My previous post about vocabulary was very focused on methods and what has worked for me (and what hasn’t). With this post, I’d like to dig a little deeper and discuss some of the finer points of vocabulary acquisition.
I’d like to start off by discussing a topic that actually comes up quite a bit among both beginning language learners and polyglots alike. I’m talking about the age old question: “How many words do I need to know to be fluent in a language?” Obviously this is one of the most subjective questions you could possibly ask, but it does make you think, doesn’t it? Throw out the obvious distraction (“fluent”), modify the verbiage a bit, and you are left with a reasonable question. “How many words does one need to know to function in a language. “ Let’s see if we can find out. Read More
I know, I know. I used the F word. Well, for the remainder of this post, I’m defining fluency as fluidity of verbal speech. I am not defining any level of competency or functionality, just the ability to speak at a fluid, even, and unbroken pace. Therefore, the purpose of this post will be to help you develop a natural, easy, and fluent-sounding speech pattern in your target language early in the learning process.
Before I jump into the post, I’d like to share the reason that I feel like this is an important piece of the language learning puzzle. Two and a half years ago, when I started learning German, I hit the books and flashcards hard. Within three months I had memorized over 1000 words and could recite lots of obscure German grammar points. By six months, I was over 2000 words and could write large paragraphs with good speed and accuracy. I could also “kind of” hold a conversation… My speaking was ok. I could say anything I wanted to and get my point across with no problems. I wasn’t lacking vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation. My problem was my “fluency”. I stopped and started and “ummm”ed and stuttered and stammered and basically sounded uncomfortable speaking the language. Fortunately, I was able to overcome these issues in the following months and would say I’m pretty comfortable with my oral abilities these days.
What follows are some tips I’ve picked up that really work for me. Hopefully you find some gems among them:
If you’re like me, you are probably super excited about learning a language. You probably also enjoy what I call “The resource round-up”. What is the “resource round-up”? It’s that exciting stage right BEFORE you dive into learning a new language when you scrounge for resources to help propel your learning to new heights. I’ll talk about how to do a proper round-up in a future post.
For now, let’s assume you are all “resourced up” and ready to explode! I’ll paint the picture. You’ve got a dozen free language websites in your favorites with all the vocabulary lists, grammar points, common phrases, native audio, and encouragement you could ever possibly want. You’ve gone on an Amazon.com shopping spree and now you have 6 or 8 or 20 new books including multiple courses, vocabulary books, dictionaries, verb guides, and who knows what else because you really haven’t looked them over that well yet. Maybe you’ve downloaded some podcasts, audio courses, or even some simple audiobooks. Maybe your bookshelf looks something like one of mine:
Maybe it looks like a less (or even more) extreme version of mine. Basically, we are assuming that you are 100% totally geared and psyched up to drive your shelf into Language World and kick some major butt. You’ve got the firepower. You’ve got the attitude and the confidence. You’ve got the desire. What’s stopping you?
Oh yeah… What do I do now? I always run into this too. Honestly, it doesn’t get much easier the more languages you know. I’ve never started two languages the exact same way. No two languages are the same, why should the methods be?
You may be saying “Great advice Sherlock, what am I supposed to do now?” Well, bear with me for a little while longer and I will have you ready to move on from “Resource Round-up” to “Language Launch” in a matter of minutes. Read More
Language learning can be a frustrating and rewarding roller-coaster ride. It’s never boring and it’s all about keeping an open mind and an even temper. I’ve learned a lot the last few years and I continue to learn more every day. That said, I am proud to present to you the 32 most important lessons that language learning has taught me. Warning: Long post ahead.
- Anyone can learn a foreign language. If you learned your native language, you can learn a foreign language. I have met people with learning disabilities, dyslexia, speech impediments, and even High School dropouts who have successfully learned not just one, but in some cases several languages to an advanced level. There is no such thing as being “bad at languages”. Give me a reason why you can’t learn a language and I’ll show you people who have done it under the same circumstances.
- Learning a language is hard work. Fact! You know that old expression “Nothing worth doing is ever easy”? Well, I think that guy (or girl) was talking about language learning. Read More
I get a lot of questions about how to start a new language. In particular: “What words should I learn first?” Well, today I’m going to share my list of the words I prioritize when starting a language. This is a list of 250 words that I learn first. They are MY basics. They are not for everyone. They involve things that I want to be able to talk about. They are not all encompassing and, to be honest, they will not bring you to fluency by any means. They DO however allow me to talk about the things that I feel like talking about. Not all of the things, but enough for me to feel like I can communicate most of the things that I need to (even if in a roundabout way) in a foreign language.