I am a (not so active, I have to admit) member of the language learning community on Twitter and I love to read other people’s opinions on languages and how they study them (and which languages everyone studies and what resources they use …).
Last week, someone posted a message about how online language coaches post general statements about language learning as if this were the truth. This gives beginners a false impression that they should go about it like this or like that and if they are not successful within a short period of time, they fail. I agree.
I have never followed anyone’s advice on how to start learning a language. I look at what is available and then distil my own method. A one-size-fits-all doesn’t work for language learning, I think.
I speak/study 10 languages (some fluent, others are still in the early stages) and I have done this in 10 different ways. Someone asked me to describe how I did this, so here I go … I list the languages in order of fluency.
French, English, German, Danish: I am past the study phase and I can now enjoy speaking and understanding the language. I am a professional translator (you can google my name and my website will come up) and translate mainly from these 3 languages. This means I have daily practice. Besides that I read books, watch Netflix, YouTube and tv, read media (newspapers, magazines), write an occasional blogpost. I also have a 30 minute conversation once a month with my italki teacher. I find that my passive knowledge is very high, but when it comes to speaking, I stumble sometimes. That’s why I have a tutor since this year.
Focus is on listening.
Spanish: I have been studying the language on and off for the last 25 years, but never got past A2. But … this year is the 4th year in a row and I am happy to say that my level has gone up significantly. I took classes for 3 years, I guess you all know how that goes. I try to start reading early on, although I really dislike easy readers. The good thing is that there is a lot of content available for Spanish everywhere. I use a textbook at home (Aula Internacional), work my way through all the chapters, write down random vocabulary I pick up here and there. At the moment I focus on reading (El invierno en tu rostro, +600 pages), I only look up words if I really need them to understand the story and write them down in my textbook, so that when I study, I come across them again. I love watching Netflix as well. I use the Spanish subtitles and I have noticed now that I don’t really need them anymore (compared to last year’s season of Casa de papel … big leap forwards!). Once a week I have a conversation with my tutor. And finally, I got my first big translation assignment Spanish-Dutch, a novel. If this won’t #boostmyspanish, I don’t know what will!
Focus is on listening.
Italian: here as well, I am past the early stages and I can enjoy Italian now. I started 3 years ago. Went to school for 2 years and now continue at home. As with Spanish, I also use a textbook at home (Nuovo Espresso), go through the chapters and focus on vocabulary/grammar. I follow a lot of YouTube channels, for some reason I really like watching bullet journals (even if I have not intention of making one myself). I like listening to grammar channels as well (Doppio Espresso) or Learn Italian with Lucrezia and LearnAmo for extra vocabulary. And of course, I have an Italian tutor for speaking practice, once a week as well.
Focus is on listening.
So far nothing fancy, some reading, listening, speaking, since there is a lot of content available in all these languages.
Afrikaans: this is where it gets trickier as far as authentic content is concerned. Big advantage: I am a Dutch native, so learning Afrikaans was not really difficult. I started in December, now is April and I have half an hour conversations with my tutor already (once a week or every other week, depending on my work schedule). I study mainly from a Teach Yourself book to boost vocabulary and study grammar. Most of my studying is done in this book (due to the lack of other content in Afrikaans). Yes, like a nerd, sitting down, pen in my mouth, going through lists of vocab and trying to memorize them. I also have a complete grammar (in Dutch) of Afrikaans, also for vocab, and I have a cute book with typical Afrikaans expressions (I just LOVE them!). More grammar: I received copies of several books from someone I know who also studies Afrikaans and I plan on going through them once the TY is finished (5 more chapters to go, yay). I found an online magazine (most of them are behind a paywall, but this one isn’t) and I try to read an article a week and copy relevant vocabulary in my TY book. I have 2 novels in Afrikaans for reading practice. And lastly, I sometimes listen to a YouTube channel (book reviews). Most of my studying is on paper, apparently.
Focus is on passive knowledge.
Bulgarian: finding authentic input gets worse, therefore I focus on my textbook (Intensive Bulgarian, if you are interested, this is the best book!). I start with reading the dialogue, then go through the grammar and only then study the vocabulary list (which is huge, by the way, for every lesson some 150-200 words, I think). Nothing particular, just going through a list (no colour coding …). Very school-ish, I know, but for Bulgarian this works (for me). I also have an A2 course for Bulgarian refugees (UNHCR material), which is completely different, very practical, with short dialogues and useful vocabulary (with pictures). There is a separate vocab list, that I go through now and then.
Imagine me sitting there with a pen and reading, practising in my head, making notes here and there. I also memorize the dialogues of this book. Sometimes I look up a word in Forvo for the pronuncation.
The thing is, there is almost no content available (a few YouTube-channels – totally above my level), so my comprehension of the language is … well … non-existent. I know everything that’s in the chapters I have studied and as long as we stay within that range, I can have a conversation, which is frustrating.
I have a 45 minute italki class (3-4 times a month) since January and that really helps, though the progress is slow. We talk about a topic, English and Bulgarian mixed, and my tutor writes useful vocab in the chat, that I copy afterwards in my notebook and study. I am a bit down, I have to admit, because progress is so slow, it seems like I am making no progress at all. But I have to have faith in myself and in my learning. If I compare the conversations I now have with Ilonka with our first conversations, I can see that I am making progress. But I still have a long way to go.
I really believe in conversation practice. It is okay to study typical dialogues and vocab lists, but when it comes to speaking the language, there’s nothing better than having conversations with native speakers. I thought I spoke Bulgarian at an A2 level after finishing the course, but it turned out that I couldn’t string a decent sentence together in a conversation. So far for passive knowledge of a language.
I notice a big difference with languages with a lot of content online. Listening works really well for me. Focussing only on a textbook means limited success. The good thing is that Ilonka now sent me links to several movies in Bulgarian and if I send her the time code of where I get stuck, she explains to me what is going on. I hope this will help!
Faroese: I thought it couldn’t get worse after trying to find Bulgarian input, but yes, it can! Try finding some content in Faroese! I joined a discord group of Faroese learners and downloaded a (great, by the way) textbook with audio, which is very useful, try listening to Faroese while reading along, you will see what I mean. So far for my resources.
Faroese has 3 genders, so I use green (male), pink (female) and orange (neuter) highlighters. I colour code the vocab in the dialogues and the vocab lists and make 3 columns at the top of each page in which I list the words (of that page) according to gender. Then I go to the alphabetical vocab list in the back and highlight all words again page per page (by now I have gone over them 3 times). I put the dialogues on repeat and listen to them, listen again and then listen some more, so the pronunciation is stuck in my head. I’m telling you, it’s really hard. The vocab as such is not really difficult, there is a lot of overlap or reference to Danish or you can (as a Germanic native) easily deduce the meaning. As far as the grammar is concerned, I make a summary on each page with the main things and highlight them in yellow in the grammar parts, so I can focus immediately on what is important. Usually there is a lot of blabla and the actual grammar can be reduced to 1 line.
In the same discord group, I also downloaded a copy of Harry Potter in Faroese, I have the Dutch copy at home. I have read a page or 2 with the Dutch translation at hand and it was okay, but maybe a wee bit too difficult at the moment. Something for this summer, maybe.
You may have noticed that Faroese is way more labour intensive than let’s say Afrikaans or Bulgarian.
Korean: ah Korean, where do I start … Resources first: Talk to me in Korean, Korean from zero (book 1 is a free download on the website), Elementary Korean, Coursera (2 courses).
It takes up a lot of my energy to study Korean (although I genuinely like it), in particular the vocabulary, and recently I can’t really motivate myself anymore to put in all the work. Plus it is just impossible to understand anything spoken.
Since I am already studying all these languages, I have decided to let Korean be for the moment and not focus on progress anymore, but on reviewing everything I have done so far, which is quite a bit: 3 levels of TTMIK (30 lessons per level), 12 lessons in KFZ, 8 lessons in EK, the complete First step Korean (Coursera) and 3 lessons in the second Coursera course.
Korean is just plain hard studying, drilling vocab lists, drilling sentence patterns … Mind numbing sometimes, especially when you don’t really see any short term results.
So … the rest of the year will be deepening my Korean and finding my love for this language again.