)
Let's discuss them one by one, so you know what potentially impairs your learning speed.
1. Lack of learning system
Autor: George Becker
One of the most surprising facts about how people learn is that most of them have no organized system of learning. You might think that's an exaggeration, but I assure you it's not.
To get a better insight on how students actually learn, we have conducted a survey among the students of our university (HSW — University of Applied Sciences) about their strategies and learning behaviors.
Overall, there were 135 students participating in this survey from all 6 semesters and between 18 and 31 years of age. 68.1% of the participants were male, 31.9% female. Only very few of them deliberately make use of learning strategies, such as spaced repetition or the Leitner system. 94.8% of the participants just repeat the learning topics randomly to have them available during a test.
The terrifying thing is that we're not talking about a bunch of clueless people without any education. We're talking about bright individuals who will shape the future of their nation.
And yet, almost all of them rely on something I call a let's-hope-it-sticks strategy. It's nothing more than spitting on a wall and hoping that something will set. But it rarely does.
You can read, reread and cram all you want. Most of the knowledge you gather this way will be forgotten by the end of the next week.
If you don't have a set way of dealing with words you want to learn, you will fail 9/10. It doesn't matter how bad your strategy is. As long as you have it, there can be some progress.
2. Regularity of exposure to vocabulary
I am sure you have noticed that immigrants who barely know a language still know basic greetings and vocabulary. The reason for this is simple — they are frequently exposed to such words.
"Memorization becomes more difficult the less often given items occur in your learning environment."
Here is a fantastic study showcasing this phenomenon.
"The study examines word knowledge acquisition at different levels. The results showed that greater gains in knowledge were found for at least one aspect of knowledge each time repetitions increased. If learners encounter unknown words ten times in context, sizeable learning gains may occur." Source: The Effects of Repetition on Vocabulary Knowledge
We have known for over 100 years now that the timing of your repetitions plays a crucial role in the process of learning. Fail to review a word at the right moment, and your retention rate falls drastically.
This phenomenon is presented by the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. It shows the decline of memory retention in time, or if you look at it from a different perspective, it demonstrates the critical moments when the repetition of the given information should occur.
Lucky for you, you don't need to optimize our repetitions manually (e.g., with the Leitner System). You can simply use Spaced Repetition Software.
A retention intention sets the stage for good remembering. It is a conscious commitment to acquire a memory and a plan for holding on to it. As soon as you commit to a memory goal, attention locks on to what you want to remember.
This is how attention works—it serves the goal of the moment. And the stronger the motivation for the goal, the more laser-like attention becomes and the greater its memory benefits.
In other words, you can watch as many TV series and read as many books as you like. It will still have almost zero effect if you don't try to memorize the things you don't know.
A vital feature of a retention intention is the plan for holding on to the material. It might be as simple as rehearsing the memory, or it might involve one of the memory strategies described later. Whatever the plan, when you are clear about how you intend to retain the material, it is more likely you will actually carry out the plan, and this can make all the difference between a weak and strong memory.
5. Pronounceability of vocabulary
In order to learn the phonological form of a new word, you must be able to hold a representation of that word in some form of temporary memory so that the word as a whole can be committed to long-term memory.
This phonological form is called a phonological representation.
"This temporary storage is provided by the phonological store component of the working memory model. Once you learn the basic repertoire of speech sounds in your target language, the process of learning the form of a new word becomes one of learning the order in which those sounds appear. The primary role of the phonological store in learning new words is, therefore, to retain the order of those sounds." Source: Dennis Norris, Michael P. A. Page, and Jane Hall, ‘Learning nonwords: the Hebb repetition effect as a model of word learning’
What happens when your phonological representations are incorrect?
You impair your ability to both recognize and retain new words.
That's why a decent pronunciation is not just something "nice to have." It's an important aspect of acquiring vocabulary.
6. The usefulness of a word
This item ties back to the mistake of not having an intention to memorize something. It frequently happens that people simply refuse mentally to learn a word because of its potential uselessness.
If you don't consider vocabulary you learn to be useful, then you don't really stand a significant chance of memorizing it.
It's time to tackle the emotional aspect of learning. Even without any fancy scientific references, you already know that it's much easier to remember things which are emotionally important to us.
"Information without emotion isn't retained." Or, as Ezra Pound said it, "Only emotion endures."
The few experiments comparing the effects of the number of meetings (repetitions) with the quality of the meetings suggest that, of the two, quality has the stronger effect (Laufer, in press; Webb, 2005).
In other words, sometimes it's better to build a couple of emotionally salient sentences with a word of your choice rather than settle for a dozen mediocre ones.
Unfortunately, the main problem with relying on this strategy too much is that you cannot make everything emotionally salient. If everything stands out, nothing does.
8. Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)
Merely knowing the meaning of a lexical item is not enough. You have to understand how to use the target vocabulary in sentence construction (Larrotto 2011).
That's why it's not enough to simply see a flashcard, or a sentence, made by somebody else to be sure how to use a given word in context.
To be able to use this word correctly, you need to:
a) be exposed to language
b) make the mental linkage between the word and its uses
c) be able to verify whether your assumption is correct
One of the prime example of not knowing how to use a word fall into a category of register restrictions.
Language register can be understood as the level of formality with which you speak. Different circumstances and people require different registers. Sometimes you will use slang, the other time you will be very formal and polite.
By themselves, words and sentences have little meaning; often they can be understood only in relation to other words and sentences.
In other words: things get connected to things. Words which are not connected to others mean nothing and get forgotten. Providing words not in isolation but in various contexts creates new opportunities to memorize them. Whenever the same word crops up in a new phrase, it will be fixed in your mind in yet another way.
What's more, the more contexts you can associate a piece of information with, the easier it is to recall it.
The above can be aptly summarized by The Principle of Associations:
“The human lexicon is believed to be a network of associations, a web-like structure of interconnected links. When students are asked to manipulate words, relate them to other words and to their own experiences, and then to justify their choices, these word associations are reinforced” (Sökmen 1997: 241-2).
10. Number of contexts
You already know that no context is terrible for your learning. But is one context enough? Most of the time no.
Lack of multiple contexts can lead to at least one of the three following problems:
1) Problems with information transfer
Sometimes if you learn a word in just one or two contexts your brain might not be able to transfer the meaning of the word from one context to another.
If you learn the word "severe" in the phrase "severe consequences" your brain probably won't be able to use this word in the phrase "a severe headache." In order to overcome this obstacle and "unblock" some word, you need to use it in at least a couple of contexts, so you have a semantic web that holds this information.
2) Problems with retrieving
3) Problems with memorizing
The last problem is connected with meaningless contexts. Sometimes you try to memorize a word in some phrase, but it simply doesn't work out. The word won't stick even though you have managed to avoid all the other mistakes which I have mentioned previously.
Why is that?
It might happen because your brain might find this one particular context(s) too boring! You have your preferences and tastes, and some phrases won't strike that special chord in your brain.
11. Lack of active encoding
The process of memorizing can be depicted in the four following steps:
1) Encoding — involves initial processing of information which leads to the construction of its mental representation in memory
2) Storage — is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
3) Recall — is the retrieval of stored information from memory
As you can see, encoding is a gateway to the land of remembering.
But what does encoding really mean?
Encoding is any kind of attempt of manipulating a piece of information in order to increase your chances of memorizing it.
If you skip this step of learning, you can be sure that memorizing vocabulary will become really difficult. Here are results of some studies showing real vocabulary gains from reading in the early stages of language learning.
Real vocabulary gains from reading in the early stages of language learning
Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) specifically looked at the number of words acquired from a simplified version of a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which had 21000 running words. The novel was read in class during six class periods. It was found that the average vocabulary pick-up was five words.
Lahav (1996) carried out a study of vocabulary learning from simplified readers. She tested students who read 4 readers, each one of about 20 000 words, and found an average learning rate of 3–4 words per book.
12. Morphological awareness
Morphological awareness is explicitly thinking about the smallest units of meaning in language, which are called morphemes. These units include root words that can stand alone as words, prefixes, suffixes, and bound roots, which are roots that must have a prefix or suffix added to become a word.
Morphological awareness is also one of your allies in an uneven fight against mastering a language. It helps you understand why words are constructed in a certain way and remember them better.
In order to fully utilize this concept, you need to become paranoid. Every word, name of every product, movie star, city, dish, or even words themselves should be analyzed.
Most of the time, you will discover that they contain some other words. And it doesn't matter whether that's a pure coincidence or not. What matters is that you found the deeper meaning in words you already know.
13. The capacity of your short-term memory
The main memory limitation every learner has to face is working memory capacity or simply memory span.
Memory span refers to the longest list of items (e.g., digits, letters, words) that a person can repeat back immediately after the presentation in the correct order on 50% of trials. It is limited in terms of chunks.
A chunk is the largest meaningful unit in the presented material that the person recognizes—thus, what counts as a chunk depends on the knowledge of the person being tested.
One interesting conclusion coming from this is that the more languages you know, or the bigger your background knowledge is, the easier it is for you to memorize new words as you can automatically find more meaningful associations for them!
In other words, if you are presented with too much material at the same time, you significantly decrease your chances of remembering a word.
14. Intrinsic cognitive load (ICL)
The Intrinsic Cognitive Load (ICL) is material-dependent, determined by the material's element interactivity. It is commonly understood as the complexity of information.
This complexity depends on the learner's domain-specific prior knowledge (Sweller, 1998). For example, learning single words of a foreign language requires a lower understanding of interacting elements than learning phases of cell division.
The better you are at a certain field of knowledge, the smaller intrinsic cognitive load.
15. Germane cognitive load
This load focuses on all learning-relevant processes which are needed transfer and store information into the long-term memory system.
It is the emotional and mental energy devoted by the individual to the processing of new information presented as part of the learning activity.
In other words, it is connecting that information to the working memory, and imprinting what has been learned into long-term memory.
How do you lower this kind of cognitive load? By having a mental toolbox of effective learning strategies which have been internalized and automated.
16. Extraneous cognitive load (ECL)
The extraneous load (EL) emerges through the design of instructional materials and is directly connected with a decrease in learning-relevant processes.
The extraneous load (EL) is imposed by any form of distractors during learning; hence, this load is often regarded as the ‘unwanted’ or ‘bad’ load.
Hence, every single thing which drives you away from learning is treated as the extraneous cognitive load. Keep in mind that those distractors potentiate one another!
The truth is that those pesky, little things distract us more than we would like to admit.
For example, accordingto researchers, the mere presence of your smartphone reduces cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive function, even though people believe they are giving a task their full attention and focus.
Don't forget that attention is the price of admission to the long-term system. If you meed up this step, no learning will ever take place.
What's more, by minimizing the extraneous load, capacity in the working memory can be spared for processing the intrinsic load.
In short, you are convinced that you are unable to learn and thus you do nothing to learn, and as a result, you don't know anything. Congratulations, you just played yourself.
This category includes self-diversion pearls like:
"I am too old."
"I don't have time."
"I suffer from social anxiety." (read this to fix this problem)
"I am too stupid."
"Jupiter is in retrogade."
"I am a Scorpio and they are not good at languages." (in this case, take this quiz: how stupid are you?)
2. Lack of psychological safety
In the absence of psychological safety, we fear judgment, reprisal, humiliation, feelings of incompetence, and being unworthy, and may begin to avoid and withdraw from the learning process. Over prolonged periods, this withdrawal also can contribute to burnout and depression (Bynum and Haque 2016).
3. Lack of self-efficacy/growth mindset
Self-efficacy, or the growth mindset, is a common theme often found in the literature; it is the belief in your own ability to achieve learning or performance standards (Bandura, 1991;Latham & Locke, 1991; Sharma & Writer, 2015).
Self-efficacy influences task choice, effort, and persistence, and can also help determine which learning strategies to apply to obtain maximum gain.
Usually, the level of self-efficacy is correlated with goal-setting and achievement: A student with greater self-efficacy sets higher goals and attains higher levels of achievement Learners with high levels of self-efficacy tend to blame failure on a lack preparation, while those with low self-efficacy tend to blame their lack of ability. Students with low levels of self-efficacy are more prone to allow negative feedback to have a negative influence on their performance and attitudes.
Spoiler alert! If you keep on comparing yourself to others, you will almost always find somebody better than you. Just don't.
Of course, the list goes on and on, but the examples above should give you a general idea of what to be cautious of.
19. Random variable(s)
A random variable part is an indispensable part of any econometric model. It tries to factor in the unforeseeable into the model's prediction. It might also be used to explain one of the most widespread phenomena in language learning — repeating a word dozens of times and still not being able to acquire it.
Even though this is a really annoying problem, I want to assure you that it's ubiquitous. It also has a perfectly reasonable explanation.
All you need to understand it is a Gaussian function aka "The Bell Curve."
Gaussian functions are often used to represent the probability density function of a normally distributed random variable with expected value μ = b and variance σ2 = c2.
What that means is that the bell curve shows you what's the probability of a random variable.
What variables are we talking about?
It can be anything. For example, the variable might take the form of an IQ distribution in society or the size of a biceps among men. Or, in our case, the probability of memorizing a word.
The bell shows you what the chances that a given event will take place are. You can see that most of the time, you won't have problems with memorizing words. The probability of this happening will fall into the 2a range.
However, up to 3% (1a range) of all the words can be treated as outliers. They will either be extremely easy (the right side of the curve) or extremely difficult to memorize (the left side of the curve), and as such, they will require a lot of reviews.
It doesn't matter how much you optimize your learning, this phenomenon will always take place.
Factors affecting word difficulty - the summary
As you have seen, there are lots of factors affecting word difficulty i.e., your ability to remember and recall vocabulary. Effective learning is never about doing one or two things right. It's about combining all the best practices into an efficient learning system. Even then, you can still expect that there will be a small group of words which will be more challenging to memorize. Get used to it.
However, if you have problems with a specific word, I would stay longer with it and analyze it logically — what are its constituents? Is there any logic to it? Can you associate it with something? That should increase your chances of learning this word.
How many of these factors do you incorporate into your learning system? Let me know!
Have you noticed a trend that has been going on for quite many years now? Almost every app out there seems to be using pictures. It’s been touted as a magical cure for your inability to learn.
But is it really the case or maybe it’s another thinly veiled attempt to talk you into buying a premium version of some crappy app?
Unfortunately, it seems to be the latter. Yes, learning with pictures has its benefits, but they are relatively tiny compared to the effort and other potential strategies you might use.
Let’s investigate step by step why it’s so!
Potential benefits of learning with pictures
One picture is worth 1000 words, as the saying goes, and I am pretty sure that every child who ever wandered into their parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night can attest to this. But what’s important to you, as a learner, is how many benefits can learning with pictures offer you. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste too much time adding them to your flashcards if they are useless.
The Picture Superiority Effect (i.e. you remember pictures better)
If we want to discuss advantages of using pictures, we much touch upon the picture superiority effect. This is a go-to argument of many proponents of this approach to learning.
The picture superiority effect refers to the phenomenon in which pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.
It’s not anything debatable- the effect has been reproduced in a variety of experiments using different methodologies. However, the thing that many experts seem to miss is the following excerpt:
pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words.
It just means we are great at recognizing pictures and images. It has its advantages but it’s not should be confused with being able to effortlessly memorize vocabulary.
Let’s quickly go through some studies to show you how amazingly well we can recognize pictures.
Power of recognition memory (i.e. you’re good at recognizing pictures)
In one of the most widely-cited studies on recognition memory. Standing showed participants an epic 10,000 photographs over the course of 5 days, with 5 seconds’ exposure per image. He then tested their familiarity, essentially as described above.
The participants showed an 83% success rate, suggesting that they had become familiar with about 6,600 images during their ordeal. Other volunteers, trained on a smaller collection of 1,000 images selected for vividness, had a 94% success rate.
But even greater feats have been reported in earlier times. Peter of Ravenna and Francesco Panigarola, Italian memory teachers from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, respectively, were each said to have retained over 100,000 images for use in recalling enormous amounts of information. – Robert Madigan – How Memory Works and How To Make it Work For You
Now that we have established that we’re pretty good at recognizing images, let’s try to see if pairing words with pictures offers more benefits.
Boosting your recall
Another amazing benefit of using pictures as a part of your learning strategy is improving your recall. This process occurs in the following way:
During memory recall, neurons in the hippocampus began to fire strongly. This was also the case during a control condition in which participants only had to remember scene images without the objects. Importantly, however, hippocampal ativity lasted much longer when participants also had to remember the associated object (the raspberry or scorpion image). Additionally, neurons in the entorhinal cortex began to fire in parallel to the hippocampus.
It’s worth pointing out that even the evidence for improved recall is limited and usually concerns abstract words and idiomatic expressions.
Farley et al. (2012) examined if the meaning recall of words improved in the presence of imagery, and found that only the meaning recall of abstract words improved, while that of concrete nouns did not. A possible interpretation of this finding is that, in the case of concrete nouns, most learners can naturally produce visual images in their mind and use them to remember the words.
Therefore, the Vocabulary Learning and Instruction, 6 (1), 21–31. 26 Ishii:
The Impact of Semantic Clustering additional visual images in the learning material do not affect the learning outcome, since they are already present in their mind. However, in the case of abstract nouns, since it is often difficult for learners to create images independently, the presentation of imagery helps them retain the meaning of the words they are trying to learn.
Jennifer Aniston neurons
It seems that this improved recall is caused by creating immediate associations between words and pictures when they are presented together.
The scientists showed patients images of a person in a context e.g. Jennifer Aniston at the Eiffel Tower, Clint Eastwood in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Halle Berry at the Sidney Opera House or Tiger Woods at the White House. They found that the neuron that formerly fired for a single image e.g. Jennifer Aniston or Halle Berry, now also fired for the associated image too i.e. the Eiffel Tower or Sidney Opera House.
“The remarkable result was that the neurons changed their firing properties at the exact moment the subjects formed the new memories – the neuron initially firing to Jennifer Aniston started firing to the Eiffel Tower at the time the subject started remembering this association,” said Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, head of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience at the University of Leicester.” – Researchers Make a “Spectacular Discovery” About Memory Formation and Learning
To sum it up, we know that:
we’re great at remembering pictures
we’re great at recognizing pictures
we’re great at recalling pictures
Let me make it clear – these benefits are undeniable, and they have their use in the learning process. However, the real question is – how effective are pictures at helping you memorize and recall vocabulary!
How effective are pictures at helping you memorize and recall vocabulary
Before I move on to the science, let’s start with my personal experiments. Contrary to a lot of “language experts” online, I rarely believe anything I read unless I see lots of quality scientific support for some specific claims. And believe me, it’s not easy. Most of scientific studies are flawed on so many different levels that they shouldn’t be written at all.
Once I have gathered enough evidence, I start running long-term statistical experiments in order to see what benefits a given approach brings to the table.
What’s the answer in that case? Not that much. Most of the time you will be able to just remember a picture very well. Possibly, if the picture represents accurately a meaning of a given word, you might find it easier to recall the said meaning. Based on my experiments I can say that the overall benefit of using pictures in learning is not big and amounts to less than 5-10%.
Effect of pairing words and pictures on memory
Boers, Lindstromberg, Littlemore, Stengers, and Eyckmans (2008) and Boers, Piquer Píriz, Stengers, and Eyckmans (2009) investigated the effect of pictorial elucidation when learning new idiomatic expressions.
The studies revealed that learners retain the meanings of newly learned idiomatic items better when they are presented with visual images. Though there was no impact for the word forms, such presentations at least improved the learning of word meanings.
In other words, using pictures can improve your understanding of what a word, or an idiom, means.
One of the problems I have with most memory-related studies is that scientists blatantly ignore the fact that familiarity with words might heavily skew the final results. For that reason, I really love the following paper from 2017.
Participants (36 English-speaking adults) learned 27 pseudowords, which were paired with 27 unfamiliar pictures. They were given cued recall practice for 9 of the words, reproduction practice for another set of 9 words, and the remaining 9 words were restudied. Participants were tested on their recognition (3-alternative forced choice) and recall (saying the pseudoword in response to a picture) of these items immediately after training, and a week after training. Our hypotheses were that reproduction and restudy practice would lead to better learning immediately after training, but that cued recall practice would lead to better retention in the long term.
In all three conditions, recognition performance was extremely high immediately after training, and a week following training, indicating that participants had acquired associations between the novel pictures and novel words. In addition, recognition and cued recall performance was better immediately after training relative to a week later, confirming that participants forgot some words over time. However, results in the cued recall task did not support our hypotheses. Immediately after training, participants showed an advantage for cued Recall over the Restudy condition, but not over the Reproduce condition. Furthermore, there was no boost for the cued Recall condition over time relative to the other two conditions. Results from a Bayesian analysis also supported this null finding. Nonetheless, we found a clear effect of word length, with shorter words being better learned than longer words, indicating that our method was sufficiently sensitive to detect an impact of condition on learning. – The effect of recall, reproduction, and restudy on word learning: a pre-registered study
As you can see, conclusions are not that optimistic and almost fully coincide with my own experiments. That’s why I would suggest you don’t add pictures to every flashcard. It’s too time-consuming compared to benefits. However, if you really enjoy learning this way, I will suggest to you in a second a better way to utilize pictures.
Test it for yourself!
I know that the above could be a bit of a buzz-kill for any die-hard fan of all those flashy flashcard apps and what not. But the thing is, you should never just trust someone’s opinion without verifying it.
Run your own experiment. See how well you retain those pictures and if it really makes a difference result-wise compared to the invested time. Our time on this pancake earth is limited. No need to waste any of it using ineffective learning methods.
It doesn’t take much time and it will be worth more than anyone’s opinion. If you decide to go for it, make sure to run it for at least 2-3 months to truly verify of pictures offer a long-term memory boost.
How to use picture more effectively in your learning
Since my initial results with this method weren’t very satisfying I decided to step it up and tried to check how different kind of pictures affect my recall. What’s more, I also verified how using the same picture in many flashcards affects my learning.
What kind of pictures did I use?
I concentrated on pictures which are emotionally salient. I tried everything starting from gore pictures to porn pictures. The results, especially with the latter, weren’t very good. I was sitting there like a horny idiot and couldn’t concentrate even one bit on any of the words. It’s like having a sexy teacher in high school. You can’t wait till you get to your classes but once you do, you don’t hear any words.
Funny enough, I remember most of the pictures, but now words, from this experiment to this day which only further proves to me that your typical approach won’t work here.
So what kind of pictures did work?
Pictures from my personal collection. I found out that if I use one picture in a lot of flashcards where every flashcard concentrates on one word, I am able to recall words extremely easily. In addition, my retention rate has also been improved, although not as significantly as my ability to retrieve words.
The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):
If you want to use pictures in your language studies, don’t waste time trying to find a new picture for every word. Choose one picture and use it multiple times in different flashcards. Each time try to memorize a different word.
What’s more, if it’s only possible, try to stick to pics from your personal collection – a weekend at your grandma’s, uncle Jim getting sloshed at your wedding. You know, good stuff!
Pictures are a definitely a nice addition to your learning toolkit. However, in order to be able to use them effectively you need to understand that they won’t help you much with memorizing words. The best thing they can offer is a slight boost in remembering words and significantly improved recall for pictures. That’s why don’t waste your time trying to paste a picture into every flashcard. Benefits will be minuscule compared to your effort.
If you really want to get the biggest bang for your buck learning-wise, try to use one picture to memorize many words. That’s a great way of mimicking the way we originally started acquiring vocabulary. And it’s not very time-consuming.
Once you try this method, let me know how it worked for you!
What are your thoughts on using pictures in flashcards? Let me know in the comments!
I love words. They are like tiny, beautiful puzzle pieces. Choose the right ones, and you can assemble beautiful and meaningful sentences. Sentences that convey your thoughts with surgical precision. Choose the wrong ones, and you will get a stinky bag of confusion.
But there is a lot of confusion around how large your vocabulary should be for each level. I have heard dozens of different versions. That’s why I decided to come up with an easy rule on how to remember how many words you should know at every language level.
The Rule of 2 – How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level
Now back to the rule! It is as simple it gets — the number of words needed to advance to every level doubles.
How Many Words You Should Know (for Every Language Level)
Number of Base Words Needed
Add or deduct up to 20% of the given values. This way, you will get the approximate range for each language level.
Why up to 20%? Because words you choose to learn matter that much! If you were to concentrate on words from the frequency list, you would definitely have to deduct 20% on higher levels (B1-C2). However, if you, for some reason, started learning names of trees or birds, you would have to add 20% to the said levels.
What Is a Word?
It needs some clarification since this term has changed its meaning in Linguistics in the last few decades. In the past, “a base word” was the base word itself and all its inflected forms. For example, “tough,” “toughen,” and “toughness” used to be treated as 3 words.
Nowadays, “a base word” indicates “the word family” and consists of the base word and its inflected forms and derivations.
According to a renowned linguistic researcher Paul Nation, if you use the 1.6 factor to base words, you should get (more or less) the number of “separate” words (i.e., inflected words).
“Why Do I Need to Know How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level?”
A fair question, I guess. It’s not a fun fact which you can rub in somebody’s face. There are two good reasons:
Vocabulary size is a good indicator of your current level
The number of words you know is one of the most reliable indicators of your language level. If you track the size of your vocabulary, you should be able to tell (more or less) what level you’re on. Assuming, of course, that you learn the right words. Memorizing the names of plants won’t get you far!
Vocabulary size can be your milestone
Not knowing where you are heading can be frightening. It’s like straying in the fog. You don’t know what lies around the corner. Knowing your goal can give you a sense of direction. Even if you fall, it will be on a pile of cushions, not the sharp rocks.
How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level – Milestones
There are 4 most important vocabulary milestones in language learning. They are a great way to establish what your current language level is and how big a distance you have to cover to get to the next one.
Just in case you wonder – the following rules stand roughly true for most of the languages. Be it Asian or European. But since languages tend to differ from each other quite a bit, please take it with a grain of salt and use these calculations only as a landmark.
1000 words allow you to understand about 80% of the language which surrounds you, as long as it is not too specialized (Hwang, 1989; Hirsh and Nation, 1992; Sutarsyah, Nation and Kennedy, 1994)
In theory, it sounds great. JUST 1000 words, and you understand that much! Unfortunately, the remaining 20% is what really matters. Just look at this sentence:
“I went to the … to buy …. but they told me that they couldn’t… .’ Sure, you understand a lot of words. But does it help?
3000 words allow you to understand about 95% of most ordinary texts (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996).
BUT…general comprehension is not the same as full comprehension, as it involves some guessing.
Still, there is no shortage of enthusiasts who claim that such level is high enough to start picking up new words from context. However, researchers tend to disagree and say that the “magical” number of words which allows learning from the context is….(drum roll)
5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)). Such a vocabulary size also warrants accurate contextual guessing (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997).
It means that you can function surrounded by this language without bigger problems. Sure, you will struggle if you want to formulate your thoughts precisely, or when you encounter specialized vocabulary.
But other than that, you will be fine.
10000 words allow you to understand about 99% of most texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)). It is the pinnacle of language learning — a counterpart to having the vocabulary of a college graduate.
With that many words, you can express yourself with fantastic precision and pass for a native speaker if your accent is good enough. It is the minimum goal for every language I learn. It makes me feel like a citizen of a given country.
If you want to download frequency lists for your target language, visit this website.
How Many Words You Should Know for Every Language Level – Summary
Knowing how many words you need to know to get to the C1 level gives you some perspective on how much effort it takes to achieve this monstrous goal.
I’m writing this because many of us get depressed after seeing dozens of videos on YT of people speaking or claiming to speak 10 or 20 languages.
But the truth is that there is a yawning gap between being good and being great at a language (or anything else for that matter).
Any person who has truly mastered a language (i.e., achieved C1/ C2 level) could have learnt 2-4 languages to B2 level or 4-8 languages to A2 level in that time
Remember it the next time gloomy thoughts start creeping up on you, my friend.
Done reading? Time to learn!
Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read.
I am on the mission to change it. I have created about 30 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go.
Choosing the right learning methodshas always been one of the most daunting tasks for most language learners. No wonder. Around every corner, you can find yet another popular learning strategy.
But how do you know it’s effective? Is it actually based on any real science?
Most people can offer you just their opinions. I am here to show you step-by-step what are the biggest flaws of various language learning methods. In other words, I am going to scrutinize them and show you what their authors don’t know or don’t want to reveal.
The first position on the menu today is the Goldlist method.
Before I start, it’s worth mentioning that this article is not meant to offend the author of the Goldlist method nor disparage anyone who is using it but to show one simple fact – it’s extremely easy to come up with a method but it doesn’t mean it’s effective memory-wise.
The Goldlist Method – What Is It All About?
Unless you are into experimenting with various learning methods, you may not have heard of the Goldlist Method. For that reason, I will try to outline what’s all about so we are on the same page.
First of all, here is a great video that sums up what this method is all about.
If you are old-fashioned, here is a description of how it works.
Get a large (A4 size) notebook. This is going to be your “bronze” book.
Prepare the materials (i.e. words) you’re interested in. The items you choose will go into your “head list”.
Open your book and write the first twenty-five words or phrases down, one below the other, on the left-hand side of the individual page. Include any integral information such as gender or plural forms of nouns or irregular aspects of a verb’s conjugation. The list shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes to do.
When the list is ready, read through it out loud, mindfully but without straining to remember.
When you start the next piece of the head list, number it 26-50, then 51-75 and so on.
The first distillation – after at least two weeks open your notebook and cast your eye towards your first list of 1 to 25 (or, 26 to 50, or 9,975 to 10,000) depending on which double spread you’re at. The “two weeks plus” pause is important. It’s intended to allow any short-term memories of the information to fade completely so that you can be sure that things you think you’ve got into the long-term memory really are in there. Make sure, then, that you date each set of twenty-five head list items (something I haven’t done in my illustrative photos for this article).
David James says that there is no upper limit to the gap between reviews, though suggests a maximum of two months, simply to keep up momentum.
Discard eight items, and carry the remaining seventeen into a new list, This will be your first “distillation”.
Repeat the process for the second and third distillations (the third and fourth list on your double spread). The interval should be at least 2 weeks.
For the fourth distillation, you start a new book, your “silver” book.
The “gold” notebook works the same way, the hardcore items from the “silver” notebook’s seventh distillation are carried over to the “gold” for new head list of twenty-five lines (distillation number eight) and distillations nine (17 or so lines), ten (twelve or so) and eleven (nine or so).
How to Use the Goldlist Method – Summary
Grab a notebook and write there 25 words which interest you.
After at least 2 weeks check if you remember them and discard 30% of all the words. The rest of the words becomes a part of the second “distillation”
Keep on repeating the same process over and over again. The only thing that changes is that the older “distillations” get rewritten to other notebooks.
The Goldlist Method – Claims
Photo by Bookblock on Unsplash
The author of the Goldlist method maintains that:
The method allows you to retain up to thirty percent of the words in your long-term memory.
It is also claimed that the process circumvents your short-term memory – you are expected to make no conscious effort to remember words. Thanks to this the information will be retained in your long-term memory.
The Goldlist Method – A Scientific Critique
1. The Goldlist Method doesn’t circumvent short-term memory
One of the big claims of the Goldlist method is that it is able to circumvent your short-term memory. Somehow, thanks to it, you are able to place all the information straight in your long-term memory.
Is it possible? Not really. I have noticed that 99% of claims of this kind come from people who have never had much to do with the science of memory. That’s why let’s go briefly through what is required to “remember”.
According to the author of the Goldlist method, David James:
” [[ … ]] we are alternating in and out of these two systems the whole time, we switch ourselves into short-term mode by thinking about memorising and switch out of it by forgetting about memorising.”
Unfortunately, this is a bunch of hooey. This is what the actual science has to say about memorization.
The working memory consolidation
In order to memorize a piece of information, you have to store it in your short-term memory.
This process is initiated by allocating your attention to the stimuli you want to remember.
In other words, initiation of consolidation is under conscious control and requires the use of central attention. The mere fact of looking at a piece of paper and reading/writing words activates it.
Any stimuli that capture attention because of their intrinsic emotional salience appear to be consolidated into memory even when there is no task requirement to do so.
Next, the items you learn undergo working memory consolidation.
Working memory consolidation refers to the: transformation of transient sensory input into a stable memory representation that can be manipulated and recalled after a delay.
Contrary to what the creator of the Goldlist method believes, after this process is complete, be it 2 weeks or more, the short-term memories are not gone. They are simply not easily accessible.
Our brains make two copies of each memoryin the moment they are formed. One is filed away in the hippocampus, the center of short-term memories, while the other is stored in cortex, where our long-term memories reside.
You probably have experienced this phenomenon yourself many times. You learned something in the past. Then, after some years, you took it up again and were able to regain your ability relatively quickly. It was possible because your memories were still there. They just became “neuronally disconnected” and thus inaccessible.
The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve
There is one more proof that shows clearly that the method doesn’t circumvent short-term memory. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve shows us how fast the incoherent information is forgotten.
What we mean by incoherent is that this is not the information which you can associate with your background knowledge.
This is very often the case when you learn a new language or when you’re at a lower intermediate level.
What’s more, the Ebbinghaus curve’s numbers are based on the assumption that the learned material :
means nothing to you
has no relevance to your life
has no emotional load and meaning for you
On the curve, you can see that if you memorize information now and try to recall after 14 days, you will be able to retrieve about 21-23% of the previously memorized knowledge. Mind you that this is the knowledge that is incoherent, bears no emotional load and means nothing to you.
What happens when you start manually writing down words which interest you or when you are able to establish some connection between them and your life? Well, this number can definitely go up.
Keep in mind that your recall rate will also be affected by:
frequency of occurrence
prior vocabulary knowledge
Advanced language learners can get away with more
Since most advanced language learners have a benefit of possessing broader linguistic background knowledge, they can get away with using subpar learning strategies. Their long-term memory modulates short-term memory and thus decreases the overall cognitive load.
Is there anything nothing magical about the Goldlist method and the number “30”?
Nope. It follows very preciselythe Ebbinghaus forgetting curve which takes into account your short-term memory. Sometimes this number will be higher, sometimes it will be lower depending on your choice of words.
You can check it yourself how low this number can get. Simply choose a language that is from a different linguistic family than the ones you already know. Track your progress and see how this number inevitably goes down.
The Goldlist Method is just a spaced repetition method with bigger intervals. That makes it less effective than most spaced repetition program right off the bat.
2. The Goldlist Method is impractical and time-consuming
Relatively high activation energy and time-consuming
One of the most important concepts in productivity is the activation energy.
The activation energy is the amount of energy needed to start conducting a given activity.
Even though the Goldlist Method has initially the low activation energy, it starts growing considerably with each and every distillation. Having to carry with you a couple of A4 notebooks seems also very impractical to me.
Limited usefulness vocabulary-wise
However, the biggest problem I have with this method in this department is that it suggests I only learn words I am interested in. There are hundreds of situations where one has to learn words that they are not interested in.
And they should work particularly well for the vocabulary you’re interested in.
3. The Goldlist Method is inflexible
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
This is one of the methods which collapse under their own weight i.e. it’s inflexible. The Goldlist method suggests that you learn vocabulary in 25-word batches.
If I need to master a language quickly and I want to learn at least 40-50 words per day? After 10 days I will be forced to go through 20 distillations. After one month this number will start hitting insane heights. More and more of my attention will be required to keep up with all the reviews. This seems very off-putting.
Another important quality of effective learning methods is that they should automate the learning process. The method which necessitates more and more conscious decisions on your part the more you want to learn simply doesn’t fit the bill.
4. Lack of context
The enormous red flag for any language learning method is the exclusion of context from the learning process.
Simply repeating information in a mindless manner is called passive rehearsal. Many years ago it was actually proven that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).
This is just the first problem with the lack of context.
The other one is that almost all the knowledge you possess is activated contextually. If there is no context, it will be extremely difficult for you to retrieve a word when you need it.
In other words – you will remember the information but you will have a hard time using it in a conversation.
As a result, soon enough you will forget a word because there will be no network of other information holding it in your head.
5. The Goldlist Method is detached from reality
The problem with the Goldlist Method is encapsulated in a famous adage used by Marines:
‘Train as you fight, fight as you train’
I can’t stress enough how important these words are.
Always try to train for reality in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of real life. Anything else than that is simply a filler. A waste of time. It gives you this warm feeling inside, “I have done my job for today”, but it doesn’t deliver results.
Tell me, is rewriting words from one notebook to another actually close to using your target language?
6. Lack of retention intention
Another elementary mistake that we tend to make way too often when we fail to retain a word is actually not trying at all to memorize something.
You see, everything starts with a retention intention.
This fact is even reflected in the simplified model of acquiring information:
A retention intention sets the stage for good remembering. It is a conscious commitment to acquire a memory and a plan for holding on to it. As soon as you commit to a memory goal, attention locks on to what you want to remember.
This is how attention works—it serves the goal of the moment. And the stronger the motivation for the goal, the more laserlike attention becomes and the greater its memory benefits.
In other words, you can watch as many TV series and read as many books as you like. It will still have almost zero effect if you don’t try to memorize the things you don’t know. The same goes for the Goldlist method.
A key feature of a retention intention is the plan for holding on to the material. It might be as simple as rehearsing the memory, or it might involve one of the memory strategies described later. Whatever the plan, when you are clear about how you intend to retain the material, it is more likely you will actually carry out the plan, and this can make all the difference between a weak and strong memory.
7. Lack of encoding
Take a peek once again at the simplified model of acquiring information.
What you can see is that the second most important part of the process of memorization is encoding.
Encoding is any attempt to manipulate the information you are trying to memorize in order to remember it better.
Shallow and deep encoding.
Encoding can be further divided into shallow and deep encoding.
In the world of language learning, deep encoding is nothing more than creating sentences with the words you intend to memorize. In other words, it’s creating contexts for the items you want to learn.
Shadow encoding encompasses almost everything else. Counting vowels, writing down the said items and so on.
Deep encoding is the fastest and the most certain way of memorizing information and maximizing your chances of retrieving it.
If you skip encoding, like the GoldList method does, you immediately revert to mindless repetitions of words (i.e. passive rehearsal).
And we all know how it ends.
Mindless repetition of words has almost zero effect on your learning. If you want to increase your chances of memorizing them permanently you need to use the new words actively in a task (Laufer & Hulstijn (2001:14).
To be honest, I could add some more mistakes which this method perpetuates. However, I think enough is enough – I think I have pointed out all the most glaring ones.
There are two things I like about the Goldlist method
It gives you a system which you can follow. This is certainly the foundation of any effective learning.
It jogs your motor memory by making you write words.
The Goldlist Method – Suggested Modifications
The Goldlist method is too flawed to fix it in a considerable manner but let me offer you this suggestion.
Instead of rewriting words, start building sentences with them for every distillation.
This way you will incorporate some deep encoding into your learning process. You should see the difference progress-wise almost immediately.
The Goldlist Method – The Overall Assessment
There is no point in beating around the bush – this is one of the worst learning methods I have ever encountered. It violates almost every major memory principle. If you were contemplating using it – just don’t.
If you have nothing against using apps and programs to learn, I would suggest you start your language learning journey with ANKI.
Here are two case studies which will show you how to do it
The Goldlist method is one of the best examples of something I have been saying for years – anyone can come up with a learning method. Sometimes it’s enough to sprinkle it with some scientific half-truths to convince thousands of people to try it.
My opinion is this – you’re much better off using many other methods. This is one of the few which seems to be violating almost all known memory principles.
Done reading? Time to learn!
Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read.
I am on the mission to change it. I have created 30 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go.
Spending time with my grandfather was always a bit weird. He didn’t want to talk much or play some stupid games. Oh no. He used to sit me in front of him and grill me about different school subjects. Physics. Math. History. But his personal favorite was teaching me Latin proverbs.
Most of them slipped my mind.
But among all those which stuck with me, this is the one I cherish the most:
Repetitio mater studiorum est – repetition is a mother of studying
These four words contain the wealth of wisdom if you only interpret them in the right way.
On the surface, the problem with learning doesn’t seem that complex. As long as you repeat things you want to learn, everything is fine and dandy. But let’s be honest for a second.
How easily can you recall words during conversations in your target language? How often does your mind go blank?
You desperately try to recall the word you need, but there is nothing there — just the depressing nothingness.
Rings true? There you have it!
So the problem might a bit more complicated than we have thought after all. Put on your “learning overalls,” and let’s dig deeper to explain why repetition is not enough.
Let me start with the basics.
Optimize Your Language Learning – Two Kinds Of Repetition
In its most basic form, the repetition can adopt two forms. It can be either:
But what does “passive” mean, especially in the context of language learning?
It means that you don’t engage with the information you receive.
You don’t do it actively (duh). That’s why activities like reading and listening fall into this category. What terrifies me the most is that the default style of learning, formost of the people, is passive learning.
“But why do passive learning activities suck donkey balls?”, you might ask. Let’s get to it.
Why Passive Repetition Sucks and Hinders Your Progress
Before I get to the science, let me tell you about a friend of mine. This story might sound familiar to you. Problems of about 90% of people who write to me fit perfectly into the following scenario.
Anyway. So this friend of mine has been learning Russian for over two years now.
I haven’t heard her talk for a long time, but I thought that her level should be at least decent. Russian is not that different from Polish, after all. So imagine my surprise when I heard her speak Russian a few weeks ago. She barely scratched the B1 level.
My first reaction? “No, f***ing way.”
She’s been learning systematically for over two years, and she can barely string a sentence together? After some investigation, I got to the bottom of it. Yes, her teacher visited her every week. Yes, they did learn.
Or should I say, “learn”? Because the process they went through barely resembled any real learning. They read some articles together. For an entire hour. Almost no speaking at all. No meaningful conversations. No active learning.
Nada. Null. Nothing.
If at any point while reading this description, you told yourself, “Hey, this is pretty much how my lessons look like!” then run. Run the hell away from your teacher or language school. A visit to a local strip-club seems to be a better investment than this. At least you will know what you pay for.
Optimize Your Language Learning – the Pyramid of Effective Learning
Science is very clear about passive learning. It was proven a long time ago that passive learning has minimal effect on whether the information is later recalled from long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).
Many other studies have managed to replicate the results of the research mentioned above successfully.
So how does effective learning look like? Take a look at the pyramid of effective learning.
There is a good reason why learning and listening are at the absolute bottom of retention rates.
This should be the mantra of every learner. If you want to learn fast, you have to take control of your learning. Without it, your learning is like a boat with no sails in the middle of the storm. You go one way and then the other without any sense of direction. That damn boat needs a captain – you that is!
Ok, so what does the effortful recall mean?
It means that the more effort you put into recalling a piece of information or executing a skill, the more this act benefits the learning. (Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel).
Once again, there are a lot of studies that confirm the effectiveness of active learning. Here are the results of some of the recent findings.
“Tests that require effortful retrieval of information (e.g., short-answer) promote better retention than tests that require recognition (Larsen et al. 2008).”
“Effortful retrieval of information improves recall 1-month later, compared with no test (butler and Roediger 2007).”
It’s worth mentioning that you can mix these strategies. Why not reap the benefits from the synergy effect?
The Effectiveness of Passive Learning
Let’s do some simple math. Considering the said effectiveness of given learning strategies, we might conclude that:
I know that reading and listening might feel productive, but they are not. These are so-called feel-good activities.
I always shock students of mine by telling them not to listen to anything for the first 8-10 weeks of learning. Instead, I help them concentrate on active learning. Only after this period do they start listening practice. And the gains always amaze them.
There is also a little known consequence of your potential choice of learning strategy. You see, if you don’t learn actively, you automatically condemn yourself to UNINTENTIONAL LEARNING.
Now, this is a truly fascinating type of learning.
Unintentional learning takes place when you acquire vocabulary accidentally. It is a by-product of repeating a given piece of information a certain number of times.
It’s worth mentioning that is it also one of the default and (most useless) strategies of almost every language learner.
The body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times to put it into your long-term memory. 20 to 50 times! (one of many sources)
It takes way too much time. And time is the luxury a few of us can afford. Of course, One might argue that 20-50 repetitions are not that many. After all, if you read extensively and listen, you should get to this number of repetitions after some time.
Right? No. Here comes another plot twist.
Unless you learn three thousand words, reading is a very slow and inefficient activity.
And until you reach this number, your odds of learning words contextually are slight. Sure, you can infer the meaning, but there is a good chance that your guess will be incorrect.
And what about rare words which you might find useful?
What If I need to know the word “thimble” because that was my dog’s name, and I feel the need to share it with English speakers? How many thousands pages must I read to stumble across this word, say, ten times? Hell, I don’t remember when was the last time I heard this word in my native tongue!
What about other words like tangs, udder, piston, and so on? I need such words frequently during interpreting or teaching. Relying only on passive learning activities would make me an inefficient teacher/coach/interpreter.
No. Of course, it is not. Incidental vocabulary acquisition makes some sense. Maybe even a lot but only on one condition – you already know enough words (and grammar) to learn from context. Typically, that’s about 5000 words for most of the languages. But the problem is to memorize these 5000 words before you run out of motivation!
As you can see, passive learning activities are a cardinal sin for most language learners. Limiting them is the first step you should take optimize your language learning. The chance is that if you take a good, hard look at your learning schedule, you will discover that they are the culprit, which makes your progress unsatisfying.
They still play an essential role in the learning process, but only if you go through the critical phase of deliberate and active learning.
Done reading? Time to learn!
Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read.
I am on the mission to change it. I have created flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. Memorizing things like “effortful recall”, etc. can be really easy!
Even though much has been written about how to use passive learning, i.e. reading and listening, in language learning, many language learners still puzzle over the following question, “How can I leverage it in order to speed up my learning progress?”
5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).
Such a vocabulary size warrants also accurate contextual guessing (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997).
For exactly that reason this milestone is called the optimal threshold for passive learning.
What’s more, the body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times in order to put it into your long-term memory (i.e. be able to activate it without any conscious effort).
As a sidenote, my personal experience is this – even 5000 words are not enough to start memorizing words. You should aim for at least 8000 in order to do it efficiently.
The conclusion from the above is simple.
Passive learning can be an effective tool for memorization when you know at least 5000 words. But it doesn’t mean that reading or listening is useless before that.
The purpose of passive learning – it complements active learning
In order to understand well the function of passive learning in the learning process, we need to start at the source – the simple model of memorization.
The simple model of memorization:
This sexy model tells us that in order to acquire knowledge quickly and efficiently, you need to encode information. In other words, you need to manipulate the information in a meaningful way.
Is the element of encoding present in passive learning (i.e. reading or listening)?
Of course not!
That’s the reason why active learning is much better suited for learning material fast.
However, the problem with active learning is that it’s tiring as hell even though it doesn’t take a lot of time. At the end of your learning session, you should feel as if you have been mauled and teabagged by a bear at the same time.
It’s not pretty.
Ok, so you already know that active learning is:
What it tells us is that you can do learn actively only for the limited period of time before you run out of steam. In other words, active learning is not sustainable long-term.
What happens then? Do you just call it a day? Nope. You switch to passive learning.
active learning + passive learning = optimal learning
If you stick to this formula, you are guaranteed to learn relatively fast.
Always push yourself to the limit while learning actively and when you are about to black out switch to passive learning.
Of course, this isn’t the only benefit of reading and listening.
The purpose of passive learning – it primes your memory
What is priming?
Before I move on, let’s clarify what priming is.
Primingis a technique whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention.
In other words, priming can provide for sets of actions, or, in the lexical field, sets of words.
So, for example, a listener, hearing the word bread will recognize words like baker, butter, knife more quickly than unrelated words like a doctor, mortar, radiator.
One of the prime researchers in this field, Hoey, states: (…) Priming is the result of a speaker encountering evidence and generalising from it. [Primings come] from single focussed and generalising encounters. Language teaching materials and language teachers can provide essential shortcuts to primings. (Hoey 2005: 185f.)
Now that you know what priming is, it’s time to take a look how it affects our memory.
How does priming affect our memory?
There is one main effect of priming on our memory.
We process frequent collocations faster than infrequent ones.
In other words, it’s much easier for us, foreign language learners, to understand speech which consists of logical and frequently ocurring collocations. It’s much easier to process a sentence like “I am cutting an onion with a knife” than “I am cutting an onion with a German Shepherd”.
How is it possible?
Because our memories are organized into something called “schemas”.
“Schema” is used as a general term to cover all kinds of general knowledge. More closely specified versions of schemas are called scripts, which consist of general knowledge about particular kinds of events, or frames, which consist of knowledge about the properties of particular objects or locations.
It means that with every new collocation e.g. “cut with a knife”, “a sharp knife”, “stab with a knife”, your time of reaction when it comes to understand gets decreased.
If your scripts are rich enough, you can actually predict, even though it’s mostly imperceptible for us, what somebody is going to say (read more abouthow we process speech here).
What’s fascinating, auditory word priming does not require access to word meaning, it may reflect the process whereby listeners build and use presemantic auditory representations. (Trofimovich 2005: 482)
What is a likely mechanism supporting spoken-word processing and learning?
I will tell you a little bit more practical consequences of this phenomenon later.
Fun fact about priming
Priming can take many different forms and shapes. One which you might find really interesting is syntactic priming.
Syntactic priming is the phenomenon in which participants adopt the linguistic behaviour of their partner.
Yes. The more time you spend with somebody, the more likely it is that you will understand this person’s idiolect (or that you will adapt it).
Idiolectis an individual’s distinctive and unique use of language, including speech.
They (and others) therefore raise an important issue about collocation, since it appears to contradict Sinclair’s (1991) claim that there are no valid collocations beyond the five-word mark on either side. The concept of lexical access appears to be very close to lexical priming.
De Mornay Davies is more explicit when he states: Even if two words are not ‘semantically related’ in the strictest sense (i.e. they do not come from the same superordinate category), their frequent association produces a relationship at the “meaning” level. (de Mornay Davies 1998: 394). Source: The concept of Lexical Priming in the context of language use, Michael Pace-Sigge
As you can see, priming is a truly powerful weapon as it relates to concepts which are not in their direct proximity.
What it means practically is that your brain will still be able to understand a collocation even if you interject an extra thought into a sentence.
Here is an example of this phenomenon: “I wanted to cook a dinner so I started to cut an onion, you know, with, like, a really sharp knife”
How long can priming last?
Findings suggest that auditory word-priming effects have a long-term memory component and are long-lasting (Trofimovich 2005: 481).
What does it mean that they are long-lasting?
It’s speculated that these effects can last months or even years.
Practical consequences of priming
Speaking fluently is a really tricky thing.
Because you have to combine two things. First of all, you need to actively memorize new words, ideally, by creating a new context for them.
That will see the said words in your memory. The problem is that, as I have said before, unless you have a lot of contexts, you won’t be able to recall them fast.
Is the solution creating a lot of sentences for a given word?
Sure, it will work, but it’s too much consuming. However, if you start learning passively, you will be exposed to dozens of different contexts for almost every possible word you know.
Even though, you won’t feel it, these contexts will be generalized in your head into scripts and will start acting as triggers.
From then on, whenever you run into a situation which fits your script, your primed words will be right there at the top of your tongue.
If you have ever struggled with fluent speaking, I can guarantee you that you’re missing one of these puzzle pieces.
Problems with comprehension
Keep in mind that the richer your words of associations for a given word, the easier it is to understand it.
Reading and, especially, listening are amazing learning tools which will expand this network relatively effortlessly.
Passive learning is certainly a misunderstood language learning tool. Even though it’s often touted as a great tool for memorization, it’s actually pretty ineffective in this department unless you are already an advanced learner. Its real power lies in creating an extensive network of contexts and connections which allow you to both recall and understand words much faster.