February 04, 2011

Learning a simple language - Part 2

I said in the last recording that the language learning process should be natural and no “textbook science” should be used to explain it to the learner as I think language learning is no science just a very natural process that should be expanded to its maximal potential and I think the brain should do most of the work on its own. This doesn’t mean that one should not take the advantage of all the shortcuts to help him understand the language better and learn it faster. These shortcuts – grammar tables, word lists, mnemonics, sound recorder and so on can speed up the process a lot. In this recording I would like expand this thought a little and in order to make it as demonstrative as possible, I would like to talk about how I would go about learning a simple language, because I think explaining something on a specific example is the best thing to do.

  1. First of all I would not learn a language just to learn a language. I mean there has to be more to it than just to learn a language for the sake of learning so if I were to start learning a new language I would already have a very good reason to do it like for instance I really liked a song in that language, or the culture of Japanese manga and so on, because correct and lasting motivation is very very important.
  2. As we are talking about learning a simple language, let's say I would like to learn Slovenian, because when I was in Slovenia it was fascinating to turn on the Slovene radio and feeling like they were speaking Slovak I just didn’t understand anything. I loved the sound of the language, the signs written in Slovene and so on. I also for instance heard that Slovenian is one of the most conservative Slavic languages in terms of grammar, which all is quite a good motivation to start with. Learning a language for securing a better financial future is not enough.
  3. As I said, I regard Slovene as a simple language and I can go right ahead and skip all the language courses online and language course books explaining the language to a student and I would first go straight to itunes and look for all the Slovene news podcasts, preferably with talk shows, that I could find and by trial and error choose the 2-3 most professional ones and eventually chose only one. Alternatively I could look up an audiobook but that could be tricky because “bookish” language tends to be slightly different from real life language (although very good for broadening your vocabulary and getting your knowledge of the language to the next level) and could get boring with time. News casts, political talk shows are the best in my opinion, because the language is well elaborated, contemporary, it’s exactly what you need, to learn the level of Slovene you aim for. Why newscasts? Because if you are lucky, they will talk about things you already know from the news you’ve read in another language making your task even easier and if you are really lucky, some news podcasts are updated several times a day, so you can download a new episode as often as you like without getting bored by listening to the same one over and over again.
  4. I would then look for Slovene hip hop music. By hip hop I mean the good old school hip hop with a nice melody and good lyrics, something catchy that I could listen to over and over again and eventually sing/rap over and over again. I would look for hip hop because I enjoy it and because it contains much more words than a normal song. This is a very good way to work on the sounds of the language.
  5. I would then just give it a shot and start listening to the newscasts just to see how much I understand since as I mentioned before, because of Slovak being so close to Slovene, I could almost say I technically already “know” Slovene, I just don’t know how to speak it yet and don’t understand that much.
  6. while listening to the newscasts for the first couple of times I would concentrate really really hard to try to understand the content, even though naturally it would be almost impossible, but this way I could see which words I could recognize, see what really stands out, remember anything that is really obvious to my ears like funny differences between Slovak and Slovene.
  7. I would not write anything down or read anything for the first couple of days and only listen to the recordings to get the hang of the sounds, because I might get a lot of negative influence on my pronunciation from written Slovene.
  8. next I would find a good online or pc dictionary (definitely not a paper dictionary) and start pause rewinding the recording and guess the spelling of the sentence sections that I would not understand. I say sentence sections because what you might see as one word might actually be 2 or three words. This is something you will find out really soon once you start using a dictionary.
  9. I would however definitely write down the new words that I encounter and revise them every evening, because without revision the whole laborious process of looking up the words is completely useless. I know revision is a pain, but it has to be done.
  10. VERY IMPORTANT, at this stage, while you are still home and not in Slovenia, during the revision it is not important to remember how to say the words in Slovene by heart, it is only important to understand what they mean when you see them written or hear them spoken. First of all it saves up a lot of energy, there is a lot less stress during the learning process and it is so much more fun and motivating because you seem to be making gigantic progress.
  11. When you start searching for the words in your dictionary I would first suggest looking up absolutely every single word that you don’t understand and after a while you will probably realize yourself which words do not need to be looked up, because you will guess them easily out of the context without knowing their translation and then only look for words that you just cannot move on without. These are the keywords of a language that you will later need in order to start speaking.
  12. Do not listen to the recording and read the accompanying text of the recording at the same time. Do not look at the text. It’s much more effective to only listen to the recordings and let the ears do the work and not the eyes. Language is most importantly represented by sound in the end and an alphabet is only used to write it down so sound is definitely much more important. Plus looking up the words only by hearing them and trying to understand the system around them on your own is a big part of the learning process. You will learn so many things as you go: spelling, grammar and so on
  13. I would heavily rely on mnemonics while learning new words. I probably will do a separate recording on this. I heard someone say that this is actually completely wrong and that you should not use mnemonics because you will end up remembering a ton of mnemonics and not the actual words. Absolutely not true. You will eventually forget the mnemonic and remember the sound as the information will shift from one part of your brain into another as you use the word more and more. This is my personal experience and the experience of many of my friends, so I think using mnemonics is a great language learning tool.
  14. Well into the listening process, if your observation skills are good, since Slovene is so close to your native language or the language you already know, you might automatically notice how different the grammar is, how the cases are different or used under different conditions or how the past tense works and so on.
  15. What I would do next, after I’d get fed up with listening and would like to go into more into detail, I would go online and look for grammar tables of the Slovene language. Since I was listening to the language for some time now, and since my native language is Slovak, looking and understanding tables should not be a problem. I would just map out everything that would be absolutely the same as in Slovak, literally cover it with my hand or color them with a black marker and only look at things that are different and memorize those using mnemonics
  16. At this point I still would not worry about speaking the language. I would only want to know how to say some set phrases for fun, in other words, no improvisation, only the things that I remember absolutely automatically. Improvisation in a language is something that I think should be done later. Sometimes you have this urge to use every new word that you’ve learned just to see how it works, but no need for that now, since you don’t even know how to construct the most basic of phrases. My friend Luca says that one should start speaking as soon as possible, but I am not sure whether I can agree with that. It is so difficult to start improvising in the beginning and takes so much effort and is accompanied with so many errors, that I really think that in the beginning stages one should only use set phrases, securely used or heard many times before - these simple two three word funny sentences and then gradually build up on those and start improvising, because here the rule – the more simple the better is definitely going to work. If you start improvising at an early stage, you might end up learning a ton of the things wrong. Even though you can build on these mistakes and remove them later, I think it will double your effort. There is nothing wrong with starting to speak as early as you can, I would just keep it simple. No complicated structures. Simple automatic questions and so on.
Continue to Part 3.


  1. Vladiiiik, excellent idea, I like your attitude man. And the music part is cool as well. I remember you playing some of those „breaknecking-breakfingering“ songs, which have a language of their own. Take care, we wish all the best to you and your brand new website. (Hope my grammar is ok as this is the first comment :)) Duri and Tanicka - students forewer!

  2. Oooo kto mi to tu zavital:)

    Thanks for nice words guys! I should send you some Oolong tea the first time I get a chance:)

    Hope all is going well back home!

  3. I quite agree with you, especially for the last (16th) point.