2008年12月20日土曜日

How would I learn another language?

Glowingfaceman is right now in the middle of his "French revolution" 30 challenge. The goal is to teach himself as much French as he possibly can for 30 days. It made me think a bit about how I would approach the task. Since languages are all different, there are a lot of different ways to approach it. Here are some of the unique points here:

1. First we have to decide what the goal is. There are multiple ways to learn a language depending on what you want to get good at. You can get to a decent conversational level in 30 days, probably, or you can develop a good foundation for understanding and prolonged learning. Or to put it this way, am I going to leave for France at the end of the 30 days?

2. The fact that the time table is 30 days means that certain things would be different. In my Japanese learning now I've reached a very steady pace where I do things in Japanese for a majority of my day. I feel I've reached a good balance between workload and rest. If you can't find a good balance and look to charge forward with the hope that your starting energy and motivation will drive you forward, then you will most likely end up burnt out. But if the challenge is only for 30 days, then it's possible to maintain an intense environment for the duration.

3. Since French, among other European languages, share the same roots, there are quite a few words that are similar to English. Right now I can open up Le Monde and get an idea of what a random article is talking about because of this.

4. French pronunciation very important and possibly difficult. It also has letters, that you can pronounce.

The "building a foundation" approach:

To start off with I would probably find some way to get as much French audio input as possible. If I could, I would subscribe to French television station. Whenever I didn't want to actively read the language, I would put it on and watch it for long periods of time.

For reading I would probably pick up Harry Potter and the accompanying audio book and start reading it and shadowing it to death. No need for a dictionary or SRS at this stage, I would simply keep the English version and the French version side by side and use the English version to keep track of where I am in the story. I would try to put in +3 hours a day at this.

When I got a good way into the book (probably after a couple weeks, toward the end of the 30 days), I would then find a good monolingual French dictionary and use my current reading method for mining sentences.

The "getting conversational fast" approach:

The first thing I would do would be within the first week build up a good network of friends online through skype, forums, etc. and in real life. Both people who spoke English and French and people who didn't speak English. Learn as much as I can from them and tutors.

I would still pick up the Harry Potter book and shadow it to death, but more for pronunciation. I would try to sound as French as possible and build my pronunciation skills to where I can sound as close to a native speaker as possible.

I would try and build my vocabulary as fast as possible as large as I can. Probably plug news articles into a frequency counter, memorize them using my mnemonic techniques, then read the articles. I would aim to memorize over a hundred new words every day, I don't know if I'd use an SRS for this, though.

When learning it quickly this way, I would probably start mining sentences from Harry Potter using my reading technique and a F-E dictionary sooner than I would with the other way.

Which would you pick?

I personally would go for the foundational approach unless I had an impending reason to do it the fast and dirty way. I don't want to say that either method has an advantage over the other. There are people who learn languages well using both methods. If you follow All Japanese All The Time, the reason for choosing the foundational approach is because of input before output. The belief that getting massive input before speaking gives better output, which I tend to agree with.

Foundational advantages
Sustainable for long term learning, you only have to have yourself to learn
Learn to speak like a native speaker from the beginning, not like a foreigner
Is fun
Disadvantages
Takes a longer period of time (past a year)
Can be introverted

Conversational advantages
Quick, build a base quickly and can learn faster
Useful if you have a timetable or reason
Disadvantages
Can leave the learner making mistakes that won't be corrected for a long time
Harder to sustain for long periods of time, you're limited to the time you can spend with other people

Conclusions

Keep in mind that my methods here are not the only ways to learn. There are many different approaches and they're all different. If it was for 60 days, the approaches would be different. If it was for a year, the approaches would be different. But if you're learning a language, be sure you find something that you can be happy with. It's what you're comfortable and happy doing, not what other people think you should be doing.

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