Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – The Best Way Of Learning Languages

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly - The Best Way Of Learning Languages

Do you know what all the people who fail in language learning have in common? They don’t think. They are dull and unoriginal. Actually, being “creatively challenged” is probably the main reason of failure in about anything you do.

Take a hard, good look at yourself. Are you one of them?

I know I was. For way too many years. I used to buy almost every memory book I could find. I was looking for the ultimate method to remember everything. To my disappointment, almost every book was the same. It took me a lot of time to come to realize that all the solutions are in my head. I just haven’t discovered them yet!

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – How To Do It Step By Step

 

Usually, there are three steps most people go through.

1) The First Stage – The Sleeping Giant

 

How can you tell if that’s you? It’s extremely easy to diagnose yourself. I’ve prepared a checklist for you. Or rather The Loser’s Credo. If you tick more than one field, I have bad news for you…

  • you don’t like to ask questions
  • you don’t like to think about problems
  • you think that the old way is the only way
  • you are happy where you are currently at
  • you can’t take criticism
  • people who are better than you in any way are either lying or born special
  • you don’t see anything funny in this joke: “Dad what’s ignorance?”, “I don’t know and I don’t care”
  • you never question authority (The Big Lebowski anyone?)
  • you like to wait for the inspiration to act
  • you think that calling somebody “weird” is offensive
  • you try once, fail and never get back up

Frankly, I don’t believe that any of you fall into this category. At least, not when it comes to learning.
But we’re all there when it comes to other areas of life – relationships, the way we work, etc.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

But what if you know anyone who falls into this category? How can you help him? Well, you can suggest it as subtly as you can. After all, understanding the problem is half of the solution.
What’s the next step? There is none. I’m sorry.

We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons: inspiration or desperation” – Jim Rohn

I changed my approach to learning due to desperation.

Many moons ago I was attending a German course at one of the local language schools. I felt very proud. It was my second language and after three years, the school classified my level as B1.

It was an amazing feeling. WAS.

After the first conversation with a native speaker The Evil Bubble of Hubris burst. I didn’t understand much. I started stuttering madly. Much like a retarded version of Mr. Snuffalufagus.

So yeah. I was desperate. This soul-crushing experience helped me advance to the second category.

2) The Second Stage – The Awakened Mind

 

You read. Maybe a lot. Maybe a little. But definitely enough to know that there are many strategies to achieve your goal(s). So you read and read. And then read some more. But the moment comes when you get stuck. And you’re desperately looking for people who might give you the answer.

But why would most people give you their best ideas. They spent years trying to come up with them!
Haven’t you heard of the rule?

 

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly - The Best Way Of Learning Languages

 

I hit this stage about 17 months ago. I can’t recall any specific situation which led to it. I simply knew that I had to change the way I approach learning. And then I found myself in the third stage.

3) Third stage – The Creative Behemoth

 

There are three characteristic qualities of all the people in this category:

  • you question most of the things until proved otherwise
  • you start coming up with dozens of potential solutions to your problems
  • you never feel fully satisfied with your ideas

It’s like the mental hunger you can’t satisfy. You can only alleviate it with new ideas and concepts. Once I started coming up with new hypotheses on how to memorize faster, it took me less than half a year to achieve such results. And I’m not done yet.

The beauty of this stage is that you can question almost anything.

For example – why do we shave with foam or gel? Hell, I started to do it with a mix of shampoo and soap. And believe me – it’s much more effective way to shave (try it and thank me later).

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – How To Do It

 

There are two steps in this strategy.

1) Create the hypothesis.

The planning process looks more less like this:

  • Define what the problem is

This is the question you have to start with. Let your brain know that there is some obstacle to overcome.
From that moment on, you’ll start cracking it both consciously and subconsciously.

  • Learn the essentials of the subject you’re trying to master

It’s very important step. If you skip it, you might find yourself reinventing a wheel.
No need to waste your time like this.

Start with mastering the rules. Find out how others approach solving your problem.

  • Train your ability to observe

Start paying close attention to things which might contribute to the solution of the problem.

  • Create a hypothesis based on your observations

It doesn’t always have to be very logical. Go with your gut feeling.

For example. It’s generally proven that intensive emotions help us to remember better.

Start shouting out loud 4 random words everyday with your best furious voice. Or go to the graveyard and check if the general sadness of this place contributes to better learning.

2) Perform an experiment to test those predictions

Give yourself one week to test your hypothesis. Then measure the results (here are examples of the things you can measure in language learning).

There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.” – Enrico Fermi

In our case, a discovery simply means that the hypothesis wasn’t very good. It’s also great news.
Simply move to the next hypothesis.

If the results are better than the ones you got before, it’s even better news.
You can start using YOUR new strategy right away. You don’t need the old one anymore.

Final Thoughts

 

As you can see, the essentials of my method can be encapsulated in three points:

  1. come up with hypotheses as quickly as possible.
  2. set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea (for me it’s almost always one week, but feel free to experiment with it as well)
  3. test it
  4. measure the results at the end of the experiment
  5. draw conclusions
  6. rinse and repeat

The faster you fail, the faster you can move to another potential solution.

Of course, there is one more thing to bear in mind. Before you start experimenting, measure your current pace of learning words or whatever else you’re trying to do.

I failed more times than I succeeded. But the moments of victory brought me unbelievable results. And believe me – once you experience the thrill of discovering, you will never stop experimenting.

I see it that way:
If you want to be mediocre – stick with one method.
If you want to be effective language learner – try at least few methods.
If you want to be exceptional – try A LOT of them.

Fail fast and fail epicly.

Now, I want you to come up with your own method of learning and test it within next 10 days.

And as always, let me know how it goes.

You Don’t Learn Languages Like a Child – Start Learning Grammar and Vocabulary

You Don't Learn Languages Like a Child

Do you know what is the biggest BS statement on the Internet concerning language learning? “You should learn languages like a child”. Ok, maybe not the worst, but certainly right up there in the top ten. I hate it. I always feel like shooting kittens whenever I hear it.

You see, there are two kinds of stupid advice – harmful and harmless. Harmless advice is, well, harmless. If somebody suggests you to wash your car with milk to make it look glossy and shining, nothing bad will really happen.

Ok, you might find your car covered with ants and cockroaches in the morning. But nothing really THAT bad. However, the harmful advice will make you lose (besides health!) the most important and non-renewable resource you possess – time. You can always make more money. But you can’t recover the lost time.

“Learn like a child” advice does exactly that. It makes you lose the unthinkable amount of time.

“But Bartosz, why do you think that it’s actually a bad piece of advice?”. Good question, voice no 3 in my head. I rush to explain.

Behind every phrase, saying and a piece of advice there is some assumption. Or even a few of them.
At the first glance, they might seem logical. You have to dig deeper to uncover the truth.

Let’s deconstruct all the assumptions behind this terrible piece of advice.

1) You have as much time as children

 

Average child needs at least a few years of his life to start producing any complex (?) sentences. And last time I checked kids don’t have to pay any bills. Nor do they have to go to school when they are two. Hey, they don’t even have to wipe themselves! They just sit and listen. That’s their only entertainment.

So is your life situation comparable in any way to this ideal?

2) You can fully immerse yourself in a foreign language

 

Bad news. It’s not going to happen. Unless you’re willing to move abroad, of course.

3) Your brain is similar to the one of a child

 

You Don't Learn Languages Like a Child

 

I could quote dozens of scientific papers here. But there is no need. You already know that your brain is nothing like the one of a child. The latter is a clean slate. Yours is like a graffiti-covered wall. The first one absorbs hyper-actively anything on its path. Our adult brains are pickier not as willing to take in the new information.

Here is some foretaste of the processes taking place in a child’s brain (original article can be found here).

Between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.

 

Even more importantly, synapses are formed at a faster rate during these years than at any other time. In fact, the brain creates many more of them than it needs: at age two or three, the brain has up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood.

And most importantly

(Their) genes allow the brain to fine-tune itself according to the input it receives from the environment. The earliest messages that the brain receives have an enormous impact.

4) First and second language acquisition is basically the same thing

 

Adults are further advanced when it comes to cognitive development. What’s more, they have already acquired their first language. It gives them the advantage of having the pre-existing knowledge!

All these factors influence the cognitive structures in the brain and make the process of second language acquisition fundamentally different from the ones occurring when you learn a mother tongue.

Learn The Most Important Grammar Rules

 

Here is a fascinating excerpt taken from David Gelernter in Mirror Worlds: or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox…How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean. (as found on Farnam Street).

In your mind particulars turn into generalities gradually, imperceptibly—like snow at the bottom of a drift turning into ice. If you don’t know any general rules, if you’ve merely experienced something once, then that once will have to do. You may remember one example, or a collection of particular examples, or a general rule. These states blend together: When you’ve mastered the rule, you can still recall some individual experiences if you need to.

Particularities turn into generalities gradually. Gradually means slow. Slow, of course, isn’t a negative term.

But I don’t see any reason why I should wait one year before speaking some language at the communicative level. That’s why it is always better to start with generalities, i.e. with the most important grammar rules.

I actually don’t claim that you have to learn grammar at all. You might choose to wait until the language “sinks in”. But I can promise you this. It will take you a long, long time. Even longer if this is your first foreign language. In fact, it might take so long that you will give up.

I believe that the pace of our progress is one of our biggest sources of motivation. Think about it. How many times have you continued to do something despite the lack of progress? Few of us are persistent enough to pursue activities which don’t bring any effects.

Why Adults Learn Better

 

As I’ve written before, adults have pre-existing language knowledge. Children have to learn the mechanics of their mother tongue, while as adults have a more developed grasp of how language works. After all, almost all of us know what conjugations or adjectives are. What’s more, adults are outstanding pattern finding machines – it’s much easier for us to deduce and apply language rules!

To sum up – as adults, we can learn really fast. But as I’ve said many times, it all depends on how hard you’re willing to work. If you believe that watching TV series, reading comic books or just passive listening will make you fluent then… keep on dreaming. I know it sounds harsh. But it’s always better to be mentally prepared to tackle challenges than to hope that “it all will be good”.

Learning requires the effort. There is no way around it.

 

How To Learn Communicative Czech In 1 month – Results Of My Czech Mission

How To Learn Communicative Czech

Finally, after some delay (due to my laziness in writing!) I’m proud to present the results and final thoughts concerning my language mission. If you haven’t been following my struggles, you can find all the details below.

The purpose of the mission

 

My mission had a dual purpose.

First of all, I wanted to demonstrate that it is perfectly possible to learn REALLY FAST. assuming of course that you

  • use some mnemonics
  • disregard almost all the advice you’ve ever heard in your life regarding (language) learning, but more about that later

Secondly, I wanted to ENCOURAGE YOU to think more seriously about your learning; to be BETTER. To question what you know. My learning philosophy is simple – experiment to see what does and what doesn’t work.

To put it brutally – if a horse is sick, you don’t pretend that everything is fine, try to ride or show it to your friends and say “it needs a little bit more time to get better, that’s all”. No. It won’t get better. You take a shotgun, lead a horse behind a barn and put it out of its misery. It’s that simple.

It’s simple. But it’s not easy. If you’ve been using the same ol’ methods for years, it’s hard to kiss them goodbye. I know.

Time Restrictions

 

Start date: 1st February 2015

End date: 2nd March 2015

Total time: 30 days

Main Goals of The Mission

 

  • Memorize 100 words per day for 30 days in the row
  • Get to at least a B1 level
  • Assess my language skills

My Learning Materials

 

Money Spent

About 3$. That’s the cost of my pocket dictionary.

Disclosure

It’s my duty to mention that I had following pre-exisitng advantages before the start of my mission:

I could already speak 8 languages

Including 2 Slavic languages; one of them is my mother tongue – Polish. It simply means that I could understand, right away, all the grammar constructions I stumbled across.

Also, the vocabulary between these languages is quite similar.

And finally, due to the language similarities, my listening skills were at quite a high level from the very beginning.

I had a profound knowledge of mnemonics

I’ve been experimenting with my own mnemonics systems for years and I’ve created the ones which work great for me.

Update 2017: A couple of months after this mission ended, I had to relearn all the words. Read more about severe limitations of mnemonics.

The Difficulty of Czech

 

You can read more about it right here.

The Time Spent On The Mission

 

Altogether I spent about 140 hours during the duration of my mission. What was frustrating is that I had to spend about half of that time preparing the vocabulary lists!

Results

 

  • Results of the first test: level C1.1

Here are some more details:

  • The test consists of three parts.
  • There is a time limit of 30 minutes for each part.
  • The second and third parts can be entered only if you reach a minimum score.
  • The minimum score for entering part 2 is 40 points.
  • The minimum score for entering part 3 is 70 points (score in part 1 + part 2).

I managed to complete the test in 33 minutes and went through all 3 parts of it.

How To Learn Communicative Czech

  • Results of the second test: level B2

Here are some more details:

  • Make sure you do not spend more than 40 minutes on doing the test.
  • You should not use any dictionary or any other help so that the result accurately reflects your knowledge.
  • Stop filling in and submit the test as soon as the questions are too difficult for you (Do not guess the answers).
  • If you are a complete beginner, there is no need to do the test.

 

How To Learn Communicative Czech

Both tests concentrated only on the grammar use and reading comprehension. If you don’t know what these silly letters mean – don’t worry. Simply read Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

The Weaknesses of The Self-Assessment

 

Generally, the overall performance is calculated by averaging the scores you achieve in Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and Grammar.

I had a chance to test all of them (except writing skills). However, some language competences had to be assessed by myself, not by a qualified teacher. It leaves definitely a lot of room for personal bias but it was impossible to avoid considering the nature of such an undertaking.

On a side note, I’ve been working as a language assessor for some time now, so I can only hope that my judgment is precise enough.

Did I Succeed?

 

Yep, I feel that I accomplished all the main goals of my mission:

Number of words

Altogether I’ve memorized about 3100 words. About 2860 of them are the words from my ANKI list, the rest of them are noted separately on a few pieces of paper.

Including my knowledge of the rules of word formation, my total vocabulary size should amount to about 4,5 – 6,5k words.

Level

Considering the results of official and unofficial language assessment, I would assess my level as B1.2. In other words – somewhere between B1 and B2 level.

Articles Related To The Mission

 

If you haven’t had a chance to do it already, here are some articles (more to come!) describing my approach to learning Czech (or should I say – learning in general).

 

Want To Sound Natural In Foreign Languages? Create Your Own Feedback Loop Within One Minute!

Want To Sound Natural In Foreign Languages? Create Your Own Feedback Loop Within One Minute!

The beginning of language learning journey is full of questions. You can’t be sure of almost anything you say. How could you? You know almost nothing.

So how can you check if the sentences you produce with such effort are correct? Especially if you don’t have any contact with native speakers. Ultimately, the purpose of practicing any language is to get to (at least) communicative level in a foreign language of your choice. You definitely don’t want to utter some incoherent and half-baked sentences.

As you know, I’m a very zealous supporter of talking to yourself. It’s one of the best (and free!) ways to improve your fluency. Some people actually suggest that one of these days it will lead me to sitting half-naked on the park bench and mumbling to myself while feeding pigeons. But I’ll take my chances!

So how do you tackle this problem? How do you make sure that what you want to say sounds natural and would make every native speaker smile and nod with approval?

If your first and final answer is “Google Translate!!!”, I have bad news for you.It’s still a very imperfect tool, incapable of distinguishing between various differences of the words.

I mean, just take a look:

 

Want To Sound Natural In Foreign Languages?The solution I would suggest is combining the powers of Google Search Engine and Google Translate.
Google Search Engine gives you instant access to millions upon millions of sentences which you can compare your efforts with.

Let’s take a look at how you can make it happen. Closing the entire feedback loop shouldn’t take longer than 1 minute.

Translate A Phrase With Google Translate

 

Some time ago I wanted to use the phrase “padół łez i rozpaczy” (literally “vale of tears and despair”) in one of my articles. I admit this phrase is very rarely used, even in Polish. It’s quite a depressing idiom used to describe our world. And I love it.

It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to say it. The first thing I did was checking the translation in Google Translate.

Feedback loop

Does it look ok? No idea. Like I said, I have never used it myself. I also have never seen it being used anywhere.

Google The Phrase In Quotations Marks

 

That’s why our next step is to check how often it is used by native speakers. First of all, we need to learn how to make our search more precise. Our weapon of choice is “quotation marks”.

Using quotation marks
Putting terms in a quote indicates a sentence and will be searched for exactly in this composition. And this is what we get:

 

Want To Sound Natural In Foreign Languages?

1 result?! Seriously?! What’s more, .pl means that somebody from Poland tried to use it before and even put it in the book! It is kind of disappointing. I really wanted to use it. But hey! Let’s check if the phrase “vale of tears” is more popular.

 

 Sound Natural In Foreign Languages

It turns up 351k results. Much better. If I had chosen so, I could have used it. Now just to prove a point, let’s check how many results it turns up without quotation marks.

Want To Sound Natural In Foreign Languages?

As you can see, with over 1 million results it turns up 4 times more results than the same phrase with quotation marks. If I didn’t know better, I would say that it’s quite a common phrase.

Don’t Let It Limit Your Creativity

 

All the languages are constantly evolving. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to coin a new great word? That’s why you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you say something silly.

Not longer than one year ago I told my supervisor that “we can’t jaywalk through the planning process”. He said that it sounds weird. But hey! I still like this phrase!

So that’s what I do at the beginning of my language journeys (and even much later) to make sure that I don’t mutilate a given language too much. You see, now you have no excuses not to write to somebody in a language you’re currently learning!

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 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”!

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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