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I Learned French in 12 Months (runwes.com)
748 points by ingve on Feb 16, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 312 comments



I don't believe there is a shortcut for "hacking" languages. I'm a diplomat, and currently learning my fourth language to the C1+ level.

When we learn languages, it's a full time job. It was 9 months to learn Mandarin to a B1, 6 months to a C1+ in Spanish, and I'm currently at a B1 in Estonian after 5 months.

There are several things I think are crucial after years of full time study (note: this assumes you're going for professional fluency, not just touring around the country where interactions are largely scripted and predictable):

* There is no substitute for production - you must speak the language with a native speaker (not an app) and talk about topics that are relevant to the kind of scenarios you anticipate. We spend the first several months discussing current events in target language - at first scripted, then later free form. This builds vocabulary and helps fluency. This is quickly expanded to discussing current events in depth and participating in mock debates.

* Give mini presentations - target 3-5 minutes of talking about a relevant topic with little prep time. The difference between intermediate and advanced is the ability to move from discussing only facts to making a coherent argument. Native speakers will often not be able to follow your train of thought without learning to connect cause and effect using structures appropriate for your language.

* Interview native speakers - prepare 2-3 questions about a particular topic and check your comprehension by translating their answers to English. This obviously helps build your comprehension, but also helps to learn to "automate" comprehension while you are thinking about something else. If you can take notes in English while a native speaker is talking at normal speed (and achieving 90%+ accuracy), it will make it easier for you to participate in normal speed conversations.

* Read target language news - this is critical for expanding vocabulary and learning colocations - knowing what verbs are used in particular contexts (e.g., do they say "I talked with X" or "I talked to X". Do they say country X shot, launched, or threw a rocket?)

Bottom line - language learning is not just about the number of hours you put in. The quality and type of practice you do matters a lot. You aren't going to be fluent via Duolingo alone. You need to put in the time using structured practice with native speakers to really learn anything.


Totally agree on there is no shortcut for "hacking" languages. But at the same time "The quality and type of practice you do matters a lot" as you've said.

And also, for learning languages, one way could be significantly less painful than others.

I grew up in China, where almost every student struggles so much on English learning, every day. I found myself very easy to pass every exam and beating the average, without listening to the lectures or doing any homework - simply by playing video games (especially RPG). I was/am by no means excellent at English, but it was almost a totally free perk for me.

Basically video games are:

1. Designed to be both engaging and challenging, whereas schools suck at those so much.

2. Have specific and meaningful targets, if you failed to understand what's going on or what's the mechanism you're not likely to play along.

3. Including scenarios and plots. A lot of reading and listening activities. You don't have to appoint a teacher or native speaker to talk with you. You can start anytime you want (except I have intolerant parents so I have to play it sneakily).

4. Cheap.


I grew up in Eastern Europe and had the same experience, ending up speaking English near natively as a kid thanks to watching undubbed cartoons on BBC, Cartoon Network and Fox Kids, Hollywood movies and playing video games.

I thought this was the case across all of Europe but found out that in the rich part of Europe all entertainment is dubbed in the local language so youngsters there had worse English skills than I expected for such wealthy nations.

It's probably one of the reason so many US tech companies have opened up shop here, other than lower wages.


Many movies and series we get in the Netherlands are not dubbed either, only subbed. Whenever I catch a glimpse of TV in Germany I'm always bothered by the horrible dubs.

Dutch, English, French, and German are also all mandatory subjects in school for us.


I think the intent was to preserve ‘national’ culture but perhaps it was also thought out with brain drain in mind. At an individual level, knowing english fluently is quite empowering, your work opportunities expand greatly. At a wider level this could be quite devastating for a country and its economy if the smartest folks find work elsewhere.


Most of that is due to the strong push for promoting the local language as a sign of national identity during dictatorship periods in some of those rich countries.

E.g. the italian "Language Defense Law" (not sure of how to translate it to English but that's basically the literal translation of this Law) was established by Mussolini and later used as inspiration for similar laws in Spain, Germany and France.

The spirit of such laws were basically propaganda. It dictated that dubbing of all foreign media was mandatory, so it had to be done for everything, regardless of it being a cheap animation show for kids, or a big Hollywood production. Also it introduced the opportunity to review the contents of the audio and apply censorship when deemed desirable by those in power.


Quickly, make a language teaching startup that does so by creating a few genres of video games (that are comparable to others in those genres but also prioritize language acquisition) and actually lure good game designers over.

Then tell me when the product is ready so I can use it.


Having played some of the educational games as a kid, my Theory of Edutainment is: you have to make it a good game first, educational second. And then don't market the educational aspects at all. If the game is no fun, or playing it becomes a prescribed activity, it'll achieve no results.


I've always expected an Edu-Startup to crack this problem by pairing an existing hyper-addictive game to more traditional homework.

My parents used to make me do quick one page math worksheets. Each sheet which took about 60 seconds earned me 5 minutes of time with "Command and Conquer", and to this day I'm able to quickly do Math in my head that most people would need to put on paper. My abilities drastically drop off at past the Algebra level.

If kids today had to memorize 5 new phrases in French while they were stuck in an Overwatch lobby, or something equivalent to get than new skin in League of Legends I think it could be a very powerful learning tool and not require the hands on effort from the parents.


That's actually pretty brilliant. It wouldn't be a language learning game but it would augment more formal instruction by assisting in building vocabulary. You could probably build in 5-7 new words a week and show 3-5 old words a week as well. Then of course you can put billboards and graffiti in a game where appropriate in the language using words the game has taught (or will teach).

In the load screens/waiting rooms it could be pretty simple too, the game could show and say the word then give you a grid of like 9, 16, 25 words to choose from and make you pick the correct one. The first few times you'd probably struggle but if you were playing for an extended period in a session, or over a week, you'd get that reinforcement every round/match/zone and be able to quickly select the correct words.


Typing of the dead is a great example.


Have you heard of Stephen Krashen's Input Hypothesis? [1] There are a couple of parts to it but it essentially says that linguistic competence (a fancy way to say your innate knowledge of a language) only increases when you take in input. If you talk all day that doesn't really make you any better (since you don't learn anything new) unless you use a process like deliberate feedback to be corrected. Personally I think it's much more useful to thus focus on reading/listening to start and then later move on to speaking/writing. I learned Spanish through normal school and while I can speak fast the fact that I haven't had much real input really shows since I'm generally just translating English -> spanish and I don't know if I'm using grammar right since I haven't heard it enough.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Input_hypothesis


What of the folks who have watched countless hours of anime, but still can't speak Japanese? Input alone is not enough, at least not for adults wanting to become fluent from what I've seen.


The key is that the input needs to be comprehensible.

If you bootstrapped those people with a month or two of 1:1 lessons with a native speaker and then started them watching anime aimed at young kids with no subtitles, slowly moving them up to more complex examples, still without subtitles, they would end up learning to understand Japanese passably well after enough hours of it.

If you just dump them “countless hours” of complicated Japanese which they can ignore while reading English subtitles, then they’re going to end up learning a few words and phrases but not really becoming fluent.

If they started with poor English reading skill it’s not a completely useless way to practice that though. (Reading books would be better, but reading anime subtitles is better than nothing.)


When they do that, they are focusing on the English subtitles and effectively filtering out the Japanese. If they tried to hide the subtitles and only glimpse at them occasionally they would start to see gradual improvement. Many people won't because they'll find they suddenly can't understand most things and it becomes exhausting. by that that's what it's like when you are really learning.

That being said it's still a slower way to learn because the language in anime is quite removed from a typical real conversation you will get in to.

I believe Krashen's theory is easy to misunderstand. If you only take a brief look at it you may think it's over simplified. The theory isn't just input in the sense that you've at least got the language going in you're ears. The "comprehensible" part means that you are comprehending via the language, using context to fill in the blanks. I don't think you learn from outputting language, but outputting is essential for producing the ideal comprehensible input. For example, BTBurke's third point is to ask questions to a native speaker. Note that here, the native speaker is doing the speaking, and BTBurke is learning when listening, not when asking the questions. But asking questions to a native speaker like this and refusing to give up and go back to your native language engages the human brain in a way that simply watching some videos doesn't, and provides important context. Krashen calls this compelling input. In BTBurke's first point, they say production is essential, but I think Krashen would say this so-called production (talking to native speakers) is really just using production to get ideal comprehensible input from native speakers when you listen to them speak back to you. As for the 5 minute minute presentation. I would say that this 5 minute presentation is mostly just testing one's current ability, but the preceding the presentation there would be hours of looking up (and inputting) sentences that you wish to say rather than learning randomly, and that's where most of the real learning occurs.

I apologise for the "It's both right and wrong at the same time" kind of answer. In summary I believe BTBurke is a fantastic language learner, but if you look closely at what they are doing, you'll see they are providing themselves with plenty of comprehensible input, and the production/output as actually a more minor part that facilitates this input.


Ask pretty much any Croatian who was a kid in the 90ies and they will probably say that watching Cartoon Network as a kid on their satellite dish helped them learn English. Only 3-4 national channels were available on the terrestrial TV at the time, which made the huge variety of satellite channels novel and exciting for a kid. These foreign stations didn't have subtitles, so you had to try and pick up the language to follow the shows.


I don't doubt that a bit, children are amazing language learners! I'm curious as to whether adults could learn the same way.


Children learn language at the same time they are learning how to be little humans. Neurological connections are being forged, deep pathways for life. Watching my son go through that hyper growth stage was mind blowing. He's trilingual. His recall and attention to details is remarkable. In contrast I've got my head in the (internet) clouds.

So no, I don't think we ever have that same level of growth and rapid learning.


> I apologise for the "It's both right and wrong at the same time" kind of answer. In summary I believe BTBurke is a fantastic language learner, but if you look closely at what they are doing, you'll see they are providing themselves with plenty of comprehensible input, and the production/output as actually a more minor part that facilitates this input.

Language is not a one way street. Being able to manipulate another person's actions and words through speech is as much a part of language understanding as being in a position to have others manipulate your actions and words.

Part of knowing a language therefore is being able to speak and write it. In order to learn how to speak and write it, you are not going to get away without speaking and writing it.

And even if Krashen's hypothesis that input is ultimately the whole story were true (which by definition it isn't), production would still play a critical role in memorization. Every time you struggle to find a word and eventually conjure it, it gets reinforced.


Krashen never said that you can learn to speak and write just by listening and reading. He has said that it's a waste of time to speak too early, before you have understood a lot of input. You still have to produce a lot to get better at it. There's also a huge number of studies that show that people who read a lot in their native language speak and write better and studies that show the same effect when learning foreign languages. There's also the practical point that it's useless to be able to speak well if you can't understand the responses you get.


Most of the people who do this are reading english subtitles.


The input certainly helps which explains the divide between English levels in countries that subttle and countries that dub English language shows and movies.


I think that’s more of a lack of initiative to learn. They may not know how to speak Japanese, but they can listen to it and be able to discern words from each other and be able to grasp ongoing conversations. After years of watching anime and learning kana and even a number of kanji, Japanese doesn’t seem hard at all anymore. I just lack the initiative or immediate need to advance my skills since I live in America. Now French, they speak so freaking fast. I wonder if that’ll change after I watch enough French content.


I agree about lack of initiative, I just don't want people thinking if they just listen to enough music/TV/whatever they'll magically be able to speak and understand. That only seems to work in children (at least to seem like a native speaker to other native apeakers). It takes work for is adults! For French, it will seem slower after time, don't worry! French in particular has a lot of slurring, but it is predictable after learning the rules (and there are rules!). I recommend the book "The Sounds of French". The new "Ad Vitam" on Netflix is entertaining and you can hear some reasonable-speed modern French. I have some beginner book/audio recommendations if you want.


> That only seems to work in children [...] it takes work for us adults!

It takes a lot of hard work for children too. They just have no other choice, and usually some adults going way out of their way to help as much as they can.

> beginner book/audio recommendations if you want

Please! Anything with an easy level but appropriate subject matter for young kids?

I studied French in high school and would like to start reading some French kids books to my 3.5 year old, but I haven’t made the effort to find any yet.


Well, those little boogers sure don't make it seem like hard work :) As for a book with audio, I'd recommend "French Short Stories For Beginners" by Frederic Bibard (www.talkinfrench.com). It also includes audio downloads of normal speed and slow version of all of the stories in the book, so you can check your pronunciation. Content is kid-appropriate basic stuff like shopping, school, etc.


>I have some beginner book/audio recommendations if you want.

Sure, I'll take a look. Thanks!


Code Lyoko is available on YouTube. It's basically French anime.

https://youtu.be/QCGixQKvTpA


You’ll be a JCJ pro with that kind of attitude towards the difficulty of learning Japanese. You’re at the very, very tip of being a beginner with what you’ve said here.


"Output" only reviews information. Useful, but not sufficient.


> difference between intermediate and advanced is the ability to move from discussing only facts to making a coherent argument.

This is a brilliant point and never thought about it this way. I've spoken spanish for 5 years but i've always felt some things lacking when i've tried to make an coherent argument about politics for eg. One more thing i'd like to add is 'humor'. If you can make jokes or be sarcastic to natives in their language, then you've definitely crossed another barrier.


I learned Polish mostly by telling jokes and having people tell jokes to me. Fortunately both Polish and Dutch have a near endless repertoire of them. Many jokes rely on language skills in order to be funny you have to at least get to the point where it can be explained to you. And of course, the immediate pay-off is that you'll hear a funny joke which is good for short term motivation.

Beyond that humor is very much cultural and learning a language through humor immediately exposes you to the culture in a way that talking about current events would not.


And you definitely need to cross that barrier if your goal is to integrate in a community, for good. Otherwise you'll always be an outsider.


Thank you very much for this feedback. I'm estonished of the fact that you target an on the fly translation to your (presumably) native language. I mean, for me it seems like a far harder task than to note what you understand in the source language directly.

Actually, I often find that I can fluently exchange with someone speaking English (which is not my native language), but if a third person ask me to translate, it's really a higher level of complexity to find the relevant expressions.

I understand that at the start, one feel more at ease to use its know point of reference in languages already known, but at some point this scaffold is only an additional layer that slows down your expression flow, isn't it?


Since he is a diplomat I expect that the ability to translate is sometimes more important that his own understanding. He doesn't directly have power to make decisions, he needs to bring everything back to the leaders of his country. (of course he will know what the goals of his country are and what compromises are acceptable, but his decisions are subject to review)


We do a lot of on the fly translations. In meetings, we may have to translate for an Ambassador or senior official that doesn't speak the language. Depending on the topic, it may not be appropriate to bring a professional translator, so we do the best we can.

We also meet with a wide variety of people and take copious notes. I personally take notes in a mix of English and the local language, but mostly in English because I have my own shorthand to help me remember what is said. It's hard to develop that kind of shorthand in a foreign language without writing everything and that is too slow for a normal conversation.


Before learning a language it's essential to enumerate your goals and determine not just the level of fluency that you desire but what part of the language you wish to learn. A diplomat is going to need to learn a different vocabulary and register to someone who is e.g. a chef. A diplomat or businessperson is going to need to speak formally and correctly, whereas others might find it more useful to learn slang terms and the informal register.


Same as with learning anything I guess. Deliberate learning (or specify what part you want to learn) is much more effective than learning broadly without any aim or specific goals in mind.


I've seen computational biologists , mechanical engineers , non-programmjng entrepreneurs but what does a diplomat do on HN?


Alan Mustard, former US ambassador to Turkmenistan and trained in agriculture, is a well-known OpenStreetMap geek and quite familiar with GIS issues. Diplomats can have hobbies, you know.

I myself am a linguist and translator, no professional background in the hard sciences or IT at all, but I have still been involved in Free Software for many years and so HN is a natural news channel to read.


And Allan Mustard is now Chairperson of the OpenStreetMap Foundation Board of Directors

https://wiki.osmfoundation.org/wiki/Board_Member_Bios


Why can't a diplomat have a tech-related hobby? Most people outside tech have hobbies that are unrelated to their daily job.


Heck, I work in tech and my hobby is history. I would have probably majored in history if it didn't lead to a crappy career where I'm from.


It could be someone who was in tech or was educated (formal or by oneself) on tech but switched to being a diplomat on seeing opportunities to make a better difference with their skills. Depending on the area of work, diplomats could highly benefit in today’s world by understanding tech better. We have allowed tech to dictate policies for too long and playing catch up. So any diplomat who understands tech well would be a great asset to policy makers and decision makers.


Programming is now a hobby and I still do some open source stuff and push out various side projects for fun.

Eventually I'll have to retire and so I always hope some of my side projects will take off to supplement my retirement income.


>but what does a diplomat do on HN?

Learn things? I'm none of the things you listed, nor do I do anything remotely related to computer sciences, but I still frequent HN.


Tech news with hacker directed filtering.


Can you write a bit about how you found HN? It’s a source of slight fascination when non-tech people stumble into this world.


In case he doesn't reply, based on the profile in his bio looks like he has a degree in E.E. and used to manage technology projects for the government.


I was an engineer, served in the military, and programming is now a hobby.

Not all diplomats are political science or economics majors. Policy touches so many sectors that it's useful to have people with backgrounds in many areas.

It's not uncommon to have prior software engineers, teachers, etc in the foreign service.


Very good inputs, but these may not help with languages like Latin which aren't actively spoken or used in present day communication.


There are some great spoken Latin programs out there. See https://latin.org/ and https://www.paideiainstitute.org/, for example.


Could you expand upon this? How many hours a day do you study? Are you learning in structured classes? What curriculum are you using? Do you study while residing in a country that speaks the language?

Are you saying it takes a year and a half to reach fluency if you take it on as a full time job?


We have a foreign language institute outside Washington DC where they teach about 70 languages.

It's an organized class for 5 hours a day in small groups with a native speaker as the teacher.

There is usually an additional 2-5 hours of independent study/homework depending on the complexity of the language.

Professional fluency takes between 24 and 88 weeks depending on the difficulty of the language. Spanish is 24, Mandarin would be 88. "Hard" languages like Finnish and Estonian are in the middle at 44.

We test with native speakers at the end to determine our level on a 5 point scale. Each of our embassy jobs has an associated language requirement, usually 3/3, which means professionally fluent in speaking and reading.


> check your comprehension by translating their answers to English

Why to English?


I assume he means "to your native language", not to English, specifically.


I've been hacking language learning for about five years, and I've spent ridiculous amounts of time trying and reading about different strategies. I've been to Cuba, Mexico, Spain, and Puerto Rico to try immersion in different settings.

Getting to a solid level of competency in a language actually is not that hard. It just requires dedication and consistent practice.

That said, native speakers operate on a different level entirely. In my recent visit to Barcelona, I had no problems asking for directions, talking to the hotel staff and people in bars, chatting it up with friends in Spanish, etc. However, walking into a noisy / crowded restaurant where the language is going 100 miles an hour is a totally different scenario.

As much as I want to believe otherwise, I'm of the opinion that getting to a level of "automatic" response where you can fluidly handle any situation requires living in a country where the language is in your face all day every day--and even then it still takes real effort.

A friend of mine, who's a US ex-pat living in Madrid is of the same opinion. After three years living there, he still doesn't feel 100% confident; although, he admits that he has spent most of his social time around English speakers.

None of this is intended to discourage anyone at all. In fact, learning Spanish ranks as one of the best decisions I've ever made; however, I think it's important for folks to go in with realistic expectations, as there's big difference between functional competency--with a language and fluency with fluency being a "white whale".


> Getting to a solid level of competency in a language actually is not that hard. It just requires dedication and consistent practice.

Though that's why it's hard. Just like eating healthy and exercise isn't hard, just requires dedication, yet notice how few people have a particularly good looking body.

The opportunity cost of learning a language is also immense. I've spent an incredible amount of time listening to and reading Spanish. It just isn't for everybody. It has to be something that makes you happy.


100% agree on the opportunity cost. I taught myself Sanskrit to the level that I now teach two batches of students at different proficiency levels. I really wanted to learn it and I did it. I spent a lot of time to get to this level. Now I am learning to play guitar. I am finding it even more difficult than learning Sanskrit and everyday I find myself questioning the opportunity cost. Do I really want to play guitar that bad that I spend 1-2 hours every day practicing after coming home from my full time job? Instead of that if I practiced 1-2 hours of Leetcode everyday I could get a significant pay raise. Am I crazy to be spending time on something that is almost guaranteed to have a negative ROI - I ask myself everyday.


It's hard to know when certain proficencies will have an ROI. Learning to play guitar might be very valuable to you if you end up having children who want to play/enjoy the music. What I think really matters too is whether there is enough reward along the way while learning.


I am of the opinion that many people who want to learn a language don't have any real reason to learn a second language other than to say they know two languages.

Unless you have extended family or somehow became smitten with a foreign country, I am almost certain this is the case. So any attempts are really halfhearted and very little progress is made because the commitment is so large.

This is why, if I ever get around to learning a second language, it will be Esperanto. It takes an order of magnitude of less time to learn and gives you the accomplishment of knowing another language. (Plus uniformity in language is cool.)


> I am of the opinion that many people who want to learn a language don't have any real reason to learn a second language other than to say they know two languages.

Your opinion is a pretty localized one. For many people learning a second language is not an option, it is a must. I would have a very hard time functioning in my field without access to a second language.


Agreed. If you work in high level tech, for big companies, possibly with international companies, if you want a decent career, your English better be awesome.

You can make do with less, but it's probably going to have an impact on your career, at some point.


You are right, I should have qualified my statement with that. But given that the modern global language is (for the time) English, I would suspect my belief is more likely true for native English speakers.


Well if you're a native English speaker you could get by ok your entire life without learning another. But if you're not, you're practically obligated to learn it. I would not have the life, nor the knowledge I have today If I hadn't learned English by immersing myself in it;


Maybe for secular/atheistic people. For those of us who are religious, there's great value in learning Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, etc.


I teach Sanskrit which falls in this category (a religious / cultural / historical language). People show up to the class super excited to learn the language. They badly want to learn the language but have no clue how much effort it is to learn a new language. Learning the language is at the bottom of their priority list. You are not gonna be learning the language if it is the tenth item on your priority list no matter how much you "want to learn it". The semester starts with 20 people and by the end there's less than 10.


I think the best way to learn a language is to move to a country that speaks that language. You'll learn without realizing it, because you HAVE TO learn in order to be able to communicate with others.


That depends on where you move. If you move to any big city odds are you can get by in English. If you move to a small remote village you have no choice.


My sense is that there are really two different registers you can shoot for. Past a certain level of proficiency, they're mostly divergent, if complementary, skills.

The first is whether you speak articulately about complex topics. This one is easy to do from home; reading books, listening to podcasts, and talking with language partners on iTalki will all help get you there.

The second is informal, everyday communication. This one's definitely a struggle. Not only is it hard to pick up on your own, but I'm pretty sure that, even if you've spent some time in a region that speaks the language, there's still no great way to avoid steadily losing it if you ever leave. TV, especially sitcoms, helps, but only a little. There's just not a whole lot of overlap between the things people actually chatter about all day, and the things that make for interesting entertainment.


> there's still no great way to avoid steadily losing it if you ever leave

That applies even to your original language. ~15 years after moving away, talking to family and friends at home feels... awkward. I can still do it easily, but honestly, sometimes I wish I could use English, even if that's not perfect either.

It's so much easier with friends who also moved out. We can switch to a more comfortable language for each thought or even mid sentence if you prefer a specific word choice.


I've been in Japan for 10+ years and only speak my mother tongue of Finnish while talking on the phone with my parents. Very little loss, doesn't feel awkward, but I sometimes forget very rarely used words.

If I have a half an hour conversation, there might be one word that a normal person should know, but that I've forgotten. Comes as a bit of a shock to me when this happens.


You've been maintaining the language by calling your parents every now and then


Author here. From my experience I completely agree with you. When I started out I figured B2 meant X% of competence in these two fields, but now I feel like especially towards the end I became increasingly more competent in the former relative to the latter. I think even getting a C2 certificate would just mean another year or two of solidifying grammar, amassing a huge vocabulary, a lot of reading, and some hundreds of hours of practice discussing such abstract topics. Not easy by any means, but relatively straightforward.

On the other hand, the latter probably can't be done at home. While it isn't necessary to be very, very strong in French, without that immersion experience I think you'll never feel "at home" among francophones until you put in the necessary hours into hanging out in French.

Despite this, having the latter is certainly very useful and allows you to get your point across in the vast majority of situations, so if it's the best you can do, it's still worth it if you really want to learn the language.


Oh gosh! That reminds me of my childhood. I spent most of my time at home reading without many friends. I would win discussions with my teachers about science, philosophy and economics, but I always seemed like a fool when I tried to talk to my peers.


I completely agree that there is a huge gap between B2 and that level you describe as automatic. I'm currently trying to bridge that gap, but I can't live in France so I think it will take me years. I know people who have done it without immersion, so I know it's possible. My solution is to "immerse" myself at home. I do 90% of my reading in French. 90% of the podcasts I listen to are in French. I watch French TV shows and YouTube channels. I listen to French whenever I'm driving, exercising, doing errands, cooking, cleaning, etc. I'm also spending 3 weeks a year in France. That's not full immersion but it helps. When I'm in France, I stay with French speaking hosts and do tours in French. I avoid English at all costs. It'll be interesting to see how far I can get.


Author here. I definitely don't feel completely automatic in French, but when having casual conversation I can be fairly automatic if the subject matter isn't too demanding. I think you're absolutely right that without being immersed in French, you will struggle being automatic, especially in all those situations that you only encounter while being in person with actual French speakers.

I think getting C1/C2 certification doesn't really test for that kind of thing, but instead, to my knowledge, being able to communicate increasingly complex ideas in a relatively sterile environment. So, you probably could get fairly automatic when debating about economics or having general conversation or something abstract at home, but in France you probably won't be automatic until you spend a sufficient amount of time practicing all the little things in daily life. This is something I will struggle with to unless I immerse myself someday, but being able to say what you want generally is definitely good enough to at least survive at live decently well. Good luck, sounds like what you're doing is the best possible!


I don't know any language test that tests actual fluency. That's something you can't standardize.

Like most skills, language proficiency work in steps, and you are usually only able to see the next step, the rest goes above your head.

In the case of language, the first step is learning the words and grammar. This can be tested. But there is a whole world beyond that. I realized it when talking about the Japanese language with a girl she didn't even talk about things that come up in tests, like vocabulary. Instead she talked about how to talk to different kind of people, idiomatic expressions, how to convey emotions, even the quirks of writing text messages. She was on the next level, the part about describing things was already a given, not something worth talking about. There are certainly many things lying beyond that, maybe accent, body language, a point where the distinction between language and culture starts to blur...

An interesting thing is that AFAIK, there are no tests that evaluate the proper use of "bad" language. French (my native language) is famous for its colorful swearing. And you can't really call yourself fluent if you don't know how to do it. Proper use of casual and even offensive language, is, I think, an important skill that most foreigners lack, in any language, and yet, most test don't go below business level speech.


Not sure if being able to understand the lyrics of an NTM or Stromae song should be testable, but I see the point. French is especially bitchy in that respect since what you learn as formal language will leave out a HUGE part of words and idioms used in everyday interactions. You can speak perfect French but sound like you just stepped out of a time machine. “C’est pas terrible” (colloquial) instead of “Ce n’est pas très bon” (more grammatically correct). “T’inquiètes!” vs “Ne t’inquiètes pas”


Thanks. Good luck to you as well. You said in your post that listening comprehension was your weakest skill. Are you listening to more and different content? I've found some podcasts that include people with different French regional accents (not Québecois) and I've found that helps even if I struggle sometimes with them.


It's a highly effective method in my experience. Also don't forget the production side, you need to practice talking and writing too. You can talk to yourself if you have no one to talk to, it works just as well.


Production is absolutely important, but harder to do. I talk to 3 French people every week, 30 minutes in French in exchange for 30 minutes in English. I also have conversations with myself in French (like a schizophrenic). Where I have been lazy is writing. I need to write more and get it corrected.


My friend who learned english intensively for a lots of years told me one good advice how to become fluent in another language. And how to know you reached the level.

It is when you think in this language. Yes. Exactly. You need to become fluent in thinking in a language to be fluent in real life situations.

And its also kinda cool to be able to think in two language. Its kind of a superpower :)


Well I learned English by posting to message boards like this one (and before that Usenet) over the past 25 years, so you could try that.


Reminds me of a website called All Japanese All The Time, where a guy from America made his environment all Japanese while still in college in Utah (?). TV, kanji posters, Windows language settings, friends,...


I really like this site [1] because it shows you just how big the gap between native and non-native speakers is. Non-native speakers generally know around 10,000 words while adult native speakers tend to know upwards of 20,000 words. I think the reason that getting to real native level fluency is extremely hard is that they have thousands more hours of input than you do and it's very hard to make up for that in real situations other than reading/watching lots and lots of Spanish content.

[1] http://testyourvocab.com/


The number of words you have to know to learn a language properly is why it's a daunting proposition to me and why I've stuck with the two I grew up with.

There are 8760 hours in a year. Even if you somehow managed to learn a word an hour, that's still multiple years to get to 20-40k words.

I think we take for granted how many years it takes for kids to learn a language to adult level when we say "kids have an easy time learning languages". It may be easy in that it doesn't require as much conscious study as adults do, but it isn't quick either. Granted mental maturation messes up the time lines, but I think it's hard to argue that it doesn't still take many years.

So depending on what motivates you the time commitment needed at a minimum can be heartening (I'm taking years because there's lots to learn) or disheartening (This is a multi-year endeavor that I'll have to focus on when I could be doing something else).

EDIT: Though reading up on what B2 is, it is a much less daunting proposition, but even C2 doesn't sound like native speaker level, just able to communicate effectively level.


That page made me feel good about myself: English is my fourth language, and it estimates my vocabulary to be at 23200 words.


My spoken and written english is very bad, but my score has been 27400. So I think that the test is not that meaningful.


It is possible to have what I think you mean by automatic response level without living in the country. I myself sucked at English until University: I hated learning it, I could not understand it spoken, and I could not read well a mildly complicated text written in it (say something written in the economist or NYT).

Today, except for pronunciation, I would consider myself fluent, though of course not native. While I do use English daily, I have never worked in an English-speaking country until well after I became fluent. The one thing that made it click was watching a lot of video content without subtitles


>> However, walking into a noisy / crowded restaurant where the language is going 100 miles an hour is a totally different scenario.

I honestly don't get how people talk in noisy bars and restaurants. I struggle even in English. One almost has to shout in the other person's ear. If it's that close I am thinking more about how my breath smells after having a few drinks rather than topic of discussion - lol.


I read a study that said that in your native language you only need to hear 1/3 - 1/2 of the syllables and your brain will automatically fill in the rest, which is why you can understand conversations in a noisy environment. In a foreign language, unless you've achieved a very high level, you need to hear everything so noisy environments are a problem.


>> getting to a level of "automatic" response where you can fluidly handle any situation requires living in a country where the language is in your face all day every day--and even then it still takes real effort.

I can tell you from personal experience that it's most important that you speak the language. Get yourself in conversations where you are forced to speak and listen to the language. There's a big advantage to recall words when you need them and to try to understand what the other person is telling you. The stress of the situation will burn the words into your memory. Ultimately you will have no choice but to learn it. Also, even fluent speakers will lose fluency if you don't practice so there's no such thing as being fluent for life without using the language regularly.

The biggest disservice you can do to a person that's trying to learn a new language is to translate for them in their native language. It helps at the moment but long term it's harder for them to learn the new language.


Totally agree.

I believe there's a difference between "competence" (I know how to say X) and "fluidity" (I can say X as easily as breathing).

You can learn the first on your own. Takes a lot of effort, sure, but it's doable.

I don't think you can learn fluidity outside of actually living in a country. You need to be bombarded daily with questions that you're forced to respond to. Even then, some people just don't make the effort, which is why you get people who have lived in a foreign country for decades and their language skills haven't improved.

My first three months in China were worth more than the preceding three years of self-study.


This is definitely true. I usually describe it as "language knowledge" vs "fluency" in my classes.

You can learn fluidity on your own, but it takes the right kind of practice. It's easy to think of learning a language as "study". You go through books learning words, phrases, verb endings etc. Most exercises in textbooks only care about you getting the right answer, not how quickly you do it.

Compare this to learning a musical instrument. There is some study needed, but realtime practice is the bulk of what you do. If you need 30 seconds to work out the next chord in a song then you can't play the piano. The gold standard is practicing with a metronome. The areas where you can't keep up are the areas where you need to practice.

I'm quite surprised that this idea of realtime practice is still so uncommon even though everyone has a smartphone nowadays. In the past, Pimsleur language courses put an emphasis on being able to answer in the language you are studying more or less straightaway.


As a native Cantonese speaker learning Mandarin since I was 5, you think I'd have some advantage (which I do - vocabulary is largely similar), but I still struggle greatly with communication the more informal it is. Learning from language teachers is almost similar as reading travel phrasebooks - those situations are too forced and not realistic enough. Most communication involves lots of jokes and nuances where the topic isn't even clearly defined, unlike business settings.


They went from a non-speaker (A0) to a B2.

According to CEFR link in article, a B2 level:

Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization.

Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.

Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

CEFR Estimated time required to academically learn B2 level French: 560-650 hours

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_European_Framework_of_R...


For a frame of reference, I also started doing DuoLingo daily about 12 months ago and am still at ~A1 proficiency, as far as speaking or writing. I might be at A2 listening, or even B1 reading comprehension. I definitely spend less than two hours a day on it and don't converse with native speakers, which doesn't help.


Duolingo is useful for memorizing vocab, but you'll never get anywhere near fluency with it. The possible space of interactions is just too limited.


Well, this seems to match up with the article. Roughly a year for a two hours every day.


I studied French from 7th-12th grade in an American High School. After that, I could not understand any French beyond "bonjour". I could not have a conversation in French. I could conjugate verbs and I could read some. Fast forward 45 years and I retired and decided to actually learn French. I followed a very, very similar method and after 9 months of self study took a 2 week intensive course in France where I was told I was at B2 level. Obviously I didn't start at A0 but when I first started with Duolingo, I remembered nothing. 45 years is a long gap. What he describes works. Even an old fart like me can get to B2 level with self study if they are motivated and use good resources. It's never been easier to learn a language with all the excellent resources available.


I'm convinced that a classroom is the worst possible environment for actually learning a 2nd language. There are just so many reasons why.

Probably the most insurmountable one is that the pace at which the class can move is limited by the pace at which the least motivated student is going to learn.

But I also think that it's just a structurally bad environment for efficient language learning. Since everyone needs a chance to participate, you spend the vast majority of your time listening to other people who don't know the language any better than you do, so there's just not much to learn from them. Since you're working from a textbook, everyone has to read the same uncompelling least-common denominator materials, which, by virtue of being boring, are just as likely to sap as to sustain your motivation - and an unmotivated mind isn't going to absorb much.

I'm starting to feel that way about canned programs in general. I've been working on the kanji lately. At the start, a friend of mine told me he thought I was crazy to do all my own flashcards (though I am following the learning order from Remembering the Kanji) when I could just subscribe to WaniKani and have it all handed to me on a silver platter. A couple months later, he estimated I had learned more kanji over 2 months than he had in years. Just assembling your own materials admittedly involves a lot more up-front work and a steeper learning curve, but the process itself has a lot of mnemonic power.


While I had the same experience as you in high school (and primary school language learning was altogether a farce), I found the experience very different in classes at university. I think the primary factor was that there were a negligible number of unmotivated students.

Listening to other people at my level didn't seem a particular detriment because teachers have to speak at roughly my level anyway. They made more mistakes, but the instructors corrected them, and the corrections were valuable since they were often the sorts of mistake I'd make myself. Textbooks are trite, but since their main competition in the internet age is materials put together by dedicated but ultimately pedagogically-unskilled amateurs, I think they're better than most alternative prepackaged materials.

What I will acknowledge is that private study through a flashcard deck is probably the best way to acquire vocab, but that was never my biggest challenge. My vocab has consistently been on the large end of other people I've learned with, just because memorisation suits my personality (and I suspect that's true of a lot of people here). That never, though, translated to being the best in class - ability to fluidly construct a sentence beats out perfect word choice every time. It's also very easy to pair with a taught class, since there's no downside to learning extra vocab on the side.

Classes move a bit slowly, but I think the rationale is valid: You're here for three years anyway, you're probably trying to get to around B2, so we'll train you up to B2 in three years.

I'm not going to argue that it's as good as a private tutor, but it was closer to second-best than worst in my experience.


I moved to Norway as an adult and took classes meant for adult learners. And honestly, there were things I might not have grasped otherwise. Of course, I was in class 15-18 hours a week, was surrounded by Norwegian to a point (English is used a lot: Norwenglish is a thing). I had speaking practice in a nursing home two days a week for some months. Our teacher was a native speaker.

It is honestly helpful to have other learners to practice with: They, in general, have the same knowledge base as you do. Workbooks give repetition, and is helpful with things like grammar and word placement. (I only used a workbook with the first 2 books in the first year). The textbooks had common-sense dialogs and things: These focused on everyday situations (small talk, apartments, speaking about one's background, basic job stuff, and so on). A lot of reading introduced these things or made sure to include information about culture or civics.

And honestly, if one only went to school, participated, and did the homework when we had it, one would learn some language. You were simply better off if you worked on it yourself. I'd certainly not have as much understanding of dialects or grammar trying to learn Norwegian on my own.

This was completely different than the classes most folks had back in the US, generally in high school. I got more instruction as an adult in a day than we usually would get in a week back in high school. I had native speakers teaching. The class was taught in the target language from the first day.

Not all class is the same, and some are very beneficial.


> I'm convinced that a classroom is the worst possible environment for actually learning a 2nd language.

Surely classrooms are the worst environment for learning anything. Of course it's going to be easier to learn any subject if you have a dedicated teacher who makes sure that you understand the material before moving on and keeps you engages. However is it worse than anything? Classrooms usually end up giving you access to a teacher who you can ask questions to and receive a comprehensible response.

Just like in any subject if you actually don't take the effort to study from your own curriculum you're going to be relatively behind. If all someone does is attend their CS lectures and do the bare minimum on their homework assignments then they're effectively wasting their time as they'll be behind their peers who met with professors to collaborate on research projects or with peers to found a startup (in addition to side projects).

Classrooms for any subject are a bad environment because like you stated everyone else has a chance of participating. In addition the material is suited for the majority and isn't personalized. When I was learning about geometric functions in middle school no teacher ever related it to cosine similarity that can be used in NLP.

However 1-on-1 lessons are expensive, so aren't classroms a good enough compromise?


It's the gulf of the difference.

Most other subjects, I'd say classes are a bit sub-optimal, but still a great choice if you aren't working with unlimited resources. There's value in hands-on group projects, labs, instructor feedback, etc. And, in most subjects, there are plenty of successful people who did a lot of their learning in a classroom environment.

Language learning, though, I'd say that a classroom is worse than nothing at all, if you're motivated. And not just a little worse, like, a lot worse. In language learning, it seems remarkably consistent that the vast majority of people who achieve much success eschew classrooms entirely.


That's one thing I disagree with in the original post. Like you, I created my own Anki deck and I'm convinced it's a better way to learn.


> I studied French from 7th-12th grade

As a French, I’ve lived a few years in Australia. A lot of people there can only say “Bonjour” and keep a bitter memory of their lessons. It feels like learning German for the French people, also a difficult (albeit more regular) language. It is merely necessary for political cohesion but not at an individual level; As such German lessons are... not designed for the students. If I had to believe the lessons, there are only two topics that Germans talk about: The Wiedervereinigung (reunification) and the war. All their movies are black and white with yellow subtitles. That’s how I imagine the French language in the Australian culture ;) Something you gotta learn at school, like se hazing or something.

It really feels like we haven’t mastered teaching, as a civilization. Our teaching works for pupils who have an interest; but for the others, it’s like signing for a mortgage and hating the house from the day you move in.

In fact, a lot of Ozzies I’ve met told me they went to Paris and felt hated by parisians. This testimonial was so frequent (dozens of times) that I led my little survey. On Twitter and among friends, all French people love Australians, between surfing and Crocodile Dundee, we have good conversation starters ;) Some may dislike some British but I don’t think there are many, let alone many who would act it out on the street. I just think parisians behave like stressed people behave in very stressful cities. So, no, we don’t hate English-speaking people, and I’m sorry that my language is so hard and so required in your curriculum ;)

Good day everyone!


For many years, I thought that most French people were arrogant douchebags that hated foreigners.

The reason was that I had only visited the center of Paris, and I really felt disdained there. I even developed the habit of opening conversation in Spanish (my native language) because then people would try English and we would communicate. When I opened conversation in English, they replied in French, I wouldn't understand and they didn't seem interested in communicating at all.

After going to other parts of the country like Nice, Avignon, Lille... and being involved professionally with French people, I had the chance to meet many excellent people and now have several awesome French friends.

Later on, I had the chance to revisit the center of Paris and it no longer felt that unwelcoming anymore (probably partly because I got the hang of the culture and at least some of the language, and partly because I had some more money to go to somewhat better hotels, etc., which can help). But for the first-time clueless foreign visitor, it can feel really hostile. I'm not at all surprised by the testimonials you mention.


We certainly haven't mastered language teaching, at least at public schools. What I remember most is being tested on verb conjugations of irregular verbs. Worst possible way to learn a language.


Languages and gym stick out to me as the most astounding educational failures in high school.

When I later actually wanted to learn about those on my own time, it became obvious that those initial classes were not only not helpful, but actively harmful.

High school language courses might just be overinfluenced by academic linguists-- obscure grammar is probably the right focus if your main interest is comparative linguistics and you've already studied six other languages. That just doesn't apply to many high schoolers.

High school fitness education is like a bad daycare with spontaneous expectations for you to run a couple miles, despite having never been trained in how to build up capacity slowly over time. It's as if the goal is to teach people that fitness is unlearnable and out of reach. It's exactly the opposite, it's one of the domains where it's easiest to measure how much consistent practice improves performance.

I feel like we could redesign both from scratch, based around how people grow up and actually learn these things, and we'd be way ahead.


I disagree on the gym/fitness angle. It's quite possible you had a terrible gym teacher, and it wasn't a good fit for you. But I think it's extremely important to introduce the idea of normal, daily exercise and give students explicit time for that in their schedule, and I don't think the average gym teacher is so bad as to negate that benefit.


> It's quite possible you had a terrible gym

Yeah, it's just anecdotal, and I don't want to take away anything from anyone's great gym memories, but I think there's something systemic, or at least common and broader than my own experience, for a few reasons.

I went to multiple schools with different teachers that all used the concept of modules to expose kids to a bunch of activities in rapid bursts without practicing or developing any skills.

Let's play badminton for a week, then football, then dodgeball, then baseball. Now let's administer the presidential fitness test without any warning or prep. No attempt to work on those measurers after the test, making it unclear how important they are.

I might have drawn all the bad teachers and was just unlucky, but my experience seems to track with most people I meet and also with portrayals of gym in popular media.


In my case, it made me hate exercise. I couldn't do the things they required (stuff like somersaults, jumping the pommel horse, etc.) so I just took an adversarial angle. It was not something to enjoy, but to try to beat if possible, or escape otherwise.

Many years later, I can kind of enjoy exercise like running or swimming but I still never go to gyms as they give me bad feelings.

Indeed, being a teacher myself today, I'd rate my gym teachers as terrible, as setting goals (like somersaults) with little relation to the actual exercise most people do, and more relation to innate talent than effort, while not providing much motivation or explanation of why that is useful (I still don't see why today), seems like a huge pedagogical failure. But I had various gym teachers and they all seemed cut from the same cloth, and other people with similar age and country give similar descriptions. Maybe it's better in other countries or it has improved by time, I don't know.


If gym is a child's introduction to the idea of normal, daily exercise all hope has already been lost.

A school or education system that was serious about exercise or fitness would look nothing like the American one. There would not be elementary schools without recess, exercise would be a part of every student's schedule every day and not taking part would not be an option.

As is gym class has to deal with absurdly huge variations in interest and ability. Some children exercise every day, or play multiple sports because they're either enthusiastic or genuinely athletic. Having them in the same class as bookworms and couch potatoes serves no one well.

Gym is awful and cannot be made not awful without a thoroughgoing reform, not of gym class, but of the entire education system. It would be better off burned to the ground. That way it would at least not teach many people that they hate exercise, it would just leave them indifferent.


> a lot of Ozzies I’ve met told me they went to Paris and felt hated by parisians

It's the somewhat true in Québec too, but Québec isn't busy like Paris, so there must be something more to it.

The govt tries to force feed French to new Quebeckers who wants to settle in Québec. I am an expat in Québec. The attitude of Francophones and the Language Policing in Québec makes me not wanting to learn French at all even though it's the best opportunity to learn French. While I understand the reasons behind protecting French in Québec, I feel it can be done differently than by being rude and coercive. Ex: The pastagate in Québec.


Quebec is often feeling disregarded culturally by the rest of Canada, or just seen as "that one area where people don't speak English" even though it is the most bilingual province of Canada by a decent margin [0]. There's also additional bad blood between provinces historically in Canada and a lot of debates that are quite specific to the country, which I don't have the ability to explain properly here.

They're also older than the rest of the country by a good amount of time (I seem to recall Montreal celebrating its 375th birthday during Canada's 150th[1]). And there's definitely a culturally French element to it: being defensive of the French culture and language is not exclusive to Quebec, see the Toubon Law [2] introduced in 1994 forcing 40% of songs on the radio in France to be in French. There's been a lot of pushback to lower the percentage these last few years, while at the same time arguably french-language rap and hip-hop is at an all-time high most likely in big part thanks to that very same law [3] [4, in french] So in a way you can see why being defensive of the language is mostly a reaction to the shift in dominant language throughout the world, in this case coupled with the good old nonchalant attitude that is part of the French heritage.

And Parisians don't hate you or Australians or anyone in particular, they just hate everyone. Source: Parisian

[0] https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98...

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/canada-day-150-montr...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toubon_Law

[3] https://djbooth.net/features/2019-06-26-the-french-hip-hop-r...

[4] in French: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5kIjAikHbs


Nobody should base their opinion of a country on the way service workers in that country's capital city treated them.

See Le Louvre, La Tour, Musee D'Orsay, Sainte Chapple, perhaps pop in to l'Orangerie, then get on a train and visit the real France and find real French people.

Actually Père Lachaise is pretty cool too: Fourier and Jim Morrison are buried there.


> If I had to believe the lessons, there are only two topics that Germans talk about: The Wiedervereinigung (reunification) and the war.

According to my lessons, they also talk about Umweltschutz (environmental protection), especially Mülltrennung (garbage sorting).


As a Romanian who had to study German in school, I testify to that. I still remember the word "Umweltverschmutzung" but no idea if it's der, die, das, dem or des umweltverschmutzung :P


A small trick with the words ending in "-ung" is they're often feminine so "die" in nomanative.


I would have bet on "die", just coze it "sounds right".


If you are a guest, sentences like: "Wo ist der Verpackungsmüll?" And "Trennt ihr Biomüll?" Can definitely land you plus points

Everyone below 50 speaks B1 or better English anyhow.


As a French native speaker, I'm a little bit surprised by the corrected text OP posted in her/his article (http://www.runwes.com/images/learningfrench/image1.png).

Most of the corrections she/he received are not justified at all. Like using the work "crédits" is totally fine in this context. I can't get why they corrected some connectors like "à" or "pour", as the usage of these in the text seem at least as correct to me.


It's a typical side-effect of writing anything online. I've had this experience with nearly everything I've ever posted (also: a lot of great comments too). Whenever you want to share knowledge about X: out of the woodwork crawl out the little pests who have nothing to do except hold you to the highest level of scrutiny they can imagine, and they'll word it like they want to crucify you for the slightest infraction.

It doesn't mean anything except that there's a lot of people who are situationally deficit of social skills and anxiously trying to prove they're even smarter than the original poster.

My pet theory is that these jeklers want acceptance and a sense of community, but don't know how to do it.


I don't usually point out mistakes in non-native speakers' writing because I know most people will perceive it the way that you do. However, I always wish that people would correct me when I make a mistake in a foreign language. So part of me always wants to point things out to help people like me.


Like most complex interactions in life, it really comes down to just feeling when the time's more appropriate. Sometimes people explicitly ask you to correct what they just said ("was that right?"), sometimes they halt in the middle of a sentence and look at you expectantly so you just finish/reword it for them, etc. But generally speaking you shouldn't try to correct people too much unless it really impedes proper understanding, it can really undermine people's confidence in their speaking ability even when they are otherwise fluent. And when you do correct them, only do so with respect to grammar or improper choice of words; correcting pronunciation can be a minefield given how it can change widely within a native population, what with accents and suchlike. (Some people, especially in such a centralized language featuring very normative institutions, will argue that they don't have an accent and everyone else does, but they're wrong.) It should only be corrected when it would otherwise lead to misunderstandings.


I don’t fundamentally disagree - but there is another way to look at it. Sometimes someone spends a huge amount of time learning something as deeply as possible, and they can be genuinely excited to share that knowledge. It’s hard to find a situation that isn’t stigmatized so the choice is to never try to share this knowledge (disappointing) or just decide to power through it, understanding that sometimes people will take offense or think less of you because of it.


I think in this case, the point of the website the OP posted their passage to is to receive highly critical feedback to ensure 100% accuracy and learn from mistakes. I doubt the person correcting them was doing so with the spirit you describe here. Also, word choice is a bit subjective and perhaps the disagreement with the other poster you're replying to is regional or something else.


out of the woodwork crawl out the little pests who have nothing to do except hold you to the highest level of scrutiny they can imagine

You say, with derision and personal insults to those people who dared not meet your standards for perfect corrections and perfect judgement of feedback desirability.


When you quote something you are supposed to start with "> ". Took me a long time to understand it was a quote.


For a while, I used to hang out in a subreddit for people who are learning Spanish to give advice (I'm a Spaniard).

You wouldn't believe the amount of times I was "corrected" with suggestions that were clearly, blatantly wrong if I didn't outright say that I was a native speaker.

I think it was mainly Americans from Spanish speaking immigrant families who were overconfident on their skills, but it was funny nonetheless.


How many of those were folks correcting you were Spanish? I wonder if the folks correcting you just learned a different dialect.

For those not familiar, American Spanish diverged significantly from "mainland" Spanish. Even then Mexican Spanish is quite distinct in its own "charming" way from nearly every other Spanish speaking American country. It's not just the vocabulary, even the verb tenses are used differently in different countries. Case in point, the only time I've heard vosotros used outside of school was in a La Polla Records song (ya ahora que?). Or looking for the baños in the Barcelona airport…. The differences are significant enough it's possible you're both right.

Whenever I've seen language discussed online lots of people come out of the woodwork defending their own niche regional variations. The comments section on Vanity Fair's Slang School series of youtube videos is a particularly obnoxious example. The videos themselves are great IMO. It's not always that bad though. I was trying to figure out how to differentiate between a banana and a plantain in Spanish (yay spanishdict forums) and I didn't realize just how many different ways there are to say banana/plantain. It's like Eskimos and snow.


Nah, I am aware of how broad the Spanish language is, but these were basic mistakes that wouldn't be correct in any dialect. Kinda like how Americans might not know British English vocabulary, yet they know at a glance that "me will spoke English afternoon this" is not correct anywhere.


Yikes, that would be pretty grating. And, yeah, folks love to be pedantic on the intertubes.

To be properly obnoxious I'll wonder if that's how those folks were taught to speak/write. In my mind the analogous English situation is when British speakers use me in place of my.


Maybe it is, in New Zealand!


I'm also a native speaker (France's French if that makes a difference). "Crédits" was replaced by "bons", which means vouchers. In the context that would indeed be the likely correct option (and I never heard "crédits" used that way...)

It's grammatically incorrect to write "s'inscrire à une salle de sport" and should indeed be "dans une salle de sport" and so it was warranted to correct that.

The other corrections are similarly warranted.

I'm a bit worried if you guys all think the original text was fine... ;)


Also, the guy clearly makes the sentences in his head in English and then translate them. Everybody does it. It's just blatant. Fluency makes it go away.

Source: Am a quebecer (fr). I do it mostly when i speak English.


Interesting points! Thanks. I didn't know "inscrire" is a transitive verb, so indeed "s'inscrire à" is grammatically incorrect. As often with french it raises the question of "does this rule make sense regarding usage". A quick google search for "s'inscrire à une salle de sport" shows a lot of results, even from people specializing in sport. And many native speakers were fooled by this rule.

As for the "crédit", the dictionnary definition seem to state it is correct (even though "bon" would be a bit better). https://larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/cr%c3%a9dit/20314... Crédit: Autorisation de dépenses accordée par les autorités qui établissent, votent ou règlent les budgets ; somme ainsi allouée : La bibliothèque dispose d'un crédit de dix mille euros.


Transitivity is not an issue: "obéir à ses instincts" and "suivre ces instincts".

So "s'incrire à" is not incorrect per se, e.g. "s'inscrire à des cours de danse". Even, you must say "s'inscrire à la mairie" (e.g. for poll lists) and not "s'inscrire dans la mairie".

I think that what is technically correct is to use "à" when you talk about where you sign in or register (usually a one-time action) and "dans" when you talk about signing in to perform a recurring activity.

That little à word derives from the Latin words "ab" and "ad", which you can find in words ("adjacent", "adverb", "addition", "adventure"... hemmm I mean *aventure"; sometimes English is more Latin than French) which tell the idea of proximity or direction.


Both "s'inscrire à" and "s'inscrire dans" exist. The trick is to pick the right form. Both may be correct in some cases, but not in others.

Sometimes the meaning changes as well. For example "s'inscrire à l'école" and "s'inscrire dans une école". The latter means "to register with a school" but the former is more "to register to start school" in the sense that it is 'school' in general.

As for "crédits", indeed the meaning is basically the same as in English and the original sentence is correct in the language. But it's not something anyone would say. The terms used would most likely be either "bon" (voucher) or "forfait" (inclusive special rate), or perhaps "chèque" (cheque) instead of "bon" if it was given by your employer as a benefit.


No one would bat an eye if you used crédits instead of bons in that context, nor would anyone do so if they said s'inscrire à une salle de sport instead of s'inscrire dans une salle de sport. Maybe they're gramatically incorrect for an académicien, but no one but pedants really cares about what the Académie has to say.


> It's grammatically incorrect to write "s'inscrire à une salle de sport" and should indeed be "dans une salle de sport" and so it was warranted to correct that.

I'm not even sure. If you consider a "salle de sport" is an activity rather than a place, it becomes correct. You would say "s'inscire à la piscine" (for swimming-pool) for instance because "piscine" is considered an activity rather than a place, in this context.


Except, of course, "salle de sport" is not an activity, and if you want to be perfectly correct about activities you should say "s'inscrire à la natation" not "à la piscine". "Piscine" (swimming pool) is the place, "natation" (swimming) is the activity.

It's fine to say "s'inscrire à la salle de sport/piscine" if you are talking about a specific one.


Also, many people here are kind of missing the point. The OP posted that for the express purpose of receiving corrections and feedback. People are criticizing the corrector for performing the task that was requested of them — likely on a website dedicated to this practice of written correction...


Also a native speaker, "à une salle" is correct. The academy may disagree, but language is made by users, not a body of old farts chosen by politicians.


I hope you’re kidding. The initial text isn’t good, the corrections are maybe not perfect and some are more a matter of taste but definitely better than the original wordings. “y dédier du temps” is closer to the original formulation and equally good for instance.

I noticed that most of native speakers of any language are not that good actually in their mother tongue.

For someone who’s learning the best disservice is to not point their mistakes out.

And sorry it’s not being pedantic to ask people to be precise enough to not spend my time guessing what they maybe were thinking.

It’s already hard enough when well written.


>I noticed that most of native speakers of any language are not that good actually in their mother tongue.

That doesn't make any sense. Maybe they're not good according to the normative institutions attempting to control the language, but that doesn't have any bearing on the ability of billions of people to communicate with their peers using their mother tongue. Just because an institution says a certain form is "incorrect" doesn't mean people are going to stop using it and make themselves understood with that form.


If these institutions attempt to control it, then they’re not normative.

It does make perfect sense when the improper use of tenses or grammar break the temporality, spatiality or relationships of the narrative.

Eg. The obvious ones in french: ce/se, ça(cela)/çà/sa... etc. A bit less obvious: “après qu’il ait”, subjunctive after stating a fact or is the subjunctive intended and it wasn’t a fact... etc.

And sometimes it becomes poetic “à l’insu de leur plein gré” when both forms are correct but with completely different meanings.


Except the subjunctive almost completely lost its initial semantic value of expressing the hypothetical or fictious in French, and in most cases has been replaced by the indicative. (Contrast with languages like Italian or Spanish that did retain the subjunctive in these cases, and look at the (many) situations where the indicative is used in French and the subjunctive is used in Italian/Spanish). These days, the subjunctive is mainly used in clauses where an infinitive could be used (pour qu'il ait/pour avoir, sans qu'il ait/sans avoir, etc.) In that sense, après qu'il ait, on top of feeling more "natural" due to the symmetry with avant qu'il ait, isn't as outrageous an error as académiciens would have you believe, it simply follows this very handy rule of thumb.

Generally speaking, proper use of tenses and moods is overrated; it is inconsistent across Romance languages yet speakers of either have no difficulty making themselves understood, or learning others' systems. Many non-Romance languages dispense entirely with this system and yet their speakers don't encounter any difficulties expressing the same shades of meaning as they would in French.


> Except the subjunctive almost completely lost its initial semantic value of expressing the hypothetical or fictious in French

That’s definitely not true, and what follows is thus complete bs sorry. Where does this come from to begin with? I even miss Spanish’ subjunctive future in French!

It’s not only a mistake wrt the language rules but also a logical one, if intended initially to state facts.

> Generally speaking, proper use of tenses and moods is overrated

Wiping your butt after pooping is overrated too, you should try the opposite.

To order a coffee maybe, but there is definitely something more interesting in (not only) french.

That’s what makes a language more or less concise and elegant. You can express countless shades of meanings in pure arid arithmetic too, but yet...

And people don’t understand nor agree with each other generally speaking: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutics


>That’s definitely not true, and what follows is thus complete bs sorry. Where does this come from to begin with?

Alright I have my trusty Grammaire espagnole (Beschrelle) at hand, and here are the differences in use of the subjunctive. The following cases involve the indicative in Spanish and the subjunctive in French:

-A concessive clause, whose opposition relies on a reality-grounded fact (aunque està lloviendo/bien qu'il pleuve)

-A relative clause after a superlative or similar adjectives expressing the idea of "first", "unique", uses the subjunctive in French. The comparison point being grounded in reality, Spanish always uses the indicative. (la mejor secretaria que hemos tenido/la meilleure secrétaire que nous ayons eue).

Conversely, here are cases where Spanish uses the subjunctive and French uses the indicative:

-Expressing a condition, hypothesis or hypothetic comparison after si (si vinieras conmigo/si tu venais avec moi)

-Expressing a supposition (quiza ella esté al tanto/peut-être qu'elle est au courant)

-Temporal clauses in the future (Cuando venga/Quand il viendra)

I can go on if you like. Very clearly, Spanish's use of the subjunctive very closely follows the hypothetical/unrealized aspect of the content, whereas French's use is less consistent with that aspect, and mostly depends on the locution being used.

>I even miss Spanish’ subjunctive future in French!

And yet I'm sure you don't have any problems expressing the hypothetical and/or fictious in Spanish, do you? At least hundreds of millions of Spanish speakers don't.

>Wiping your butt after pooping is overrated too, you should try the opposite.

Seeing how mood use is inconsistent from one Romance language to the other, I guess Spanish and Italian speakers aren't wiping their butts according to your point of view (and you aren't wiping yours according to them). Or...we could just stop adopting such a normative attitude and admit usage changes across countries and time periods without anything being reprehensible about it?

>That’s what makes a language more or less concise and elegant. You can express countless shades of meanings in pure arid arithmetic too, but yet...

Are you seriously arguing that languages that lack the tense and mood system of Romance languages are somehow less elegant and concise, or less able to express countless shades of meaning somehow?


> I can go on if you like. Very clearly, Spanish's use of the subjunctive very closely follows

Oh yes go on please. But you were originally stating that subjunctive in French lost its semantic value. Now you making it narrow and added "compared to Spanish".

> I guess Spanish and Italian speakers aren't wiping their butts according to your point of view

I think you missed the point. It was meant to say that misuse of tenses and moods may alter causality and in general events chaining is not commutative (poop o wipe != wipe o poop).

> And yet I'm sure you don't have any problems expressing the hypothetical > Are you seriously arguing that languages that lack the tense and mood system

By the very definition of "concise", yes. I said you can do it in any language, but the formulation at some point will become cumbersome.


>But you were originally stating that subjunctive in French lost its semantic value. Now you making it narrow and added "compared to Spanish".

I said almost lost, and I'm choosing to believe out of charity that you didn't notice the extra word.

> But you were originally stating that subjunctive in French lost its semantic value. Now you making it narrow and added "compared to Spanish".

Yes, that's the crux of my argument, comparing use cases in French with that of other Romance languages in order to show how far the subjunctive use cases in French drifted from their original purpose and meaning. How else am I supposed to demonstrate it without a couple of reference points to compare with?

> It was meant to say that misuse of tenses and moods may alter causality and in general events chaining is not commutative (poop o wipe != wipe o poop).

I did take your point a little too literally, sorry. Still, the fact that mood and tense use across Romance languages is inconsistent, yet:

-People who speak either Romance language have no trouble distinguishing the actual from the hypothetical within their language, and

-People who speak multiple Romance languages have no trouble switching from one mood to the other according to the use case/language combination at hand,

shows how unlikely your "poop o wipe" situations are in practice. People "misuse" tenses and moods all the time (which is the prescriptive way of saying tense and mood usage evolves all the time) yet they still manage to communicate clearly somehow. This shows that these are not actually central to convey meaning and there are other avenues that do not use this system (context, adverbial cues, etc.).

>I said you can do it in any language, but the formulation at some point will become cumbersome.

Do you have any evidence for this? Like, can you showcase foreign languages that do not feature this system and whose formulation of the hypothetical would prove consistently more cumbersome and verbose than that of Romance languages? I'm not sure if you realize how far-reaching that statement is.


Yeah basically half the "mistakes" in that text aren't even wrong. I mean perhaps some annoyingly pedant French teacher, grammarian or Académicien would find something to say about things like using à une salle de sport vs. dans une salle de sport but like 99.9% of French speakers wouldn't notice anything wrong.


I co-supervised a British PhD student once who did his PhD at a Spanish university. Not only was he a native speaker, but he also wrote very clear - no passive sentences, clear structure in thinking and writing, very good. He had a paper reviewed by someone who only saw his university on that paper (blind review) and wrote 'paper could do with review by a native speaker'. Why? No idea. I knew who the reviewer was (small world) and he wasn't even a native speaker himself.

My theory: when you ask someone to correct language, and they know the author isn't a native speaker, they'll nitpick on things that native speakers wouldn't be corrected on; but the corrections will be much more about the idiosyncrasies of the corrector than the level of the author (when that author has reached a certain level of proficiency of course).


Most of the corrections she/he received are not justified at all.

I know it sounds absurd, but maybe the corrections weren't made by native speakers.


From the article:

> I initially preferred native French speakers, but after taking lessons with non-native speakers, I found that I couldn’t really tell the difference between natives and non-natives.


Poor corrections indeed. Using "dans" is less correct than the original "a". It's like saying to register "inside" a gym in English. Not the greatest choice of word unless you're really trying to point out the location.

In fact, the only correct correction among all that red is to replace "gym" by "salle de sport". Not to be confused with "gymnasium", it's similar but not the same thing.

The 4th line is misusing the future tense. Should have been pointed out.



Both forms are equally correct in some cases but not all cases.

In this case, 'dans' is at the very least 'more correct' than 'à'.


This is an awesome post. The one thing I wish it included was context around their lifestyle during this time period. How many hours a day did they devote? Were they working full time? If so doing what? What other responsibilities / life things got in the way.

It's one thing to imagine yourself doing this given six months of dedicated time (not that they claimed to have had this) and another to get a real sense of how one might fit this into one's life. Anyway, great, detailed article and an impressive accomplishment.


Author here. I don't work full time but I'm a master's student. I had a decent enough chunk of free time to dedicate to this without too many serious obligations. It's hard for me to estimate time per day, as there were some week-long periods where I did very minimal study when particularly busy, and other periods where I'd spend 20+ hours a week of solid effort on it. I think achieving this is probably outside the scope of someone who isn't extremely abnormally self-motivated and efficient and who has a family, long working hours, etc. That being said, I think most people can find the time to reach a moderate conversational level in a year without too much trouble, assuming they work efficiently.


Couple remarks on the author's alleged "weaknesses":

>Understand strongly accented speech. I understand essentially all the “standard” French without subtitles, but very little of the Quebecois.

Most European French speakers have trouble understanding Québecois as well, especially if it delves into slang, so I wouldn't fret much. High level (and written) speech should be ok though.

>Understand very slang-heavy speech. I know a good chunk of argot but there are still plenty of informal vocab words and expressions I don’t know. Especially that damn verlan.

Again, seeing how most people over 35 don't understand any of that stuff either I wouldn't worry too much. Especially because this stuff evolves like crazy and new slang/verlan words keep popping up all the time. I'm in my late 20s and can already feel the divide in the slang I and friends in their early 20s use.

>Write error free text. I can get the message across pretty well without relying on a dictionary, but I often phrase things a bit unnaturally and make minor grammatical errors.

Like I and another poster said, most of the mistakes aren't really mistakes. Only the most extraordinary pedant would object to these.

>Quickly use less common verb tenses. While I know how to construct the past conditional and future perfect, I still can’t use them very fluidly. >Recognize all the weird literary tenses. Imperfect subjunctive? Yuck.

Yeah no one uses these. In fact if you did attempt to use these in a normal conversation there's a good chance you wouldn't be understood. Even in writing, modern authors are more and more switching to present and past perfect. Even tenses like the future are getting increasingly uncommon, people instead use the present and rely on contextual clues or markers, like in German (" we'll meet tomorrow" -> "we meet tomorrow").

What I mean to say from all of this is that even native French speakers are not completely at ease with these pain points so it's no use worrying about them too much.


The future perfect is very much used both orally and (especially) in writing and so is the past conditional.

The passé simple is almost never used orally these days, and in writing mostly only in literary texts.

I've noticed that the subjunctive is used less in writing since some change to 'simplify' (i.e. dumb down) the language.

Exotic forms of subjunctive (imperfect subjunctive, anyone?) are hardly used anymore even in contemporary literary texts.


> The future perfect is very much used both orally

The past conditional, maybe. The future, really? Do you actually say things like nous nous verrons demain or il l'aura fait avant in casual speech? Well I don't know if you do, but the vast majority of French speakers would say something like on se voit demain et il l'a probablement fait avant. Instead of using specific verb forms to convery meaning people instead rely on context and adverbial cues, as do the speakers of the dozens of languages that do not use the byzantine tense and mood system of the Romance languages (see: Japanese, Chinese, etc.) and are certainly not the worse for it.

>I've noticed that the subjunctive is used less in writing since some change to 'simplify' (i.e. dumb down) the language.

You're aware that the argument you're making about the language getting "dumbed down" is literally millennia old, right?


> nous nous verrons demain or il l'aura fait avant

I am a french speaker from Québec and hear both of those often.


Do you happen to be from Quebec? I'm Canadian by birth and have wanted recently to learn Quebecois French, but have struggled with finding practical resources (as everyone seems to agree most French resources and learning programs are going to give you a rather half-baked understanding of Quebecois French).


I’m Québécois. Honestly, I’m not aware of any Quebec-specific online resources. If you’re still living in Canada, there’s a good chance that you can get night classes at a University that would be taught by a Quebec expat. Otherwise, I wouldn’t agree that other resources will give you a half-baked understanding. It’s mostly a question of training your ear for the accent, which you can do by watching shows, for example. Differences in vocabulary are well-documented and easy to memorize (probably, as someone who’s done the reverse and learned the France equivalent).


Mango languages app offers Canadian French/Québécois - I find their approach to language learning much better than Duolingo. Plus it comes free with your library card if you’re in Ontario!


I find the timeline believable but I’m impressed (and happy!) to see this worked with self-study. I lived abroad for a while and found I was able to pick up the local language pretty quickly because I was fully immersed in it, by 6 mo. I was comfortably conversational for day to day things. However, I would also caution for anyone wanting to learn a language at home, it’s a muscle and it does fade when you don’t use it. After a decade back in the states I’ve lost the majority of the language I learned since there’s no one around to use it with.


You could just watch French TV, films or podcasts, there's more access to that material now than there ever has been.


It’s still much tougher to come by that one might think. For one thing, European networks don’t care about distributing their content outside of Europe, even in exchange for actual money. For another, a huge proportion of the content is dubbed from English, which isn’t ideal. Even pirating the stuff’s pretty hard, since there’s (apparently) little interest in it.

Japanese may be a pain in the ass to learn but it’s hard not to be jealous of the resources and media available to Japanese learners, as someone learning most any other language (though, in the US at least, Spanish media’s pretty easy to get ahold of)


Youtube will give you as many videos in any language as you want.


IF you can find them. Also you have no idea about quality. I've watched several videos in my TL where the plot was 1 here is what I'm going to do, then 10 minutes silently doing it, then 1 minute of reflection. There are a lot of videos of one guy doing something without talking. Note that the above is probably a reflection on my tastes.

I've also watched several videos and concluded after a while that it wasn't my TL but a related language.


Heh, YouTube is such a big place!

Best way to start is watching tv news. Hosts have very clear pronuntiation, it's their job after all.

I first research what tv channels are more popular in the country, then search YouTube with that info. YouTube doesn't seem to offer a lot of search options, but it's possible to do the search from Google or DuckDuckGo and later select "videos" tab.

DuckDuckGo has a dropdown menu that allows search localization, so the first results are the most relevant to the selected country. Once you find a handful of interesting channels, you're set up.


The only thing I disagree with is best. Best is subjective, I find most news boring an irrelevant (a lot of gossip about people I don't care about) so while it is great if you can stand it, I tend to get mad about the subjects they consider worth covering and turn it off.

This is a reflection on me of course - you should have your own opinions.


OK, let's say that it's a good way to learn the language, not so much as entertainment. Actually I agree with you about how little of what we see in the news is worth covering.

Anyway, if there's a channel with lots of contents, it's still possible to select only interesting topics. Maybe it's easier for me, because the language I'm most interested in is English :) Usually I don't even need YouTube, just setting Netflix language to English.

For other languages, I'm mostly interested in listening to specific words pronuntiation, usually names.


If you're interested in french podcast I can highly recommand the French public radio network Radio France. I'm pretty sure they're available anywhere in the world and they produce tons of contents (music, news, science, cultural podcasts) and all of it is available on replay for free.

France Inter is the main radio station, France Culture the "intellectual" one and France Info the live news radio.

Also the best music in the world is on FIP.


>> You could just watch French TV [...]

> It’s still much tougher to come by that one might think.

You could try Arte: https://www.arte.tv/

It's a joint French-German project based on public TV programming from both countries, approximately half of the content is in French.


For French, I've found this to be really good

https://mobile.twitter.com/yggtorrent_com?lang=en

There's also the option of buying DVDs on Amazon


For French, it’s really easy. Use a vpn to get a French ip, and you can watch TV1 - TV5 for gratuit! Avec subtitles en francais.


There's also this news channel (works in Europe, don't know outside): https://www.bfmtv.com/mediaplayer/live-video/

It's a typical 24/7 news channel but that's real, everyday French and, well, the latest news.


It seems to work worldwide: I watch it from Japan. Interestingly most of the commercials are not displayed from here, instead we get the rolling presentation of the channel.


It isn't nearly as effective. I've done both - I was an exchange student to Germany, (Landed with 1 year of US highschool German, maybe 150 words.), and was thinking in German in about 10 months. (I was also 17/18 years old, which makes a huge difference.) For the last few months, I've been trying to get more functional than my "taqueria Spanish", and have shifted to listening/watching mostly Spanish-language media.

It helps, but is nowhere nearly as effective as not being able to escape it. In Germany, I remember going to bed exhausted with a headache quite a bit for a period of months, roughly the phase from when I was barely functional to when I was able to take part in class in non-stupid ways.

Watching TV for a couple hours is nothing like that.


You should check out services like iTalki - it's very affordable to get conversation practice.


I think it's essential if you're serious about learning. For Spanish at least you can find people $4-$6 an hour which can fit into some seriously lean budgets. I think it's one of the best ways to spend an hour.

I currently chat with my teacher every morning on my bluetooth headphones while exercising in my backyard (of course, confirming first that this wouldn't annoy her). Most productive hour of my day, and I she likes the certainty of me committing to a daily time slot.

Cool way to build friendships too. In April I'm visiting her in Venezuela. Though I recommend using a service like https://www.conversationexchange.com/ for a more overt way to meet different people while practicing language.


Author here. Italki is a wonderful tool and is undoubtedly what brought me from being to formulate rote Duolingo sentences to being able to have conversations for hours on end. I think Italki or some suitable replacement that gets you 1-on-1 attention for long periods of time speaking is absolutely essential if you want to have extended conversations with people.


> 11/18: Started going through the French Duolingo tree

> 3/19: Reached the end of the Duolingo tree (level 1 in all skills, but most were level 3+)

This is pretty impressive. I've started French Duolingo around the same time and have been doing 30 min per day every day; 14 months later I'm about 1/2-way down.

This must have taken ~3h/day of Duolingo.


AFAIR I finished the French Duolingo tree in something like four months as well. I did practice every day with some dedication (preparing for a move to France), but I don't think it was more than an hour per day on average. I did have experience learning other (non-Romance) languages before, and I think that helps.


I went through the early parts of French Duolingo pretty intensively, but gave it up around the end of level 1, because it seems far too grindy -- not a good use of time. The part I did was good for bootstrapping to the point where you can start profiting from more real-life sources like the Harry Potter books.


How do you make the jump and apply the real life sources? A dictionary and a lot of free time? Two copies one in each language? Kindle French?


The best setup I know of is an e-reader with a good dictionary configured to pop up on tapping a word. You can also select a passage for auto-translation, which is usually better than nothing. I use the Kindle reader on the iPad the most.

(Although it's good enough, it could be much better: the French dictionary lookup consistently swaps accented with nonaccented e's, the translator goes to Bing instead of deepl.com, the French->English lookup (which pops up in parallel) forgets at least half the time that the source is French and displays a useless null English->English translation of an actually French word. Going beyond the minimum, why couldn't we align a human-translated edition if you've bought one, or found a public-domain one? And the same for an audiobook of the same text? There's so much room to do these things better, not just for Duolingo. I blame DRM and the intellectual-property status quo to a considerable degree. I'm a little ashamed to be plugging a DRM-promoting setup here.)

There are some webapps and iOS apps for parallel-text reading, but last I looked the execution wasn't very compelling to me, and for me the time when parallel texts made the most difference is past. (Also, you learn that translators often seem to want to exercise excess creativity, or misunderstand things. This counterbalances their still-better-than-Bing general skill.)

To make the jump early, assuming you can enjoy them, see if you can find a wide selection of children's books from the library. It was kind of a nostalgic experience -- I'd forgotten what it felt like to be running into puzzling words and expressions all the time. This way is not so quick for dictionary lookup, though.


Author here. 3h/day is definitely more than I did, though on some days (not that many) I spent 3+ hours grinding away. One thing to note is that over the last year they've added a ton of new material, so the tree is significantly longer now, which in hindsight is a bit misleading (although you can't grind as many levels now, so it somewhat cancels out.)


Whenever I read posts like this I'm much more impressed with the person's desire, motivation, determination, and strength to go an entire year focusing on one a single goal, not necessarily their learning ability.

So many people, me especially, go through spurts of wanting to learn something new or complete a project, reach a goal, and yet I always seem to fizzle out because in the end, why bother?

I'll argue it's incredibly rare for people to set goals, work continuously towards them, and consider it a success more so than what they can now do.


I am a 50 year old dude. Used Java in 1998-2002, but more as a JSP writer than anything serious. Then none till 2016. Then job changed and now I was expected to know Java. Tried to learn in 2017. Did not work out. Tried to learn in 2018. Did not work out. Then I enrolled in a community college. My job changed again and now I was not expected to know java. But I spent the 6-9 months to complete the courses and came out with much better understanding.

Why did it not work in 2017 and 2018 despite motivation? Distractions. Some external, but mostly internal.

Why did it work in 2019 without motivation? Committed to put in that effort in a non-distracting environment. Well phones are everywhere to alert us, but the constant deadlines and exams keep you grounded.

I think we all have the same issues.And if you/we have a wandering personality (In 2020, we all do thanks to our devices and subscriptions), we need some external tools to keep keep us focussed.

Do find something similar. For myself, I am thinking of 3 months on, 3 months off kind of learning in a formal setting (need not be college) so as not to be overwhelmed.


“I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principles of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life.”

- M. Russell Ballard


How do you see this quote relative to your real life observation ?

I always wonder why people post out of context quotes without commentary, when arguably their interpretation is the most interesting part. I care a lot more about what you think than what that religious leader says.


That's fair. My Dad always taught me that life is a series of distractions. A few years ago when I was single and college age I would always approach him with opportunities to change my major or accept some cool job. He'd never tell me what to do, but instead would have me write down (or review) my goals in life. And then ask myself, "does this fit within my goals?"

In following this philosophy I turned down many opportunities that seemed too good to be true because they didn't fit my life goals.

This is the main benefit I see in the quote, goals help with stretching yourself, sure. But I think it's far more valuable to stick to something instead of chasing every distraction that comes your way.


That’s great of your dad, and it seems it was well fitting with your personality. Did you ever want to change your goals based on opportunities, once you got out of school and your dad had less influence ?

I rarely met people that had actually viable goals while in school (not that their goal was unrealistic, just missinformed and ill fited for them), and we all took our first years out of school as a discovery period to find something that was working for us.


What are/were your life goals? How did you come to discovering/defining them? I find that to be quite difficult.


I personally suspect it's an attempt to "sell" the religion. Someone can google Ballard and find out all about Joseph Smith!

But the quote is sort of bland and not that insightful anyway.


"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


> I personally suspect it's an attempt to "sell" the religion

You can think whatever you want. It's a quote that I enjoy that came to mind while reading the parent comment. I was going to leave the name out because inevitably anything Mormon on the internet gets bombarded with comments like yours, although yours is fairly benign compared to most. I decided it was odd to quote someone and leave out the citation.


Proselytizing is annoying. If this wasn't that then apologies.


> So many people, me especially, go through spurts of wanting to learn something new or complete a project, reach a goal, and yet I always seem to fizzle out because in the end, why bother?

For this reason, I'm relatively reluctant to start new things unless I feel that I can actually commit to getting to the level of competency that I want.


> yet I always seem to fizzle out because in the end, why bother?

This has frequently been my problem. I think maybe I'll learn enough to know it's not relevant or helpful outside some curiosity.

Languages are really hard. As an American speaking English I really get no use from knowing another language. Over my life I've learned, Spanish, Hebrew, French and Japanese. Enough to make sentences, and I forgot them all and never used them except for a trip. Everyone in foreign countries speaks English anyway.


> Everyone in foreign countries speaks English anyway.

Maybe you'll find an interesting travel destination where that's not the case by sorting this list by percent English speakers, ascending: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_English-s...


Its an interesting idea, ive actually been to two in that top 20, morocco and costa rica. I did know a little bit of spanish for the costa rica trip, my high school spanish came back slightly and google translate was helpful enough. Moroccan arabic is really a niche language and found english took me pretty far, i actually didn't bother to learn any arabic for that trip.


Not everyone speaks English, far from it, but I totally understand the sentiment. In any case, even if you're visiting a place and you're awful at a language, it still means a LOT to the native speakers.


Yeah that's true it might be appreciated, though i'll add on and say i think its unreasonable to expect Americans to learn the local language when they travel. If i wanted to visit europe and go to 3 countries in 10 days, (i dont think thats an unreasonable trip) It would be crazy to do dedicated months of learning for that. Anything beyond, hello, good bye, excuse me and thank you is really too much and not a real good use of time.


There is a the real problem. There are too many languages in the world. All are nice in their own way, but nobody knows even 1% of all languages that are currently spoken. When I was in Germany nobody tried to talk to me in Spanish, if I met somebody who didn't speak English I just assumed communication was impossible even though Spain was only a couple hours drive away. I probably came off as a mono-lingual American even though I knew some Spanish.


Every classical musician who has learned to play his instrument well has done exactly this. Even more, he/she must continue exerting effort and dedication to maintain those hard-earned skills.

(I say classical here not to exclude others, but because this is the area I know first hand.)


He never touches on the why


Author here. I considered including this but didn't want to ramble on longer than I already had. Plus, the story isn't really that interesting. Unlike what some commenters below suggested might be possible, I don't have a French-speaking significant other.

I started learning very casually sometime in November using the Duolingo mobile app. After a while I switched to the desktop version of Duolingo and felt myself making pretty good progress. I enjoyed learning French enough to keep at it, and after a couple months I got the idea to move to France after finishing up my master's program. That probably won't be the case anymore, but for most of 2019 I had the motivation to become fluent enough to do pretty well in case I ended up moving to France.

I don't have any French speakers among my non-acquaintance friends, and absolutely 0 French-speaking family. So, there has never been anyone in "real-life" for which I was motivated to learn French. However, wanting to move to a foreign country was definitely enough to motivate me for the better part of a year.


I feel like the number one motivating reason is having a significant other who has a different native language. This also makes it a lot easier to make progress because you basically have your own tutor who is also motivated to patiently listen to your struggles.


There's a Spanish saying that goes something like: the best way to learn a language is in the bed or the crib.

Nothing is quite as motivating to learn a language than dating someone (or, more likely, trying to) who doesn't speak English very well or is willing to refuse to speak it.


Learning a second language is a goal for many people.

It’s pretty cool to learn a second language and travel. I learned Spanish and backpacked from Guatemala to Buenos Aires over 9 months. I spent the first 3 months learning Spanish in Guatemala.


I had the good luck of getting hired into a job in a 100% French environment here in Quebec just out of school almost 2 years ago. I started with just an intensive 6 credit French course in university and grade 11 English-Canada high school french as a background which conversationally accounted for very little.

I understand feeling as though your structured grammar classes in school failed you when you first went to X country and spaghetti came out your mouth. However, that grammatical framework served me incredibly well as time went on. I found it filled in holes of knowledge without need to go back and correct them later. IMO, it is not a bad place to start, a traditional grammar focused class.

If you're looking for tips, the biggest is to maximize exposure - speaking, reading, writing, hearing the language. It is simply a matter of time if you force yourself into it. In addition to everyday language practice with my colleagues to do my job (don't let them speak your native tongue with you, ever!), I hosted french movie nights, read in french, and installed Antidote for my emails (seriously - if you're learning French, buy Antidote).

Seriously, don't let them speak your native tongue with you, ever, for any reason. Force the language you want to learn without exception - conversation language patterns are very, very hard to undo once set.

Last point: Contrary to the author, "heavily accented French" to me is France French, I am far less fluent with it. Choose your teachers based on what accent you want to have, yourself.


Very impressive progress. I think it speaks to the author's commitment and dedication, as adding 50 new cards per day is a lot. Most people will burn out pretty quickly at that rate. I recommend something like 10-20 per day. I'm also one of those people that say you should make your own cards from material you're immersing in. When going through a predefined list of words like that I think you're bound to end up learning a bunch of words that you'll never encounter (at least not for a long time), and a bunch of words that you'll have no idea how to use correctly.

I wrote an article[0] about my own method for language learning, focusing mainly on the spaced repetition aspect.

[0] https://mochi.cards/blog/using-spaced-repetition-to-learn-a-...


Author here. It was a lot, but seeing the number go down rapidly was a nice motivator. Keep in mind that these are just pre-made 1-word cards, so they're much faster than the full-sentence cards people suggest, which are likely more effective though also more time-consuming. Furthermore, French has an unexpectedly (for me) large number of cognates with English, so many of those words were freebies for me. If I was learning Mandarin, for example, 50 cards a day would require an absolutely enormous amount of effort, most of which would likely be wasted.

You are correct in that a decent chunk of the words are relatively useless, and I forgot many of them already after stopping Anki for a few months. There were also some words that I had no idea how to use, as you said. However, I did some extra looking-up of difficult words, and the deck included example sentences for many of the words. Also, I definitely claim that your method is more effective, but clearly this one at least worked well enough to do what I did.


There are frequency ordered decks I believe. Very useful. Top 2000 most frequently used, for example, is a good start.


> no immersion

I see this somewhat frequently among some parts of the online language community. For some reason people seem to think that you're not immersing in a language unless you're in a country where that language is frequently used. They somehow equate being immersed in a language with physically being in a country where that language is frequently used.

Don't get me wrong, being in a country is a great way to immerse yourself in a language, but it is by no means a requirement.

In terms of exposure to content in the language you're learning, what's the difference between someone who is living in a country where they see that language on TV, in the newspapers, hear it on the radio, and speak it with native speakers, versus someone who watches content in that language on youtube, reads articles/newspapers online in that language, talks online with people who speak that language, but lives somewhere where they don't speak it? Not much.

Setting up a "local immersion environment" requires putting effort into finding native resources and trying to reduce your exposure towards your native language. It's certainly more effort than being in a country where you can't help but be surrounded by your target language, but it's definitely not impossible.

The idea that listening to music, listening to podcasts, watching youtube videos and reading articles in your target language is not immersion is silly, since this is what native speakers living in their country experience on a daily basis. Environment is everything, not location.


Author here. I see your point but I still prefer to say I wasn't "immersed" because I think actually living among native speakers and using the language carries an enormous advantage over what I did, a sort of "pseudo-immersion." This pseudo-immersion isn't 100% equivalent to typical immersion, but as you say, captures at least a significant part of it. Trying to imitate the immersion environment is the best I could do, and clearly is enough to get to a pretty decent level.

Regarding differences between this pseudo-immersion and "true immersion", I think there are a ton of things that I never picked up that I would receive had I lived in the country, which is a big reason why I still make this distinction. For example, I haven't shopped at a French grocery store and asked for help, and while I could do so, I'd probably use some uncommon wording. Or, for example, IIRC French people say "I'm having X" in restaurants instead of "I would like X", as all the online resources tell you to do, but I would have never picked up on this if I hadn't read it in a random article once. This sort of expression-mimicking you get from interacting daily with native speakers is, I imagine, hugely important in actually becoming natural in a native environment and is completely lacking with what I did.

I've never been to a French hospital, or complained about cigarette butts on the sidewalk, or explained how I stepped in dog poop on my way to work this morning, or told anyone how sweaty I became after rushing to catch the train. I could say all these things, but they'd all be new situations and there would be unnatural wording and a distinct lack of common expressions and idioms in my speech. Theoretically, I could watch enough movies or read enough books to catch a decent chunk of this, but in my immersion method I read 1 book and 0 movies or tv shows, (aside from a kid's cartoon for a bit.) This doesn't even include the massive amount of slang and idioms that are only said among very informal friends that I've never used with my Italki teachers. Perhaps including a lot more media in my method would be significantly more "immersive", but in any case I think the distinction is warranted. That being said, immersing yourself as much as possible, even at home, is definitely a very useful and effective way to learn a language.


It reminds me a little of how I learnt English myself. Out of high school I was really bad and really wanted to change that. I switched all my video games to English, started watching 4 to 5 hours of TV shows/movies in English a day, reading books in English, etc etc. I definitely wasn't as intense as the author, but I think it worked pretty well considering that now I live in the US as a US citizen :)


If you just care about understanding most of the written language this can be done a bit faster in a very similar way: A few years ago I started watching Danish TV shows and went through a few months of "Danish obsession".

-I started Duolingo Danish, only 15-20 minutes every day, just unlocking stuff, not completing evey level. I never completed it all, but there's not much left.

-Then I followed a couple major Danish newspapers on Twitter. This is good because it is just incorporated in my couple daily sweeps through my timeline, provides a little "cultural immersion" and the translate button is sitting right there to help with those couple of words you didn't already know.

-The Twitter thing also works well to give a sense of progress: After a while you find you don't have much trouble with the tweets themselves and start clicking on some links to get a harder challenge with the articles themselves.

-When you can make out what most of the press articles say, you can start trying with some fiction: In my case I chose ebook Danish translations of the Millenium novel series, for no particular reason (just more Nordic noir). I had not read them previously.

I read them using my phone and set up the reader to provide Google translation by selecting words or sentences. I found out I could in fact enjoy the novel and had to use the "dictionary" less and less as I went on. I read the two first novels and the average speed was about half of English or my native Spanish.

- Since my Danish reading was by now quite effortless, for an aditional challenge I tried the third novel in the original Swedish. This was viable and still fun, but certainly more belabored.

All this took about 3-4 months.

So now I can read Danish, Norwegian and Swedish newspapers but I can't really understand the spoken language. (In fact spoken Danish is notoriously difficult to understand). I can catch the drift of conversation, recognise words and phrases but not really understand or speak myself. I can surprise Danes by greeting them and exchanging some smalltalk, but not really keep up a conversation. But hey... it was all pretty much effortless, so RoI is great.

Nowadays I'm doing the same with Russian. It goes slower because I'm not as obsessed and stop from time to time, but I can understand tweets from Komsomolskaya Pravda pretty well by now.


Author here. I heavily concentrated on speaking, but you're absolutely right that without that you can get quite far surprisingly quickly if you only care about reading. I mean, look at the millions of language students that can read complex texts in their foreign languages but can't spend 30 seconds discussing their day.


Reminds me of this [0].

Ikenna learned (conversational?) French in 6 months. It's quite an inspiring video. After watching a few of his videos now, it definitely plays a part in continuing to motivate me learning Japanese.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8gno6Uzuo8


Author here. Indeed, I linked to this video in one of the sections. Starting off every few weeks or so I'd watch the video again to remind myself that this is possible and "keep my eyes on the prize." His level in the video isn't incredible or anything but definitely something to be proud of after 6 months of study. I can confirm such is possible because I was around his level after 6 months too, from what I can tell.


As this article shows, it is perfectly possible to learn a language to a decent level (B2) in a year by studying at home. This is especially true if the language you're learning is closely related to your native language (e.g., English and French). You just have to consistently put in the time (probably an hour a day, at a minimum) and use a good mix of resources: a good textbook, flashcards (e.g., Anki), Italki (personal tutoring over video chat), radio, and some easy reading (childrens' books are great).

If you can go to a country where the language is spoken and are able to spend all of your time working on the language, you can learn to B2 level in much less than a year. I would say you should be able to achieve B2 level in a relatively easy (because close to English) language like French in less than 6 months.


I've done short stints in Spanish and Japanese classes, and have traveled abroad for short periods (Spain, Russia, China). I understand short phrases and can do very basic stuff: ask for directions, say please/thank you, get mugged, etc.

I have some family that have done intense language study, and lived abroad for years (mostly Russia, but other places too), one thing I've always been curious about is wordplay.

Do non-English languages and cultures have the same amount (or potential for) wordplay like English does? My family who've lived abroad have said 'not as much as English', but... they only lived in non-English places for a few years, so their experience - while valuable - may not be conclusive.


In French we have a long tradition (16th century according to Wikipedia) of a specific kind of wordplay named "Contrepèterie" where two phonemes in an apparently innocuous sentence are swapped, to create a different sentence.

Here is a website with some: https://lapoulequimue.fr/

Ex with the website name: la poule qui mue (the hen that is moulting) -> la moule qui pue (the mussel (slang for pussy) that stinks).

If you are in a business setting and you are scheduling your next meeting, avoid saying "Je te laisse le choix dans la date" (I'll leave you the choice of the date).


I don't speak Swedish but someone told me they have their own pun Olympics simply because of how easy the language is to mold into puns


Looks like it is a comedy group that is setting some competition event yearly.


I have achieved the same results in Chinese (HSK 5), but it took me 5 years. The resource I see that is missing is HelloTalk, with lots of opportunities to converse for free, and post your writing practice to receive corrections. Can also post your voice.


I learned french in 3 months aprox. while living in France. Ive arrived there without much knowledge of the language. First weeks I was feeling like an alien. Then I started to understand but couldn't speak. Then I started to use translate and dictionary to build some phrases beforehand to be able to be polite and ask the questions I wanted. After 3 months something clicked during a talk I was watching, I not only began to understand without having to think but was able to ask questions to the French guy on my side about the talk (it was about a ML algorithm). I am a native speaker of a Latin language (Portuguese).


Congratulations to the author! They achieved a level where having a conversation with them is not painful, for either side of the conversation.

For anyone who is bored of learning yet another programming language, learning a human language will challenge you and humble you and reward you if you keep going at it.

Just please give up on self-imposed deadlines, and as this article states, there is no magic bullet, no magic method to learning a language, despite what SEO-driven blogs and videos will tell you.


I learnt French in about six months. I was able to read the news, Wikipedia, technical journals and and some novels (although this was by far the most difficult). My main motivation was to be able to read French papers for my PhD. I accomplished that goal.

However, I was not able to speak French at all. I actually went to the South of France thinking I'd be able to converse but was immediately disheartened when I couldn't understand the first thing they said and they couldn't even understand me saying the word "tarte" in a patisserie.

My approach to learning to read/write French was simple. First learn the grammar of your mother tongue. If you don't speak a second language, you probably don't know this. Secondly, learn the grammar of the new language by using study materials written in your mother tongue. There is an excellent series of books that covers both of these called English Grammar for Students of X (where X is, French, for example). Thirdly, learn loads and loads of vocabulary (including genders etc if necessary). For this I used Memrise which was excellent at the time (but I think it has regressed since). Then just read a lot.

Things I found not useful at all were Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. They don't teach grammar to adults. They are aimed at babies which is fine if you have ten years to learn this, I guess. There are no shortcuts if you want it to be quicker.

I still know a surprisingly large amount of French after several years, but it's fading. I'd still love to be able to speak it fluently one day. Any advice for getting there?


I've been reading similar anecdotes lately trying to gauge whether I could reach B1 in a Romance language in a few months of study.

What I've found is a lot of pessimism about how well Duolingo teaches you a language, with many arguing it's a waste of time altogether.

I'm surprised that could be the case though. They have data from millions of language learners processing through their lessons, and looking at their making-of blog (https://making.duolingo.com), the product seems data-driven. They do A/B testing to see the efficacy of new features they roll out. Aside from that, they combine reading, writing, speaking, and listening exercises, and have made some innovative features like chat bots. One language tree includes a few thousand words.

If anything, I would expect Duolingo to be vastly more effective than other methods.


Their A/B testing probably isn't testing education efficacy, but retention and actions that lead to payment/miscellaneous business goals.


Ironically, as a user I'd use it more if it were more effective and less grind-grind-grind. But I suppose you're probably right. An efficient, effective learning process feels more challenging and frustrating, which must drive a lot of people away. It must be a solvable problem, though.


Author here. I agree that Duolingo is almost certainly not optimizing for language learning effectiveness, which ends up being somewhat of a side-effect of their business model. However, by using the desktop version and turning off the word bank, you can better optimize for effectiveness for yourself.

Duolingo is certainly a grind, but I don't think that's 100% a bad thing. It's far from perfectly executed, but I think you need a certain amount of grind to really drill some of the vocab and grammatical concepts into you.

As an example, in a classroom you do some homework exercises, and maybe get feedback the next day on however many exercises you do. You don't necessarily get to redo the exercises you miss enough to let the concept sink in, and you might do way too many exercises that do nothing for you as you've already internalized the concept. With Duolingo grinding, you have to repeat your weakest points after you get them wrong and get to drill in all the exercises until they stick.

I estimate that each lesson of roughly 20 questions, with redoing exercises I got wrong, takes me something like 3-5 minutes, so in an hour of focused effort you might get 300 exercises in. That's far more exercises than I imagine you do in school for example, and you also get to decide if a unit is too easy and you can afford to skip it, or if it's hard enough where you have to repeat it. Plus, each sentence has a discussion page, many of which (especially the tricky ones) have detailed explanations about the concepts within the sentence.

Duolingo is far from perfect, but despite all the criticism it receives (rightly so for what it claims you can do with 5 minutes a day on the mobile app), you can actually make it a surprisingly effective tool.


Oh, I agree it's useful! I'm pretty sure it's a great improvement over my high-school Spanish classes or my rudiments of grade-school French in Canada.

It's just that I moved on nearly as soon as I could to learning by osmosis from reading real books; which, not being deliberate practice, is quite suboptimal in learning rate too, but is a much more tolerable use of time. If they were as effective as I think they could be, I wouldn't ditch them so soon.

I have the unusual issue of being severely hard of hearing and I'm not sure what'll be the effective way to learn spoken conversation if I do move to a French-speaking country. Even hearing English is, uh, problematic in most settings. So this is also an example of tailoring your own approach in view of goals and context. I like reading books, and this most directly got me the thing I like.


I feel like Duolingo is a good "in": something to give you enough of a foothold in a language to start learning in other ways. The barrier to entry is nonexistent, but it does become hard to progress past a certain point.


Does anybody here have experience of "learning" physics, electrical engineering or material science in 12 months?

By this I mean starting from the very basics to a level where you can comfortably talk about main concepts and start designing or experimenting using your knowledge



> Being a New York Times Columnist

The article (not the NYT one, which is just typical whiney urban cat lady trash) has a lot of the components of a marketing submarine. Particularly obviously as .... well, who is this person?

I do think apps are pretty helpful in stuffing vocab in the brain. Mixed bag though. Duolingo is shit for me; they don't have continental Portuguese (Memrise does). The rest of it rings true as well (I listen to Portuguese radio at home to work on my understanding when I'm not being a slug).


That NYT article is an example of someone basically failing at learning a language, to put it quite bluntly. Learning a language as an adult entails hard work for years and years.

Living in France will not teach you French, besides "survival French" and probably "minimal conversational French". Even having a French partner won't help at all, unless you both commit to speaking French (and then your partner is put into a weird position where they're your partner but have to constantly correct you)...

Acquiring Superior/Distinguished [0] level vocabulary basically entails dense vocabulary study, daily. And then putting it into practice with usage and recognition (i.e. reading French books). Anything else is far too slow.

> When I try to tell a story in French, I sense that the listener wants to flee.

The hardest part of learning any language is just accepting that you're going to make mistakes. Maybe French people are more snobbish about French (I have no idea) but generally speaking... people understand that you're taking the time and effort to learn and speak their language.

s/French/<Your Desired Language>/g

I know people who have lived in Korea for 5, 8, 10 years and are frankly still terrible at it. Some of these people own businesses there! Having a bilingual Korean partner is probably the worst thing that I noticed, because you end up always speaking the language that's more convenient, i.e. English.

[0]: https://www.languagetesting.com/actfl-proficiency-scale


Funny, one my best friends lives in Korea and is terrible at it. I don't think he ever put any effort into it though. I thought about joining him and put a little effort into learning with a Korean friend: the alphabet made a lot of sense anyway!

I have a low opinion of NYT columnists. As you say, you really have to work at it. Reading the peregrinations of someone who admitted they didn't actually work at it, larded with excuses from psychologists (who are measuring people who also didn't work at it) isn't real edifying or useful; we already know how people manage not to do it. Enough people succeed in learning new languages as adults, I'd rather hear from them.


There's a lot of meta discussion about learning languages but I'd like to thank the author for two great tips in particular:

* using the desktop version of Duolingo

* the shared Ankiweb decks for <x> most common words in <x> language

I've been slowly learning Spanish via a few short classes and intermittently using Duolingo on my phone.

I'm not even sure I knew a non-mobile version of Duolingo existed until now and it's so much better. Even though I knew that turning off the work bank was better for learning I didn't do it because typing on my phone sucks.

And I had never used Anki before but earlier today I downloaded it and a top 5000 Spanish word deck and already went through my first lesson.

Even these two small things will help me a lot so thank you.


Author here. Don't quote me on this, but I think something like 90% of Duolingo users are mobile. Mobile is more "fun" and good for casual users who want to do 5 minutes everyday to feel like they're making progress. I imagine Duolingo's business model leads to it heavily promoting the mobile platform, but thankfully the desktop version is quite good too.

I didn't like the Anki UI at first but I got used to it quickly. My Anki pace of 50 new cards a day was very aggressive, but this was largely possible due to the massive number of cognates between English and French. I imagine the same will hold for you in Spanish, though perhaps to a slightly lesser extent. I think Anki is wonderful for acquiring vocab though, so keep at it and you should do quite well! Also consider making your own Anki deck or using sentences instead of words. While this 5000 word deck was good enough to get to B2 for me, those methods are very likely more effective for long-term retention of more obscure words, although of course they are far more time-consuming.


I don't doubt the 90%. You can tell they don't care really care about desktop so it doesn't have the heart system.

Yeah I'll eventually build my own Anki deck. I'm spending a month in Mexico right now so that's definitely helping too :)


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