The best thing about studying on your own

I suddenly said to my wife over breakfast this morning. “You know the best thing about studying anything on your own?”

My wife has recently developed a keen interest in piano but refuses to take a teacher. She just plays what she wants when she wants. She replied. “The best thing is that you go at your own pace and do what you want.”

“Exactly”, I said. I have been at Russian for close to two weeks, getting in a few hours here and there and listening in my car and while jogging. I am undoubtedly much further ahead than if I were on some teacher’s schedule. And I am referring to a one on one teacher. If it were a classroom with 15 or 20 students I would be nowhere. I would be waiting for the teacher to tell me what to do.

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Learning Korean

Kangmi asks when we will add Korean to The Linguist. The answer is that I do not know. We hope to have our new version available by the summer. It will be easier to start with other European languages because there are no issues related to the writing system. We would hope to bring in Asian languages within months of that. So maybe the fall of 2006 is a possible date. Please do not hold me to it.

In addition to us developing the system to handle Asian languages we will need good Asian language content, not only for Korean, but for other languages as well. We are hoping people will get in the spirit of the new Linguist system. If people create good authentic content in their language, they will be able to earn points that they can spend on learning other languages. But all of that is for later in the year.

Stephen asks about the difficulty of Korean versus Japanese. I did not go far enough into Korean to really have an opinion. The Hangul is easier to deal with than Kanji or Chinese characters. On the other hand since I know the Chinese characters I would have preferred to see more Hanja or Kanji characters in my Korean reading. It would have helped me learn Korean.

Korean has a great variety of endings on words with subtle differences of meaning in a way that I have not met in other languages, but once you get used to them they are no more difficult than the complications you find in other languages. Every language has its difficulties. The strangeness needs to be overcome through exposure and discovery and an open mind.

On balance I learned Korean faster than I learned either Japanese or Korean if I think back to the first few months of study of those languages. Part of the reason is my existing experience with Japanese and Chinese. But perhaps an even bigger reason is that I now know how to learn, and am absolutely confident that I can learn if I put in the effort and do it the right way.

In the end I stopped my Korean studies because there was not enough interesting content in a form that could help me learn and keep my interest level up. I got tired of reading about Chusok, New Year, North American born Koreans learning Korean, traffic in Seoul and all the other “cultural things” that Koreans who write text books think Korean language learners should be interested in.

In The Linguist version of Korean we hope to have a corpus of over 100 hours of MP3 files and transcripts of interesting things so that learners can choose what interests them. Our technology will help learners go to content that maximizes words that they are already trying to learn, and minimizes unknown words. But let’s discuss all that in the fall.

The Linguist and Grammar

Click here to hear the podcast of this article.

Learning grammar is not natural. Learning grammar is not fun for most people.

Learning grammar will not make you fluent in a new language.

If you want to become fluent in a new language you need to slowly get used to the language, naturally.

You need to get used to how words are used.

You need to learn how words come together to form phrases and sentences.

If you learn naturally you will speak naturally.

The Linguist can help you learn naturally.

At The Linguist you choose content that you like. You enjoy listening and reading as much as you want.

The Linguist system will teach you to notice how the words are used.

As you listen and read you will save words and phrases to your personal database.

When you save words and phrases to your personal database at The Linguist you will also save the whole sentence.

Soon you will notice which words naturally go together and how they are used.

After a while you will be able to use these words and phrases naturally yourself.

Many people who study grammar for a long time do not learn to speak naturally. They are afraid to make mistakes.

At The Linguist we do not want you to think so much about grammar. We want you to learn naturally.

If you really want to buy a grammar book buy the smallest one you can find. 

At The Linguist you will learn how to express your thoughts well and create clear sentences.

You will learn many new words and phrases.

The way words are used will be different from your own language.

When you first meet new words you may refer to your own language for the meaning.

As soon as possible you should try to notice how the words are used in the new language and forget how these words are used in your own language.

If you have questions you may ask your tutor or post on The Linguist Forum.

I hope you will ask “What does this mean?” or “How do you say this?” and not “Why is it written this way?”.

It is the not the rules of grammar, but lots of listening and reading and studying of words and phrases that will train you to become fluent

Most language courses teach grammar.

Korean difficulties

Max points out that Korean has a complicated grammar unlike Chinese or Japanese. Having spent a few months learning Korean I can agree. However, I did not read the pages and pages of grammatical explanations in the books I used, with fancy terms like copulative endings! I just listened, read and got used to how things were said.

Every new language brings its own difficulties. At  first the language seems an insurmountable obstacle of strangeness. After much input you start to get a feel for the language. The strangeness slowly becomes normal, as long as you do not fight it. If you let the language come in and accept it without questioning “why?’, you start to understand more and more. With enough input you will eventually be able to say things in the new language. You will get a lot wrong, but eventually you improve. Of course you need to continue your efforts until you achieve your goals.

I look forward to having Korean on The Linguist so I can get back to it. I have stopped now because the content in the text books I have been using is simply too boring and uninteresting. And remembering words and phrases is simply too difficult without a system like The Linguist.

We will need interesting, authentic Korean content, and then I will be back learning Korean. And I will not be focused on explanations of grammar.

Grammar yet again

The discussion on grammar continues. Chris seems to see drilling as the alternative to grammar insructions.

Chris says in his comment

“Sure, learn and drill the patterns, “s moim bratom” (Sorry, I can’t type in Russian), but first learn how to form it and learn the exceptions so that when you have drilled enough locatives, for example, in “-ye” you won’t be taken by surprise when you suddenly come across a mono-syllabic masculine noun that takes “u”…………..”

I have now been studying Russian for 10 days. I have no idea what a locative is and I do not care. As for a mono-syllabic masculine noun, I am happily unaware of why I should fear them, but I am understanding more Russian every day and enjoying it.

Chris goes on to say “I have nothing against extensive drilling. In fact it is a key element of my method, but I think the grammar should be understood first, otherwise you are putting the cart before the horse.”

At The Linguist we are not against grammar so much as we are against drilling, quizzes, theoretical grammatical explanations and all the rest of the things that discourage so many people from learning languages. I believe in enjoyable content, lots of input with little pressure. No pressure to perform before you have absorbed enough of the language. However, when you do write or speak, we will correct you. We give you phrases that reflect normal usage to replace the phrases that you got wrong. We encourage you to look for similar phrases in your listening and reading.

Chris tells me that learning Russian grammar will help me learn

Czech.

Maybe. But I will worry about Czech when I go to study

Czech.

Meanwhile I have learned 4 Asian languages without reference to grammar because the grammar I learned for French in school was irrelevant to those languages.I learned the Asian languages faster than I learned French. Now I am enjoying my Russians without trying to remember any rules of grammar.

At this stage it is difficult enough to remember the words, which, as is the case when you start learning a language, all seem to sound the same. Already I can make sense of a lot of content that was just noise to me a week ago. I can pronounce the words. I can explain some simple concepts with errors., but mostly I read and listen. After much more enjoyable listening and reading I will look at the grammar explanations. And yet I know that even as I read the explanations, I will have little chance to remember these rules and use them when I go to speak. If I have learned some standard phrases and have them ready to use, however, I will actually sound quite natural.

I agree with Art’s analogy from his comment.

“I think in Steve’s language house grammar is the roof. First the solid foundation in words, phrases, a lot of input and only after that the finishing touch to the house — the roof as grammar.

Start to build my own home from a roof? No! :)”

Right on. That does not mean that you do not look at the occasional grammar rule, you just do not make that a focus of your studies.

Input, input, input! but with structure, as we do in The Linguist. If I had The Linguist system for Russian I would not be constantly looking up words that I learned the day before yesterday and have forgotten. I would learn the words and phrases more systematically. But all that will be possible in another 6 months I hope.

More on grammar

We have more action on the issue of grammar.

First to Assad, I also enjoyed the conversation with you and your brother. I salute your enthusiasm for language learning and your excellent English. I look forward to the day when we will be able to offer Urdu at The Linguist. I suspect it will be a key to understanding the rich cultural history of your area, starting with the Harrapan civilization, then followed by the influences of many other languages, cultures and religions that have come later.

Art, I am working on my Russian. First I am just exposing myself to content, listening and reading over and over. Unfortunately I do not have The Linguist system, so the accumulation of vocabulary is much less efficient than it could be. This slows me down. I always forget the same words. If the word is introduced chapter 4 and I meet it again in chapter 8 I have to look it up again. I do not have a personal database of words and phrases that I want to focus on. Nevertheless, I am gradually able to remember more and more.

As I gain some familiarity with the logic of the language I can then go back to the beginning of the book and read a little about grammar. I read the grammar, not in the hope of learning when to use the Dative or the Genitive, nor in the hope of remembering which words are neuter or masculine, but rather as a summary description of what I have observed in the language. It now makes sense, whereas it did not at first. Of course I skip the questions and drills. I know that I will make mistakes on the grammar in the same way as I forget the words and phrases. I know I just need more exposure.

I am getting used to certain phrases, such as

живёт на пятом этаже

 

lives on the fifth floor

с твоим братом

. 

with your brother

often without knowing why they are said the way they are. The theoretical explanations can all come later, once I understand what these explanations refer to. But I know that in order to be able to respond quickly and accurately in the language I have to learn to imitate the natural phrasing of the language, naturally. And I need more words.

Art, when we offer Russian in The Linguist, I will be looking for people to contribute good natural and interesting Russian language audio and etext content, perhaps in exchange for content and help in other languages.

So content based learning is more efficient and more fun, and with modern technology it can only get better.

But to the grammar lovers, “go to it, whatever turns you on…”

Grammar again

We have a comment from Chris advocating a strong commitment to grammar study as the basic framework for language learning.

I disagree. My view is that we first need to get used to the language through intense and continuous exposure. Any effort to learn the rules of grammar, whether by logic or by rote, will be doomed to failure until the learner has had enough exposure to the language through listening and reading.

In theory it seems like a good idea to gain a theoretical understanding of the principles of the structure of the language. In fact grammar rules were mostly written by and for people who already were familiar with the language. So begin with gaining that familiarity, learn the words and phrases, then you can review the grammar rules to put the finishing touches on your language.

Whenever I correct the writing of our learners, I observe that it is the improper knowledge of vocabulary that is the greatest cause of difficulty, not the details of verb agreement, preposition use or other grammatical points. Vocabulary study should include the deliberate acquisition of the natural lexical phrases of the language. These phrases embody normal usage and represent the grammar. If you learn to use phrases in an appropriate way, your language will be natural, persuasive and correct. The Linguist is set up to make that learning process easier and more effective than any other approach I am aware of.

What is more, a lot of listening and reading, when combined with The Linguist’s “language learning engine” is not only effective, it is enjoyable. That is why so many of our learners tend to study on our system almost every day.Our members are not full time students, and in fact have other jobs including parental and household management duties to perfom. There are no classes to attend or assignments to do or other direct pressure on them, and yet they study with our system most days. That is certainly not the case with many other language learning programs I have seen, especially where company employees are concerned.