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There’s No Wrong Way to Learn a Language

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Written by   50
1 year ago

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.

Japanese

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!

Norwegian

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.

Russian

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.

Greek

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.

Ancient Languages

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.

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Comments

Wow, as a philologist, I can just congratulate you! However, since I have some experience learning languages myself, I'd say I can agree and not completely agree with you. First of all, I completely agree that listening and being exposed to a certain language is crucial. If you are familiar with the sounds and intonation, it can be much easier to pick up some grammar patterns and use them. For example, as a kid, I was constantly exposed to Spanish. I listened to music in Spanish, watched series and movies... Never have I ever learned a rule in Spanish and I am a fluent speaker now. Exposure and intuition are a great combo!

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1 year ago

Thanks for the comment! I agree with you completely. Everybody is wired up just a little differently. I know one French lady who learned English mostly by just watching episodes of Friends, but I wasn't able to learn Norwegian through TV like that. Some can do it, but you and I don't seem to be able to.

No matter, as there are loads of ways of learn languages!

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1 year ago

I am glad you still pursuing your goal to learn various languages. I was never interested in learning languages, and i have never put any real efforts into them - i just ended up learning them somehow. Therefore, i know next to nothing about grammar (as a science). Why? Because i have learned every language i know on my own, from cartoons, from internet forums, and from online chat rooms :D

And interestingly enough, if i want to use a particular language, the words and thoughts are coming up in my head in that language natively, so i don't actually have to translate anything.

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1 year ago

That's definitely the way to do it. Michel Thomas and Language Transfer basically teach you grammar through input, not with explanations, which is why I like them. I'm glad that I had a little more instruction for Japanese, though!

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1 year ago

what hogs me in japanese, is the problem of kanjis. you cant just read some random newspaper or blog without them, which limits the exposure to the language. and some guys even tend to use rare kanjis when chatting, that can be super annoying.

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1 year ago

That is annoying! I used kanji workbooks combined with Heisig's Remembering the Kanji.

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1 year ago