Sunday, October 14, 2012

How Do I Study - Tips for Rapid Language Learning I

During my stay in Romania and even before that I learned many tricks that allow for faster language learning. Many of them are inspired by Maybe some of them will also work with you, so here is the brief list. Because I promised I will keep my posts short, the list will come in two parts.

1. Use Anki

Or other SRS system. SRS stands for Spaced Repetition Software and it is based on the idea of flashcards. Flashcards are paper cards with a word on one side and its translation on the other. Except for providing these flashcards in a software form that is certainly more practical than the physical ones, SRS also helps you concentrate on the words you have problems with and does not bother you with words you already know. How does it do that? After seeing a word and guessing a translation, you evaluate how well you knew the word (e.g. "very easy", "hard" ...) and based on that, the software will show you that specific card in a few days, or later.

2. Learn outside

Try to sit down behind a desk, open a textbook and study. After a week of doing that every day, you will be so burned out that any next attempt to study will just end up in procrastination. This moment will come for sure sooner or later, but there is a trick to postpone it. Take the book and go learn outside! In a park, on a beach, anywhere. And change places often.

3. Use every moment that would otherwise be a wasted time

Waiting in a line? Travelling in a bus? Take out your book or your smartphone and study. You will not feel nervous to wait and you are actually using that time effectively. These shorts bits of studying are not that tiring for your brain, as studying for long hours. I bought my first smartphone just to be able to use Anki flashcards when I was walking to work.

4. Use

Or other social network for language learning. At, you fill what languages you know and how well and which one you are learning. You can find people that want to learn languages you know and can teach you the language you are learning. You can then speak with them via Skype. It also contains a feature called "notebook", where you can write short texts in the target language (a story, sentences to train grammar) and the others can post corrections of your text.

5. Speak

This rule is hard to keep when you are a complete beginner in the language, but it is important to try. If you think the native speakers will not be patient with you, try to find somebody who is learning the language as well. If you are not in the country where the target language is spoken, find somebody on the internet.

If you go out with native speakers, from my experience it is better to go out with just one person, rather than with a larger group, because a single person tends to be more patient with you when you make mistakes. Also, usually you get to speak about "deeper" and more personal topics people are usually shy to discuss in big groups. That forces you to use a more complicated vocabulary.

6. Write

A rule that might not be for everybody, but writing texts helps me immensely to remember words and grammar rules. It is an ideal way to put into practice things that you have just learned. Bit by bit, every day. If you put your text on, you get a feedback and that encourages you to write on.

7. Read real books, not just textbooks

The problem with textbooks is that they usually contain artificial dialogues and they are booooring. On the other hand, if you read a real book, about something that you like, it will be much more fun. Even though you might end up looking up every fifth word in the dictionary, it is worth it. At the end of the book, you realize there are pages on which you did not scribble any note with a translation of a word and that you are actually reading in another language! In the early phases of learning a comic book might be a good alternative (thanks to Michael Őlvedy for this tip).

8. Watch cartoons

They are fun. And usually, they speak clearly there, using simple constructions.

None of these tricks help unless you put serious effort into the process of language learning. However, they can speed things up.

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