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How to Learn a Foreign Language in Six Months to a Year.

Chat in foreign languages or discuss language-learning.

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ladislav
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How to Learn a Foreign Language in Six Months to a Year.

Post by ladislav » December 16th, 2007, 11:56 am

I have heard of people “picking up� languages, and so far I do not know how it is done. Maybe kids can do it because they are amongst other kids playing and using the language many hours a day. They also do not have to worry about being embarrassed and laughed at. I am not a kid and most probably, you are not one, either.

Many people end up in foreign countries but do not know of how to learn the language. Many buy books and tapes, but soon give up. Few ever become fluent. The task of mastering or even getting by in another language strikes them as too big and they just do not know the mechanics of how to go about it.

I am not good at languages and have no natural gift for them. I have always found them difficult and never liked studying them. I have also never been able to pick them up. However, now I am very fluent in three and have reasonable fluency in another 4-5 and can get by fairly well in two more. That means 10. How I did it? I studied them very, very seriously and did not try to “pick them up�.

Once, when I was 6 years old I lived in a foreign language environment for three months but still, was not able to learn more than just a few phrases. I just do not have the ability. So, that means that I need to learn them, not acquire them. Well, as a matter of fact I was in KL this past summer, believe it or not. I like
I have devised a step by step system that has helped me become reasonably fluent in a language within six months to a year without spending a fortune. The method is fairly straightforward and it has worked for me and I do not think of myself as very bright in that area.

Before you start, keep in mind that you will not make any significant progress unless you are willing to study at least 2 hours every day without any breaks. If you only study a few times a week and only some 30 minutes, your progress will be minimal. On weekends, you

Anyway, to make the long story short, this is what you do. Assuming that you are going to study another European language with the Roman alphabet, such as Spanish, your first step should be this:

1) Buy on the Internet, or borrow from your local library an old or conservative-style book titled something like “Basic Spanish Grammar�, “Introduction to Spanish Grammar�, “Beginning Spanish Grammar� (or French or German or the grammar of whatever other language you are studying). Grammar is the skeleton of the language upon which you will build the muscles of vocabulary and everything else. It should have some 100-250 pages. Study it thoroughly and several times if necessary. Do all the exercises in it and drill yourself on the verbs. Study them the way you studied the multiplication table when you were a kid. Repeat them, memorize them, until you can recite all the conjugations in your sleep. Time of study- 1-2 months. During this time, you should not study anything else)*.

*I am assuming that you are not yet living in the country where the language is spoken or are living in it but can get by in English. If you are living in a country where you need to learn the language immediately, buy a good phrase book and use it. I will talk about the use of phrase books later.

This part of your study is gruelling and boring and you will just have to grin and bear with it. Do not be alarmed if you do not understand everything. If need be, hire a tutor who could explain to you the niceties that you cannot yet comprehend. If you still cannot understand some parts of it, just skip them. You will worry about those later. It is better to speak a language that is broken in some places than not to speak it at all. If you cannot get a tutor, get online and go into newsgroups dealing with that culture or Yahoo answers. Someone will explain things to you for free.

2) After the grammar study, buy books for children in the language, some phrase books for travelers, a good dictionary and a language set that contains tapes.

Listen to tapes every day when driving to work, doing household chores or even sitting in the bathroom to learn the pronunciation. Do not worry if you do not pronounce it 100% correctly, just keep doing it. All the errors will eventually be corrected in the months to come.

On one day, you may want to read and translate a story for kids and on the other day, read several pages of a travel book and act out conversations with yourself taking different parts in a “play�. Imagine as if it was happening with you. Imagine a restaurant, a hotel, smell it hear it, see it. Become all the people in the conversation. Utter the phrases in those dialogues with the same emotions as you would if you spoke English. Become an actor. Do not be ashamed since nobody will hear you except yourself.

Most phrase books now have dialogues in different daily situations and a whole array of useful phrases. Learn those by rote. While some people believe that learning by rote is not good, I say it is OK because the phrases which you will learn can later be used in wider discourse which you will be able to carry on because of your previous knowledge of grammar. Set phrases are conversation building blocks, too, just like singular words are.

When reading books for children, a great deal of new vocabulary will pop up. Look it up. Don’t worry if you have to do it fifty times a day or more. Just look those words up. Once you reach some 20-30 words, stop reading. Sit down and write a story about yourself with these words. The story may look ridiculous to you and grammatically incorrect but it is OK. No one except your will read it. When composing this story make sure that other words in a sentence explain or hint at its meaning. You may also draw a small picture or a symbol above the word to remind yourself about its meaning.

Now, that your story is finished, read it a couple of times to yourself while imagining the feeling, or look, taste, smell or touch of every word. Some words like “a fox� will have a certain color, look, and possibly some smell and a touch association with it. While you may have never petted a fox, you may probably imagine that it would kind of feel like a dog. So, while reading your story to yourself, you will also change your voice intonation to reflect the emotion that goes with that word. The word “disappointment� will be uttered in an exaggeratedly tearful voice, the word “fox� in a sly- sounding voice and so on. While reading the sentences in your story in an emotionally charged way while imagining the emotion, picture, smell, sound, taste or touch of each one of them, you will be building mental associations of those words with the things and concepts that they represent. The words will thus sink into your mind and stay there indefinitely. If you are willing to devote three hours every day to this vocabulary-building practice, you will be able to memorize as many as 200 words a day.

Your question may be: Will I retain those words and if so, how many percent will I retain? The answer is: you will retain all of them, except that your brain will eventually allocate them to different levels of memory.

Here they are:

Active memory: here you have words that you can both recognize and use. These will be words that you will be utilizing every day related to work, study, play, food, etc. You will have an arsenal of vocabulary at the tip of your tongue that you will easily pull out and use in sentences any time you wish. Maybe some 20% of the vocabulary you learn will stay there.

Passive memory: here you will have words that you will recognize when reading and listening, however, you will have hard time recalling and using those by yourself. As you read and listen more and encounter these words more and more often, they will move into your active memory. Maybe some 60% of the words you learn will stay there.

Hidden memory: some of the words and phrases you learn will stay in a special brain “chamber� from which they will not be easily recovered. In practical terms, you will see those words and say- hmm, I saw this word before but I can’t remember it. You will look it up in a dictionary again and probably say’ Oh, yes, I remember it now!’ After having been reminded of its meaning, you will then “move “it into the passive memory and if you see it more often, it will move into the active “arsenal� of words.

You must have heard the saying� If you don’t use it, you lose it�. From my experience what happens is: you don’t really lose it but the information simply moves into the hidden memory and if you go back to the language again, and start using it, the words again migrate into the higher memory levels.

The idea is to carry out the children’s books reading/vocabulary/phrase book and tape listening study for some 3 months while doing it 2-3 hours every day. After you have finished all the materials, you may want to review /reread them again or, if you are bored, by some more. As long as you devote so much time daily to your study, you are guaranteed to learn.

Keep in mind one thing: vocabulary is not infinite, it is finite. You will need maybe 2000 words to carry on most conversations, and some 5000-8000 to read most books and magazines. If you can memorize 50 words a day, then you will only need 40 days to create a working vocabulary and some 3-4 months to read most books. However, because many words will still be stored in the passive and hidden memory, you will not be able to use them all immediately, but after 3-6 months, you will see a huge difference in your ability to read and use the language.

3) Conversation weaving, theatre and listening.

OK, now you are ready for some serious action. Hire a tutor and spend a few hours a week with them “weaving� a conversation. You compose sentences on different topics, the tutor talks back to you and corrects your grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, you write down corrected sentences and keep talking. As the need to use new vocabulary comes up, either look up new words in a dictionary, and/or ask your tutor. Write the words down and review the notes after the class.

Also, with your tutor, act out different situations that will be taking place while you are in a foreign country- renting a hotel, going through the immigration, being at a party, ordering food at a restaurant, taking a taxi, bargaining at a market, etc. Sit down with yourself and think of some twenty or so most commonly occurring situations in which you will likely be participating.

At this time, also, you will need to learn conversation fillers and words that help you communicate with the speaker when you are not sure what to say. This will create an illusion of fluency at first, and later, fluency itself.

Please ask your tutor or anyone else about the equivalent of these phrases in the target language and memorize those equivalents well.

Well,
Oh, I see
How do you say it in ( language)?
Let me see/let me think...
Could you please repeat what you have just said?
Hmm, I am not sure what you mean
What do you call it? It’s... what do you call it...
What do you mean?
What is the meaning of this word?
Please explain
I don’t know how to say it in (language).
Excuse me...
I beg your pardon
Got it!
I don’t get it
I am confused.
It’s clear to me/not clear to me.
You know...like
You see...
Oh, yes. I have a question.
May I ask you?
Say it again, please
What was that, again?
I am sorry, I did not understand you.
Hmm.

Once you learn these, you will have enough phrases to keep the exchange of information flowing more or less smoothly. You will learn to put “fillers� inside sentences while you are thinking of what to say next.

If the language you are studying is in the Roman alphabet, you should now go and get some theatrical works in it. Plays, that is. You can find them on the Internet or get them from a local library or buy them. Next, act them out. You will be all the characters in those plays. Adjust your voice and intonation to approximate what each personage in the play represents. Become the old man, old woman, the child in it, etc. Imagine it all happening on a stage in your mind, of course. Live it. When you encounter new words or expressions that you cannot look up in the dictionary, post them on internet newsgroups or Yahoo Answers.

Now, you should do one hour of theatre a day and watch TV/listen to the radio for another hour. Or be exposed to any kind of language expressions, be it speeches, long monologues, etc. You may not understand everything at first, but slowly and naturally your ears will get used to it and begin distinguishing words from each other and understand sentences and discourse. Just sit there, listen to it, and bear with it. After several weeks, the language will start clearing up. If you have the opportunity to be in groups of people speaking it, stay as exposed to it as you can and as often as you can. Your ears will learn to follow the language by themselves.

4) Dictionary reading and copying. Now you are ready for the toughest part. This is one strategy that I have never seen anyone do and have never heard any linguist recommend. But it works. Take a dictionary, go over every page of it and write out the words that you think you will be using or will need to know. Make your own notebook. Then make sentences with those or stories in which they will be incorporated. Some of these sentences and stories may be ridiculous but you are the only one that will see them. Do not worry if you may sometimes use the words wrong. Draw pictures or symbols above the words and read the resulting text/picture combinations trying to describe.

Idioms and slang: similarly, obtain another dictionary of slang and idioms or if these are two separate ones, get them both.
You will need one thousand of idioms and maybe a thousand of slang items in your vocabulary to finally be able to have an almost complete knowledge of conversational language and appear cool and natural. Read that dictionaries several times and compose sentences with them. Imagine yourself using those in real life situations. If by now, you are still not totally exhausted from studying the regular dictionary and transcribing it, spend another couple of months doing the same with idioms and slang.

After all that, you should be fluent in the language more or less.

Note: while I prefer concentrating on one subject only for several months, some people prefer doing one day of vocabulary, one day of grammar, one day of theatre or even three subjects in a day. As long as you study 2 hours or more a day, I say it does not matter how you distribute these areas in your schedule. The important thing is for them to be covered. Obviously, you cannot yet begin advanced studies of theatre during the first months of your learning period, so you will just have to look at what you can combine based on your ability at this time (that is if you wish to combine anything at all)

Learning a foreign language in the way I have described to you is not easy, and not for the people who want to be entertained or who want to ‘enjoy’ the study process. It has not been easy for me to learn languages this way, but the results have been absolutely phenomenal. If you are ready for some hard work, and are willing to tough it out for six months to a year, you will be fluent, and many new doors will open for you.

PS: Special Note for Languages with Difficult Alphabets:

If you want to learn how to speak Arabic or Japanese and do not want to be bothered with the difficult alphabets, you can still learn them fairly quickly by using many Romanized materials available on the market today. There is nothing wrong with being “illiterate� in the language as long as you can speak it and learn to recognize important signs. In many countries now, signs are in English and if you really want to learn how to read, this can be done after you have learned how to speak.

In Japan there are so many books and tapes written in Romanized Japanese that is it is entirely possible to become very fluent in the language without ever being able to read a single word ( except in the transliterated version of it).

You can pretty much follow the program outlined for learning the language except that a few things will not be possible- you will not be able to read children’s books. So, instead, what you can do (and what I did) was to have people read children’s books aloud to you as you listen. You will also not be able to read books with theatrical plays in them. However, again, you can do either one of two things:
1) Buy lots of travel books with Romanized dialogues ( primarily phrase books)
2) Get theatrical works and have native speakers read and explain them to you as you listen. You can repeat after them.
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Post by gmm567 » December 19th, 2007, 3:13 am

I have a better way:

1)Get a list of the most commonly used words in the langauge you have chosen. Here's one in German from About.com http://german.about.com/library/blwfreq_spk30.htm

2) Read the summation of grammar rules at Wikipedia

3) Get software which will a pop- up of English definitions when you run a mouse over a (foriegn) word. Google is great for any language that goes to English, but they don't have it going from english to other languages. By using this method ,you don't have to memorize a bunch of words which is boring; you just learn them on the fly-without having to pick up a dictionary. It's much more interesting and fun.

4) Read the Newspapers or websites in your new language and periodically review the list from #1 to see how your vocabulary is developing. The list of 2,000 words is a working vocabulary.

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Post by Jackal » March 7th, 2008, 4:15 am

Hi Ladislav,

Do any of the languages you have learned using your method have inflectional morphologies (you have to add different case endings to nouns to indicate how they're used. Sometimes the endings function like prepositions or just show that a noun is the subject or the object. etc.) like Czech, Russian, Hungarian, Finnish, or Basque?

The reason I ask is that I think that your method of trying to memorize the complete grammar of a language first would be next to impossible and counterproductive for learning these complex languages. I think it's better to learn a little bit of grammar at a time (one case ending in singular perhaps) practice using it with different vocabularly that you know, and slowly integrate it into your thinking; rather than try to do it all at once. Even if you have indeed memorized all the grammar charts, you still need to be able to pull them out of your brain at conversation speed eventually. You have to get to the point where the right ending just "feels" right and the wrong ending just "feels" wrong.

I would recommend that the FIRST step a language learner should take is to get his ear accustomed to the new language is to listen to radio or tv shows in that language (I saw this was one of your later steps). Even if the student doesn't understand a word, his mind will begin getting used to it and breaking sentences into words.

I would also emphasize pronounciation heavily from the beginning. You don't want to get into bad pronounciation habits early because they can become hard to correct later. The student should try very hard to get his mouth to make the sounds of the new language (using recordings of pronounciation exercises and short phrases) as accurately as possible to retrain these muscles.

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Holio
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Post by Holio » June 11th, 2008, 2:22 pm

Great advice ladislav!!!!!!!!
You guys are awsome. Haven't found a board like this.

you don't need to know a language very well to get girls, just basics. i know at least three this way and i always seem to get girls this way. I'm going to try and learn more. of course it helps if your average looking at least. :lol:

If you can learn them cheaply, there's no reason why you can't speak 12 languages within a year. just find good deals with the lessons. http://YourLanguageResource.com has the best I've seen but I'm open to learning about others.

Any ideas?

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Post by Winston » June 12th, 2008, 6:49 am

Holio,
Your email indicates that you are Chemist. If you are Chemist, why are you posting here under a different user name?

Plus, Chemist never uses multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence.

I picked up girls in Russia just by using a few words, like "you are pretty", etc.
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ladislav
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Post by ladislav » June 12th, 2008, 11:51 am

Do any of the languages you have learned using your method have inflectional morphologies (you have to add different case endings to nouns to indicate how they're used. Sometimes the endings function like prepositions or just show that a noun is the subject or the object. etc.) like Czech, Russian, Hungarian, Finnish, or Basque?
You mean 'cases'. No the ones I learned do not but I speak Russian already so I am familiar with how cases work.
The reason I ask is that I think that your method of trying to memorize the complete grammar of a language first would be next to impossible and counterproductive for learning these complex languages. I think it's better to learn a little bit of grammar at a time (one case ending in singular perhaps) practice using it with different vocabularly that you know, and slowly integrate it into your thinking; rather than try to do it all at once. Even if you have indeed memorized all the grammar charts, you still need to be able to pull them out of your brain at conversation speed eventually. You have to get to the point where the right ending just "feels" right and the wrong ending just "feels" wrong.
It would be impossible to memorize it all but the initial introduction to all these rules is helpful. Then as one keeps studying, one keeps going back and strengthening the first exposure to the grammar until it becomes second nature.
I would recommend that the FIRST step a language learner should take is to get his ear accustomed to the new language is to listen to radio or tv shows in that language (I saw this was one of your later steps). Even if the student doesn't understand a word, his mind will begin getting used to it and breaking sentences into words.
Sure, why not? Or one can spend say, 30 mts a day doing that and the rest studying grammar and reading a bit. An assualt on all fronts.
I would also emphasize pronounciation heavily from the beginning. You don't want to get into bad pronounciation habits early because they can become hard to correct later. The student should try very hard to get his mouth to make the sounds of the new language (using recordings of pronounciation exercises and short phrases) as accurately as possible to retrain these muscles.
Yes, I know. That, too is important. My way of learning it is just one of many ways. If you find that your way works for you why not?
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!

ladislav
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Post by ladislav » June 12th, 2008, 12:02 pm

WWu777 wrote:Holio,
Your email indicates that you are Chemist. If you are Chemist, why are you posting here under a different user name?

Plus, Chemist never uses multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence.

I picked up girls in Russia just by using a few words, like "you are pretty", etc.
In some countries, such as Russia and Japan, girls are fascinated by a mysterious mumbling foreigner from an exotic and rich land who can barely speak the language. It is seen as cute and exotic. Good for a pick up. However, if you want to go beyond the initial 'picking up' of girls and into developing a relationship, and then starting a family ( which is basically the purpose of love) and dealing with the myriad of problems that crop up, you will see how devilishly difficult the whole thing becomes if you do not know the language. However, by then,most girls are either dumped or married to the guy and either they study his language or he is studying theirs. Unless you have enough money for a permanent translator or just enough money, period to solve problems without resorting to the use of the language.

Obviously, a stuttering foreigner would be a turn off for Amerian girls or any other Anglo girls whose culture teaches that the world speaks English and those who don't are uneducated dumbos and mental retards.
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Post by royaldude » September 24th, 2012, 3:24 am

the op has a great post very complete and in fact i agree with all of it.
i just want to add my own experience. i hate learning spanish to me reading grammer while important is just soo boring. i still do it because its important but i also use other tricks which work well.

in mexico, just like peru and in most of latin america alot of the tv shows and movies are not dubed over but rather have subtitles. this helps alot so when you are watching tv in english you can read the subtitles and it just really helps you easily study the language. once you improve watching tv in spansih language shoundnt be hard. for one the people on tv generally have less of a local accent so the spanish is easier to learn.

i also recommend getting a gf in the native language you want to study. she will act as like a free tutor. i think the old expression is the best way to learn a language is in the bedroom

finally it helps to make friends with locals who have previously lived in us, uk or a english speaking country before. they will want to continue practicing english with you and in return help you with the local language
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Post by ezbusrider12 » December 26th, 2013, 1:32 pm

Verbs are the building block of most languages (from my experience certainly Romance family ones, never tried learning an Asian, Slavic language), download a verb practicing app which lets you hammer away at practicing the conjugations, tenses etc with Spanish for example 4-5 solid hours of practicing present tense conjugations of the most popular 200 verbs and you will be well on your way to forming simple sentences in a wide range of situations, add some vocab through flash card memorisation and you have got a good base to move towards semi fluency, competitive almost video game style reward learning makes language grammar so much less of a hard slog and actually a rewarding pursuit, they should role this sort of stuff out across schools, textbook learning is too dull for kids to actually develop any meaningful level of foreign language use

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Post by abcdavid01 » July 10th, 2014, 4:47 pm

I'm studying Mandarin now and most of this is what I'm doing. Not the dictionary part though, but I'll look into that. Children's books seem really boring to me, but phrasebooks are okay because they're practical. I tried finding comics in simplified hanzi, but I'll have to look further. I am in the process of translating/memorizing lyrics to this band Omnipotent Youth Society. Their lyrics have great imagery. Leaving the back door of century bank...I see my father high in the clouds, smoking.
中国人万岁! 中国美女万岁!

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Post by MeGustanLatinas » July 11th, 2014, 10:02 am

I went to my community college and learned it. *shrugs* Music helps, too.

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Post by chanta76 » September 11th, 2014, 3:55 pm

I find that you need a teacher to learn a new language because of pronunciation . YOu can listen to the tape but can you actually hear yourself say it correctly? I don't think you can.

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Post by abg98 » September 25th, 2014, 9:25 am

I second what chanta76 said. You don't necessarily need a teacher, but you should definitely have a native speaker to bounce your pronunciation off of. My Korean friend blew my mind when he said words that I thought I knew lol

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Post by Ghost » September 26th, 2014, 2:20 am

I think the key element is practice. Thing is, no matter how much you study, you have to have real practice with real speakers of that language. I study Spanish a bit most days and don't get out much. I have enough of a studying base in Spanish, but I don't practice with anyone. I agree about making notebooks. It's good to keep two or three depending on the language. In Spanish, I keep notes for verb conjugations and for vocabulary. But in Chinese, I just keep one set of notes because Chinese doesn't use conjugations. And I focus on speech and have never really taken a good whack at the writing system. I'm not nearly fluent in anything yet...and it's been a long time. I'm certain practice is the key element that I am missing. 10 hours of practice would probably be worth 100 hours of study.

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Re: How to Learn a Foreign Language in Six Months to a Year.

Post by xiongmao » April 10th, 2015, 1:16 pm

Thought I would add something to the thread based on my experiences of living in Spain. I've never studied Spanish, and I'm not actively learning. But I am slowly picking it up, mostly from having the total immersion of being able to read things I see in daily life. I am starting to understand a bit of what people are saying, and for this I am learning common "chunks" that people say a lot.

The downside is that I am also learning Catalan as that is also spoken widely here and it's very hard to distinguish it from Spanish - if you're serious about learning a language overseas then go somewhere "pure".

For my own language studies, I want to learn more Chinese and my main weaknesses are pronunciation and vocab. Pronunciation is easy to fix - just find native speakers to practice with. Although Chinese people from different places have quite different pronunciation - annoying!

As to vocab, I tried DuoLingo but now I am using Memrise to smash vocab into long term memory. It's got a really nice app you can use on your smartphone. You can also learn loads of stuff with it, not just languages. If you're interested, the Chinese POD 1000 most common characters seems to be about the best pack to install.

Repetition does work because I can still read and type many of the characters I first learnt back in 2009. If I could recognise 1000 characters, then I'd probably be able to get the gist of most of what people post on wechat.

If you don't have anyone to practice with, then watching foreign movies with English subtitles is a great way to learn. I learnt a lot of Japanese this way.
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