There comes a point in learning a new language where things just seem to stop. Motivation, direction, and clarity dwindle, and after what could be years of rapid growth in language proficiency, things just calm down a bit.
For me, this happened with Spanish sometime last year. Since I can already speak Spanish well enough to handle my usual conversations without much problem, I haven’t been challenged enough to keep growing.
In Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World, Benny Lewis refers to these periods as plateaus.
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When Benny Lewis released his book, Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World, into the wild, I couldn’t wait to read it. These kinds of books always give me a huge burst of motivation, even when I don’t feel like I’m learning all that much.
With Fluent in 3 Months, however, things were different. After literally buying and reading it twice, I’ve actually used what I read to fine tune my language learning with great results.
These changes have allowed me to have more fulfilling conversations in both Spanish and French this year than the last two combined — so I decided to share with you the three main lessons I took from Fluent in 3 Months personally, and how I’m putting them into practice to become a better language learner.
Lesson one was all about focus.
Here’s lesson two.
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If you’ve paid any attention to the online world of language learning, you’ve probably heard of the Irish polyglot, Benny Lewis. He’s been travelling the world for over 10 years learning over 12 languages and running the world’s biggest language learning blog, Fluent in 3 Months.
Not long after I had the chance to speak with him earlier this year, he released his first published book: Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World. Naturally, I ended up buying it twice.
Here’s my overall impression of the book: it’s a fantastic read, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who wants to learn another language.
But rather than just tell you how good it is, why not prove it? Instead of summarizing and critiquing the book, I’m going to tell you the three most important lessons I took from Fluent in 3 Months, and how I’m applying them to my life to make myself a better language learner now. Not only that, I’m going to spend the next few posts doing it.
No advice is going to do much for you if you don’t use it, so I hope you can take my experiences as an example of how to apply these teachings to your own life and become the best language learner you can be.
Without further ado, here’s lesson number one.
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Those of you who happen to love your Apple devices as much as I do are probably familiar with an often overlooked, but incredibly useful feature: built-in dictionaries.
On my MacBook Air, I three-finger tap any new words I come across on the internet. On the iMacs I can’t stop playing with at my university’s book store, I can right-click on them and select Look Up. When I’m reading on my iPad Mini, I simply highlight the words I want and tap Define.
In all three cases, the functionality is the same – a little window pops up next to the word with its definition.
I never really took note of this feature until I started reading The Name of the Wind on my iPad. I haven’t finished it yet, but there have already been so many words I wasn’t quite sure about that it would have been hell to switch over to a browser and Google definitions for all of them.
Honestly, I probably would have forgotten a lot of the words in the process of switching apps, and would have had to go back to iBooks to find it again. If you’re a fan of completely destroying your immersion when intaking media, then this probably sounds fantastic to you – I, however, am not a masochist.
Being myself, I immediately needed to know if this feature could be harnessed in the name of language learning – and to my delight, it can!
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Online dictionaries aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They’re generally good for one word at a time, and aren’t always very good at understanding what you really wanted. Some dictionaries give great examples to help you find what you need, but don’t always have it. Google Translate can handle entire paragraphs, but tends to stumble over grammar and doesn’t understand context.
If you’ve been working hard at your next language, trying to fill in the gaps in your vocabulary, this can be a problem.
You could find out by asking a native speaker, but that’s not always reasonable. Maybe it’s too late in the day, they’re busy, or you’re just in a hurry. Maybe you’ve already asked them 100 questions today and you just want to give them a break.
Well, with some clever tactics, you can learn indirectly from native speakers all over the globe, and you don’t even have to ask! Isn’t that nice of them?
Here are the techniques I use to accurately learn new words and phrases in other languages, so I’m (almost) always saying what I think I’m saying.
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If you’re studying Chinese or Japanese, you know that both have vastly different writing systems from basically anything else. Chinese Hanzi and their Japanese Kanji descendants number in the thousands – said to come from turtle shells after they were burned, these characters are much different than the Roman characters that many western languages use.
One of the most inconvenient things about these characters to a new learner is that you can’t tell how to pronounce them just by looking at them. Now, there are exceptions – many characters contain clues to how they’re pronounced, and Chinese Hanzi generally have only one pronunciation each.
Despite this, unless you’ve memorized the character, you’re probably not going to know how to pronounce it. Without enough context, you probably won’t know what it means, either.
Every time I had to read something for my Chinese homework and I didn’t know a character, I had to flip through the whole book trying to find it. This was definitely not efficient.
So, like most languages you’d be learning, the trick is to use the internet to figure things out – but how do you find a character if you don’t know how to pronounce it or what it means?
Strangely enough, I found out that touch screens can do much more than play games starring birds.
Here are 4 apps for Android and iOS that let you draw Chinese and Japanese characters to find out what they mean and how to say them.
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