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Learning languages is a smart thing to do, but a lot of people worry about whether or not it’s effective to learn a language without teachers, classroom, or in-country immersion.
Full Disclosure: I Started as a Bad Self-Teacher
After many years of learning at school, the following 3 steps are the most important ones I learnt about how to grow true fluency. My secret? Take it easy.Read More
This episode of the Creative Language Learning Podcast is as fun as ever, covering the ultimate Good, Bad and Struggling and our Top 5 Language Learning Tools of 2016/17.
So The Podcast is Taking a Break..
Yes, the rumours are true. The Creative Language Learning Podcast is taking a break for a while, going on hiatus and there will not be regular episodes after number 52.
That does not mean you're going to miss us too much. Lindsay and I have gone through the archives together, selecting our own favourite episodes for you to try - check them out at the end of this article.
And remember to stay subscribed to your podcast feed in iTunes because we will be producing some one-off episodes for you.
Our Favourite Language Learning Tools for Autumn/Winter 2016
Listen to the show to get the detailed recommendations, and here is a quick index.
This website is awesome!! It pulls in music videos from YouTube and VEVO, adds the lyrics and converts the whole thing into a game. Teachers might call it a "cloze exercise", I call it "fill in the gap", and anyone would call this one a whole lot of fun.
- Get yourself to Lyricstraining.com and give it a go
A language learning collection created by parents for children. It's fun, it's beautiful, it's available as an app for your smartphone and tablet. In a sea of language learning apps, Gus on the Go stands out for its design and layout. There are apps available in 28 languages. Highly recommended for getting any young person started in a new language!
3) TuneIn Radio
A language learner's classic for natural input. This app and website lets you listen to radio stations from all around the world. It's perfect if you're at that stage where you're looking for a way to "level up" in your language. There are also podcasts, or you could search by favourite music style. The diverse voices of radio DJs and exciting foreign language music will give you a great new challenge.
- Download the app or listen live at TuneIn.com.
4) Tiny Cards
This is a new app from the team behind Duolingo. It's all about adorable flashcards helping you review and check your knowledge on anything, from language vocab to colour theory. This promises to take the Duolingo design excellence to a new level. Great if you're looking for a new flashcard app.
Yes, it's another super cute app! This innovative little app works like a text chat, where you're chatting with your new friend "Eggbun", who is teaching you the Korean alphabet and language. If you're addicted to texting on your phone, here's an AI teacher who will reply anytime.
- The app is out for Korean (iOS/Android), Japanese (iOS coming soon, but already out on Android), and soon coming out soon in Chinese. Get your preferred version from the lovely Eggbun website.
The All 4 App now has a wonderful "Walter Presents" range, bringing in comedies, dramas and crime shows in a really wide range of languages. If you're in the UK, you go and have a look.
Learn more about how to use TV to learn a language in podcast episode 31.
The Best Creative Language Learning Podcast Episodes
Here are our essential Creative Language Learning Podcast episodes you should not miss. It'll be a while before you're bored!
- Episode 5 with André Klein, where André and I discussed why creativity is so important for language learners.
- Episode 21 - Why Your Language Learning Goal Sucks and What to Do About It, an impromptu goal-setting workshop episode
- Episode 30 - How to Achieve a New Year's Goal of Learning a New Language, full of tips and good advice for your language learning problems.
- Episode 37 - The Secret Languages of Great Britain, in which we discovered that Great Britain actually has more than 10 languages - not just English!
- Episode 40 - Live from the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin, a fun and lively audio-postcard from Berlin
- Episode 51 - Top 5 Fictional Languages is the podcast episode for listeners who love to spend a lot of time in the land of books, films and video games
Other Link From This Episode
Could you get the benefits of immersion even when you are unable to put aside a month to do it?
This question is at the heart of Anthony's story, which is today's Fluent guest post. I love that he got involved with languages right from the start and really took home immersion to the next level by seeking out community meetings.
Ready to learn more about this? Over to Anthony!
I Learnt Spanish Using Two Different Immersion Techniques And Here's What I Found Out
A few years ago some friends and I decided we would spend a year saving up money for an extended trip to Latin America. It would be my first time outside of the United States. I planned on getting the most out of my first international travel experience and thought learning some Spanish would be a great idea. Long story short, the trip was canceled but I had already started learning my new language and began to fall in love with it.
Even without any travel prospects, I continued to practice my Spanish. 4 years later and I am fairly fluent and have had the opportunity to visit several Spanish speaking countries.
Before Spanish I had never tried to speak another language, so my learning experience was a bit bumpy at first. My language learning journey involved both real and virtual immersion. At different points I switched between the two, usually out of necessity. Looking back I have found some interesting differences.
In this post I use examples that apply best to beginners who can’t quite go for full immersion experience in another country. If you live near a major city you chances of find native speakers might better than you think.
Read on to find out how I made it work.
My Experience with Real World Immersion
When I first decided that I wanted to become fluent in Spanish, I had no idea how to start speaking the language. I knew I wanted to speak it, but beyond that I was pretty clueless. Aside from my duolingo app and a few Youtube videos I had no way to practice. Shortly after I took my first stab at Spanish an acquaintance invited me to a Spanish language group that met through a local church. I saw this as an excellent opportunity and decided to check it out.
The First Meeting: Scary And Exciting
The first meeting was quite an experience. I had never been in a room full of people who only spoke Spanish. It was scary and exciting all at once. I couldn’t understand much back then, but just being exposed to the language was a thrill. It was the first time I had heard Spanish spoken in real life with no English.
I went as often as I could and was able to practice the sentences I learned during the week. It was an immersion experience, but I hadn't even travelled.
I quickly befriended two awesome guys (one from Guatemala and the other from Mexico), who happened to be musicians and love rock music. At the time I was also taking up guitar so it was a natural fit. We started hanging out outside of the group sampling taquerias and talking about music.
Before I knew it I was texting in Spanish, ordering tacos in Spanish, and had Spanish posts popping up on my Facebook feed. The level of Spanish ability needed to do these things honestly wasn’t much, but I realized that a part of my life was now in Spanish, a small part, but a significant one nonetheless. I hadn’t expected it, it just sort of happened.
This was my first real world immersion experience. I had no idea that one meeting with native Spanish speakers could lead to so many other awesome experiences.
My Experience with Virtual Immersion
After a few months of new friends and real life Spanish practice, my job started requiring a lot of overtime each week and I suddenly had much less time and energy to devote to learning Spanish. This is when I started to get involved with language exchanges and online lessons with tutors.
Because my schedule was tighter I began using a mixture of paid tutors and language partners to practice in lieu of meeting up with the Spanish group and my friends, though I would meet up with them on the weekends when I could (most lived 45 minutes away past the other side of the city).
I found digital immersion to be great for weeks when I only had a few hours or so free each day. I didn’t have the time or energy to practice with my new friends, but I could easily set aside 1 hour or so each day to practice with a teacher or language partner via Skype.
Comparing The Two
Structure vs No Structure
What I love most about virtual immersion is that it allows to have more control over how and when you use your target language. If you want to practice language for exactly one hour you can. You can connect with a language partner or tutorand drill a specific aspect of grammar, or you can just have a friendly conversation. For me this is great. I enjoy being methodical and almost systematic with the management of my time and my language learning.
Talking with real people on the other hand is a lot less predictable. Outside of paying a personal tutor it is very hard to find people to practice with on a daily or weekly basis. When you make friends in another language it’s a huge favor on their part to “practice” with you, they’re your friend not your tutor and if they aren’t learning your native language it costs a lot for them to help you.
Learning a language with friends will flow from your natural interaction with them. You’ll have to make a conscious effort to use what vocabulary you know to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in.
Socially speaking, virtual immersion is easier, less risky, and insanely convenient. You can practice your language with a native speaker in your bed in your pajamas if you wanted too. You can also connect with speakers from around the world. You can literally pick and choose what country you want to meet people from. Virtual immersion is also more anonymous. You can always delete a skype contact or end a chat.
When you are surrounded in real life by native speakers you have much less control. You’re likely to meet all kinds of people in any number of situations, and you can’t just exit out of a chat window if something goes wrong. It’s also a lot harder to put yourself out there in the physical world versus the virtual one. On the internet you can be sure that the other person is a language learner and will be forgiving and understanding if you struggle. In real life you don’t have that guarantee. Before you initiate a conversation you have no way of knowing for sure whether or not the other person will be patient or receptive.
Because virtual immersion is less risky and more controlled the rewards don’t go as far. Yes you get real spoken practice one on one with a real person, but you don’t get the cultural experience or relationship of an in person interaction. I can’t speak for others, but my main motivation for language learning is to make friends and interact with real people from around the world. I don’t want to learn Spanish just so I can talk to people on the internet all day.
It’s also hard to have a friendship over a text or video chat. You don’t get a feel for the body language and full personality of the other person (and you’re also probably 1,000+ miles away from them). You certainly aren’t going to know for their culture this way. That being said you can get valuable practice via virtual immersion. Talking to a real life human beats any other form of practice (at least in my opinion), even if it’s over the internet.
In-person immersion can be intimidating at first. The first time I ever spoke a language other than English to another person I was terrified. But it’s a great experience. As you learn a foreign language, foreign people seem less and less foreign. You really begin to see that you have more in common than what you thought, and You can appreciate the differences. You can make actual real life friends (that’s the dream isn’t it?). The internet will never be able to replace that.
Which is Better?
If I was forced to choose between the two I would choose real world interaction. For me that’s why I chose to start learning a language in the first place. That being said, I don’t think anyone will ever have to choose between the two. I think both offer benefits to your language learning.
In the end, it comes down to your language learning needs.
- Are you working to become fluent or just functional?
- Are you a world traveling polyglot, or working a 9-5 job?
Everyone has different goals and constraints on their language learning. So incorporate the real world and the internet in a way that makes sense for you.
I used both when I started learning Spanish and when I learn another language I’ll probably use both again. I found that you can bring a method and consistency to online learning that is best for reviewing and cementing the parts of the language that you’ve already learned. Real world immersion is better suited for being exposed to new aspects and uses of a language. I tend to split them into these two functions and use both accordingly.
##What have your experiences been with immersion?
Do you have a preference for the virtual or real word approach? I'd love to hear more from you in the comments below!
Guest writer Anthony blogs at Spanish Hackers and describes himself as "young at heart with a penchant for travel". He says: "I originally started learning Spanish because I wanted to visit Spain. A couple years and several adventures later, even though I'm pretty much fluent, I still find myself falling in love with the language and the people who speak it." You can connect with Anthony on Twitter.
As a linguist it's not part of my job to criticize and begrudge the evolving use of language. When words like "selfie" enter the dictionary and half the country of Britain starts calling things awesome, I'm right there. Both teaching and describing language are more about being aware of the words that we use every day and documenting how people communicate. And today I wanted to dive into the deeper meaning of a word that seems to have completely transformed its meaning over recent years. It's language-related, and learning-related too. And to me, it's become about mindset. I often find myself rolling my eyes at this one, but read on to find out more about the original meaning of the word that won't go away: hacking.
From Rough Cuts to Life Tips
Here's what the original meaning of the word hack would have looked like:
Back in the 20th century, hacking wasn't much more than making tough cuts into wood or meat to take it apart. The word's meaning started its transformation in the 1960s at MIT, first describing different study styles and later taking on the "computer hacker" meaning we all think of these days. As a German speaker, the word "Hack(fleisch)" also evokes a relation to the English "hash"..in the food context), not what you might have been thinking!
The figurative meaning is about disruption and about destroying existing structures. You go in with rough power and take something apart to gain access to what's underneath. In computing, this is how hacking (strictly speaking "password hacking") came to mean cutting through the defences of a network to get at the information protected within.
These days though, it's clear that the idea of hacking has struck a chord with so many people that the word has entered common usage for many of us. You can "hack" anything, with a vague association of "making it easier without too much effort".
The leading examples of stuff that can be hacked seem to be IKEA, life and..language! Here are just a few references
- To start with the obvious, at least for readers of Fluent, there is the Language Hacking Guide, an ebook by Benny Lewis all about quick ways to learn and use languages
- There is IKEA Hacking, a practice of taking your tools to flatpack furniture from IKEA in order to make it into the furniture of your dreams
- Travel Hacking promises to open up the world of travel for people without making them spend a lot of money through the use of airmiles and credit cards.
- And you may have also seen websites like Lifehacker, sharing tips of varying usefulness about any aspect of making living a little bit easier (here's a classic unnecessary "hack")
Here is a diagram from Google Trends showing how the last three years in particular have been the time of the hacks. In addition to the four leading terms, I did try to add some minor terms as well such as "career hacking", "diet hacking" and "future hacking", but those pale in comparison next to these big things that might need to be hacked:
So, About the Language Hacking Context
The original definition of the term "hack" is an inelegant but effective solution to a specific computing problem.
With this definition in mind, the idea of language hacking will appeal to learners who want to cut time spent studying and maximize time spent talking. We all love bridging a gap with the least effort required. Where the idea of "hacking" in the language context can make sense is when it comes to getting out of books and classroom. I particularly like the idea of making the "language hack" a subversion of what you remember from your own language lessons in school. This is not about repeating pitch-perfect phrases in order to hit a grade, but about going out and making a mistake in order to learn. The thing you're hacking is not the learning method, but the mindset.
While "language hacking" certainly doesn't mean that you'll start uncovering magic secrets of language learning, the attention-grabbing title gives you an idea of taking the unconventional approach. Learning by doing and following an individual path in learning, that's a super valuable message. Maybe it should be called "study hacking", since you're not actually doing much to the language itself.
What Do You Hack?
Personally, I have always thought that the word "hack" is plain ugly. I can't help associating it with axes, pain and brutality, so you're unlikely to see any Fluent Hacking products coming any time soon. And yes, here we can see the stereotypical masculine associations again, right? "Hacking" originates in the tech world (which we know is totally a man's world, even in the 21st century!) and is a word used to demonstrate power and force. The side of me that enjoys the idea of subverting and playing with existing rules rejoices at every life, language and travel hack that I see out there. In other words, I don't like "hacking", but I love creativity.
What about you? Ever hacked a language?
It has been one year since the last occasion of A-Level results coming out in the UK. If you're not familiar with the system in this country, here's a quick summary. A-Level exams are the school leaving exams that determine a student's future path at university. The courses are chosen by subject and after age 16 none are compulsory, so students choose whichever subject they feel most passionate about. Last year, my guest blogger Tom Pandolfino wrote a wonderful article about what it is like to be taking these super important exams. Today Tom's back to tell you what happened next.
Russian and German at University: What Happened Next
As I start to write this blog post in my hostel room in Stuttgart as the rain comes crashing down, I have some time to reflect on my first year at university. In terms of both, studying and my free time away from it.
So, languages at university; my perspective...well, it’s intriguing.
Prior to embarking upon the wild yet tremendous journey that is university, I would have already described myself as a language learner who doesn’t "comply with the rules". What do I even mean by "rules"? Don’t worry. I shall explain.
By "rules", I mean a very traditional way of learning languages. The way the curriculum works for languages in schools in the UK is quite traditional. You learn a lot of grammar and rules and are tested upon that with not much emphasis on using the language itself. This is at least how I feel looking back on my time in school learning foreign languages. In school and at university, everyone tends to have stark differences in terms of learning attitudes. This is what the system doesn’t always quite recognise. By system I mean the curriculum for foreign languages in schools in the UK and institutions such as universities.
Making Mistakes Is a Good Thing
Naturally, people have different ways of learning, above all in regards to foreign language learning in the UK. For example, in my case I learn and enjoy learning the most through speaking and listening. But more importantly, by making mistakes because it is crucial and it is indeed a very good thing! It indicates areas of weakness and it allows for positive correction so that you can rectify your errors and try not to make the same ones again.
The school system unfortunately doesn’t acknowledge the power and importance of mistakes in foreign language learning, which is a great shame. It always appeared to me that the curriculum needlessly punishes young learners. For example, I remember having to learn grammar points for exams that I never fully grasped until later on. I was fortunate to have some fantastic teachers especially during my French and German A levels who took on a much better approach to language learning, based on acquisition and fun as opposed to regurgitation and constant grammar tables.
Languages? Why, You Must Be A Freak Or A Genius!
In the UK there appears to be a bizarre perception that "we just can’t simply learn foreign languages". Well, it’s rubbish. (Note from the editor: READ THIS TWICE OMG IT IS SO TRUE!!!!) Many people are always shocked at the response to when they ask me as to what I study at university. When they hear ‘German and Russian’, people in the UK are taken back and I am soon flooded with many questions and responses:
- Why those two languages?,
- What would you like to do after university then? ‘Why Russian?
- I wish I could do languages, but in school I couldn’t. It was far too hard.
Personally, I do not mind any of these types of questions or responses that people give me. But it is this last one that really irritates me. I find it frustrating not that people have found languages or more specifically learning a language hard. But due to their poor experience of language learning in the system, it puts them off the subject for life. It is often due to their poor experience and perhaps lack of success in languages in school that has allowed for a false perception to manifest into the idea that language learning is impossible. This seems to a common occurrence with many individuals in the UK.
In school, the curriculum is such that concepts like verbs, cases, nouns, pronouns, the subjunctive etc. are just thrown at you. You are taught the tools of the language, the theory behind it. You are never quite taught to communicate or to truly apply them. These items of grammar are of course vitally important, but what is the use when you don’t understand what a case even is, or how the subjunctive should be applied in certain circumstances...
Is University Better Than School?
So what does my view on the school system thus far have to do with university anyway?
Well, in all honesty, to me they appear fairly similar. Yet at university, there is more of a focus on immersion in the languages that you study. You are strongly encouraged and advised to find out what works for you. For example, there have been many times when my lecturers have said that we really ought to listen to podcasts, TV, music and so on in the specific target language. This means that for many hours in the day we are absorbing the language in to our minds. Even though this may be passive learning, it still works.
If, for example, you imagine a sponge in a sink full of water; the sponge will still absorb the water, regardless even if you don’t squeeze it. So if it is taken into consideration that about 95% of my time spent in lectures and seminars is completely in German or Russian, and I do my passive work, I make progress. But at university there is a huge difference...the onus is completely down to you to do not only the work but also to be responsible for the immersion. I feel that they want us to create is a ‘foreign reality’.
My experience thus far at university leads me to believe that universities understand the fact that language learning is in fact ultimately down to you. Of course the seminars, lectures and lab sessions are important and useful. But if you don’t do any learning away from the classroom, you simply won’t learn enough. They seem to have cracked the mysterious language learning code...you have to learn a language yourself, it cannot be forced upon someone.
So that leads to two questions...
What is The Point of Studying Languages at University..?
So far even after just one year of studying at university, I feel that the freedom of learning that is given to you combined with the intensity allows you to progress very quickly and efficiently. But what I have found more important is that studying at university allows development of much more critical skills in terms of how you think and how to evaluate issues.
But What About Keeping Motivation..?
Just to put it out there, I am not a language learning veteran like some other guys on the internet who speak a whole plethora of languages (some of whom are just incredible: Richard Simcott, Benny Lewis, Olly Richards, Conor Clyne and Amir Ordabayev). But I have been learning languages seriously for about the past three and a half years with good success. The biggest hurdle for me is keeping up my motivation. I find that if I work a lot for a consistent period of time, I run the risk of burning out and losing my momentum completely. So I try to work in bursts of a couple of weeks. That means I try my best to work consistently for two weeks and then do more passive activities and make my learning less intense.
University has ultimately reinforced my belief that languages cannot just be forced upon people so that they learn. It is a long process, a journey which should hopefully be fun and somewhat memorable.
Tom Pandolfino is a student who has just completed the first year of studying Russian and German at University. As you can tell, he is experiencing so much success. In addition to being a language learner, Tom is also an accomplished musician and member of Blues Hawk. Check them out on Facebook - the next big thing in old school blues.
Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!
Today our regular writer Angel Armstead is back - she's gone through a busy time and had to take a break from language learning. Busy being the key word - this lady is rocking so many projects! Like I have found myself, sometimes we need to cut to progress. Ouch. So how did Angel get back on the wagon?
Always Good Intentions
I started my language learning like most people with good intentions. I had good intentions of learning multiple languages and traveling to those countries and meeting the people. I could imagine myself speaking multiple languages and traveling to multiple destinations. I have not let go of that dream but good intentions can only take us so far.
Never Enough Time
When I first decided on Japanese, Russian and Mandarin at the same time I had what seemed like limitless time. Ideas kept flooding in: I decided I would get back to work on my novel after becoming great at my languages. Then I found a way to create my very own video game. During all of that I decided to sell coffee in my own home business. And I went ahead and worked on these projects! Before all these projects, spending time in three languages seemed easy. My time is going to be even shorter when I go back out to college. But of course I need to be able to fund that dream somehow if I'd like to live it.
Sometimes You Have To Let a Few Things Go
I am not giving up learning Russian or Mandarin Chinese. For now I shall focus on Japanese and the blog that I'm working on to help people in Japanese. I will re-add Mandarin and Russian to my currently studying languages in time, but I will not add them at the same time when I do. There are a few things I still need to learn in Japanese before I can move on to another language. I did make it to the Intermediate stage in Japanese in college. Intermediate level can sometimes feel like the worst level to be at. I understand a lot and there's still a lot that confuses me. I want to move on to Mandarin or Russian only after I take a trip to Japan. I plan on doing the same for any later language I work on learning. Letting things go to focus on a specific subject can also help with interests outside of language learning.
Intermediate level can feel like the worst level to be at - I understand a lot and still get confused!
Failure Can Be A Learning Experience
I don't really consider having to focus on one language a failure in my language learning. It does show me that time can be one of the biggest factors in how many languages you can learn. Some people do have the time and motivation to learn three or more at a time and that's great for them.
How I Got Back Into Language Learning
For some people language learning is a fun activity and it is for me too. But I think at times I don't take it seriously enough. I thought of other things that I have been able to learn and realized one of the things I could utilize to keep me going.
- Set Aside a Time to Learn/Listen to Your Target Language
This one is probably very obvious to most experienced language learners and it's what helped me with other things I learned. I now set aside time at midnight to either listen to a language lesson or watch a Japanese film/anime. I picked that time because I'm not the partying type and it's the time for the least amount of interruptions. It works very well because of that. Anytime the clock hits midnight I should be doing something in my target language. You have to be strict at times with your own self and maybe even friends and family. Maybe tell a close friend or family member so they can encourage you to stick to your goal. Remind yourself on why you wanted to learn that language in the first place and then get serious about and figure out when is the best time to work on it.
- Rediscover Sources You Love
There are a few other things that I used to do a lot that I've just gotten back into again. I've re-added using YouTube. There is a lot of bad stuff on YouTube but it's also a good resource for free language lessons. I've gone back to playing my games in Japanese and posting on my Japanese blog. I try to listen to Japanese music any chance I get. I also take flashcards everywhere I go. Since my language learning is done so late I have a lot of time during the day to glance at flashcards. YouTube is also a good resource for music from other countries.
I wrote this post for myself and because I've met many people who have started learning a language, then found that their career or education limited their time to learn. The problem was that they never got back to learning the language they wanted.
Sometimes when you get back to your language learning it means starting over to give yourself a quick refresher. I think many dislike that but it is sometimes the same in real relationships to feel that you have to start over if time has passed between the two of you. I will try to blog once a week my progress on getting back up to speed in Japanese, even though my blog was quiet while I focused on other things.
But even if you've procrastinated for years you still have time to make that decision to pursue that interest whether it's language, music or anything else you have an interest in learning.
Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!