Confessions of a researchaholic

November 24, 2011

How to learn a new language

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:01 pm

Disclaimer: This is based on my personal experience. You might find it eccentric, or even bizarre. It worked for me, but I am not sure if it suitable for everyone. So follow my advice at your own risk.

I have not found formal school education any useful for learning a foreign language. I learned English by reading novels and watching movies (mostly Hollywood) while having fun. I believe truly enjoying an activity is the most effective way to excel at it. The formal school education, at least in my personal experience, provides the exact opposite. It is usually dry, boring, exam based, and removed from practical usage.

The most important usages of any language are listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Whether or not you actually understand the underlying grammar or other theoretical aspects is only secondary. Most native speakers do not think about grammars or theories when using their own languages.

If possible, immerse yourself in an environment that will force you to use a particular language. I essentially picked up English speaking and listening while in grad school because otherwise I cannot survive. I heard a theory that the most effective method to learn a foreign language is to date a native speaker who is so deficient in other languages that you have to speak that particular language with him/her. I have no chance to actually try this but I believe it will work.

Falling short of dating a native speaker or trying to survive in a foreign country, you can still practice reading novels written in the target language (pick up something fun and well written, e.g. Harry Potter for English), watching foreign movies without any caption (again, pick up something you would like), and writing blogs (e.g. your opinions about a recent book you read or a movie you watched). With enough practice, you should be able to pick up any new language without going through any formal schooling or textbooks.

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