The Best Kept Secret In Language Learning

  • James Corl
    Written byJames Corl
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The Best Kept Secret In Language Learning

Today’s guest post comes from James Corl, a passionate young language learner from the US (see his italki profile here).

James started learning Italian at the age of 12, eventually moving on to learn Spanish, French and Chinese too. Today he wants to share with you some of things he’s learned along the way.

Thanks, James. 🙂

Ever wonder why so many people recommend so many different products and services for language learning?

I did.

When I first began my language learning journey nearly 3 years ago, I felt like I had stepped into a whole new world.

All the products, reviews, and free trials all melded together to create the Times Square of languages.

I was more confused than when I started!

Duolingo offered me a free course in the language of my choice (in this case, Italian). Assimil gave me a golden ticket to a B2 level, contingent upon finishing Italian With Ease. Living Language provided a compelling story about how their product was used by US diplomats.

After carefully scouring the Internet for reviews, more language learning methods, and free trials, a stunning realization came to me:

No one language course can propel you to fluency.

The Human Element

Let me ask you a question:

How do you think language courses are developed?

In my opinion, most are developed in the mold of how the creator learned the language.

The developers of Living Language, language experts, created the course based on how they thought a language should be taught.

Steve Kaufmann believes in lots of input before speaking, so his product, LingQ, is reflective of that. On the contrary, Benny Lewis and his new Teach Yourself program emphasize speaking, right in line with Benny’s approach.

Now, many people have learned many languages with all of these methods.

Likewise, many people have been frustrated by these methods, and are looking for something different.

Whether you’ve liked or disliked your method, one thing will always be true: none of us are the same.

Just because John Doe likes Living Language, and reached proficiency with the program doesn’t mean you will too.

If it were like that, we would all be language learning robots, and that’s no fun! In fact, learners fall into four main categories. When they are being taught in a manner that they respond to, they will learn the information quicker than if it was presented in another way.

These four types are:

Visual: These learners do best when information is presented so they can see it with their own eyes.

This group may actually like conjugation tables and vocabulary charts. They are also apt to see patterns when shown patterns, like shown in the method used by Glossika.

Auditory: This group succeeds when the material is taught orally, like in the traditional classroom setting found across the US.

They also do well when they are required to recite the information out loud, which could be helpful when the time comes to speak, whereas others may be timid to jump in.

Reading/Writing: Absorbing knowledge through reading, and explaining what has been learned through writing is the strength of this group.

They like to “interact” with the text – they may get more from reading in their target language, and more general strategies, like highlighting or text coding than the other groups.

Kinesthetic: This group likes to move!

These people like to learn with their senses, and learn through experiences. They react to getting up and moving around, whether sharing new vocabulary, or a new concept.

They may also like role playing situations, which is good for speaking the language.

Now that we know that there are four groups of learners, try to determine which group you most belong in.

Do you like your information processed visually?

Or do you enjoy reading, and believe that you can learn by reading and writing?

Whatever category you may fall under, there is a two step process to follow so that fluency can be achieved:

  1. Find a language learning program you like
  2. Use your learning style to customize your learning

Finding a language learning program

Once you determine your learning aptitude, find a good language program that you like.

Before picking one, go through it, and see if the strategy in the book matches your learning style (for the most part).

If it does, great!

If it doesn’t try and find another book to work through. Another thing you must consider is that you will probably be using this book for a lot of your language learning. I am all for finding new methods and trying them out, but if you are constantly trying new methods, you aren’t going to make much progress.

Here’s how I view it: all introductory books to a new language include the same basics.

Once you find your program, start learning!

In the first few months of your language learning, the process may seem a bit different.

That’s because it is different! Your learning style, accompanied by the language book that complements it, is helping you stay motivated on your path to fluency!

Most language books cover the four learning styles evenly, and this may be a problem if you have chosen one of these for your language endeavor. If you have, just turn the less practical exercises into ones that match your strength.

If you are faced with a vocab list, and are an auditory learner, find audio recordings of the words on a site like Forvo.

It’s as easy as that!

After a while, however, things may seem to slow down.

Even though you may be targeting your learning style, and it is evident in all of your studies, you may feel that you are slogging through your daily lessons.

This is totally normal.

It can be called the “intermediate plateau”, “flatlining”, or something else.

Regardless, all language students experience this point.

This is what separates those learning a language as a fad, to someone going for fluency. Once reaching this point, you will really need to want to continue in your studies. At this B1 level you have, you can pretty much do whatever you need in your target language.

However, to reach the next level, you must incorporate the language into your daily life, using your learning inclinations.

Daily Dose of Language

To take your language level to B2, you will have to learn some rather obscure vocabulary.

Take three words you may have to learn, if you like cooking: slather, dice (as in dicing celery), and simmer.

Now, at the level you are at, you could say cover, cut, and boil. But these words make your level seem that much more pronounced because of the specificity of the words.

This is a two step process: 1) chunk the necessary words into groups, like “cooking”, “vacations”, etc. and 2) incorporate it into your daily life.

In addition, I suggest that you choose one as a field of specialty. This means learning one topic extensively, maybe it’s a hobby or something you like, that you know you will talk about frequently in your target language.

This imbalance is OK: when you talk about your specialty, you will blow people away!

Grouping these words into vocabulary lists can take any form.

Just as we discussed earlier we discussed what to do when your learning style didn’t match up with that of your learning material, you could do audio flashcards, picture flashcards, whatever you would like to do!

The next step is using the words, and put them into action.

If you never use them, you will forget them, and it would have been a waste of time to make flashcards for them. For example, using the cooking vocabulary words of slather, dice, and simmer, you could, if you’re a kinesthetic learner, make a meal using these words, and say the recipe out loud as you make it.

If you’re a visual learner, watch a cooking show that uses cooking vocabulary.

The possibilities are endless!

Also, try to incorporate your new vocabulary into your conversations in the language.

If you use it, no matter what learning type you are, you are less likely to forget. Need help finding people to talk to about your given subjects?

Try italki or Conversation Exchange to find others that have the same interests as you.

Another thought: consider finding a teacher to help you advance your level.

Thousands of teachers on italki are willing to help you take your language level to the next phase. They can also find some things that can be fixed or fine-tuned that you would have never found.

When I learned Italian, there were many things I was oblivious to.

However, since I need others to point these flaws out, I kept making the same mistakes and falling into the same ruts, over and over again.

Once I got myself an Italian tutor, he was able to point out things that I didn’t see before.

An example is prepositions.

Instead of searching for a computer translator for a translation of a phrase using one, I now know which one to use from memory.

He also let me in on some cultural notes, and certain phrases to be avoided (who knew that “buona fortuna”, a literal translation of good luck, was actually bad luck?).

The cost of both options is very reasonable.

For a language partner, a language exchange can be done, with 30 minutes of your target language, and 30 of your native language.

This way, the costs offset.

Even if you want a tutor, most professional teachers on italki average between $12-$20 United States dollars, and a community tutor is usually less!

Learning a language in the beginning stages can be easy

However, once you hit the “intermediate plateau”, things in your language learning will get much more difficult.

That’s why it is so important to put an emphasis on your learning aptitude from the very beginning.

Once you have the process in place and when things get more difficult, you can always fall back on your technique. Also, over time, you can fine tune your method to make it even better!

However, when things do get tough, I have one final piece of advice: practice does not make perfect.

Rather, perfect practice makes perfect.

You can have all the time in the world to learn a language, but if you’re doing it all wrong, then imagine how much time you would have wasted!

Find a language tutor to help you identify your weak points and patch up those holes ASAP.

With these tips, you should be well on your way, learning your language a new, different, and hopefully exciting way! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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Hello. This was a good read. I personally have been trying to learn Japanese off and on for the past several years but have only in the past year started in earnest. I have loved watching anime and reading manga since I was about 12, and wanted to learn how to understand the original language this media form came from. I have since been wading through different learning channels and still not sure what my learning type is. Even so, I can tell that my comprehension has gone up with the use of multiple apps and buying a book, so I suppose I am more visual and reading/writing? But since this is my first time learning a language with a different script, I have needed extra help with the translating of the Kana that makes up Japanese, so a lot of auditory reinforcement has been helpful as well. Duolingo has been fairly good so far.
I will continue to read the blog, thanks for interesting content.

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