How To Turn FaceBook Into The Language Learning Machine

If you had asked me a few months ago how I feel about Facebook, I would have said that it’s probably the biggest time-eater in the world. However, within the last few weeks, I changed my mind quite drastically.

Believe it or not, but know I think it’s one of the best language learning tools in the world. Make yourself comfortable my friend – you’re in for the story.

Facebook, or There and Back Again

 

There
So  About 4 years ago I was a full-blown Facebook junkie. I had to get my fix at least a few times a day. My hands would shake if I couldn’t. “I need more cat picture! I need more updates from friends! I need more of everything. Gimme! Arghhh!” So yeah, it was bad.

After some pondering and a lot of hesitation, I finally deleted it. The last straw for me was seeing a picture of my friend’s dinner with the following comment – “Yum, yum”.

I was a broken man. Rehab was excruciatingly hard for first 3 weeks. But soon thereafter my world became more peaceful. I felt less anxious and overwhelmed. The sun was shining brighter. And so on.

And back again
But I CAME BACK. I felt dirty. As if I was treading on everything I value. At least this time, I knew my time was under control because of the software I use to block the time-sucking websites.

Being a relative optimist, I decided to look at the bright side of my Facebook presence. I started participating in the language groups. I also refreshed contacts with some of the old friends.

Again In The Comfort Zone

 

At about the same time I was bothered by the fact that I don’t read enough. In other languages that is. I tallied up that per average I read between 300-1000 pages per week.

Sadly, over 95% of all the things I read is in English. What a wasted opportunity! I could be learning so many other languages if only I started reading in them. I knew that it had to change.

So I started with the question.

Why am I reading so much in English?

The answer came right away – because it’s convenient. Because it’s so damn convenient. I’ve subscribed to newsletters of over 15 websites. All in English. They come straight to my e-mail box. No effort whatsoever is required from my side.

What’s more, I read English books because

  • a) there are more of them than in any other language I know
  • b) because I got stuck in my comfort zone

Does it ring a bell? Do you find yourself consuming most of the media in just one language?
Then read on!

I knew that the first thing I had to do was to minimize the required amount of energy to take action.

Minimizing The Energy Required To Take Action

 

Minimize The Energy

Let’s say that you want to take up running.

You promise yourself that you’ll do it 3-4 times per week for at least 20 minutes (a great example of a SMART goal!

Noble thought, my friend! However, it seems that no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get a grip on yourself. Every morning you have to look at yourself in the mirror with disappointment in your eyes.

You really do want to do it. It’s no lie. But you’re tired. Or it’s too cold. Or can’t find your shoes. Or don’t know where you’d like to run. There are too many decisions you have to make before you go out for a run. That’s why it’s so hard to get off your butt.

Now imagine a different situation. This time, you’ve planned all the details beforehand.

What’s more, you go to bed with your track-suit on and leave your sneakers by the bed.
That’s a commitment! As a result, the initial energy required to take action is drastically minimized.

Why Use Facebook For Language Learning?

 

  • 936 million daily active users on average (for March 2015)

It means that most of us use it almost every day.
That, in its turn, means that you have already developed a habit of using it.
For many of us, it’s almost like an addiction.

  • over 30 million companies with active pages

Posts and news in hundreds of languages are at your fingertips!

  • it’s convenient

Timeline provides you with a stream of never-ending pictures and posts.
The only thing you have to do is scroll down.

All these things make FB a perfect tool for language learning!

Now, the question is – how to do it?

Unfollow Most Of Your Contacts On FB

 

“Give me a break, do I really have to?!”

Of course, you don’t have to. I haven’t unfollowed ALL my friends. But I was merciless in weeding out people who appear on my Timeline. I didn’t do it randomly. It was a process aided by the following questions:

  • Am I interested in a life of this person?
  • Do I believe this person has something interesting to say?

I unfollowed every person who didn’t fit the criteria.
In fact, I unfollowed about 98% of people who are among my friends.

Tough Decisions

It was hard – believe me. There is always this treacherous voice at the back of my head.
“Come on! Don’t you wanna know what’s going on in X’s life?!” Yes, the voice of the ever convincing Fear Of Missing Out.

“Maybe it’s right. Maybe I’ll miss something important? What if the Ebola Zombies invade Europe and I won’t know it!”

What if …x?! What if …Y?

That’s a risk you and I have to take. The truth is that you are behind the life’s wheel and you’re choosing the direction. Do you really want to let all that fluff and bullcrap into your life?
How many cat pictures can you watch?

Do you really care how somebody’s baby looks like if you haven’t even called this person in a few years?

Be brutally honest with yourself and get down to work.

What If I Can’t Do It?

 

Ok, maybe you’re not ready yet. I don’t blame you. I know it was damn hard for me.

Luckily, there is the option no 2.

Register a new FaceBook account and use it exclusively for language learning. Although, it’s better to use your main FB account. You might be asking yourself now – why all the effort?

What’s the next step”?

Start Liking And Following Pages!

 

By now your Timeline should look, more or less, like a wasteland.
From now on, all the pages you like will start appearing on your main FB page!

Here are some ideas of the pages you might want to follow if nothing comes to your mind at the moment.

  • Newspapers

All the biggest newspapers have their FB pages. Choose the ones you’re interested in and follow them! They update their pages many times per day.

They will provide your Timeline with an ongoing flood of news.

  • Most popular FB pages in …

I like this method since usually, the biggest pages are also the ones which care deeply about the quality of posts they share. Google “most popular FB pages in x (e.g. Russia, Turkey)” to find them.

  • Random pages of interest

Use the FB search field and try to type in words like “jokes”, “productivity”. Of course in your target language!

This way your Timeline will be full of posts of all kinds.

This way, you’ll make sure that the language you take in is diversified enough to guarantee you continuous growth!

Here is a small snippet of my 2nd FB account which I use for reading French and Russian news.

 

Language learning machine

The Final Touch

 

You have come the long way, congratulations! There is just one more thing you can do to get the most out of using FB.

Change the default language settings to any language you’re learning. It’ll only be weird for a couple of days. After that, all the writings and words become normal, or even boring.

What’s more, you’ll see them many times per week.
Thanks to this, you’ll learn them in no time!

Now, I have a question for you – have you ever tried to change the default language settings of programmes and/or devices you use to learn a new language?

Let me know in the comments or via e-mail!

How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

So you want to go abroad for almost completely free?

I know, I know. It sounds way too good to be true. Usually, with this kind of offers, you wake up without your kidney in the bathtub full of ice. But don’t worry. It’s really (almost completely) free of charge.
And the only thing you need is a pair of hands.

Without further ado, I present you:

www.WorkAway.info

The site, founded in 2003, helps unite aspiring travelers with hosts abroad. What do they offer? Travelers are put up for free in exchange for work

All the pictures you can see in this article are the actual locations where people go to work and learn languages.

What Is WorkAway?

 

How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

Workaway is a database of families, NGOs, charities and other projects who’ve joined the project over the year. They are located around the world and are looking for volunteers to help them with a variety of tasks. Exemplary types of volunteering include gardening, animal-care, cleaning, cooking, and farming.

In exchange, you sleep for free on the premises, eat three meals a day with your host and can immerse yourself in a language of your choice.

Currently, more than 14000 hosts from 130 countries are present on the website.

How Does It Work?

 

First, you need to sign up (duh) and create a profile specifying your background and skills. Then you can start browsing the list of hosts for opportunities in any of the countries registered and contact them for more information. If there is some specific location you would like to visit, you can also search by country.

You can email hosts that interest you and chat with them to figure out if you’re a good match for each other. How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

 

Hosts are expected to provide information about themselves, the type of volunteering they require to be performed, the accommodation they offer and the sort of person they are expecting.

How much do I have to pay?

Almost nothing. A two-year membership is 23 Euros for a single person and 30 Euros for couples and friends.

How much do I have to work?

The typical Workaway agreement is to work 4-5 hours per day, 5 days a week in exchange for food and a room.

How long can I stay?

In theory, there is no limit on how long you must stay in a given location. However, usually, you are expected to stay with your host for at least three weeks (although you often can stay for almost as many months as you wish).

Can I earn something?

It differs with each host. But you definitely shouldn’t expect it. Remember – the deal is to work in exchange for food and accommodation. However, some hosts guarantee some pocket money or a commission.

What Can You Expect As A Member of Workaway?

 

According to WorkAway, you can expect the following benefits:

  • Contact 1000s of hosts in over 135 countries.
  • Create a unique profile telling hosts all about your skills and enthusiasm for helping.
  • Upload photos in your profile showing yourself and your skills.
  • Upload your own short video to show on your profile page.
  • Join your account with a friend’s to visit hosts and apply together. Whenever wherever
  • Create your own personalized host list of all your favorite hosts.
  • Find hosts on a map in your area or the area you are planning on traveling to.
  • Use your smartphone and log in to the mobile site to make changes or apply on the move.
  • Add yourself to our last minute Workawayer list so hosts can contact you for immediate volunteering opportunities.
  • Get and give feedbacks to and from hosts to build up your Workaway profile.
  • Contact other members to ask about their stay with hosts.
  • Link your travel blog to ours to share your interesting Workaway journey with our readers
  • Get to know like-minded travelers on the road with our “Meet up” function.
  • Enter our monthly photo competition and win money to extend your travels.
  • Help the Workaway Foundation Project and watch them grow (For more info see www.workawayfoundation.org)
  • Be a member of our unique traveling community and exchange amazing stories and ideas!

Safety

 

The website enjoys the highest reputation for quality and reliability. However, the safety is always a priority while traveling and you should treat it seriously.

Workaway has a page dedicated to safety information and encourages all its users, both volunteers, and hosts, to spend time getting to know each other before making any decisions. Any sort of contract or agreement should be decided between you and your host. The website is only responsible for connecting people.

That’s it. If you go somewhere nice, don’t forget to send me some pictures!

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 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!

 

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.

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