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Ask HN: To those who became fluent in a second language, what did you do?
195 points by snowdragon on Oct 16, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 200 comments
I'm overwhelmed by all the options out there. Duolingo, pimsluer, classes, books, etc. What did you do to become fluent in another language? How long did it take you?



There is no substitute for living in the country and avoiding your native speakers like the plague. Immerse yourself completely (take a few language courses, move in with locals, make an effort to avoid English speakers at all costs). Give yourself little challenges: Groceries, info about the train, museum, read a leaflet, book an activity, ask questions at a restaurant (even if you don't quite get the answer)...

People will want to practice their English with you. Be stubborn. Reply in the foreign language and let them talk in English.

For the first 2 months you will feel incredibly tired at the end of each day. Your brain will fight to stay afloat but that stress will make it learn so much faster. Around the 3rd month something clicks and you start to talk more and more. After that, the progress becomes almost automatic. Try to study something, or work or be part of some local group.

One key element is to avoid perfection. Understand that you will never speak perfect grammar for years (just like kids make silly mistakes, you will too). Embrace it, have fun, make mistakes ... enjoy the trial and error discovery and the challenge of communicating ideas with rudimentary tools. Be patient. You will get frustrated because your brain has complex and nuanced ideas but your language is as basic as "me not good" or "me good". You will learn that body language and tone already communicate more than you can tell with your basic language.

After a year you'll be pretty fluent (You'll be able to hold a conversation with anybody, on any topic, but still peppered with clarifications and questions). Mastering a new language would still take many years (with lots of reading, writing, talking, etc).

(source: I speak French and Spanish as native languages, English as third language and German as 4th which I learnt as an adult living in Germany for a year)


Another, slightly unconventional way (which is how I learned English as a native Croatian speaker), is to find an online community about something you really enjoy.

For me it was the combination of Harry Potter and online roleplaying[1]. I know that English isn't quite the same as other languages as it's quite widespread, but I believe it's possible to do the same for other languages.

I also improved my Spanish a little through a website called lang-8.com, but I am not sure how active its community is these days; when I joined it was new and the community was relatively small. I stopped using it since I lacked the time and motivation to pursue Spanish more vigorously.

[1]: As a side-note, I met my best friend this way; I was 13, she was 11 when we met. She'd would always go out of her way to help me with my English and would help me prepare for a roleplay and also analyse it afterwards, pointing out all the mistakes and potential improvements, taught me colloquialisms, etc. Although, everyone would help from time to time, too. So, meeting the right people/community also matters.


This is how I learned english. I fell in love with computers at an early age and everything from programs to documentation and the few communities were all in english. So I had to learn. I winged it at the time, just used a dictionary, some books, and whatever other resource that I found or fell on my lap.

I used to tell everyone who cared to listen that learning english would open up your world like you can't imagine (as it did for me). How many people even tried? 0. The common denominator is having to learn, and the only two ways that I've seen really work, is moving to another country OR having a strong interest about something and using a language to learn more about it (and you'll learn two things at once!).


I agree with everything you recommend, but it is possible to speak grammatically with near perfection much faster than years if you study the grammar. Finding the right grammar book/course may not be easy. I was lucking enough to go through the excellent German course at UCSB in the late '70s before I immersed myself. Getting all noun genders right in German is nearly impossible for a non-native speaker (even native speakers make mistakes). Plus when you study the grammar you can delight educated native speakers by pointing out how the colloquial diverges from the proper grammar.


> (even native speakers make mistakes)

> colloquial diverges from the proper grammar.

Since we are here on HN I'll allow myself to jump on your, to the topic of this thread totally unrelated, remarks. A native speaker can't really make mistakes, because what a native speaker speaks, defines the language. The grammars have to follow the speakers, not vice versa. The widespread world view that there is a proper language and beside it a inferior colloquial language needs to die.


I think the same grammatical construct that's "slangy" when used by a native can sound ignorant or wrong when used by a foreigner, so it's more important for non-native speakers to learn correct grammar.

Examples: * "I done <xyz>" or "I ain't" in English * "Je n'sais pas" in French (I'm told I sound like a moron or a child when I try this)


This is pretty much how i learnt Spanish.

I few more tips that helped me a lot improving after reaching a basic level:

Besides talking/listening as much as possible in the foreign language, also try to think in it. Not mentally switching between languages made conversations much more fluent and pleasant. Start with basic things like planning a day trip.

Ask people to actively correct you if you're wrong. I had and still have the problem, that my Spanish is good enough, that people understand what I want to say, but because of that, they usually don't bother correcting me.

Focus a bit on pronunciation and language "melody". E.G. In my experience in Latin America, people who are not used to hearing foreigners accents, might not understand what you are saying although your grammar is perfect. A well pronounced "me not good" can often be better.


> One key element is to avoid perfection. Understand that you will never speak perfect grammar for years (just like kids make silly mistakes, you will too). Embrace it, have fun, make mistakes ... enjoy the trial and error discovery and the challenge of communicating ideas with rudimentary tools. Be patient.

This is a really good point. I am learning a new language right now. I am really shy, but once I started to not care too much I already feel the difference in learning.


> There is no substitute for living in the country and avoiding your native speakers like the plague.

No better approach to learning a new language than that. It’s like throwing yourself into it and ignoring everything else.


I think the guy from fluentforever has the general pattern down correctly:

1) learn phonetics and pronunciation

2) learn a base of of the most common words (he has a list of 625 words, I think wikipedias "simple english" word requirements would be another good source). Do this with anki.

3) start studying grammar

4) move onto native materials (while continuing with anki)

I also think that most people massively underrate vocabulary study. With consistency, at only 15 words a day you could deeply learn ~5400 words a year with anki. I think it would be pretty easy to do more if you were dedicated, but 15 is pretty sustainable. The rate you tend to be taught vocabulary in college level courses is crazy low.

[0]: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2014/07/16/how-to-learn-any-lang... I swear this guy isn't the type of charlatan you'd expect to be associated with Ferris.

I hope this doesn't feel too spammy but I'd love if people had any feedback on the basic idea behind the tool I posted here: https://news.ycombinator.com/reply?id=12717657


Totally agree on vocabulary, it's by far the most important part. You can mostly understand and be understood without grammar.

I pick comic books in the target language, that I've already read in my native language, and start making word lists. Comic books are cool because obviously the pictures help, and the story will follow a theme, so the same words will come back over and over again. And they're not so long as to feel like you'll never make it through. Motivation is the #1 predictor of successful learning, and the apps have never appealed to me as much as reading a good story.

I'll suggest that schools teach grammar mostly because it makes for a much more "academic" lesson than teaching vocabulary. You don't need school to learn vocabulary.


First comic books, then children's literature. For example, for French, Asterix and Tintin, then Le Petit Nicolas.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_petit_Nicolas

After that, airport novels, because the vocabulary and grammar are straightforward.


I have been planning to start looking (and translating) at movie subtitles in the language I learn. My theory It should show both natural speech, common words, common sentences and so on. Thoughts on that?


Lots of people have learned English by watching Friends, the Simpsons, etc. You could watch movies in their original language, with English subtitles to help out. My guess is that comics are easier for your first 300 words or so.


I actually meant English movies with [language I'm learning] subtitles. Not for the listening part, but for the vocabulary + grammar part of the sentences.


just an anecdote, but my grandpa learned english from comic books.


And don't forget:

5) Go out and talk to people that speak the language (don't be afraid to make mistakes)

6) Or, if 5) is not an option, watch television shows in that language. Can be anything you like, simple comedy works best for me.


This is a fairly good basic guide for developing low-level proficiency. This type of method is good for learning the language needed to get around in a country in which the language is spoken as well as engage in some casual small talk.

I discussed the issue of proficiency levels in quite a bit of detail in my response :

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12719463

You mention a few points about memorizing vocabulary:

> The rate you tend to be taught vocabulary in college level courses is crazy low.

This is absolutely correct in most courses in the US. That said, most people I have know who went on to work in the foreign language they learned in school spent a lot of time learning beyond what was required for class.

> at only 15 words a day you could deeply learn ~5400 words a year with anki

This is largely a trap. At approximately 1000-2000 words in most languages, it is important to make a gradual shift from memorization tasks to fluency tasks. Memorization can be great to review learned vocabulary and/or to learn and review technical vocabulary, but most of the learning time should be spent immersed in authentic target language (e.g., reading content by native speakers for native speakers, watching TL videos, etc.). There are no shortage of situations where a person will know the word/phrase for manifold or nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but they will not have the discourse skills to use these words in a meaningful way.

Have you used this level of memorization successfully? If so, what other language tasks were you engaging in at the same time? I am genuinely curious -- a clean way to shift from high levels of memorization to higher levels of functional fluency is not a fully cracked nut.


I'm fluent in German, English. I'm living in Japan and am almost fluent in Japanese and quarter fluent in Korean. I also recently started Hungarian and Spanish.

The most important part in my opinion is to live in a country that speaks the language you want to learn. You have to immerse yourself as much as possible with the culture and language.

Also very important that you aren't afraid to try to use what you learned. Even though it's very basic, you learn a lot by actively trying to understand and use the language. It might be tiresome and frustrating at first, but you will learn crazy fast. What I mean with that is: Change your OS to that language and accept that you don't understand anything at first. Make internet friends and refuse to use English with them even though you have to translate every second sentence. Every time you see something you don't know, try to understand why it's written that way.

Lastly, if you have time and money: Do a 6 months ~ 1 year intensive every-day language course in the country that speaks the language you want. By doing that every day AND surrounding yourself with the culture + language, you will be able to speak after 6 month and become very good with it after 1 year.

On languages from a similar family (speak: English <-> German <-> French <-> Spanish || Japanese <-> Korean), you can get pretty far by buying books or doing internet courses.

For words, I prefer the spaced repetition method of tools like Anki. Important here is that you only create flashcards for words that you personally encountered to allow your brain to make connections to where you saw that word. Don't learn from wordlists.


Can I ask respectfully what you mean by fluent?

Only because...the textbook definition and the colloquial definition differ. I think generally when people say 'fluent' they mean 'native speaker level at reading, writing and speaking language X', whereas fluent actually means you can speak without hesitation on a range of topics.

Just a clarification, not an attack!

Edit: Plus, I wouldn't knock wordlists. I started trying to make wordlists only out of words I had some connection to, but you end up spending an inordinate amount of time making cards, and also then it's tempting to keep interrupting your reading to make new flashcards.

I am 'fluent' in mandarin, and use HSK6 wordlists as a base. I learn a bunch of random words and then suddenly, when I'm reading an article, there's the word I learned a month ago. I don't need to interrupt my reading flow, and the connection has been made. Sometimes at advanced levels, you won't see a word that often, so it's wasteful to see it once, make a flashcard, and then never have another chance to see the word in a real world context for another 6 months.


One test of fluency would be to have the person watch a modern film in the language of interest and ask them to transcribe the dialogue into text and also describe in own words (in language of interest) what is going on in the movie.

You can then put that person on a scale from 0 to 100 by comparing the score by a random sample of "known" native speakers.

This test is nice because it probes many aspects of language: listening, speaking, and writing (but not reading), which can vary greatly between people.

If you're interested in probing reading, then I suggest asking the person to explain meanings of songs or poems.


I don't know about other languages, but the French government actually does have tests of French fluency (DELF/DALF exam), which test you in a range of ways (oral comprehension - usually a radio emission, written comprehension - usually a news article, writing on a choice of subjects and speaking - presenting a view on a subject and then debating), at a variety of levels. I took one of these tests (I'm fluent, yay!), and it certainly was testing. But it seemed fair and appropriate, also seemed to correlate with my experiences speaking to French people in France.


Movies are, in my humble opinion, not the best "standard" yard stick to measure fluency. First thing is that films most often use quite limited vocabulary, and it's wildly different vocabulary than, say, found in newspapers, technical writing or in business language. Moreover films present a wide variety of communication styles. It's much easier to understand James Bond than South Park, because humour is actually quite high and demanding register of speech.


It really depends on the film though. There are family dramas I can understand 100% but I watch a movie with lawyers or science or high level government or military meetings and I'm lost.


Interesting. When watching movies in English as a native Spanish speaker it's the other way around, at least for me. It's much easier to understand a movie with plenty of scientists, intellectuals or government officials than one with average people, as those tend to use slang, colloquial expressions and Americanisms that they don't teach you in courses. In fact teenage flicks are probably the hardest genre to understand...


There's that too. And that's more evidence I'm not fluent. In English if someone uses new slang on me I understand it almost immediately from context. In my 2nd language I'm lost


I also have a problem with the word "fluent". Ok you say you're fluent, here's a simple self-check: Explain to someone in the language you claim to be fluent in how you'd go about making a fire without any matches. (hint: you need to use words like tinder, kindling, flint, etc.). If you can't do this, or grapple with the fact that you don't have a repertoire of these words in your vocabulary, you might want to reconsider your definition of "fluent".


> Explain to someone in the language you claim to be fluent in how you'd go about making a fire without any matches. (hint: you need to use words like tinder, kindling, flint, etc.)

I wouldn't be able to do this in my own native language (aside from "stone" and "stick", I'm clueless about the tools involved), let alone in a foreign one. I think this is way too specific to be a good test for fluency.


The problem is not (quite) with the concept of "fluency", it's that we we confuse it with being good at a language.

Given your situation, I would just launch into a German explanation complete with the bit where I say I don't know the real German words. Then I will muck about with hand gestures and phrases like "smaller bits of would" etc until they get it.

I would do all of this while screwing up my declensions and conjugations. And I would do most of the screwing up fluently. Less fluently if I notice the error.


There are different fluencies, all context dependent. A woodsman who knows all about kindling and flint would be bemused in an office environment where KPIs and stakeholder deliverables are core terms. In a programming environment they'd be utterly lost regarding the detail, even if they grasp basics like who's in charge. Or a chemistry lab, a surgical theatre, etc.

This is why there are courses in "business" versions of languages, for example.

So someone can be functionally fluent in the contexts they typically encounter, while being non-fluent outside them. I doubt any native speaker can be fully fluent in all possible contexts.


Problem is that I'm not sure I'd be able to convey that message to someone even in my native language (it's a Romance one). I'd probably use two archaisms for "smaller pieces of wood" (probably the "tinder" and "flint" words you mention) and then I'd use "small rock" and "rub the thing between your hands until you get tired of it and then use a lighter".

There's lots of words in my native language of which I know the meaning of, technically, but practically speaking they might as well be Greek to me.

There are all of these types of flowers, trees, countryside-related mechanical terms (my peasant brother knows the names of all the pieces of which his wooden-made carriage is made of, I have no such knowledge) which might as well be from a foreign language to me. They sound right but I don't know exactly what they represent.

I'd say that you can call yourself fluent in a language once you can express feelings like anger, love, nostalgia etc. and can understand and make jokes in said language.


To be fair, there's a lot of native English speakers who can't explain how to make a fire with any matches, and wouldn't know what tinder and kindling are.

That is a reasonably specific domain of knowledge.


The thing with fluency isn't that you know all of the language or can explain everything. A person can be considered fluent and not be able to explain that sentence - mostly because that is pretty far outside a situation most folks find themselves in. Heck, in English I'd not use words like tinder and kindling. You might not know obscure words for some things, and you get to words you don't know.

Fluency means that most of the time you understand the conversations around you, about a wide range of topics. You can understand not only the local dialect, but others as well, and communicate effectively. You understand slang. When you don't understand, it is usually just a subject that is new to you or the usage is wrong.

Think about what age people understand children to be fluent in a language. Most folks by 14 or 15 (in English) have enough vocabulary to get by without learning more the rest of their life, but won't know specialty terms such as the one in your firestarting example.

I've not personally reached fluency in my second language, I just can see the goal. My spouse is fluent in English, though, and has a wider English vocabulary than I do. Lots of work on his behalf and years more practice and an interest in archaic terms. He still gets stumped, forgets a word here or there, has an accent, and all that, however, and likely reached complete fluency some time back.


Is tinder a real word? I thought it was just a made up word for an app? I can't be expected to explain such words in another language when I can't explain them in my native language. But I think if you said spark instead that would be more reasonable such you need to rub two pieces of wood together and create a spark and then a fire starts.


Yes tinder is a real word. It's material used to kindle a fire.

Silicon valley has ruined all these words.

Then again, most people don't have to start fires.


Well the way I learned it, you kindle fires by igniting the kindling. The kindling then ignites tinder (an intermediate stage), which then ignites the real fuel.

But I also often hear the two-step usage where tinder is includes kindling.


To me it's just the opposite. It's why the concept of a tinderbox makes sense (it contains grass or paper or something else easily ignited by a spark or small fire).


Kindling is actually a verb, as in, the act of 'kindling' a fire, even though it's also used to describe the material used to kindle a fire. Tinder is just the material.


There are two definitions, the verb and the noun.


Now there are. -ing words typically started as verbs. Eating, sleeping, etc...

This is why English is a clusterfuck, and makes no sense compared to most languages. Imagine if we called food 'eatings', that'd be weird, eh?


We can complain about English in all sorts of ways, but the fact that gerunds are distinct from infinitives is not exactly a problem.

http://www.englishpage.com/gerunds/part_1.htm

Perhaps you are complaining that gerunds (which are already nouns) can grow extra meanings over time. But all languages do this kind of stuff.

German has exactly the "problem" you are talking about, only worse. Depending on capitalisation, "Essen/essen" can be the noun "food" or the the verb "to eat", But when used as verb, it is usally used in the sense of the English gerund "eating".


The icon for Tinder is literally a flame :)


> hint: you need to use words like tinder, kindling, flint, etc.)

My language doesn't have a word for "kindling". If you want to translate it, you would use something like "material used to start the fire". So, by you reasoning, for someone from my country to be fluent in English, they also have to know that concept of "kindling" exists and has a name?

Thinking about it, I can't say I disagree. You have to know about the way people reason about stuff, not just words to name them.


While I know the word kindling in English (which is a second language for me), I don't even know it in my native language... So, I don't think that's a good test.

I'd say that someone is fluent when he starts thinking in the language and is able to have everyday conversations with other people at normal speed without the native interlocutors feeling that they need to simplify their speech.


That's... a terrible test.

I am native speaker/reader/writer fluent in my 2nd language, and I don't know the word for kindling. I am reasonably certain there is one, but would have to look it up, and so would any other native speaker that wasn't a linguist.

In fact, if I did happen to know the word and used it, no native speaker would understand me without an explanation.

The way I (and practically any other native speaker) would describe that portion of the task would be to say something like "use a small amount of paper, twigs, sawdust, dry leaves, or any other easily ignited material as a starter".

I used to get very frustrated at all the English words that didn't have direct equivalents, such that I found the 2nd language rather limiting in it's expressiveness.

In fact, I am pretty sure that the way most native speakers would approach the 'explain how to make fire' task would to say "here, let me show you how to do it."

Example: there exist equivalents to the words shiny, glittery, sparkly and most other common variations on the concept (some translate to the same word), but if you want to express 'pearlescent', the best you could do is 'lustrous like a pearl'.

Worse yet, often if I did find an obscure equivalent word and used it no one else would recognize it, and even if they figure it out from context they would still think I was weird or trying to score points with my vocabulary.

Further, in the 20 years since I actually lived there, using English loan words has become rampant, so much so that by not using them my speech comes across as rather affected, stuffy, and snobbish (eg. the word for upgrade (noun or verb) is for all intents and purposes 'upgrade', even though a perfectly understandable equivalent does actually exist).


I mostly agree with you. I might not know every English word but I won't consider myself fluent until I can understand and use my second language at the same level as my first.

In other words I should be able to easily explain anything I can explain in my 1st language whether it's how to drive, how to change a tire, what the parts of a bicycle are (wheels, spokes, chain, gears, handlebars, tire, kick stand, peddles, brakes, )etc. Any native 8 yr old can name all those things.

Similarly describing a car. The stick shift, clutch, odometer, glove compartment, engine, seat belts, arm rest, windshield, wheel well, windshield wipers, reat view mirror, antenna, etc.

Any native speaker will know all those words. I'm still at the "explain with smaller words" phase like "antenna" would be "metal stick that receives radio waves".

I'm not fluent.


Well, yeah that's why I have trouble with it. At least in Mandarin Chinese, which I have experience with, I've seen people describing themselves as 'fluent' when in reality they are either (a) lying or (b) meaning that they can speak conversationally.

My real world rule of thumb is that if I wrote "Fluent in Mandarin" on my CV, but then in the interview I couldn't read or write decent responses to emails or something like that, then most people wouldn't consider that as fluent (despite the dictionary definition).


You don't need to use direct translations of those words to express their purpose in the process. After all, if you're explaining what tinder, kindling, and flint are you wouldn't use those words in their definitions.


As a guy who grew up in French immersion schools in Canada, I consider myself to be fluent in French, although my grammar isn't quite perfect. I don't mentally translate it to English in order to understand it, at any rate.

Recently, I took a short trip that included a few days in Paris, and I made a point of defaulting to French when starting conversations. However, for the most part, as soon as a French person realizes that French is not my first language, they switch the conversation to English, even if their English is worse than my French (according to my perception).

I wonder if this is unique to the culture of France, or at least Paris, that they do not like to hear their language from a foreigner? Maybe the language is part of a group identity, used to identify locals who can be trusted to follow local customs? It was a little saddening. In Africa and the Middle East however, when I am in predominantly French speaking communities, the locals seem quite happy to have conversations in French, even though our accents differ greatly.


>I wonder if this is unique to the culture of France, or at least Paris, that they do not like to hear their language from a foreigner? Maybe the language is part of a group identity, used to identify locals who can be trusted to follow local customs? It was a little saddening.

I'm sorry to hear that. As a Parisian, I don't think this had anything to do with protecting an identity, rather we're just as happy to practice our (often terrible!) English as you are to practice your French!


Haha, I never even considered that angle. Sorry for jumping to conclusions. Paris was amazing, and the people were merveilleux :)


The French used to have a reputation for haughtily refusing to speak anything but French to tourists. I never observed such behaviour though.

Was this reputation always a myth? Or is it something that used to happen until a cultural change took place?


It's mainly so they can practice their English, or just what they're used to with most foreigners.

Leave the centre of Paris and they'll speak French, leave Paris and they won't speak English at all.


No, this isn't unique. If you know English (and I assume everyone here does), that'll likely be one of the highest barriers to clear when trying to learn a foreign language. People will either want to be helpful and speak English, or they'll want to practice English - or both.

Volunteering with exchange students in Norway[1], those that generally learn Norwegian the best in a year here, living in a Norwegian family, going to Norwegian school - are those that either speak little or no English, or those that manage to insist on speaking Norwegian (to the point of pretending not to understand English, even if that's their native language).

A suitable trade-off might be to make a deal with your friends/co-workers - only <native language> on Fridays, or (as you progress) English only allowed after hours Monday through Thursday etc.

For exchange students in the age group 16-18, those that speak a related native language (ie: indo-european), will generally start speak the language after 3 months, reaching fluency after 6 (a little faster for German, Dutch, a little slower for Spanish, French - about in-between for English). For those that don't (eg: Japanese), the bars are moved: starting to speak the language after 6, and fluency after a little less than 9 (slower start, but they tend to catch up).

It's quite refreshing to learn a language by immersion, rather than by tedious school lessons - the same way we all learn as children.

Another tip is to avoid jumping between languages as much as possible - or at least only jump between your native tongue, and the foreign language you're studying. Your brain seem to work better with immersion.

As for my personal experience, I learned English in school, from reading books and magazines, and watching movies and tv programs. While I agree that tv/film production often have overly clear dialogue - watching films first with subtitles, and later without, is great practice (for those that want a challenge in American English, I recommend trying to watch all of HBO's "The Wire" without subtitles).

After years of French in school, I also speak and understand some French, but I would probably have to go live some months in France (or some other place people speak French) in order to attain what I'd call proper fluency.

After spending a year as an exchange student in Japan, I'd say I speak fluent Japanese, but not quite at native level - I'm also somewhat stuck at "high-school" level, so I'm not quite comfortable in a "grown up" work setting. After my year there, it felt like I'd forgotten all my French - but as I've gradually improved my Japanese, my French as "come back".

Finally, I haven't seen singing mentioned here. Singing is a great way to improve pronunciation.

For what it's worth, I've heard people say that learning languages get easier after the fifth one. If I'm not counting Danish and Swedish (which one really shouldn't, as a Norwegian) I guess that means I have one more to go after I manage to brush off my French.

[1] http://www.afs.org/


> The most important part in my opinion is to live in a country that speaks the language you want to learn. You have to immerse yourself as much as possible with the culture and language. Also very important that you aren't afraid to try to use what you learned.

I cannot agree with this more. Coincidentally, I'm also fluent in German and English, and am learning Japanese.

At school, I took French, but I hated it. It only clicked when I went on an exchange, although I never kept it up. With English it was easier to pick up because of TV, films and games. But I only got good at it when I moved to the UK. The same with Japanese. Made almost no (real) progress until I went to Japan, and started using what I'd learned. Sure, learning the alphabet first helps, but language relies on being spoken IMO.

If you can, take a chance and just move to a country that speaks the language you want to learn.


I had the same experience with French. I learned it for 10 years, I even won a national essay competition - guess what, when I was in France, I couldn't open my mouth. English on the other hand - I had only 2 years of study under my belt, and lots and lots of practice - movies, programming books, Shogun by James Clavell, song lyrics, chats on IRC, and so on. I'm fairly confident in my English skills. I know Russian a fair bit, and it's just a consequence of living in Moldova, where we have a lot of Russian influence and a lot of speakers of the language (16%) - but since I don't use it every day, I tend to forget it.


I am learning french as well, via Duolingo. Spoken french fries my brain, I just cant keep up. So many words seem to be pronounced the same way. And they speak so fast!

For example, did they say:

jeune

Jaune

john

je une

Je un

Joan

Je ont

Jean

Je ne

....

Perhaps it's just an unconscious bias on my part. Just for reference, I am fluent in at least two more languages apart from my mother tongue.


Context is king. Language is pretty verbose, most of the time you can understand the gist without understanding 100%. So at least you can make a start - that's the first step! It doesn't have to be perfect. Granted, the French can be gruff about it, but most cultures appreciate you trying to learn and will accommodate you a bit.

It could be the training material. I'm an auditory learner and the Michel Thomas courses work amazingly for me. I also ignore spelling until later, because I find conversations much more important and also pleasurable (so I'm more likely to stick with it). My English spelling was atrocious, I still rely on Chrome's spellchecker (actually, so do many of my English friends!).

Keep at it, everybody's different!


Well half of those you can eliminate because they're grammatically incorrect or make no sense. (Je une = nonsense, unless you mean J'ai une whatever, but still, very different)

The others all have different pronunciations.


When you live in a foreign country, how do you make sure that you have plenty of opportunities to talk to people?


Well, a job or education are obviously the best way to do this. University is amazing for this. Sports work well, e.g. finding an amateur football (soccer) league. Most people hang around before and after.

I've had great success in hackspaces. They're a great place to meet geeky, like-minded people. They can be a bit dead in smaller cities though.

Chat to somebody at a language school and see if they meet up and they'd be interested in speaking to a native speaker. This seems counter-intuitive, but it's about growing your friend circle, and ultimately will probably relapse into the country's tongue. Plus, they're way more sympathetic to your situation.


When you live in a foreign country many things will be different/new, and so you have the perfect excuse to talk to strangers.

"Does this tram go to the (railway) station?", "Do you sell edam?", "How much is this?", "How do I buy a bus-pass?", etc.

I've recently moved from Scotland to Finland, and finding reasons to speak to strangers has not been difficult. Too often they reply in English, but every now and again I pass and have a conversation, albeit brief, entirely in Finnish - it's a little victory.


Strongly agree that wordlists are useless (beyond the first few hundred that you are going to see constantly anyway) and making connections is key to retaining vocabulary.

Another tip is to pull vocabulary lists from reading material, and then to review them you just re-read that text until it becomes easy.


I think wordlists and learning tons of vocabulary through deliberate study are generally underrated. However, I do agree that once you've got a good foundation, pulling words from texts is a great idea.

I think the ideal thing to do is to get a list of words from a text before you read it, then prime yourself on them, and then really solidify them by reading the text. I think it makes the text a lot more enjoyable.

I actually just put together a prototype of a tool for doing this and wanted to polish it more before posting it, but I'd love any feedback / ideas from people who are into language learning here: https://langtools.curtis.io/

You can test it out with a guest account: guest@example.com, password "guest". Or just sign up, I don't validate your email or anything.

It's pretty rough but I think the basic idea of uploading a text, and seeing which lemmas are unknown to you so that you can pre-learn them is a good one.

btw here's some german if you want something to paste into it: http://lpaste.net/267332


I can't seem to register for your site. I humbly suggest removing the requirement to sign up/in.

Based on what you have said in your text, you might find this old tool to be interesting:

http://www.lextutor.ca/vp/eng/

The lextutor site has quite a bit of interesting information, although the interface and some of the tools are very dated.


I wanted to remove the login (or set up a dedicated demo page) when I planned on posting it in a week or so but this seemed like an opportune time to drop a link.

I assumed someone just changed the guest password, but it appears the database got in some strange locked state over night. It's sqlite since I want this to be as self-hostable as possible. Not sure if I somehow created a deadlock.

It should be fixed now. I'd never seen this lextutor site, I find it very interesting, it looks like its they've got very similar ideas, I found this on the research page: "One ineresting use of VP (I believe the main one for users of online VP) is to evaluate the suitability of reading texts for various levels of learners.".

That's basically what I'm doing at the moment. I'd also like to add an estimate of how many of the unknown lemma's i'm showing that you'd need to learn to get your comprehensions to 98% (or something like that) so that you'd know how much pre-studying might be worthwhile before diving into the text.

I haven't done much research into it but the 98% number gets through around a lot as an ideal place to be to pick up the remaining words through context.

edit: ah, just a few sentences down: "As a rule of thumb, learners can not do much with a text if they know fewer than 90% of its words. From 90% to 95% the text can be used intensively (for dictionary work, contextual inference, re-reads, etc.). From 95% to about 98%, the text can be used for fluency building. Above 98% the text can be used for 'reading to learn' rather than 'learning to read.'"


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I learned to speak French starting from scratch in my 30s, while living in the US. I speak it well enough to enroll in an easy college-level course intended for native speakers[a] or to work professionally[b], although either experience would be painful at first.

For me, the process occurred in three phases:

1. Bootstrapping to the point where I could kinda-sorta read books and kinda-sorta carry on conversations. I personally used Assimil for this, which is excellent if you like learning by osmosis and you can spare 20 to 40 minutes a day for 5 months. Nine out of ten "language learning" apps just encourage you to screw around at this level with minimal progress, but if you just focus and get it done, it should only take a couple hundred hours (assuming you already know a vaguely related language—for an English speaker, French is easier than Japanese).

2. Using the language (as best I could). I read about 2.5 million words and watched about 15 seasons of television shows. This took my comprehension from vague and dodgy to automatic and nearly complete. I also spent many hours speaking, and I wrote a few dozen short texts which I had corrected.

3. Gradual improvement. I speak French every day of my life now, but my rate of improvement has slowed down because I don't currently need to be any better. I mostly talk to the same handful of people. To get better, I'd realistically need to work for a French-speaking company.

[a] I've taken an online statistics course for French speakers, and the language was rarely a problem.

[b] I've had multi-hour technical conversations with French-speaking programmers while debugging code.


What French TV shows did you enjoy? I've been looking for some to watch to improve my listening skills.


I asked the same question last year. The one that is frequently recommended is Engrenages(also called Spiral)


That show is worth watching even if you are not learning French.


Scène de ménage is pretty fun, Golden moustache is a YouTube channel that makes really fun stuff, they even have English subtitles. A few films are also worth watching: les visiteurs and intouchable. I can't think of anything else now.


Scènes de ménages, very funny, lots of slang and real-life usage.


When you were watching shows did you have subtitles on or did you always just have the French audio playing?


Everyone I know who has advanced skills in a foreign language spent one or more years in their target country where they had to speak the language daily, combined with a structured language course or class.

Otherwise it is extremely difficult to get the necessary amount of daily exposure to new and novel situations where the language you want to study is used. You can try by watching a lot of foreign TV series and movies, reading books, but those are not necessarily representative of the vocabulary useful in real life.

If you are a US citizen I think the only language you could get fluent in without leaving the country would be Spanish.


Native in Kirundi, I've learnt English, and French at school and by watching movies in those languages. No need to go in a foreign country. And now I work for a NGO, using them in my professional life.

The key is not only to read, understand, practice but also not to fear to make mistakes and get corrected. That's my experience. I've lived in Tanzania for 4 years, when I was young but with a fear of speaking Swahili the wrong way. Now I can understand and read Swahili, but responding back is so painfull. I'm waiting someone who can correct me while I speak it.


Get films in the language and watch them with subtitles (in that language). Read novels as soon as you can. This is hard to start off with, stopping every couple of lines to look up a word, once you get down to 2-3 words a page that you don't know then start reading without a dictionary, skipping words you don't know (humans are great at interpolating meaning). Just those 2 get you half-way to fluency. For the rest, I think you really need immersion.


To start off you might want to use subtitles in a language you can read, otherwise you're just going to be utterly confused for a couple of hours. If you do this, you do have to force yourself to pay attention to what they're saying though.


Good advice, just a small addition: if novels are too hard, give comics a try.


I'm native Romanian, fluent English and medium German. I've learned both on my own. School was terrible for learning anything.

Read, read a lot. But not hard-copy books. Read short articles. Read something you're interested in and already have some knowledge of. Technical stuff is easier than literature. No metaphors, no hidden meaning. You might not understand much in the beginning, but that's ok. If you at least get the gist of the article, you're good to go. It keeps you interested. Install the "Wiktionary and Google Translate" addon (if on Firefox, or similar for other browsers). Double-click a word to pop up it's definition. Or select whole sentences to instant-translate them. Every word definition is a click away. The more you see, the better you become.

Watch your favourite tv show with subtitles. If the tv show is in English and you already know English, that's all you need. Put on the subtitles in the language you want to learn and see the magic happen. You'll pick up words and expressions in no time. Dramas/thrillers work better than comedy. Comedy is usually fast-paced and has complicated expressions. Recommended: Dexter, Breaking Bad, SOA, etc. Not recommended: Friends, Big Bang Theory, etc. You get the idea.

It takes time, but it's better than learning all the grammar before you even have the chance to use the language. It's like learning the geometry of the hammer without ever using it. A little grammar right at the beginning might help, of course. But don't stay too long in that corner.


I'm a native English speaker, who now also speaks, reads and writes Mandarin.

The number one most important thing in my opinion is regular, consistent practice over a sustained period of time.

So long as you are using decent materials (there are plenty for whatever language you are learning) and as long as you have incorporated some sort of feedback mechanism to spot mistakes (recording yourself speaking, speaking with native speakers), you'll slowly but surely make progress.

Regarding time, I'd say it took me about 5 years to get comfortable with the language (including reading/writing) such that I could conduct myself in Mandarin in a given situation without worrying that my language skills (or lack of them) would trip me up.


I lived in the US for 20 years — came here when I was 10. I'm still not completely fluent in English. A lot of the learning came from interacting with others who mainly spoke in English, but in some occasions I still have to make an effort in order to get pronunciation and grammar correct.

In retrospect, what helped me the most in the early days were reading children's books and copying them down on separate piece of paper, and memorizing the most basic vocabularies that all native speakers naturally learned during their childhood years. These alone seemed to have improved reading comprehension and writing skills from level zero to the basic level. At first, try to write down the words in your native language next to the foreign words you are trying to memorize in order to make that initial connection, and later, try to memorize the definitions in the foreign language itself. I was using just pencil and paper throughout this process — I wasn't even aware that I could've used computers to do this at the time.

Fast forward to teenage years and up to early 20s, listening to podcasts and audio-based grammar courses helped with refining speech. I used to repeat after every sentence and even respond to questions that the hosts asked their guests in some radio shows as if the hosts were asking me the questions.

In regards to expanding my knowledge of vocabularies, I used to spend hours every week memorizing SAT vocabularies, but nowadays I try to use the new vocabularies that I come across as soon as possible in real conversations.

For now, I think you should focus on memorizing words for the things that you encounter most frequently every day, in addition to learning conversational speech rather than diving deep into the nuances of grammar and trying to cram all the vocabularies you can get your hands on into your brain. It's a long and arduous process — yet very rewarding, and IF you're a coder, you might know that there's a narrative by Peter Norvig — to set a long-term goal (up to 10 years) in learning a programming language — I think the same goes for spoken languages albeit it may take much longer to achieve an adequate level of fluency. Good luck.


Children's books are very helpful, and give you a kind of fluency with the low-level stuff that you will never get from SAT lists, etc. I think exposure to children's rhymes, poems, and nursery stories is useful if you really want to be fluent and probably necessary to get to a native-like level.

(By the way: "vocabulary" is not countable!)


I live in Sweden, which means I've had to study English since I was nine years old. Disregarding that, I also speak fluent Dutch (with a Flemish accent).

The way I learned Dutch came from having a long-distance relationship with a girl from Belgium. When I was visiting her on vacation her family would speak Dutch with one another at the dinner table and I would sit and listen. In the evening they would watch TV. Sometimes we would sit with them and I'd look at the subtitles in Dutch and try to map that to the English audio. At this point I didn't intend to learn the language; I simply saw it as an intellectual challenge to see how much I could make out. At times I'd even join to watch a programme in Dutch. I found that very helpful since they always had subtitles turned on and this helped me with one of the more difficult parts of learning a new language: parsing the steady stream of sounds into words.

Through this simple manner of absorbing the language I started recognising an increasing portion of the vocabulary. Once I felt comfortable forming a few simple sentences, I asked my girlfriend's mother to speak Dutch with me. She was all too happy to use her own language, rather than being forced to use English.

Once I felt able to speak in a limited manner about a few everyday topics (and I was living in Belgium as an exchange student) I took a course called "Dutch for foreigners". This was great for learning grammar.

Finally, after a year of living in Belgium I moved back to Sweden and my girlfriend soon followed. Since she had to speak Swedish all day at work I suggested that we would speak Dutch at home. That way she got to use her own language and I got to practice my Dutch.

We have now lived together in Sweden for five years, we're married and since Dutch has become the language I use at home I've found it difficult to remember to use Swedish when speaking to our son.


> The way I learned Dutch came from having a long-distance relationship with a girl from Belgium. When I was visiting her on vacation her family...

> We have now lived together in Sweden for five years, we're married...

And yet they say long-term relationships don't work :/


You have no idea how many times we were told that over the years.

We met via an online game 13 years ago (pretty much before online dating was a well-known thing). I was 15 at the time. A lot of people wanted to "save us from the inevitable heartbreak". Thankfully, our parents were nothing but supportive and happy for us.


Glad to hear that :)

Man, you're lucky. A girl who's into computer and games, that's just rare as diamond.

All the more reason to play online games!


Live in another country, and in an environment where English wasn't an option 80%+ of the time.

But when there (here) structured learning in the form of a few books to round-off vocabulary/grammar and a few lessons mainly to track progress and give feedback helped hugely in going from basic to intermediary. Pleco dictionary and flashcards for 1-2 hours per day also very useful.


This is the only method that has worked for me. There is no substitute for talking to native speakers every day.


also, class + studying while immersed. it's helpful to do both. and watching tv or listening to the radio ..

.. so essentially i'm saying "do everything you can think of, especially living in an immersive environment" b/c that's what i did for a couple years .. and i'm still not exactly fluent.

of course the experience of living in a different social mileu is awesome for reasons connected but not equivalent to language fluency, like broadening cultural perspectives.


I speak 3 languages fluently (English, French and Italian)

My mother tongue is Italian, however it's since been superseded by the other languages.

How do you accomplish this? Travel.

You absolutely need to immerse yourself to be fluent. Save your money. Make hard choices. Pick up and commit to spending 2+ years in a new country, society and culture.

It will be hard, but you will get a perspective that is lost on so many: what is the immigrant experience really like? what does it feel like to be victimized or discriminated against (assuming here that you're a white, English speaking American)? what does it feel like the first time you can successfully tell a joke? the first time you can give a presentation? the first time you can seduce a partner?

Get out there snowdragon, immerse yourself!


Seducing a partner is a good one ;) But very true! I'd add: understanding a joke...


I'm surprised to see no mention of Kindles / ebook readers. I tried reading novels to improve my German, but the physical effort of switching to a dictionary (either physical or web-based) was enough to make reading a chore. With my Kindle, I've downloaded an English-German dictionary and some novels, and now when I don't know a word I just tap it (well, kinda hold my finger down in a ZX81 fashion) and a translation appears. Makes the reading process that much more fluent and therefore enjoyable. If the ease of looking up words makes them a tad less "sticky" in my memory, the quantity of text I'm consuming makes the language-learning experience, on balance, more efficient (for me).


Similarly, OSX can be configured so that a triple click does a dictionary look-up, which I find extremely useful for reading material online in German.


I'd love something like that in Windows 8.1.


Just to clarify - do you now buy ebooks in German?

Do you have any recommendations for good books in German for beginners? I've tried buying kids books (Harry Potter etc), but even those are far too difficult.. the "clickable" dictionary sounds like it would resolve my issues though.


Yes - but I wasn't quite a beginner. The usual recommendation for adult books for beginners is Schlink's The Reader, though I found it dim-witted. I'd stick with Harry Potter and get a dictionary for an ebook reader.


Hmm... every comment I read actually talks about making an effort. Let me give some mundane advice.

For English, I didn't have to make much of an effort. I was 12, loved Dragonball Z -- we have subtitled television. I wanted to know more about it, the US was further in the series than The Netherlands, so I started reading English websites even though I didn't understand much of it.

Eventually I got on forums being a smartass that Goku's power level was not xyz because at website abc.com I read it was abc. All the while I was forced to look in the dictionary from time to time. Also, we went on vacation, then you have to speak English or their native tongue, so I always chose English.

I got on more forums after realizing that the English web has more information than the Dutch web. I started writing there as well. Eventually I'd watch English instruction videos on any topic and learned a lot of things. Eventually I'd even watch psychology courses from Harvard while still being a high school kid.

Then I got to uni and some Dutch people had trouble with academic writing or writing English in general. All that I understood from those people is that they haven't been as much on the English web as I have been.

So yea like many of us who learned English as a 2nd language (in order of importance): the web, videos/series/movies, instructional books, vacations, games and music.

Note: if Japanese would've had a roman alphabet and a stronger web presence I'd be better in that too, since anime is kind of 'force feeding' me Japanese words as well.


English is a low-hanging fruit because of the amount of quality content that is available only in English, especially tech- or science-related.

I'm now learning Spanish and the main problem is finding interesting things in Spanish without forcing myself into something irrelevant.

So I go for dubbed movies, TV series, listen to talk-based radio channels in background. My OS is in Spanish too, it makes many sites to switch into Spanish locale.

But still generating phrases in Spanish is much harder for me than reading or listening to it, because of this now I'm translating English book into Spanish and verifying my translation with a professional one.


Side note: my English skills are way better than my translation skills from English to Dutch or reversed.


A long-time English learner here.

I'd say variety is your friend. I don't know any learner who has mastered a language by sticking to a single technique. You would do everything, maybe with varying levels of comittment - read textbooks, take classes, do flashcards, do speech shadowing, talk to native speakers, watch movies and TV programs, etc.

After becoming able to say what I want (more or less), participating online discussions in the topics I care has been useful for me. It taught me how to structure longer chunks of text to express more complex ideas - you would be surprised to see how often sentence-to-sentence translation fails (between Japanese and English, at least).

If you are starting as an adult, native-level pronunciation would be difficult to achieve, even if you invest decades into it. I have almost given up on that front, and instead am focussing on how I can make my pronunciation less misunderstood. Part of that is to pay attention to vowels and consonants I'm not good at (or to use easier-to-pronounce synonyms where possible).


If possible, learn it young.

I learnt English at the age of 10 (which was best not to have any negative influence on the primary language as well), when I stayed in Australia for 3 years only but it stuck with me even after 20 years when my parents got much less confident in the language today. (Partially thanks to Internet where I could expose myself to English daily since then.)

As for pronunciation, I can still make converstation with natives as I kept reading English vocally when I read online materials to this day. I think it's very important to keep your tongue and mouth remember the flow by actively speaking if you are no longer in a position to talk with natives.

That plus the fact knowing the culture and the people in foreign country really makes a difference as an adult because you're no longer "afraid" of them (I especially feel this attitude in my country as a Japanese), those experiences have been such huge additions to my life, I'll be taking my kid abroad at certain age when I get one.


http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/

this site is incredible.

The writing is super well done by a guy from Africa who moved to the US, and while in the US learned japanese.

He learned how to speak so well that when he took an interview for a software development job, they asked him for his address (assuming he was japanese) and didn't believe that he wasn't from there.

The site is not just for japanese. Most of the info is general (and uses either japanese or chinese as examples). I recommend it to everyone.


I went from no Mandarin skills, to managing teams in the language over a few years. Here are 3 things I learned along the way about language learning: 1. Pick a method and stick with it - at any given time I was doing flash cards to practice vocabulary, working through a grammar book, and listening to a language learning podcast, Chinesepod. Every now and then, I tried new methods, but generally, once something worked I stuck with it until I felt it wasn't working anymore. 2. Habit - Every morning I woke up and completed my flashcards. Every day I reviewed my flashcards at least once during my break at work. Most days I listened to an episode of Chinesepod on my commute to or from work. Most nights I spent 30-60 minutes going through my book and reviewing my notecards/podcast notes. I had a schedule and stuck to it most days (though there was wiggle room when things got busy). 3. Don't be afraid to sounds stupid - Whenever I had an opportunity, I would try to converse with someone. Even though I butchered the language for at least 2 years, I got a lot of feedback and practice with pronunciation and tones that I would have missed if I just stuck to reading my books and practicing speaking to myself.

To sum it all up: pick a method and practice daily. You can do this anywhere with little investment beyond 60 minutes of uninterrupted study per day.


I moved to Australia from France when I was 11. I went to school and didn't speak a single word of English. Initially (for the first 6 months or so) I had no idea what people were saying and it created a lot of awkward (and tense) situations at school. Especially when teachers asked me a question and I couldn't respond and had to resort to facial expressions and hand waving to let them know that I was completely lost.

I think I understood most of English (and could do basic talk) after 6 months but I really started speaking properly after 1 year. It was pretty intense.

Now I'm in Moscow (Russia) - and I feel like it's the same thing all over again; I don't speak a word of Russian. It's harder to learn as an adult; there aren't as many opportunities to learn passively (adults don't talk about simple things like playgrounds, running around, going to the library, eating lunch, etc... The conversations are a lot more advanced so it's hard to pick up stuff).

I still speak (and write) fluent French.

I think the most interesting thing about speaking two languages really fluently is that sometimes I don't even realize what language I'm speaking in... Several times I told my wife a whole sentence in French without realizing (she only speaks English, Russian and Italian).


I learned German in 1 year and landed a job at Siemens where I served German customers in German (and not in English!) How did I do it?

There are multiple ways which can be used together to get the best way. Totally depends on the learner. Here are some of them:

1. Find a good mentor and you're half way through.

2. Join a good institute e.g Goethe Institute for German, Alliance Francaise for French. They have great sources of knowledge and know exactly how those languages are taught.

3.If you have basic knowledge of the language, start listening to simple Radio clips. It helps you improve your pronunciation. Or simply go to youtube and see/listen to the videos. There are many well-known resources and also some reading material on the net. Jump according to the needs and levels.

4.Try to find the meaning of every single word you come across. Use the dictionary for German, French, Spanish, and more. Keep google translator as your last option.

5.Finally, it is a language. It does take time to learn. Have some patience. Enjoy every bit of it and go ahead.

Best of luck. :)


I've been teaching myself French (from scratch) for the past two years. I read nearly as well as I do in English, and I listen well (some slangy television dialogue is still a bit tough).

Some things that have worked for me:

0. Goes without saying, but consistent effort. I've done at least a little French every day for the past two years.

1. Reading a lot. I started with the Harry Potters and now read for pleasure pretty much exclusively in French.

2. Reading on a Kindle. Instant dictionary lookup! This is such a big efficiency boost that I think that reading physical books is simply a mistake.

3. Listening a lot. I listen to about an hour of French podcasts/youtube channels a day.

4. Studying grammar. I mainly study grammar when I run into something tricky while reading, but I really do study.

5. Flashcards. I've only started making them in the past month or so, but yes, they really do work. I feel silly for not realizing that sooner. I highlight interesting words/expressions as I read and periodically dump them onto index cards.


I'm still learning but my recommendation is a lot of repetition. I learn primarily by trying to read a book in the foreign language with a translation available.

Only I repeat and repeat each sentence, each paragraph, and then each page, until I can read it out loud quickly with good pronunciation (I have a reader with TTS in the foreign language), where I can construct the meaning in my head on the fly. Until I get to that point, I don't consider the sentence, paragraph, whatever, learned.

My theory of language learning is that you need a strong root of a few sentences before you can branch off into new words and grammar constructs.

Too many language courses try to pack in the material as fast as possible. To me, that's a mistake. Like etching a lot of faint scratches into stone, you have a lot of information there, but it's difficult to read any specific thing and they wear away quickly. So, basically go for a few deep marks over a bunch of small light ones.


Not fluent yet but seeing excellent progress in my three years of strict self study. I think the most important things I learned are:

- Make a habit of the language. If you can't move to another country to immerse yourself, the least you can do is expose yourself to it everyday. Obviously the more time you can devote, the fast you will progress, but you must devote time. Every. Single. Day. Whether it's a little bit of reading, a conversation with a native speaker, watching a show. Just make sure to reflect on what you learned. Do not be passive. Learning by osmosis is not good enough.

- Do not be afraid to make mistakes. I have been learning for three years and only in the past few months have I jumped this hurdle. In the past, I rarely spoke to anyone in my language, for fear of messing up. I noticed my progress wasn't plateauing and knew something had to change. Now I just try to speak freely. If it's wrong or unnatural sounding, someone lets me know and now I have learned something. It's true that when you make mistakes, you learn more.

These things may seem obvious or simple, but I think you kind of have to take a child's approach - just have fun, don't think to0 hard, and be open minded.


I speak, read and write english (my second language) fluently although not perfectly correct.

I started thinking (when studying) and even dreaming (when I dreamt about programming, that is :-) in English before graduating because most of my books etc where in English.

In addition to reading lots and lots, one of the small things that helped me a lot was 10 years back or so I used to have an FF extension that let me doubleclick on any word on a webpage to get TFD definition of the word highlighted.

This took the effort out of expanding my vocabulary as I could look things up without breaking flow.

I still sometimes look up words that I haven't seen before although not as frequently as before.

(My problem is for a lot of words, esp. those I don't use at work I can read and write them but I might never have heard them.)


A polyglot marketed his method a couple years ago that makes sense to me.

>But basically: buy a Lonely Planet phrasebook. Learn full phrases off, use them. Get courses like Assimil, Teach yourself, Colloquial and use that for a little bit more of a base. Use it. Practice a tonne. When you are somewhat comfortable in the language, then (and only then) study some grammar to tidy it up. Practice more.[1]

I imagine starting with common phrases and pronunciation cuts through the learning curve.

1. https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/y70v0/by_request_i_am...


I am a native English speaker, age 39. I am learning Mandarin right now.

1. I am taking classes at my local college.

2. I am paying an instructor outside of class to accelerate my reading and writing.

3. I have started making myself write my everyday things in Mandarin. I.e my day planner. Notes. Grocery list.

4. I goto places where there are other Mandarin speakers and just start conversations.

5. If I want to say or write something and I don't know how I look it up on the spot.

6. I try to read websites in Mandarin

7. I make time to study every day

8. I ordered books from China in Mandarin to. Read.

It would be great to go learn in China but it isn't an option for me.

Edit: I forgot. YouTube videos


I've studied both Spanish and German extensively, even living in countries that speak each target language, but have only become fluent in Spanish.

The way I became fluent in Spanish was that I went to a Spanish speaking country and immersed myself completely. I lived with people who only spoke Spanish, joined a local rec sports team, got a job, and took formal classes for 3 weeks (focused strictly on the subjunctive, which is tricky in Spanish) when I arrived. The most helpful thing by far though was having a local girlfriend, aka the "long haired dictionary". If it's an option, having a significant other with whom you speak the target language is a major leg up. It took me about 18 months after being immersed to feel really fluent and comfortable.

The reason I never became fully fluent in German was because although I lived in the country, I spoke a lot of English there. My Canadian study abroad roommate didn't speak any German and I found that most Germans I met spoke better English than my German would ever be, so many times we'd speak English instead of German. I was in Germany for almost a year.

At the end of the day I think becoming fluent in another language takes a solid base of self study and a whole lot of practice with native level speakers. Build your base with Duolingo, explicit grammar study, and Vocabulary (I recommend memrise), and then find a way to practice natural conversation with native level speakers of the target language.


From my experience teaching German to people who know only English my main advice would be: - Accept that a lot of concepts can't be translated word by word. Speaking another language often means thinking differently - Forget finding and memorizing rules. With enough practice your brain will figure out what "feels right" - Be respectful of pronunciation even if it sounds harsh to you. English speakers tend to swallow a lot of sounds which makes them hard to understand to Germans


My mother tongue is Dutch, as that is the language my family spoke growing up. My parents decided to give me a French education (we lived in Belgium then, which made that easier).

I learned English through TV (Flemish TV channels, and some Walloon ones are subtitled instead of dubbed), BBC radio and Linux documentation. I would say I was proficient around age 8. Around age 14-15 I decided to switch my American accent to a more British one.

I lived in southern France for some time, which exposed me to Spanish and Catalan. I'm not able to have a conversation, but I can follow a movie (I watched most of Narcos without subtitles). I took German classes in high school. I had a fair leg up thanks to my Dutch background. I wouldn't say I know the language in any shape or form, but I'm able to understand the rough lines of most written German.

I moved to Denmark about a year ago, took some (paid for by the government) classes to learn the basics. Pronunciation is horrible, but I have a fairly firm grip on the basic grammar, sentence structure (fairly close to Dutch, in the end) and vocab. I still do a fair amount of Duolingo and often ask my colleagues to keep conversations in Danish instead of switching to English. Due to the amount of English loan words in technical conversation, it's fairly easy to follow that. It's the casual conversation that is a lot more difficult to understand.

All of this to say: jump in. Move to another country, and don't rely on any kind of lingua franca to help you out. Watching TV in the language you're trying to learn, with either subtitles in a language you master, or once you've started getting a basic grip, subtitles in the same language as the spoken one.

Another thing you can do is watch English shows with subtitles in your target language. Force yourself to read the subtitles (this can be hard to do if you're not used to it). This helps with common idioms, sentence structure, and everyday vocab.

And read. Read a lot. Every country has a wealth of youth books, that, although not the most fascinating of reads, can be both challenging enough yet easy enough for beginners. Books also have the added advantage that they're asynchronous, meaning you can take time to reflect and research before hitting the next word.

Edit: typo.


Did not take any holidays. You need to work on it every day, 365 days per year. Lots of little tricks. Like reading books written for 10 year-olds, by native authors of the language and set in a country where this is the native language. No translations of famous English writers.

Keep track of words you don't kn ow during the day, and look them up in the dictionary every evening. Go out of your way to meet native speakers. When I worked in Silicon Valley, I listened to Spanish language radio stations only, watched only SPanish language TV networks, only read Spanish language newspapers which happened to be free, and only spoke Spanish in stores and restaurants. It helped that 50% of population in SV is hispanic, and I was a foreigner in the USA just like them.

Another trick, after you check the news in English, read it again on the net in your target language. And watch TV series with subtitles in the same language. For instance, I watched Russian TV series with subtitles in Russian. That helped me when my ear could not make out the words. Also, not movies, but TV series because the same characters appear again and again so you get used to their quirks of speech and can learn faster.

Buy a kids encyclopedia in the target language. Don't be afraid to download and read university papers and dissertations in linguistics about your target language.

And finally, get married to someone who speaks the language and raise bilingual kids.


Can't for the life of me remember where, but I read a study a few years ago which really helped me understand how social interactions contribute to language learning. Apparently, when children are learning a second language (the study focused on children who spoke one language at home and another at school, or who had recently immigrated), the children who advance the most are not the brightest or most studious, but those who manage to get their entire group of friends/peers/surrounding adults to feel implicated in their learning of the language. The group as a whole works together to help the child learn, group cohesion happens, the child learns better and everyone feels happy for them and proud to have contributed. As an adult, I've definately found that asking one person in a group a question on, for example, the meaning of a word, can lead to a big group discussion where either everyone contributes to explaining it to you (and you get five explanations rather than just one), or everyone realising that they're not entirely sure and looking it up online, discussing it amongst themselves, and then explaining it to you until you have no choice but to have understood. Repeat this process as many times as is socially acceptable. Worked for a while in a friendly lebanese snack bar. Some of the (non Arabic speaking) regulars would often ask my bosses for explanations of the meanings of words, or to explain the lyrics of the song. He would explain, and any Arabic speaking regulars (there were a lot) that happened to be around would inevitably offer their own explanation. Basic Arabic was picked up, falafel eaten, and some friendships happened. Find somewhere you can become a regular of!


You need to get a language partner. Rote learning is nothing if you can't recall when you need to.

Just being able to make repetitive small-talk - but being able to do so with a degree of confidence is the base for expanding your "working set" into more useful and fluent conversations.

Beyond that, I found Anki to be the best flash-card system. Customizable, it's great if you are motivated enough to design and build your own card decks. Getting a "basic" vocab of around 1000 words should be a rapid short-term goal over 3 months or so (that's 10 new words a day, more than that will be challenging for most people).

And find a good textbook. There are a lot of ordinary books out there. But there are also usually a couple of highly regarded/respected series for a given language that stand out above the rest. For the two language I have learned they are the Integrated Korean series, and Japanese for Busy People.

But...go back to the first point. Language partner. There is not point trying to study a language in a vacuum, you need to be recalling in realistic conversations scenarios everyday ideally.


Well, english is my second language, and I remember becoming fluent at it by reading comics when I was a kid. It was both fun and educational at the same time. Also, I was a 80's kid and it did help that the era/place i lived in did not have much access to computers, video games etc, and reading comics was still considered a fun activity (apart from playing cricket / sports ) !


Check out some polyglots on youtube. Some of them keep learning new languages and they have good advice.

I can share my experience learning Spanish (at 40). I practiced every single day for 6 months using a variety of resources. Apps, grammar references, (online) dictionaries, personal teacher, news websites... I think what is important is not so much what resources you use, but the time you put in. You need to find a way to stay motivated for a long period of time, that's the hard part.

How well can I speak after 6 months? Well, I went through most of the grammar of the language, I can communicate (with someone willing to speak slowly), I can read the news but I have a hard time understanding people speaking at a normal pace. Overall, starting from zero, I'm rather satisfied but I expected to be better than that after 6 months (esp. considering French is my first language). It's harder than what I thought.

I stopped learning a few months ago and I'm afraid I'll forget everything pretty fast. Unlike English, I'm not exposed to the Spanish language.


As a consequence of growing up in a diverse and multicultural society like India, I am fluent in 4 languages (English, Hindi, Marathi and Konkani). I am currently learning French from Duolingo and Kannada from a language book that I purchased sometime back.

Coming to your question, there seems to be no right way to learn a language except for selecting a learning resource and diving straight into it. Some languages are easy and some are quite hard but the trick seems to be in getting familiar with the initial phrases and then learning the grammatical rules. Grammatical and syntactical rules are like the glue that hold the words in place and I would advise you to focus on them. Talking to people who speak the language (can be quite awkward for the beginner) and reading passages aloud will end up helping you as well.

There is no timeline to this and getting fluent in a language is a function of your efforts and the difficulty of the language you have chosen. If the language that you want to learn is on Duolingo, that's the best place to start.


I became fluent in English by watching TV shows, movies, etc without subtitles. I even picked up an American accent and people often ask me if I'm from the states :)

I spent some time in Western Europe and I noticed that ,by default, they dub their movies instead of adding subtitles. I think this really affects the adoption of a foreign language as you are a lot less exposed to any other language than your own (outside of school, of course). On the other hand, movies are almost always subtitled in my home country, so a lot of people pick up basic English/Spanish/Turkish just from watching the TV.

Anyways, I think you could benefit a lot from direct exposure to the language itself, without the 'safe zone' that a teaching environment offers. Getting out of your comfort zone and accepting that you don't understand every word being said in a conversation is an excellent catalyst that will force you to learn a language by association and body language analysis, not by just memorising words.


Start learning the second language and don't stop.

Any and all of the following, in any order, skipping between them when you get bored or want to try something different. This is just a list of options you've already worked out for yourself.

Books (do them properly, cover to cover, answers all the questions and listening to all the conversations on the CD or whatever), specific books on grammr, making your own notes of topics of interest, websites, apps, making up conversation on your own, (paid) skype conversations with native speakers, evening classes, take a holiday there (and maybe take lessons while there on holiday).

The only common link amongst all people who learned a second language is that they started learning and didn't stop. That's the common link. That's how to learn a second language.

Stop spending time trying to pick out the "best" option and just start. Pretty soon you'll have worked out what you enjoy most. Just start learning and don't stop. Start now, don't stop.


For pure language understanding, learn enough so you can start reading in that language. Then read. It's a great way for knowledge deepening and upkeep.

For pronunciation and accent there's probably nothing better than spending time with native speakers. In that scenario, don't stunt yourself by being afraid of making mistakes. People will understand.


I'm not fluent yet but after using duolingo for a few years (with varying degrees of commitment) I've had a tremendous improvement on my german after switching to lingq in the last few months. It allows you to import texts and you can very quickly look up the meaning of the word. While you do this it creates a database of words you've seen/ learned in context. It also automatically creates flashcards of those you've been exposed to and progressively moves them to a known state. What's cool is that you get a real sense of progress and where you're at. You can attach audio to texts as well and it also keeps tracks of words you've listened to. Anyway that's kept me much more motivated!. But still the gist of it is, read stuff you like in target language, children's books, newstories and hear the same content read out loud. Tv shows with subtitles in the target language are also great.


My story was back in school, and I had never spoken Spanish (but I'm french so they both have Latin origins). I started going out with this girl that was from the Canary Islands, she was fluent in english se we could have just talked in that, but I decided to ask her: "Let's only ever speak in Spanish, and if I don't understand something, first try and explain in Spanish, and if I still don't get it, switch to English".

It worked miraculously, within 1 month I could speak good enough spanish, and by the second month I could go to Madrid and speak with anyone on the street.

It's surprising how effective it is, I even use to catch myself thinking in Spanish.

I think the best strategy is total immersion, however you can achieve that. It takes effort and dedication, but not longer than a few months for a similar language to yours, probably 6months to a year for something harder like chinese or arabic.


A lot of folks are saying there is no substitute for complete immersion in a country that speaks the language. While it's true that immersion is a huge help, it's not so difficult to simulate. I learned Italian in Italy, but now I'm learning Spanish outside of a Spanish speaking country. Here's what I'm doing to learn quickly:

1. Conversation exchange sites. You can find native speakers of the language you want to learn who want to learn your native language. Try to get enough language partners so you can do it a few times a week. People will cancel, so book more meetings than you'd like to achieve.

2. Films, TV, Radio, Youtube, etc. Don't use your native language for sub-titles. But do use sub-titles in your target language. Doing this will require a lot of faith at first because you'll understand almost nothing. Stick with it. It's no different than living in a foreign country where you'll also understand almost nothing at first.

3. Change your computer or phone or tablet so the OS uses your target language.

4. Play online games with people who speak that language.

5. Read some of your daily news in the the target language.

6. If you can't find local classes, you can find a teacher who will use Skype.

7. Think about things immersion would give you, and seek them out on the web: menus, street signs, store receipts, bills, product descriptions, adverts.

8. The other methods for learning a language have been mentioned elsewhere but I'll repeat them for completeness here. Duolingo (grammar), Memrise (vocab), Anki (vocab, ability to create your own flashcards) all of which are free. I like to supplement with a listening method like Pimsleur or Michel Thomas which are not free.

If you follow all of the above, put in the hours, and continue to think creatively and seek out opportunities for simulating immersion, you can come pretty close.


I speak 2 foreign languages fluently, one of them is English, in which I got fluent by watching shows over the years (mainly Star Trek series and The Simpsons) with and without subtitles (first translated, then original English), and by reading a lot. Hard to say how many years it took, since I was a kid back then, but I got fluent enough to move to and study at the University level in the UK.

The other story is I got a girlfriend speaking the other foreign language (Slovak). We speak English and her language (foreign for me) interchangeably. We also lived in her country for some time. Time we spent speaking, listening and reading her language made me fluent. No special tricks, courses, apps...

Just practice, asking questions and learning. I got fluent in about a year, but bare in mind, Slovak and Polish (my native) share a common root, so it wouldn't have been as easy with something like Chinese or even French.


Rinse lather repeat. It took about 2 years before I was confident enough in my German skills to consider myself conversationally fluent at a beginner level. I spent four years of devoted study (yes high school) to get the concepts down, and now I've basically tried to maintain it in the 8 years since. For me it was important to focus on syntax and semantics more than vocabulary. It's super easy to find a translation for concrete concepts like "dog", "cartographer", and so forth, but it's rather difficult to find an elegant translation of advanced concepts like expressing conditional circumstances, and all those fun different tenses and voices. Repetition of vocabulary and all that helps to build up conversational awareness, but I find that it's important to focus on how the pieces are supposed together more than the individual pieces themselves. But hey, ymmv


I'm just overly fond of the procedural and qualitative approach of grammar and syntax first, but I know that runs contrary to how other individuals tend to acquire language. You do have to find some individual pieces beforehand so you can have pieces to put together, so obviously vocabulary itself functions as an important part, but I find that you are more likely to become fluent in a language when you've trained yourself to think with the logical approach that the language you're learning utilizes.


Anecdotally, one girl loved Harry Potter books. After acquiring basic level of foreign language, she would re-read those books in that language. As she knew the story back and forth, new words came to her in very familiar context, and learning was much more effective. I'd be interesting to research more this method !


I know English, Spanish and Japanese. I started studying Japanese in college and I live and work in Japan now. Structured lessons were fundamental in becoming fluent but when I was here I sang a ton of Karaoke whenever I could. It really helped my pronunciation and vocabulary. Definitely recommend signing to learn language.


The key is to get feedback. And normally, that means trying to make the sounds while you're young, because people tend not to correct adults when they make a slightly wrong sound.

Hang around kids and you'll notice people correcting their sounds repeatedly. Teachers will show them how to move their tongues, describing just what to do to make a th-sound or g-sound and so on. Go to an adult class and you rarely get that, apart from fixing really coarse issues.

If you're lucky, the easiest way to learn is just to grow up in a dual language zone. I grew up with four languages around me, so I know those sounds. To make it useful, though, you need instruction. You're unlikely to grow up in a place where specialist terms like "magnetism" or "accrual" are used in multiple languages. Also having some classes will clear up the minor niggles with any given language.


Moving to a country where they speak the language you are trying to learn kinda helps. I've lived in the US for 15 years. At first I wouldn't even be able to even tell words apart, so listening to a lot of people and trying to make the sounds they were making was my first challenge. Then I knew like 200 words so my conversations were a bit limited so memorizing words was the next goal. And then I would get into more interesting conversations and people would use rare words which everybody seem to know what they meant. And for that you can only read a lot ^_^ Then you can get fancy and try to reduce your foreign accent for extra points. But being exposed to the language is a must, hence living in a country where it is spoken helps. My french is kinda awful (I've never lived in france) but I can order food at restaurants which is nice.


Depends on your definition of 'fluent'. To speak like a native, you probably need to spend several years in a community where your target language is spoken as primary language. However, you don't need to be fully fluent to passably talk, read and write even on advanced level (like politics or academic subjects).

Find the part of the internet that communicates in your target language. Read and participate. Structured language classes with a professional teacher are helpful, but not sufficient.

Duolingo is nice for very basic introduction and first "stepping stone", but not enough if you want to progress farther than the basic tourist level (at least, not in the languages I have tried it).

After ~15 years studying (both in school and other activities), I wouldn't consider myself fully fluent in English but capable enough to get by in professional context.


An old-fashioned method, but it works: start dating someone who speaks the language you'd like to learn.

Outside of that, watch children's television shows in the language you want to learn, with english subtitles. The language is simple and will help get it in your ears.


I'm probably the only guy who is going to tell you that practice is the problem. The more you try, the more "ceiling" you'll create for yourself.

If this sounds interesting do some research on Dr J. Marvin Brown. His autobiography is available online. You might also be interested in looking up Dr Stephen Krashen.


A lot of software to attempt to make the boring repitition-based stuff more fun, for things like grammatical patterns and vocab. Anki (free) is my all-time favourite. Usually use a popular pre-made deck to learn what's recommended, and then have my own one going which I add a new flash-card to whenever I encounter a new word in my daily life. Review them in the evening. Something new I found out recently is that Anki has plugins [0]. AnkiStrategy [1] is currently making sure I get my daily review in.

Duolingo [2] (free) also helps with getting a grasp on basic grammar and vocab, but doesn't support many Asian languages (Vietnamese just got released and Indonesian is in progress).

Memrise [3] (free) is similar to Anki but has more of a modern, community-based app feel. A lot of great user-generated content.

Skritter [4] (subscription, phone app) helped me a lot when I was learning to write and recognise Chinese characters. They also have Japanese Kanji version.

Software-wise, I am currently learning Vietnamese, and for that using my own Anki deck (30-40 cards a day) and 5 duolingo lessons (adding new vocab to Anki). Feel like I'm making fast enough progress, but I think integrating anymore software to my daily revision routine would be too much.

Then you need a lot of interaction with people, using what you have leant in that language to attempt to communicate. I think this is the most important part and where you'll learn the most. You'll be forced to practise your listening, speaking, drawing on vocab and grammar that you know and have to put mould them into an understandable sentence. You'll make mistakes and look like a fool, but that's just part of the learning process. Try to treat it like a bit of fun, and hopefully the people you're talking to will also.

[0] https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-useful-Anki-plugins

[1] https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1494320602

[2] https://www.duolingo.com/

[3] https://www.memrise.com/

[4] https://skritter.com/


-Listen a lot, you should aim listen and understand almost perfectly standard day to day conversations, before worry about being fluent, You cant be fluent(and correct phonetically) if you didnt ear the word many times, (and by diferent people). And you need to understand perfectlly, it means fast, if your brain is slowly thinking about how to speak, your mouth will be too, So listen and understand well first.

-School might be good for the first basis, forget it soon (at least for easier languages).

-Find something interesting in this language, about your work, about your hobby, looking local series helps a lot, language+cultural.

-Be around people who dont speak your first language.


Be passionate about the cultures of the countries that speak this language, and read the products of these cultures - articles and books about their peoples, histories, traditions, world views, current events - in that language. This is how I learned English - from the age of 17 onwards I've been passionate about Anglo-Saxon cultures, histories and societies (in particular about the United States) and have widely read about them, in english.

I'll grant you that this is easier if the language you want to learn is spoken in a large, complex country or countries - such as the English, Mandarin, or Spanish.


At different points of my life I spoke Thai, Malay, Italian, French and a teeny bit of Mandarin. I would say the ones I became extremely fluent with were the result of total immersion (living in that country - being fully immersed in it for years).

I've known expats who go to Thailand, live in western communities, associate with other westerners mostly speaking English and deal with locals mostly on a limited level don't get very far. I've also met foreigners who come to live among locals in local neighborhoods and interact with the locals on a daily basis get very good at the language.

I don't think there's any way around it.


The other comments about speaking the language daily (i.e. living in a country that speaks the language) are dead on. If that is not practical for you, then you can help retain and increase your _vocabulary_ with Anki [1], but it is no substitute for actually speaking.

For Android phones, you can sync Anki with Ankidroid [2].

[1] http://ankisrs.net/

[2] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ichi2.anki...


I'm that red haired guy with a trucker hat who knows 9 languages. You may know me from the Internet. The key to learning a lot of languages is total immersion and not being embarrassed for fear of sounding wrong.


I mostly use English. Never been to the U.S. and not in a country where it's spoken. I've never "studied" English except in school. I just wanted to learn about Neuro-Linguistic Programing and all the good stuff was in English. I have a few replies on Reddit about how I acquired languages. I'm on mobile right now and I'm not accustomed to it (xorg isn't talking to me). hjugurtha on reddit.

Check out Stephen Krashen, he basically describes how I and a lot of people have acquired languages.

Gist of it:

- A lot of reading about a lot of topics.

- Exposure to the language (audio video).


What's your goal in learning a language?

In most cases, I would say it's pointless at this stage. Machine translation is already much better than most people can achieve with 6 months of study, and it's improving rapidly. I used to love learning languages, but I try to avoid learning things automation will soon be able to do better than I can hope to. On the other hand, if you need to be functional in a foreign language for the sake of some broader short-term goal, it might still be a sensible investment.


I listened to a lot of Youtube videos and songs in the language. The biggest impediment to language learning is that it can be extremely boring. If you're learning it through entertaining content, it gets easier.

On http://lyricstranslate.com/, you can find songs translated from and to a lot of different languages. It's a lot easier to remember words when it comes with contextual markers: music, it's place in a line of lyric.


I'm french, and I speak fluently english thanks to video games and community forums. But I also started learning norwegian and I'm doing pretty well, talking woth norwegian friends


I have been looking forward for this since I asked how to improve the language, especially English [1]. Thanks to the OP for asking this. I am also glad there a lot of people share theirs story or method when learning a second language.

I know it's not only book as the main resource to improve the language. By the way, any recommendation of book or other resource to improve English language?

Thank you.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12690479



When you're totally immersed in a language, even if you're lost, you'll learn far faster than everyone else.

Scott H. Young's 9 Tactics for Rapid Learning

https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2009/12/23/9-tactics-for-ra...


Spent five years in the UK after 15 years practising from home, neither native nor perfectly fluent but understood the place and have found my own voice. I can even produce non-trivial poems ehehe. If you need business level only, you don't need to be fluent, just proficient within your field of expertise so grammar, pronunciation, daily vocabulary and deep into your industry slang. Good luck!


I moved from Croatia to Germany when I was 6 (and stayed for another ~6 years). It took me maybe 6 months to learn the language (I moved to a regular school after 3–4 months).

I know this is not the answer you were expecting, but I just wanted to highlight how quickly small children can learn a completely new language. If you have kids, consider temporarily moving to a different country :)


Let's say (for sake of example) that you only speak English, and you are learning some other language.

Several things. The more the better; in combination is best: Physically move to the place. Befriend locals who don't use English. Shun people who do use English. Take classes. Get a job where your coworkers do not use English in the workplace. Use Quizlet or flashcards or some similar tool.


Inread lots of english software documentation and listened to podcasts and thus got fluent at English. I spend the childhood in France and thus became fluent in French. I married my teacher for the Persian language and by spending lots of time with her family and by visiting Iran often, I became close to fluent at Persian (supported by a textbook). Greetings from Tehran :)


I'm Polish and I've learned English by taking a 1-1 class for 1 year and.. Playing games in English, watching movies with eng. subtitles, writing a blog in English - now I've started to learn Chinese in the same way - but it's a bit harder due to learning the alphabet (but it's easier that You've might think about it)


I moved to another country. Actually, along the way, I traveled to a lot of countries and spent a fair amount of time in some of them, and I credit immersion and a desire to communicate in the everyday language of the locale with my ability to learn over 6 languages after my 30th birthday being previously mono-lingual with English...


technique-wise: most Indo European languages will have some patterns to verbal conjugation. Learn how to conjugate 10-20 verbs for various actors (I, you(formal, informal) he, she, they, etc) in the present tense. Learn a couple easy "cheater" ways to do past and future tense. Learn 10-20 adjectives, which are possibly forms of similar words you already know from other languages. Start conversing, even poorly, but make a point to avoid fellow speakers of the language you are trying to avoid being stuck in. (in my case, it was about avoiding people who speak and like to speak english, and trying to speak the local language wherever possible instead.) I would go and plop myself in the middle of social situations where it was necessary to converse and where it flowed easily (often aided by coffee or alcohol lol...)


Get a good dictionary of the language in the language and read it a lot. Get some basic grammar and asap use it on unsuspecting natives. For the phonemes that you did not get the chance to assimilate as a child, you're going to have to learn the mouth/throat movements and feelings like a gymnast learns jumps. Hope this helps.


I speak 5 languages. In 4 I gave conference speeches, had job interviews and participated in work discussions. The last one I never managed to master to the same level for as much books I read or lessons I would follow. The difference, I never was for a prolonged time in a place where I had no choice but to learn the language.


Most of the people will struggle if they do not think in a given language. I often spoke with people saying they are "fluent". But they weren't and they could not think in English besides small problems. Once you learn to think in a given language - most likely you have became bilingual.


I am assuming you are talking about spoken languages. Necessity and/or Motivation is usually the force behind it


IME I needed both. I moved to an English-speaking country in my early teens, knowing virtually no English at all. Naturally I needed remedial classes, but IIRC I wasn't progressing very quickly, for I wasn't sufficiently motivated, and would have likely needed to take them throughout secondary school. That is until I got interested in computers. I devoured all magazines, books, etc. on computing I could get my hands on, and within that school year I "graduated" from the remedial classes. So I needed both to become fluent in English.

I've got another example where I had motivation but not necessity. A few years later I became interested in manga / anime, back when translations of either were scarce. So I signed up for Japanese classes, and eventually even went to Japan as an exchange student for a summer. I continued to take lessons in college, until I'd essentially run out of classes to take. Having done all that, I would say my Japanese proficiency was merely functional. I probably could have passed JLPT N1 had I tried, but I didn't bother since I wasn't planning on working or studying in Japan. In this case, IMO I was reasonably motivated, but since the necessity component was missing, I never made it over the hump and became fluent.

Finally, the kpop craze got me somewhat interested in learning Korean, but I barely know how to say hello / goodbye. I'll blame that on my brain plasticity though. :-P


Netflix is a great tool for getting started - choose an interesting series in the language you're trying to learn, e.g French, and turn on subtitles in that language (in this case French) - it helps you decipher accents more clearly and gives you an ear for the language.


I am fluent in English, French, Arabic and Spanish, the first is my native tongue and what helped with the following two was the fact I started learning them as a child. As for Spanish, it was mostly motivation to keep using it. Learn to think in that language.


Haven't become fluent but the trick is to trick your brain into thinking in the other language


A quick, easy and fun way is to view tv series and films in the other language. You could add subtitles in your own language at first. If it's a difficult language watch something you already saw. The context will help, you already know what it's about.


Moved to another country at the age of six. Was fluent (about 3rd grade level) and able to think in the 2nd language in about a year. Took quite a bit longer for the accent to start fading, and it never has gone away entirely.


I studied Japanese for a bit in college, so I met a lot of people trying to learn Japanese. But the only ones who were actually able to speak it fluently were the ones who had gone an a highschool exchange. Try doing that! :)


>How long did it take you?

Depends on the language and were you're coming from but to get C2 proficiency it takes anywhere from 900 to 4400 hours of immersion according to various sources.

In my experience that's quite accurate.


For me it was mostly playing games on-line. Having a clan / team where you talk with your peers every day is pretty cool.

I also took English classes for several years when I was young.


Also it depends on what language you want to learn. If you want to learn Spanish you can speak with native speakers who don't speak say English in the US.


What did i do? Watch cartoons as a kid. Back then its nearly always original English voiceovers but with subtitles.

Nowadays most stuff on TV is dubbed in Dutch :(


I moved to Puerto Rico at 32. I didn't really speak any Spanish, though I had a few years of it in high school. So I had some familiarity with the grammar. Nearly a decade later, I consider myself fluent, though I know at times I sound funny to native speakers.

PR turned out to be an exceptionally difficult place to learn Spanish (for why, see: http://www.speakinglatino.com/study-spanish-in-puerto-rico/ particularly #2). It took me longer than it would have taken had I gone somewhere that English was not an option, and my biggest jumps forward were on business trips to those places.

When I arrived, I started taking lessons twice a week, and continued that for about 18 months. I spoke Spanish almost exclusively for work, usually over the phone, which is much harder and likely helped. A few years in, I moved to Miami, where I actually speak more Spanish at times (here, social situations are in Spanish, in PR all social interactions were in English) Later, I married an Argentine, and found out that I had to learn a whole other language!

Other things I did that helped:

1- I decided I was going to say dumb things, and that I had to be okay with that. When someone would point something out, I'd laugh. An example, I remember mixing up the words for 'butterfly' and slang roughly equivilent to 'faggot' in American English. I didn't know that's what it meant. I had heard the word somewhere and associated it with butterfly because they sound somewhat similar. Be ready to laugh at yourself, that makes it much easier to just throw it out there and try. And let's be honest, pointing at a butterfly and saying, "Hey look at the faggot" with no other context or offensive intent is pretty funny. 2- Find people to speak with regularly. Daily if you can. The really valuable people are those who will correct you without switching to your language unless absolutely necessary. 3- Focus on communicating, not grammar. You need enough grammar to be understood, and you should keep correcting it when you make mistakes, but if you work on communicating effectively with people, the grammar falls into place. 4- Have fun with it! Its interesting. Enjoy. 5- Learn the bad words too. I used an offensive word above. But its important to learn those words, because that's how people actually converse. You'll learn whole other levels of both language and culture by doing so. Sometimes, its important to realize when someone is being offensive, or even that you're being offensive and don't know it.

But mostly, have fun with it.


I worked (illegally) as a restaurant dishwasher at a ski resort in Spain. You'll learn fast if you are totally immersed and need to communicate to work. ;)


I came to Canada as a German when I was 8. It took about 3 months to learn English fluently at that age. No tricks, just watching TV and going to school.


I started working (illegally) as a dishwasher in a ski resort in Spain. You'll learn fast if you need to get a job. Necessity. ;)


I took classes, then studied in another countries, watched tv in that language and spoke and wrote to people in that language.


I learned english by playing videogames on the internet. The joys of being young and having a plastic brain.


Read wodehouse and watched Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister to learn english in the 80's


Short Answer: I tried to talk to people everyday and took lots of notes. It took 3 years before I was reasonably fluent and started teaching the language to other foreigners.

Long Answer: Here's how I learned to speak Thai as my 2nd language.

I moved to Thailand in 2003. I had very little experience with any type of successful language learning. I had 2 years of high school Spanish which means I could ask where the bathroom is and knew the difference between "dog" and "but." I didn't know any Thai when I got on the plane to fly there. I bought a phrasebook the day I left and tried to learn the numbers and a few basic phrases on the flight.

I improved a tiny bit each day. Every day people told me how great my Thai was. It's a nice motivator for a while. I made some half-hearted attempts to learn the script, but I never really understood how the tone system worked nor did I have any clue that there were multiple ways to say a P sound and that this was actually crucial to being able to speak well. After 1 month, I did a visa run to Laos where I used my "awesome" Thai to help some other travellers haggle prices and kept us from getting ripped off and also just helped connect with regular people who couldn't speak English.

The next major event was a couple of months later when I got a job and ended up moving to another city halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I left Chiang Mai thinking I was pretty fluent in Thai, but I quickly discovered I was very wrong. In the new city, I struggled to understand what anybody was saying and I was having to repeat myself all the time wondering what was wrong with everybody. I eventually accepted the fact that it was me rather than everyone else which was the problem. I also had no idea how to fix it. The people I worked with tried to be helpful, but they couldn’t really explain what I was doing wrong.

At the end of the year, I moved back to Chiang Mai and started studying at an university there in order to get a visa and take some Japanese classes. While studying at a Thai friend’s house for final exams, I noticed a large black book about Thai language that I had never seen or heard of before. I believe it was written in the 50s for ambassadors and other foreigners who were in Thailand and included things like how to talk to their servants as well as sample writings from both educated and uneducated people. I photocopied the book and went through it over the coming weeks. The book broke down the entire sound script, sound system and tone rules. It wasn’t well laid out and I could write a mile long list of things I didn’t like about it, but it was the first comprehensive explanation I had come across.

I spent about 6 weeks studying and drilling all the exercises and eventually remapped them so they were more useful. I have almost no attention span so I would do very short study sessions a few times a day. A session wouldn’t usually last more than 5 minutes and might be as short as 1-2 minutes. I remember the day when everything clicked. Words that I used to mix up because I thought they sounded similar were suddenly so clearly different that I couldn’t believe I had ever mixed them up in the first place. I knew the tone system so well that when I pronounced something with the wrong tone, alarm bells would go off in my head “That can’t be a low tone because it’s spelled with a low class consonant!” and I would instantly self-correct.

This all happened very fast and my fluency level just skyrocketed at this point because once I learned how to say things correctly, it became easy to hear them when others spoke. I still wasn’t fluent, I still made mistakes, but I gradually fixed any pronunciation mistakes I had been making. Every single effort I made to learn Thai up until that point was always severely hindered by the fact that I did not have a solid grasp of the sound system.

Once I was comfortable with the script, if I encountered a new word, I could just jot it down in a little notepad I always carried and I could look it up later. Even if I didn’t know exactly how to spell something, I could at least write it out phonetically and then ask people what the correct spelling was. If I tried to say something and I got a weird reaction, I’d write down what I said and ask 4-5 of Thai speakers (never ask just 1!) how I should have said it. That meant that next time it came up, even if I had forgotten the new sentence, I could look it up because it was in my pocket. I’d fill up one of those notebooks every month or 2 and I believe I retained about half of whatever went inside them.

I believe that there are a few key steps that you can follow to make significant progress in the first 1-3 months of learning a language: Getting Started with a New Language:

Step 1) Learn the sound system

Actually spend a few days learning how to say the sounds properly. How much time will depend on the language This can go a lot faster if you find someone who can explain things like where exactly your tongue is supposed to be to say a particular sound. Non-native speakers who speak a language really well tend to be more helpful than native speakers for this.

Step 2)Learn short, high-frequency sentences and/or dialogues

Make or find a list of sentences/dialoges and learn to say them correctly and as you get more comfortable. Start slow and practice saying them faster until you can call them up automatically. When you have 20 or 25 of the right sentences, you will then have enough ammunition to start faking a conversation.

Step 3) Talk to people as often as possible Even if you have just 2 or 3 sentences, you can already go out there and blast them off at people and see where it leads. It’s fun and the stuff you learn putting these into practice is far more likely to stick because it happened in a real life with another human. You may need to hear some things 10 or 20 times before you really get it and that’s perfectly normal. If you are paying attention and keep hearing something over and over, you’ll remember it eventually. Some stuff will slip in even when you aren’t paying attention. If you aren’t in the country, practice on your pets or your friends, but since it's 2016 and you can fly across the world for under $1000, there's really no excuse to not go there. If you really can't go, then use sites like italki.com and hire private tutors. If you don't have money, do language exchanges.

Avoid word lists in the beginning. Knowing how to say “Are you going?” quickly and with good rhythm and pronunciation has far more value to a beginner than “purple, aunt, cloudy, bird” or “ shoes.” Once you have structure and sounds, taking on new words is much easier. I focus on drilling sentence patterns rather than memorizing grammar rules.

Ideal sentences/dialogues will look like this: The shorter and more colloquial, the better. E.g., A: What'd you do yesterday? B: I saw a movie. A: How was it? B: Not bad.

It’s generally ok to take some of those initial sentences from courses like Teach Yourself and Assimil if that’s all you have available, but I’d definitely put off learning anything you can’t imagine yourself saying today or tomorrow. I created a list of sentences for my students a number of years ago which you may find useful. Feel free to copy and modify. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19OQdDLq9MBoGpPy9I7rB....

It’s worth noting that while in Thailand I took years of classes each in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. While I eventually learned to speak all 3 of them as well, I have never reached a level of fluency anywhere close to what I did with Thai. I even 2 spent solid years totally immersed myself in Japanese (using AJATT mentioned below). I had headphones in my ears blasting Japanese whenever I wasn’t talking to someone. I watched The Matrix, Shawshank Redemption and more dubbed in Japanese hundreds of times. I'd rip the audio, shuffle the scenes and listen to them when I slept, walked or exercised. I read piles of manga and novels translated from English. It turned out that none of that was a substitute for actually talking to people everyday like what I did with Thai. You need to be trying to talk to as many people as possible for an extended period of time in order to achieve any real semblance of fluency.

3 years after arriving in Thailand I started to teach Thai to a couple of friends. It worked great, and over the course of teaching a couple hundred people, I developed and tweaked a new more efficient approach to learning Thai. This is only important here because this is how I ended up teaching Thai and it worked so well that it changed the way I learned as well. Less steps, more sentences, no memorizing word lists. And for the sake of credibility, here’s a video of me speaking Thai in 2009, nearly 6 years after I got to Thailand. I was pretty camera shy, but it’s a general idea of what I was capable of at the time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgzXuHmO_HY


Do you have some resources to learn a not so common language like Danish?


I had a Danish girlfriend for a couple of years who spoke perfect English, so we didn't practice very much unless we wanted to talk about something without other people knowing (that's to expensive, let's go, etc). I got pretty far in Danish with the "Teach Yourself" course. The problem is that some of the lectures are quite dated, but the phrases will be in your head forever after listening to the courses on repeat. Hope that helps.


I'm in your situation: my Danish girlfriend speaks correctly English and Italian (I'm from Italy).


If you move here, you get free classes for 3 years.


Where?


Also pretending not to speak English helps.


duolingo, weekly classes, then spent 3 months in the destination countries [spanish]


I know 5 languages. Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, English and Arabic. Fluent in 4/5. Most Indians know 3+ languages.


"...what did you do?"

:/


"Grew up in India".


Haha, I haven't tried that. Hope I roll high for an upper caste!

Still more helpful than cultural brag.


WHAT IS FLUENT

First, you have to define what you mean by "fluent". There are several proficiency scales that may provide some useful insight:

- Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre1_en.asp)

- ACTFL proficiency guidelines (https://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/ac...)

- Interagency Language Roundtable scale (http://www.govtilr.org/)

Here is a quick-and-dirty self evaluation that can give you an idea of the range of what "fluent" can mean (http://www.govtilr.org/Skills/readingassessment.pdf).

WHAT LEVEL OF PROFICIENCY DO YOU WANT

The next question you have to answer is what proficiency level are you aiming for.

Most of the resources you listed are fairly good at getting a learner to a low level of proficiency (CEFRL A2, ACTFL Novice High, or ILR 1). Just try one or two and find the one you like doing (I am a fan of Duolingo, but ymmv). This level is roughly "survival mode" language (e.g., basic introductions, basic getting around and doing things, short and simple small talk). If your goals are higher than that, then then the process is less transparent, but it mostly involves working with authentic native materials (texts, videos, audios, etc.) and learning through interaction with those materials. Note that it is almost impossible to get beyond a very low level of proficiency with books alone -- the scope of language that would need to be covered gets too large too quickly. As your proficiency level increases, language learning texts become reference sources rather than primary sources of learning.

The steps of fluency roughly look something like this (using ILR scale for simplicity):

- Memorized words and phrases (ILR 0+).

- Short, simple sentences (ILR 1). Many/most Americans I know consider this to be "fluent".

- Basic paragraphs (ILR 2).

- Extended prose (ILR 3).

Most of the suggestions I see in this thread focus on ILR 0+ and ILR 1. There is an entire world of language and language learning beyond that. Note that I stopped at ILR 3 -- that's the level at which a person can fully function at a professional level in most contexts. Day-to-day life is largely conducted at the ILR 1+/2 level.

WHAT SKILL

How do you want to use the language? The four skills are reading, listening, speaking, and writing. The first two are receptive skills that develop faster than their productive skill counterpart. Note that materials that are really good for developing one skill (e.g., reading) might be much less effective or even slightly counterproductive for learning another skill (e.g., speaking). That said, it is usually good to develop all skills at least somewhat while focusing on the skills you are most interested in (i.e., if you want to read, don't just read -- learning some speaking and listening will help the development of your reading).

HOW MUCH TIME

Another question is how much time do you have to dedicate to learning the language. Some languages are more linguistically distant from your native language than others, and the more distant languages take longer to learn. Here is a scale used by FSI with languages and hours of instruction needed to get to ILR 3 in one skill (usu. in speaking):

http://www.effectivelanguagelearning.com/language-guide/lang...

Note that the range of time required is large -- 600 hours in 6 months for Spanish or French, but 2200 hours in ~20 months for Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. To put that in perspective, when a talented learner of Spanish is functioning at a full professional level, an Arabic learner who started at the same time will typically be functioning at a touristy sentence level.

BASICS OF PROCESS

Maybe this is a tl;dr. I am not sure that it makes sense without the above context. Note that at any time, traveling to or living in a place where the language is spoken will help tremendously. Also note that having a native informant can be very useful -- italki is a great resource for native informants.

1. Assuming you want to learn a relatively commonly taught language (e.g., something like Spanish or Korean rather than something like Xhosa or Igbo), pick any learning source that you like and stick with that. You will learn the sounds and script of the language as well as memorize basic words and phrases. You will eventually be able to create short, simple sentences that may or may not sound native-like. This is about ACTFL Novice or ILR 0+ or 1 level.

2. Start looking at level-appropriate native texts, and use learning texts as references rather than primary sources. Lower-level texts might be things like ads, announcements, or parts/clips from videos that cover casual conversation. Higher-level texts might be newspapers, non-fiction books, most general interest TV shows (i.e., not ones on opinionated and/or abstract topics like politics or religion). Flashcards can be useful (esp. for specialized vocabulary in a field you are interested in), but you will want to move away from flashcards and memorization gradually. You will need to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible to approach full functionality. This does not require you to be in a place where the language is spoken, but that usually helps a lot. This will get you to the ACTFL Intermediate or ILR 2 level.

3. To go beyond step 2, you will largely need to start functioning like a native. Your day-to-day socializing and media consumption will be almost entirely in the target language. The reference texts you typically use will be the ones that are written for native speakers of the language you are learning (e.g., a Japanese-Japanese dictionary). This is ACTFL Advanced or ILR 3 level.


Do you remember the 10 000 hours principle, popularised in Malcolm Gladwel's Outliers? Well, it comes from research by Swedish-American scientist, Anders Ericsson. I talked with him. He says that there is no precise, scientific definition of "fluency", so you actually cannot construct an experiment that could determine which method works best.

In short: to reach moderate fluency at B2/C1 level, learning any language, would require a couple of hours every day for about 3 years. But there is -NO- optimal method!

I have put a considerable amount of effort to research this question as a semi-professional (currently studying applied linguistics) and for my own private use.

I've reached fluency in English (and to a lesser extent in Hebrew) as a second language. I've also learned and sometimes use Spanish (learned at a university), German (high school, I live in Germany now), Danish (university), French (high school), Ukrainian (university), Italian, Latin (high school), Classical Greek and Aramaic.

People studying full time Chinese, Arabic or any other language get their BA in 3 years and are quite fluent. It often requires about 10 hours a day of work (classes, reading, drills). It's hard. No short cuts.

On the other hand, however, I'd say that you need about 50 verbs and about 200 other words with almost no grammar to communicate. Where I work I speak Portuguese (a language I don't know!) German and Spanish with a girl from Portugal who speaks only Portuguese. The notion of "learning" a language is a construct of our education system. Grammar is almost useless is day to day communication. You only need both sides to wish to communicate, and there has to be no superiority and inferiority in the relationship. Somehow a natural "pidgin" grammar emerges spontaneously - you may not know past tense, but then you say simply "yesterday" + infinitive and it works perfectly well. The more I talk with Amalia the more Portuguese I get. And then I use it with two other friends from Brazil. It simply works - with no formal training, courses, textbooks. In class you are focused on correctness, not on getting your message across, and you are graded for correctness. This creates stress, confusion, doubt in your abilities.

My Portuguese, however, would not be good enough to get a job in Portugal. And my English, by the way, which I use with ease, would most probably be not enough to work as a journalist or in a radio station, although I read and listen to English between 5 to 10 hours every day.

What the research about language learning teach us? Almost NOTHING! It only confirms common truths about what helps: immersion, having no stress, living in the country, being self-reflective about your methods, good resources, practice, reading, radio, tv, vocab drills etc.

I talked with prof. Anders Ericsson about why is it that 40 years of serious systematic research has not produced ANY conclusions. You might have heard about Stephen Krashen and his "silent period" and "natural acquisition method", in short: adults learn just like children. This method is very popular among polyglot YouTubers such as the popular Steve Kaufman[1]. The most important principle of this method is that you don't learn grammar at all. The research on second language acquisition is NOT CONCLUSIVE! I believe in science (the same science that builds transistors smaller than visible light waves) and apparently Krashen's theory has not been confirmed or rejected which means that we still have no clue what works and what doesn't. I've spent tens or maybe even hundreds of hours reading about Krashen and I am only frustrated. Language research is tricky, there are dragons, don't go there.

I spent over a year on scholarship studying Hebrew, I was very methodical about it, I made beautiful statistics, graphs, precisely measuring everything for 12 months and my conclusion is that: leaning a language is freakingly difficult, requires inhumane tons of hours, and that brute force works (Anki drills). I had excellent conditions, money for free, a room, teachers, no family, no concerns. I can now (slowly) read academic papers and watch movies, but I just cannot imagine anyone (not super smart) learning any language having a (intellectually demanding) day job and kids, and reaching fluency on a graduate level.

I am about to start leaning Arabic and I feel I will die trying (I'm 30). With just about 3-4 hours a week I expect to be able to read Judeo-Arabic in 15 years.

Resources (in fairly random order):

* Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten (ed.), Second Language Acquisition (The Cambridge Handbook), Cambridge University Press, 2013.

* Carol Griffiths (ed.) Lessons from Good Language Learners, Cambridge University Press, 2008.

* Christine Pearson Casanave, Controversies in Second Language Writing, Dilemmas and Decisions in Research and Instruction, University of Michigan, 2004.

* John W. Schwieter (ed.) Innovative Research and Practices in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism, John Benjamins Publishing, 2013.

* Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool, Peak, secrets from the new science of Expertise, 2016. (interesting but not strictly scholarly)

* Stephen D. Krashen, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, University of Southern California, 1982.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/user/lingosteve


Singapore education system: bilingual mindset. How long? Since birth, 20 over years.


OVERVIEW: - The "One(ish) Metric That Matters" - Daily routines - How long it takes

- OMTM:

The ONE statistic that correlates the most with moving the needle from complete beginner to high level proficiency with the language is 'Hours of Conversation w/ a native speaker'. Everything you do, and every tool you use should help increase that particular stat.

You learn vocab at the beginning to help yourself extend a conversation from a 1 second 'Hello' to a 10 second 'Hello, what do you do for fun?' + response. You work on listening so that when the person responds you can extend the conversation a few seconds further because you understood what they said.

The One(ISH) part of this metric is that you will notice that as your overall 'Total Hours of Conversation' increases, the average 'length' of each of your conversation does as well. The only way you'll be able to realistically increase your hours of conversation is to move from 10 seconds exchanges to longer conversations.

At the beginning, all efforts can be judged by their merit on how much they add to your time talking. Because of this, I strongly suggest picking ONE topic and ONE specific type of person to speak with, because learning to speak at length and in depth about soccer or programming or food with a friend adds to your 'Hours of Conversation' metric much faster than dabbling in all three.

This is why the Mormon church is able to consistently churn out fluent speakers of second languages in only a few months, because they have one kind of conversation (religious) with one type of person (prospective convert) over and over and over. Their 'hours of conversation' metric is through the roof.

As a side note, this is what people actually mean when they say 'immersion'. They mean 'hours of conversation'. It's why you can learn a second language fluently equally as well from living in the country as staying in your home country. Living in a different country just makes it easier to find people to talk with.

- Daily Routines: Every day, attempt to speak to a native speaker or speakers for a combined total of 1 hour. Every day, write, memorize, and include in conversation...

* 5 new vocab words * 3 new phrases * 1 new story

It helps to keep these related to each other. Here would be a good set of those if you were a beginning English speaker

5 Words: house, clean, messy, friends, party 3 Phrases: I need to clean the house. I am going to the party. I want to invite my friends. 1 Story: Last year, my friends said they wanted to have a party. I said that we could have the party at my house. So I cleaned the house for the whole day to get ready. Lots of people came, and we had fun. At the end of the party, my house was really messy.

Stories aren't typically very long, but as you get better, you can add more detail.

- How long does it take:

Every day you need to do the 5-3-1 practice, and aim to have 1 hour of talk time with a native speaker.

At first, your talk time will be excruciating: How do you fill an hour of conversation with only a handful of vocab words? The short answer is "you can't", but early on you can do something like learn the phrase 'what do you like to do?', combined with the day's vocab can take you to 'what does your brother like to do?', 'what does your mom like to do', 'what does your best friend like to do'. You can repeat those questions to several different people to try to get your 'Conversation Hours' as high as reasonable. Don't be bummed out if at the beginning you are struggling to put in only more than a few minutes. You'll get it. Try to make the next days conversations a little bit longer.

But, if you make it to the 90 day mark, and you have been diligent about your study efforts, it means that you have AT LEAST 90 stories, 270 phrases and at least 450 vocab words, and you will have dozens of hours of practice speaking.

Once you've arrived at that point, you will experience something magical: On day 91, go speak with a new native speaker you haven't spoken with yet, and they will (almost without fail) ask you 'how long have you been learning <language>?' and when you respond '3 months', you will get your very first 'HOLY , that's incredible! You sound like you've been speaking for at least a year! Maybe 2!' and you will fill with pride and think to yourself 'Yeah! I am doing really wel... HOLY I understood when that guy complimented me and I didn't even realize it wasn't in English!'

That burst of pride and excitement will be enough to carry you from working proficiency to fluent. The hardest part is convincing yourself that you are a 'language learner', and once you experience the above and realize that you are, the rest of the journey is easy.

Best of luck!

Source: My brothers and I are all former Mormon missionaries who learned second languages and were put in charge of helping along other new missionaries learn the language. My brothers learned while they were in Uruguay and Spain, I learned in suburbia, USA.


Java for Dummies ;)


There are already some great answers, but here is my two cents.

> What did you do to become fluent in another language?

For me the short answer was I took classes for the beginner levels, and actively looked for opportunities to use the language. After the beginner stages I self studied, with the help of iTalki teachers, tutors, and friends that spoke my L2.

The long answer is: 1) I took courses that taught me the fundamentals. By that I mean all the sounds a language can produce, and the basics of it's writing system. 2) The course covered reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Each one reinforced the others, along with frequent testing. 3) I spent a minimum of 2 hours a day 5 days a week practicing, reviewing, and learning, my first year learning the language. 4) Once I was at an A2/B1 level, I took a 4 week intensive summer course in my L2's country. During that time I transitioned from learning about my L2 with English to talking about it and learning it using only the L2. 5) I would constantly put my self into real world situations that forced me to use my L2. For example, as a beginner one thing I did was go to a local L2 restaurant. I tried to order in my L2, and tried to understand what some of the patrons were saying. I also went to conversation exchanges, and culture meetups. There are many things you can do. 6) I didn't limit myself to what the course taught, and actively searched for things that interested me, like dubbed versions of movies I liked, or vocabulary related to my hobbies. 7) Do things that keep you motivated. For me this was reading positive blogs from people like Benny Lewis, or scheduling milestones.

I could go on and on, about specifics, like memorization techniques, or the importance of speaking as early and as often as possible, but there are tons of articles on the web about that stuff, and any language learner that looks outside their course will find them.

> How long did it take you?

There is no one size fits all answer for this. Depending on how different your target language is from your native language, and what you have defined fluent as this number can be all over the place.

Also, I find that with each language I learn, the next one becomes easier to learn. For example after learning 50 Mandarin works a week as a beginner, learning 50 Spanish works a week seemed like a cake walk, especially with all the cognates. Another example is I am learning Japanese now, and learning Kanji is a cake walk for me. First because I already learned to write characters in Mandarin, and second because most kanji that I have seen have the same or similar meaning as their Chinese counter part.

For me personally learning Mandarin. I was conversational at a very basic level after a little over a year. After two years I was comfortable with day to day conversations. Where I am at now after three years is that I can keep up with group conversations and even participate, but not yet at the same level as English.

Also, the learning is never done. There comes a point where learning becomes more passive, you pick up words naturally from a conversation or you just review a bit every once in a while, but that usually only applies to people who end up speaking their L2 all the time. Like someone who has moved to their target languages country. The rest of us still need to set aside time for practice and study, or the skill will rust.

> It seemed like you were implying a question with your first statement of being overwhelmed with choice.

Pick one and stick to it. I would suggest you find a book, software, or course, that covers reading, writing(not typing), listening and speaking. If it doesn't cover one of these and you are willing to supplement it, that's fine. Otherwise find another option. When you are deciding skim it and make sure you won't get too bored with it.


Born in a country ruled by british in the past century.


Sink or swim.


I'm fluent in several languages (> 3).

When I learned my first foreign language (as a kid, in the 80's), there were only paper dictionaries and books. Software is a great improvement over paper dictionaries, however I’m unsure about apps. I tried a couple of applications and have been unconvinced.

That being said, the Internet makes it very easy to access content in the language you study and even find people with whom to speak. Youtube for example is full of videos on topics you like.

Let’s ignore software and tools, as it’s really secondary (yes, really).

The first step is the why? If it’s just for the pleasure, that may not be enough. There must be a reason, otherwise you are likely to give up. For example: work, living in the country, strong interest in the culture, relatives, origins, etc.

The difficulty of learning a foreign language depends on the distance between your native tongue and the foreign language. It’s very hard for an English speaker to learn Mandarin (and vice-versa), however French is a lower hanging fruit (you already share thousands of words of vocabulary).

It’s also very dependent on you. Some people are just better than others at learning languages. Just accept it and go at your rhythm.

The best advice I can give is that you should find a native teacher. I can’t stress the importance of learning with a native enough. It’s paramount for pronunciation and idiomatic phrasing. I would almost say that you are wasting your time with a non-native teacher, however competent she may be.

Why a teacher and not self-teaching?

I would refrain from self-teaching, as this will give you horrible pronunciation and probably give you bad habits. There is a point where an accent ceases to be cute and makes listening to you uncomfortable, don’t underestimate pronunciation. Remember: unlearning is one order of magnitude harder than learning.

In addition, learning a language is a serious commitment and without someone to give you homework every week (and checking that homework) you will very likely give up, even if you have excellent self-discipline.

Depending on your personality you can either have one to one sessions (for example with Skype) or work in group. I personally prefer one to one greatly.

Having a teacher and looking for that teacher will also test your resolve. :-) Every time someone mentions “I’m learning X”, I ask, “Why don’t you take courses?”. If the answer “I don’t have time”, I know the person isn’t serious about learning.

The temptation to give up will be at every corner as studying languages is very hard and the duration is measured in months, if not years. You will struggle, a lot. There are times where you will make no progress and seem unable to remember anything: that’s normal.

Speaking a foreign language is one of the greatest things in life. It expands your horizons and will overall make you a better, more understanding, humbler, human being. The pleasure of conversing with foreigners in their native tongue will belittle all the efforts you endured.




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