Covid Crisis Part 3: How to Learn a Language
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A lot of people ask me about how to learn languages because I just love languages. I think languages is an art of the ear and of the mouth. And it is something that just so beautiful. You know, my whole life is about art. I talked about how to make art in the last podcast during this covert crisis and maybe want to learn the language during this current crisis. One thing I forgot to mention in how to make art in the last one is go to see museums. Right now, you can’t. So, go online, look at what is considered high art, the history of art. Delve into that will give you a point of appreciation and some intellectual understanding, before you do that. So let’s talk about how to learn a language. I learned French in my teenage years using the Berlitz and Lingua method, which is called oral, oral O R A L Slash A U R E L.
Meaning that the first day they don’t speak any. My teacher never spoke a single word of English except for when I barely could understand any, try to build it up. And he says the argument is that a baby learns a language not through formal grammar, grammatical structure, but just listening to sounds, basic sounds. And building upon the basic sounds to simple words, to combination words, to simple sentences, to more complex sentences, building vocabulary and then grammar. And if you think about how languages are taught in the United States, it’s terrible. I mean, it’s exactly the opposite. You know, people have gone through years of French and Spanish and they can’t say a single word except Bonjour or Buenos Dias. And it’s quite embarrassing because language is taught incorrectly in schools. Languages are taught reverse. They teach grammar and vocabulary and then they go back, and they teach and they teach writing and then they teach speaking if they even get that far.
But the baby doesn’t learn how to speak. Sorry, how to write first. They learn how to speak first, how to understand, and then they learn how to write. And that’s the same development that you should have when you’re building it, building a language. Now, the problem right now is probably most Berlitz and lingual schools are closed, but you can do things online. I’m sure Berlitz Lingual does exist. For me, I’ve been trying to do a shortcut method in the last few years that I’ve been using a product called Pimsleur, P. I. M. S. L. E. U. R. It is a fantastic, fantastic program. It’s a program that you can download as an app on your iPhone or your Android device. I would suggest you download one one single lesson just to see if you can handle it.
It’s just interesting. My wife, who’s, you know, was raised with the Japanese language and can speak it decently well, but understands it almost perfectly had a hard time even getting through level one Japanese because she’s not an auditory listener, auditory learner. Whereas I’m very strong in all three learning methods, auditory, visual and kinesthetic, meaning emotional or touching something and feeling it and doing, but I’m also very strong auditorily. And even if you’re a weak auditory learner and you think you’re a visual learner, you must become an auditory learner. You must develop that muscle. And the reason for it is languages are not visual. So, if you’re using Duallingo or using things like Rosetta Stone, which are highly visual and learning abstract vocabulary, I don’t think you ever going to have any level of fluency in these languages. So, in the last few years I’ve learned Italian, Spanish, Russian, German, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, et cetera. What is the level of retention I’ve had? Basically, Italian and Spanish because I’ve already known that language. But basically Italian, the other languages are so hard to retain, but there are several benefits of learning language. One is that if you go, if I go back and Pimsleur or do it again, it’s such a quick, it comes back so quickly to me. And so, before I go to a trip or somewhere else, I would be going, I would learn that language. And the other benefit with it is that it just is a great tool for your brain to learn. And I do it when I drive, but I would highly caution, I don’t want people to have accidents, because I can just do it almost subconsciously and not worry about, it’s not like texting for me, but if you can’t do it, please don’t have an accident and try to learn a language driving.
It’s incredibly dangerous if that is the case. But I want to talk to you about this new method or I don’t think it’s a new method. It’s been around for actually a few decades, but the Pimsleur method to me is the shortcut of the Berlitz method. And what they talk about in this method is they actually do use translation. So, it’s not as the best way of doing it, but it is the best way in terms of speed to get there quickly. So, they use something called, firstly they don’t teach you stupid words that just simply are useless, like porpoise and things like that. I mean by level four or five; they may teach you some things. They teach you the basic phrases and like how much has this cost? You know, what is your name?
How old are you? How do you go here? They teach you basic phraseology and so what they teach you are the words that would actually appear in everyday speech, in not highfalutin words until maybe you get to the high levels. The other thing that they do is something called anticipation. And what anticipation means is, you know, if you have to change the way that structure of the sentence works, for example, if I said, do you want to eat food? Maybe the next sentence or down the line would be, do you want to go to sleep now? And so you’ve maybe learned the word sleep and other contexts, but you learn the word do you want in you want to eat food? And then you’re going to create that, and your brain will start to create the sentences based on the building blocks of translation.
And very quickly, you won’t have the crutch of translation. They start to actually pull the way the English commands. But to be honest with you that because of the anticipation makes your brain work to complete these sentences, you will naturally start to not cleave to your original language, your native language. Now one thing is I’m very, very good with languages. So, it may be something where I can learn something maybe four to five times faster. Someone else, I’m not trying to be arrogant about it, but I just don’t want you to be frustrated, but that’s one principle. The other thing is something called progressive recall, which essentially what it means is that we want to pull these words that you’re learning into the long-term memory banks. And so, what, Pimsleur does is essentially use words that, let’s say they introduce a new word.
Let’s say the word food. Okay. That word food would be introduced. And in the context of anticipation of the words in usable sentences that not just, Hey, here’s the word food, but do you want any food? Do you like food, have you in this food, et cetera. And so, it’s in that context of anticipation, but it’s in progressive recall, meaning that slowly as you start to, the interest is that word. And then we’ll be back again in 10 seconds, several times, and then maybe 30 seconds delay and then maybe a minute delay. Then maybe five minutes later in there in that conversation they’ll have it. And then maybe they’ll start, stop, it’ll be gone for one lesson, they’ll recall the lesson and the next one and there’ll be four lessons later. And then progressively they’re trying to drive those words and those phrases into your long-term memory banks.
So that’s one of the keyways that Pimsleur works well. So, I really encourage you, if you’re not an auditory learner to become one. Some of the things is, you know, you want to build your comprehension skills. And a couple of things that work well is one is called news in slow whatever and using slow Italian uses in slow French, uses in slow Spanish and they have things that are, you can purchase this on an app, a monthly subscription, et cetera, or yearly subscription. And you listen to a conversation, that’s conversational. They partly talk about the news. It’s partly talks about conversation, partly talking about grammar lessons. So, you’re just starting to learn to listen and comprehend. And if you have a certain level of subscription that you can get a transcription and read some of the words by the gruesome grammatical rules, some vocabulary words, vocabulary, you didn’t quite catch them say it, but they’re speaking about this pace, which is a little bit slower than you would encounter in normal conversational speech so that you can acquire the comprehension skills.
So that’s a great one. The other one that I liked a lot was just getting private lessons online. You can get the two sites that I, that I did weekly lessons were Wyzant, W, Y, Z, A, N, T and Verbling, V, E, R, B, L, I, N, G. And you can get honestly a college student at $12 an hour because really to do private lessons online through these and they can actually write things on the screen, type things, give you lessons, homework assignments, et cetera. But the thing for me is that you don’t want to get. The first time I got an Italian teacher for me, he was just teaching me grammar and things like you would get, you know, a 10th grade or maybe a sixth grade Course room in conventional school in the United States.
And that’s exactly not how to learn language. As I mentioned, I just wanted to learn how to speak. So, I would just have a conversation and you want to build enough to start being able to have that conversation. Now one warning, you would think you would want to wait for a few months before you start hiring these people to teach you to speak. Cause you barely can say anything after let’s say a week of learning this. But I found that, for example, I learned the Russian language and you know, I can’t speak it well, it’s a very difficult language grammatically and structurally, but you know, my friends pronunciation, their words that I was mispronouncing until my Russian hairstylist said, Oh, and that word is, you’re not saying it right. And so, if you start to have just like in a tennis game. If you start having a bad form and then you’ve done it for two years and then, you want to go back and correct that bad form, it’s much harder to correct that bad form, years later than it is, you know, a week or two into tennis camp, so to speak.
So it’s the same thing when you’re dealing with learning a language. You don’t want to, you know, start lessons really late, but then obviously you can build those more aggressively, maybe three times a week, et cetera. As you start to be able to be more conversational in your language skills. Another one that I didn’t use a lot, but I did subscribe to is called Yabla TV, Y A B L A TV. And what Yabla TV is it’s just different news clips and shows and all different levels of difficulty with or without subtitles, just thousands of clips so that you can learn, let’s say Spanish or Italian or French or German or whatever language you want. And Yabla is another great resource. Again, you can just download that, watch it on your iPad or your iPhone as an app.
And so in practice, if you’ve got a native speaker, go to right now, obviously you can’t go out during the covert crisis, but maybe this people will be listening to this after the covert crisis and still want to learn a language and it’s still applicable. But if you can meet people either on you talk on the phone or I went to different like clubs or different meetups on meetup.com to meet other people that were native speakers and even other students, you begin to learn and don’t be scared to speak. You’re going to make mistakes. You want to make those mistakes. It’s just liked a golf swing. If you don’t practice it, you won’t get better. So, those are some pearls of how to learn language that I can hopefully help you with.And I wish you good luck during this time. Have a shelter in place.