We get better at what we practice most. Sounds obvious, yes? Yet far too many language learners wonder why they aren’t getting better at listening and speaking despite all the hours they’ve spent reading, memorizing vocabulary, and studying grammar rule. See the faulty logic here? Trying to get better at speaking by memorizing words and rules is like trying to get better at martial arts by watching kung fu movies. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Once upon a time, you had to two choices if you wanted to get fluent in a language: ① Take language classes, or ② Move abroad. I did both and had a (mostly) great time doing so. But while I think classes can be great for those who can afford the time and tuition and that living abroad can be a profoundly transformative experience, neither undertakings are a requirement for learning a language. Today, anyone with an internet connection, a little creativity, and sufficient discipline can reach a high level of fluency anywhere in the world if they design the proper environment. Read the article to see exactly how.
To do lists seem like a good idea in theory, but they have a major disadvantage: there are infinite potential to do items. Instead, Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek (and a speaker of 6 languages), recommends “not to do lists” instead since they define a limited number of unhelpful behaviors to avoid. This idea applies perfectly to language learning, where most learners waste a lot of time on ineffective methods and bad materials. Read on to see my list of NOT to do items for successful language learners.
Donovan Nagel is an Applied Linguistics graduate hailing from rural Queensland, Australia (the amazing soundscape you hear in the background of our interview) and the man behind the language learning site and community, The Mezzofanti Guild, and the Arabic learning site, Talk in Arabic. Donovan named the site after one of his heroes, Cardinal Giuseppe Gasparo Mezzofanti (1774 – 1849), a hyperpolyglot who Donovan felt a strong connection to given their mutual background in theology, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, and the fact that they both focus on learning via contact with real people.
Just as corporations can waste lots of money storing unneeded inventory, the human brain can waste lots of precious energy on unneeded information. The Toyota Motor Company is famous for its “lean manufacturing” approach, a big part of which is what’s termed “Just-In-Time” manufacturing (ジャストインタイム). Instead of sinking excessive costs into surplus parts, Toyota does everything it can to ensure that there are just enough parts (not too many, not too few) at just the right time (not too early, not too late) needed for the next phase of production. While our goal here is to learn a language, not build a Prius, we can apply the same basic approach to foreign language acquisition.
Learning—and actually remembering—new words, phrases, alphabets, Chinese characters, etc. is one of the primary tasks in acquiring a foreign language. But for many learners, it happens to be one of the most frustrating. But don’t despair! The problem is likely your method, not your memory.