The Word Substitution Technique – How To Increase Your Vocabulary Size Considerably

Increase vocabulary size

 

You slowly open your eyes. You’re in your bed. It’s nice and warm. You know you should get up and start the day but somehow you cannot force yourself to do this. The blissful numbness is radiating from every pore of your body. You try to lift your head but to no avail. Getting up seems impossible.

Maybe you’ll just lie here for a few more minutes and… BAM! You’re asleep. As a consequence, you’re late for your work and get fired. Your spouse realizes what a loser you are and she decides to leave you. You end up getting homeless and fighting with sewer rats over the leftovers from Thai restaurant.

Alright, so maybe I’ve exaggerated a tiny bit. But that’s exactly what the comfort zone feels like.
It’s blissful and cozy. And that’s the problem.

 

Increase vocabulary size

 

Why?

Well, the simplified explanation goes like this: we use automated sets of behavior in every area of our lives. It makes perfects sense. If they are automated, it means that the energy expenditure is considerably limited while executing them.

Take a close look at your speech patterns in your mother tongue. It might turn out that you use a relatively limited number of words and phrases in everyday life. And bear in mind that it’s your mother tongue! The problem is even more conspicuous in foreign language learning.

Our vocabulary defines the borders of our perception and thinking. It’s good to constantly keep on pushing them.

The following piece of advice is equally valid for beginners and advanced learners.

Identify words/phrases which you repeat frequently

 

You can do it on your own with a little bit of mindfulness or with a help of your teacher. Just take a piece of paper (or use the ready-to-use template at the end of the article!) and note down all the words and phrases which you tend to repeat way too often.

They usually tend to fall into one of the 4 categories:

COMMON PHRASES

That’s a great place to start. Have you ever noticed how often your repeat “I think that…” in a foreign language you learn? Sure, it’s a very basic phrase. And necessary one as well! But it’s also damn boring. There is a variety of counterparts in every language which can make your way of speaking more colorful.

“I believe that … ”
“I’m convinced that…”
“I trust that … ”
“I reckon that … ”

And the list goes on and on …

ADJECTIVES

Adjectives are used to describe nouns. That’s why you can go wild with your creativity! Sure, you can say that some guy is big. But why not:

He is a great hulk of a man / huge / of considerable size / enormous / gigantic etc.

A place to start:
I have a very strict rule for my language students. Excluding absolute beginners, you can’t use “good”, “bad” and “interesting” during my classes. I kid you not. If I hear any of these words, my eyes turn red and start twitching. I haven’t hit anyone yet but I sense that this day is approaching inevitably!

Of course, you can find other words which you tend to overuse. We all have our wicked ways. I’m definitely guilty of using “creepy” and “awkward” almost every time when I speak English.

VERBS

In most languages, they don’t give you as much creative freedom as adjectives. However, it’s still worth substituting some of them.

A place to start:
I like to start with synonyms of “explain”, “use” and “convince”. General usefulness of these words makes them easy to apply in almost any context.

NOUNS

Probably the hardest category to substitute. Only one piece of advice here. Try not to use the word “thing”. Every “thing” has its name. Use it!

Substitute them

 

Once you’ve identified the words which you use way too often, it’s time to substitute them.

But how do you find good synonyms?

The best way is to ask your teacher or a befriended native speaker. But if you don’t have this luxury, feel free to use a dictionary of synonyms, i.e. Thesaurus.

Here is a short list for some of the popular languages.

English – http://www.thesaurus.com/
Spanish – http://www.sinónimo.es/
French – http://www.synonymes.com/
Czech – http://www.synonyma-online.cz/
Polish – https://www.synonimy.pl/
Russian – http://www.synonymizer.ru/
Swedish – http://www.synonymer.se/
Italian – http://www.sinonimi-contrari.it/
Portuguese – http://www.sinonimos.com.br/
German – http://synonyme.woxikon.de/

It’s important that you understand (more less) the difference between meanings of different synonyms!

When is the good time to substitute a word?

 

There is only one reliable indicator of the time when you should start substituting some word. Once your active recall of this word is effortless and immediate.

Only then. It means that the word is entrenched deeply in your long-term memory and you no longer have to use it frequently in order to remember it. And that’s actually the GREAT reason not to use it any longer or drastically limit its use. At least during your language practice.

I would actually go as far as to say that every time you repeat words and phrases you know actively, you waste your time. Every sentence is a new opportunity to grow as a person (and as a learner!).
Don’t waste it!

Now go on and put this method to good use and increase your vocabulary size!

 

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations And Other Grammatical Abominations

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

 

I’m definitely a weirdo. I enjoy learning grammar! Declensions, conjugations, possessive pronouns.
I love them all! And there is a good reason for that! They are simply one of the easiest things to learn in most languages!

Of course, let’s be perfectly honest – learning them is easy. However, using them without any hesitation is another story. Here are a few methods you might use to learn grammar effectively:

The Classical Method

 

Repeat everything till your eyes and brain start bleeding. Not interested? Read on!

Look For Patterns

Let’s play Sherlock Holmes for one moment. The first thing I do when I learn grammar of some language is establishing some patterns.

 

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

 

For example, take a look at the weak declension of adjectives in German (it is used when there is a preceding definite article (“der-word”).

Can you see it? Rock n roll horns created of “-en”

Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

And the rest of this table is just “e”! Quite simple to remember, isn’t it?

The Four German Cases

Can’t remember the order of German cases? Maybe if I NAG(ge)D you would! 🙂

2. Create Some Stories

This is my absolutely favorite method since you can use it with combination with mnemonics.
It definitely requires some concentration and creativity. It might be difficult at the beginning.
You have to shake up your rusty imagination!

Example 1 – German possessive pronouns.

Here you have a list of German possessive pronouns. It looks pretty random, right? Nope, there is actually some cool story hidden there!

 

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language
I gave her MINE TIN(y) SIGN – and her EER(ie) UNSER (answer) was really EER(ie). Who knows, maybe it’s too abstract for you. Let’s try something different then. Let’s assume that I(h)R stands for Irina Shayk. Or some sexy pIRate if you’re a woman.

Now our little story can go like this:

MEIN DIME SIGN(s) IR(ina) – my UNSER (answer) is O(h) YEAH! IR(ina) !

As you can see, this method doesn’t always cover the pronunciation in 100%.
But that’s alright. In most cases, your brain is aware of that and can correct these mistakes.

Example 2 – Swedish objective pronouns

What about some (singular) objective pronouns? When I was learning Swedish I memorized them, more or less, like this:

MAYDAY! HOE NO! I wanted HENNE(ssy) .

Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

Example 3 – Spanish conjugations

Time for conjugations!

How To Quickly Learn Declensions and Conjugations In Any Language

 

There are so many ways to memorize these conjugations! But of course, they depend on many things – your native tongue, other languages you speak and your entire “database” of different names, notions, etc.

Being Polish, I would choose to memorize the first three endings with a word “OAZA” (eng. oasis). I think that this approximation is good enough. AMOS can be easily (for me!) associated with my beloved artist Tori AMOS who puts AIS on AN(t).

Something To Remember

 

Treat this method as crutches. It helps you to unburden your memory by memorizing grammar in an effortless way but it’s not a substitute for practice. You need to use the language to automate the use of grammar,

Quick FAQ

Q: Can you always find some associations?
A: Yep. Just use your imagination!

Q: But what if it doesn’t work?
A: Then try harder! Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Good luck and let me know what you think about this method!

 

1 Great Tip On How To Find Lyrics In Your Target Language Of Almost Any Song

Find Lyrics In Your Target Language Of Almost Any Song

I’m sure that you have some songs that make you cry. Now you can make others cry as well while you sing in your target language!

Alright, I admit – that sounded like a bad advertisement! Anyway, I highly recommend that you check LyricsTranslate.com.

What is this magical website?

 

The website contains over 280k translations of all kinds of songs. The translations are available in dozens of languages. Sure, you won’t always find the song you want, especially if it is acid, vegetarian dubstep. But don’t be picky – simply move on to the next song which interests you.

However, if you’re really desperate, you can request somebody to translate the lyrics for you! I guess it’s also worth mentioning that it’s FREE like the lead-laden air we breathe in!

How does it work?

 

Search for the song you’d like to hear and when the original lyrics appear, simply choose the language which they should be translated into. Let’s try to find one of my favorite songs of Bon Jovi – Bad Medicine.

Effect?
Find Lyrics In Your Target Language Of Almost Any Song

 

Great, isn’t it? Now find the backing track on youtube and you’re ready to go. Sing your heart out!

If you want some extra language practice, you might register on the website and start translating the lyrics to help others. Have fun and pass this article to the fellow language learners who have musical inclinations!

 

Foreign Languages – Learn By Talking To Yourself and Get a Job Thanks To This!

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself and Get a Job Thanks To This!

 

It’s funny, isn’t it?

All your life we’ve been told that the only place where talking to yourself can get you is a padded cell. And yet, somehow it landed me a job in one of the top corporations at this side of Milky Way.

You might ask – so what’s so special about this story? Well, I learned Swedish in order to get the job in less than 4 months without talking to anyone in Swedish. And while working 50+ hours per week.

I also managed to break up with my fiancée and started drinking after a 1,5-year break of abstinence. So if you’re expecting only rainbows and unicorns go somewhere else. I’m pretty sure there is a lesson somewhere in this story but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Here is how it happened, more or less, and how you can duplicate the results. Hopefully without crippling your private life.

Discovering Swedish – Beginnings

 

“It is such a beautiful-sounding language”, I said to myself. I was standing in the middle of a bookshop in my hometown. My then-girlfriend who recently had moved to Sweden was pointing at some sentence in a textbook and asking me to read it.

I tried but my effort was mediocre at best. Why do you pronounce these f***ing letters so randomly?! Here is some foretaste:

It was about 8 years ago. Shortly thereafter we went our separate ways and I was left with just a few words. Quickly I lost interest in this language and moved on with my life.

Rekindling Of Interest

 

About 2 years ago I started feeling this unbearable itch to switch a job. At that time I had been working close to 3 years in the Industrial Automation industry while teaching English, German and Statistics and I really started feeling bored.

After browsing some job offers it hit me that there is a considerable amount of positions for Swedish speaking people and almost no competition since this language is considered a pretty exotic in Poland. And there was my solution – learn Swedish and go into corporate. With my skills and languages, how could I not make a career?!

I wish I could bitch-slap myself then and get back 11 months of my life. But that’s another story.

How To Learn By Talking To Yourself

Word of warning

It’s necessary to give you some background before I go into details. Back then I already spoke 5 foreign languages including German and English. Since they belong to the same language family as Swedish it gave me the upper hand I was also obsessed with mnemonics – that makes remembering much easier.

Approach

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Alexandre Duret-Lutz

I’ve never been a big fan of language textbooks. Not only are they pricey but also (usually) structured in a pretty moronic way. I mean – who really needs to know the names of 30 professions when you can’t even ask “where is the nearest toilet?”.

That’s why I bought just a simple grammar book and dictionary. Total cost? About 25$. Not bad for the skill which has brought me a hundred times more since then.

Limitations

Always know your limitations. I knew mine. One of the main problems which I had to face was lack of time. I had a full-time job after all. And a fiancée.

That’s why I had to define my priorities. I knew that an interview would be conducted in Swedish and I had to be classified on (at least) B2 level to get the job. That’s why I decided to focus my efforts on speaking and listening. Throughout the preparation period, I read only about 4-5 articles.

What Real Learning Is All About

Have you heard about the Flow?

Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Enjoyment? What a load of crap. If you want to get results quickly, learning won’t be pleasant. You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t feel exhausted after learning session it simply means that you haven’t pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Deep work leaves you drained (Cal Newport is the unquestionable authority in this field) . That’s why top performers don’t do it for more than a few hours. And this is exactly all the time which I had during the day.

One of my favorite mathematicians of all time Henri Poincaré had the following routine:

He undertook mathematical research for four hours a day, between 10 a.m. and noon then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.. He would read articles in journals later in the evening.

And I do understand why. After every learning session, I felt like a shred of a man. Maybe I cried. I don’t really remember. I wanted everybody to leave me alone – and they did eventually. Now I remember! The lesson is: there is a price to pay for everything.

My Chamber Of Madness

 

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Petri Damstén

This is how I called my room at that point in time. What another name there is for the room where you spend most of your time by talking to yourself?

But coming back to the story – after buying a dictionary and a grammar book I got home and for the first few days, I started outlining the grammar. That was an easy part. I knew that the biggest challenge lies in pronouncing things correctly. Back then I didn’t have any consistent method for learning pronunciation.

I also started learning tons of vocabulary. And that’s why my learning style is so different from others.
You might frequently hear that you don’t need a big vocabulary to talk with someone in your target language.

And that’s true. But the problem is that you need a lot of words to UNDERSTAND somebody.
It’s natural that your passive vocabulary will always be bigger than your active one. Even in your native tongue. But you need to know them in order to understand because the context won’t always save you.

That’s why after learning about 2k words I started listening to Sveriges Radio and conducting my proper learning sessions. Remember Rocky training? It was exactly like this but absolutely different – I was sitting at the desk and talking to myself. For hours. I covered about 4k in Anki and created thousands of sentences.

Interview

 

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Ludovic Bertron

On my way to the company’s seat, I still was coming up with excuses for why I should call them and tell them that I found another job. Or that I got sick. Or that the homework which ate my dog got sick. Anything. Maybe the car will run me over.

She entered the room. I held my breath. I was scared sh*tless. Then I heard a first question:

– “Can you tell me something about yourself?”. I did. In details. Who wouldn’t expect such a question?

– “How did you learn Swedish?”, she asked.
– “On my own. At home. I talked to myself a lot.”

Awkward silence.

– “But I’m asking seriously”, she gazed at me in disbelief.
– “That’s the truth”, I mumbled

20 minutes, 2 questions and one grammar test later the interview was over. I don’t think she believed me. I don’t blame her.

Results

 

Two days later I got results of my language evaluation. I was on the B2 level. The job is mine if I want it. I do. I want to work there. It turned out that I didn’t want a relationship with my fiancée half as bad. I broke up with her. I couldn’t stand constant arguments.

Conclusion

 

I’m not even sure. I guess it’s better if you draw your own conclusions.

 

How To Memorize Grammatical Gender With Use of Mnemonics

How to memorize grammatical gender

 

I have the greatest pleasure to introduce my friend and ex-student – Mariusz who I had the honor to teach (Swedish) not so long ago.

Mariusz started his journey with Swedish in March and thanks to the super effective mix of grit, right methods and mnemonics got to (almost) B2 level at Swedish. The level was assessed by one of the language schools in our hometown at the beginning of October.

How fast is that? Pretty damn fast if you ask me! Especially since he had only a 1,5 h lesson once per week for just 4 months!

Warning: if you’re new to the world of mnemonics, please do not think that we’re having a really bad, acid-induced trip. Instead click here to hop on the list and get your own 7-part mnemonics course.

Without further ado – enter Mariusz!

How to memorize grammatical genders with use of mnemonics

 

Come along for a stroll! How I memorized Swedish A1 level ett-gender nouns. It is known that there are only two grammatic genders in Swedish and they are described with their proper indefinite articles –  ‘en‘ or ‘ett‘.

The first one covers, depending on sources, about 75% of all the nouns, while the other the remaining 25%. It was obvious, that with the aim to pick always the correct one, it’s sufficient to memorize the smaller group of nouns. So I made use of mnemonics.

I’m not certain why but from the very beginning I have already imagined the en-nouns as green and the ett-nouns as light blue, particularly while revising vocab with Anki, and I colored at least the ‘ett’ ones.

As I was wading through, at first, quite big amounts of upcoming words and the number of the blue ones began to grow, I felt the need to arrange them, preferably into one vast made-up Loci. Then I created a picture of a seaside in my memory.

The sea (ett hav) seemed to fit my needs the best because the only bigger blue objects that I came up with were the sky or the planet Earth, too vast to take up a virtual walk along. So I landed by the Baltic Sea on a beach I am familiar with because I’ve spent my holidays there many times, taking long runs in the sand in early mornings.

Having appeared there once again, I saw in front of me the extensive mass of water reaching up to the horizon on my left and right. Although the sand was yellowish, I realized that after every step I took left a footstep (ett spår) illuminating with bluish light (ett ljus). Cool, isn’t it? I looked around hastily and to my surprise, I spotted even more phantom-like bluish objects.

The nearest one was a table (ett bord ) with my Swedish grammar book, opened on a site with a test (ett test). I always feel pain (ett ont) when I make a mistake (ett fel). I left it as I found it and continued to explore the surroundings to find something more inspirational.

Not too far away, more or less halfway of the left-side shore, there was a stage on which a music band played a sort of heavy metal, sounding similar to the Polish metal band… oh, I forgot, what was its name (ett namn)?

 

Seepsteen (Sias van Schalkwyk)

Seepsteen (Sias van Schalkwyk)

 

Oh yes, the name was Vader. Maybe to spice up the atmosphere of the heavy and furious songs, the weather (ett väder) at the venue was about to get bad (such a shame!), as I saw a big grey-blue cloud (ett moln) thereover.I gave the gig a better look.

Seemingly, the frontman had a sibling (ett syskon) in the same band, but the difference between them was that, unlike his brother, he wore a weird blue beard (ett skägg).

Maybe that’s because he’d always had a big ego (ett stort ego) and wanted to show off? Or simply got crazy on drugs (ett knark). Apart from that, whenever he didn’t sing he sipped his beer (ett öl). And…

If you would like to know how my short story continues, I can only say, that on the right side of the beach one can see a big company (ett företag) which processes the water (ett vatten)  to make it clear again before letting it into the sea.

Not to mention other countless objects.  If one day there’s no more place available at the seaside, I’ll certainly check what’s behind the distant tip of land so that I could go on with my travel. And you’re invited too!

Mariusz Hebdzynski

Let’s take a look

 

That’s not a place to sugarcoat anything so let’s get straight to the meat of the matter.

What was right:

What was wrong:

  • very little action and emotions

Have you noticed how static Mariusz’s picture is? There is very little action and far too few emotions. If you see a book which reminds of your mistakes you should punch it time and time again! Guys on the stage should go crazy since they are likely to be stoned!

Action and emotions are the mortar of your associations. If used appropriately, they can increase your recall manyfold.

  • too few distinctive places

I don’t know exactly how the said beach looks like. But the thing about beaches is that there are not many distinctive places there to place many pictures. It might work assuming that we don’t flood such a scene with too many associations but in the long run it’s not good enough.

Variations of this method

 

You might say that the example used in this article was pretty useless, after all, there were only two articles. What about German where there are 3 of them?! Or about Russian where the grammatical gender is not even specified by an article?!

Well, the main principle doesn’t change – we just need two distinctive locations to memorize the grammatical gender. Logically, the nouns which don’t appear in any of the stories placed in these locations must fall into the third gender category – piece of cake!

That’s it, have fun and let me know if you decide to use this method (or have used it already!).

 

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

 

Here we are – the fifth part of the guide. Listening. You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve ignored it!

I was actually convinced that mastering grammar and vocabulary is, more or less, enough to have a decent conversation with foreigners. And that these competences 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

 

It all started with my theory which I considered to be really brilliant at the time. Just don’t laugh too hard!

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. Basically, 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 an absolute babble. 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 Skill

 

I guess, what I am trying to say is that listening is extremely important. Since then, 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 is comprised of a number of smaller elementsThese elements, in turn, are comprised of even smaller elements.

So you can say roughly that 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 important. That’s what makes any kind of 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 important to note that writing and reading are interconnected with speaking and listening. And the progress in any of these areas influences one another.

Preparation

 

Do you have to go through the preparation before 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 programmes to listen to and make sure that they are just a click away.

Some Tips Before You Start Listening

 

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. Listen 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 fully 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 which 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 for stress.
  • If you find listening extremely boring, 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 Tequilla. Whatever, 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 the Part 3 of this course. Such knowledge can considerably accelerate your understanding capabilities!
  • Be aware of how the language changes when it’s spoken. I can’t stress this one enough. If you know how the sounds connect, when they are deleted or inserted, you’ll need much less time to progress!

Look at this example: What are you going to do – Whaddya gonna do?

Being aware of the fact that when a consonant of one word neighbors a vowel of another word, it makes you pronounce these two separate words as one, can help you tremendously with your listening practice.

That’s why you pronounce – “it is” as one word – “itis” 

Another example from English is the transformation of [d] and [y]. When these sounds neighbor each other they are transformed into [dʒ]

[d] + [y] = [dʒ]

Strategies To Follow During Listening Practice

 

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.

  • Listen for the gist of the conversation. Once you understand it, move on to details.
  • When you watch materials in original, observe mouths of actors/hosts and read their lips.
  • Try to understand the non-verbal communication of your speaking partner (actors, etc.)
  • Listen to the melody of the language.
  • Once you get accustomed to the melody of the language try to separate the ongoing flow of words by (e.g.) pressing your fingers against a table every time when you hear that some word is accented. It’s my favorite trick. Interestingly, sometimes when I listen to French and perform the said activity, I can understand almost every word. Once I stop, my understanding goes down significantly.
  • Listen to the first and last letter of a word. It’s especially helpful when you’re just starting your listening practice. In this case, this technique will help separate various words. S ..sm…(smile?), smi…(smirk? smite?), smit… (smite?!), smith (I knew it!)
  • Use logic to conclude what will follow (get in the habit of guessing).
  • Listen to a recording more than once. At first to understand the gist and then to get details.
  • Speed up the speed of recording to extend your comfort zone and then move back to an actual pace.
  • Remember that listening is an active process, note down any phrases or words which you find interesting or simply don’t understand.

That’s all folks!

Do you have other (weird?) listening strategies which you frequently use? I’d love to hear them!


 

How To Get Your Reading Practice Done While Increasing Your General Knowledge

How to get your reading practice done

I guess that I didn’t take this one, crucial thing into consideration when I published my article about fun ways to read.

Some people have the short attention span or even add ADD. And it’s quite difficult to read anything with such a condition. Or to do anything for that matter. You know how it goes – halfway through an article tears come down to your eyes and your brain starts yelling

It’s like being drunk – you start with one activity (like reading), your mind goes blank and just a few moments later you realize that you’re arranging matches in the order of importance.

“How did I get here?”. And it happens to the best of us.

This video serves us as a grim reminder of our times.

The Solution

 

As you know Wikipedia is available in many languages. What you might not know that there is the magical link in the left top corner of the website which randomly chooses some Wiki page for you!

 

How to get your reading practice done

 

How AMAZING is that?!

I’m seriously addicted to browsing Wikipedia daily. And I hope you can get hooked on it as well. After all, there are not many beneficial addictions around, so don’t be picky!

Instructions are staggeringly simple:

1) change the language of the Wikipedia to your target language (in my case it’s often Spanish and French)
2) click this wonderful button
3) start reading

Advantages of this approach

 

It’s not a perfect solution (but is there really such a thing?!) but you have to appreciate the obvious advantages of this method

1) You get your daily reading practice done (duh!)

2) The reading material is diversified

3) If you get bored you can switch what you read within just a few seconds

4) You boost your creativity. It’s a great way to ensure the constant inflow of interesting information. Since creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, it’s a great way to improve your problem-solving skills

5) You increase your general knowledge. You’ll be shocked how many breath-taking things you can get to know in just 15 minutes per day. If you aim at being silver-tongued and well-rounded, it’s definitely the way to go!

Go ahead, give it a try! And let me know if you find something interesting!

 

How To Create Your Own Frequency List From any Text In Less Than 1 Minute

Create Your Own Frequency List

How often does it happen to you?

You start reading some article or book and within seconds you feel overwhelmed with vocabulary. Which words should you learn? ALL of them?

That’s a little daunting prospect, isn’t it? But good news everybody! You can create your own frequency list out of any text you want, and you can do it for free!

But first things first.

The main advantage of frequency lists

 

It helps you to use your time wisely. I know you have thousands of things to do.
That’s why you should be concentrating on the words which occur the most frequently.

Once you master the most useful vocabulary, you can focus your effort on learning less common words. Such strategy guarantees that you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the language much faster than usually.

To get you started, here is the link to frequency lists of over 40 languages:

Frequency Lists

Of course, be aware that there are always differences between frequency lists of spoken and written language.
You should always take it into consideration and adjust it to your goals

How to create your own frequency list in less than 1 minute

 

Yes, it’s really that simple. And you don’t have to know how to program to do this.
The name of the solution is Word Cloud.

There are countless uses of this tool but just a few days ago it dawned on me that it can be really useful in language learning. There are many websites of this kind which I’ll list at the end of this article but the one I like the most is ToCloud.com.

It presents words in a really clear way and it’s very user-friendly. Let’s take a look.

 

How To Create Your Own Frequency List

As you see, there aren’t many options and there is even a little question mark on the right in case you have any doubts.

Usually, the only thing you have to do is paste the url with the article into the Page field and that’s it! Alternatively, paste a text directly into the Text field.

The Result

 

I’ll use the article from Wiki titled Franklin’s Lost Expedition (give it a read!).  This is what you can see upon pasting:

 

Create Your Own Frequency List

 

All the words and phrases are presented in an orderly fashion – the ones which occur the most frequently are at the top and are accompanied by their frequencies.

If you’re an intermediate learner, I’d suggest creating such a list before reading an article and translating the most useful words. It’ll make your reading more pleasant and smoother!

Other websites of that kind

 

Now, if you prefer some websites which give you more options you should give these a try

It allows you to create tag clouds not only from URL links and plain text but also from Twitter ID, Del.icio.us, and RSS.

This website allows you to edit the layout, change the colors and arrange the words in a different manner.

In addition to creating a tag cloud from plain text and URL links the website allows you to upload a plain text file with the words to mention in the tag cloud.

That’s it! Have fun and please share this article with your friends if you find it useful!

 

A list of 13 embarrassing (and captivating) things you can read to take your language to next level

Embarrassing things to read

You know it, I know it, pretty much everybody knows it.

You should try reading more in your target language.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to force yourself to sit down and to do it. And that’s why 99% of articles suggest that you should read something which is interesting to you. And it’s a really great piece of advice. Seemingly, I mean.

 

Why? Because sometimes, even if you’re at an intermediate level, pure interest is not enough to pull you through an article. I love neuropsychology, physics, and statistics.

But reading about it with my bad French would be as fun as sticking needles in my back and pretending that I’m a hedgehog. So no, that’s not the way I start reading.

 

So how do I do it?

 

Well, the article’s title probably gives away a little bit about what I read. I start with things which I consider a huge waste of time. BUT only in the languages, I’m fluent in.

That’s why I prey on my most primitive instincts to keep myself focused on reading. I hope that this list will help with your studies. And please don’t judge me, I’m just a man!

1. COMIC BOOKS

 

Let’s be clear about one thing – I don’t consider comic books to be a waste of time! So go ahead, unleash your inner child!

Usually, the storyline and pictures make it a breeze to finish reading and keep you coming back for more! Here’s the website with free comic books in 9 languages (including English): Comicbookplus.com

2. BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

 

Because who doesn’t like dragons and fluffy stuff? The biggest website with free children books is: ChildrensLibrary.org

They have books in thousands of languages! Well, not really, but definitely in over 30 languages! And here’s the website with picture books: ChildrenBooksForever.com

3. SONG LYRICS

 

One of my favorite ways to learn. Emotions and melody create a powerful mix which makes reading really enjoyable. What’s more, lyrics are usually short so they don’t require a lot of attention.

Simply choose a band singing in your target language and google the title of the song + lyrics/text. It works for most of the languages. Of course for the languages which are more exotic, you might want to check the translation of “lyrics”.

4. COMMENTS

 

Most of the time I choose to read comments on Reddit, YouTube and below some interesting articles elsewhere. Usually, they are either quite witty or interesting which makes them really appealing.

5. GOSSIP

 

I personally hate any kind of gossip. It sucks time and energy right out of your life. But you can’t deny that as people, we’re generally nosy. That’s why I try to use this vice to my advantage and read gossip-related online magazines.

To find such websites try to google: “news about celebrities” or any word combination of that kind.

6. EROTIC STORIES

 

There. I said it! And I’m not going to explain to you why. You KNOW why. Google “erotic stories” in your target language. Nobody needs (and wants) to know…!

7. HARLEQUINS

 

Or any books of that kind. One of the guilty pleasures of women!

I’ve never tried to find such a thing but you can probably find a lot of such books and stories by googling “broken heart”, “mysterious lover”, etc. But hey! What do I know?

8. TWEETS

 

Just like comments, they are brief and (at least) try to be either funny or informative. Use Twitter Top 100 Most Followed website.

Then click “Global Top 100” and choose the country of your interest.

9. WEBSITES LIKE 9GaG.com

 

If you have never heard of http://9gag.com/  I want you to know that I don’t believe you!

I had been battling my addiction to this website for a long time before I had won! But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy such websites in other languages!

All the memes and cat pictures guarantee to keep you mesmerized and basically allow you to absorb all the phrases and words effortlessly.

The similar websites for languages other than English include:

 

10. GRUESOME STORIES

 

It’s not for everyone but I really enjoy them. Google “scary stories” in your target language.

Or start with this thread on Reddit “What’s the creepiest Wikipedia article you’ve ever read?” and change the language on Wikipedia to the one of your interest.

11. CONFESSIONS

 

Reading confessions online is probably a modern counterpart of going through somebody’s diary. To get you started, try to google the following phrases in your target language:

 

  • what’s the worst thing you have done
  • what ‘s the strangest thing you did in bed
  • what’s the stupidest thing you have ever done
  • what’s the most embarrassing …
  • my boyfriend/girlfriend cheated on me

12. COMPLAINING

 

In Poland, it’s almost a national tradition to complain about everything so I might be a little bit biased. Try to google the following phrases in your target language:

  • a list of the worst …
  • why I hate …
  • the worst …

13. SILLY WEBSITES / FORUMS

 

Take your pick – anything from conspiracy theories forums to camel spotting fan-clubs. The possible side effect of such reading exercises is coming to the conclusion that the human race is doomed.

 

 

What embarrassing things do you read which help you to stay focused? Let me know so I can create the ultimate “shameless reading list”!

6 Ways You Can Use To Track Your Progress In Language Learning

Track Your Progress In Language Learning

I wonder if you’re like me when it comes to tracking everything?

I used to hate it passionately. I mean, how much geekier can you get? And all these vain people scrupulously jotting down their weight. Pathetic!

And then one day I decided to buy myself scales. I joyously stepped on them just to see that I hit 100 kg mark. WHAT?! I came to my sense around that time and started tracking, not only my weight but my learning progress as well.

Can you actually imagine a runner who just runs around and one day shouts out: “I’m gonna win a marathon”! And then an old man standing nearby strikes a conversation, something along these lines:

– “That’s amazing! So what’s your best time so far?”

+ “Best? Uhmm, dunno really. I guess it’s not that important to me.”

“Have you ever run  a marathon before?!”

+ “I’m not sure. But once I ran so long that my feet hurt and I had an ouchie.”

That would be weird, right? And yet, a lot of us actually do it. Very often we start thinking that we don’t get better anymore. WHY?! (a dramatic pause and Carmina Burana in the background)

Habituation

 

Not only is it a cool word, but also one of the most important (and frequent) processes which occur in our lives!

Habituation is a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentations.[1] Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus which is no longer biologically relevant. For example, organisms may habituate to repeated sudden loud noises when they learn these have no consequence.

And therein lies the rub. We get used to our current skills level. And that’s why we NEED tracking. The best part is that it does not need to be sophisticated to be effective.

At the bare minimum, it should be able to show you if you’re moving in the right direction. Or moving at all. Because the chance is that you’re spinning your wheels knee-deep in a turd ocean of self-admiration!

6 Ways To Track Your Progress In Language Learning

 

My idea of tracking my progress is quite tightly connected to the core language competencies: reading, writing, listening, vocabulary, grammar, and speaking.

Of course, to start tracking anything, you need a place to note your progress. Remember, it doesn’t have to be high-tech. You can use a notebook, Google spreadsheet, Excel or Calc (Open Office).

TRACKING VOCABULARY

I assume that you already use Anki. If you don’t, download it immediately (unless you use some other spatial repetition programme).

Anki makes tracking your progress really easy. The first important piece of information for us is the number of words you’ve covered so far.

 

Track Your Progress In Language Learning

If you see that within a month you’ve moved from 406 to 700, it’s a clear sign that you’re on the right path.

The second thing worth tracking is the recall rate (especially correct mature).

Track Your Progress In Language Learning

This piece of information clearly tells us how well you remember the information you learn. If it’s alarmingly low (below 40-50%), it’s a signal that you should seriously consider improving your learning techniques.

TRACKING READING

Usually, we either read e-books (e-articles) or paper ones. In my opinion, you should track the medium which you use more frequently. When it comes to reading, a good tracking criterion is to simply note down the number of pages you’ve read.

TRACKING LISTENING

It doesn’t matter whether you listen to podcasts, music or simply watch TV-series. Tally it up and enter the data.

TRACKING WRITING

If you write mostly online, start counting how many words you have written (use Word Count Tool). Otherwise, start counting the number of pages you’ve written.

TRACKING SPEAKING

Let’s be honest, it’s not the easiest thing to track. I’ve never done it as I prefer tracking words. But if you know that speaking is your absolute priority – go for it. Check when the Skype conversation or a meeting with your friend starts and when it finishes, and sum up the total number of hours.

If you really put the effort into your learning, I’m sure that after just a few weeks you’ll be amazed to see what you’ve accomplished so far!

TRACKING GRAMMAR

It sounds daunting, and I agree. But for me, it comes naturally. As I’ve written before, preparing the outline of the grammar is something which should be done before you start learning a language on your own.

Once you have it, start crossing out the grammar topics which you’ve covered or just put a date next to them. It shows how much further grammatically you should get to achieve a certain level.

Benefits Of Tracking Your Progress

 

1) you never hit a plateau

You see and know that you’re making a progress.

2) increased motivation

You can admire your hard work at any time. Open Excel and take a look at yourself, you sexy, hard-working beast! And that obviously helps you stay focused.

3) instant feedback

You see when you slack off or that your learning methods need a change. The data don’t lie! Also, it helps you see patterns in your learning.

4) you don’t focus on the negative

It’s a sad fact but we tend to focus on negative things in life. Your successes stop giving you joy after a couple of days. We lose sight of our achievements. Your language log will keep on reminding you about them!

Conclusion

 

Tracking is a powerful tool in language learning. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it. Of course, you don’t have to go over the top. It’s enough that you start tracking elements which are the most important to you.

So go ahead and let me know how it works for you!

How To Learn Grammar Fast – How to learn a language on your own (Part 4)

Learn grammar fast

Can you feel it? We’re going on an adventure! By now, you should have everything we need to start learning. 

If you’ve read the first part of this guide you should have some grammar book. Internet sources are also acceptable but ba ook is always more reliable.

But before we start, just a small disclaimer.

THE SMALL DISCLAIMER

The process which I’m about to present work like a charm for me. But we’re all different, so remember that your approach might vary from mine. That’s why you should consider tweaking them a little bit so they’re more tailored for your needs.

This part of the guide will seriously get you started but of course, it’s not possible to cover all complexities of particular languages. I’m selective.

I don’t give a damn about being 100% correct at the beginning because nobody cares. You know what is really tiring? Stuttering with perfect grammar every second word.

Sure, you’ll make mistakes but it rarely happens that they are serious.

– “I really do love rapes officer!”
– “Pardon me? You are a sick and twisted person! Oh, wait! Did you mean grapes?”
– “Oh yeah, me thanks and love you long time!”

You see? At least you’re politely making a conversation.

TWO MAIN BRICKS OF YOUR LEARNING FOUNDATION

There are two things which you should know before learning anything – your baseline and general outline of the subject you’re about to learn.

So what’s baseline?

This is the manner in which you can refer what you already know to the material you want to acquire.
It’s possible most of the time. However, sometimes you have to be really creative!

When you learn a new language, you can, of course,  compare it to the ones you already know.

General outline

You should know more or less what the given language consists of. Why? Very important part of learning is knowing what you don’t know.

Skimming through a grammar book can give you a pretty good picture of the language. You can learn how many tenses there are or conjugations.

Now the real art is to pick grammar constructions which are the most useful to us and will enable speaking as quickly as possible while maintaining a relatively high level of grammatical correctness.

I’ll stress just for clarity’s sake – you need a general outline of a language. You’re not learning at this stage.

WHAT’S THE MAIN GOAL?

I’ll try to describe in as many details as it’s only possible how I usually approach learning languages.
Once again – my goal is to start speaking as soon as possible.

If yours is only to read or write – it’s still the approach I would choose as it helps you to build a grammatical scaffolding where you can later set vocabulary.

Grammatical correctness usually follows quickly once you start speaking. To depict the said process, I’ll use Esperanto as an example.

It’s much easier than most languages and that’s precisely why it is perfect. Just like scientists who use simple organisms to understand more complex ones. I’ll use an easy language as an example so you can later transfer this knowledge to more complex ones.

HOW TO USE THIS PART OF THE GUIDE?

I suggest the following – go through it (more or less) step by step. It’ll set you on the right path.

But the most important advice which I can give you is – ignore ALL the other things from further steps until you cover the ones you’re actually trying to learn. It takes the burden of overthinking off of you.

When should you move to the next step?

Once you can use the structures from the current one with confidence.
Of course, feel free to change the order of these steps and adjust them to you if you feel it suits you better.

FIRST BABY STEP- Personal Pronouns

The first question which we have to ask ourselves is: what elements of language are the most important? The answer is – the ones which you can’t substitute with anything else.

That’s why I always start with personal pronouns (subject pronouns)For the sake of brevity, I’ll limit my examples to a singular form.

miI
viyou
lihe
ŝishe

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2 – PRESENT TENSE

Once we get a grasp of subject pronouns we can move to present tense. This choice begs the same question as before.

Why present and not past or future tense? Assuming that we have really little time at our disposal, we can always say something like:

“I eat dinner yesterday”
“she goes there in 3 days”

Sounds terrible – I’m pretty sure we all agree here BUT It helps you to get your message across! If there are more than 1 present tense in your target language, it’s better to choose the one which’s used for general events

Step 3 – CONJUGATION

Esperanto makes everything simple. All verbs in present tense have endings -AS.

Obviously, in a language of your choice, you’ll face more conjugations. And the great thing is that you know how many because you learned beforehand what the grammar outline of your target language looks like. (You READ it, right?)

Now we have to learn how to construct:

  • affirmative sentence
  • negative sentence
  • questions

Questions are least important as you can always ask one using an affirmative sentence and changing your tone of voice.

AFFIRMATIVE SENTENCE (in present tense)

POSSIBLE TRAPS: In many languages the order of the sentence is fixed – e.g. The conjugated verb is always the second sentence element in German.

Be aware of it.

Let’s select some verbs so we can start creating sentences.

Short list of the most useful verbs
can = povi

must / have to = devi

should = devi

might / may = povi

have = havi

be = esti

get = ricevi

give = doni

take = preni

want – voli

need = bezoni

buy = aĉeti

sell = vendi

go = iri

come = veni

and 3 nouns

money = mono
time = tempo
book = libro

Now the best part – building sentences:

mi prenas libro = I take a book
ŝi vendas mono = she sells money
vi havas tempo = you have time

Please note that these sentences are incorrect (we should add -n to nouns in this case) – I’m trying to show the process of grammar acquisition as precisely as it is only possible.

As for now, we know nothing about declensionNevertheless, such sentences can be understood without any problem.

NEGATIVE SENTENCE

Typically we can negate either a verb or a noun. The most important for us is how to negate verbs. In English, we use the adverb “not” to do so. In Esperanto, we can do it using “ne” before verbs.

Examples:

Mi ne havas mono = I don’t have money
 ŝi ne vendas mono = she doesn’t sell money
vi ne havas tempo = you don’t have time

QUESTIONS

Close-ended questions

Some most popular ways to form a yes-no (i.e. close-ended) question in many languages is to use intonation, inversion (present in English), inflection, auxiliary verbs (do, have, etc. in English) or a grammatical particle.

The latter is true in, among others, Polish, Esperanto and French.
In Esperanto, we use the particle “ĉu“.

Examples:

love = ami
Do you love money? = ĉu vi amas mono ?

Do you have a book? = ĉu vi havas libro?

Open-ended questions

If we want to learn some more details, it’s great to know the most popular interrogative words:

List of interrogative words

which

what

whose

who

whom

where

when

how (much, many, often)

why

Examples:

Who = kiu, what = kio

Who do you love? = Kiu vi amas?
What does he want? = Kio li volas?

Step 4 – OTHER USEFUL PRONOUNS

The final step to make our sentences clearer and fancier is to learn some more personal pronouns

POSSIBLE TRAPS: You have to be aware that in some languages you can encounter many categories of pronouns depending on the case.

POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS

my – mia
your – via
his – lia
her – ŝia

Examples:

Let’s add two adjectives to spruce things up a bit:

big – granda*
cheap – malmultekosta*

* All adjectives in Esperanto end with -A

My book isn’t big – Mia libro ne estas granda
His time isn’t cheap – Lia tempo estas malmultekosta

OBJECT PRONOUNS

me – min
you – vin
him – lin
her – ŝin

She loves you (yeah, yeah, yeah) – ŝi amas vin
Do I need her? – ĉu mi bezonas ŝin?

DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS

Why are they so great?

Because you can simply learn them, point at some object and grunt:

“This!”
“Not this, that!”

Lovely, right?

this – (ĉi) tiu
that – tiu
these – (ĉi) tiuj
those – tiuj

This person is stupid – Tiu persono estas stulta
He gives that money – Li donas tiu mono*

* I still make mistakes on purpose. It should read “li donas tiun monon”.

INDEFINITE PRONOUNS

List of indefinite pronouns

enough

little

less

much

more

most

several
few

fewer

many

more

most

no one

nobody

neither

none

everybody

everyone

all

both

someone

something

some

anyone

anything

either

any

Examples:

Someone = iu, everything = ĉio

She knows everything = ŝi scias ĉio

Someone wants you = iu volas vin

I’ve decided to skip reflexive pronouns. But feel free to read about them.

Step 5 – CONJUNCTIONS

Long and (almost) complete list of conjunctions

after

although

as

as far as

as if

as long as

as soon as

as though

because

before

even if

even though

every time

if

in order that

since

so

so that

than

though

unless

until

when

whenever

where

whereas

wherever

while

and

nor

but

or

yet

otherwise

so

either…or

not only…but (also)

neither…nor

both…and

whether…or

just as…so

The ones that are the most important to me at the beginning are:
because, and, but, or, after, before, that, that’s why, to, although, if, until, since, although, otherwise

Conjunctions give us this nice feeling of confidence when we speak. They combine two or more sentences and add a great touch of logic and cohesion to them.

Examples:

because = ĉar
I love you because you’re pretty = Mi amas vin ĉar vi estas bela

understand = kompreni

I understand that’s why I sell = Mi komprenas tial mi vendas

That’s it when it comes to grammar basics. More to come!

REMEMBER:

You can create your own context and the world within a language. You’ll have time to adjust the accuracy later.

As long as use logic and try to avoid any idiomatic expressions you should be understood.

CONCLUSION

– Know the general outline of grammar before you start
– Learn grammar step by step, once you feel quite comfortable within some grammar structure – move on
– If you want to start speaking as fast as possible, learn the thing which can’t be substituted with anything else first
– Your brain craves sense and meaning – create your own context, have fun, start saying some silly stuff!
– Embrace imperfection, we all have to start somewhere

Why context is no king of mine. Rebel!

context is no king

How many times have you heard it? Context is the king. It’s so important. You simply cannot ignore it.

But it’s no king of mine! Why?

Well, using this metaphor, I can only arrive at one conclusion. Most kings are evil bastards and don’t want you to succeed it in life. Just stay where you are a stable boy and scrape the dung off my shoes!

I strongly believe that when you start learning you don’t need and you should not use context-rich learning materials. I think that the there is a fundamental flaw in reasoning that the context is that important

We are cognitive misers. We follow the path of least resistance. Such is our nature. We may choose to oppose or we can accept it and use it in our favor.

How?

When you start learning a new language, the priority is to be able to express yourself clearly as soon as it is only possible. Diving into too many contexts taxes us immensely. There is no denying it. If we are to pay the price, shouldn’t reward be at least satisfying?

And it is not. Not for me anyway. Why should you spend hours and hours reading texts and listening to things which you can’t make sense of?

You can’t because you don’t know the vocabulary, and learning from context at the early stage of language learning is not always possible, nor is it pleasant. Such approach is not efficient.

WHAT’S DICTIONARY FOR ANYWAY?

My philosophy of learning is drastically different. If my aim is to get to B1 level as quickly as possible, I very often neglect extensive reading.

Why is that?

Because that’s always been a purpose of dictionaries. If I provide myself with a small, good dictionary I get an immediate access to the most popular words in a given language.

Good (yet still small) dictionaries are also characterized by other important features: they include pronunciation, the most important meaning of words and popular phrases and collocations.

If I want to get the most out of, say, 4 hours of learning, I’ll spend roughly 70% percent of this time trying to learn vocabulary from a dictionary.

This way, I can rapidly learn new vocabulary without spending a lot of time on thumbing through texts.

Provided of course, that I already know at least basics of grammar. Thus, my means of communication are greatly increased.

CONTEXT IS ROUGHLY THE SAME IN MANY LANGUAGES AT A BASIC LEVEL

There. I said it. Have you ever tried to listen, really listen, to many of your everyday conversations?

Are they really that complicated? Is the language really that bombastic? It is not.

You don’t usually use flowery expressions to impress anyone. I don’t deny that if you truly want to master the language, you need a lot of practice and a lot of materials and contexts.

But it’s not half as important as many people and polyglots claim if you want to learn to communicate.

How wrong can you be when you use words “eat”, “drink”, “assume”, “bad”, “good” (etc.) and their counterparts in other languages?

Speaking from my experience, not very wrong. Sure, sometimes you get the context wrong. Sometimes, some collocations simply do not exist.

But because you’ve learned quickly enough how to communicate, you can now start adjusting what you already know to the real-life situations.

Just to be clear – I don’t advocate abandoning other activities and sticking only to learning vocabulary. I simply believe that in order to speak as quickly as possible such an approach works fantastically.

I spend about 70% learning vocabulary and 30% listening on my journey to B1/B2 level.

If anyone wonders – yes, I haven’t mentioned grammar on purpose. That’s a topic for another article.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SUCH APPROACH?

I start speaking very fast, imperfectly though. Extensive vocabulary practice gives me a huge advantage when I start listening.

The answer to “why? is obvious – it’s much easier to listen when your vocabulary is big.
Reading also becomes easy, once I start doing it.

I try to keep an open mind about my abilities and every time when I can confront my knowledge with real-life context, and I see that I’ve been wrong so far, I revise my outlooks.

I’m sure that it doesn’t sound like fun for many people. But the question I always ask is: do you learn for fun and you or do you want quick effects?

I want effects – but we’re all different in that manner. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t have fun while learning!

I’m aware that for many people my approach is quite ludicrous.
But it’s always good when we read something that triggers our emotions as long as we approach them with an open mind and curiosity.

How often do we discard theories and opinions of others because we can’t seem to look at them differently than through the lens of our biases?

What do you think about the importance of learning? Let me know.

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language – How To Learn A Language On Your Own (Part 3)

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language

Why even bother with studying pronunciation?

Well, as always, there are no easy answers. Some say it’s important to master the pronunciation of a foreign language. Some say it’s a waste of time

The question is – why should beginners and semi-advanced learners care?

There are some obvious benefits – the better your pronunciation, the bigger a chance that native speakers will understand you. It means that there is always some minimal amount of work that has to be done in order to talk with native speakers.

Otherwise, each person will soon get discouraged from talking to you and leave or get black-out drunk to match your level of mumbling.

But what comes next after you reach the level, where native speakers have no problems understanding you? Does it make sense to reach for the Holy Grail of learning languages – speaking with no accent?

Considering the amount of time needed, I dare to say no. It’s better to spend this time mastering grammar and vocabulary. I have never seen any point in pronouncing everything perfectly while still mixing up words and butchering grammar.

Many people claim to have achieved the level where there is no difference between them and native speakers. I believe that very often this is simply an exaggeration.

Typically, the longer someone talks to a native speaker, the bigger the chance that “the truth gets revealed”.

Ultimately, I’ll leave that for you to ponder. So what should you do to achieve good pronunciation as quickly as possible?

And to avoid such mistakes:

0. BRIEF (AND NOT SO BORING) THEORETICAL INTRO

 

It won’t take long, I promise. If you’re interested in practical tips, move to point 1.

To speak clearly, we must first understand what the (highly simplified) building blocks of pronunciation are.

  • Phonology – can be seen as “abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds or signs”. Which means – what is the difference between sounds. What makes French language French and English English (and Hodor, Hodor, Hodor)
  • Phonetics – deals with “physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status” of sounds. Basically, how to produce sounds.

As you can see, mastering pronunciation requires learning the aforementioned elements of a language of your choice.

Now, how to do it practically…

1. IDENTIFY ALIEN SOUNDS

As children, we have the ability to distinguish different sounds and “assemble” them into words (in other words, we combine phonemes into morphemes/words).

The sad part about learning new languages is that we mostly lose this ability when we grow up.
It means, that without preparation very often we won’t even know that we pronounce something incorrectly.

That’s why the first step to get familiar with pronunciation is to identify the sounds which you might even be not aware of.

How to do it

look it up in a dictionary

Every good dictionary has a description of sounds typical of the given language. What’s more – as I’ve written before, always try to choose a dictionary which includes phonetic transcription of words.

google it

” Language x (e.g. Swedish) phonology” will usually deliver best results.

visit mylanguages.org

It covers 80+ languages. Choose the one you want and click “alphabet”.

Now, after using any of these methods, you’ll end up looking confused at the strange set of characters. They are part of the International Phonetic Alphabet. They look scary but are not so difficult to learn.

To become even more aware of the differences between your native and target language, you should learn the sounds of English language. Here you can find an interactive phonetic chart for English.

2. TRAIN YOUR MOUTH TO PRONOUNCE SOUNDS

Congratulations, by now you should know more or less, what sounds you should pay attention to. To imitate them as precisely as it’s only possible, you need (ideally) combination of a couple of methods.

learn how to produce sounds mechanically

It’s a great starting point – grab a dictionary or some textbook and read a description of how you should pronounce given sounds. If the description is accompanied by a picture – even better.

Usually, the biggest problem is how to pronounce vowels. Since your tongue moves up and down, forward or backward, you have plenty of positions to experiment with.

Once (it seems that) you nail the target sound, try to memorize what the position of your tongue and lips was. And don’t be too quick thinking that it is over. You have to check it first. (see feedback)

start small

Choose only one or two sounds to begin with. Let’s say that you have no idea how to pronounce /æ/.

You check how to produce this sound on Wiki. Then you pick up a word or two and try to pronounce this sound as closely as possible. Say, this word is “tab”.

 

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language

 

Once you are sure that the sound is pronounced decently, you can move on to other words.
Sounds like a lot of work but I assure you it’s not.

When I was a child I suffered from a really bad speech impediment and couldn’t pronounce a truckload of sounds in my native tongue.

Can you imagine how I talked to my parents or friends?
– “mc wohn sdno”
– “Yes honey, of course, we love you”

I used this method to learn how to express myself like a normal human being.

record yourself

Find some interesting text, grab a microphone or use your mobile and start reading aloud using the aforementioned rules.

How can you tell if you produce new sounds effectively?

It won’t be difficult – assuming that you did everything right, your mouth will hurt.
It means that you use muscles which haven’t been used before.

Of course, If you’re learning a language with a different alphabet, you should learn how to read it first.

3. LEARN HOW TO HEAR THE SOUNDS

 

Now, you can start practicing your hearing. You’ve successfully identified the sounds which are new to you. It’s time you started noticing them in sentences!

Such knowledge gives you immediate head-start when it comes to listening to and communicating with foreigners.

Remember, however, that grammar rules concerning your target language might alter your understanding of speech. Some sounds blend, others are silent or reduced.

For example, in French “à” followed by “le” combine to form “au.”

4. BE AWARE OF MISTAKES

It’s always safe to assume that you pronounce sounds at least partially incorrectly until you receive some kind of feedback. Such assumption can save you hours and hours of tears and frustration.

5. FEEDBACK

You need final confirmation of how awesome your pronunciation is. And who’s better to do it than native speakers?

If you have a tutor or friends who can help you – then great. Ask them all the questions you have and to correct you if there’s something wrong.

If you are on your own, try www.rhinospike.com
You can ask native speakers there to record some text for you and then you can use it to compare it with how you speak.

You can also use Google Translate or http://www.forvo.com/ to compare pronunciation of single words. But how will you know that you sound good enough?

You will sound in unison with the recording. Simple as that!

FINAL WORDS

As you can see, learning how to pronounce sounds can be turned into a relatively easy to execute the process. However, as always when it comes to mastering such complex task, the better you try to be, the more time-consuming it is.

And don’t beat yourself down, if it doesn’t work right away. Good things take time.

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him David Brinkley

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Do’s and Dont’s of Learning Languages – How to learn a language on your own (Part 2)

Dos and donts of learning languages

By now you should know clearly why you want to learn a language.

And don’t you ever forget about it. Let it be your guiding light. Now it’s time to learn how to organize your learning.

1. GET READY

Describing what it means to be ready is always quite tricky. The reason is simple – there won’t be many situations in your life when you feel really ready and the conditions are conducive. However, in the perfect sugar-coated world your readiness should involve three elements:

Being ready physically

Comfort is important. Before you start learning, make sure that you’re not hungry, tired or sick.
Get some snack or a nap if you have to. Otherwise a few minutes deep into the learning you will start having dirty fantasies about rubbing a chocolate on your chest while being wrapped up in sheets.

Being ready mentally

“Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair.”
Edmund Burke

Do your best to clear your head before you get down to learning. Stress is probably the worst enemy of effective studying. It dumbs you down drastically. Meditate, take a walk – do what it takes to unwind.
Anything is better than suddenly realizing that instead of being focused on learning you catch yourself plotting against your boss.

And come to terms with the fact that you’ll probably never be able to speak a language like a native speaker. Let go of the ideal you nurture. I know it all too well. I combat my anxieties and fears on a daily basis.

Being ready emotionally

Incite emotions and get excited. Think about all the things you’ll be able to do with your newly acquired language! Imagine the world of possibilities! Make it vivid, so vivid that you almost feel that it’s real. Get yourself pumped.

Watch some motivational videos (like this one – Rise and Shine) or read an inspiring article.
Or maybe create a set list which gets you in the mood. Survivor’s “Eye of the tiger” seems like a natural choice here!

2. CREATE A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT

Each one of us should have a safe haven. A place which immediately can be associated with learning.
The place which immediately triggers the willingness to learn in you.

But it’s hard. It’s hard to draw a distinct line between your working and play space and the one for learning.
Still, try to find yourself a nook you can call your own. Go to cafe or library if you can’t find it under your roof.

Once you have it, get rid of all the potential distractions. Turn off the music*, put aside anything that may distract you.
And don’t get too comfy. If you sink into an armchair it will smell your weakness and lure you into the oppressive clutches of sleep!

A supportive environment means also one more thing. Tell your beloved ones to give you some space and keep everything relatively down.

3. FOCUS AND HAVE A REMINDER

Now you have a place where you can learn! Congratulations! There shouldn’t be many things left which may distract you.

Next thing on the checklist – stop multitasking. Decrease your cognitive load. Regardless of what you’ve heard – that’s another thing which dumbs you down. If you do two things at once, divide your attention and intelligence by two. It basically makes you equivalent of a retarded shrimp. And I can tell you they’re not very good at learning languages.

Get yourself a reminder of why you want to learn. It can be a piece of jewelry given to you by your ancestors/wife/husband. A picture of your dream house. Anything which gets you going is just fine.

If you’re single, hang a picture of some person who inspires you.

Dos and donts of learning languages

Whenever you find yourself distracted let your reminder work its magic.

4. BE REGULAR

The chance is that if you’ve ever stuck to some routine I don’t have to convince you why it’s so extremely important to be regular.

If not, let me tell you what has been told thousands of time – it’s better to learn 10 minutes per day than to do it once per week for 2 hours.
But why? The numbers don’t add up. Well, math is a cruel mistress.

There are dozens of rules which govern learning. One which is (probably) the most important for you is:

Spacing effect – you remember things better if they are distributed over a long time span and the bigger the number of repetitions

If learning each day is not a habit for you, you should do all in your power to develop it.
Set some time aside every day for learning – e.g. 25 min at 19:00 .

5. LEARN IN SMALL DOSES

You might have heard this saying before – learning is a marathon, not a sprint. Truer words have never been said. But …

When it comes to regular learning, try to slice your learning time into pieces if you plan to learn for more than 1 hour.

We’re only human. Our attention span is anything between 20 -40 min. After that time your thoughts start wandering into unknown directions. That’s perfectly ok. Just be aware of this fact and prepare beforehand.

Take a 10-minute break every 30 minutes. This is, of course, a mere suggestion.
You have to experiment a bit to see what works for you.

Also, don’t forget about the Serial Position Effect. We tend to remember the most items from the beginning and from the end of our studying It means that the more breaks you have the better you take advantage of this phenomenon.

6. CREATE SYSTEMS (and why they beat goals)

I believe that goals are a great starting point. But it’s only a first station in your journey.
They won’t carry you very far. However, as great as they are, they have their limitations.

Let’s assume that your initial goal was to learn 10 words per day or 15 min per day. If you fail to stick to this goal, you’ll start feeling bad. “I can’t even do this one thing right”. Every time you fail, the chance that you’ll return to your learning schedule decreases. After some time, caught in despair, you stop learning.

What if you manage to actually follow through? You might be so content with yourself that you’ll stop there.

And this is a gist of problems with goals. They limit you in one way or another.

So why are systems better?

A good system is characterized by two things. It facilitates wanted behavior and makes it difficult to yield to unwanted one.

Who needs strong will when you have systems?!

Example:

I know that I have a very strong inclination to browse various websites after a few minutes of working on my computer. That’s why I downloaded the app which blocked these websites for better part of the day (here you can find other blocking apps)

Leechblock – for Mozilla
StayFocusd – for Chrome

Thus I increased my chance to stay focused while learning. What’s more, the only objects which I keep on my desk are books and dictionaries. It considerably decreases the risk of getting distracted.

So go ahead. Think about how you can create the system to facilitate your learning.

7. (LEARN HOW TO) LOVE THE GRIND

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”Stephen King

Discover an appreciation for what you have to do. Anybody could learn in perfect conditions. But as I said, it rarely happens. Grit is born out of pain. Every time you force yourself to learn you build your habit. Brick by brick.

And don’t compare yourself to others and their progress. Everyone has his own fight to do.
And we all start with different gear and skills.

Just show up. Day by day. That’s the secret.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”Martin Luther King Jr.

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 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.

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.

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