I am amazed that so much first-hand insight into language acquisition got packed into this tiny book!
There is a lot on the author's tools he developed. And while I get the why's, I simply don't like other people's tools. Besides, I am not a fan of flashcards, they don't work for me and they bore me and, as a result, I hate them passionately! Still, there are lots of other things to internalise and take out. Overall this is a pretty amazing book for polyglots and language buffs alike.
Language learning is a sport. I say this as someone who is in no way qualified to speak about sports; I joined the fencing team in high school in order to get out of gym class. Still, stabbing friends with pointy metal objects resembles language learning more than you might think. Your goal in fencing is to stab people automatically. You spend time learning the names of the weapons and the rules of the game, and you drill the proper posture, every parry, riposte, and lunge. Finally, you play the game, hoping to reach that magical moment when you forget about the rules: Your arm moves of its own accord, you deftly parry your friend's sword, and you stab him squarely in the chest. Point!
We want to walk up to someone, open our mouths, forget the rules, and speak automatically.(c)
I encountered three basic keys to language learning:
1. Learn pronunciation first.
2. Don't translate.
3. Use spaced repetition systems.
The first key, learn pronunciation first, came out of my music conservatory training (and is widely used by the military and the missionaries of the Mormon
church). Singers learn the pronunciation of languages first because we need to sing in these languages long before we have the time to learn them. In the course of
mastering the sounds of a language, our ears become attuned to those sounds, making vocabulary acquisition, listening comprehension, and speaking come much more
quickly. While we're at it, we pick up a snazzy, accurate accent.
The second key, don't translate, was hidden within my experiences at the Middlebury Language Schools in Vermont. Not only can a beginning student skip
translating, but it was an essential step in learning how to think in a foreign language. It made language learning possible. This was the fatal flaw in my earlier attempts to
learn Hebrew and Russian: I was practicing translation instead of speaking. By throwing away English, I could spend my time building fluency instead of decoding
sentences word by word.
The third key, use spaced repetition systems (SRSs), came from language blogs and software developers. SRSs are flash cards on steroids. Based upon your
input, they create a custom study plan that drives information deep into your long-term memory. They supercharge memorization, and they have yet to reach
Meanwhile, nobody but the classical singers and the Mormons seemed to care much about pronunciation.(c)
What is fluency Each of us will find a different answer to this question. The term is imprecise,... You'll have to determine for yourself whether your image of fluency includes political discussions with friends, attending poetry readings, working as a secret agent, or lecturing on quantum physics at the Sorbonne. (c)
Immersion is a wonderful experience, but if you have steady work, a dog, a family, or a bank account in need of refilling, you can't readily drop everything and devote that much of your life to learning a language. We need a more practical way to get the right information into our heads and prevent it from leaking out of our ears. (c)
want you to understand how to use the tools I've found along the way, but I also want you to understand why they work. Language learning is one of the most intensely personal journeys you can undertake. You are going into your own mind and altering the way you think. If you're going to spend months or years working at that goal, you'll need to believe in these methods and make them your own. c)
This book is my time machine. If I squint my eyes just right, then you are monolingual me from nine years ago, and I'm creating a time paradox by helping you avoid all of the pitfalls and potholes that led me to make my time machine in the first place. You know how it is. (c)
enjoy learning; it's what addicts us to reading newspapers, books, and magazines and browsing websites like Lifehacker, Facebook, Reddit, and the Huffington Post.
Every time we see a new factoid (e.g., "In AD 536, a dust cloud blotted out the sun over Europe and Asia for an entire year, causing famines that wiped out populations from Scandinavia to China. No one knows what caused it"), the pleasure centers of our brains burst into activity, and we click on the next link. In this book, we're going to addict ourselves to language learning. The discovery process for new words and grammar will be our new Facebook, the assembly process for new flash cards will be a series of quick arts-and-crafts projects, and the memorization process will be a fast-paced video game that's just challenging enough to keep us interested.
There's no coincidence here; we learn better when we're having fun... (c)
We owe our present understanding of forgetting to Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist who spent years of his life memorizing lists of nonsense syllables (Guf Ril Zhik Nish Mip Poff). He recorded the speed of forgetting by comparing the time it took him to learn and then later relearn one of his lists. His "forgetting curve" is a triumph of experimental psychology, tenacity, and masochism...
One Metronome, Four Years, Six Million Repetitions
Hermann Ebbinghaus's 1885 study has been referred to as "the most brilliant single investigation in the history of experimental psychology." He sat alone in a room with a ticking metronome, repeating lists of nonsense syllables more than six million times, pushing himself to the point of "exhaustion, headache and other symptoms" in order to measure the speed of memorization and the speed of forgetting. It was the first data-driven study of the human mind, and I suspect it made him a blast at social events.(c)
When you study by reading through a list multiple times, you're practicing reading, not recall. If you want to get better at recalling something, you should practice recalling it. Our blank sheet of paper, which could be replaced by a stack of flash cards, a multiple choice test, or simply trying to remember to yourself, is precisely the type of practice we need. It improves our ability to recall by tapping into one of the most fascinating facets of our minds-the interplay of memory and
Deep within our brains, a seahorse and a nut are engaged in an intricate chemical dance that allows us to decide what is important and what is forgettable. The seahorse-shaped structure is known as the hippocampus, and it acts as a mental switchboard, connecting distant regions of the brain and creating a map of those connections. You access this map in order to recall any recent memory. 7 The connected neurons reactivate, and you relive your past experience. Over the course of months and years, these networked neurons lose their dependency on the hippocampus's map and take on an independent, Bohemian lifestyle in the outermost layers of the brain. (c)
We've spent two chapters pontificating about learning and memory, and admittedly, we haven't gotten much done. You haven't learned any useful words, and I'm about to tell you not to open your grammar book. Instead, we're going to venture off into the land of sound. We'll discuss many reasons why, but the most important is this: when you're not sure about the way your language sounds, you're stuck learning two languages instead of just one.
In an ideal world, the written language and the spoken language walk together, hand in hand. They share words freely among themselves, help each other through tough spots, and generally have a good time together. You come along, hang out, and soon enough, the three of you are good buddies. Written language gives you some good book recommendations, you have dinner over at spoken language's house, and the three of you have a blast. What's not to love The two languages have a new companion, and you're getting to know them at breakneck speed, because you can chat about what you've read, and you can read about what you've heard.
All of this goes to crap if we don't start with pronunciation, because we get stuck with a bunch of broken words. (c)
French Tip of the Day
If you encounter an errant French word in your travels, you can assume that every final consonant is silent except for the consonants found in the English word careful (c, r, f, and l are frequently
Babies get a lot of credit in the language-learning world. They have a seemingly superhuman ability to hear the differences between every sound in every language, and there are quite a lot of sounds to hear. The world's languages contain roughly 800 phonemes (six hundred consonants and two hundred vowels). Most languages choose around 40 of these to form their words, although the range is quite broad-there's a neat language called Rotokas in Papua New Guinea with only 11
phonemes, and Taa, spoken in Botswana, uses up to 112 (plus four tones!).
Some of these phonemes are totally foreign to an English speaker's ear-the click languages of Africa can sound bizarre-but most phonemes are subtle variations on familiar sounds. There are at least ten t's that occur in the world's languages, and English speakers rarely hear the differences among any of them. Two different t's allow you to hear the difference between "my cat Stan" and "my cat's tan." Unless you frequent cat tanning salons, this distinction isn't particularly important in English.
If, on the other hand, you were learning Korean, you would find that t as in tan and t as in Stan are two entirely different letters, which form entirely different words. (c)
I was recently asked the following: "If I had four hours to prepare for a date with a Cambodian supermodel, what would be the best use of my time" Here's my answer: learn to say one phrase-any phrase-really well. Sit on YouTube or Wikipedia for a few hours, look at pictures of mouth positions, and mimic recordings until you can sound like a native speaker for three seconds. It will Blow. Her. Mind.
An accurate accent is powerful because it is the ultimate gesture of empathy. It connects you to another person's culture in a way that words never can, because you have bent your body as well as your mind to match that person's culture. (c)
Every language has its patterns, and we make our job much easier if we can get those patterns into our heads.
This task can be a piece of cake if we know what we're doing. We're very good at internalizing patterns-even a five-year-old knows that dogs are dogz and cats are cats. There is only one prerequisite to learning a new pattern: we need to notice it when it passes by...
Our eyes are a powerful source of input. If we aren't careful, they can trick our ears into a state of inattention, and inattention can prevent us from learning the patterns we need. ()
the more you can learn about something, the easier time you'll have mastering it, and the less time you'll need over the long term. If you're trying to make the "foreign" sounds of your new language familiar, then your easiest, shortest path is to learn as much as you possibly can about
This phenomenon shows up in every subject. As a kid, I loved math. It had this neat quality, because everything was connected. You memorize that 3 × 4 is 12, and then you learn that 4 × 3 is also 12, and eventually you start realizing that you can switch the order of any two numbers you're multiplying. You see that 3 × 4 and 4 × 3 are examples of something much larger-some abstract, floating pattern known as multiplication-and every new example helps you hold more of that giant floating pattern in your head. That pattern changes and becomes more subtle and nuanced with every little fact you learn. Soon you begin to see the connections between multiplication and division, and multiplication and exponents, and multiplication and fractions. Eventually, your giant floating pattern of multiplication becomes part of a bigger floating pattern-a universe of math.
As long as I could connect every new thing I learned to this universe, I had an easy time with math. And I noticed that classmates who had problems with math weren't struggling with math; they were struggling with connections. They were trying to memorize equations, but no one had successfully shown them how those equations connect with everything they had already learned. They were doomed.
At some point along their path, their interconnected math universe had shattered into fragments, and they were trying to learn each piece in isolation-an extremely difficult proposition. Who could possibly remember the formula for the volume of a hexagonal prism How could you make yourself care enough to actually remember
It was so much easier if you could see how all the pieces interrelated-how multiplication connected with the area of rectangles, how the area of rectangles connected with triangles and trapezoids, and how the volume of prisms connected back with multiplication. I didn't have to memorize formulae; they were just examples of something much, much larger.
Math can be hard for the same reason that languages can be hard. At some point, you miss a connection, and if no one goes back, takes you by the hand, and shows you that connection, then you're suddenly doomed to memorize crappy formulae.
We know why this is so; we've already discussed the nature of memory. Every time we can connect two memories, we strengthen both of them-neurons that fire together wire together.
...learn how to skip translating and think in a new language from the very beginning. (c)
We have two goals in this chapter: we need to hear the music in our words, and we need to remember it when we do. In Chapter 2, we talked about our mental filters, and how they save us from information overload. To learn vocabulary efficiently, we'll need to overcome those filters, by creating memorable, interesting experiences with our words. (c)
My advice for you is roughly the same as my advice for anyone else; if you want to get more comfortable listening, then listen, and if you want to get more comfortable speaking, then speak. But I can recommend some strategies that might help you do this more efficiently.
If you're looking for a way to refresh and maintain a language with the least amount of effort, then watch a lot of TV. I did this recently with my French-I had forgotten a lot over the course of learning Russian and Hungarian, and I wanted to bring it back-and so I started watching ridiculous amounts of television and film.
Within a month, I got through three seasons of 24 and five films. By the end of that month, I was once again dreaming in French. It's a tremendously fun way to maintain a language (c)
I gesture in Italian. I have to gesture in Italian. When I speak Italian, I yearn to travel and see beautiful things, relax in the sun, and eat delicious food. All on its own, the Italian language fills my mind with happy memories, because all of my words are connected to the moments in which I learned and used them. ... In learning that language, I created a new mind and a new personality for myself. That is the dearest gift of language learning-you get to meet a new you.
And this isn't just my own insanity speaking; I've seen this in all the multilingual people I've met. One of my French teachers was an American woman who had married a Frenchman and moved to Paris. When she spoke French, she was one of the most elegant, intelligent women I have ever met. On the last day of our French program, we finally switched to English. In an instant, that same elegant woman suddenly transformed into a quick-witted, sailor-mouthed party girl from Texas. That's not to say that her French persona was somehow fake; it was just a different side of her personality, and it came to the surface in her French.
At times, a foreign language can feel like a mask. It's a game of make-believe. You're playing the role of Some French Guy, and you're acting out a conversation with some friends. In these moments, you occasionally catch yourself saying things you never would have said in English. You're more open. You speak more freely.
After all, it's not really you; it's just a game.
But that's not quite true.
It is you.
And you can only meet that side of yourself in a foreign language. (c)