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I’ve been thinking about my language learning journeys yesterday and how I’ve used different methods for different languages. I wrote a while back about different methods for language learning and thought I’d just share some personal stories of my various languages to counter the argument that there are definitive methods for language learning.
The one consistent I have when it comes to language learning is that I always listen to the language a lot before starting it. I find that I don’t struggle as much with pronunciation if I’ve exposed myself to the sounds of the language before actually studying it. This means I absorbed a lot of anime before starting Japanese, watched some Disney-esque animated movies and a series on Catherine the Great before officially starting Russian, spoofed my way onto the NHK website to watch Norwegian shows, etc.
Outside of this one thing, my methods tend to change.
This was the first foreign language I tackled with sincerity, so I began by using a textbook. I’m glad I did, actually. Japanese grammar was very different than English, so I was happy to get further explanations about it instead of the you’ll-understand-it-eventually-through-exposure approach I generally use with languages.
The reason for this dramatic difference is that Japanese is an SOV (subject-object-verb) language, whereas English is an SVO (subject-verb-object) language. This means that “I ate an apple” in English becomes “I apple ate” in Japanese. There’s also no equivalent for “an”, “a”, or “the” in Japanese, which took some getting used to.
Once I felt I had a good working knowledge of the language and its grammar, I switched to the input method. I bought the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar books as well as a book about particle use to use as a reference if I got stuck, but I just started reading and actively listening to Japanese. This made my vocabulary grow exponentially, and my listening skills slowly but surely developed.
As a side note, the input method is very good for listening. It just takes me personally a long time to develop listening skills because I often don’t understand people speaking or singing in my native tongue!
This language is very close to my native tongue, so I started with Duolingo and combined it with the Mystery of Nils books, which teach through graded readers. The early chapters are very basic, but the descriptions and dialogue get more advanced as you go. There are also CDs and MP3s to go along with the chapters, so you can hear them being read as well.
Between these basic tools and immersion through outside reading and listening, Norwegian was easy to pick up through input. A lot of learning to understand just means to go through exposure.
I’ll admit that Russian was intimidating for me, so I started with Michel Thomas. His style is excellent for making a language less daunting, and while you don’t get much vocabulary out of his method, you do get a lot of grammar.
As I neared the end of Michel Thomas, I moved to Assimil. I just wasn’t ready for total immersion yet, but Assimil is an input-friendly method, much like the Mystery of Nils. I’m also reading Russian fairy tales because I’m just not ready to tackle a full novel yet.
I ultimately want to move to Ancient Greek, but I decided to start with modern because it’ll give me access to a lot more sources. Greek was the most common language of the Classic world, so it’s useful to know. My love of Greek mythology also drives me to this language like a moth to a flame!
Michel Thomas doesn’t have a course for Greek, and I’m slightly intimidated by it, so I switched to Language Transfer, which is free. I’m not very far into Greek yet, so I don’t know if I’ll be taking some time to just focus on more grammar or jump straight to input, though.
I’m lumping languages like Old Norse, Latin, Sanskrit, etc. here because my method tends to be the same. I always start out with either a textbook or Teach Yourself book. I’d use Assimil for Ancient Greek and Latin, but I don’t know any French and those books haven’t been translated to English yet.
I jump to input ASAP, but there are no graded readers, phrasebooks, or anything for these languages, as they are no longer spoken.
I can't think of a good way to end this article! Let me know what you think below.