Written by Yuri Karabatov. Follow me on Twitter.
Bookstore shelves bend under the weight of a myriad of language courses, complete with CDs, textbooks, phrasebooks, flashcards, workbooks, etc. Even more YouTube videos are longing to be seen, revealing the secrets of learning any language in ten minutes or fewer.
This is a quick post to make you look around and take off the customary pink glasses. Okay, black ones are good, too.
THERE. IS. NO. MAGIC. BULLET.
Language learning is a major industry, and almost everyone is engaged in it this way or that, so study material is plentiful.
What people crave most of all is to get what they want with as little effort as possible. You often hear commercials on TV, promising instant weight loss, instant muscle gain, instant ability to speak a foreign language.
We know perfectly well this is all lies, but secretly, deep inside, the craving and hope dwell: what if?
Courses and textbooks and YouTube videos claim to teach you a foreign language — fast.
On the other hand, there are many hundreds of language enthusiasts and accomplished polyglots, participating and exchanging practical experience on forums like how-to-learn-any-language.com, UniLang and LingForum. Not one of them said language learning was easy and fast. Oh yes, it may well be effortless enough and fast enough, but there are limits.
Various techniques, methods and courses actually help students learn languages faster, but no method can be used as the only one. Some of them actively develop vocabulary, some double the speed of learning to speak, but none of them can be used alone.
It’s like replacing a spoon and a knife with a fork: eating soup… with a fork; cutting meat… with a fork; stirring tea… with a fork.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? So is using one method for all language studies.
Throw some of them at your target language: Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish, German; use those that stick.
One more thing: overexposure is bad. Our brains are in some ways more powerful than computers, but they don’t scale predictably. I mean that if you learn 20 words in 1 hour a day, learning 400 words in 20 hours in one day is ridiculous: you’re not a robot.
If you’ve heard somewhere that total immersion is good (it actually is), don’t expose yourself to harsh and fast native input, such as movies and serious novels without subtitles or translation, if you haven’t studied the language before. Remember comprehensible input? 80% understandable? With native movies you’ll hear thousands of words, but without knowledge of basic grammar you won’t distinguish them, and all those efforts will go to waste.
Diversity is the way to go
You don’t learn a language to know 2 or 5 thousand words. You learn the language to engage in its culture and talk to people. Make the journey enjoyable.
Self-study allows you to try out different methods and choose the ones which work personally for you.
Make language learning a pleasure, not a chore.
See you soon!