FX's essential guide to learning a language

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So how should you learn the language ?

First you need a good basic book, if possible with tapes. If there is a good method for the language you want to learn, that can spare you weeks of study. For example for spanish there is an intelligent method that covers almost everything you will use, and I needed nothing else. For italian, there are very few things so you have to make it on your own, it's longer.

Finding the right books and tapes
If there is a good method with plenty of cassettes (that means at least 12 hours by book, with audio drills included), you're lucky. It may be sufficient to learn a lot and you will only have to follow, always knowing where you are in your learning. The best I know are FSI (Foreign Service Institute, the language teaching section of the US Department of State). You can buy some of their products through Audioforum, or buy directly from them. Both are more expensive that they could be, but still well worth the money.

If you find nothing there, you may wish to head for a tape only course, but this implies you'll need additional material if you wish to achieve fluency in all situations. Pimsleur is the best there is, however it is also the most expensive. Nevertheless if you buy them, you will be able to learn your language while driving, and your pronunciation will be as perfect as can be.

How you should work
There is no such thing like regular work : you can study as little as half an hour a day, but you should not stop for extended periods of time. Why ? Because you would lose the thread, you wouldn't remember what you learned in the preceding lessons sufficiently to build another layer. Weak foundations, short buildings. The best thing would be to work 1:00 to 1:30 a day, maybe with a short pause in the middle.

What to do if you stop in the middle
Most people will, during the course of their study, stop for a few day or even a few months, for all kind of reasons. So, if it happens to you, what should you do to begin again ? Take your book and begin at the last lesson you studied, and from there go to the previous lesson. Look at the material, do an exercise. If you do not master it sufficiently, go the the lesson before and do the same self test until you reach a lesson you master well. Then redo completely every lesson where you failed this little test. Again, there is no one to watch you but if you think you can go on without knowing well every lesson you studied, you are wrong. Better lose a few days of repetition than to see after 2 weeks that you are not confident in your skills and risk abandonning everything.

The 1000 most common words in italian make 85% of normal speech. If you think you know them (a good book will teach you these words first), then you are in intermediate learning, topic of the next page.

Languages | Definitions | FX Micheloud's homepage