In this episode of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, polyglot expert Shannon fills in for Lindsay - we catch up on our language learning and Duolingo, and then discuss why and how reading makes you fluent and smart and cultured.Read More
One of the most common things I hear from language learners is
"what is the best way to do this?" You want to know how to learn a language, in as much detail as possible.
And it's hard to answer that question once and for all, for everyone. People are different, and no one's going to teach you good habits overnight. I know there are plenty of players out there telling you that their way of doing flash cards or listening to native content is the real answer.
But seriously, guys. What it really takes is that you learn to understand your own smart and capable self. That's where a book like Becoming Fluent comes in.
By the way, I've gone ahead and done a little bit of hard work for you guys. You can now click the button below and download my book notes for Becoming Fluent along with a fab little action plan template so you know what to do next.
What Is Becoming Fluent?
Becoming Fluent is an impressive book in the field of language acquisition. It's written with the scientific background expected from academics. But that doesn't mean that language learners cannot apply it to their lives: Throughout the book, the authors mix explanations and practical tips. The book is written for adult learners who want to conquer another language, and goes into the following topics:
- What do you have to do to make sure you become a successful language learner?
- How can you choose the right target language to study?
- What are the best
- How important is it to know the culture and norms of people who speak your target language every day?
- How can you get better at memorising and remembering more?
Why It's Awesome
There are many language learning books out in the market that tell you all about how wonderful the author's methods are. Most successful polyglot-style books follow this system. The logic is that if following certain steps made the author fluent in another language, then you can do the same by copying the steps.
In Becoming Fluent, I detected none of this. The authors do work from their own experience in languages but never claim to know all the answers. Each chapter is based on a new aspect of language learning and gives a neutral summary of what the science says, followed by practical advice.
I've never used or endorsed the "copy a winner" approach, and I don't think it's quite how things work for language learners. Success in language learning is about more than just playing the game right. The more you learn and discover about yourself, your habits, your preferences and strengths in language learning, the more you will approach a real ability to learn any language quickly.
So for me, Becoming Fluent was an outstanding book about language learning because it doesn't tell you what exactly to do. This one is about empowering yourself to find your own perfect method.
What Wasn't So Great
Becoming Fluent is smart and thorough and scientific, which is a big rarity in language learning. It's great to read such a sensible voice in our field. The book comes at language learning from so many different angles that some great aspects get a little lost.
I would have liked the book's action-focused tips to be highlighted or separated from the main text, making it easier to find exactly how to put new insights into action. As it is, Becoming Fluent does require you to put in a few hours for reading, but this is time well spent.
My Favourite Parts
- All of chapter 2, which addresses the many lies and misleading beliefs that we hold in our heads before we even start learning. If you can only listen to/read one part of the book, this chapter is going to make a massive difference. It's a small window into how your brain trips you up.
- This sentence in Chapter 3:
"The REAL test of how well you speak a language is how easily you communicate when you are using that language, and the pleasure you derive from speaking it."
- The ideas behind common ground and the zone of proximal development, which are all about how you think of how good you are, how good other people are in comparison, and how you can get better step-by-step.
- The focus on learning and speaking a language like an adult, not a kid or teenager. This focus builds great insights, for example the understanding that it's more important to be yourself in another language than to sound "exactly like all the native speakers".
- The image of tutors and helpers as a Sherpa, i.e. Someone who's climbing the mountain with you, showing you the way, teaching you about the process as you're doing it.
- The concept of cognitive overload, which explains exactly why and how and when you get tired.
Overall, I am very happy that I read Becoming Fluent and recommend you check it out too. I ordered my copy from the local library and am very glad that it's in their catalogue now. You can get your own printed copy in the same way, or order it from Amazon (here's the US link and the UK link).
Don’t forget, you can grab my full book notes (9 pages!) by clicking the button below. They include your own action plan template and a checklist of books to check out, so next you can be prepared on your next visit to the library or to Amazon.
If you want to try a faster read gives instructions on what to do, try Fluency Made Achievable (which is written by me, so you will definitely enjoy it if you like this blog).
An Article by Angel Armstead
Do you love Japanese culture as much as I do?
Since I’ve been studying Japanese the longest out of the three languages I’m studying, I want to showcase some of my favorite games, shows and movies.
I'm actually still on the hunt for my favourite Japanese novel. I currently don’t have any favorite Japanese novels as I still have problems with much of the writing system. I don’t have that problem with some of my games because they typically use kana, which I'm pretty comfortable with by now. I’m also able to easily find info to help out with games that don’t rely on just kana.
I guess I should warn anyone reading this that the types of movies I watch are not meant for children. My favorite genre is Horror and was quite happy to find Horror in Japanese.
This is one of the first non-animated films that I watched. I didn’t like the movie at first at all because of my bias with The Hunger Games. I did later like it the second time around as I paid more attention to specific characters.
Battle Royale is a movie in which an entire class is selected to be a part of "Battle Royale.” In it the students are drugged up and taken to an island and basically told "kill or be killed in three days". There is no other option as collars are placed on the students' necks while drugged up. The teacher in this game can eliminate anyone he wants to because of that collar. One of the things that I found good about it was the returning character Kawada. He was in a Battle Royale before and lost someone close to him. In this one he’s in, he shows that it doesn’t have to be "kill or be killed".
This is one of the movies I accidentally found due to Netflix. I sometimes look up foreign movies on Netflix so I do still get the DVDs. It’s a great way to find foreign language films and watch them in their original language. One of my biases towards this was the ringtone. I like playing piano and did like learning this (Right hand only) on piano (listen here if you dare!). Plus it’s the only movie I’ve watched where your ringtone was a real ringtone of death!
In this movie your cell would ring as normal but with a strange ring tone. The caller id would show the call coming from you. In the call you’d hear your own death and what time it will take place. Almost everyone uses a cell phone. I’m a big fan of horror so using something so commonly used is what interested me in this movie.
Another movie I got from Netflix. My original reason for watching was to make sure that a story I was working on wasn’t exactly like this movie. Fortunately it wasn’t. Seeing the future is a liability for anyone in this movie.
Premonition starts off kind of regular. A man is driving his wife and kids and stops at a pay phone. He sees a piece of a newspaper clipping which talks about the death of his family and even shows the time. But before he can prevent it, the crash from the paper clipping happens. One of the things I liked about it was the idea of seeing the future through mediums like newspaper, radio, etc. It also showed seeing the future wasn’t entirely a good thing. Most would want to change a horrible future but changing it may be worse than allowing the future to take its course.
All of these games can be played in either Japanese or English.
This is an RPG (role playing game) about Chopin on his deathbed and the strange world and unique people in it.In this game you have the option for English subtitles with English or Japanese audio. I have switched between playing this game in Japanese and in English. That’s a good point because you can switch back and forth in the game. In some games you don’t get to switch the language once you choose it.
First Pokémon game that I know that allows you to pick the language that you can play in. Before this game, I would import the games to play them in Japanese. If you pick Japanese you can switch between kana and kanji. You cannot change to English or any other language once you select the language you want to play in. Unfortunately it does not have my other two target languages as an option. I’m still happy that I can play it in Japanese.
This was the first game I ever got that was multilingual. For language learners, the downside is you cannot choose between kana or kanji. The Japanese is written correctly so I do have problems with the kanji but I’ve gotten a lot better than when I first played it. You can change the language within the game anytime that you want, even during a duel, which is brilliant.
I don’t watch anime as much as I used to. I think once I moved on to games in Japanese and Horror movies I kind of forgot about anime. So these shows aren’t the newest.
This was the first anime that I watched for more than 5 minutes. This was back when I couldn’t stand anime. A boy accidentally calls a Goddess hotline and asks the Goddess to stay with him. It’s a comedy. I don’t remember how I found this anime since it wasn’t on TV. I originally got the VHS tape and didn’t have subtitles as an option. It was also my first year of Japanese class and didn’t understand most of it. I still liked what I saw.
Inuyasha is an anime starring your average teenager Kagome Higurashi. Everything changes on her fifteenth birthday when she is dragged to the past and forced to continue in a life she lived in the past. There is a lot of fighting in this show with random monsters but there is also a lot of comedy in it. Even though the story is kind of serious, it still has times where it’s fun and light.
Probably the second anime that I watched and liked although it was also one I turned off originally within five minutes. I decided to give it a second chance after seeing the main villain in the show. I had taken classes a little bit longer by the time I got into this show and I watched it in English & Japanese. Though most times I still prefer the Japanese version. I like to hear a target language as much as possible.
I'll confess something: I hated this show so much at first. A friend of mine got me into the video game so I decided to watch the show again. I wanted to learn the names of the cards. I eventually found a way to watch it in Japanese. Typically shows like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! are hard to find in thier original language, so by the time I started watching this show I could understand a lot more Japanese. Maybe that’s what helped me like it eventually - the confidence booster in showing me that I understood a lot more Japanese than even I realized.
I liked this show because of the emphasis on Ancient Egypt, pharaohs and Egyptian deities.
What's your favorite language show?
So that’s my list, but there are many more great Japanese games and books out there. What are your favorite movies, games, books or shows that you’ve watched in your target language?
A big "Hi, how are you?" from Ricky 'Kiwiprofesor' Rutledge. It’s a real pleasure to have been asked to join the Fluent team, and help our faithful Language Learners. One of my most important reasons and goals for being here is to help motivate, inspire, and guide you on your language learning and teaching journey. I say journey because you know its not going to be fast, nor easy, but it will be well worth it. My challenge as a language trainer is to help light the fire, passion and hunger for learning, one that will last a life-time. It's a big challenge, but it's possible.
Im a language learner too so I know it's hard. Sometimes I feel very motivated and study my grammar/vocabulary etc., sometimes not. I know it's all about a little and often, but, you know - no time, no energy, too busy, no internet, forgot my books, don't feel like it today, manana - I know all the excuses. Never fear, Kiwiprofessor's here! It’s a journey you don’t have to take alone - your teachers, tutors, friends, family, social network buddies, they’re all here to help you, just ask.
Where are you from, Kiwiprofesor?
I’m from Wellington, New Zealand originally, but I’ve been living and teaching English here in Colombia for the past 5 years. I love it here - the eternal summer, natural fresh food, happy people, stunning flora, fauna and landscapes...I feel privileged indeed.
People always ask me how I came to be here and why I stay here - well it’s a long story, but if you want to know more, I’ll tell you the full story, stay tuned to this blog to find out...
Learn Languages by Reading with the Readlang App
From time to time, I'd also like to recommend certain programs/apps which I have experience with, and which I recommend to my students. I know you guys think a lot about vocabulary, and how to learn and remember all those lovely new words. This week, let me introduce you to Readlang, a web app for learning languages by reading, and focusing on vocabulary and phrases. Access inline translations of words and phrases from any website or text to improve your reading speed and motivation. Readlang creates flashcards from all the phrases you translated, to help you remember them in the future (like Anki/Quizlet/Memrise). You can also export your words to those other programs. Here are some Quora reviews.
For Example, I Use Readlang Like This:
It sits in my bookmarks bar (here’s the chrome extension and bookmarklet), and when I am on a Spanish language webpage that I need help with, I click on it, and it puts a tool bar at the top of the page. Then, when I need to translate a word or phrase, I just click the word/phrase, and it gives me the translation. There are other tools that do the same thing but Readlang is also great because it gives you the option to save the translated vocabulary and phrases on their website, where you can practice them using flashcards, and much more.
Readlang supports lots of languages (some more thoroughly than others), including full support for English, Spanish, German, French, and all the main European languages.
How Much Does Readlang Cost?
The free version gives you unlimited word translations, and 20 phrase translations per day. The 'Supporter'/Pro version costs $4.99 for 3 months (basically $20 a year) and for that you get unlimited word translations and unlimited phrase translations. Here’s a Youtube playlist of Readlang tutorials.
So that’s it for my first post guys, I hope you feel a little more motivated, inspired or even learnt something new. Remember, I’m always available to answer questions, or just chew the fat, I'll leave you with a thought:
Thanks for reading this article by Ricky Rutledge 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!
Last week, I had a little reminder how language learning is viewed by non-nerds. I was sitting with a few friends in their beautiful garden and trying to talk them all into joining my next German course (Lancaster library, 27 August, 6pm, it'll be awesome, sign up here). One friend admitted he was tempted, but told me "But you're the only person I could talk to in German."
What can we do if not talk?
Now, I know that communicating with real people in a foreign language is one of the most rewarding benefits of the whole undertaking. On the other end of the spectrum, I suppose, I am content to learn a language just for the pleasure of pronouncing the new vowels, writing the words and understanding new people. But that brief conversation made me think. Between full-on linguistics and the most practical "speaking" application, what are the other great things that language learners get to do?
The trick is to focus back on the core skills: speaking, writing, reading and listening. That's right, speaking is actually only 25% out of everything that you can do, so here are some ideas for things that the other 75% give you, and which make language learning extremely worthwhile for anyone.
Discover new musical worlds
While the English speaking music industry is probably the largest one on the whole planet, looking into another country's musical history will take you on a journey that is nothing but amazing - honest. Music is this magical thing that doesn't even require you to understand any lyrics in other to connect. Take for example Sigur Rós who have made a career singing in a minority language and on occasion gone for half an album in words that they completely invented. But I believe that becoming aware of the lyrics of that song that you really love or learning more about a place through the words to a specific song is what makes music into that extremely powerful and moving thing.
For me, listening to pop songs was one of the first ways in which I applied my language skills, way before I knew a lot of native speakers or spent more time travelling to a country. It's brilliant because you can repeat the recording as many times as you like, pore over new words in the lyrics and imagine what the world was like for the person who wrote it. One example of a great musician that has kept on giving since I moved to the UK is the music of Billy Bragg.
Dive into that internet
Here's a good number from Wikipedia: 45.1% of content on the internet is not written in English. Let's start with Wikipedia itself, a website which all of you are guaranteed to have used at least once in the last month. It is famously created by its own users, and switching any article into a different language version can really make a difference to the amount of information on offer - or how about switching the whole thing into your target language and discovering the Article of the Day? There are currently 285 language editions of this site, so no more excuses.
Write, draw and illustrate
Writing has always been a good way for me to focus my mind and make sure I remember things, and the kinetic learning advantages of really putting those words into practice and reproducing sentences are absolutely excellent. So use your new language as an output of your own creativity and connect what's in your mind with real images and words. The application of your writing skill could start off really simple, for example by making notes of words that start with a new letter or drawing a picture along with a sentence. Moving on, how about chatrooms or online forums? And in time you may even want to build up a blog, diary or your own fiction and poetry.
Here's an example of how to get started (this one done on 53 Paper) . Hope you draw better than I do.
What do you think - are there better ways of using your language without speaking? What's your favourite thing to listen to?
Relevant Blog Articles
If you enjoyed this article, please sign up to my free newsletter for more discussions and thoughts about Fluent:
Delving into the literature of your target country can be a fantastic way to fire up the language learning motivation, getting to know the country much better and understanding backgrounds. With this in mind, Waterstones King Street Lancaster and Fluent Language Tuition have created the Translated Fiction Book Club.
First meeting: 14 May (tomorrow night) at the Robert Gillow pub, so do come along if you're local.
This meeting will be all about discussing "The Reader" by Bernhard Schlink. A fantastic novel to discuss! The title alone becoming "reader" (someone who reads?), as opposed to the "Vorleser" (someone who reads out loud to others) shows the riches of language and power of translation.
Book Tip: The Reader
I first came across the book "The Reader" (originally "Der Vorleser") in my Grundkurs Deutsch - that's the course you take when you don't really want to take German in the Abitur, but you've got to. I was a teenager, much more interested in dancing around at village discos.
Its story develops slowly from a teenager (Spoiler alert!) sleeping with an older woman into an ever more important and life-affecting one, asking questions that are hard to answer and poke at the surfaces of our conscience. Bernhard Schlink is a great author, he writes so gently and his narrator is so relatable, that the story came through for me. Out of all the German literature school threw at me (Faust, Death in Venice and Heinrich Heine), this is the story I remember best.
The Reader doesn't start out like a story about Germany or German history. It's just a boy confused by his first love. But slowly, and for me as surprisingly as for the narrator himself, bigger things happen. It becomes a story of things that happened in the past haunting us, and ultimately about guilt and character and keeping secrets. I re-read it recently for the book club and found that it hasn't lost any of its power, and in fact really delivers new perspectives to readers along with the life experience you pick up in the meantime.
Ask most language learners what they are hoping to achieve, and you will come across a recurring ambition: fluency. The word fluent comes from the Latin language and indicates a sense of flow, because that's what conversations often do: they flow. So what you're hoping to achieve is a point where using another language becomes so easy that you won't have to hesitate, you won't look for words all the time and won't feel stuck.
If you are an independent learner, have you ever found yourself off balance? For example, you find yourself becoming a real expert in understanding spoken language, but a wall comes up in your brain as soon as you try to say the simplest of things. Or sometimes you have picked up a lot of spoken language and you'd be ok at the shop, but you can't read a single label!
Four Core Skills
As a language tutor, I make my students aware that there are four core skills to language learning: Speaking, Reading, Listening and Writing. You have got to become good at all of them and keep your levels balanced to prepare for true fluency in a language.
One example: Audio-based systems, such as CDs or podcasts, will put a lot of emphasis on
speaking and listening. This is excellent for basic travelling or conversation. But it is enough if you
really want to find that elusive fluency in your new language? Personally, I don't think so. Neglecting two of the four skills can really affect your confidence!
Since these core skills are ever so important, why don't we get to know them a little better:
Writing doesn't just refer to how good you are at composing a letter, note or blog post. It also includes your sound recognition. For example, how good are you at making notes based on what you're hearing, spelling them correctly and writing something legible in your target language.
Speaking, now that sounds hard doesn't it? It's not all about producing free-hand sentences and word order. Speaking starts when you meet the sounds of your target language. Pronunciation and accent work breed confidence, and putting that speaking practice in right from the start is key to helping you feel like communication is possible.
Listening is the skill of piecing together all the foreign sounds, analysing them in your mind and making sense of them as words and phrases. Listening helps you get the idea of what's going on, but more importantly it teaches you important pronunciation skills. All language production depends on what you hear, so don't underestimate this one.
Reading looks like a simple task after all those others. In any target language, the essence of this skill is in training you to spot patterns. Reading a lot will bring you in tune with the way sentences are built in a different language, and exercises engaging with a text are among the most useful you can work on for becoming fluent.
On top of learning those, you should engage with the culture, civics and geography of your target language. It really is a tall order, but trust me, it's worth it. You'll finally get over those "errrrr" moments.
How to test yourself
Here is an exercise I work on together with a lot of my learners. It's perfect for exposing a training rut or giving you inspiration for a new challenge. Draw yourself a diagram of all the skills you're hoping to train. Think about them and rate yourself out of 10 in each one. Then consult someone like a teacher or language buddy - what do they think? The outside perspective of another learner or a native speaker adds real value to the assessment.
Write your numbers on the diagram - are they balanced? Do you have a particular weakness or strength? Then think about how you have learnt your language so far, and what kind of exercises you've done most, and perhaps what you've been missing. For more exercises getting you ready to target your core skills, please check out my forthcoming ebook.
Thanks for reading this article!