At the end of January I posted a series of three posts in which I discussed the idea that perhaps we can all learn languages much quicker than most people would have us think. Having reflected on my own learning experience (I speak 6 languages) and having seen and read about various polyglots, I first suggested that there are 5 language learning myths which prevent us from learning faster and achieving fluency by acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are:
- I haven’t got the talent.
- I’m too old.
- I’ve got bad memory.
- I need a complete immersion program abroad.
- I haven’t got enough time.
All 5 are only bad excuses which most of us tend to make at some point. And they all hamper our learning process. Here read more about why I think they’re only bad excuses which stop you from ever achieving your language goals.
In the post that followed, I suggested a 5 step action plan based on positive and successful language learning experience me and other polyglots have had. They’re quite simple and definitely not rocket science:
- Make the language a useful tool.
- Make mistakes.
- Exposure is the key.
- Use it or lose it.
- A language parent/buddy.
Finally, as I’m a natural sceptic and a disbeliever in everything supernatural (and learning a language in 6 months seems such a feat), I decided to test the advice on myself. My mission has been to become fluent in Portuguese in 6 months. You can read more about it here (i.e. what I mean by fluent, why 6 months and why Portuguese).
And as I’m a language teacher, one of my main goals is to see whether I might discover any techniques or tricks which I can later use with my students to help them learn languages faster.
So it’s been two months since my mission statement. I promised I’d give monthly updates, so I’m sorry you’ve had to wait for twice the time (if actually any of you have been waiting). You might be wondering then how far I got with my Portuguese. Well, here’s a video of me speaking it so you can judge for yourself.
It’s the first time that I’ve actually recorded a video, so please bear with me if it doesn’t look or sound super slick. It’ll be better next time round, I promise 🙂
Here are some questions I thought most people might have after watching the video:
What did I say?
Absolute gibberish! 😉 I wanted to put subtitles but haven’t figured out how yet, so if anyone knows, please let me know. I basically spoke about why I recorded the video, how I’ve been studying so far and what my sticking points are. I’ve probably made hundreds of errors, so if you speak Portuguese, please point them out.
How much have I been studying?
Depends. But in the strict sense of the word I haven’t really been studying at all. I haven’t got a grammar book and I don’t go to language classes. On average I’ve probably done about 10 to 20mins a day, but there were two weeks when I couldn’t study at all.
How have I been studying?
I’ve been using Memrise (read my post about it here) to learn new words more effectively. So far I’ve probably learned around 600 hundred words and phrases, which is not bad for 8 weeks. I’ve done a small bit there on the basic conjugation of a few verbs to get an idea what it’s about. I also watch Brazilian TV on the Internet regularly. I chose O Globo, because it seemed to have lots of free videos available. I’m also doing a language exchange, however, I’ve only managed to have 4 meeting so far, so definitely this is something I need to do more regularly.
Now it’s a good time for me to reflect on the process to see what I’ve done well and what I can do better in the next couple of weeks.
It’s going to be more difficult than I initially thought.
Sorry to start with something a bit disheartening (note that I’m still convinced I can reach my goal). If you read my mission statement, you know I speak Spanish. It has been a definite advantage, as there are many words that are similar, but at the same time it’s played against me a bit. At times I’m not sure whether I speak Portuguese or just Spanish with a Portuguese accent. A lesson I’ve learned is to notice the language patterns and use them to generate new words (for example, -ción is always (or almost) -são or -ção in Portuguese). However, overall it might be quite tricky to speak Portuguese without the influence of Spanish on it.
Make mistakes and pay attention to the corrections.
Often students don’t even notice that they are being corrected and just go on making the same mistakes over and over again. Of course, worrying too much about being 100% correct can be counter productive too. But I definitely think it’s crucial to ask your language buddy to correct some of your errors (perhaps make it focused, e.g. past tense). And you should repeat the correct version a few times so it sticks. When you say the phrase you’ve had problems with again, be aware of the error you’ve been making and make a conscious effort to say it correctly.
Notice language patterns and imitate them.
Noticing new language is also very important. If you hear a new phrase, ask what it means, record it if possible (I usually take a little notebook with me to the language exchange). The crucial part here is that you imitate this new language as soon as you get a chance. For example: A: The concert yesterday was class! B: Class? A: Yeah, it was brilliant. A: Oh. I went to a… class concert two weeks ago! It looks very straight forward but a lot of students don’t take the opportunity to use the new language. The language kind of goes through one year and exits through the other. So the lesson here is: don’t rely on the limited language that you have, but go beyond it. Imitate, imitate and imitate!
Out with grammar – in with vocabulary!
Don’t get me wrong. If you want to be 100% correct you might have to study some grammar at some point. However, I don’t think it’s as important as course books authors would have you believe. Especially at low levels.There are so many grammar points that are utterly useless for successful communication. My advice is to learn whole chunks of language or even whole utterances that carry communicative meaning (e.g. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Can I have the bill, please?’). So far, I’ve picked up most of the grammar as I went along. Most importantly by repeating the patterns I hear on TV or from my language buddy (see point 2 and 3). For example, if I hear he’s speaking about the past, I pay attention to how he conjugates the verbs, so I can quickly give it a shot myself.
It’s easier said than done, but a positive mindset is the key. Learning should be fun, so make it so. Choose topics that interest you (i.e. if you’re crazy about cooking, start with food, cooking and restaurant vocabulary). And if you feel tired or demotivated, flick on a film or a short video. You don’t always have to be consciously studying. Watching a fun video on youtube can be as good or even better than toiling over a boring grammar point.
Sticking points and action plan (apart from what I’ve already been doing):
There are certain sounds that are very tricky for me. I’ve been trying to imitate how people speak. So far I think I’m definitely communicative and intelligible, but far from natural and correct pronunciation.
Do more language exchange.
It’s the key. Once a week is OK, but it doesn’t give me as much practice as I need if I want to really be fluent in 6 months.
Watch videos with more natural/colloquial language.
I’ve been watching mostly news and short journalistic reports and I can already understand almost everything. The problem is when people speak quickly on the street in a more unprepared and natural way.
Talk to myself.
That’s a tip one of the polyglots, Sid Efromovich gave in this video. He says he always talks to himself in the language he’s learning in the shower (so nobody can hear him). It might sound silly or egocentric, but it gives you valuable practice and language rehearsal time, which together with normal language exchange can improve your fluency.
I’ll try to post another update in about a month. If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below. I’d love to hear about your language learning experiences and whether you’ve found any of the tips helpful.
Tchau! Até mais!