Step 1.)  Start with a scenario about buying tickets at a train station

Step 2.) Pack it with grammatical terms early on to create a barrier of entry for the learner.

Step 3.) Sprinkle in business dialogs so you can learn the words “economics” and “negotiations” to start your 20 word vocabulary

Step 4.) Have a 3 page lesson about the many exciting ways of asking for and telling the time

Step 5.) Give it a catchy name like “Learn Brazillian Portuguese without your cerebral cortex in just 5 minutes a day”

 

 

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Guest post by Lindsey Wright

A World Tongue: A Top Ten of Learnable Languages

Did you know that many history and English Ph.D. programs in the United States require that students be proficient in another language other than English? Nowadays, even high schools are encouraging students to learn language via online courses or through language software like Rosetta Stone. The benefits to being fluent in two languages (being bilingual) extend well beyond academia to areas in business, travel and the world wide web, which interconnects the world’s population, financially and socially. Being able to speak two or more languages is certainly a valuable asset to one who is in business and international relations, and is a priceless skill to those attempting to understand and appreciate foreign cultures.

Before listing some of most practical languages to acquire, it’s important to consider the facts and criteria that are factored into the ratings. There are approximately seven billion people currently calling Earth home. The top nation (in population density) is China, with around one and a half billion citizens. Having said that, it’s little surprise that Chinese Mandarin dialect is the most used in the world, with about thirteen percent of the world’s population using the language. Numbers two and three on the list of most spoken languages are Spanish and English, collecting around five percent each. These three languages play a profound role in the economy and social realities of the United States. Consider two examples – Presidential Candidate John Huntsman was actually U.S. Ambassador to China under President Obama over the previous three years, and is fluent in Mandarin, and passable in Cantonese, along with being expert in English. This has helped Huntsman understand Chinese culture and its economic landscape more fully. Secondly, consider the influx of immigrants from Mexico seeking admission into the United States for jobs and economic benefit. Thus, in this day and age, it makes sense to be bilingual rather than monolingual.

While learning another language can be difficult and time consuming, the following list seeks to rank the languages that are currently of the highest immediate benefit to acquire.

1.) Chinese – Aggregating Mandarin, Cantonese and Wu variations on the Chinese tongue, it is estimated that approximately 20 percent (or every fifth world citizen) speaks some form of Chinese. When you factor in the continued importance of China’s economy, and their status as lenders and creditors on the world scene, it’s easy to see why picking up some Chinese would potentially be socially and financially prudent. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that enrollment in Chinese language courses in academia shows no signs of slowing down.

2.) English is called the primary and/or secondary language by over one third of the world’s population. English is recognized as the primary language or de facto primary language in parts of essentially every continent. While English is actually the third most spoken language, behind Chinese and Spanish, its placement is such because it is the most spoken language across the world.

3.) Spanish earns this high ranking because it is readily becoming salient in the United States, with over 30 million currently speaking the language. Spanish is the primary language of around four hundred billion people worldwide, and it is spoken in nearly all Latin American nations. Although Spanish does not have lingual supremacy in Brazil, a hugely ballooning economic world player, it is the primary language in many South American nations that have a great deal of global resonance.

4.) Hindi – Although Hindi is only spoken by a relatively scant four percent of the world’s population, it represents the official language of India. India boasts a population of over one billion citizens, and threatens to take the top spot from China within the century. Due to the astonishing spectrum of languages spoken across India, only a minority of Indians speak Hindi. That said, it may prove crucial to learn Hindi as India becomes a larger economic player on the world scene.

5.) German – considering the scope of the Germanic language in Europe, and the fact that over one million U.S. citizens speak German, it has certainly earned its ranking. German is universally considered a major world language. German currently has common two variations – High German and West Germanic.

6.) Tagalog – Tagalog is spoken by over half the Philippines population as a primary or secondary language. It’s relevance is highlighted by the increase in filipino immigrants to the U.S. Interestingly, there are over one million filipinos currently residing in the United States.

7.) Russian – The most widely spoken of the Slavic languages, Russian is the primary language of two hundred million people worldwide. Russian has primary language status in over a half dozen countries and has a spread across the globe comparable to Spanish.

8.) Italian – Although Italian only commands approximately one hundred million native speakers, its relevance in political, historical, artistic and architectural discussions cannot be overstated.

9.) Japanese – Taking in the span and richness of Japanese culture, it is easy to see how it makes the grade. Around one hundred and thirty million people around the globe speak Japanese. However, Japanese may one of the hardest languages to passably speak in front of indigenous speakers because of its complex rules of pitch and honorifics.

10.) Vietnamese – This language is the native language for over eighty million people worldwide. Vietnamese has become increasingly important to U.S. culture after the influx of Vietnamese citizens following the Vietnam War. Vietnamese is currently spoken by over one million U.S. citizens.

Clearly there are a number of interesting languages to learn. However, if you have trouble deciding on one, picking any from the list above will likely do you well in the future. As the economy becomes more and more global, it is imperative that students and business people alike adapt to the changing times by becoming bi- or multilingual.

I’ve noticed a lot of people stress out about their SRS reviews. A lot of them are going through hundreds of cards each day and stressing out. I propose that people worry less about reviewing and more about moving forward.

The thought is simple:
If you never see a word, you have absolutely ZERO chance of learning it.
If you see a word once, your chance of learning the word has increased infinitely.

Of course some review is necessary but I think reviewing time should take up a lot less of your language learning time in a
day than you might think. What I like to do is add a lot of cards to my SRS, but only allow them to be added to my deck at a rate at about 7 cards a day. Also, it’s crucial to change the setting to “add new cards randomly.” This ensures a good sampling of what’s added to your deck and not an “in order” card addition from things you added several days or a week ago.

Give your brain a chance to encounter as many new words as possible during a study session. This is especially true when you are starting a language in a brand new language family where you can’t rely on cognates too much.I would much rather have some vague familiarity with 1000 words than to know 100 words extremely well. At the starting
stages, it’s much more important to have a broad passive understanding than a sharp understanding in a narrow range.

Since you’ve planted those seeds in your brain from seeing so many words, you’ll have a chance to grow those memories stronger and stronger when you see the words in the wild or when you’re doing your reviews.

I’m writing this post to ask people who know more than 2 languages… or those who are learning their first foreign language how they got past the beginning stages.

Every time I start to play with a new language I get this massive feeling of discouragement mainly because I’ve come so for in my first foreign language, Japanese. In some ways it makes me feel really good about how far I’ve come in Japanese, but other times It reminds me of the pain of starting a new language and knowing almost nothing in comparison. I want to become a polyglot but when I look at a new language I feel like I just don’t have time with my science studies and Japanese studies to take on a new language. This is very frustrating.

In a perfect world, I would get paid to just learn languages and translate part of the day. I’ve almost come to the end of my bachelors degree in Biology and I have to spend a certain amount of time maintaining science knowledge and getting ready for a possible career in science.

So back at the topic at hand. I”m asking this because I’ve forgotten.  How do you mentally cope with getting past the beginning stages in a new language? I feel like I never really experienced this acutely because I was listening to Japanese since i was like 13 by watching subbed anime and randomly playing with beginners lessons before I really got started learning the language seriously at the age of 22 or so. By this I mean I think I remember already having the “melody” of the language in me by the time I started.
Thanks f0r any comments.

In our corner of the language learning community, a large focus on grammar study is something to be discouraged. However, after a certain point, grammar study can help you reach a new level in comprehension. It can fill in the
blanks in some of the books you’ve been reading. It can help you understand the subtle nuances in text you’ve missed before. Lastly, it will add a new level of sophistication to your foreign language.

Grammar study is something you can appreciate with time. After you’ve built up a sizeable foundation in your language of choice, if you so desire, you can then refine your knowledge with a little casual grammar study.

Don’t take grammar study seriously. Flip through a grammar book and pick a part at random and read the example sentences. Then if you’re bored, close it and move on to something else. Don’t sit down and do textbook drills unless that’s something you really enjoy.

I recommend learning grammar from grammar books made for native speakers of that language. I’ve been flipping through 日本語文型辞典 for Japanese lately and have been learning a  lot and have already seen these grammar instances come up in manga. I knew the gist of what it was saying before, but with the example sentences in the grammar dictionary clearly laying out what context certain parts of speech are used in, it gives that nuance that is just really satisfying the a language lover.

 

 

 

I’m writing this because I think a lot of people get disheartened when they put in a long study session every once in a while and still can’t read the book they wanted to or watch and comprehend the movie they’ve been looking forward to without subtitles. When you’re trying to assimilate an entire language into your mind, it’s obviously going to take a while. However, you can still see motivating progress but you must learn how to stretch out how you perceive your study time quite a bit.

+ If you want to look at it from a calendar-like perspective. (only if you’re studying every single day)

Don’t look for progress after a day, week, or even a month of studying. Start looking at progress quarterly.
Every three months, go back to that book or show you were looking forward to and rewatch it. Do you understand more now? You should be able to after 3 months of diligent study. Not textbook study, real study.

Pick apart real  dialogs in your foreign language and devour the words and phrases. Then reread from your study material again and put it together in your mind. Throw those items in a spaced repetition system program like Anki to make sure you don’t forget them if you so desire.

+If you want to look at it from a vocabulary-like perspective. (helpful for people who don’t study everyday like the cool kids)

Don’t hope to see progress after you knock down a 100 word vocabulary list. Look at your progress after you’ve knocked down 1000 words/phrases/sentences. You need these large numbers before you start regularly seeing the words you’ve worked so hard to accumulate in daily texts/media. 1000 language items may seem daunting but we’re talking about an entire language here. You’ve got to make the commitment or what are you even doing?

If you want to tie it back to checking your progress quarterly, this is a little over 11 language items a day plus reviews and enjoying other things in the language for fun.

As for me, I stay at a pace of around 10 new items a day plus review and immersion. This is a fairly easy pace to stick to. If you are super motivated, you could easily do more than this a day and see results much faster.

Back to the short SRS cards.

For a while, I tried doing longer SRS (spaces repetition system cards) and it’s really put me off from doing my reviews. You may have heard of them under names such as “massive context cards” or “massive context with clozed deletions,” etc. With these longer cards, the failure rate is higher and the boredom rate is even higher than that. It almost feels like reading the same boring book over and over again. In fact, it’s not almost, it feels exactly like that.

Because of this, I’ve gone back to what has kept me interested in doing my reviews for 2 years now… short cards.

Short cards are great because they can be read in just a few seconds and you get reexposed to the word you were targeting. It’s quick and painless and you can work through 50 reviews in a short amount of time. After that, get your input from extensive reading, vids, etc.  SRS is just meant to be a stoploss or a way to efficiently learn rarer words. You need to broadly explore the language in order to become more natural in it.

The long cards though… they are just a disaster. I don’t even want to review them. When I see them, I just glare at the screen.

In summary, don’t follow the latest trends in language learning, just goes with what keeps you processing your new language as painlessly as possible.

I think that trashing language learners who want to try out new methods is a big problem online. People are looking for any excuse to say another’s method is terrible and throw it in their face. But why?

The more experimenters there are, the more language learning information is out there for you.

Maybe they have the next break through in fun language learning… maybe their method doesn’t work very well…so? If they are posting an honest status of their ability in their new language using that method, it only allows us to use that to make more efficient language methods in the future.

My RSS reader is filled with language learning progress blogs just for this purpose. Instead of discourage them, I carefully observe what they’re doing and how fast their skills in the language is improving. Perhaps I see one thing that they are doing that seems to be working really well while the other seems to be boring or dragging down their progress.  I simply take the part I think works best for them and would fit in best with my routine and leave the rest alone.

Recently there was a post on Keith’s Voice on Extreme Language Learning entitled breaking the silence. Keith’s method basically involves a 2000 hour silent period so the brain can get used to the sounds of the foreign language before you have to do any output. So, he just watched TV for 2000 hours gaining a feel and a passive understanding for the language.

In this post Keith shows his first ever conversation in Mandarin Chinese and I think he got unfairly criticized in the comment section. He did no output at all until this conversation. The commenters were saying he should have been able to easily respond to the other persons questions… but why should he have been able to? He just watched dramas for 2000 hours. He didn’t work through the textbook drills asking things like “where are you from?” “what’s your job?” etc. He’ll learn this stuff out of necessity now that he’s started the output phase and I look forward to see his progress and how the silent period affected his ability to confidently use tones in the future of his learning.

I contend that if you do just 20 percent of what professor Arguelles does per day, you’ll be an extremely successful language learner. I wanted to share this video as I watch it every once in a while to boost my language learning motivation when I’m feeling a lag in work ethic.

Dr. Alexander Arguelles shows everyone in this video the work that goes into maintaining his vast variety of languages. The work that goes into becoming a hyperpolyglot is staggering. In order to do this, languages really have to be your passion in life. Using a “learn a language in 5 minutes a day” cd just isn’t going to cut it to learn even one language, let alone learning multiple languages.

I think skill in foreign languages is one to be careful telling others about. There are some polyglots who boast that they are fluent in a ton of languages to the amazement of some people. However, others will attempt to test you as with the case of Ziad Fazah in this clip. Ziad claims to speak 59 languages according to his wikipedia page but shows difficulty in several of them on this show.

The crowd is enjoying it a little too much when he can’t understand a foreign language that he claimed to know. Make sure you know a language fairly well before telling others you can speak it or risk public tests and other such things. At least don’t go on a television show in front of a language firing squad…

Twitter @loafyi

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