Ways to learn a language: I'm a professional interpreter, and fluent in 6 languages.

Okay guys, so I've been seeing a lot of posts on here talking about language learning.

Before I start, I need to make something clear:
There's no wrong way to learn a language; there are simply some ways that are more (or less) efficient and/or effective than others.

I've witnessed time and time again that you can get to a B2 level, (what most Americans would consider "really fluent,") in an infinite number of ways. However, some methods will take you a 100x longer; we all know that time is precious.

The first thing you need to do is consider the language you want to learn. Is it an "easy" language? (French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian, etc.) a slightly harder language? (German.) A "hard" language? (Slavic languages, Hungarian, Finnish, Turkish, Persian, Indonesian, Swahili, etc.) or is it a "holy shit" language like Arabic Korean Japanese or Chinese?

Easy languages aren't actually "easier" they simply take less time to progress in. Likewise, "Holy Shit" languages aren't necessarily more complex, there's (generally speaking,) just a lot more to learn, and thus it takes much longer to progress. (Roughly 4 to 5 times as long.)


Today I'm going to write about European languages.

When learning these languages I like to break it down into three "phases."

There's the "Information Acquisition" stage.

For this, I recommend apps like Babbel, or Pimsleur (especially if you've never learned a new language.)
For self-learning books, I recommend Assimil or the Teach Yourself series.

I personally recommend to people who come to me for advice to start with Babbel, then move on to Assimil. If they don't like Assimil, then move to Teach Yourself.

But what about DuoLingo!?!?!?! It's so fun!
Response: Duolingo will not teach you to speak a language. At best, it is a great supplement that can be used to learn vocabulary. It's not a stand-alone product, and I've never met anyone who learned enough exclusively through Duolingo to hold even the most basic conversations.

Your goal during this stage is the acquire as much knowledge as you can. You want to get used to the SOUNDS of the language. You want to memorize sentences, learn words, learn the way this language works in order to express ideas.

This stage can be very short, (if you're a Spanish speaker learning Portuguese for example) or it can be very long, (if you're an American learning Russian or Polish for example.)

CONSISTENCY IS KEY. IT'S BETTER TO HAVE A BAD STUDY SESSION FOR 10 MINUTES THAN TO SKIP A DAY. If you don't use it (review it lol) you lose it.

Tips
- If you're running low on motivation or getting lazy, join a night class. This is a great way to keep yourself exposed to the language when you're going through a rut.
- If you stop learning at this stage, most people will forget nearly everything within 6-18 months.
- Just keep swimming.

Then there's the "Turning that knowledge into skills phase"

Here's where it gets fun. You are now able to watch simple TV shows, read easy articles, and talk to native speakers (with difficulty.)
This stage is all about putting all of that theory into practice by engaging with native media and speaking with patient native speakers.

iTalki is great for this. Find yourself a teacher who will correct you.

Start reading stuff online. Follow some webpage about something that interests you in that language. Download the chrome extension that translates a word when you highlight it. Keep a notebook. Get some graded readers. Try out Lingq.com instead. This stage takes a long time. Basically just keep chipping away at the language. Learning new stuff, fixing mistakes that you frequently make, and improving your skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing.)


Finally, there's the "polishing it" phase - which never, ever ends.
Basically, this stage is the continuation of the previous stage. You're now at a point where you can effortlessly enjoy using your new language. You can watch TV without much difficulty, you can read books, articles, etc. You can speak about all sorts of things etc. Your goal is to keep improving. Your goal should be to feel as "good" using your target language as you do in your native language. It's a nearly impossible goal to achieve unless you really dedicate years of your life to it, but getting even 90% of the way there is a humungous achievement.

For example, It's harder to flirt and be charming in Russian than it is in English? Work on it. It's harder to discuss politics and society in Portuguese than it is in English? Work on it. Do you make silly, easy to fix mistakes? (using the wrong prepositions etc.) work on it.


Please post any questions you have here. This is something I've dedicated the better part of my life to. There's so much more to add, and I feel I've said way too little.

Best of luck. Don't fool yourself into thinking Duolingo, by itself is going to get you speaking another language. Nothing is it's enough on its own. Languages are huge and complex systems. There's no course out there that could possibly teach you everything you need to know to speak fluently.
Good Luck! Please, if you have any questions at all, ASK AWAY!
 
Probably my questions are with regards to learning Polish- I haven't gotten Babbel yet, although I just might(I'm kind of broke now). Otherwise I've learned for about 3-4 months.

-I've learned over a thousand words, yet it's still difficult for them to stick. I still can't understand a lot of conversation or videos/media without constantly translating the words. I'd like to get to a stage where I can passively consume simple Polish media without thinking too much as this will increase the amount of time I can spend with the language. How is it I know so much vocabulary already but still can't understand things?

-Similarly, in conversation I just can't remember key words I want to say for the sentences/thoughts I'm thinking. Maybe I should just go simpler? There's a lot of words in English which come naturally to me I just don't have the vocabulary for also.

-Where can I find good media? I've generally been using Easy Languages/Easy Polish so far.
 
RE: Ways to learn a language: I'm a professional interpreter, and fluent in 6 lang

The Catalyst said:
Probably my questions are with regards to learning Polish- I haven't gotten Babbel yet, although I just might(I'm kind of broke now). Otherwise I've learned for about 3-4 months.

-I've learned over a thousand words, yet it's still difficult for them to stick. I still can't understand a lot of conversation or videos/media without constantly translating the words. I'd like to get to a stage where I can passively consume simple Polish media without thinking too much as this will increase the amount of time I can spend with the language. How is it I know so much vocabulary already but still can't understand things?

-Similarly, in conversation I just can't remember key words I want to say for the sentences/thoughts I'm thinking. Maybe I should just go simpler? There's a lot of words in English which come naturally to me I just don't have the vocabulary for also.

-Where can I find good media? I've generally been using Easy Languages/Easy Polish so far.

Look at this full guide I wrote on how to learn Polish

If you know about spaced repetition flashcard software (Anki specifically) and would be okay with spending 30 minutes a day or so doing flashcards, send me a DM.

Easy Polish is great. Take all of the expressions and dissect them, and memorize them. If you're ready, check out these Youtube channels: Polimaty, AbstrachujeTV, and To Już Jutro. Also, start writing on websites like lang8 and iTalki. You're a native English speaker so flocks of Poles will be correcting your writing hoping that you'll return the favor.

Use this website as a dictionary https://context.reverso.net/translation/
Also use diki.pl

Also, wiktionary is your best friend. You can see all the declensions for nouns and adjectives as well as all the verb conjugations.

In regards to you not being able to come up with sentences quickly enough, my advice to you would be to spend a lot of time daily reading things in Polish that you understand. You need to reprogram your mind a little bit, and reading really helps with that.

Get the cheapest Kindle (paperwhite) download the Polish to English dictionary, and start reading some easy books. You can click and hold on an unknown word and it will give you the definition.

I would also suggest regular conversations on Skype with a teacher who will correct all your mistakes. Poles do not correct your mistakes unless you ask them if what you just immediately said was correct or not. You really need a tutor to point out all of the crazy amount of mistakes that you will inevitably have to make on the road to proficiency.


Like I said, PM me if Anki interests you.
 
PMed.

I'm checking out their channels, and have definitely saved a few videos to watch later. They seem to have some videos I'll like to watch.

There's a lot in your post I'll have to digest.

I would be curious what books should I get as a beginner-low intermediate. It seems the vast majority of books would be way too difficult for me.
 

kel

Pelican
You need to speak it every single day, in the end. You can start by learning via books and then progressing to listening to podcasts made for native speakers and such, but if you don't speak it every single day and aren't exposed to casual speech every single day, you'll never be able to really speak it.

I'm always happy to share tricks and techniques with people and agree with what's been said broadly.
 
Could you expand on what you do more specifically at work? What kind of gigs do you do?

I speak 8 languages and onto my 9th myself and think I could make a side hustle of it when I get more spare time but I'd say only 5 of them where I'm completely fluent and would hardly ever mess anything up.

In regards to learning a new language I'd say it's been really helpful for me to study different linguistical concepts. The first few languages I just learned through trial and error and almost no theory but later on I combined it made a significant difference. I think that since people in general have no clue about different types of grammatical cases and other linguistical concepts they spend more time than necessesary trying to figure out why a word has to inflect in a particular ways in different situations.

Another thing I've noticed in regards to my own learning is that some days I don't have the time/energy to practice stuff which requires more brain power, so then I just try to do some quantity and repeat stuff I've learned before whereas other days I get into the more complex stuff.

Duolingo has been a game changer though. They also have a big forum (which is possible to access on their website and not in the app) and it has tons of value on learning languages. It's more productive to be on Duolingo when you're on the subway than Instagram and social media.
 
RE: Ways to learn a language: I'm a professional interpreter, and fluent in 6 lang

kel said:
You need to speak it every single day, in the end. You can start by learning via books and then progressing to listening to podcasts made for native speakers and such, but if you don't speak it every single day and aren't exposed to casual speech every single day, you'll never be able to really speak it.

I'm always happy to share tricks and techniques with people and agree with what's been said broadly.
Exactly. Thank you for this contribution. I am not against speaking from the beginning, but I don't like the way it's being pushed. It's okay to wait until you feel comfortable. If you like speaking from the beginning AND you are open to corrections/constantly making sure what you're often saying is correct then there are only benefits. However, pressuring yourself to speak when you don't feel ready is counterproductive.

No More Mr. Soy Boy said:
Could you expand on what you do more specifically at work? What kind of gigs do you do?

I speak 8 languages and onto my 9th myself and think I could make a side hustle of it when I get more spare time but I'd say only 5 of them where I'm completely fluent and would hardly ever mess anything up.

In regards to learning a new language I'd say it's been really helpful for me to study different linguistical concepts. The first few languages I just learned through trial and error and almost no theory but later on I combined it made a significant difference. I think that since people in general have no clue about different types of grammatical cases and other linguistical concepts they spend more time than necessesary trying to figure out why a word has to inflect in a particular ways in different situations.

Another thing I've noticed in regards to my own learning is that some days I don't have the time/energy to practice stuff which requires more brain power, so then I just try to do some quantity and repeat stuff I've learned before whereas other days I get into the more complex stuff.

Duolingo has been a game changer though. They also have a big forum (which is possible to access on their website and not in the app) and it has tons of value on learning languages. It's more productive to be on Duolingo when you're on the subway than Instagram and social media.

I agree with everything that you said. I'm assuming from what you've written that you're not one of those Youtube frauds who speak many languages at an A2 level. Your command of English, (I have the impression you're non-native,) is impressive as well.


When you say completely fluent in those 5, do you mean at a C2 level? How good are you at speaking and listening? How's your vocabulary? Are you good at recalling words, (not recognizing them)?

All of these factors would go into what kind of language side gigs you can get into. I work for the court system as a legal interpreter in 2 romance languages. I also occasionally do singing/speech related translations through a service owned by a contact of mine. However, I'm planning on changing careers in the next 2 years.


Translation can be easy or hard depending on how well you know the material / the languages you're working with. The linguistic aspect is easy compared to the patience and amount of focus required to meet deadlines

interpreting is not all that hard with English<->Romance Language since the structures aren't entirely different. In legal interpreting, (unlike conference interpreting!) You're usually totally allowed to ask for clarification if something isn't clear. This makes it so that (assuming you're fluent and don't have problems understanding not very well-spoken native speakers,) precisely translating exactly what was said the most difficult aspect by far. Prepositions, and inflections or grammatical features that reveal information that would be lost in a literal translation due to linguistic differences, are by far the most difficult aspects. How you decide to translate something like "by the wall" into another language can drastically change things in a legal situation.

The Catalyst said:
PMed.

I'm checking out their channels, and have definitely saved a few videos to watch later. They seem to have some videos I'll like to watch.

There's a lot in your post I'll have to digest.

I would be curious what books should I get as a beginner-low intermediate. It seems the vast majority of books would be way too difficult for me.

Novels can range greatly in difficulty. An author's style is often a bigger factor towards difficulty (and language learning usefulness) than the actual content itself, (with some exceptions.)

I recommend checking out some books translated from English into Polish. Books that you have either already read, or are familiar with are even easier to work with.

Books which are written in Polish, (especially those set in modern times,) can very useful for learning words that are useful for understanding what life is like there, further helping you improve your ability to effectively use Polish to chat with Poles.
 

Zenta

Woodpecker
Gold Member
Thanks for the post and about the resources to learn with. I have wanted to learn both Vietnamese and Japanese but I can never decide on which one, thus I never started. Obviously looking back if I had picked either one years ago I would be much further ahead and could have been learning both by now but alas I am at point zero. I have book marked this post and its time to start.
 

puckerman

Ostrich
Most of us will agree that immersion is the best way to learn a language. How does Babbel compare to Rosetta Stone? I bought RS because Barnes and Noble had a good deal on it. RS seems more geared to schools though, which does make it somewhat expensive.
 
puckerman said:
Most of us will agree that immersion is the best way to learn a language. How does Babbel compare to Rosetta Stone? I bought RS because Barnes and Noble had a good deal on it. RS seems more geared to schools though, which does make it somewhat expensive.
I read an interview with Alex Rawling the other day, he's some 28-year-old that speaks 15 languages and have won some kind of awards in this area with language learning.

He said that there are positive and negatives with immersion because if it's a really "hard" language and you got nothing for free with you with other languages that you speak, it can just become overwhelming and take a longer time.

I've actually noticed that as well. During my first few months in Italy I would just sleep lots and lots because I was just so tired of trying to make sense of all the interactions I had with people so I had no social life.

So if I were to go to Russia, I'd make sure beforehand that I actually knew enough basics (for example finish the whole Duolingo course on it) to be able to take in more stuff otherwise I think it will be just too overwhelming if you set your foot in a place like that where the language is so different.

And he also said it's important to not be a perfectionist and it's fine to make mistakes and that is very true as well even though it might be a bit obvious. But when I took language classes back in school, it seems like the people who just chattered and tried to form sentences got better at it than those who were very concerned that they had to say the sentence perfect (unless they were quiet).
 

rapaz12

Woodpecker
Regarding immersion, how do you handle it when foreigners don't want to use their native language with you? This is when you're in their country.

Also, what about when you feel like you can't ever think of anything interesting to discuss with natives? My desire to learn is still there, but after a year in immersion answering the same questions about myself and seeing I can't think of anything else to talk about with more familiar natives around me, I've started to really avoid a lot of interactions.
 

kel

Pelican
rapaz12 said:
Regarding immersion, how do you handle it when foreigners don't want to use their native language with you? This is when you're in their country.
Say you don't speak English.

rapaz12 said:
Also, what about when you feel like you can't ever think of anything interesting to discuss with natives?
I think this is more a problem with idle talk in general, rather than a language thing. Find some kind of meetup (tech, sport/activity, whatever you're interested in) and attend that, you'll be immersed in a discussion on a topic you're interested in anyways.

Also, find a conversation partner, someone who wants to learn any language you speak in exchange for them. Then just walk around and talk about your days, half an hour in English (or whatever), half an hour in target language. Do that weekly. You don't need to have some big thing to discuss, because it's known you're both practicing the language. You can talk about some irritating construction that's throwing your routine off, a dinner you cooked, some local cultural/political intrigue, etc.
 

Nolecbo

Woodpecker
Gold Member
Great contribution @ieatkeyboards, thank you

Do you have a program (Duolingo, RS, etc) that you think would lend itself to airline travel? I feel like I don’t make good use of my time in the air and language audio language learning would make those hours more productive.
 
Nolecbo said:
Great contribution @ieatkeyboards, thank you

Do you have a program (Duolingo, RS, etc) that you think would lend itself to airline travel? I feel like I don’t make good use of my time in the air and language audio language learning would make those hours more productive.
Duolingo offers a 7-day free trial and then $ 7 per month, which lets you download the courses and practice offline. "Drops" is another app I use sometimes and I think there's a free trial for offline as well, but it's more for adding new words rather than practice sentences.
 
RE: Ways to learn a language: I'm a professional interpreter, and fluent in 6 lang

puckerman said:
Most of us will agree that immersion is the best way to learn a language. How does Babbel compare to Rosetta Stone? I bought RS because Barnes and Noble had a good deal on it. RS seems more geared to schools though, which does make it somewhat expensive.
Babbel all the way. Rosetta stone is pure garbage. Duolingo is better. Babbel is limited with certain languages, but even it's beginner course is great.


No More Mr. Soy Boy said:
I read an interview with Alex Rawling the other day, he's some 28-year-old that speaks 15 languages and have won some kind of awards in this area with language learning.

He said that there are positive and negatives with immersion because if it's a really "hard" language and you got nothing for free with you with other languages that you speak, it can just become overwhelming and take a longer time.

I've actually noticed that as well. During my first few months in Italy I would just sleep lots and lots because I was just so tired of trying to make sense of all the interactions I had with people so I had no social life.

So if I were to go to Russia, I'd make sure beforehand that I actually knew enough basics (for example finish the whole Duolingo course on it) to be able to take in more stuff otherwise I think it will be just too overwhelming if you set your foot in a place like that where the language is so different.

And he also said it's important to not be a perfectionist and it's fine to make mistakes and that is very true as well even though it might be a bit obvious. But when I took language classes back in school, it seems like the people who just chattered and tried to form sentences got better at it than those who were very concerned that they had to say the sentence perfect (unless they were quiet).

I know Alex Rawlings personally and I can attest to the fact that he has an outstanding command of many languages, namely German and Russian. His command of the romance languages is impressive as well. For his other languages, I cannot comment on. Nonetheless, he is a very gifted learner.

Immersion is best when you're at a B2 level. You can use it at any level obviously, but immersion when you know 200-300 words only is pretty much only useful insofar as it provides constant stimuli and motivation.

As far as waiting to speak, that's a heated topic. Frankly, it boils down to whether or not you're open to corrections. If you start speaking broken Russian, and you get really good at speaking broken Russian, people will not correct you unless you actively seek it. If you don't care about accuracy then go for it. If you do however hope to use your new language for something other than daily conversation, (which isn't all that difficult of a goal to achieve,) then speaking correctly is crucial.
 
I'm learning the Dutch language on Duolingo and by watching Dutch TV shows, Dutch/Flemish political speeches etc before moving to a more intensive program. I am transferring now to a college that requires proficiency in one of the foreign languages they offer (Spanish, French, German, Latin, Greek) to award a degree. I chose German, but I am concerned that the similarities between German and Dutch will hamper my abilities in both. The college I am transferring to is in the Dutch-est state in the country, so maybe I can find someone to tutor me or something.
 
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