Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Approach Language Learning - 1/4

I love languages, and I think everyone in the world should and can learn at least one other language - yes, even if you speak English. I've been reading a lot recently about how to approach language learning. There are a lot of theories out there. I'm not a fan of Rosetta Stone because it's overpriced. The Pimsleur method, I think, relies too heavily on audio and the basics. The person whose approach I agree with most is that of Benny the Irish Polyglot. I'm currently reading his book Fluent in the 3 Months, which is a fun read and very useful, though, unless you know nothing about language learning, you will likely skip some passages. I'm not going to rehash what he says, which, to summarize in one sentence, is: speak from day one. (That is, focus on speaking above all - isn't that why you're learning the language, to communicate with another human being?) Instead, what I want to do is break down the areas of language learning and tell you what you can do to work on those areas and how to integrate them into your life.

My own philosophy is that you don't need to spend a dime (well, assuming you have Internet access) to learn another language. So the following advice will hold true to that. Because of length, I've decided to divide my advice into four posts. This one will discuss listening, the next will be on speaking, the next on reading, and then the last on writing. (At the end I will give a list, with comments, of Web sites and apps that do, more or less, a little of everything.)

Music Videos
Besides buying foreign language music, you can listen to music videos in your target language for free on YouTube. Create a playlist. Check out the lyrics for free online with a simple Google search. (To have the lyrics with you if you use iTunes, copy the lyrics and then right click on the song in iTunes, click on "Get info," and paste under the "Lyrics" tab. It'll be on your device once you sync. Embarrassingly, I did not know about this for quite a while. But you have to buy the song. If it's your fav song, then it's no big deal. Only a buck, maybe two.) Also, often times there are foreign language music videos with the English subtitles. Just do a YouTube search and look around. Some of my favorite Japanese artists (often I hear of them through anime) are: Yui, Younha (who's actually Korean, but sometimes sings in Japanese), and Rie fu. Actually, this will sound corny but, one of my favorite anime songs is the closing theme to the original Dragon Ball (not Dragon Ball Z!), called "Romantikku Ageru Yo." You can watch/listen while you exercise, clean, write, or are doing something physical, or just whenever you're in the mood. Playing the music videos always during a certain activity will help you remember.

There are plenty of free podcasts out there. Search iTunes. (I'm deep into the Apple world because I've bought many apps and don't want to lose them by switching.) Search online, too. has a large selection of languages and free podcasts, which you can listen to on your iOS or Andriod device(s). You can pay to upgrade, of course. Alternatively, try the Coffee Break series by Radio Lingua Network, which has tons of content, if a small selection of languages (Spanish, French, and German). Podcasts are extremely mobile. I like to listen to them while I walk or take public transportation. It does divide your attention, though, so watch out for cars - and for potentially smiling inappropriately while walking past people due to the occasional jokes.

Video Lessons, Newscasts, Movies, and Shows
YouTube is free and has a lot of language learning channels, so if you're not signed up already, sign up! Here are some I subscribe to: Learn Italian with Lucrezia (Italian), Anil Mahato (Hindi), Enchantrees * (Bengali), YangYang Cheng (Chinese). LearnArabicwithMaha (Arabic), Gimmeabreakman (Japanese). You can also search LanguagePod101 on YouTube and get video lessons in your target language that way. And here are some that are in the target language only: TV5Monde (French), Univision Noticias (Spanish), ANNnewsCH (Japanese), Bangla Natok (Bengali), and SET India (Hindi). There are many free movies on YouTube in Hindi and Japanese, for example, as well as in other languages. Just search "(target language) + movies or films - many have subtitles. Moreover, Hulu has a lot of free content in other languages. If you like anime, as I do, you can watch Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, Naruto, One Piece and so on in the original Japanese with English subtitles. This in particular has been very useful to me because I've gotten used to the cadences and gestures and rhythms and expressions used in formal and informal speech. And I've been able to tell the difference from the first episode when I understood, like, a word, to the last, when I understood, like, a lot. (You can, of course, buy DVDs of such series or pay to subscribe to HuluPlus for additional content.) Watch while you eat. If you already have a smart phone, watch while you're waiting for that appointment or taking public transportation. Not while walking!

To be continued . . .

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