Saturday, July 14, 2012

Learn a language in 90 days

This is a post by Maneesh Sethi about learning a language very quickly, from the perspective of a motivated learner.

Here are the highlights of the post:
*Less than 3000 words make up 80% of the occurences in a language.  Learn those, and you're well on your way to fluency.  Spend your first 30 days memorizing 30 of those words a day.  This will form a strong basis for learning from context. 
*In the next 30 days, keep memorizing 30 words a day, but expose yourself to the language as much as possible.  Figure out words from the context you find them in; when you come across new words whose meaning you can't figure out, make a note of them.  Look them up later and add them to your cycle of memorizing words.
*After that, keep memorizing.  Now, spend as much time as possible socializing with people.  Go out with friends.  Hang out at cafés.  Interview people.  (Tell them you're writing a book about the area.  That's worked for me.  I still consider writing that book sometimes.) 

He also suggests materials and mental strategies for learning new languages.  His methodology is very strongly immersive: He recommends thinking in the new language, hanging out with people who only speak the new language, and constant exposure to new vocabulary.

This fits in well with my experience and my theoretical training.  I think I've told the story here before about my semester in Spain.  It had 2 take-aways, in terms of learning:

1.) I learned more Spanish in 4 months than I had in 6 years, and let me be clear: I was GOOD at Spanish before I went to Spain.  I don't just mean on vocab/grammar tests and writing academic papers, although I was good at that, too.  I mean I had no trouble making myself understood in any context that I had any knowledge about.  I had no real difficulty in reading even difficult literature.  None of this is bragging, because my first 72 hours in Spain were a humbling (which is not to say humiliating) experience.  I learned Spanish nearly exponentially in the first 2 months, and after that I still learned very very quickly, so quickly I didn't have time to notice how much I was learning.

2.) About the same time I got to Spain, a Norwegian named Sten arrived in Burgos.  He didn't speak any Spanish at all when he got there.  He spent the next 3 1/2 months partying, renting apartments with native Spanish speakers, hanging out in bars and cafés, and going to concerts.  When I left in December, Sten spoke Spanish nearly as well as I did, about every topic except the academic stuff I'd been studying at the university.  Again, I was good.  But Sten did almost as well in less than 4 months as I had done in almost 7 years of dedicated study. 

How does this help me as a Spanish teacher who can't afford to drop his students off in Spain for 4 months?  Well, it still outlines a kind of timeline.  More on that later; I just wanted to get this down someplace I could find it again.


TortugaRachel said...

I took 3 years of Spanish in high school, but I never really learned as much there as I did using it when I lived in Florida and Southern California. There's just something about having to use it that makes it stick better.

JohnCosby said...

Tortuga: Just so. Like so many things, if it's meaningful to you, you will retain it better.