Learning languages

Reply Sat 28 Nov, 2009 08:03 pm
I've been trying to find what are the most effective tools for quickly learning foreign languages. I've settled on a combination of two systems that seem to be really really effective.

The first is livemocha.com, which I've posted about elsewhere. It's fairly similar to Rosetta Stone, except that it's free (as opposed to $500 for a full course). There are 30 languages there, each of which have four courses (taking you through intermediate level). Within each course there are between 12 and 18 lessons which progressively introduce vocabulary and grammar. Much of the learning is based on matching words, sentences, or phrases with pictures. There are short speaking and writing exercises with each lesson, and these are critiqued by native speakers who use the site (it's got a social networking component).

The other is the Pimsleur Method, which are audio courses. This is generally thought to be the best of all language learning techniques. The idea is that learners can infer grammar, rather than studying rules. So they have you listening to and participating in conversations that gradually grow in complexity, add idioms, and add vocabulary as time goes on. One technique is anticipation, i.e. you are asked to offer novel sentences that you haven't been taught, but that are small variations. As you progress through the courses the words you've studied at the beginning are still used, but less and less frequently, so they end up in a sort of stable kind of memory where you can eventually quickly recall it. The other wonderful thing about this course is that it gives you a great opportunity to work on your accent. One of Pimsleur's ideas was that you only need about 80% mastery of a given lesson to go on to the next -- so that it keeps building on itself, you keep progressing, and you don't need to delay yourself striving for perfection.

I've gotten the Pimsleur CDs from the library at the university where I'm on faculty. I think they're pretty common in libraries, especially academic ones.

Thus far I'm doing advanced Spanish (which I'm close to fluent in), intermediate French, beginning Hungarian (my dad's language, and I'm picking it up quickly), and just for the hell of it I'm doing Italian. I'm already having silly little conversations with my dad in Hungarian after just a few weeks doing it.

Does anyone have other recommendations of techniques that have worked for them?
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Robert phil
Reply Sat 28 Nov, 2009 10:27 pm
Immersion! One of the reasons I picked up and moved from San Diego to Costa Rica was to learn Spanish. That went well but had the side effect of turning my Portuguese into Spanish and now when I try to speak Portuguese it comes out half and half.

I used to teach ESL in Brazil, and we'd do these weekend immersion trips where a couple of students would go to a beach house and were not allowed to speak any Portuguese and they always seemed to learn more from those than all the classes. Some of them had studied for years but were apprehensive in conversation but jumping right in like that would break that mental barrier for them.

Here in Costa Rica there are vacation packages for Spanish immersion courses, but I like to just wing it. I recommend it, and if you can vacation away from English it can do wonders. I learned more Spanish in my first week in Costa Rica than all high-school Spanish classes ever taught me.
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Reply Sun 29 Nov, 2009 08:39 am
I of course agree, immersion is the best, but unfortunately not always sustainable even if you can find it. In some trips of mine to Africa, which have usually been 5-7 weeks, I've picked up a bit of the indigenous languages just from hanging around. Even having just one or two Spanish-speaking patients per week is enough to make me feel sharp in Spanish.

I should probably take more opportunities to speak French with native speakers, because for the time being that's as close as I'll get to immersion.
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Amerie phil
Reply Thu 24 Dec, 2009 04:22 pm
Reply Fri 25 Dec, 2009 09:12 am
@Amerie phil,
Amerie;114096 wrote:
One good method that worked for me when I was learning creole dialects (I couldn't get to the Indian Ocean, shame really!), I networked with people on the internet wh spoke this as their first language and just had random conversations with them
That's helped me with Hungarian, I've found a couple "penpals" on LiveMocha, and of course I talk to my dad a little bit in it.
Reply Fri 8 Jan, 2010 10:09 am
I've been teaching myself Mandarin Chinese and Farsi (in addition to brushing up on my heavily rusted Spanish).

Have you tried ConversationExchange.com?

I've found it immensely beneficial to converse with native speakers via Skype. It is essential to have interaction, constructive criticism, etc. I received replies from a handful of interested Chinese speakers within the first 24 hours of registering!

Also, the few successful polyglots I know all seem to recommend the Assimil book/CD combos. I'm not sure about language availability with that series, but it might be worth looking into.

Professor Arguelles recommends a shadowing technique for quickly assimilating new languages:



Have fun!
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