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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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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You just got home late after a long day of classes or work. Maybe you had an exam, or a big project due. You’re tired.
Now what’s more likely to be your next move after such a long day – will you diligently set out to complete your daily tasks, or will you resolve to let yourself relax for the night watching House of Cards?
I know there are many days where I’ve been lured in by that second option – after all, all work and no play? That sounds really boring.
But when this becomes a habit it can have devastating effects on your language-learning goals. It’s incredibly easy to forget what you’re not using, and unless you already have a high skill level in the language(s) you’re studying, you’re going to see that skill level drop quickly.
Neither one of us wants that to happen.
So what if your relaxation was also a form of studying?
Luckily, with the invention of the internet and an ever-metaphorically-shrinking globe, it’s pretty easy to make sure you can get a daily dose of immersion without giving up your precious free time.
Here are some ways I’ve been working on my language skills, even on the off days.
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10,000; 20,000; 60,000; 7,000,000 – how many words do you think you know in your native tongue?
Okay, so maybe 7,000,000 is a little high, but you get the point. Natively speaking a language means you probably know a ton of words.
Now – how many words do you know in the language you’re learning?
If you’re anything like me, the numbers have a bit of distance between them. That is, you know gallons more (yes, gallons) words in your native language than your target language.
Naturally, we want to raise that smaller number a bit – but how do we do that?
With a concept I like to call Organic Vocabulary Acquisition, or OVA, for short. I call it this because I think this is one of the most natural ways to get the vocabulary that’s useful to you – I also particularly enjoy this terminology because I pronounce “OVA” like Jay-Z pronounces “HOVA”, and it makes it easy to remember.
But before we get started, there are a couple things we’ll want to have prepared to best make use of this technique.
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Learning a language takes time, and with anything that takes time, sometimes you’re just not feeling it. Maybe you’ve hit a roadblock because of a concept you find difficult, or you’re simply bored – either way, you’re just not motivated.
I had this feeling most recently with Japanese. Schoolwork kept me from studying it very much for a couple weeks, so I lost my drive due to stagnation.
I knew that I wanted to learn Japanese – I just didn’t feel it. So I took a few measures to get myself back where I need to be.
Here are four things that helped me get back on track with my language studies.
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At the end of this semester, I will have taken five years of language classes. One thing I’ve noticed in that time is that I’m handling these last couple of years far better than the first few.
When I stop to think about it, I think I can attribute my success now to three core things that I try to do with language classes now that I never did before. So let’s get to it.
Here are the three philosophies I try to follow now that keep me on top of my language studies in school.
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