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I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here’s How
Lifehacker reader Gabriel Wyner was tasked with learning four languages in the past few years for his career as an opera singer, and in the process landed on "a pretty damn good method for language learning that you can do in limited amounts of spare time." Here's the four-step method that you can use, too (and you don't have to invest hundreds in a language course like Rosetta Stone). This is the method I've used to learn four languages (Italian, German, French and now Russian); it's the method that got me to C1 fluency in French in about 5 months, and I'm currently using it with Russian (and plan on reaching C1 equivalent fluency by September). I go in four stages. The stages will take different amounts of time for different languages and depend on how much time you have available per day, naturally. The US Foreign Service Institute makes estimates for language difficulties for native English speakers, and they seem to be spot on in terms of comparative difficulty —Russian seems to be taking twice as long as French did for me, and they
BY GABRIEL WYNER APR 19, 2012 10:00 AM
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I start with a basic list of 400 words that are common in English 2 of 4 4/28/12 2:56 PM . Personally. for example).567 Remains of the Day: Have Google Play Problems? Call Support.033 The Heavenly Desktop CLEANING 92. and a lot of excellent online and in-print resources (Pronunciation guides with CDs or mp3s are usually very good). a wonderful. and once I finally start speaking to native speakers. This results in quicker learning and better vocabulary retention over time. Time: 1-2 weeks (or longer for languages that have a new alphabet that will take some time to get comfortable with) Starting with pronunciation first does a few things—because I'm first and foremost learning how to hear that language's sounds. Time: About 3 months. Office. no English allowed. I'm practicing thinking in the language directly. my listening comprehension gets an immediate boost before I even start traditional language learning. you'll know 70% of the words in any average text. for Japanese or Pinyin for Chinese. and you have 30-60 minutes a day to spend on it. iPhone Home Buttons. I use a modified version of Middlebury College's famous language pledge—No English allowed! I use pictures and whatever limited vocabulary I have to build the rest of my vocabulary. estimate languages like Chinese to take twice as long as Russian. 2012 FROM THE TIPS BOX 72. In the end. let's say we're talking about a language like French.362 Picture Frames. If you're learning a language with a different alphabet. I have to go in a few steps: To save time. I'm using frequency lists to guide my vocabulary acquisition. This stage involves two different time commitments: building your vocabulary and grammar flashcards and reviewing the deck. Third. Second. I retain it better because I'm familiar with how words should sound and how they should be spelled. Anki is a spaced repetition system. Because If You Haven’t Noticed. free flashcard program that runs on smartphones and every computer platform. In the process of learning IPA. you learn the components of each vowel and consonant and you'll really understand what makes a French word sound French. Add These Plants to Your Apartment. It's not enough for fluency. and a much faster transition to comfortable fluency in the language. That being said. and not translating every time I try to think of a word. (Correct spellings in French. or Other Small Space for Fresh-Smelling Air. and Windows Hibernation FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH 6.I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here's How http://lifehacker. they don't switch to English for me or dumb down their language.000 words provides you with 80% text coverage. MORE STORIES… Stage 2: Vocabulary and grammar acquisition. I've included estimates for how long each stage might take. this is where you learn the phonetic alphabet(s) (Kana.. and then see what sounds are different in your target language.. These lists show the most common words in a given language. Naturally FEATURED DESKTOP 38.120 Clean or Replace These Things Regularly. which schedules reviews of flash cards based upon how often you've successfully remembered a card. APRIL 18. By skipping the English. which is awesome sauce. but it's a pretty phenomenal base! Since I'm starting out with zero words. and 2.608 Stage 1: Learn the correct pronunciation of the language. I'm using Anki. I think it's worth the (short) time to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for the English language first (Wikipedia / some video tutorials I've been producing). This stage takes advantage of a few valuable tricks: First. They’re Absolutely Vile WEDNESDAY. it helps you put a huge number of facts in to your long-term memory very rapidly—you can typically learn 20-30 new words a day in about 30 minutes on your smartphone.com/5903288/i-learned-to-speak-four-language. and learning those words first will be the best use of your time—after 1000 words. PLANTS 42. How do you learn pronunciation? There are a few routes here. Once I start vocabulary training. and a Chinese word Chinese. are much easier to remember when there's a connection between the spelling and the sound). for example.
things like man and woman. I start writing essays. Once I have some words to play with.. writing and reading work Time: This stage overlaps quite a bit with stage 2 and 4. get a correction. the end of stage 4) will be ~2000-6000 words. and it's actually productive! As for writing. dog and cat. Fill-in-the-blank flashcards let you drill your grammar and connecting words. usually a month or two into stage 2. The goal is to get something down on a page that you can submit to lang-8. No English allowed or else you won't learn the skill you're trying to learn. After those. watching TV. but without too many grammar or vocab holes) and write about most familiar things. the more vocab and grammar concepts you can describe in the target language.com before putting them into my Anki deck. say. As a very rough estimate.just be careful there's no English in your Anki deck) and a grammar book to start making sentences. I prefer Middlebury college. but if you don't have 7 solid weeks where you can cut ties to the rest of the world and just speak the language. etc. and put that correction into your Anki deck. opinions. we're talking about words that are in your Anki deck . and put them in my Anki deck. it will take you a bit less than 6 months to learn them with Anki if you're doing 30 minutes a day (half that if you do 60 minutes/day). and writing. anything.I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here's How http://lifehacker. to run and to cook. I start putting them together. and you can usually just type these straight into Anki from your grammar book. Stage 3: Listening. combined took me about 7 fairly insane weeks where I spent any free time reading. I grab a frequency list and mark off any remaining words I can portray with pictures alone (basic nouns and verbs).just the word and its picture. Stages 3 and 4. then get everything double-checked at lang-8. you'll still get a lot from even a couple of weeks in your target country as long as you stick to your target language and spend as much time as you can 3 of 4 4/28/12 2:56 PM .com/5903288/i-learned-to-speak-four-language. and extremely easy to picture . I find good (!) translations of these and put them in my Anki deck without any English . the more vocab and grammar you get. Once you're comfortable reading or writing anything. and talking (at least to myself!) about the stuff I see and do.com. I eventually move to monolingual (French French. As vocab and grammar grow. your grocery list. Most people's eventual goals (by. I'm a big fan of the Harry Potter series in translation.you'll pick up a bigger passive vocabulary from reading). for example) dictionaries and writing my own definitions for more abstract words (again doublechecked at lang-8. you can (and should) write whatever you want—journals. Every writing correction gets added to the Anki deck. Eventually you can cover all the words in a 2000 word frequency list as a foundation and add any specific vocab you need for your own interests. I find some place to immerse in the language and speak all the time (literally). depending on how far you want to go (Here. if you end up with ~5000 cards. This builds on itself. Once I have a decent vocabulary and familiarity with grammar. watching TV shows and reading books. plus around 1000 grammar cards. what you did today. Stage 4: Speech At the point where I can more or less talk (haltingly. I use Google translate (Exception to no English rule . You should read and watch anything that's enjoyable to you—it's more about quantity than anything. and dubbed versions of the TV series 24 are insanely addictive and not that difficult to follow after the first few hours—you can literally spend all day in front of the TV.com).. the immersion part. which continues to build my vocab and grammar. which is adapting to holes in your grammar or vocabulary by going around them rapidly and automatically without having to think about it). you can start stage 3.
I've gotten through German. and Italian and I'm aiming for fluency in Russian by September. About Gabriel Wyner: "I am an opera singer. so I'll definitely be coming back for another read. My daughter and I are thinking about learning a language or two together.. French." RELATED STORIES VIM Adventures Is a Fun Puzzle Game That Teaches You How To Use The Awesome Text Editor Vim The More You Struggle with New Information the More Likely You Are to Learn It What Skills Do You Always Wish You Had and Just Haven't Found the Time to Learn? FEATURED ALL START A NEW THREAD DISCUSSION THREADS wjglenn 19 Apr 2012 7:30 PM Outstanding article. German. read books and videochat with people frequently. Spanish. French.com. After several unsuccessful language learning attempts. and Russian (and sometimes Czech.com/5903288/i-learned-to-speak-four-language. Since then.TowerofBabelfish. I'm currently living and singing in Vienna. I tried my first immersion program in German in 2004 and got hooked. The more intense you can make it. I set out to see if I could become fluent in all of these languages. the faster your brain will adapt and learn how to put all the info you learned in stages 1-3 together quickly enough to turn into comfortable. and part of my job involves singing in Italian. where these ideas are described in a bit more detail. Thanks for this. About Help Forums Jobs Legal Privacy Permissions Advertising Subscribe Send a tip 4 of 4 4/28/12 2:56 PM . The companion website is at www. talking.. Austria. Hebrew and Latin). where I've been teaching English using these methods and have recently finished a book on language learning. and if you surround yourself with foreign language TV and movies. fluent speech.I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here's How http://lifehacker. you can sort of simulate the immersion experience on your own. There are internet exchanges and Skype videochats that will absolutely help you practice speaking. English.
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