Learning Tips – Fun and Relatively Fast Ways to Acquire Any Language

Learning tips, books and phone

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This post was written for those study Finnish, but most of the ideas apply to studying any language. I hope you will have fun with them. 🙂

Contents:
Learning from the masters
Taking full advantage of the power of listening
Enjoying comics in the target language
Graded readers and other simplified books
Glossika (available for Finnish too)
Possibly a good text book
Preparing for the common questions
Conversational connectors
How to deal with communication problems
Practicing writing with native speakers
Being happy about mistakes
The English problem

Learning from the masters

As in all areas of life, it is a good idea to learn from people who have a lot of experience in language learning, perhaps ideally from people who mastered the craft in adulthood, so they still remember the process.

To reach their learning goals, masters use techniques and habits that most people have never even considered. They often know how to make it more fun. 

That is why I recommend watching the interviews and other videos where these people tell about their approaches to learning. These people include Luca Lampariello, Steve Kaufman, Judith Meyer and John Fotheringham, and others in this fun video.

Largely thanks to their advice, now I can have at least some kind of longer conversations in six languages. Maybe I need to make a video that will offer some proof. Some of the aforementioned people know more than ten languages fluently (even while having a life). I’m not saying that you have to learn ten languages, but I feel that it is helpful to see what is possible, so learning one language may not feel like such a daunting obstacle.

In this text, I introduce my favorite techniques that I enjoy using. To be honest, depending on the day, sometimes I enjoy them more, sometimes less. Either way, there is always some pleasure in knowing that, thanks to this study session the next meeting with the native speakers will likely be slightly easier.

Taking full advantage of audio  

Especially if you are a beginner (and even more so if you need to learn a new script), it’s a good idea to mostly use learning material that you can read and listen. You can listen to the audio many times until they become like music, like earworms.

This way you will naturally acquire a lot of vocabulary. Besides, sounds of the language will become more familiar and easier to pronounce.

Perhaps you have moments in your everyday life when you can listen to your study material. Perhaps when you are commuting, exercising or cleaning up the house.

If you have a habit of listening to music always in certain places or situations, you could consider replacing part of the that time with your language learning.

Some learners even gather an audio library with hours of interesting material. Make sure to store them in a safe place, preferably in two locations.

Good quality earphones are important. I like to use Jabra 65T wireless headphones. They turn on automagically when you put them on. They block outside noise too quite nicely, although this can be a security risk, not only because of traffic.

If you are feeling very sleepy, reading may be difficult. Listening instead can be easier, at least if you are not lying down.

And falling asleep with your learning material playing in the background may not be a bad idea. I do it sometimes. In that case, I recommend making sure that the playlist or video doesn’t keep going indefinitely, as it can disturb your sleep.

For learners of Finnish: the Yle Areena app does not play videos or radio shows indefinitely. In other words, it will not automatically start the next program after the current one is finished.

Enjoying comics in the target language

I don’t mean only the comics in this website. Comics usually have a lot dialogue that is often quite natural too. The pictures help in understanding the dialogue, so you won’t need to check your e-dictionary so often.

As a side note, some seasoned learners prefer not to use dictionaries much anyway. Instead they try to get exposed as much as possible to the target language, while figuring out the meaning of important words from the context.

I feel that the pictures can also make the words more memorable. Afterwards you may hear yourself say “Oh I learnt that word in that comic”. Part of the reason why we often memorize words better in real life conversations is that there is usually so much context coming from all of our senses.

Contrary to popular belief, comics are not only for children or a low form of art. There are some that have fascinating stories and visual art of high quality. Sometimes even both in the same book.

Most Finnish libraries have comics, if you prefer not to buy them. 

Graded readers and simplified books

Sure, you can dive right in to the real books already. In some cases, this may be a good idea. But you may become more frustrated if there are unknown words in every book. Also generally in normal books there are many words and expression that are not used in everyday spoken language, especially in novels. That is why, for learning the basics they may not be that helpful.

Simplified books can have engaging stories that may give you more motivation to study the language.

If the originals are classics, it may give you more things to talk about with your book-loving friends. Graded readers often offer cultural and historical explanations to the stories too.

Glossika (available for Finnish too)

First of all, this is not an ad. I simply want to recommend apps and other products that make language learning easier for friends who are learning Finnish, and for others too. Glossika will make the process a lot easier.

I have used Glossika in my own language studies, and I feel that it’s a great way to get lots of important vocabulary and phrases.

This web app teaches whole sentences. This is essential because even though we live here far up in the north, we are not neanderthal cavemen only able to blurt out individual words.

Glossika uses AI to adapt it to each user. If you have studied the language extensively already, you can skip to the higher levels (for example A2 or B1, but this should be considered carefully).

Another way you can tailor Glossika to your needs is deciding what topics you want to learn. For example you can decide if you want business or medical vocabulary. If the need arises, you can add them to your study program later.

The way I see it, Glossika will sort of spoon-feed, in a structured way, a strong basis for your language skills. Because it covers so many areas of life, Glossika teaches vocabulary that rarely appear in normal study material.

The people at Glossika wisely decided to teach Finnish in its colloquial form. The Finnish comics here at Langauge Nuggets do the same.

Occasionally the lack of context becomes a problem when learning individual sentences. But there are also helpful symbols that show if it’s for example an insult or something related to health. So usually this is not a problem.

A good textbook

In this day and age, these are not absolutely necessary. But high quality textbooks can teach important fundamentals, including basic grammar. A good textbook contains many dialogues.

Many polyglots, myself included, love Assimil packages. The reason is that they contain around a hundred dialogues with high quality audio, and with simple but effective exercises. Assimil books even contain small comics.

If you want to use it for Finnish, note that the teaching language will be French. For more popular languages, there will be English editions too.

Preparing for the common questions

When meeting locals, most foreigners get the same questions. Where are you from? Do you have brothers or sisters? What do you do in your free time? And so on.

If you understand these questions and how to answer them, it will be easier to have small conversations, even if your vocabulary isn’t yet very extensive.

I personally used this trick before I moved to China (I lived there for five months). Thanks to this, I wasn’t afraid to have little conversations with the locals, because I knew that I would know most of their questions.

Here is is a list of common questions that Chinese people ask. If you are learning Finnish, you can learn the questions from these comics.

You can practice them in isolation too. One way is to give list of them to a native speaker, and together you can think of good ways of answering them. Some people have made them into sort of flash cards, that they can hand to native speakers. “Could you ask me these few questions please?”

You may become bored with these questions. (I’ve heard international students thinking about printing T-shirts with answers to these questions.) 

But if you don’t like these common questions, you can steer the conversation to other topics with good questions of your own. I’m planning to write a post about these questions too, questions that take you to a deeper level in your interactions.

Conversational connectors

I love conversational connectors (CC’s). They make your sentences longer, more fluent. Sometimes they become even funnier. When I see one in the middle of a text, it sort of starts to shine and I say to myself: “Oh that one I will use in my conversations.” or “Ah, I wish I had known that in the conversation the other day.”

Here are a few examples: “In my opinion”, “In other words”, “It’s not a secret that”. “Let’s not forget that”. And here is a whole sentence with the CC at the beginning. “Don’t get angry but this fork is dirty, could you bring me another one please?”

They can also give you more thinking time. If someone asks a more challenging question, instead of “um.. um…”, you can say “How should I put it.” or “I haven’t really thought about it much, but…”, or at least “well,…”.

Some CC’s help you avoid getting a superman costume with a giant M on it, which stands for mansplainer. Here’s an example: “As you may know,..”.

I want to emphasize that many conversational connectors or similar collocations form part of the core element of any language. That is why, if you don’t have the most important ones under your belt, you won’t be able to understand the target language very much at all, let alone speak it. 

I recommend writing down conversational connectors to a separate place, perhaps to a different notebook or to Google sheets, and revising them more often than your normal notes.

These days, I don’t speak Spanish or Italian very often but if I know that I will meet speakers of these beautiful languages, I try to revise beforehand at least the CC’s that I have collected.

I’m planning to publish a long list of Finnish conversational connectors in this blog. Some of them I have already introduced in the comics here.

Communication difficulties

Can’t understand what the other person is saying or writing? Or having other challenges in communication?  These phrases will come in handy.

Here they are:
Voisitko toistaa? (Could you repeat that please?)
Voisitko puhua vähän hitaammin? (Could you speak more slowly please?)
Voisitko selittää sen toisin sanoin? (Could you explain it in other words?)
Voisitko kirjoittaa tuon minulle? (Could you write that down for me please?)
Mitä tämä sana tarkoittaa? (What does this word mean?)
Miten sanotaan ___ suomeksi? (How do you say ___ in Finnish?)

Practicing writing with native speakers

Here are a couple of smartphone apps where you can practice your languages: HelloTalk and Tandem. You can make new friends there too.

They help you connect with native speakers of your target language. For instance, if you are from Italy and studying Finnish, you can search for Finns who are learning Italian.

You can send voice messages with them too. They also have a nice system for making corrections to your friend’s texts.

Being happy about mistakes

I used to be ashamed of mistakes, sometimes really ashamed. If I made a mistake, I would often tell myself: “I thought I was good in English.” But polyglots like Benny Lewis made me realize that mistakes are great opportunities to learn.

When you get corrected, you will usually remember it pretty well. As a bonus, natives will help you improve your pronunciation.

Mistakes help you notice where the gaps in your knowledge are. If you notice that you are not making mistakes, it likely means that you are not making much progress, at least in speaking or writing.

Also if you let mistakes bother you a lot, most people will sense it and change instinctively to English, because most people don’t like to see others writhe in pain.

The English problem

Speaking of the English problem, I want to point out that we Finns don’t automatically know if you want to practice Finnish. We may think that just starting to speak in Finnish to you would be pushy. Some Finns believe that it is impossible for an adult to master Finnish, which of course is not true.

That is why if you want to practice Finnish, it may be necessary to say it to us. If a whole multi-hour meeting only in Finnish feels too much, you can ask “Could we speak five/thirty minutes in Finnish?” Repeat that many times, and over time you will likely make massive progress, at least if you are practicing with someone who is patient and gives you space to talk.

Finally

What are your favourite ways to learn a language? I have a lot to learn about languages too, so I’m looking forward to your comments.

If you found these ideas useful, consider sharing this post to your friends and in other networks. Thanks!

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