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.
Great, isn’t it? Now find the backing track on youtube and you’re ready to go. Sing your heart out!
If you want someextra 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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
– “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.
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.
I’m not even sure. I guess it’s better if you draw your own conclusions.
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 grammarand 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 elements. These 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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.