Conversational Topics for Specific Language Levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.)

conversational topics for specific language levels

Establishing which language level you're at can be quite tricky. Not only do you have to know how large your current vocabulary is, but also you have to be able to talk about specific topics.

This knowledge can be useful for three purposes:

  1. To measure your language level more precisely 
  2. To choose a conversational subject for your lessons or speak-to-yourself sessions
  3. To be well-prepared for official certificates

If you fail to meet these conversational requirements, it can be quite difficult to pass appropriate exams. 

Read more: How To Learn German From Scratch To A B2 Level In 5 months: A Case Study

Of course, if you just learn for fun or you don't need official papers, you shouldn't worry too much about being able to talk about all those topics.

Let's dive right in and learn what they are.


Conversational Topics for Specific Language Levels 


A1 - BREAKTHROUGH (requirements)


  • Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has.
  • Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
  • Let's be honest. You don't know much at this level and not much is expected of you. Still, you should be able to discuss the following topics.


    Expected conversational depth level: very superficial
    Expected vocabulary depth: everyone is happy that you know any words at all and that you can string them into semi-coherent sentences.


    A1 Conversational topics


    1.  Personal information and introductions
    2.  Offers and requests (can you ..., do you want to ... ?)
    3.  Free time and daily routines
    4.  Past events, first times, important events in your life (e.g. describing what you did last weekend)
    5.  Describing places, homes (... is big/small/red/etc.)
    6.  Shopping, food (e.g. ordering something at the restaurant)
    7.  Work/study life (What do you do _______?)
    8.  Describe people
    9.  Getting around
    10.  Suggestions/arrangements to meet (e.g. inviting someone somewhere)
    11.  Journeys/visiting places/means of transport


    A2 - WAYSTAGE (requirements)


  • Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
  • Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
  • Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment, and matters in areas of immediate need.
  • You know simple words, phrases with very limited reading skills and cannot keep up with conversations in the language. You still second guess your choice of words and constantly refer to guidelines.


    Expected conversational depth level: superficial,
    Expected vocabulary depth: you should know the most basic of all the words. No fancy or precise vocabulary belongs is expected of you.


    A2 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source):

    1.  The individual* personal particulars* appearance* clothing* daily routine
    2.  Partnership* family* relatives* acquaintances, friends* classmates/ colleagues
    3.  Family* family members* family occasions /celebrations
    4.  Place of living* house/flat* furnishing of the living-room /bedroom* kitchen furniture, gadgets* the street, the town* (sharing the housework)
    5.  Traveling/transport* means of transport* timetable/information* buying tickets (bus, train, plane)* traveling documents
    6.  Shopping/shops* shops* special shops* electronics* markets* grocery* clothes shops* departments in a shopping center
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact* post (letter, postcard)* telephone / fax* text messages, e-mails
    8.  Services* restaurant (menu, ordering, paying)* hotel (booking, paying)
    9.  Culture/entertainment–* free time activities* guests* cinemas* theatres* museums* concerts
    10.  Time/weather* seasons* weather* rainy weather/winter weather/snowing
    11.  Health/illnesses* at the pediatrician’s* at the doctor’s* at the dentist’s* some common illnesses(flu, cold)* medication* at the chemist’s
    12.  Sport* popular sports* football* athletics* doing sports* sport and hobby
    13.  Media* television* radio* newspapers* magazines
    14.  Hobby* reading* listening to music* computer games* the candidate’s favorite pastime
    15.  Studying/work* subjects* popular professions* workplaces* colleagues / school-friends* daily routine at home / at work


    Here are sample A2 speaking tests:

    Here is an excerpt from a German A2 exam (passed by those candidates). Even if you don't know any German, just pay attention to the pace of this conversation. If you do, notice the simplicity of the vocabulary which is being used.


    B1 - THRESHOLD (requirements)

     conversational topics

    Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash


  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst traveling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on familiar topics or the ones of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
  • This is the level which most people think of when they hear "conversational fluency". The gist of this level is that you can participate in a simplified conversation about popular topics.

    Notice that topic-wise, this level is not that different from an A2. The main difference is that your vocabulary is bigger and hence you can talk about these subjects at a slightly deeper level.


    Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at a slightly deep level
    Expected vocabulary depth: you can convey many of your thoughts but you lack precision. Think "It's bad that people like" rather than "it's infuriating that people can be such mendacious scum"


    B1 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source, source 2):

    1.  The individual* personal particulars* appearance* inner characteristics* casual / evening wear
    2. Partnership* relatives, friends* acquaintances, neighbors* classmates/schoolmates/colleagues
    3.  Family* family members* family occasions/celebrations* distribution of tasks in the family
    4.  Place of living* house/block house/flat* furnishing/gadgets of the rooms* furnishing/gadgets of the kitchen and the bathroom* rent and bills* housework
    5.  Traveling/transport* means of transport* public transport* timetable/information* buying tickets/preparation for a journey* traveling abroad/traveling documents
    6.  Shopping/shops* shops/markets* department stores / departments* groceries/household goods* clothing* electric appliances
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact* post (letter, telegram, parcel)* telephone (traditional, mobile, text messages)* Internet (e-mail, Skype, chat)
    8.  Services* financial services (transfer, exchange)* restaurant (menu, ordering, paying)* hotel (booking, paying)
    9.  Culture/entertainment* guests* cinemas* theaters* museums* concerts* library (school, at home, public)
    10.  Time/weather* seasons/weather* weather forecast
    11.  Health/illnesses
      eating and drinking
      at the doctor’s* common illnesses and their symptoms* prescriptions / medication /pharmacy
    12.  Sport* popular sports* national sports* doing sports
    13.  Media* television* radio* newspapers / magazines
    14.  Hobby* gardening / DIY* reading / listening to music* computer
    15.  Studying/work* types of schools* subjects* popular professions/workplaces* daily routine
    16.  European Union* members of the EU* travelling / work / mobility
    17.  Culture and civilization* basic practical information regarding the home country and the target language country (weather, currency, eating habits, daily routine, celebrations, shopping opportunities, etc)* tourist attractions* accommodation / restaurants
    18. Holidays and celebrations


    Here are sample B1 speaking tests:


    • In English

    I find this one especially fitting if you want to understand what this level is all about


    • In German


    B2 - INTERMEDIATE (requirements)

    Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options
  • This level can be depicted as a FULL conversational fluency. You can have real conversations with native speakers about a variety of subjects.


    Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at quite a deep level
    Expected vocabulary depth: you can convey most of your thoughts but you still, for the most part, lack precision. Compared to a B1 level, you can discuss more topics with more precise vocabulary.


    B2 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source and source 2):

    1.  The individual* behavioral patterns* fashion/clothing/cosmetics
    2.  Partnership* making friends (in person, on the net, etc.)* roles in the family* contacts at work / at school
    3.  Family* family/bringing up children* relationship of generations / living together* marriage/forms of partnership
    4.  Place of living* rental/property/lodgings* buying a flat/buying on credit /renovation* way of living in a town and a village
    5.  Traveling/transport* driving/highway codes* walking, riding the bike* reasons/forms of traveling abroad
    6.  Shopping/shops* shopping habits/commercials, ads* chains/shopping by mail* retail shops versus shopping centers
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact –* reasons for the popularity of mobiles* the role of language knowledge in communication* the increasing dominance of the English language
    8.  Services* car rental / travel agencies* repairs / guarantees
    9.  Culture/entertainment* books versus Internet* cinema, theatre versus TV, video, DVD* he Internet and the social networking sites
    10.  Time/weather* role and accurateness of forecasts* relationship between climate and flora/fauna
    11.  Health/illnesses* outpatient department / hospital / specialists* nature cure – medicines* prevention / screening* healthy diet
    12.  Sport* doing sports – healthy lifestyle –dangerous/extreme sports* ball games / team sports / rules* water sports/winter sports* Olympic Games
    13.  Media* features of newspapers, their columns* sensation and news
    14.  Hobby* pursuing amateur arts* clubs (sport, cultural, professional)* hobby and work* modern/peculiar hobbies
    15.  Studying/work* language knowledge / skills / career* equal chances in education / finding a workplace* unemployment* exchange programs / scholarships abroad / professional development* new forms of studying
    16.  European Union* work in the EU* language teaching/language knowledge/work opportunities in the EU
    17.  Culture and civilization The home country and the target language country* population / ethnic minorities* historic traditions / monuments / cultural values* artistic / ethnographic characteristics
    18.  Public life* public institutions / personal documents* public safety* national holidays
    19.  Environmental protection* pollution (air, water, soil, et)* selective waste management* recycling* alternative sources of energy
    20.  Current topics/events* public life / politics / NGOs* economy
    21.  Education system


    Here are sample B2 speaking tests:


    • In English ​
    • In German 



    C1 - ADVANCED/PROFICIENT (requirements)


  • He/she can understand a wide range of more demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning in them.
  • He/she can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for the right expression.
  • He/she can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • He/she can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing the correct use of organizational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices.
  • In linguistic terms, proficiency does not translate to the same meaning as fluent. To state you are proficient means you are comfortable with the use of the language in spoken and written form but not at the same level as a native speaker.

    Read more: The Word Substitution Technique – How To Increase Your Vocabulary Size Considerably.


    Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at a (very) deep level (depending on a subject)
    Expected vocabulary depth: not only can you convey almost every thought but your language is also becoming more and more natural. You start using idioms and distinguishing between different shades of meaning of many words.


    C1 Conversational topics


    Here are conversational topics you should be able to talk about at this level (source):

    1.  The individual* ambition/career building* the individual and the society* problems of social integration
    2.  Partnership* forms of partnership* nationalities/minorities
    3.  Family* the social status of families / the system of family allowances* family/career
    4.  Place of living* housing situation/difficulties in building a house* homelessness / its causes/ problems* housing and mobility
    5.  Traveling/transport* problems of city traffic / public transport versus using cars* transport and environmental protection* tourism as a source of income* development in transport / its aspects
    6.  Shopping/shops* consumers’ society* buying on credit/with credit cards/on the Internet* shopping tourism
    7.  Communication/keeping in contact* the Internet in business communication* Fax, e-mail versus traditional letter writing* less widely used languages versus English
    8.  Services* quality/guarantee of services* role, significance of services* electronic services / online ordering
    9.  Culture/entertainment* role of arts in the past and present* public collections and their maintenance / art / historic relics / monuments* mentorship / sponsorship / advertising
    10.  Time/weather* natural catastrophes and their consequences* hole in the ozone layer/dangers of global warming
    11.  Health/illnesses* science/research serving medical care / genetics* alternative methods of healing* health tourism
    12.  Sport* first-class sports – mass sports/doping* professionalism in sports / amateur sports / extreme sports* sport and women (chess, boxing, weightlifting, football)* sport and commercials
    13.  Media* objectivity / impartiality of providing information*  stars / celebrities
    14.  Hobby* promoting traditions* exclusive hobbies (golf, horse riding, scuba diving, etc.)* hobby and/or professionalism?
    15.  Studying/work* (over) qualification/chances on the work market* lifelong education* finding work/mobility* chances of the underprivileged
    16.  European Union* the role of the EU in world politics* common / national currency
    17.  Culture and civilization The home country and the target language country* fame/recognition in the world / their relationship to each other* their image* differences in traditions / customs / ideology
    18.  Public life* the purity of public life / corruption* political parties / elections / referendum
    19.  Environmental protection* prevention in environmental protection* environmental catastrophes and their consequences
    20.  Current topics/events* public life / politics / NGOs* economy / arts / sports
    21.  Globalization* uniformity (dressing, eating, culture, consumer products, etc.)* globalization / maintaining national characteristics
    22.  Current questions on ethics* animal experiments* nuclear experiments
    23.  Current questions on economy/society–* smuggling: goods/people* smoking/dangers of drug addiction


    Here are sample C1 speaking tests:


    • In English


    • In German


    C2 - MASTERY (requirements)

    Photo by Ashton Mullins on Unsplash


  • Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
  • Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
  • Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
  • C2 Conversational topics


    No need to waste my breath, or fingertips, here. At this level, you are absolutely fluent and can talk about almost everything. No wonder! You're approaching the level presented by well-educated-native speakers.

    My only advice for you at this level is to dive into details of any topic you decide to discuss. You need to put in lots of effort to activate all those obscure words. Don't talk just about shopping. Discuss "high-impact strategies to increase a wholesale diversification". Or, you know, something of this sort.


    Conversational Topics for Specific Language Levels - Summary


    Knowing conversational topics for specific language levels is crucial if you want to pass any official certificate. Even more so if you decide to do it on your own. Such knowledge allows you to shield yourself from any unpleasant surprises during the speaking part of an exam.

    However, if you feel no need to obtain any official documents, knowing conversational topics for specific language levels can help you prepare better for your lessons or even give you lots of question ideas for your self-talk!


    Benefits Of Talking To Yourself And How To Do It Right To Master a Language

     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 taskstaying 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.

    Talking to yourself is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to improve your language skills. Conversations with others always impose various limitations on you. It's entirely understandable - It's much more important to keep the talk alive than to experiment with different grammar constructions or new vocabulary.

    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:

    They cover almost every socially acceptable topic which might crop up during your conversations. Together with some more "unusual" subjects, such as - eye contact or Jamaica.

    If you discuss most of these subjects with yourself, I can guarantee you that you'll be able to talk with every native speaker about almost anything you want. Isn't it a definition of being fluent?



    Overcome Weirdness of Talking to Yourself


    Benefits Of Talking To Yourself


    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 debugging is 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:

    1. 1
      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.
    2. 2
      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.
    3. 3
      Blowing off steam - don't keep it all inside. If your colleague is a massive w*nker, say it out loud and scold him. Scientists found out that swearing can alleviate pain and decrease stress.
    4. 4
      Cheering yourself up sometimes, it just happens that others don't appreciate you enough. So what? You can pat yourself on the back for being a great human being!

    Benefits of Talking to Yourself - FAQ 


    My spouse/brother/friend is talking to himself/herself a bit too much? Should I be worried?

    Generally, no, unless you notice any of the two following symptoms.

    • The self-talk is accompanied by general hostility towards others, cupping some object and calling it "my precious."
    • It turns out that they are talking to the invisible friend called Jimmy.

    Remember, it's not weird until you make it weird!


    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 over 9 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

     


    How to Learn Finnish Fast – from Scratch to a B1 Level in 3 Months

    Learn finnish fast

     

    Do you want to learn Finnish fast? Great! I have a great pleasure of showing you a case study, or a magical transformation as I like to call it, of one of my superstar students. Kate took my language learning course Vocabulary Labs quite many months ago and very quickly morphed into a learning beast! She learned Finnish to an A2 level in 3 weeks and a B1 in about 3 months as verified by one of her local language schools. What makes it even more impressive is that Kate is a busy mom of 2. She has no time to waste.

    Another cool thing about this case study is that I collected all of Kate’s emails throughout the course. They will give you a detailed picture of how drastically one’s approach to learning can change once they switch to different learning strategies and start violating memory principles.

    This article also gives me yet another chance of showcasing a core philosophy promoted by the Universe of Memory.

     

    Learning is mostly a lonely struggle. It’s what you do at home that really matters. Choose a bad learning strategy, or focus on the incorrect things and you can kiss your progress goodbye.

     

    If that wasn’t enough, Kate also shares her advice about encouraging your family to join you in your language mission. It seems that the key strategy which has eluded me for years are thinly veiled threats of starving your significant other. Who would have thought?

     

    Learn Finnish fast – the Pre-course Evaluation

     

    The pre-course evaluation

     

    One of the indispensable parts of the Vocabulary Labs course is a pre-course survey which I send to each member before the course starts. It helps me evaluate the state of knowledge of all the participants as well as their propensities and current learning styles.

    Below you can find some of Kate’s answers from the said survey. Her original goal was to learn German, but at the very beginning of the course, she decided to change it to Finnish.

     

    • What languages do you know currently and at what levels? Which one is your native tongue?
      Russian is my native tongue.
      I know English at C2.
      I used to know French at B2-C1 and some Latin, but I’ve forgotten most part of both by now. Also, I tried learning Japanese and German, but I’m about A0 in them 🙂
    • How much time can you devote to learning per day? Be as realistic as you only can.
      About an hour if I’m enthusiastic, not more than half an hour if there’s no interest, but only my will power involved.
    • How much time do you spend learning your target language every day? Please give me the approximate numbers for the following categories: reading, listening/watching, writing, talking.
      I‘m not learning German now.
    • What are you reading/watching/listening to?
      I don’t read or watch much (if we speak about fiction or things like news and films), I listen to audiobooks. It isn’t because I don’t like reading or watching. The only reason is that I can listen doing something else at the same time, while reading and watching need total concentration (well, watching a film + crocheting is possible, but with reading even this is out of the question). The majority of what I read/watch is in English (articles, lectures, etc. on the Internet).
    • Who do you talk to (teachers, friends, etc.)?
      Students. But that’s in English. In German, I don’t talk to anyone.
    • How do you learn and revise your vocabulary? What systems/apps/ websites are you using? (the more details the better)
      To learn German, I used Duolingo. I did it because I was interested in whether a program can really teach you anything. It taught me a couple of things, but not much. To study some C2 vocab when I was getting ready to take my CPE exam, I used Quizlet. I created flashcards myself, but I didn’t use them much – it was rather boring.
    • What do you (currently) like/dislike about language learning?
      There isn’t anything that I dislike. Languages are part of my life and have always been. I just enjoy them.
    • What are your strengths/weaknesses when it comes to learning? (discipline, concentration, etc.)
      I remember and understand things quickly – these are my strengths. I drop things easily if I’m bored. This lack of persistence is my weakness.
    • What are your favorite hobbies/pastimes?
      Usually, I’m up to my ears in work, which is also my hobby. When I’m too tired of work, I just relax doing nothing.
    • What is your current vocabulary size in your target language? 
      In German it’s about 100 words, I guess. Not more. Although I’ve never counted them. And they’re all my passive vocabulary.
    • How many new words do you learn per day?
      Zero.
    • How do you currently learn grammar?
      I don’t learn it in at all.
    • What is the quickest you have ever learned a language?
      A year – I was able to talk to a native speaker after a year of studying. But the level wasn’t high, so it all depends on what you mean by “have learned”. If it’s totally independent use of the language, like C1-C2, then my only achievement is English, and it took me many years to reach this level.
      To finish answering, let me say that although I’m very curious about your system, I’m at the same time very skeptical about it. In other words, I don’t really expect much and regard it more like an experiment of some sort. I don’t remember when and how I found your first article about memory and language learning, but I certainly liked it, because I rarely subscribe to receive e-mails. So, I was very interested to find out that you’re launching this course. Judging by your articles, the course is going to be interesting, regardless of my expectations 🙂

     

    Learn Finnish fast – Kate’s Progress!

     

    Meet Kate!

     

    Meet Kate!

     

    Once the course starts, all the participants receive e-mail reminders about their progress. It helps me keep track of their learning pace and any potential problems. It also makes for a great read later on! These e-mails create an amazing narrative and show how much people, and their learning capacity, can change within just a couple of weeks.

    Here are Kate’s e-mails.

     

    Update #1 – Beating 2 months of learning with Duolingo in 5 days

     

    Hi Bartosz,

    I’d like to share my impressions of your course. At the very beginning, I was skeptical (and I wrote to you about it). Well, seems like I’m not skeptical anymore)) Bartosz, your E.V.A. method is mind-blowing (both literally and figuratively). Its simplicity and effectiveness are just amazing.

    Now, more details. My initial aim was German, but right at the beginning of the course, I changed my mind. Since I’ve already tested how Duolinguo works using German, I decided to pick up some other language and see what I will achieve using your method. Then I was going to compare my Duolinguo achievements in German with the achievements in the new language. For the experiment, to be totally honest, I chose a language which looks absolutely alien to me: Finnish. It has nothing in common with the languages I know, since it belongs to a different family.

     

    Duolingo experiment

    My Duolingo experiment (which I carried out 2 years ago) lasted for about 2 months. I spent on it an hour or more daily. I learned some words and got some understanding of some grammar structures, but that’s about it. I don’t think I could say anything in that language except for the phrases which were repeated multiple times and which I simply knew by heart. I wasn’t satisfied with the results and deleted Duolingo after two months.

    I started using your method on May, 5th. On May 10th I realized I’ve already achieved more than after 2 months of Duolingo. And that’s not because Finnish is easy and German is not. Actually, it’s the other way around. In German, there were notions easy to grasp since they’re similar to English in some way. Many words looked familiar, too. Finnish, ha-ha) Nothing in common either with Latin, or with English, or with Russian.

    Maybe, pronunciation is easier, but nothing else. Still, I already know more than 100 words and CAN USE them. And it’s very inspiring, of course, to see this progress.

    I didn’t believe at first that B1 in 4 months is achievable, but now I think it is pretty possible if I just keep doing it at the same pace (which is not highly demanding, by the way).

    As for the biggest takeaway from the Grammar Module — that’s Deep Learning. I haven’t yet been doing it for long, but it already brings in the results.

    Read more: Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice.

     

    Update #2 – First 1000 Finnish words and A2 level in 3 weeks

     

    Hi Bartosz,

    I’m happy to share my experience of using your course, which is very pleasant indeed.

    First of all, yesterday I finished my first thousand of Finnish words (yes, I was waiting with this email just to be able to boast). 400+ of them are regarded by ANKI as mature. This would have never been possible but for the techniques, I learned from you. I do study grammar as well from time to time, but as it requires more concentration and can’t be done 5-10 minutes in the morning, then 3 minutes while the kids are playing in the sandbox, I study little grammar in comparison with vocabulary.

    I’ve got a textbook in Finnish. I don’t use it, but what I do is open it once a fortnight and see if I can understand something in there. In the beginning, it didn’t make any sense, but now the first four or five units are pretty easy to understand.

     

    Hungry for more

    The method has changed my perception of language learning so much that sometimes I feel my progress is slow. At this moment I remember my words “I’d call reaching A2-B1 in 3-4 months a tremendous success”. I know this phenomenon of greediness from my students, and now I’m experiencing it myself. Funny, but when I was doing Duolinguo making no progress whatsoever, I didn’t feel that I was going too slow.

    At the end of the third week of my experiment, I found an online placement test offered by some Finnish language school in Moscow. The result was that they suggested I join their second-semester group (which means I’d achieved in 3 weeks what they were studying for 4 months at the same price which I paid for your course).

     

    Update #3 – 1500 Finnish Words + Convincing Her Husband to Learn as Well!

     

    Thanks for monitoring the progress 🙂 I’ve learned a bit more than 1500 words (today it’s the 80th day of my learning), and I’m progressing further. This learning thing seems to be infectious: my husband started on Finnish, too. His pace is slower – just 5 words, but in spite of this, some progress can already be seen. Now I’ve got a partner to practice my skills during breakfast time :)) Totally free and always available.

     

    2800+ Finnish words

    Summer is over, a new school year has started, which means a lack of time. Well, no time at all, actually. So, I set my daily word limit to 10 (it used to be 20) just to make it doable. Right now the number of words I’ve learned is 2800, which is quite a lot. I decided to take a lesson with a native speaker to see if I will be able to speak. Yes, I’m able to speak and, which is even better, the natives can understand it! It’s more difficult to understand what they say, but I’m sure it’s a matter of practice. I’ve tried lessons with 2 different people, and both couldn’t believe that I’ve been studying Finnish for 4 months only (I took those lessons at the beginning of September, which was exactly 4 months since I started this language from scratch).

     

    Plans to take the officialYKI test

    Now my plan is to try taking their YKI test. It takes place only in Finland, but the more I learn the eager I am to visit that country. And if I visit it, why not taking the exam? There are three levels on which you can take it: A1-A2, B1-B2, C1-C2. I’m thinking of taking B1-B2. I would attempt at C1 if it weren’t for my extra-busy teaching time till the end of May. I just won’t be able to find the necessary time. However, B2 looks achievable.

    Best wishes,
    Kate

    P. S. “B2 looks achievable”. In a year. God, who could have thought I’d ever say this…

     

    A Short Interview With Kate

     

    A short interview with Kate
    While writing this case study, I was also able to catch up with Kate and ask her a couple of questions about learning and her family. It’s truly inspiring to see how much effort and sneakiness she put into encouraging them to learn Finnish fast as well!

     

    What do you do?

    I’m a teacher of English. I’ve been teaching for 15 years. I have experience of working at school, but for the last ten years, I’ve been a freelance teacher.

     

    Why exactly did you decide to learn Finnish instead of German?

    I’ve chosen Finnish because at first learning it was part of an experiment. I was interested to find out whether the system you suggest really allows people to learn languages faster than usual. For this purpose, I needed a language which is different from the ones I was familiar with.

    Since I studied Latin, such languages as Italian, Spanish, etc. were out of the question — being familiar with Latin makes it easier to learn them, so it wouldn’t have been clear whether it’s Bartosz’s system working or just my experience. German is in certain ways similar to English. Moreover, by the beginning of the experiment, I had already tried learning German, so this language wasn’t new either. So I was looking for a language from a different language family. Finnish, which is a member of the Uralic family and looked totally alien to me at the beginning of my experiment, was a perfect choice.

    My 2 cents: That’s a great approach. It’s really to fool yourself into believing that you can learn fast if you learn a language that is similar to the ones you already know. For years, while I have been devising my learning strategies, I used languages which I knew nothing about to minimize any background knowledge interference.

     

    Did you have to force your husband to learn Finnish or was it his choice :)?

    Yep. I told him I wouldn’t feed him if he didn’t start learning at least 5 words a day. Speaking seriously, I didn’t force him, but it wasn’t his choice either. I started by creating an ANKI profile for him and added 3 words there every day.

    It took less than a minute to revise them during breakfast time, and in about ten-fifteen days he realized he could say simple phrases. It inspired him and he asked me to increase the number of words up to 5. Then 7. Then 10. Then he started reading to learn some grammar and listen so some dialogues on Finnish sites. So that’s how it happened.

    My 2 cents: Let’s take a second to appreciate Kate’s brilliance. She didn’t wait until her husband makes up his mind. Instead, she created a separate ANKI account and flashcards to kickstart his progress. Sure, it would be better if he produced them himself. the thing is that probably he wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for Kate’s initiative. If you’ve been contemplating how to force your loved ones to take up a new language, you might benefit from this strategy.

     

    Do you currently have some opportunities to use the language? If not, how do you maintain it?

    Right now, I don’t have many opportunities to use the language unless I read/listen to something or exchange a couple of phrases with my husband. I used to have 1 lesson a week with a native speaker (I started in September to see whether I would be able to understand something and make myself understood, I liked the person I talked to, so I continued the speaking sessions till February. In February I had to quit because I was fully concentrated on my work).

     

    Do you use methods from Vocabulary Labs at your work? Did they affect the results of your students? How?

    Yes, I used the methods. One of the methods (or ideas, probably) that I used was to set a certain minimum of what has to be learnt/done every day. I prepared the materials in such a way that the goal of doing them every day was achievable pretty easily. It resulted in my students having covered LOTS of stuff. Much more than was covered by those who studied less systematically.

    Another one is, of course, ANKI. I explained to the students how to make cards. Some of them started using it right away, others didn’t want to. I didn’t insist much. In about 3 months it was easy to detect who was and who was not using ANKI without even asking them. The formers’ level grew much more rapidly.

    My 2 cents: That definitely sounds familiar. Even after one week of private coaching, I can already hear whether my clients use ANKI or not.

     

    Do you use the said methods in your daughter’s education? How exactly does it look like?:)

    The only method I’m using in my daughter’s education is ANKI. We just use it to learn words. For example, when we watch a cartoon or just talk about something while walking and this or that word pops up, we write a sentence with it in ANKI (and a picture! you can’t make a card without a picture, it’s almost a crime).

    My daughter’s pace is 3 words a day, but we often skip writing new words (not because she isn’t willing, but because I’m a lazy and irresponsible mother). She never skips revising, though. She can’t read in English yet, so I read the sentence aloud making a pause where she has to insert a word. Sometimes she makes sentences herself for the new cards.

    About a month ago she asked me whether she could have lessons with someone who speaks English. I found a teacher on iTalki, and now they’re having lessons. I write out the words which are an active vocabulary for the lessons, and then my daughter learns them. If not for this learning, the lessons would mainly be a waste of money (as well as my speaking sessions in Finnish). Backed up by ANKI, however, they are fine: my daughter enjoys talking to someone from far away and understands more and more. I used to have lessons with my daughter last year. She’s a quick learner, but now she’s progressing quicker than she used to.

    My younger daughter (3.8 years old) is always near my elder one when she’s revising. Side effect: the younger one knows half the words, too.

    My 2 cents: I am raising my son (22 months) bilingually ,and I am also optimizing his words repetitions with ANKI. Of course, he is way too small to do it himself,  being the lazy bugger he is, but I do it for him to optimize his learning curve.

     

    What are the three main takeaways you learned from Vocabulary Labs?

    1) I found out that learning a language can be amazingly quick. Finnish is more difficult than any other language I’ve come across so far (ok, Latin can compete, but it’s a dead language), yet the pace with which I learned it was quicker than, for example, French. Knowing that a language can be learned fast is, actually, a very important takeaway. It motivates and gives hope thus making me succeed.

    2) The one that I’m using in my work: better take a small step every day than sit for 10 hours once a month.

    3) ANKI. Needless to comment I suppose.

    3a) Switching my mobile to Finnish. It’s a tiny detail, but it reminds me of what I’m supposed to be doing every day.

    Actually, I have forgotten many things from the course since it’s very big. Now that I have some free time, I’m going to revisit it 🙂

    Are you planning to learn another language anytime soon?

    I’m not planning, but dreaming of learning Swedish as soon as I reach B2 in Finnish (which I hope will happen by the end of summer if everything goes as planned).

     

    Finnish From Scratch to a b1 Level in 3 Months – the Learning Plan

     

    Language strategies

     

    In this section, you can find a rough plan which Kate used in order to learn Finnish fast to a B1 level as verified by a language school. As a reminder, if you’re looking for a more detailed version of this blueprint, please read another case study of mine “How to learn German from scratch to a B2 level in 5 months“.

    Let’s start with the learning resources Kate has used to accomplish her mission.

     

    Finnish Learning Resources

     

    Kate only four things:

    • ANKI
    • Frequency lists (in the form of ANKI decks)
    • Websites to find native speakers to talk to
    • FinnishPod101

     

    I can only smile when people shake their heads in disbelief upon hearing that you don’t need more than a handful of resources to learn a language. Interestingly, the opposite is true. The more learning resources you use, the smaller your chances of being able to use them efficiently. What’s terrifying, even one small piece of paper which you scribble on can be counted as a separate resource. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s a fact.

     

    The Best Anki Decks for Finnish Vocabulary

     

    One of the fastest ways to learn a language is to start with vocabulary lists. Here are the best English-Finnish ANKI decks I have been able to find.

    Please keep in mind that those lists are supposed to be a basis for your own ANKI deck. Nothing can replace the effort you put into creating your own flashcards and sentences.

    This deck should be enough to take you from zero to about a B2 level. It also includes examples and audio.

    And here are other noteworthy frequency lists of Finnish words:

     

    How to Talk With Finnish Native Speakers for Free

     

    Organized lessons are, of course, a great idea. However, in the era of the internet, it’s absolutely not necessary to pay for them in order to talk with native speakers.

    Here is a list of great websites where you can arrange language exchange with language enthusiasts.

    My absolute favorite is definitely Italki. This is also the website that Kate has used to find a language partner.

     

     

    Finnish From Scratch to a b1 Level in 3 Months – What to Do

     

    Learn finnish fast

     

    (1) Download ANKI
    (2) Download a frequency list (e.g. in the form of ANKI decks)
    (3) Calculate your daily goal.
    It’s a number of words you need to learn daily in order to achieve your goal withing a certain timeframe. You should base your calculation on this article – how many words you should need for every language level.
    (4) Start creating sentences with the words from your frequency list.
    Don’t learn passively. Actually use the information you want to memorize.
    (5) Be systematic
    (6) Use deliberate practice to quickly acquire grammar
    (7) Talk with yourself to consolidate grammar and vocabulary
    (8) Once you learn 2000-2500 words, find a language partner if you want to.
    Of course, the more words you know before your first conversation, the better for you.
    (9) Don’t forget about listening. Try to start practicing your listening comprehension only once you learn at least 2000 words if you want to optimize your learning time.
    Of course, there are many nuances to this strategy but this learning plan should allow you to learn Finnish fast.

     

    Finnish From Scratch to a b1 Level in 3 Months – the Learning Plan – Summary

     

    Way too many people think that learning boils down to devoting vast swathes of time to your learning projects. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, effective learning is all about energy and effort you put into your learning. Very often one hour of honest work can beat 10 hours of bumming around. If you add effective learning strategies to this mix, rest assured that your progress will know no bounds.

    Do you want to ask me or Kate something about this mission? Let us know in the comments.

     

    Vocabulary Labs

     

    Interested in all the methods and strategies that we have used to learn German within that time? Check out my language course Vocabulary Labs. You can read dozens of similar testimonials here. It has been used by hundreds of learners to master over 40 different languages.

     

    Why Is It Difficult to Recall Vocabulary and How to Fix It?

    The phenomenon of retrieving words at will seems to be almost magical. The mere intention of wanting to use any of them recalls them effortlessly and in no time.

    Hah! You wish!

    The truth is that most of us look like constipated capuchin monkeys trying to poop out a screwdriver when we try to retrieve vocab! It’s difficult and it sure as hell doesn’t come easy.

    Why is it so?

    Well, first of all, the universe is a cruel place and probably hates you.Other than that there are some other memory-related reasons for that state of affairs.

    Since I can’t do anything about the universe, let’s concentrate on the latter.

     

    Difference between remembering and retrieving a word

     

    Let’s start with a very different distinction between remembering a piece of information and retrieving it. Contrary to common knowledge and intuition, they are not the same.

    To explain this concept, let’s look at a simple model of memory.

    1. encoding
    2. storage
    3. retrieval

    As you can clearly see that first you have to encode (memorize) a piece of information and only then can you retrieve it.

    It means that:

     

    a) you can remember something but you might not be able to retrieve it.

    b) if you can retrieve something you certainly remember it.

     

    The infamous tip-of-the-tongue feeling refers to the so-called failure to retrieve error,

    If you want to improve your chance of recalling an item you need to improve its retrievability.

     

    What is retrievability?

    Long-term memories can be characterized by two elements: Stability (S) and Retrievability (R) are part of the Two-component model of long-term memory.

     

    Retrievability of memory is a variable of long-term memory that determines the probability of retrieving a memory at any given time since the last review/recall.

     

    I would like to direct your attention to the word “probability”. You can never be certain that you will be able to retrieve a given memory. It all depends on a plethora of factors. But what you can do is increase your odds.

    Let’s dig deeper.

     

    Fundamentals – Retrieval Cues

     

    Whydifficult to recall vocabulary

     

    Before we move on, you need to familiarize yourself with some basic memory concepts. Only then will you be able to fully understand why you can’t recall a word and how to change it.

    Everything starts with a retrieval CUE.

     

    A Retrieval Cue is a prompt that help us remember. When we make a new memory, we include certain information about the situation that act as a trigger to access the memory. Source: AlleyDog

     

    As you can see, literally everything can be a cue! Let’s say that you meet a nice girl. The way she looks is a cue. Actually, every piece of her garment is a cue. The weather is a cue. The look of disgust on her face as you empty yet another cup of beer and whisper gently into her ear, ” Shh. Let the magic happen” is another great example of a cue.

    The sound of your feet being dragged across the dirt by the security is yet another cue.

    What? No. That did not happen to me! Mind your own business! Let’s get back to science!

    Saying that everything is a cue is a bit lazy, isn’t it? I think you will be able to understand them much better once you see how they are typically categorized.

    And don’t worry. This is not an exercise in futility. This info will come handy.

     

    Types of retrieval cues

    Gillian Cohen in her book Memory In the Real World distinguishes the following cues:

    • External cues were ones that came from the environment.
    • Abstract (aka internal) cues were all thoughts or linguistic references to the original episode.
    • Sensory/perceptual cues were those that provided sensory/perceptual referents to the original episode.

    Sensory cues can be further categorized as visual cues, auditory cues, haptic cues, olfactory cues, environmental cues, and so on.

    • State cues were physiological or emotional referents to the original episode

    I hope that now it’s easier for you to understand that literally everything can be a cue – starting from a thought and ending with a smell.

    Then, you might wonder, if there are so many of them, how come you still have trouble retrieving memories or words?

    The easiest answer is that you need to use the right cues.

     

    Memory principles governing recall

     

    There are a couple of general rules which will help you with understanding when it is usually possible to retrieve a word.

     

    1) The encoding specificity

    Somewhere in the 70s, a psychologist by the name of Endel Tulving proposed a theory called the encoding specificity principle.

    It states that:

     

    Successful recall relies on the overlap between the thing you are trying to remember and the situation in which you first encountered it, and the cues or prompts that are available when you are trying to recall it”.

     

    This gives us our first rule:

     

    The more retrieval cues are similar to encoding cues the bigger your chance of retrieving a piece of information.

     

    Let’s stress it one more time – it’s not guaranteed that you will recall desired words.Meeting the said conditions simply increases the likelihood of retrieving them.

     

    Example:

    Let’s say that you memorized (actively) the word “cat” in the following phrase: “a black cat”.If at any given time during a conversation, you decide to use this phrase, it will most likely come to the top of your mind.

    But what happens if you decide to use this word in another phrase:”a wild cat”? Assuming that you already know actively the word “wild”, there is a chance that you will be able to string this sentence together.However, the likelihood of this is definitely smaller than in the previous example as you have probably never ever made such a mental connection before. This leads to problems with so-called “information transfer“.

     

    If you memorized some word in only one context, your mind can cling to it so tightly that it won’t be able to transfer a given item into another context.

     

    Any time you use a given word in one part of a conversation and then can’t use it in another one,you run into exactly this problem.

     

    Fun fact

    Interestingly, these rules stay true regardless of the relevance of the information you are trying to retrieve.

     

    “When short-range contextual dependencies are preserved in nonsense material, the nonsense is as readily recalled as is meaningfull material.” – The Changing English Language: Psycholinguistic Perspectives

     

    Side note: Now, when I am reading this sentence I think that I need to go out more often.I have a strange definition of “fun”.

     

    2) The strength of associations

    Another aspect of successful retrieval is how strong your associations are. I think that it is intuitively understandable that the stronger the association between the cue and the target information the bigger your chance of retrieving an item is.

    However, make no mistake:

     

    The strength of your association is still not as important as the match between features of recall and features of encoding (Pansky et al., 2005; Roediger & Guynn, 1996).

    Example

    Imagine that you are eating peacefully your breakfast in a hotel abroad and all of a suddensome cat jumps on a table and gracefully puts its paw into your cereal bowl.

    You think for a second how to word your outrage in a language of your choice andthen you finally cry out “I will skin you alive, you sack of fleas!”.

    From now on, every time you decide to express your outrage in a similar situationthe chance of using exactly this phrase increases.

    3) Number of cues

     

     

    Edward Vul and Nisheeth Srivastava presented another interesting perspective. Namely, the process of retrieval is the process of retrieving cues that anchor the said item.

    From this it follows that:

    • recognition performance is superior to recall performance when the number of items is greater than the number of cues
    • recall performance is better than recognition when the converse holds.

    It means that the bigger the number of words you want to memorize, the bigger the number of cues you need.

     

    Don’t overdo it – a cue overload effect

    There is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you decide to go over the top and insert too many cues into a piece of information you are trying to memorize you might notice that your recall rate didn’t change.

    It happens so because:

     

    If retrieval cues are not recognized as being distinct from one another, then cues are likely to become associated with more information, which in turn reduces the effectiveness of the cue in prompting the recall of target information (Watkins & Watkins, 1975).

     

    Example

    Let’s say that you want to memorize a two-word phrase “a disgusting slob”. If you just create a flashcard and then try to din it into your head, there is a good chance you won’t succeed.

    The number of cues is minimal here. You can just see these words visually.

    In other words, you are using one sensory cue. But as you know now, there are quite many different kinds of cues.

    You can dollop more of them on top of this one.

    1. You can add a sound (another sensory cue)
    2. You can say it out loud (internal and sensory cue)
    3. You can modulate your emotions (state cues)

    Instead of just saying a phrase, you can shout it out angrily.Win-win! Unless you shout it out on a bus, of course.

    It’s worth mentioning that it’s a slight simplification of a problem as it doesn’t factor inthe capacity of our short-term memory.

     

    4) Distinctivity of cues

    The last (important) piece of a puzzle is how distinct your cues are.

     

    In order to increase the likelihood of recalling a verbatim-based piece of information, you need distinct retrieval cues (Anderson, 1983a; Anderson & Reder, 1999; Tuckey 743 & Brewer, 2003).

     

    But why do we need distinct retrieval cues?

     

    Shortly, recall of one item can prompt further recall of semantically related items (Collins & Loftus, 1975). This occurs through the spread of activation through the associative links of the memory network. Gillian Cohen – Memory In the Real World

     

    You can think about it as a domino effect. One element leads us to another.

    How to build good cues 

     

    difficult to recall and retrieve vocabulary

     

    Good quality retrieval cues often have:

    • (1) constructability (cues generated at encoding can be reliably reproduced at recall);
    • (2) consistency between encoding and retrieval within a given context  (i.e. an effective retrieval cue should be compatible with the memory trace created during encoding and show high cue-target match);
    • (3) strong associations with the target and the ability to be easily associated with newly learned information;
    • (4) bidirectionality of association (the cue recalling target information, and target information recalling the cue).
    • (5) It is also important that retrieval cues are distinctive or discriminable.

    Think about those rules as guidelines. Applying them will definitely increase your odds of retrieving an item.

    However, don’t go too crazy and try to apply all of them every time when you try to memorize something. If anything, you should increase the number of cues only for the words you have trouble remembering.

     

    Examples of learning methods which impede retrievability

     

    In the world of learning, there are a lot of methods and approaches which don’t work at allor which can be used only in the specific cases.

    I would like to complete your understanding of this topic by giving you a couple of examplesof strategies which don’t follow the aforementioned framework and thus, will mostly hinder your learning

     

    Mnemonics

    As I have argued before, mnemonics are a great addition to your learning toolkit.However, you shouldn’t treat them as anything more than just a temporary extension of your short-term memory.

    Let’s look at the quickest way to retrieve a word in a conversation.

     

    PHRASE YOU LEARN       PHRASE YOU RETRIEVEencoding cue             ->      retrieval cue (identical or similar to the encoding cue) = success

     

    Quite straightforward, isn’t it?

    Now here is the path of retrieval when you decide to use mnemonics:

     

    a big cat  -> looking for associations -> turning them into pictures -> placing them in some location -> decoding them -> retrieval

     

    As you can see, we are adding a lot of unnecessary steps into the process of retrieval. The usual effect is that you:

    • a) don’t remember them after a couple of days/weeks
    • b) you remember them but can’t recall them since you have no real context for these items

     

    Associations

    Associations are certainly a useful learning tool. The problems occur when there are too many of them. In my line of work, I have met people who were obsessed with finding an associationfor every possible piece of information.

    The thing is that the associations, just like mnemonics, can at best help you with remembering the word but not retrieving it.

     

    A couple of associations are great because they are distinct.However, there is nothing distinct and special about 100 associations.

     

    Another problem is that once again you are lengthening the process of retrieving a word

     

    encoding information -> building an association -> decoding an association -> retrieval

    (a cat) -> (it sounds similar to a candy bar ” Kit Kat -> (now you want to use the word in a conversation) it was something connected with a candy bar -> I bought a new Snickers!

    Teaching/learning styles

     

    difficult to recall vocabulary and retrieve it

     

    I have mentioned before in a couple of articles that learning styles don’t exist (read about it more here).Sure, you can have preferences for a giving style of learning but that does not mean that this styleof learning will be more effective memory-wise.

    Sure enough, there is a host of studies which suggest that even teaching styles have no influenceon the students’ ability to recall information.

    If you have ever had a teacher who hired a throng of merry and naked gnomes in orderto sing you a lengthy list of historical dates then I have bad news for you.

    Although, you have to appreciate the effort, right?

     

    How to maximize your chances of recalling words – Summary

     

    Time to recap everything you have learned so far about maximizing your chances of recalling something. But let’s do it in plain English this time.

     

    • 1. You should be the person who generates cues

    If you download ready-to-use flashcards or use apps like Duolingo and then whine that you can’t learn then there’s your explanation.

     

    High levels of recall usually occur when the cue is self-generated (Hunt & Smith, 1996).

     

    • 2. Retrieve vocabulary in different conditions

    If you just sit at home and pore over a computer or books you are encoding and retrieving items in the same conditions and that clearly hinders their retrievability.

    As you already know in order to retrieve a piece of information we need to use good cues.

    Remember:

     

    Retrieval is a selective process, relying on a complex interaction between encoded information and features of the retrieval environment (Tulving & Thomson, 1973).

     

    • 3. Memorize natural phrases / collocations

    One more time – the more retrieval cues are similar to encoding cues the bigger your chance of retrieving a piece of information.

    Let’s say that you want to learn the word “a bike”. You decide to put it into the following phrase which you will later memorize “a bike made with light alloys”.

    If you have never ever heard yourself saying such a phrase in your native tongue then what are you doing?! Use something simpler and more natural, for example, “a new bike”.

    P.S. Here you can read more about choosing the best learning methods.

    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 32 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go.

     

    Polyglot Tips, Advice, and Strategies – Why You Should Take Them With a Grain of Salt

    WHY YOU SHOULD TREAT POLYGLOTS; ADVICE, TIPS, AND STRATEGIES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT


    One category of emails which I regularly get is called: "X did Y, what do you think about it?" (or some variation of it).

    X is usually a polyglot or a YouTuber who just did a mission, whereas Y often stands for a short amount of time. Usually, what a reader expects from me is to tell them that it's possible because they also want to learn fast. I get it - it all sounds exciting. If you can learn a language way faster, then why wouldn't you take advantage of polyglot tips, advice or learning strategies? 

    The answer is simple: critical thinking. You are not them, and depending on your skill set and language background, it might not be possible for you even to get close to their results. There is a long list of warning signs that you should be aware of before you decide to emulate what they did. And no - I am not above it. Apply those criteria to my advice as well. 

    Let's chomp down a healthy dose of red pills.


    Polyglot Tips, Advice, and Strategies - Why You Should Take It With a Grain of Salt



    I get this vague feeling that sometimes both people who give and take language advice are a bit detached from reality. 

    In a rational world, if someone decided to start training box twice per week, initially, they would choose some simple form of training. Some stretching, basic forms, leg work - that kind of stuff.

    A mere suggestion that, "Dude, Mike Tyson has this cool training, let's give it a try!" would be greeted with a pitiful smirk. They would know that this kind of workout routine would leave them in tears and wouldn't be too effective for them at this stage.

    Yet, in the realm of languages, people get this idea that any language strategy is immediately applicable to them. Let me assure you - it is not. What's more, very often they can do more harm to your learning progress and motivation than good.

    Here are a couple of arguments to bear in mind.


    1. Expertise Reversal


    The expertise reversal effect occurs when the instruction that is effective for novice learners is ineffective or even counterproductive for more expert learners.

    If you look at it differently, more experienced learners learn more from high variability rather than low variability tasks demonstrating the variability effect. In contrast, less experienced learners learn more from low rather than top variability tasks showing a reverse variability effect.

    Variability refers to a lack of consistency or fixed patterns in the tasks presented to a learner.
    That means that beginners learn the best when there are:
    • not many tasks,
    • tasks are easy and predictable.

    If you complicate a learning plan for them, they will never progress, or they will do it extremely slowly.

    Call me pragmatic, but I wouldn't like to learn my first language to a B2 level while turning 70.

    Sure, thumbs up from a nurse who is just emptying my bedpan sound encouraging, but I think I will pass.


    What's an example of a crazy learning plan for beginners?

    I bet you have seen or done it before - most of us did. Very often, if you have 45 minutes of learning time per day, you will hear the following recommendations:


    • 15 min of reading,
    • 10 min of listening,
    • 10 minutes of talking,
    • 10 of writing.
    It's either this or some other variation of this madness.
    Polyglots Advice

    Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

    What I do recommend most of the time for beginners in my course Vocabulary Labs is this:

    • learn vocabulary with Anki,
    • learn basic grammar,
    • consolidate this knowledge with activation strategies.

    Once they learn enough words, they start more advanced training, which involves lots of passive learning. Unsurprisingly, people who have failed to learn a language for ten years, miraculously start progressing like crazy.


    Polygot Tips - Reading vs. Listening


    The expertise reversal also manifests itself in the reading vs. listening effectiveness. Here is an excellent excerpt from a recent study.


    Read-and-listen approach benefited novice learners; more expert learners could benefit more from the read-only approach.

    2. Confidence can be misleading



    The first thing you should keep in mind that we all crave confidence. Nobody wants to listen to people who seem hesitant. It all starts at a young age.

    Researchers found that young children between the age of four and five not only prefer to learn from people who appear confident, they also keep track of how well the person's confidence has matched with their knowledge and accuracy in the past (a concept called 'calibration') and avoid learning new information from people who have a history of being overconfident. - ScienceDaily

    Said another way, sometimes we don't pay much attention to what somebody has to say as much as how convincing they are when they do it. However, let's not confuse confidence (or age) with good advice.

    Never underestimate how gullible we can be. While I am writing this, probably a dozen people on the internet are buying some course on healing cancer with banana enemas because the dude selling it looks and speaks like Gandalf.

    Heck, I would probably buy it if he lowered his voice enough.


    3. Experts are notoriously bad at explaining why they do certain things



    Here is an excellent excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's' book, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking."


    "Out of all the research that we've done with top players, we haven't found a single player who is consistent in knowing and explaining exactly what he does," Braden says.


    "They give different answers at different times, or they have answers that simply are not meaningful."


    One of the things he does, for instance, is videotape top tennis players and then digitize their movements, breaking them down frame by frame on a computer so that he knows, say, precisely how many degrees Pete Sampras rotates his shoulder on a cross-court backhand.

    That's precisely how you combat this problematic phenomenon - you don't rely on opinions, you track data. Without it, our explanation of why something happened might be heavily warped by other factors.

    If you want to see how far you can go with experimenting, check out this article: Over 30 Things You Can Learn From All My Fail And Successful Memory Experiments.


    4. Achieving a certain skill level ≠ efficiency


    I love Tim Ferris' approach to breaking down complex skills. One of his strategies involved finding outliers in a given discipline - people who shouldn't be good at something (especially sports), but they excelled against all the odds.

    This framework allows you to cut through all the potential noise and eliminate variables that might distort your conclusions.

    For example, I have had plenty of discussions with students of philology who claimed that the way they are taught at universities is impeccable. Every single time I had to point out that for five years, at least in Poland, they spend about 40 hours per week learning their target language. Go figure that you can achieve a C1 or C2 level after that many hours of practice!. Personally, I would be more interested in finding out how somebody, with similar or identical background knowledge, did it in a year.

    The same goes for a lot of people who were born and raised in multilingual families or countries. It's great that they have acquired all this knowledge, but they are probably not the best people to give advice on how to learn languages.


    5. The warping effect of background knowledge



    Background knowledge is another variable that is NEVER considered by learners. 

    Most of the relevant theories of learning to acknowledge that learners' knowledge bases are the most important moderating factor influencing our ability to acquire information (e.g., Chi, De Leeuw, Chiu, & LaVancher, 1994; Graesser, Singer, & Trabasso, 1994).

    It is well established that knowledge of a given domain facilitates recall of information in that domain. For example, Spilich, Vesonder, Chiesi, and Voss (1979) found that after listening to a description of a half-inning of a fictitious baseball game, participants high in baseball knowledge recalled more game actions and other game-relevant information, but less irrelevant information, than did participants lower in baseball knowledge.

    Similarly, after listening to short vignettes from a game, participants high in baseball knowledge were better able to detect changes in the event descriptions on a subsequent recognition test than participants lower in baseball knowledge, especially when the changes related to the goal structure of the game (Chiesi, Spilich, & Voss, 1979; Experiment 1). 

    Walker (1987) also found a domain-knowledge effect when participants could read as well as listen to a half-inning game description.

    Finally, Recht and Leslie (1988) reported the same effect when participants read silently the half-inning description.

    Knowing many languages significantly changes your ability to acquire new ones. What's more, the more similar the language you want to learn is to the ones you already know, the faster you will acquire it.


    Factors affecting your ability to learn



    Keep in mind that there are lots of factors affecting your ability to learn, among others:

    1. 1
      Lack of a learning system
    2. 2
      Regularity of exposure
    3. 3
      Timing of repetition
    4. 4
      Retention intention
    5. 5
      Pronounceability (i.e., how difficult it is to pronounce)
    6. 6
      The usefulness of a word
    7. 7
      Emotional saliency
    8. 8
      Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)
    9. 9
      Lack of context
    10. 10
      Number of contexts
    11. 11
      Active encoding
    12. 12
      Morphological awareness (i.e., derivational complexity)
    13. 13
      The capacity of your short-term memory
    14. 14
      Intrinsic cognitive load (ICL)
    15. 15
      Germane cognitive load
    16. 16
      German cognitive load (GCL)
    17. 17
      Mental and physical condition
    18. 18
      Mental barriers
    19. 19
      Random variable(s)

    Polyglots enjoy lots of unique advantages that have one thing in common - they decrease their general cognitive load. It means that they can learn much faster, longer, and more effectively than mono- and bilinguals. We can't pretend that it's not taking place, and we're all start at the same point. If this was a 100-meter dash, a typical polyglot would get a 70-meter headstart.

    For example, quite a widespread piece of advice one can hear is that beginners should read simplified texts. Unfortunately, it's not true.

    I want to make one thing very clear - no one is lying to you. These strategies DO work for them, but they will most probably won't work for you if your language background isn't extensive enough.


    Learning Czech in 1 month


    Let me give you a great example. My ninth and the last official language I learned was Czech. In 1 month (about 5 years ago), I managed to learn it from scratch to a B1/B2 level and confirmed with language tests.

    It is a great result, and I am proud of it, but even at the beginning of this case study, I mentioned that I already know eight languages. What's more, my native tongue is Polish, and I speak fluent Russian.


    Why is it important?

    Because Czech shares about 70-80% of words with Polish. That means that right off the bat, my passive knowledge was big, and it was further increased by my knowledge of Russian.

    Here are the implications of these numbers:


    • on day 1, I could already read and listen, and start acquiring some words passively
    • I didn't have to practice listening much because Polish and Czech are similar enough
    • there weren't too many words that seemed difficult for me pronunciation-wise
    • etc.


    That was Czech. What about Slovak? To my surprise, when I visited Slovakia for Polyglot Gathering in 2017, I understood 98% of everything by virtue of knowing Czech. 

    Would the above be true for me if I decided to learn Chinese? No!

    That's why be alert if somebody tells you that passive learning is great. It's not - it sucks. However, it is effective for a person with extensive background knowledge.

    If you have it - great. If not, better get back to active learning.


    Summary -  Polyglot Tips, Advice, and Strategies 



    Taking polyglot tips and advice at face value can be a fatal mistake for people who don't know many or any languages. It can lead to opposite effects. Instead of progressing way faster, your progress can be almost non-existent. In extreme cases, you can become so overwhelmed that you will give up.

    The overall explanation is simple - polyglots enjoy all the benefits of having extensive background knowledge in a specific field of language learning. That makes their knowledge acquisition process much more efficient.

    My suggestion would be to think twice before using their (and my!) advice. Better make sure that it applies to you before you waste any time!


    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 over 18 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

     


    How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively – The Ultimate Test of Active Vocabulary

    How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively


    If you decide to learn a language, one of the most important decisions you can make is choosing the right learning strategy. This choice will either allow you to progress fast or break you mentally like a twig. It's the difference between moving forward in a Ferrari versus using your tears as a lubricant while you crawl.

    In the past, I have written a lot about what factors affect vocabulary acquisition and how to tell decent or good language methods from the bad ones. However, people often mistakenly interpret their initial results with a given method as a sign that it truly works. It's like getting into an expensive SPA and seeing crap-stained walls with the graffiti "Steve was here". Disappointing, that is.

    When it comes to increasing your passive vocabulary, it almost doesn't matter which strategy you choose - reading, learning flashcards, humming songs. They will all work, more or less, equally well.

    However, testing whether your method of activating vocabulary is effective is way trickier. Let me show you how you can verify it and what you should be wary of.


    How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively


    2 types of recall


    Considering that we're interested in testing whether you know your words actively, we must test your recall. In other words, we must know whether you can retrieve a word in your target language when you signal it to your brain during a conversation.

    The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of recall.

    • free recall
    • cued recall

    Free recall


    Free recall is the process in which a person is given a list of items to remember and then is tested by being asked to recall them in any order. There is no natural context which might trigger the words you know.

    Free recall often displays evidence of primacy and recency effects. Simply put, if you have just finished your learning session and you can feel dozens of words thrumming in your head, you have just experienced recency effect. The information that you are exposed to at the of your studies is easier to recall. The same goes for the information you have contact with at the beginning of your session - that's the primacy effect.


    Cued Recall


    Cued recall is when a person is given a list of items to remember and is then tested with cues to remember the material.

    The word "cues", or contextual triggers, as I like to call them, are key concepts here.


    Why Free Recall Is a Bad Measure of Your Ability to Remember


    Anytime somebody switches to a new learning method, especially if their baseline was good, old-fashioned cramming, they might experience improved initial recall. Does it mean that they remember more long-term? Absolutely not, although but a few people are aware of this.

    "Free recall exercises, are good measures of initial learning and remembering (Mayer, 2009)."

    The word "initial" in this case is just a synonym for short-term learning. It gives you an illusion that knowledge has been acquired. However, once this illusion is confronted by precise measurements, it turns out that not much has been retained.


    Free Recall and the Illusion of Knowledge


    It's also a very common theme regarding many passive learning strategies like reading, restudying, highlighting, etc. The science knows beyond the shadow of the doubt that they are useless, but students still prefer them over battle-tested strategies like spaced repetition.

    1. " For example, studies have shown that learners tend to prefer massing or cramming (table 1) over spacing because of the illusion that it is faster and more effective (Kornell, 2009). Technique Definition Massing Learning events are massed together in a short amount of time. Cramming Special form of massing; learning something intensely, often for the first time, in the days or hours before a test. Spacing Learning events are spaced apart over a longer period of time."

    Source: Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, Robert A. Bjork - Memory (Handbook of Perception and Cognition

    2. "Despite the clear superiority of the recall method over the restudy method, students report they rarely use it when they study. One reason is that it is simply more work to practice facts by arranging a self-test and recalling them. But there is also something else going on. Studying by recalling just doesn’t seem as effective to students as reading back through their notes. Suppose we ask college students to respond to this scenario:

    Students in two different classes read the same one-page essay. In Class A, the students were asked to write down as much as they could remember after they finished. In Class B, the students were given an opportunity to restudy the passage after they finished. After one week, all students were tested on their memory for the passage. Which class would you expect to have the higher test scores?

    When memory researcher Jennifer McCabe posed a similar question to college students, she found an overwhelming preference for the second strategy, restudying, even though this approach is known to be inferior to the recall method in this situation. Why did the students get it wrong? Most likely, they based their answers on their own experience. They knew that when they finished reading material over and over, they felt confident in their memory. The facts seemed clear and fresh. They popped into mind quickly and easily as the students reviewed them. This is not always so when recalling facts in a self-test—more effort is often required to bring the facts to mind, so they don’t seem as solid. From a student’s point of view, it can seem obvious which method—restudying—produces better learning. Robert Bjork refers to this as an “illusion of competence” after restudying. The student concludes that she knows the material well based on the confident mastery she feels at that moment. And she expects that the same mastery will be there several days later when the exam takes place. But this is unlikely. The same illusion of competence is at work during cramming, when the facts feel secure and firmly grasped. While that is indeed true at the time, it’s a mistake to assume that long-lasting memory strength has been created."

    Source: Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, Robert A. Bjork - Memory (Handbook of Perception and Cognition

    The above echoes something I have been saying for years - if you simply assume that a learning strategy is effective just because you feel some initial benefits, it doesn't make it true. Unless you test it, it's better to suspend your opinion for some time.


    Read more:

    Example: intensive reading and initial learning

    A good example of this phenomenon is intensive reading. It can certainly be a good and effective learning strategy for advances learners, but it's absolutely terrible for beginners.

    Intensive reading led to more immediate vocabulary gains but spaced practice led to greater long‐term retention.

    These "immediate vocabulary gains" are nothing more than a sign of initial learning. It shouldn't however be confused with long-term retention or, as I call it, the real learning. Sadly, most authors of language-related research don't seem to understand it.


    What Is the Measure of Real Learning?



    Once again, you can take almost any learning method and you will get (relatively) promising results short-term


    However, only transfer tasks, such as using words in a conversation are a good measure of true learning (Mayer, 2009).

    The More You Know, the Less You Feel Your Knowledge


    Because your knowledge is context-dependent and context-activated. You might know thousands upon thousands of words but you won't "feel" them. Some of them may even stay buried in your mind for years before an opportunity arrives to use them. If you learn how to say "fibroma" in your target language, don't expect to use it unless you encounter a situation wherein you are forced to utilize this word.


    This phenomenon can be explained by the concept of habituationThe more we commune with certain stimuli, the less we react to them. In other words, the more you use a language, the less you feel that you really know it. 

    That's why some extremely competent language learners claim that they barely know a language at a B2 level, while pitiful beginners run around shouting that they are bilingual.


    Read more: 

    Stress - a Crucial Factor That Needs to Be Taken Into Consideration


    Every good language learning methodology can be encapsulated by the Marines' adage:


    "Train as you fight, fight as you train"


    You should always to train for reality in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of real life. Anything else than that is simply a filler. Unfortunately, regardless of how good your learning method is, it's almost impossible to incorporate a crucial factor for your ability to retrieve and know your words actively - stress.

    Even if you can confidently reproduce words from ANKI at the comfort of your home, it doesn't mean that you will be able to use them in a conversation. Learning in such conditions is always, to some degree, detached from reality. You have time to contemplate the right answer, and everything feels pretty snugly and comfy.


    Compare it with a typical conversation where:

    • there is background noise
    • you have to maintain eye contact
    • you need to focus on what your partner is saying 
    • you do your best to control your pronunciation
    • you have to actively reproduce hundreds of words and apply grammar to them
    • etc.

    Or to put it plainly, lying under your blankie and doing ANKI is a bit less stressful than trying to recall some word in a conversation while a crazy German local is sparging you with his saliva and screaming "Was?! WAS?!".


    How Stress Affects Your Brain


    The Ultimate Test of Active Vocabulary


    Talking is stressful, especially for introverts. The worst thing that stress does in such situations is that limits the activity of your frontal lobe. This part of the brain is responsible for, among, others, emotional expression, problem solving, memory, judgment and language.

    Once the cortisol floods your brain, your body goes into the survival mode. You don't need your cool problem-solving skill or silver tongue then. You need to wrestle some huge-ass bear or get the hell out of there. That's why you lose access to any memories and skills that are not well-activated as they are the ones that cost the most energy to retrieve. Your body prioritizes muscle at this point, not ATP-devouring thinking.


    "The prefrontal cortex (PFC)—the most evolved brain region—subserves our highest-order cognitive abilities. However, it is also the brain region that is most sensitive to the detrimental effects of stress exposure. Even quite mild acute uncontrollable stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of prefrontal cognitive abilities, and more prolonged stress exposure causes architectural changes in prefrontal dendrites." Source: Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function


    At the same, stress doesn't seem to affect hippocampus so much. This region of the brain is typically linked to declarative memory, such as memory for events and facts (Squire, 2004; Squire & Zola, 1996). Interestingly, acute mild stress exposure has no effect on or can actually improve the memory consolidation functions of the hippocampus.


    If your eyes glazed over after reading these quotes and you started questioning life choice that brought you to this article, let me assure you that they are extremely important. What these facts tell us is this:

    "Non-consolidated information that hasn't been transferred to your long-term memory is extremely prone to any stress-related disturbances. On the other hand, long-term memories stored in your hippocampus are immune to mild and medium levels of stress".

    That means that it doesn't matter how confidently you can recall words in the comfort of your home. If your vocabulary is not consolidated well enough, instead of producing fluent speech, it might turn out that you sound like a goat in the middle of the breeding period.

    However, there is an easy way to fix it.


    Want to Know Words Actively? Overlearn!



    Items that are difficult to learn should be overlearned to ensure long term retention (Hulstijn, 2001).


    Overlearning refers to practicing newly acquired skills beyond the point of initial mastery. In the context of languages, it means that even if you CAN recall a given word while doing ANKI, or in a conversation, but it takes you some time, you can still improve

    How?

    Unsurprisingly, you need to crank out more sentences with the word. Make sure that the contexts you use vary as well.

    Try to recall the last time when you saw a baby (1,5 - 3-year old). Have you noticed that it keeps on repeating the same word over and over again in different sentences and collocations? That's what overlearning is all about. The easiest, or maybe the only way, to apply it properly is to talk to yourself. I dare say that no one would be patient enough to listen to this waffle while being sober.


    It's enough that you find a question and start answering it in a very monotonous way while constantly reusing a problematic word.

    Q: Do you like apples?

    A: Yes, I like apples. Apples are sweet. I like sweet apples, and I eat them often. I don't eat them often when I can't buy them. I but them in a shop, however, if I don't buy them, then I don't eat them.

    You get the gist. Children are a wonderful example of overlearning in action. For example, not that long time ago, my son got so excited by getting a piece of cheese that he repeated this word 53 times (yes, I counted).

    53 freaking times. It made me feel lazy and question the effort I put into learning!


    How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively - Summary



    Most language learning methodologies are plagued by one fatal flaw. They make you believe that being able to reproduce a word in the comfort of your home is equivalent to really knowing it.

    Unfortunately, the truth is more complicated. First of all, the ultimate test of your active vocabulary is always a conversation. If you can comfortably recall your newly acquired vocabulary, then you can be relatively confident that your approach works. I say "relatively" because unless you test a given method, you can't be sure that it's precisely what makes you recall words effectively. Most of the time, it's the results of combining a couple of learning strategies. 

    What's more, if your learning method doesn't involve context and active transfer of your vocabulary between contexts, you can rest assured that it sucks.

    Last but not least, if your learning strategy does involve context and active information transfer them, you should put more effort into overlearning those problematic words.

    Keep in mind that this is one of those situations where individual differences kick in. Some people are more immune to stress than others. As a consequence, the degree to which you will have to overlearn words will often depend on your genetics and environmental conditioning.


    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 over 25 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

     


    The Curse of a b2 Level AKA the Language Learning Plateau – What It Is and How to Get Unstuck

    The curse of a B2 level might sound like a title of an F-rated horror movie but it’s a very real thing. In fact, it affects most language learners,

    What is the curse of a b2 level (aka the language learning plateau)?

    The language learning plateau is a phenomenon describing one’s inability to progress past the intermediate stages of language learning (i.e. a B1/B2 level). Typically, the main reasons are using inefficient learning strategies, or not using any learning system at all.

     

    Let’s break down step-by-step why a B2 level is a final station for most language learners and what you can do to fix go beyond this mark. Time to break that curse.

     

    What’s a B2 level is all about

     

    What? You thought I would skip a dry, boring and theoretical part? No way! That’s where all the fun is!

    Let’s take a look at requirements which one would have to meet in order to be classified at a B2 level. They are a part of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

     

    Description of a B2 level (B2 INTERMEDIATE)

    At this level, you can:

    • understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
    • interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
    • produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

     

    Brief explanation: this level can be depicted as a FULL conversational fluency. You can have real conversations with native speakers about a variety of subjects.

    Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at quite a deep level.

    Expected vocabulary depth: you can convey most of your thoughts but you still, for the most part, lack precision. Compared to a B1 level, you can discuss more topics with more precise vocabulary.

    Still, any topic that differs from typical, conversational standards will probably throw you off.

     

    How many people master a language at a C1 or C2 level

    The curse of a b2 level - what it's all about and how to get unstuck

     

    English proficiency in the world

     

    Now that you know what a B2 level is all about, let’s take a look at the level of English proficiency in different countries around the world. It’s only natural since this language is still the most popular choice. Our starting point is the EF English Proficiency Index. For brevity’s sake, I will skip the part where I lambaste the reliability of those results.

     

    Countries with the highest English proficiency

     

    Here is a list of countries that were classified as the ones with “very high proficiency” i.e. a C1-C2 level. Pay very close attention to the top dogs. Almost every country in the top 12 has either English as an official language (e.g. Singapore) or it’s a Germanic-speaking country.

     

    Very High Proficiency

     

    Why is it important? If you’re learning a language which is similar to your native tongue, it will be CONSIDERABLY easier for you to master it. Since English is also a Germanic language, it’s not difficult to notice a pattern here.

    Of course, there are other factors at play here but this is the most important one for me from the memory standpoint. The way information familiarity modulates your working memory and increases your learning capacity can’t be ignored.

    A good example is my mission from a couple of years ago where I learned Czech from scratch to a B1/B2 level in about 1 month., even though my learning system at that time was far from perfect. Yes, I specialize in memory, so I knew what I was doing but I also already spoke Polish, Russian and German. Those languages helped me establish my initial familiarity with Czech vocabulary at about 80%.

     

    Countries with moderate English proficiency

     

    Now it’s time for countries whose English proficiency can be characterized as about B2 level.

     

    The curse of a b2 level aka the language learning plateau

     

    As you can see, once we drop outliers like the top 12, the level drops to a B2 level and below. But let’s not stop there.

    Here is an excerpt from one of the official Polish reports about German Proficiency in Poland. Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about self-evaluation here of people who probably wouldn’t be able to describe language requirements for any level. The reality, in other words, is less rosy.

     

    German proficiency at a B1+ level has been achieved by more than 53% of language learners., of which 22% mastered the language at a B2 level, 19% at a C1 level and 12.5% at a C2 level.

     

    In other words, the amount of German learners who claim they have mastered this language amounts to about 16%.

     

    The magical number 20

     

    In different reports, the number 20 is the reoccurring theme. It seems that only less than 20% of learners of any language get past a B2 level. That is of course if you believe that these numbers are reliable.

    Scientific studies are less forgiving in this department.

    Long (2005, 2013) that the number of learners who achieve a C2 level is anywhere between 1-5%.

    From that, we can only conclude that students who achieve a C1 are also relatively low (read more about in The Handbook of the Neuroscience of Multilingualism).

    I rest my case. Let’s move on.

     

    The curse of a B2 level – the two main reasons why you are stuck

    1. No learning strategy and no system

     

    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.

    Here is an excerpt from a recent study (Schimanke, Mertens, Schmid 2019) about learning strategies at a German university.

     

    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, right?

    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.

     

    There can be no effective learning if you’re not optimizing your repetitions.

     

    2. Concentrating on passive learning

     

    Passive learning can be a very effective learning tool provided that you’re already at an advanced level (especially a B2 level and higher). It can also be relatively useful if, for one reason or another, you are already familiar with a language you want to master (e.g. because it’s a part of the same language family). However, passive learning is a terrible tool for language rookies.

    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). Other studies quote numbers between 7-60.

    I will let it sink in!

    That’s a lot. Of course, the number varies because it all depends on your background knowledge, emotional saliency of words and so on but it’s still a very big number.

    Let’s delve into its consequences.

     

    Everything works if you have lots of time

    We know that in most languages 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).

     

    It means that as long as you are stubborn enough, eventually you will get to about a B2 level. It doesn’t matter how crappy your learning method is. As long as you soldier on, you will get to the finish line even if that takes you 10 years.

    Why?

    Because it’s almost guaranteed that you will amass a sufficient number of repetitions (7-60) of the words which occur in a language with a frequency of 98%! But what if you want to really master a language. Or two. Do you believe that you will be able to pull that number of repetitions for the words which occur with a frequency of about 2%? Of course not.

    Think of any rare word from your native tongue like “cream puff” or “head physician”. How often do you hear them in your daily life? Not that often, right? And that’s the problem. C1-C2 levels consist of rare words like these. That’s why your chances of getting there if your default learning style is passive are very thin. Unless you have 20 years of spare time and are willing to spend most of your waking hours surrounding yourself with a language.

     

     

    Real vocabulary gains from reading and listening at the early stages of language learning

     

     

     

    Below you can find some findings which closely echo the results I have obtained from my experiments.

     

    Vocabulary gains from reading

     

    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.

     

    The above survey indicates that reading is not likely to be the main source of L2 learners’ vocabulary acquisition. If most words were acquired from reading, learners would have to read about as much as native children do – that is, a million words of text a year. This would require reading one or two books per week. If, however, teachers can expect only small quantities of reading, then word-focused activities should be regarded as a way of vocabulary learning.

     

    Vocabulary gains from listening

     

    Vidal explored incidental vocabulary acquisition from L2 listening (2003), and compared gains from listening with reading (2011). These studies analyzed the effect of a large number of variables (e.g. frequency of occurrence, predictability from word form and parts) on learning. Knowledge gains of 36 target words were measured with a modified version of the Vocabulary Knowledge Scale, on which learners could effectively score 0 to 5.

     

     

    Out of the maximum score of 180, readers scored 40.85 (22.7%) on the immediate post-test and 19.14 (10.6%) on the one-month delayed test. Listeners scored 27.86 (15.5%) immediately after listening and 14.05 (7.8%) one month later. The main finding is that both reading and listening lead to vocabulary knowledge gains, with gains from reading being much larger than from listening. An effect of frequency occurrence (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 occurrences) was found in both modes but this was considerably stronger in reading. More repetitions were needed in listening (5 to 6) than in reading (2 to 3) for it to have a positive effect on learning.

     

    Some caveats

     

    At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to stress one more time that your learning capacity is affected by your background knowledge. If you’re a Frenchman learning Spanish, the aforementioned numbers won’t apply to you.

    At the same time, there are just a few studies around which test long-term retention of vocabulary for almost any method. That’s a pity because 3 months is a cut-off point proving that words have truly been stored in your long-term memory. The studies quoted above also share this problem. Retesting the students of the above experiments at a 3-month mark would surely yield much worse, and realistic, results.

    Anyway, the point I would like to drive home is that passive learning is an ineffective language acquisition tool for beginners.

     

    The curse of a b2 level – how to get unstuck

     

    The curse of a b2 level aka the language learning plateau

    Photo by Tomas Tuma on Unsplash

     

    The most important element you should concentrate on is to develop some kind of learning system. Ideally, it should encompass the following strategies:

     

    Summary

    A B2 level is achievable to almost anyone as long as you pursue your learning goal with dogged persistence. However, moving past this level requires from you the use of systems that will allow you to focus heavily on rare words which make up about 2-3% of a language since it’s almost impossible to master them just by learning organically (i.e. reading, listening and talking).

    If you stick to smart learning methods, you will surely overcome this hurdle.

     

    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 over 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.

    Laying the Foundation for Learning a Language – How to Learn a Language on Your Own (Part 1)

    learn a language on your own

    You probably have felt this burning need inside to learn a new language once or twice in your life. But there's a good chance that you didn't know where to start.

    It's like standing in front of the dark forest. You know that you have to get through it in order to get what you want.

    But it's scary and lonely, and you're hungry, and... look! What a mess! I must clean my room and do some other ... stuff. The point is - not knowing the way is probably one of the biggest obstacles on the way to master the language.

    And that's the ultimate goal of this series of articles - to show you where to start, what to do and what to avoid. Each part of the series is devoted to a different issue.

    You will learn how to tackle every component of learning a language - including notoriously gruesome grammar and vocabulary.

    I really do hope that it will help you get started.

    I've learned 8 languages so far and I know one thing - if you can't create the system which emulated what you do, there is a good chance you have no idea what you're doing.

    Without further ado:


    0. Choose The Language


    I assume that you already have a pretty good idea which language you would like to learn.

    If you're still on the fence - check this article. it should help you make a right decision.


    1. Motivation


    This is where it all starts. Sure, other things are important as well. But ask yourself this - why do I want to learn this language?

    There are no wrong answers. The reason should be valid for you, not for others.

    Do you want to get a new job? Impress your wife? Visit some country? Be able to read Manga?

    Remember - if your motivation is flimsy there's a good chance that you'll drop your project as soon as some obstacles get in your way. You definitely don't want that to happen! Can you imagine the surge of anger after you realize that you put hundreds of hours into the project which is a flop?!

    You'll probably punch some nice, old lady to vent! That's why you should make sure that your motivation is strong enough to pull you through your darkest hours.

    Your desire to learn is a foundation - cherish it.

    Let it be a constant reminder of why you do what you do. Reinforce right motives as often as you can - they will be your shield against all the distractions and temptations


    Learn a language on your own


    Your initial momentum will help you break down all the barricades.

    But can you increase your motivation or is it something constant? Well, great news everyone! You can. If there is something I've learned about learning, in general, it's that: the faster your progress is the more and harder you're willing to work to see even more impressive results.

    So how can I increase my progress? Read on. We will get to that. My personal favorite to boost my motivation is betting.

    How does it work?

    Bet with someone that you'll learn, let's say, 300 words in 2 weeks (set a deadline). If you lose you have to suffer consequences - e.g. pay your friend 200$. If you win - great, you've achieved your goal. It's worked wonders for me!

    What are other great ways to keep yourself motivated?

    Read the Forbes article.

    2. Change Attitude Or Die


    Another pivotal part of laying the foundations is getting rid of the mental barriers you've been cherishing up to this day.

    One of the most widespread (and harmful) beliefs concerning languages are:

    I believe that they are terribly destructive (and obviously not true) and seriously impair your learning ability if you do not become aware of them.

    That's why you need to become more mindful and

    learn how to overpower your inner demons of procrastination and laziness.

    So go ahead - slap yourself every time when you catch yourself having these thoughts. The words which you use to describe yourself shape your reality. That's why you should remove all the negative terms from your vocabulary, as well as the word "can't".

    Way too many people are stifled by their own preconceived beliefs about what they can and can’t do. Don't be one of those people.


    3. Set a Goal


    But why? Do I have to? Nope, you don't have to do anything. But if you're vague about what you want to achieve, you 'll probably never do it.

    You have to see the target to be able to shoot it! Remember, your goals should be SMART.

    So what is a good goal?
    • I want to learn Spanish at a communicative level to be able to get by in Mexico in 2 months
    • I want to learn Russian only to read the works of Dostoevsky in original in 4 months
    • I want to speak German fluently to get the job in the company XYZ in 7 months

    I believe that determining an initial level of language which you want to achieve is essential. It has a great impact on the learning methods you should choose and as well on the scope of material.

    Be as specific as you only can. You can, of course, learn a given language without purpose if you're passionate about it but most people will simply give up after some time.


    4. Get The Right Resources (and not too many of them)


    Let's start with basics and explain why you shouldn't use too many learning materials. The reason is simple - having too many options paralyze our ability to make decisions.

    That's why I typically provide myself with the three following things:


    A pocket dictionary


    Laying the Foundation for Learning a Language


    Why is it indispensable? Think about it...that's right! The smaller the dictionary the more useful words are included there.

    Don't waste your time and money on any big dictionary at the beginning (or at all). The good dictionary should include the most important meanings of a given word.

    If you can see only one meaning for each word - skip this dictionary and look for another one. Another quality of the great dictionaries is that they always contain the most popular phrases including given words.

    And finally! Pronunciation! Always check if a dictionary has a phonetic transcription of words. Don't worry if you don't know how to read these strangers symbols right now. It's not that difficult.


    A good grammar book


    Usually, any which is not dedicated to advanced learners is just fine.


    A phrase book


    It shows in a very neat way frequently used phrases and sentences.

    That means you can memorize them and use them right away!


    5. Set a Deadline


    If you think you shouldn't set one then you're not serious about your project. Even if you don't achieve exactly what you wanted in the given period of time - that's ok. The world hasn't ended. Draw conclusions and move on.

    Read Six things about deadlines by Seth Godin

    GET TO WORK!


    If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, or maybe some other burning problem, drop me a message. And don't forget to subscribe if you enjoyed reading this guide.



    Read Other Parts of the Series "How to Learn a Language on Your Own"



    Why Adults Learn Languages Faster Than Children (A Data-Driven Post)

    Why adults learn foreign languages faster than children

    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?"

    No.

    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.



    DEFINITION OF WORDS

    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.

    The other data pool describes the average expressive vocabulary of children as follows:

    • 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 little John von Neumannand 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?


    The Pace of Learning in Older Children


    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!


    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 over 13 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

     


    How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language – Learn a Language On Your Own (Part 5)

    How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language
    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 grammar and 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.


    Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language


    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. 


    Advanced Learners

    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.


    Improve Listening Skills - Pre-practice Tips

     


    MENTAL PREPARATION


    • 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!

    MATTER-OF-FACT PREPARATION

     

    • 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!
    Example

    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


    How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language


    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.

    1. 1
      Listen for the gist of the conversation. Once you understand it, move on to details
    2. 2
      When you watch materials in original, observe mouths of actors/hosts and read their lips
    3. 3
      Try to understand the non-verbal communication of your speaking partner (actors, etc.)
    4. 4
      Listen to the melody of the language
    5. 5
      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.
    6. 6
      Concentrate on sounds that are foreign to you. This technique can also help you maintain your concentration
    7. 7
      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!)
    8. 8
      Use logic to conclude what will follow (get in the habit of guessing)
    9. 9
      Listen to a recording more than once. At first, to understand the gist and then to get details
    10. 10
      Slow down the speed of recording. For this purpose, use Audacity, AllPlayer, or simply YouTube
    11. 11
      Speed up the speed of the recording to extend your comfort zone and then move back to an actual pace
    12. 12
      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.


    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 over 8 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

     


    How To Prepare For a Foreign Language Interview And Ace It

    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.


    How Much Is Knowing a Foreign Language Worth?


    Learning languages has a lot of benefits. Among others, it can:

    • improve your memory
    • increase your attention span
    • increase your verbal and non-verbal intelligence
    • boost your problem-solving skills

    The list goes on and on. What's more, it turns out that it is also a great decision money-wise!


    Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview


    " 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 ".

     Source: The Economist

    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. 1
      Tell me about yourself
    2. 2
      What do you know about or company?
    3. 3
      What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    4. 4
      Why did you leave your last job?
    5. 5
      What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?
    6. 6
      What do you do in your current role?
    7. 7
      Why would you like to work for us?
    8. 8
      Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
    9. 9
      What kind of qualifications do you have?
    10. 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


    Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview


    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!


    Example

    "Hi. It is X from the Y company. Am I speaking with Mr. X?"
    "Yes, speaking"
    "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!


    For example:
    • 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!


    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 over 10 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

     


    How To Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level In 5 Months: A Case Study

     

    It’s amazing to see what kind of a heated debate a potential speed of learning can sparkle. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a post on Reddit titled:

    How much do you expect a student to learn and be able to speak a new language in one semester with classes once or twice a week? (September to November)

    Here are some of the answers.

    Not a lot. Maybe halfway to the A1 exam?

    Depends wholly on the language. Without any language transfer (lexically/historically related languages) I’d expect the speaking skill to be exactly zero. If one only takes

    classes once or twice a week they’re going to forget everything between classes.

    You need to speak with native speakers. The only way to truly advance in a language is to speak with people. Taking classes can help you form a base but to advance to a level of proficiency you need to study and practice everyday in your own life. Most of the time, I feel language classes are too slow.

    This discussion is nothing new. It pops up now and then on different websites and fora. Almost with no exceptions, answers tend to fall into one of the following categories.
     

    Common Learning Myths – to Learn a Language in 6 Months, You Have To:

     

    1) Live, breathe and sniff a language around the clock.

    This advice is as great as it is unrealistic unless you want to get a first-class ticket to the “burnout” town with intermediate stations at “I-start-hating-languages” and “No-I-can’t-grab-a-beer-with-you-because-I-must-learn,” of course.

    2) Be an experienced learner 

    It’s impossible not to agree with this point. Language learning veterans certainly enjoy a faster learning curve with every next language they learn. However, I would argue that often it is so, simply because they have developed a language learning routine.

    3) Give up and cry deeply

    But what about an average language learner?
     
    Is it impossible for him to learn a language fast? Do you need to renounce the material world and live in a ram-shackled hut in the Himalayas to pull it off?
     
    If I didn’t know a thing or two things about rapid learning, I would probably get this impression.
    And I would be wrong.
     
    I am more than sure that the main reason people fail to learn quickly is that they do not know how to do it. And thus, they do not realize what kind of feats they are capable of.
     
    What if I could show you the specific techniques you should use?
     
    How quickly could you learn a language then?
     
    Mateusz (or Mathew, if you prefer an Americanized version) is a student of mine and a rookie in the world of language learning who learned German from scratch to B2/C1 level in 5 months.
     
    To top it off, after five months he had taken the Goethe-Zertifikat B2 exam and passed it
     
    How?
     
    I will get to that.
     
    I will try to share our learning plan and what we did in as many details as I can in the hope that you will try to replicate these results.
     

    Some background and introduction

     

    Initially, I wanted to write this article in the form of an interview. However, I quickly changed my mind. It would leave dozens of bigger and smaller questions unanswered. Not to mention – most interviews are boring. So it’s more of a hybrid.


    I think that this format should allow you to get the most value out of it. Let’s get to know a bit of something about our language hero.

    Mateusz
    1) Tell us first about yourself: I am 26 years old and a doctor intern (a soon-to-be hematologist).

    2) What was your previous experience with languages before our mutual challenge – Learning English from the age of 12 – private and regular school lessons. It definitely didn’t go swimmingly. I actually considered myself to be linguistically retarded. Sometimes even my native tongue (Polish) seems to be problematic.

    3) How much time did you need to achieve a B2 level in English – Over 10 years, I think.

    As you can see, Mathew had almost no language experience. What’s worse, he considered himself to be bad at learning languages.

    What’s even worse, when I asked him if he knew something about rapid learning strategies, he just answered, “Kind of, but somehow I do not believe in these methods.”
     
    Not the most fabulous beginning of our mission, huh?
     
    As you can see, he had every reason to fail, and yet, he succeeded. One of the main reasons why he was able to pull it off was that he was a great student.
     

    What makes a good student?


    I have taught many students throughout the years. Even though most of them learn relatively fast and achieve B1/B2 level in about 12 months, just a few of them get to B2 level in 4-8 months.


    Some character traits make them unique.

    1) being motivated

    Without it, most people wring their hands and give up upon suffering the first major setback. That’s why you need it so much at the beginning.

    Mathew’s motivation was apparent and specific. He wanted to learn German asap to “have an opportunity of doing my medical specialization in Switzerland.” That allowed him to bounce back from every obstacle he encountered.

    Of course, you should be aware that motivation alone doesn’t suffice. You need to create habits and build learning systems as quickly as it is only possible.

    Another trait which can help you with that is:

    2) being disciplined

    It’s the prerequisite for effective learning.

    I mean, how else are you going to follow through on our plan? Luckily for you, you don’t need to be disciplined by nature. You can awaken this trait by betting. (read more about it here).

    Mathew’s workload was considerable. I knew that at some point, he would say, “that’s enough. I deserve a break”. I mean, who wouldn’t? I made sure that his motivation to keep maintaining his learning pace was sufficient.

    How?

    We made bets. Failing to do his daily tasks would cost him dearly. Understandably, he was able to resist the temptation to bum around.

    The last character trait which a good student should possess is:

    3) being coachable

    Why is it so important? Because of your ego.
     
    Some people can’t take advice. It doesn’t matter that I explain step-by-step why some strategy works and the other one doesn’t. After a short time, they backslide to their wicked ways.
     
    I vividly remember one woman I taught. She was progressing fast, which, I thought naively, was a good sign. One day, out of the blue, she told me that, for now, she is going to put her German in the back-burner. I knew that something was off about this situation.
     
    “Why? Aren’t you happy with your progress?” I asked.
     
    “I am. I have never learned so fast in my life”.
     
    “Then what’s the problem?”
     
    “Uhm, honestly, I just like my old methods better.”
     
    Not that her methods were any easier or more pleasant, mind you. No. She just preferred to learn how she always did. It only shows that you can’t change every person’s approach to learning.

     

    How to Learn German from Scratch to a b2 Level in 5 Months – How Much Time Was Needed 

     

    Learn German From Scratch

    Before we move on to Mathew’s total learning time, let’s put things in perspective and answer the following question first.

    How much time do you need to learn German to a B2 level?

    A quick google search shows that The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) suggests that you need about 750 hours to get to this level.

    An offer of many German-language schools seems to confirm this number. Usually, you need to spend about 500 – 700 hours in a course and then add about 100-200 hours for learning at home.

    It’s worth remembering that these numbers may vary depending on your mother tongue and knowledge of other languages. But as for our case, they certainly look solid.

     

    How many words do you need to learn German to a B2 level?

    People who take B2 exams are usually expected to know anywhere between 3 and 4,5 k words.

     

    How much time did Mathew need to learn German to B2 level?

    For five months, we met, on average, two hours per week.

    Yes, just two hours per week. Funny enough, that contrasts starkly with intensive courses where you have to spend about 30 hours per week at your language school. Of course, he also learned at home. On average, he learned about 3 hours each day (including our meetings).

    The total time he needed to get to B2 level amounts to

    150 x 3 = 450 hours.

    For a rookie who knew just one foreign language before he decided to take on this challenge, it’s undoubtedly impressive.

    But what’s even more impressive is Mathew’s vocabulary size after five months. Altogether, he learned about 6700 words (yep, we counted).

    That means that vocabulary-wise, he surpassed most of the requirements for this level. He could read most of the things he wanted to, including newspapers, and could also speak about a variety of subjects.

    Although it was apparent that his vocabulary wasn’t fully consolidated at this point since he had to struggle for quite a few words.

     

    Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level In 5 Months – Mathew’s results

     

    Initially, our goal was to get to a B2 level in 6 months so Mathew could take the B2 Goethe exam and ace it. Interestingly, he managed to do it in 5 months! Here is his pride and joy:

     

    Learn German From Scratch

     

    Results are not bad, but I expected them to be much higher. Mathew had a firm grasp of the language. I guess that in the end, stress got to him as he had no previous experience with such exams.

     

    Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level In 5 Months – A Study Plan

     

    I decided to break everything down for you so you can, hopefully, follow this plan.

    Materials

    We only used four things

    That’s it. There is power in simplicity.

     

    Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level – The first 2 weeks

     

    During first four hours I taught Mathew

    • how to use ANKI and why it is effective
    • all the functional Grammar (i.e., Grammar which you need to communicate with others)
    • how to choose your daily goals so you know that you will achieve a given level within the desired timeframe
    • first memory system so you could utilize ANKI more effectively

     

    No listening and no reading

    I think that the things mentioned above are quite clear. What might not be that obvious is why

    I forbade Mathew to read and listen to anything for the first three months.

    “Why?!” I can hear you screaming! It doesn’t make any sense! Or does it?

    If you know how to acquire vocabulary, you do not context to do it. You can learn the first 3-5 thousand words directly from frequency lists. It allows you to save a lot of time simply by not being forced to go through all those crappy dialogs in textbooks.

    What’s more, most people assume that you need to start listening to your target language right away. That’s, forgive me for being so blunt, moronic. If you only know 200 or 600 words and almost no grammar, how much of the return rate can you get from one hour of listening?

    Sure, there is some value in it – you can get used to the prosody and so on, but all in all, it’s not worth it.

     

    No conversational partners

     

    Learn German From Scratch

     

    Ok, so that might be another thing which might seem bizarre to you – Mathew had no other conversational partners besides me. Not that it was forbidden or anything, his schedule was too hectic to find any people who would be willing to conform to it.

    So yes, as weird as it may be, there is a good explanation of why it didn’t influence Mathew’s progress negatively. What people fail to understand that conversations require two things from you:

     

    1) Understanding

    If you listen a lot, even without any magical techniques, the day will come when you will be able to understand what is being said (assuming that you practice your grammar and vocabulary).

     

    2) Being able to express yourself

    This is usually the result of two things

    • having a good command of grammar
    • learning and activating words

    Do you need a lot of conversational partners to do it?

    Of course not!

     

    Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level – Weeks 2-12

     

    Speaking

    After the first two weeks, we dove right into speaking. It was something new for him as he said, ” our conversations started after just a few hours, and surprisingly, they were not trivial but revolved around many topics.”

    Usually, we started every lesson in the same way. First, I asked him to tell me what he did last week/weekend so he could activate past tenses. He also had to ask some questions using the grammar constructions we had covered so far.

    Once again, it might seem strange, but keep in mind that most of the time, students talk far more often than they ask questions. Thus, the imbalance ensues.

    In extreme cases, someone might be able to talk quite fluently and still not be able to ask a question without hesitation. This can cripple almost any conversation.

     

    Teaching Mathew how to activate his vocabulary

    Of course, if Mathew had a chance only to speak with me, he wouldn’t get far. That’s why I taught him some other methods to activate his vocabulary and practice his fluency.

    Among others, I taught him how he could talk with himself at home (more about it here).

     

    The main focus – vocabulary acquisition

    The main focus during this period was learning as many words as possible. On average, Mathew learned between 35-40 words each day.

     

    Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level – Weeks 12-16

     

    Learn German From Scratch

     

    Listening and writing

    It was the time when Mathew started reading a couple of articles per week, as well as listening to News in Slow German for at least 30-40 minutes each day.

    As you probably recall, he didn’t listen to anything or anyone else but me for the first months. Understandably, his comprehension, at the very beginning, was very low. He could get only

    about 20-25% of what he heard during the first couple of days. But what happened next blew his mind.

    His comprehension rose to about 80 % within 2-3 weeks. After that, he switched to listening to the regular German radio.

    Were his listening skills perfect when he took his exam? Of course not. They are always one of the most challenging things to improve. But as you could see, they were good enough to pass a listening part of the test.

     

    Utilizing passive learning

    Active learning is undoubtedly the most powerful language learning tool one might use. But it always works better when you combine it with passive learning.

    That’s why I taught Mathew how to surround himself with a language to get even more out of his studies.

     

    Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level – Weeks 16-20

     

    It was the most boring period of our preparation. In addition to doing all the previously mentioned things, I started teaching Mathew how to solve and approach all the parts of the exam. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s a crucial element if you want to pass a certificate. You need to create a habit of solving different examination parts in a particular manner. 

    It’s worth mentioning that we used some basic mnemonics to improve Mathew’s presentation skills. Being able to quickly memorize a rough plan of what you would like to say helps to take the edge off.

     

    How To Learn German From Scratch To a B2 Level In 5 Months – Summary

     

    As you can see, rapid learning is undoubtedly doable even if you want to learn German from scratch to a B2 level in 5 months or faster. I have done it with dozens of students using the outlined strategy, and results are always great.

    Of course, it might not be easy to start applying it to your learning right from the start. After all, it requires a little bit different approach to language learning than the one which is commonly accepted, but it works like a charm.

    If you ever replicate this strategy, please drop me a message and let me know how it went.

    Happy learnings!

     

    Vocabulary Labs

     

    Interested in all the methods and strategies that we have used to learn German within that time? Check out my language course Vocabulary Labs. You can read dozens of similar testimonials here. It has been used by hundreds of learners to master over 40 different languages.

     

    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 over 20 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

     

     

    Listening Comprehension in a Foreign Language – 12 Ways to Improve It

    Listening comprehension in a foreign language

    Improving listening comprehension in a foreign language is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most challenging skills to master. The amount of time needed to understand a language is enormous. Unfortunately, not everyone succeeds in this field.

    Not everyone reaches the finish line and has the pleasure of saying, "I understand most of everything I hear."

    On the contrary, the bodies of poor souls who surrendered along the way colorfully decorate the entire length of the route. Everyone has their theory of why they failed.
    "My ears are too small." 
    "I can't listen to German for long because I start to sob."

    And who knows, maybe the above is partially true. However, these reasons are not as important as the list you are about to see.

    Here are 12 reasons why you have trouble understanding a foreign language.

    LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - 12 COMMON ISSUES AND WAYS TO SOLVE THEM

    Understanding a spoken word is complex. It's affected by many factors.

    LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - 12 COMMON ISSUES AND WAYS TO SOLVE THEM

    1. Limited vocabulary

    7. Lack of concentration

    2. Problems with pronunciation

    8. Problems with interpretation/culture

    3. Trying to understand everything

    9. Problems with natural (i.e. colloquial) speech

    4. Insufficient listening practice

    10. No visual support

    5. Too fast a pace

    11. Passive listening

    6. One-time listening to recordings

    12. Insufficient knowledge of grammar

    1. LIMITED VOCABULARY 

    Insufficient knowledge of vocabulary is one of the main culprits. No wonder you have trouble understanding if your vocabulary is very limited! As you listen, each word and phrase at your disposal becomes your foothold.

    Think of it as a puzzle - the more elements that fill the outline of an image, the easier it is to see what the picture is. Similarly, when listening, each subsequent word allows you to understand better what the general meaning/message of a given conversation or recording is.

    There are two significant milestones for most languages:

    1st milestone - 3000 words

    Knowledge of the 3000 most frequently used words in a foreign language allows understanding of 95% of texts and conversations (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996). It is worth remembering that, in this case, we count one word as all variations of a given word and its family of words.

    For example: "run," "running," and "runner" are counted as one word by this classification.

    2nd milestone  - 5000 words

    Knowledge of the 5000 most-used words in a foreign language allows understanding of 98% of texts and conversations ((Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).

    The minimum vocabulary required to listen effectively

    If you want to be sure that you will understand to some degree recordings and conversations of all kinds, you should aim for a vocabulary of at least 2.5 - 3 thousand words. But as always - the more, the better!

    So you don't know that many words? Come on, get to work! Don't be lazy!

    2) PROBLEMS WITH PRONUNCIATION

    Listening comprehension in a foreign language 12 ways to improve it

    Issues with pronunciations are one of the hidden reasons why your understanding suffers; hence, many people are entirely unaware of it. 

    How does sloppy pronunciation cause difficulties in understanding?

    (I) Incorrect phonological representations

    Each of us, as part of the so-called phonological memory, uses phonological representations.

    A phonological representation is the way you think a word sounds.

    If your phonological representation largely coincides with the actual pronunciation of the word, then everything is fine, and your brain should recognize the word.

    It is worse when your interpretation of the pronunciation of a word completely diverges from its actual pronunciation. The result is a complete lack of understanding, although you often KNOW the word (Rixon 1986: 38). You pronounce it in your "specific" way.

    For example, if in your head the pronunciation of the word "gist" sounds like / gɪst / with a hard " g," then you may not completely understand it when you hear its correct pronunciation / ʤɪst/.

    (II) Lack of knowledge about assimilations

    A separate problem is the so-called phonetic assimilation phenomenon

    Phonetic similarity (phonetic assimilation) - a common phonetic process in which a sound changes to be more similar to a neighboring sound. The essence of every phonetic preference is coarticulation, whose mechanism of action is the influence of a given sound on the articulation of sounds that are adjacent to it. - Wikipedia

    Assimilation simply means that the pronunciation of a letter can change due to the letter before or after it.

    A typical example of assimilation in a language is when a word ends in a consonant, and the other begins in a vowel. Most often, such words "merge" in pronunciation and are pronounced as one.

    E.g. "It is", which we pronounce as / ɪtɪz / /, not / ɪt ɪz /.

    How to deal with these problems?

    I) Try to accurately internalize the pronunciation of the words you learn

    It will affect not only your ability to understand, but also your ability to learn vocabulary. As research shows (Fowler, 1991; Pierce et al. 2017), phonological representations can affect your coding ability, which is an early step in the process of learning and remembering words.

    II) Learn the pronunciation and the International Phonetic Alphabet of the language

    I know that most people won't do it, but I recommend delving into the sounds of your target language.

    It's worth knowing which of them are in your native language and which are not. With this knowledge, you'll know which ones require your special attention.

    Read more: Master Pronunciation of a Foreign Language.

    3) TRYING TO UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING

    Great, you're ambitious, but the level of ambition should be in proportion to your current level of capability. Efforts to understand everything do not make sense if, after the first hearing of the recording, you do not know whether the conversation is about politics or whether they offend you. 

    Listen for the gist, and only then for details - it is the best strategy.

    Attempts to pick out individual words by ear make sense only when you can understand the overall meaning of the recording.

    If you have not reached this point yet, it is worth listening to the recording again.

    4) INSUFFICIENT LISTENING PRACTICE

    Good listening comprehension in a foreign language is the most time-consuming language competence. Don't expect 20 minutes of listening a day to work wonders. You should aim for a minimum of 1 hour of listening per day!

    I can already hear those moans: "Well, he's crazy! More than 20 minutes! Lord, I have a life! "

    Contrary to appearances, it is not so difficult. All you have to do is plan your day well. After all, you can listen to music or recordings almost anywhere! At home, gym, shop, commuting, and often even at work!

    5) TOO FAST A PACE

    Many people feel that one of the biggest obstacles preventing them from understanding a language well is the high rate of influx when listening.A constant stream of words creates the impression that you always miss essential information, which can make you unnecessarily stressed. Fortunately, it is quite easy to get rid of this problem these days.

    (I) Manipulation of the recording speed

    Almost every movie and music player nowadays is equipped with speed control. YouTube is a good example. If the average tempo of the recording prevents you from understanding, lower the speed to 0.75. You should immediately notice a big difference.

    (II) The word "please."

    In the case of conversations with foreigners, the matter is even more straightforward - ask them to speak more slowly and clearly. Most people shouldn't have any problem with this.

    They don't want to do it? A quick blow to the temple should subtly encourage them to cooperate.

    6) ONE-TIME LISTENING TO RECORDINGS 

    Repeated listening to a given recording or conversation is not always possible. However, if it's possible, you should always listen to your materials more than once if you have trouble understanding them.

    Here's a simple plan you can stick to:

    (I)) Learners at levels A1-B1

    Find a recording/video on YT or something similar, and listen to it over and over again.

    When should you move to the next recording?

    When you understand about 80% of the recording, i.e., you grasp its gist - hunting for particular words at this level is pointless. 

    However, it is essential to become familiar with the prosody of the language and to improve the ability to capture the most common words in a given language.

    It is a particularly useful listening system when you want to learn a language for which there are practically no listening materials.

    At the time when I was doing my first major language project (learning Swedish from scratch to a level B2 in about four months - a full story here), I could listen to one radio program, lasting about 10 minutes, even a dozen times. This is how long the phonetic identification of "theoretically" simple words that I  "theoretically" knew took me.

    (II) Learners at B2-C2 levels

    Here the matter is much simpler. Assuming that you are indeed at this language level, you should know between 3 and 5 thousand words. Thus, your understanding should range between 95-98%.

    Since you are already quite advanced, repeatedly listening to a given recording does not make sense, After all, you are already able to identify the essential words appearing in a given language. At these levels, the most important thing is to listen to as many language users as possible to get used to the variety of accents and language patterns.

    7) LACK OF CONCENTRATION

    Sometimes, problems with understanding are dictated by nothing else but a good old lack of concentration. Each of us knows the moment when, after 2 minutes of listening to the interlocutor, you completely sail away to ride on a pony in a happy place in your head, while saliva begins to gather in the corners of your mouth.

    Where does this state come from, and how to remedy it?

    (I) Ditch boring recordings

    Listen, you are not in an interrogation room in Guantánamo. Nobody compels you to listen to things you don't enjoy. If the subject of the recording causes your eyes to spasm, then change it. Simple logic works here - the more you like a topic, the more willingly and longer you will listen to it.

    b) Chunk your listening sessions

    There is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing.

    If the recording is too long, break up your listening session into many parts.

    For example, instead of watching one 40-minute episode of a series in one hearing, try to do it in two or three sessions. Everything according to the slogan: "A large elephant is eaten piece by piece."

    (III) Avoid adverse conditions

    Sometimes the conditions are not conducive to listening. Maybe a bunch of airheads are rehearsing Tibetan throat singing as a demonstration in defense of the rights of bakers. 

    In this situation, there are only two things you can do, depending on the nature of the problem:

    • find a quiet place to listen
    • Keep on listening

    If this does not help, get into a fight with some guy in the YT comment section to vent off.

    8) PROBLEMS WITH INTERPRETATION / CULTURE

    Sometimes the culprit of communication problems is the cultural gulf between interlocutors (Underwood). Interestingly, this problem also occurs among native speakers of a given language. There is no simple remedy.

    The only solution is to continually broaden your horizons and explore the culture from which your target language originates.

    A classic example of misunderstanding is an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Doing so in the Middle East, West Africa, and South America is a delicate suggestion that you intend to violate the dignity of your interlocutor's rectum. A classic faux pas!

    9) PROBLEMS WITH NATURAL (I.E., COLLOQUIAL) SPEECH

    The difference between the natural, colloquial language spoken by native speakers and the one that is usually taught in language schools, or which can be heard on the radio, can be huge (Hedge).

    In real life, a situation where the interlocutor speaks to you very slowly it clearly shows that:

    • a) he will have a stroke soon
    • b) thinks you're "special" and it's not a compliment!

    (I) Various accents and dialects

    Another problem in this category is the variety of accents and dialects. Unfortunately, the uniformity of languages varies dramatically.

    For example, in Germanic languages (e.g. English, German, Swedish, Dutch), after driving only 20 km, we may come across a completely different dialect.

    For many, this is a huge shock. They spend years convinced that they understand the language well, and suddenly it feels as if they were starting all over again!

    A great example is the Scottish accent, which causes a lot of problems for many people who comprehend classic English very well.

    P.S. Here is some stand-up of the most famous Scottish stand-up comedian, Frankie Boyle: YouTube (heads up - it's full of swear words!)

    If you want to be sure that you will be able to understand native speakers without significant problems, you need to diversify the materials you listen to. It should always be a mix containing both colloquial (e.g., videos on YT) and more formal speech (radio, news, etc.).

    Listening to different dialects is not necessary unless you need the ability to understand them for some reason (i.e., moving to a specific region).

    10) NO VISUAL SUPPORT

    In real life, communication with our potential interlocutor is more abundant with body language or facial expressions. The value of this additional information cannot be overestimated, as it often helps to understand the meaning of the speech, despite the lack of understanding of individual words.

    It would be a mistake to limit listening only to the radio or podcasts.

    It's worth enlarging your listening toolbox to include audio-visual materials  (e.g., TV series or YouTube videos). They will not only speed up your pace of understanding but will also make learning more enjoyable!

    11) PASSIVE LISTENING

    Many people equate listening to a purely passive activity. Nothing needed but crash in your armchair and start your favorite podcast! Of course, there is nothing wrong with it, and I usually prefer this type of listening. But, there is an alternative - active listening.

    While listening actively, you should try to make a note of the recording text and words you do not know. Although this is a time-consuming process, it has a positive impact on your understanding.

    12) INSUFFICIENT KNOWLEDGE OF GRAMMAR

    Lack of (good) knowledge of grammar is one of the last obstacles on your path to full understanding.

    It is interesting that the lack of knowledge of grammar does not prevent complete understanding, but only makes it difficult.

    I'm sure you know people who went abroad, and after 5 years they still don't know the language. Despite this, they can communicate with native speakers at a basic level, using the requisite words, gestures, and the occasional grunts.

    I like to explain this phenomenon, and also the role of grammar in understanding, using the following metaphor.

    Imagine that words are building blocks, and grammar is nothing more than a logical mortar holding them together. When we have both, we can create a beautiful "palace of comprehension." If the mortar is missing, the only thing we can do is to stack the bricks on top of one another. This way, we will build "something," but it will certainly not be a palace - more like a swanky privy.

    Read more:
    Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice.

    IMPROVING LISTENING COMPREHENSION IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE - SUMMARY

    As you can see, problems with listening comprehension in a foreign language are very diverse. Therefore, to effectively benefit from the advice contained in this article, you should analyze your particular situation as accurately as possible and choose the tips that apply to you.

    Regardless, for many language learners, the two main factors which usually impair their listening comprehension are limited vocabulary and insufficient listening practice - these are always the right places to start.

    Good luck!

    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 over 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. Memorizing things like "phonetic associations"  and such can be really easy!

     

    The Truth About Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics In Learning

    Would you like to be able to memorize a whole book? What about those boring declination tables?

    Silly question. Who wouldn’t?

    One way or the other, you have heard of fantastic memory feats of mnemonists – memorizing decks of cards or thousands of digits. And all this seemingly effortlessly.

    Mnemonics have the power to stimulate the imagination. They definitely stimulated mine.

    This dream, the dream of being able to memorize anything I want, triggered the chain of events which made me embark on a bumpy journey/

    Destination? To discover the actual effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics and master my memory.

    Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics In Learning – My First Experience

     

    I still remember the first time when I had to use mnemonics practically. I failed one of my exams, and I had to retake it. The problem was that I didn’t know when. I was convinced that the day would be announced very soon.
    The days went by, and I didn’t even touch the coursebook. Somehow the notion of the retake blissfully slipped my mind.
    One day I was sitting in the corridor, listening to music and reading a book. Suddenly I heard a muffled voice, “aren’t you preparing for the exam?”. “What exam?” I looked up to see the grinning face of my good friend.
    “It’s starting in 2 hours,” he replied. Somehow his grin turned into an evil smirk.
    “That’s it,” I thought to myself. “I will fail this exam, and I will fail my studies. I will end up homeless and will have to fight sewer spiders for the food.”
    After the first surge of panic passed, I started coming up with possible solutions. I decided that my best chance is to use mnemonics. I didn’t have much experience in using them. Sure, I had read two books up to that point but had almost no exposure to back up the theory.
    Desperate times call for drastic measures. I rolled up my sleeves and started learning. A bit over three h later, I left the professor’s office. I passed. I don’t know how, but I passed. Thus my obsession with mnemonics was born. My imagination was running wild. Where are the boundaries?
    Is it possible for each one of us to become a genius if we just learn to utilize mnemonic strategies? I needed many years to learn the bitter truth. No. Mnemonics will not make you a genius and allow you to absorb tons of information effortlessly.
    “So are they useful at all?” you might ask. And what can they be used for?
    I will get back to this in a moment.

    What Are Mnemonics?

     

    Before we move on, it’s good to explain what mnemonics are quickly. In short, mnemonics are devices to aid our overburdened memory.

    They are used to facilitate efficient encoding by associating new information with the knowledge which is already stored in your long-term memory (Johnson & Weber, 2006 as cited in Gibson, 2009).

    Probably the most common mnemonic device the so-called keyword method coined by Atkinson (1975). It is used to make meaningful auditory and imagery links to remember a word.

    For example, if you want to remember that “to buy” in Spanish is “comprar,” you might create a vivid picture of a man who compares prices of products before the purchase. Not that complicated, right?

    Let’s see now what science has to say about mnemonics.

    Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Learning – an Overview of the Scientific Literature

     

    Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

     

    There is a large body of research about mnemonics. However, probably the most interesting study up-to-date was led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky and released in April 2013 by the Association for Psychological Science.

    In a comprehensive report, the group of authors carefully examined ten learning tactics and rated them from high to low utility based on the evidence they’ve gathered.

    If you are expecting mnemonics to be among the most useful strategies, don’t hold your breath. They didn’t even come close to the top of the list.

    According to the authors, some commonly used techniques, such as underlining, rereading material, and using mnemonic devices, were found to be of surprisingly low utility.

    Of surprisingly low utility?! If you look at memory feats performed by mnemonics, you might conclude that scientists must be taking crazy pills.
    For example, here is a video of Dr. Yip Swee Chooi.

     

     

    What’s so special about him?
    He learned a 1774-page Chinese-English dictionary by heart (in case you wonder – it took him almost six months to do it).
    Another great example is Simon Reinhard, who memorized a deck of cards in 20.438 seconds.

     

     

    Clearly, people with untrained memory would not be able to come close to these results. Still, the report says clearly – mnemonics might not be the best use of your time.

    Of course, I must be perfectly honest with you. There are a lot of studies which show that using mnemonics might be very beneficial for (among others):

    What’s even more important, some studies showed memory improvement with students with disabilities, as described by Fulk (1994) and Bulgren et al. (1994).

    And these are just a few of them and they all state clearly – mnemonics are statistically more effective.

    Effective than what?! And why didn’t I include these studies here then?

    Problems With Studies On The Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Learning

     

    Having read dozens of studies on mnemonics, I can divide the flaws of these studies into the following categories:

    a) Statistical sample is not representative

     

    Do you know how to recognize bad, bullshit science at first glance? Look at the sample.

    To generalize, any number below 100 participants means that researchers just threw your tax money into the gutter.

    b) Control groups suck

     

    Do you know what the usual control group against mnemonics-using students is? Rote learning students.

    Ugh, it’s like watching some bizarre boxing match. “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s gather around to enjoy this very duel – a retarded shrimp vs. quite an ordinary shrimp.”

    c) Laboratory settings

     

    99,9% of these studies are conducted in laboratory settings. And there is quite a yawning gap between research in areas of everyday memory (i.e., field research) and lab-controlled research.

    The Hawthorne effect is one of the things which comes to mind.

    A type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed

    It’s tough to generalize such results to other settings

    What’s more, so-called low ecological validity comes into play. The laboratory is clearly an artificial situation. People are directed by an ‘experimenter’ in a psychological experiment. They are removed from their natural social settings and asked to memorize different sets of data.

    This is a very unusual experience that raises the question – how do this novel experience and settings really affect their behavior and memory?

    Still, lab research is better than no research at all.

    d) Time horizon

     

    Most studies are conducted over a relatively short period. It’s rarely spread over more than 3-4 weeks. As you will soon read, this is why most studies prove the effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics.

    e) Nature of the tasks

     

    How would you feel about memorizing and recalling a list of unconnected words or digits? Seriously, be honest. How would you rate your willingness on the scale from “nope” to “never”?
    The detachment of such tasks from everyday life and their general lack of usefulness have led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.

    Are mnemonics useless?

    Am I saying that mnemonics are useless then? Not at all. They can be insanely useful.

    But you must understand what they are and what they aren’t. I quoted the excerpt from John Dunlosky’s report for two reasons:

    • 1) It tested different learning strategies against one another.
    • 2) More importantly, it examined the effects of those strategies in LONG-TERM learning.

    And this is what mnemonics are not.

    They are not a suitable tool for long-term learning.

    At least not in the form they are usually presented.

    If you are not pressed for time, you can get by without any problems without using mnemonics.

    They are also not a panacea for all your memory problems. It is just another tool in your learning arsenal.

    If you have ever read anything by any author, who promotes/sells anything mnemonics-related, you might find it hard to believe. Don’t worry. I also felt disillusioned. And I had good reasons.

    Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Learning – My Experiments 

     

    Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

    Picture by: Vlad

    Since that pivotal moment of my life, my obsession with mnemonics had been growing in strength with each passing day. There was no stopping me. I was the mnemonics preacher. Everybody HAD to know about how mnemonics are great,
    After I won the local memory championship, it only got worse. I experimented with the ardor of meth-addicted junkie. I created memory palaces holding thousands of words. I tried to learn entire books by heart just to test the effectiveness of mnemonics. I have memorized tables, law regulations, and checked my recall at various intervals.
    T
    he effect was always the same — high recall rate at the beginning of my experiments. The feeling of overwhelming joy always accompanied these early results. But it never lasted long.
    My recall rate was still good after up to 2-4 weeks after creating mnemonic images and reviewing them, although I could notice some deterioration of my memories.

    Inevitable drop in recall rate always came after more than four weeks.

    And this is precisely why most scientific studies seemingly prove the effectiveness of mnemonics. They test them in labs in short periods.

    Once again, I would like to stress that mnemonics can be immensely useful. Useful both for recalling random information as well as helping you achieve high levels of expert performance. Just not for long-term learning.

    Read on, and I will show how they can be utilized best. But first, to have a full picture of what you’re dealing with, take a look at the limitations of mnemonics.

    Limitations And Disadvantages Of Mnemonics

     

    • Gruneberg (1998) argues that the keyword method, in general, is inferior to rote learning in the longer-term retention of vocabulary.
    • “Campos and Gonzalez (2003) attribute ineffectiveness of the keyword method to participants ‘lack of training. They investigated in four experiments the effectiveness of the mnemonic keyword method using two groups of adults and adolescents. In all the experiments, the rote method was more effective than the keyword method for both adolescents and adults.”
    • Some people (especially adults) are reluctant to create vivid images and crazy stories.
    • Some people (especially adults) are unable and/or unwilling to resign from using previously learned strategies.
    • Using mnemonic devices for memorizing words is time-consuming (especially at the beginning).
    • Using mnemonics requires more effort (especially at the beginning) than rote-learning.
    • Mnemonics don’t guarantee understanding.
    • Learning with mnemonics lacks context.

     

    So if mnemonics are not an excellent way for long-term learning, what are they good for?

    How Mnemonics Affect Your Short-Term Memory

     

    Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

     

    Short-term memory has three key aspects:

    • 1. limited capacity (only about 7+-2 items can be stored at a time or 3-4 chunks)
    • 2. limited duration (storage is very fragile, and information can be lost with distraction or passage of time)
    • 3. encoding (primarily acoustic, even translating visual information into sounds).

     

    And here is where the true power of mnemonics lies.

    Mnemonic devices allow you to boost all these three aspects of your short-term memory significantly.

    It might not seem like a big deal, but it has tremendous implications for your (language) learning.

    Why?

    Because short-term memory is a necessary step toward the next stage of retention – long-term memory, you can treat short-term memory as a bottleneck of your learning. After all, if you can’t commit some information, even just for a few seconds, to your memory, how are you supposed to learn?

    Some researchers claim that working-memory capacity reflects the efficiency of executive functions. In other words, the ability to maintain and manipulate information in the face of distractions and other irrelevant information. ( Engle, R. W., September 1999).

     

    That’s why the best way to think about mnemonics is to treat them as a relatively long-lived external memory with huge capacity.

     

    I will get to the most effective use of mnemonics in a second. First, I want to demonstrate something. Let’s take a look at prodigies.

    The Short-Term Memory Of Prodigies

     

    Studies on the prodigies who reached professional-level performance in their domain (e.g., art, math, music) by the age of 10 show something very interesting.

    When Psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz and violin virtuoso Jourdan Urbach administered an IQ test to nine prominent child prodigies (…) there were a wide range of IQ scores among the eight prodigies (from 108 to 147), and their cognitive profiles were uneven.

    It turned out that the key to understanding their rapid learning in their domain was not their global intellectual functioning.

    Most strikingly, every single prodigy in their sample scored off the charts (better than 99 percent of the general population) in working memory — the ability to simultaneously store incoming information while processing other information.

    So how can you approach these levels of intellectual functioning?

    Key Information Needed to Understand How To use Mnemonics Effectively

     

    1) We learn best by doing
    2) Calling information to mind strengthens it and helps in future retrieval
    3) Understanding the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge.

     

    According to Cohen and Squire (1980):

    Procedural knowledge involves “knowing how” to do things. It includes skills, such as “knowing how” to play the piano, ride a bike; tie your shoes and other motor skills. It does not involve conscious thought (i.e. it’s unconscious – automatic). For example, we brush our teeth with little or no awareness of the skills involved.

    Declarative knowledge involves “knowing that”. Knowing names of plants , dates, formulas – it’s all part of your declarative knowledge. Recalling information from declarative memory involves, so called, effortfull recall – i.e. information has to be consciously brought to mind and “declared”.

     

    Knowing these things can help us stew perfect learning mix:

    • 1) Gather information 

    It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn a language or how to master persuasion strategies. Gather the knowledge needed to achieve your goal.

    • 2) Memorize it with mnemonics

    As I have written before, mnemonics can be treated as an extension of your short-term memory. Place as much information as you can on this external “hard-drive.”

    • 3) Start practicing right away

    You know the theory of how to play the piano or how to program. It’s high time you started putting your knowledge into practice. Try to use as many pieces of information from your memory as you can.

    Because every time you bring one of them to your mind, the magic happens. You start creating and strengthening neural networks responsible for the given action.

    Repeat this action a sufficient number of times, and you will automate it. From that moment on, you will be able to perform it subconsciously and with minimal effort.

    Let’s see how you can use it in language learning.

    Effectiveness and Usefulness of Mnemonics in Language Learning

     

    Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

    Picture by: Shannon Kokoska

     

    When I launched my Czech mission, I already had a rough plan of how to achieve my desired level in record time. This is more or less what I did:

    • 1) I got familiar with grammar
    • 2) I memorized basic declinations and conjugations with mnemonics
    • 3) I memorized about 50 essential words with mnemonics
    • 4) I started producing a lot of sentences by talking to myself and by using the words and mentioned above 
    • 5) I “rinsed and repeated” points 2-4. Each time I increased the number of words and grammar constructions

    Of course, there was also listening and reading practice. If someone asks me what the quickest way to learn a language with mnemonics is, I show them this plan. I also tell them to use ANKI or combine those strategies.

    Either way, since learning with mnemonics lacks context, I would avoid using it for language learning unless you can produce lots of sentences with the vocabulary you have memorized this way,

    Since we have established that mnemonics can be treated as your external memory, take a look at other practical applications of mnemonics!

    (Other) Practical Applications Of Mnemonics

     

    Mnemonics are useful whenever you need to memorize a lot of information on the fly and remember them for at least a couple of hours.

    That’s why you can use them (among others):

    • During parties and meetings to memorize names and information about other participants
    • during last-minute panic before the exam or company presentation to make sure that the data stays in your memory!
    • During speeches.
    • to impress your wife and show her that “you don’t need no damn shopping lists” to remember what you should buy
    • to memorize random information which emerges during conversations

    And so on. I think you got it!

    Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics – Summary

     

    Mnemonics have to be one of the most misunderstood learning tools of all time. They are usually sold as the ultimate solution for all kinds of learning problems, which is far from the truth. As you can see, effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics can be amazing but only provided that you understand precisely what they do. And what they do is “inflate” your short-term memory for some time.
    Manage to review the knowledge you acquired with mnemonics by performing some actions specific to that knowledge, .and you can rest assured that your progress will know no boundaries. You will become that “Robo-weirdo.” And this is what I sincerely wish you.

    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. Memorize, among others, what working memory is, what are limitations of mnemonics, and much more!

     

     

    Important Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension – the Only Two That Matter If You Want to Understand ASAP

     

    Listening comprehension is quite universally known to be one of the most, if not the most, demanding language skill.

     

    A lot of learners struggle for many years to be able to understand even 90% of a conversation. And it gets worse. The number of language learners who are capable of understanding almost every word they hear amounts to a few percents.

    And thus the question arises: is listening really that difficult or maybe there is something else at play here?
    To answer this question, we first have to take a look at all the most critical factors affecting your listening comprehension.

     

    All The Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension

     

    Listening comprehension is a quite complex beast as it consists of lots of smaller sub-beasts, or sub-skills if you will. As you will see in a moment, almost everything can affect your level of listening comprehension.

     

    1. Your pronunciation

    For every word you encounter, you create your internal phonetic representations (i.e., how you think that a word should be pronounced). Next, you confront them with the external representations (i.e., how the words are really pronounced).
    If they overlap considerably or are identical, and you can fish them out from the recording, you should be able to understand a given word.

     

    This is the exact reason why you might understand a typical accent from a given country but you will struggle with a dialect. Simply, at this point, your internal representations are not broad enough to encompass new external representations.

    Read more: How to improve your pronunciation.

     

    2. Your grammar

    It’s much more difficult to understand the deeper meaning of an utterance if you don’t know how different words come together. Don’t worry. You don’t have to concentrate on learning every single grammar construction in your target language. Simply start with the functional grammar.

     

    3. Knowledge of how sounds merge or get reduced

    Unfortunately, not everything is what it seems. It certainly seems to be the case with sounds. In almost any language there is a tendency of different sounds to be reduced (e.g. vowel reduction) or to be merged (read more about phonological changes).

    If you don’t grasp how these changes happen, it will take you much longer to decipher the ongoing stream of speech.

     

    4. Your overall listening time

     

    IMPORTANT FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR LISTENING COMPREHENSION

    Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

     

    It happens way too often that I get an e-mail from one of my readers who complains about their listening skills. Asked how much time they devote to their listening practice, I get a shy “10 minutes per day”.
    What a fantastic pace and dedication!  Call me in 2045 to tell me whether you can finally understand your first movie dialogue.
    Listening takes a lot of time. That’s just the way it is.

     

    5. Visual support

    Listening becomes much easier once you can see somebody’s body language. A lot of things which would get lost in the tangle of speech seem more understandable on the screen once you catch a glimpse of an ironic smirk.
    Plus, nobody can take away from you the pleasure of fantasizing about starting a new life with a main actor/actress. And calling your first child, “Chad.” What? No, obviously, it has never happened to me. Mind your own business!

     

    6. Vocabulary size

     

    It’s as clear as day. The more words you know, the easier it is to fish them out of a recording. If your current vocabulary is, say, 1000 words and you can’t figure out why you don’t understand much, this might be the reason.

    Read more: The Word Substitution Technique – How To Increase Your Vocabulary Size Considerably.

     

    7. Concentration

    As much as I like the idea of listening to recordings in the background, you won’t get far if you can’t focus on the activity at hand. You have to strap your butt to a chair and listen.
    Just for the record, I want you to know that in the literature, you can find a couple of other factors that affect your listening comprehension — for example, problems with interpretation, inability to identify signals, and such. I decided to skip them as they have so little bearing your ability to understand. I don’t want to expand this article artificially.
    Let’s now take a look at what are the two most important factor that affects your listening comprehension.

     

    The Two Most Important Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension

     

    It’s always crucial to know what constituent of some skill is the most important. Skills are difficult enough as they are. However, without any semblance of prioritization, you might spend too much time floundering about desperately.

    You might think about what I am about to propose to you as yet another application of the Pareto principle.

    As a reminder:

     

    The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

    Wiki

    And, as you will shortly see, even among these two, there is one which is clearly more important.

     

    1. The total amount of listening practice

     

     

    In order to increase your comprehension, you have to spend a lot of time listening to people or recordings. The more often you do it, the faster you can expect to progress.
    However, is the total amount of listening practice the ultimate answer? I doubt it. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be that many people who live abroad surrounded by a language that still struggle with listening comprehension.
    I have a good friend of mine who watches everything in English passionately. TV series, movies, news, you name it. Yet, after all these years, his comprehension hasn’t changed that drastically. And it would be surprising if it wasn’t for the fact that he doesn’t have any vocabulary acquisition system in place.
    And that leads me to the factor no 2.

     

    2. The size of your vocabulary

     

    There is a very good reason why the name of my language learning course is Vocabulary Labs and not something else.

     

    The size of your vocabulary is the most reliable predictor of language progress there is. Without knowing a lot of words, improving your listening comprehension will prove very difficult.

    Let me demonstrate it.

    First, improving your listening comprehension can be understood as:

    1. getting used to the prosody of your target language
    2. picking up words you know from the ongoing stream of speech

     

    What’s more, we know from the literature that for most languages, 3000 words allow you to understand about 95% of most ordinary texts (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996). 5000 words, in its turn, will enable you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997))(read more about levels of comprehension and vocabulary size).

    It’s somewhat agreed that getting accustomed to the prosody doesn’t take that much time. That leaves us with the second task you have to face: fishing out words from the stream of speech.

    If your vocabulary size is 200, how many percents of words are you able to pick up?

     

    Calculate Your Listening Effectiveness

     

    Let’s calculate this, and let’s treat 5000 words as our perfect reference point as this number of words would allow you to understand most of the things you would hear.

    200/5000 = 0.040 = 4%

    We have arrived at the number 4% but what does it really tell us?

    It means that your listening effectiveness per 1 minute or hour of listening practice is 4%.

    So yeah, you can spend hundreds of hours trying to improve your comprehension, but it may turn out that it won’t change too much.

    What if you started listening to recordings with the vocabulary of 1000 words?

    1000/5000 = 0.20.= 20%

    At this point, your listening effectiveness would increase fivefold! Let me formulate it slightly differently – learning just 800 words can greatly increase your listening comprehension.

     

    And this is the exact reason why I advocate listening practice only once you master at least 2000 words (or even more). Having such a vocabulary optimizes your learning time and allows you to progress much faster than others without having to waste more hours.

    One exception to this rule (i.e., what drastically increases your listening comprehension)

     

    THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR LISTENING COMPREHENSION

    Photo by Noah Näf on Unsplash

     

    Of course, keep in mind that my listening effectiveness model is simplistic in one aspect.

     

    If you learn a language which is already similar to the ones you already know, your passive vocabulary knowledge will allow you to pick up words which are similar to the ones you are familiar with. 

    For example, if I decide to learn Russian, which shares about 40% of words with Polish, my starting listening comprehension will be about 40%!

    However, that still means that if you increase your vocabulary size with the words you don’t, your listening effectiveness will go up even higher!

     

    Important Factors Affecting Listening Comprehension – Summary

     

    I first published my article “How to learn German from scratch to a B2 level in 5 months,” a couple of years ago. Back then, one statement of mine seemed to spark a lot of controversies.

     

    I forbade Mathew to read and listen to anything for first three months. Actually, if you know how to acquire vocabulary, you do not context to do it. You can learn first 3-5 thousand words simply from frequency lists. It allows you to save a lot of time simply by not being forced to go through all those crappy dialogs in textbooks.

    And I get it. This piece of advice went against everything most people have been taught in schools. It also contradicted almost every strategy proposed by my fellow polyglots. However, as time goes by, there seem to be more and more studies that confirm this theory.

     

    Studies confirming the importance of the aforementioned factors affecting listening comprehension

    [[ … ]] it was revealed that the ability of learners to make connections between highly common English words appears to be dependent on the number of words they know. The more words they know, the more connections they are able to identify. At present, it is not known whether this ability to make connections is a cause or a result of knowing the meanings of more words, or if it is a combination of both.

    [[ … ]] it is also hoped that new avenues shall be explored that focus more deeply on what it means to know a word and the role of lexical retrieval and memory in L2 lexical processing. At present, to its detriment, the field of L2 vocabulary studies remains remarkably insular.

     

    The conclusion is as follows – if you want to improve your listening comprehension asap, you have to, first of all, increase your vocabulary size. Only then does it make sense to devote a lot of time to listening practice.

     

    My advice to you is this – if you want to improve your listening comprehension, you should concentrate on expanding your vocabulary size first (don’t forget about mastering functional grammar). Only then should you gradually increase your overall listening time while still increasing the numbers of words you know.

     

    Do you agree with my theory that the vocabulary size is the most important factor affecting listening comprehension? Let me know in the comments!

     

    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 25 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 “internal phonetic representations” can be really easy!

     

     

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