FX's essential guide to learning a language
Basic principles

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- Wie haben Sie english so gut gelernt?
- Im Bett.

- How did you learn english so well?
- In bed.

Die Ehe der Maria Braun, a   movie by Fassbinder

Learning to speak, read and write a language fluently is possible, on your own, in about one year and without much expenses. (See my own story if you want to know more). However, you must do it right or lose your time. Some basic principles are fundamental if you want to do useful work, so I advise you to read this page carefully.

In language learning there are  two things you can't to without :

  • Willingness to work : You have to want to learn the language, not just wish. It's no magic power of the will, just that you will have to stuy on your own for some months, and everything will rest in your hands. For example, a speaker of a romance language (french, italian, spanish, portuguese, romanian, ...) can learn another in less than 200 hours. Yet he has to work during these hours, and if he's weak-willed he will probably stop after 30 hours, then go back, then stop again and never finish.
  • An intelligent method : Many people study a language for years and cannot order a pizza in this language. If you think I exaggerate, ask someone who studied a language at school. So the second most important thing is to work intelligently, so you don't lose neither time nor energy. It' written nowhere that language learning must be painful, but it can be if you study stupidly.

Maybe seeing how not to do it can help us to see more clearly. Here are some common misrepresentations (errors) about language learning :

  • The hair shirt way of language learning : Monks of some orders use hair shirt, a shirt with something inside that itches their skin. They wear it all day long, don't ask me why. Some people seem to think that language learning, like a hair shirt, must be painful to work. That's not true. You'll learn a language much more efficiently with a Peruvian girl friend than with several years of grammar at school.
  • The phonebook approach to vocabulary learning : Vocabulary, beyond the first 100 words, is best learned in context. Ask what the word means. Look it up in the dictionary when reading. Try to guess its meaning. But some people will tell you to learn huge word lists. That would be nice to learn all the necessary words like this, wouldn't it ? Yes, but it doesn't work. You won't be able to use words you learned in lists, they will never come to your mind quickly enough. All you can do with them is to get good marks.
  • The physicist way to grammar : Ask a six year old to explain you verb conjugation and he will stare at you like if you were Freddy Kruger. But the same boy will tell you he eats and never he eat. Grammar is best learned by seeing examples and imitating (infering the rule) until your ear recognize what sounds right and what does not. Wouldn't it  be nice to be able to learn the grammar book by heart, then learn a few pages from the phonebook-vocabulary lists, and here you are, you have all you need ! It just doesn't work that way.

You can now go to the next page to see the best way to learn your language.

Languages | Definitions | FX Micheloud's homepage