Turn on thread page Beta

Some general language-learning advice :) watch

    • Thread Starter


    If you've not seen me around before, I'm a new Community Assistant in Study Help, and as a huuuge languages/linguistics enthusiast, I'm hoping to make this subforum into an even better-organised, more active and more useful centre for language-learning help and resources. We already have excellent general tips threads in the history and English subfora, and seeing as threads about the best ways to learn languages come up quite often. I thought I'd make a thread collating all the best advice I know and have used for language-learning.

    1. I can't stress enough how important it is to be surrounded by whatever language it is you're studying. Ideally, you would get to visit or even live in the country where this language is spoken or participate in an exchange, but since not everyone can do that, it's a good idea to get as much contact as you can with native speakers and the language itself. Sites like My Language Exchange, Speak Languages, Italki and Interpals are great ways to practise talking to native speakers and improve your confidence. Setting your phone, computer, browser, Facebook account and so on to the language you're learning also works well and is a good way to pick up vocabulary.

    2. Make use of the internet! YouTube is an absolute gift for language-learners since it has a huge number of videos of native speakers talking colloquially at a normal pace, which is much more realistic than the terrible recordings used for listening practice at school and will help you to learn slang and casual expressions. Newspaper articles are also freely available on the internet and have e-mailing lists in many cases, so it's worth it to keep up with them; they'll also keep you well-informed on political events around the world. Another surprisingly useful resource is Wikipedia; on the left sidebar you can find translations of whatever article you're reading, and if you're a confident speaker of a language, you can make an account and help contribute to translations.

    3. If you're an absolute beginner in a language, focus on vocabulary. I learnt this the hard way when I found that despite knowing how to decline every gender of Russian nouns in every case, I could barely communicate. Grammar is something to turn your attention to 1) while learning key vocabulary, e.g. by learning how to decline pronouns while you learn how to say each one or finding out the possible positions in a sentence of each word you learn, and 2) after you have a solid vocabulary foundation and can express basic desires, descriptions and so on.

    4. Learn the sense of vocabulary, not the translation. It's fine, when you're a beginner, to learn that "Mutter" means "mother" and not "die Person, die ihr Kind zur Welt gebracht hat", but if you're learning the meaning of "Aufhebung" by translating it to English, you're going to struggle. The travesty that is a GCSE language qualification encourages learning everything through its English translation, but for any vocabulary more advanced than the absolute basics, this will not be accurate and will cause you to form bad habits. So make use of monolingual dictionaries and, when you're speaking a language, try to think in it rather than thinking in English (or your mother tongue) and then translating it. This will make you much better at expressing exactly what you want to and understanding semantic nuance.

    5. The worst thing you could possibly do for your language acquisition and linguistic understanding is learn a grammatical rule, view it as some sort of abstract, unchangeable axiom and then get overwhelmed by having to memorise all the various applications of and exceptions to that rule. This approach misconstrues how language works and will cause information overload very quickly. This is the case, firstly, because language is mathematical in some ways; a grammatical rule exists within a system and has a context, and understanding the context in which a rule is applied is absolutely imperative for a deeper understanding of the language itself. So practising and using your language skills through active reading, writing, listening and speaking using realistic material (blogs, books, YouTube, native speakers, internet fora/social networks) is just as important as practice would be for developing your maths skills.

    Languages have the added dimension of being based on pragmatics as well as grammar, i.e. being shaped by social and cultural factors and changing all the time according to how they are used, so it's important to be aware of that as well. This dictionary is a fantastic tool for developing your contextual understanding of grammar and vocab.

    6. Understanding linguistics is incredibly useful for language-learning and gaining a deeper knowledge of the mechanics of language in general. University reading lists are a good place to start; I would also personally recommend The Study of Language by Yule. If you're really interested, there are lots of MOOCs available on sites like Coursera and FutureLearn.

    TL;DR, learning language through use, immersing yourself in the language and gaining a more profound understanding of how the language works and the context in which its grammatical rules operate and its discourse occurs is very important. I've tried to make these tips very general, so if you have any specific questions or ideas or if you'd like advice on anything in particular, please feel free to ask! The languages I've studied are all on my profile.

    Happy language-learning!
    • TSR Support Team
    • Very Important Poster

    TSR Support Team
    Very Important Poster
    Hey @Sonechka this is amazing.

    I've always been keen on languages particularly German and Mandarin so these are really useful. I'll definitely link this and recommend it to people

    What are your native languages sonechka?
    • Thread Starter

    (Original post by eugaurie)
    What are your native languages sonechka?
    English is my only L1. I've claimed on this site before that another language was my mother tongue because I changed a few things about myself so that no one from my school would know that this is me, but now everyone knows it's me so there's no point. All the languages on my profile are languages I actually speak (at an intermediate or higher level), however.

    I'm self teaching myself Spanish! Wish me luck, I am currently using youtube videos as a source of information, and memrise to memorise vocab.

    Teaching myself Korean at the moment ... if anyone has some tips, do let me know. I recommend Word Reference as a good online dictionary for loads of languages btw. It's very useful for guaging the context/nuances of words/phrases.
    • Thread Starter

    Best of luck, FailedMyMocks and Ellipses

    Sonechka Wow, I just noticed you can speak in 6 different languages! That's amazing OMG, I want to be on that pedigree someday.

    MyLanguageExchange isn't free. I'd try others such as Mixxer, www.language-exchanges.org. I also like WordRerence as a dictionary, and they have a Chrome plugin that will look up words with one click. I also love Netflix, their own content lets you choose the language for both the audio and subtitles. Great for practice.

    I suggest you need to tackle any language learning by saying the words/ phrases you're trying to commit to memory out loud - preferably as you walk up and down!

    You must make an effort to pronounce every word correctly - this will help enormously in your oral and in your listening tests. So eg in French if you're pronouncing le car = the coach , like car in English you're way wrong. The a sounds like a in cat. Don't fall into the trap of pronouncing words which are the same or similar in English as you do in English - la France = the 'a' is pronounced like the 'a' in cat in English but not in French! If you can get a recording which you can keep stopping while you imitate exactly what the native speaker says. French 'r's are difficult for English speakers so practise, practise. practise.

    It takes repeating a word or phrase 30 times before you know it, so you must do this over and over again - go though your list of new words / phrases EVERY DAY 10 mins makes all the difference. Go though your list of old words too - repeatedly.

    Then the most important part of languages especially French , is know your irregular verbs. Repeat each part of each tense out loud over and over again until it's fixed in your head for ever.

    You can't leave your language revision until just before your exam - you'll fail. What you can do is make a list of all the things that will get you top marks - so

    1. Use compound verbs - eg at least 6-8 different tenses / verb forms in every essay / every time I I revise for my oral. Research reflexive verbs, etre verbs, present participles ( en courant le long de la rue - running along the road), past participles ( apres avoir mange - after having eaten ( better because it's an etre verb) apres etre parti(e)(s) en vacances - after having left for holiday, or best of all, ( it's a reflexive verb ) apres m'etre assis (e) after having sat down...

    2. Make a list of ' my fancy phrase/ idioms' which can be used in almost any essay or oral exam.
    D'abord - at first, ensuite - next, finalement - lastly. a mon avis - in my opinion, de temps en temps - from time to time, peut-etre - perhaps, peu a peu - gradually de plus en plus - more and more.........You get the idea.

    So when you go into your essay exam you're not left wondering what to write because you know you have to squash in as many of these as you can. Your essay will be written before you know it. Ditto your oral exam. You know the sort of questions they are going to ask you so prepare your answers using yiour fancy phrases. Monosyllable answers will not get you the mark you want. So, 'tu aimes les vacances ? ' is not answered 'oui' or 'non' ! but oui, on est alle en Italie l'annee derniere pendant dix jours... j'ai vu les Alpes. Nous avons fait du ski, je suis tombe plusieurs fois - c'etait ma premiere visite......etc. etc.

    I'm a year 13 student and a massive language enthusiast as well, and I admit the me studying 8 languages at the same time sounds a bit insane and unrealistic. At the moment I'm learning French, Danish, Bulgarian, Standard German, Faroese, Sherpa, Nigerian Pidgin English and Estonian, and I've been making good progresses in these tongues. Before I sorted out my priorities, I had a go with (ready for the eye massage): Romanian, Norwegian, Finnish, Uyghur, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Irish and Croatian, West Frisian and Adyghe (which is a crazy language with extremely limited resources for listening). The languages in the latter group have one thing in common: They are languages I did not have any motivation to continue learning.



    Learning a language with a reason is crucial if you don't want to waste your time. Let's look at my personal reasons for learning languages in the former group:

    I FRENCH (chose it over Spanish for GCSE) because a lot of French people respect you only if you speak French. Also I plan to work at CERN in Geneva.

    I learn DANISH because I want to go on holidays in Denmark, and if I learn the Scandinavian language with the most complicated phonology, others become easy. My ultimate goal is Norwegian Bokmål, but there are much more Danish songs than Norwegian songs for me to learn vocabulary from. Danish is basically identical to Bokmål.

    I learn BULGARIAN because I want to build a good Slavic vocabulary base with a caseless language before I move on to Slavic languages with cases. In addition to that I have a lot of Bulgarian friends who are desperate for me to learn their language.

    I learn STANDARD GERMAN because I'm a physicist and loads of good physics journals are in German. Also there are a lot of grammar guides for minority languages in German (more than English, surprisingly). And I need German for Switzerland (I'll learn a few Swiss German dialects as well).

    I learn FAROESE because Faroe Islands is such a beautiful place and I long for travelling there long term. It is also similar to Icelandic, but Faroese phonology is much more interesting than its (almost) phonetic brother. Plus too many dental fricatives give me sore throats.

    I learn SHERPA because I really appreciate this Nepalese culture: Everyone is so united and they are really nice people. Some Sherpa people asked me "Why Sherpa and not Nepalese?" and I always answer them with "Because I want to save your language and your culture".

    I learn NIGERIAN PIDGIN ENGLISH because it is very fun to speak, and a lot of the expressions they use are intriguing - they can express ideas with simple words when long sentences are needed in ordinary English. Nigerian food is also very nice. People from Nigeria, please don't be ashamed of Pidgin, it's a very cool language.

    I study ESTONIAN because I travelled to Estonia and it is one of the loveliest countries I have ever been to. The language is hugely satisfying to my ears - not as strongly articulated as Finnish, but still has the right amount of brilliance in it. Estonian people will hugely appreciate your effort even if you just try to pronounce some words, because it is one of the hardest popular languages for anglophones.

    So, you need reasons.

    Language education at school is an absolute failure in my opinion:
    - Teachers never explain to students why choose one language and not the other, leading to students starting to have lessons before they even know anything about the languages. This easily results in students feeling demotivated because they feel like they have chosen the wrong languages to learn, and some of them having to drop the subject because it is not what they expected.
    - I agree with your point about direct English translations, as teachers often teach student in English instead of moving on to teaching IN the language as soon as possible, which is the proper way according to my experience. That's why so many students are so bad at listening and speaking, which are the two FUNDAMENTAL things one needs in a language.
    - Students are given lists of vocabulary and are required to take tests on how to use them in the right context, therefore lots of students write their final exam essays in sentence structures and expressions that are not natural, i.e. Directly translating from English.
    - Not enough colloquial expressions and contractions are taught, thus students learns the language for practically nothing because they can't even use the language to survive in that country - "lol people speak too fast, lol why are they not using "ne"? lol why have I never seen these words before when I got and A* in my GCSE German? lol how do I flirt with a girl in French? How do I make friends in Italian?????"

    I talked to a teacher about it, she told me that they couldn`t change the way or the things they teach because they can`t teach too much stuff outside of the curriculula, which is sad.

    I was 5 marks off full marks in my GCSE French and have reached a decent conversational level. Tell you what, I never listened in during my French lessons (sorry Miss). One thing I don't fully agree with in your post is the idea of never learning a grammar rule, because I was reading a French grammar book over and over again, and it really helped me. It does depend on the language, so for example learning Russian declensions with a table and hoping you won't need to do any work won't really help becuase when you speak Russian you won't hold a table in your hand (guys no offence but you can if you want to look stupid), despite that, reviewing grammar tables does help before the things you see in the table becomes second nature.

    My favourite way to start learning the grammar of languages similar to English is through reading (my favourite type of input learning), and whenever I'm confused about how why this tense/case/aspect/mood/etc. is used, I look it up in my grammar book. They usually have examples.

    My favourite way to start learning the grammar of language NOT so similar to English (or endangered languages) is learning some basic phrases just to get a feel of the language, and quickly moving on to reading grammar guides, i.e. stuff you stumble upon online which is stereotypically called "A Comprehensive Grammar of the ________ Language" or something like that (I even found one in Sherpa and the recently extinct Ket language of the Yeniseian language family). I usually like to familiarise myself with some stuff about the morphology, typology, phonology, noun declensions, etc., before I even learn the language. For example, there's no point trying learning an ergative-absolutive language straight from reading when you don't even know what ergativity means - you'll just get stuck at personal pronouns and lose motivation even if you have a reason.

    And there is one of the toughest things in language learning, especially for beginners. When you are fretting about German cases (which are already extremely simple compared to Lithuanian - look at the declension table on Wikipedia), STOP FRETTING and just STICK THE TABLE IN FRONT OF YOUR DESK.
    - What to do from scratch: Learn the most common 100-500 words from a list (you haven`t got a choice at the beginning) in their most basic declined form using flashcards. There are so many flashcard apps you can use to save trees, with Anki being one of my favourite apps. It uses an algorithm called Spaced Repetition, which is scientifically proven to help you remember a set of vocabulary and stuff thing into your long term memory in the shortest time possible.
    - Secondly: Pick up a book and read. If you can be bothered to read the grammar guides I mentioned, you should be able to make out most of the most basic ideas. Don`t stop the reading by checking the dictionary every so often, but keep reading until you get to a sensible endpoint. While reading, highlight ALL the words/phrase/word forms you haven`t seen before, don`t even miss one out, and you can check the dictionary. If you can`t find it in a dictionary, chances are they are inflected, if so, refer to your grammar guide. Write them in a notebook and use Anki again.
    - Thirdly: When you have already got an idea about the word order and how words inflect, move on to sentence creation. Randomly pick a word from a book/dictionary/song and write 2-3 sentences with the word/phrase. Read them out loud (although it may sound stupid, I know, but no one will call you stupid if you can eventually speak the language). Check your sentenes with a friend or a teacher who speaks the language, or maybe post it online, just to get some feedback. If you don`t have a friend or a teacher and no one knows the language online, rethink whether or not you want to continue learning the language - You probably won`t be able to use it anyway. Again, it depends what your purpose is.
    - What you should be doing while you`re not doing the things mentioned above: Listening to songs, the radio, watching YouTube videos, trying to get familiar with how the languages sound. Make friends with people who speak the languages (or maybe get a boyfriend/girlfriend/(the remaining 61 genders)friend), contact people who are experts in them, skype/text/call them, get feedback, get corrected. You can never go so far without making mistakes, you`re a human.

    In conclusion, languages are wonderful and if you think learning languages is as simple as applying words to grammar rules, think again (Esperanto is an exception because it's *clears throat* artificial and withouth a proper culture). For languages most of you are learning, do some research on the grammar (you don't have to know your grammar inside out) and the culture (I DO agree with your bullet point about culture) before you even start, you'll understand so much more about why set phrases and idioms are used, which is very useful for you in the long run.

    Hope these self-proven tips help you guys!! <3 <3

    AuzDawg, a language dawg from Kent
Submit reply
Turn on thread page Beta
Updated: November 2, 2018

University open days

  • University of East Anglia
    All Departments Open 13:00-17:00. Find out more about our diverse range of subject areas and career progression in the Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, Medicine & Health Sciences, and the Sciences. Postgraduate
    Wed, 30 Jan '19
  • Aston University
    Postgraduate Open Day Postgraduate
    Wed, 30 Jan '19
  • Solent University
    Careers in maritime Undergraduate
    Sat, 2 Feb '19
Brexit: Given the chance now, would you vote leave or remain?

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE

Write a reply...
Reputation gems: You get these gems as you gain rep from other members for making good contributions and giving helpful advice.