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  • I Really Don’t Like This Language Learning Advice

    I’ve seen a number of posts circling the web on “the best ways to learn a language,” and quite often (and near the top!), “pillow talk” is offered as a means of learning a language.

    It’s almost like they advocate dating a native speaker of your target language just for the sake of learning the language.

    Seriously?

    Yes, it’s great to have friends and a community of people around you to help you learn a language, but encouraging an intimate relationship just to learn a language? That’s just a little bit too much for me.

    Even though dating someone who speaks another language is a great reason to learn the language (note the language learning comes second), I don’t believe in doing the reverse. You learn your significant other’s language to have another reason to connect with them; you don’t date someone to learn a language.

    Not to mention, this advice also assumes that the person you’re with is a willing teacher (which often isn’t the case).

    I don’t want to point fingers and direct you to any one article (and because there are several I’ve stumbled across), so instead I’ll talk about why, in my personal opinion, I don’t think this is a great language learning strategy.

    Here’s why I really don’t like this language learning advice:

    Dating someone to learn a language isn’t necessarily a good idea because:

    1. They laugh at you. When you make mistakes, your significant other sometimes laughs at you. More often than not, this is because they think the mistakes are cute. Even though they aren’t necessarily making fun of you, it still can be a little embarrassing and therefore discouraging. You want to impress the person you’re dating, so making mistakes in front of them usually isn’t something we’re willing to do and you can’t afford to wait until you speak a language perfectly to start using it. As much as we can hope to learn another language perfectly, it’s highly unlikely. Even native speakers don’t speak “perfectly.”

    2. They aren’t always good at teaching. Teaching is a skill that not everyone is blessed with and so you can’t count on your significant other having that skill. Plus, they might not be as patient with you as one would ideally hope they’d be.

    3. The language you start a relationship in is often the language that sticks. When you start trying to speak another language later, there may be some resistance and it’s easy to just slip back into using the first language and ignore the second. You’d have to really work at bringing another language into the equation.

    4. The claim that you’ll learn it more quickly isn’t true. Teachers, whether they are your significant other or not, can only provide you with the tools to learn (if they’re a good teacher). It’s up to you to use them and do the work required to accomplish your goals. You only learn a language as quickly as the work you put in permits. A significant other might provide more motivation for you to learn a language, but they certainly won’t speed up the process for you.

    5. There are not shortcuts. Dating a native speaker makes it look like there is a shortcut for learning a language, but I’m going to let you in on something I learned a long time ago for both music and languages: there are no shortcuts. You get what you put into language learning. There is no “fast” and “easy” way to truly learn a language. You have to put in the work.

    Love and Languages

    That being said, if you are in a relationship with someone who speaks another language, it’s a great compliment to them to take the time to learn their language (plus it may allow you to communicate with their family and friends who only speak that language). But, I don’t think you should ever date someone to learn a language. It should be the other way around, you learn the language to share it with the person you love.

    Another bonus for sharing languages with the person you love are to decrease the odds of miscommunication. The majority of arguments stem from misunderstanding and an inability to express one’s self in another language can lead to a lot of frustration. If you and your partner can’t find equal footing in a language, this might lead to increased and prolonged disagreements. So, if you’re in a relationship for the long-haul, learning your partner’s language can help put out a few fires that may have been caused by language and cultural barriers.

    I do agree, however, with other language learning advice that suggests finding friends who speak the language (or at least a tutor). But don’t force friendships or relationships for the sake of learning a language if they aren’t working.

    Have you seen this advice? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    July 28, 2014 • Language Resources • Views: 206

  • A Review of FluentU Mandarin for Language Learners

    I was contacted a few months back by FluentU because they thought I might be interested in trying out their platform as I continued to learn Mandarin Chinese. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to try out new language learning tools, I agreed and am I now a big fan.

    I had hoped to publish my review earlier, but as you know, I’ve been out of the country the last month on tour and spent quite a bit of time beforehand preparing with little time for anything else. I also wanted to give FluentU the time it deserved before sharing my thoughts.

    SO WHAT IS FLUENTU?

    For those of you who are unfamiliar with the platform, FluentU is essentially a collection of videos in various languages (Chinese, Spanish, French, English, German, Italian and Japanese) partnered with vocabulary lists, quizzes, and more, all at various levels.

    The videos are collected from YouTube, but you’re given the added bonus of subtitles and translations as part of a spaced repetition learning system – arguably one of the best ways to learn a new language (or any skill for that matter).

    A Review of FluentU Mandarin

    STARTING OUT

    When I first created my account, it gave me the option of signing up as either a teacher or a student. I selected “student,” and from there, I was given a pretty decent selection of levels to start from – newbie, elementary, intermediate, upper intermediate, advanced and native. Although my comprehension is not terrible, I have not yet learned to read or write, so I selected newbie in order to work my way up. For Chinese, you are also give the option of learning traditional or simplified characters which is great because you can always select one and then change it up later by going into your settings.

    There are currently over 1,300 videos to choose from on topics varying from basic introductions to the song “Let it Go” in Mandarin. Each video includes the “listen” and “learn” option with transcripts and word lists available. As the video plays, you can hover over the subtitles which will pause the videos and give you the translations for each word (the pinyin and English subtitles are already visible below each video).

    THINGS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT FLUENTU

    I’ll start with the things that I don’t like about FluentU particularly because I enjoyed the software and I would like to end on a positive note.

    When I first started using FluentU, there were still a few glitches, but it seems as though many of them have been worked out. One of the most frustrating glitches was that there were inconsistencies with the pinyin spellings of words. It was incredibly confusing, so I emailed them about this and they replied that the issue was with videos from a particular series and they were considering removing them (although it seems they are still up).

    Issues with FluentU

    Also, during quizzes, multiple audio clips played simultaneously and there were odd audio cuts. I also had an issue with the typing elements of the quizzes (I could not insert accents because the key commands were disabled), but they have since resolved this. Despite having fixed many of the issues I initially experienced, however, one still stands out to me. You can see some of the answers in the video subtitles for some of the words during the quizzes. However, FluentU is still relatively new and their team is visibly and actively working to continually improve the platform, so they definitely have that going for them.

    fluent-u-screenshot

    THINGS I LIKE ABOUT FLUENTU

    As a musician, I love the large selection of music videos available. It’s fantastic getting to read the lyrics in realtime along with their translations.

    The other feature of FluentU Mandarin that I really enjoyed was that the videos are from native Mandarin sources (for the most part) and so the vocabulary is far more practical than what you would learn from a textbook or something like Duolingo/Busuu/etc which utilize the similar or not-so-practical dialogues and text examples. FluentU allows you to learn from news videos, songs, commercials, movie trailers and more – vocabulary and dialogues that are actually being used in day-to-day life by native Mandarin speakers.

    I also loved the fact that the software keeps track of your progress. Each video shows you how much of the vocabulary you are likely to understand so that you can pick content according to your level as well as your interests.

    Another great feature for polyglots or soon-to-be polyglots is that there are several languages you can choose from, and you can switch between them. When I’m ready, I’m definitely going to check out the Japanese content too.

    IN SUMMARY

    As I hinted at before, FluentU has both free and paid versions of the software. The paid versions (there are two different levels) have more features and content than the free, but there is quite a bit of material to get you started on the free version.

    Overall, I think that FluentU has a lot of potential and now that several of the glitches are worked out, I definitely plan on continuing to use it.

    Click here if you’re interested in trying FluentU out for yourself!

    For more language learning tips like this, check out my collection of articles on Pinterest!

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    May 13, 2014 • Language Resources • Views: 253

  • My First Experiences Using Mandarin Chinese

    It’s one thing to study and learn a language, but it’s entirely another when you finally get to use it. While it’s fun to earn points on Memrise or Duolingo, slip Disc 16 of your Pimsleur Mandarin lessons into your CD Player, or recognize a symbol or two of Chinese in a magazine article, it’s far more rewarding to begin to hold a conversation (or make the effort to do so) with a native speaker.

    On my recent adventures, I had a few opportunities to use Mandarin and while some were more rewarding than others, finally using the language for the first time was a wonderful experience even if I didn’t always get the response I had hoped for. I only wish I read this article or this article before I went about trying to create a natural language exchange without much success.

    ATTEMPT #1

    On the plane from Venice to Paris, a group of girls my age sat in the row in front of M and I with one of them in the third seat next to me. I had caught enough of the conversation to know that they were speaking Mandarin, but I initally didn’t feel comfortable starting a conversation with the stranger next to me. If it didn’t go well, I’d be stuck next to them for the duration of the flight.

    As the food cart began to make its way down the aisle towards us, I finally found my opportunity. I turned to the girl to my left and asked, “Will you be having lunch?” in Mandarin.

    She nodded her head, then realizing the language I had used, asked me in English, “You speak Chinese?”

    I was a bit surprised. Up until this point, M and I had only conversed in French so why did she respond to me in English? I tried again in Chinese. “A little bit but not very well.” She nodded again and then returned to her magazine, ending my attempt to converse with her. Perhaps I should have lied and said that I spoke better…

    ATTEMPT #2

    My next opportunity was a little more successful. Our flight to Malaysia was on the Taiwanese carrier Eva Airlines, and so, the crew spoke both Mandarin and English. Each time they took our drink and food orders, I responded in Mandarin rather than English. The crew still insisted on speaking to me in English, but they understood what I said, so I’ll take that as a

    win. In fact, in Taiwan I had the same experience. On our return trip I visited the bookstore and asked for a book. “Excuse me, do you have the first book?” I asked while pointing to the third book in the Game of Throne Series in Mandarin. He disappeared into the back then return telling me, in English, that it was “Sold Out.” When I told him that I would buy the third one then, he looked at me and said, “Chinese, it’s okay?”

    I must have a horribly telling accent.

    ATTEMPT #3

    As we waiting in the airport in Taiwan, I made a game out of guessing the announced flight numbers before they said them in English (each message was in Mandarin followed by English). M merely rolled his eyes as I excitedly uttered each number aloud before the message was repeated in English.

    ATTEMPT #4

    At the WYJF’s opening dinner I sat next to one of the event sponsors who I learned spoke several languages (one of which was Mandarin). I told him that I was learning Mandarin, but could only speak a little and not very well. Upon hearing me use the language, he suddenly began to speak rapidly in Mandarin but all I caught was that he told me the ability to speak a little bit is actually a lot. His reaction was the complete opposite of what my previous experiences had been and I felt somewhat overwhelmed. I never quite got the opportunity to continue or make any further efforts because the conversation returned to English as other attendees joined the table.

    All in all, my experience has taught me that I still have a lot of work to do.

    If you’ve attempted to make language exchanges, what was your experience? Did you have as difficult of a time as I did?

    For more language learning tips like this, check out my collection of articles on Pinterest!

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    May 12, 2014 • Language Resources • Views: 433

  • Summer Book Challenge 2014

    I love reading and I love a challenge, so I’ve decided to take up Semi-Charmed Kind of Life‘s Summer Book Challenge.

    The dates for the link up and challenge are May 1 to August 31, so I’m a little late starting, but I’ll hopefully catch up. If not, it’s fun to participate anyway!

    I can also hopefully use this challenge to get closer to meeting my 2014 goal.

    Summer Book List

    1. 05 pts: Making Music Make Money by Eric Beall, 257 pages (Freebie! Any book at least 200 pages). I’m going to read this one to meet my 2014 Goals. Done.
    2. 10 pts: Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas, 788 pages (Read a book that was written before you were born). Thankfully one of my favorite authors was around long before me. In progress.
    3. 10 pts: The Mages by Katherine Gilraine, 390 pages (Finish reading a book you couldn’t finish the first time around). I try to read too many books at once and overlooked this one not because of the quality but due to other obligations at the time. Done.
    4. 10 pts: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, 324 pages (Read a book from the children’s section of the library or bookstore). I recently saw the film with M and I always prefer the books to the movies so I try to read them first, this one I didn’t. It’s time I caught up. In progress.
    5. 15 pts: Words of Radiance by Brian Sanderson, 1087 pages (Read a book that is on The NY Times’ Best Sellers List when you begin reading it). I love Robert Jordan and Brian Sanderson took over the Wheel of Time series so I’m curious about his writing. I haven’t read the first book in this series so I’ll have to read it before I can tackle this one.
    6. 15 pts: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, 368 pages (Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe). I started to read this for a historical fiction course I took but did not ever read past what was required due to time constraints. I really enjoyed what I read so I’d like to finish it. Done 7/8/14.
    7. 15 pts: The Silmarillionby JRR Tolkein, 365 pages (Read a book another blogger has already read for the challenge). Read by Treasure Tromp.
    8. 20 pts: The Children of Hurin by JRR Tolkein, 313 pages (Read a book with “son(s),” “daughter(s)” or “child(ren)” in the title).
    9. 20 pts: All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, 230 pages (Read a book that was/will be adapted to film in 2014). There are so many on this list I might like to read, so this may change half a dozen times before I finally choose.
    10. 25 pts: 250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig, 96 pages  (Read a book written by a blogger). Also read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, 416 pages.
    11. 25 pts: The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour M. Hersh, 498 pages (Read a biography, autobiography or memoir). My dad and I both love history, so he traded me this book for my copy of The Secret History of Paris. I want to read it soon to get my book back! Done! 06/18/14
    12. 30 pts: Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche and Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman. Finished Found in Translation 6/20/14 and Lost in Translation 6/27/2014.

    175/200 pts. total

    What are you reading this summer?

    May 6, 2014 • Language Resources • Views: 203

  • 2014 Language Books Reading List Part 1

    My problem is that I have too many things that I like to do and not enough time for them all. I constantly seek ways to find a way to balance all of my hobbies, but it also means that I’m never bored. There’s always something to do.

    Along with traveling, photography, language learning, music, writing, and cooking, I love to read. When I say I love to read, I mean I really love to read. If you check out my Goodreads profile, you’ll see what I mean.

    For 2014, I don’t have any set plan for the books I want to read, but I do have a few on my shelf that I want to tackle the over next month or two, so that’s where I plan to start.

    2014 Language Books Reading List

    First, I have a few books that I want to read just because:

    1. Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World – This looks like a great book. I haven’t started it yet, but I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve finished it.

    2. The Story of French – I actually just finished this one last night. I had been looking for books about languages (and not just how to learn them) and I stumbled upon this one in a bookstore. It started out really great and I found the information within it absolutely fascinating until I began to lose interest just over halfway through the book. I’ll write more about this soon, so for now, unfortunately, I’ll leave you with that. Either way, it was definitely an interesting read – even in the hard-to-get-through sections.

    3. How to Taste – I know, I know. It was a gift from my mom, but I’ve found it quite informative thus far. Don’t judge.

    Next, I have several language learning books I want to finish.

    Continuing Croatian

    As many of you know, I started to learn Croatian last year. For Christmas, I received a couple of great Croatian learning resources, so I’m going to start there before I really dive into Mandarin.

    1. Introduction to the Croatian and Serbian Language by Magner – So far I’ve found this book to be pretty difficult, but there are not a whole lot of resources available to help one learn Croatian, so I’ll take what I can get. Hopefully it will get easier once I feel more comfortable with the language.

    2. Le Croate by Assimil – Assimil is highly recommended by a number of language learners and this is my first resource from them. I can’t wait to try it out.

    3. Lonely Planet Croatian Phrasebook – another highly recommended resource.

    Learning Mandarin

    Finally, I’m going to start working on Mandarin with:

    1. Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook – I’m already using Pimsleur, and I have a friend who offered to help me with Mandarin in exchange for helping her with English, but we don’t start for another week or so. I’m hoping to do a bit more preparation until then using this book and Pimsleur Mandarin because all I can do at this point is ask for directions to “Long Peace Street,” ask what time it is, and order two beers.

    Upcoming Reviews

    I also have a few resources I’d like to review here on Eurolinguiste

    1. Themen Aktuell Workbook and Coursebook
    (German) – these are the books I used to earn my German certificate at university. I want to give them another look so that I can review them here.

    2. German Made Simple – not sure if that’s possible (imho), but I’ll definitely give it a go!

    3. CHINESE in 10 minutes a day – I can appreciate lessons in small chunks that make the material easier to digest, especially with a language that is so different from anything else I’ve studied in the past. I’ve started learning to speak and understand Chinese, but I have yet to start reading and writing. To be honest, it’s just a bit intimidating.

    4. Culinaria France – a French cookbook with tons of regional recipes I picked up when Borders when out of business but have yet to really delve into. It has a really fascinating section on cheese and another on wine in France. It’s a great read and a recipe book. Win-win.

    5. Easy Italian Step-by-Step

    6. The Everything Italian Practice Book

    7. Learn Italian the Fast and Fun Way – I had seen the French version of this book and it looked like a fun way to study a language with the dialogues and exercises at the beginning of each chapter. The vocabulary is based on travel, like most foreign language books, so it’s not the most practical, but it also has beginning grammar (and my Italian needs a bit of a refresh).

    8. Italian Now!

    What are you reading this year?

    PS. The links included in this post are Amazon affiliate links. These are books that I am actually reading, so you can choose to do whatever you wish with this information. If you decide to purchase any of the books, I make a small commission and you help me continue to fund my language learning habit as well as the continuation of this blog. Any purchases you make through these links are at no additional cost to you.

    January 9, 2014 • Language Resources • Views: 230

  • How Music Can Help You Learn a Language // a guest post on Eurolinguiste

    This is a guest post by Sam Brinson on how music can help you learn a language. For more information on the author, see the guest contributor information at the end of the article.

    Music is a Linguist’s Best Friend

    If you’re anything like me, you don’t find it easy to learn another language. I’m in my ninth month of Spanish, and, well, the results are less than spectacular.

    No matter what language level you’re at, if you’re having a hard time pushing onwards, this little trick might be just what you need, a helping hand in getting your bilingual roads back on track.

    Singing and music have been shown to benefit people in numerous ways ranging from psychologically, socially, and physically; now it’s being touted as one of the best methods in helping people pick up a new language – so abandon those lessons! Put down the books and start to sing!

    OK, I might have come on too strong there — keep the lessons and the books, this method is to help, not replace.

    There are a number of reasons that explain why singing along to foreign music can help, so let’s lay them out.

    When you listen to music in the language you’re trying to learn, you naturally expand your vocabulary by hearing new words. What’s more, there is often the use of slang and local phrases you won’t find in a book.

    When you sing along, you’ll start to perfect your accent; you get a better grasp of the rhythm and pronunciation of words, the tones and motions of different sentences.

    It’s unobtrusive; you don’t need to plan it into your day, do any exercises or take any tests. You can have it playing in the background or take it with you on an mp3 player, you can use it while socializing and you can sing in the shower!

    Music is a universal language. If you happen to be traveling through a country at the same time you’re learning the language, a great way to socialize and meet people is through music; even if you can’t speak to each other, you can still play and sing together.

    Music has a strong psychological link to memory.

    There have been many studies into music that show how it can benefit in numerous areas such as memory enhancement, concentration, and coordination — all helpful when it comes to learning another language.

    Think back to when you were young, when you would watch those children’s shows after school; what was always a given to make an appearance? Music. Why? Because it works.

    We’ve all had occasions when we’ve listened to a song on the radio, and for what seems like hours afterward we’re unable to get it out of our heads. They’re called earworms, and because of them you might know a few words in languages you’re unfamiliar with — think along the lines of ‘Gangnam Style’, ‘99 Luftballoons’, or the ‘Macarena’.

    Our ability to remember music is powerful, and the ability to associate other formats — images, words, smells, feelings – with music, simply by thinking of different songs, means we can recall things we would otherwise have forgotten about.

    If you need any more of a push, consider this: music is well-known for being an effective treatment for pain, reducing blood pressure, erasing headaches, boosting your immunity, and making you more intelligent (see the Mozart Effect).

    Above all else, music is just awesome, so why wouldn’t you want to incorporate it into language learning?

    About the author: Sam Brinson is a musician and writer in South America Sam Brinson is a struggling musician from New Zealand scaling the depths of South America and is currently writing for Listen and Learn.

    November 22, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 238

  • The Linguistic Journey of La Marinière

    It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to guest blogger, La Marinière. La Marinière is an American translator fluent in French and English living in France with her husband and son. She very kindly agreed to write a guest post on learning a second language and I am very happy to share her story.

    As a fellow linguist, I always enjoy hearing how others have learned other languages and how they experience them in their day-to-day lives. Here, she will be discussing her linguistic journey and how language plays a role in her life today.

    My journey with French actually began with Spanish. Starting in seventh grade, my school offered French, Spanish, and Latin. I wanted to take French, but there was a conflict with my schedule, so I opted for Spanish.

    I had a rough time with Spanish. Maybe it was because I wasn’t totally interested in the language and maybe it was because the teacher wasn’t that great. In either case, I took Spanish for three years, but never really took an interest in the language.

    However, when I got to tenth grade, I had the option of taking a second language, so I switched to French. The teacher, Mrs. Stephens, was a dear sweet lady about 10 years away from retirement. And while her spoken French was heavily accented and not terribly fluent, she had a passion for the French language and culture that really inspired me. I picked up French with surprising ease and I credit this both to having a basic background in Spanish and a strong desire to learn French.

    When I started college, I had to take a placement exam to see what my level was. I remember having an interview with a professor who asked me what my language goals were. I told her in my very shaky French that I wanted to become fluent. I was placed in a 3rd level French class and feel like I learned more French in one semester of college than I did in three years of high school. I ended up minoring in French.

    While still in high school, as soon as I heard the words “study abroad”, I knew I was going to Paris when I was in college. I spent a year in Paris when I was a junior. This was definitely a turning point for my French.

    In the first few months, anytime I would open my mouth to speak to shop keepers or waiters or ask for directions, the reply would always be in English. But after about four months, people started to respond to me in French. Around the same time, I also mastered the pronunciation of the “r” like in être or Louvre. Another hard one is “ou” like in courrier, but that came near the end of my year in Paris.

    The other thing that helped my French was a boyfriend. He wasn’t a French boyfriend, but French was our common language. Even though we both made mistakes, speaking French outside of classes really eased some of my fear of making errors in front of native speakers. Immersion is definitely the best way to learn a foreign language.

    After I finished college, I was able to return to France for a few years for more studies, work as a nanny, and a different boyfriend, this time a native speaker. As time went on, I moved back to the US for five years where I worked for Swiss and French companies, which allowed me to continue using my French. I also took translation classes and I now work as a translator.

    These days, I am back in France with my French husband and our franco-american son. Living in France now, I often receive compliments when people realize I am American after having a conversation with them in French.

    This speaks well of my accent and fluency, but it can also work against me. I still make mistakes. Every day. All of the time. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I have been told that I have practically no accent in French. So when I make a mistake, for example for gender agreement like when using la or le, or try to use a complicated sentence structure, or tripping up on the pronunciation of a new word when everything else is correct, I get some strange looks and leave people very confused. I once asked a woman for directions to le mairie (the city hall) with my nice accent and the lady had no idea what I was talking about since I should have asked for la mairie.

    At this stage, I would consider myself to be more than fluent but less than bilingual since I was born monolingual. To me, someone who is truly bilingual is someone who had equal exposure to two languages starting from birth or a very young age, and who not only speaks both languages perfectly but also understands all of the nuances and subtleties of both languages.

    While I will never have “perfect” French, I continue to learn and improve because of the different paths I have taken have always led me to places where I could speak French.

    September 17, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 286

  • How Long Does It take to Learn a Language?

    Someday | Eurolinguiste

    How long does it take to learn a language enough to be able to use it?

    First, I would like to say that I wrote a post on Sociolinguistics and language learning over at I Want 2 Speak Thai, so I hope you’ll take a moment to head over and check it out! It’s my first guest post on another blog and I am really excited to have had the opportunity. Thank you Travis!

    One of the things that I really enjoy doing is teaching and passing on the things that I’ve learned to others. This passion started when I was still in high school – I tutored other students in English during my lunch hour and started a website that featured advice articles for young musicians (which still exists today). As an undergraduate, I coached music students at two middle schools and in recent years, this love has manifested itself in the form of private tutoring – I teach music lessons and French (and sometimes English to French speakers). Having taught both music and foreign language, I’ve found a lot of similarities in teaching and learning methods. I certainly understand why people say that music is a language.

    A question that I am often asked (for both music and language) is “how long will it take me to speak fluently?” Or in the case of music, “how long will it take me to play ‘fluently’ (to perform well)?” My answer for both is at least three to five years. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t perform in either music or languages until that point – you should be using the skills you are developing in performance and practice everyday. Whether you are learning new words or new notes, use them! The quickest way to improve is by putting what you know into practice. You will never get over your fear of performing or conversing if you never do those activities.

    Three to five years can seem like a significant investment to some, especially today when we have grown so accustomed to immediate gratification. We can download and gain access to pretty much anything immediately and at a low-cost. I still remember when I had to save for weeks to have the $15-20 for an album and then wait again for my parents to drive me to the store to buy it. Now, I can download whatever I want for $9.99 an album and even less for a song. We are so used to having everything now, that making a three to five-year commitment for certain things seems unfathomable. I also have seen first hand with many of my students, that if they don’t see immediate progress, they quickly become discouraged. I could take short cuts with them and teach them “tricks” to improve quickly, but it won’t help them in the long run. It’s like cramming for a test – you can learn a lot of material quickly, but you won’t retain it.

    If you really think about it, three to five years to learn to speak a language (or play an instrument) isn’t that long. For example, a child learning their first language takes five years to become totally fluent (and still that fluency is limited), and even then, they make mistakes in punctuation, with grammar, and with vocabulary choice. In fact, most children spend the better part of their first 18 years learning grammar and new vocabulary in school and will never know the majority of words in their language. The same can be said for music, where grammar and vocabulary are technique and style.

    It is believed that the average person has anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 words in their vocabulary. This being said, you could know 20,000 words in five languages before your vocabulary database is “maxed out.” The average person also only uses about 3,000 to 5,000 words of their vocabulary to communicate on a daily basis, meaning you only need 5,000 words in another language to be “fluent.” The difference between the 5,000 words we actually use and 20,000+ words we know is quite significant. The reason the average vocabulary varies between 5,000 to 20,000 words is because we have what are called “active” and “passive” vocabularies. The active vocabulary includes the 3,000 to 5,000 words we use in everyday communication while the remaining 15,000 to 17,000 (to make 20,000 total) are known as passive. They are words that we understand but do not use regularly in communication. So, for example, we all may know what the word precocious means, but we are unlikely to use it in everyday conversations.

    This difference is known as high frequency versus low frequency words. High frequency words are those that are used often in conversation or text, so an example of a high frequency word in English would be come, one or go while low frequency words would be a word like punctual.

    But all in all, it doesn’t matter if you know 10 or 50,000 thousand words if you can’t use them in a sentence. This being said, The Linguist, or LingQ, speaks ten languages and never focused on grammar. Instead, he focuses on learning languages through listening and reading. In my opinion, this is a much more enjoyable way to learn languages so that you don’t have to labor through grammar books. It also gets you speaking much quicker!

    So what are your thoughts on language learning and the kind of investment it takes?

    For more great articles on the subject:
    1. World Wide Words
    2. Television Learning: Do Foreign Films Really Help You Learn Another Language?

    For more language learning tips like this, check out my collection of articles on Pinterest!

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    August 16, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 661

  • Television Learning: Do Foreign Films Help You Learn Another Language?

    When people first get to know me and they hear about my passion for language learning, I am often asked how I’ve managed to learn ‘so many’ other languages. During these conversations I have heard the argument that watching television and movies in a foreign language accelerates the development of a second (or third) language. As a multilinguist, I am somewhat skeptical of this theory, even if it is how my husband claims to have learned his second language.

    Does watching foreign films help you learn another language?

    First, in establishing my argument against using television to learn a language (unless it is in addition to a variety of other tools and resources), I would like to say that I have, in fact, experimented with this method first hand on more than one occasion.

    While I was in middle and high school, I attempted to watch foreign films and absorb the languages I was learning, but I didn’t really ever feel like I was improving. Of course as a teenager, I always assumed that there was something wrong with me. I had to be the exception because I had so often heard that this method was effective.

    For me, it seemed, the most noticeable improvement I made was when I used the language I was learning in writing but most of all in conversation, not by watching movies. The only time films really worked for me was once I was already quite proficient in a language and could read the subtitles in the original language rather than my native language.

    One might argue that watching foreign-language films is a way to immerse yourself in a language when the real environment is unavailable. This is one area where I might agree, however, if one does not already have the basic tools of another language (some vocabulary and grammar), then this form of immersion won’t work.

    If you think about it, this method is like trying to learn a language through osmosis. How can you expect to absorb a language let alone understand what is happening on a screen without any roots? I would compare it to picking up a novel in a foreign language and trying to learn to speak it using that book without any previous knowledge – it’s an awfully difficult way to go. I wouldn’t say it was impossible, but I wouldn’t say it was easy either.

    One might say that children learn their first language through osmosis, but I’m quite certain that many linguists would argue. Children are born with the natural ability to decipher the complex system of language by picking out repetitive sounds, eventually words and then finally phrases.¹ The total language learning process takes them a total of five years to complete with 24/7 immersion in the language and endless interaction with speakers that are trying to help them learn the language.

    Why don’t movies work as well for language learning as one would hope?

    If you are looking for a shortcut to language learning – a fast way to learn a new language and skip steps, watching foreign films isn’t going to help you. Not without a basic  understanding of the language and a decent vocabulary already built up.

    The reason that television is an ineffective means of language learning is because it is missing one incredibly important element – interaction. It is a form of passive rather than active learning and therefore can be seen as less effective than other means. By watching others’ conversations in films or even by being read to by a computer (yes, there are now books that read themselves to children), one is missing one of the most important learning elements, that of interaction. When a mother reads to her child, they discuss the book, what is happening, what might happen next and what the child thinks, allowing them to become involved with the story and use the language they are developing.

    One could argue, however, that if one is actively engaged with the movie or television program, it could be considered active learning. Instead of merely watching the film, one could repeat expressions or mimic dialogue, and thus, make the activity interactive rather than passive. I myself have done this, but I usually find that using an expression in conversation (or picking one up in conversation) works better for me because I get real-time response from another person.

    On the other hand…

    To argue for television language learning, on the other hand, I’d like to tell you about my niece. My niece lives in a French-speaking household. Her parents are French, but they live in the US so she is frequently exposed to American television. She recently turned two and is just now starting to speak, but she understands both French and English. Her parents don’t really use English with her, so the only way she would have picked it up was by watching television. She is still quite young, so we have yet to see how she’ll progress in the two languages, but so far the scenario makes a pretty strong case for how television can be used as a tool for language learning.

    I also know that there are several techniques that you can use to make films an effective learning tool (shadowing among them). But really, when it comes down to it, films are best for intermediate or advanced learners and not as a standalone learning tool.

    So what do you think about using foreign-language films or television to learn a language?

    PS. There is this really fun tool that translates famous movie quotes into different languages with audio that is super entertaining to play with.

    1. Countless studies have been conducted on the brain activity of infants when hearing different sounds and as early as only a few months it has been demonstrated that they are capable of discerning meaningful sounds as “their” language.

    For more language learning tips like this, check out my collection of articles on Pinterest!

    Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

    July 13, 2013 • Language Resources • Views: 470