Learning Languages on Your Own



[Applause] this is a doll owner University production Dobrev ramos horta me enormo estes constantine jovian delicacy amber Zion help erm only hinge feed the virtual in zinnia entered English Adela linguistic ax will hug school and are Alana aboard fallen I'm in Sambo we had dogs and cats man home dog food for the kushan stuck Karen all of which is to say that my name is Constantine and I'm a Russian teaching English and linguistics at Darwin University in what the locals say is the heart of Sweden I've been a language teacher for 11 years and I studied English and German for my bachelor's degree in st. Petersburg but since then I've taught myself Swedish Italian and Esperanto and quite recently I finally realized that I could no longer get away with not knowing French so right now I'm trying to get started on French as well well as polyglots go I'm really nothing special there are people out there who are breathtakingly fluent in a dozen languages or perhaps even more and those people might be true linguistic geniuses for all I know but well I really wouldn't know because I'm not one of them and nothing of the kind I'm just a regular guy but thanks to experience I suppose and a certain amount of study I've learnt to realize I've come to realize a few things about language learning and I've come to develop a few useful habits that's what I will be talking about today and for the most part I will be stating the obvious at least obvious to those who have ever learned a foreign language as adults and I guess I might as well start with something that should be blindingly obvious to just about everyone when it comes to learning foreign languages there's some good news and there's some bad news now the bad news is there's no magic way to learn a foreign language quickly and effortlessly unfortunately now children do pick up languages as they go but children have much better memories and even more importantly they have all the time in the world to well to learn languages to put it quite simply and they're not afraid of losing face now I'm sorry to tell you we're not like that at all our memory leaves a lot to be desired it's not like a sponge anymore we have full-time jobs and we have social obligations and we have children and well we are we tends to be at least we tend to be horrified we have we tend to be afraid of losing face of making stuttering fools of ourselves now that is why we have to find time for language learning we have to make an effort and that's the bad news the good news however is that if you do find some time if you make a little effort you can learn a language anyone can learn a language in fact anyone can learn a foreign language no one is crap at languages I can say we're all in the same boat and I'm surrounded by living proofs of that all the time not just at work why do then so many people seem to view language learning as as an awe-inspiring feat that they can never help to perform well one major reason for that is that we tend to have somewhat unreasonable expectations of knowing a language it's not quite clear what we really mean by knowing a language and it seems to me that surprisingly many people believe that you haven't really learned a language unless you're perfectly fluent in it and that seems to be a bit unreasonable to me now for example I can I can use myself as an example now my Italian is extremely far from being perfectly fluent but when I go to Italy or when I feel like watching an Italian movie I find my Italian well the Italian that I know quite useful and that's why even though my Italian is not perfect I do not really think that I have failed in learning it to illustrate this idea a bit further let me tell you about the seven stages of knowing a language as I see them or as I identified them yesterday as I was preparing this presentation I must warn you though the whole thing is a it's a bit cheesy and it's horribly oversimplified but I hope that it will do the job for now at least ok let us assume that you have been learning French and you're in Paris right now and you have a French friend and you go to a restaurant the two of you together now stage one if you're at stage one of knowing French knowing quote/unquote what you can do is he can read the menu you can open the menu you can read it and you can understand most of it in other words given a little time you can understand something that is written in French and that's exactly the stage that my French is at right now this doesn't have to be limited to menus of course it can also extend to books and sometimes even newspapers but the main idea is that it doesn't really go beyond understanding or passively understanding written text what happens at stage two is that you can actually order a meal in French and you can then ask well the waiter for an explanation for a piece of advice about a particular item on the menu for example in other words you can communicate some essential information by using standard speech formulas and yeah and that's already something what can I say then at stage three something amazing happens you actually understand the waiters advice when it's given to you in other words you understand spoken language when it's directed at you and where we assume here that the waiter is sufficiently friendly and that he can see that you're a foreigner while trying trying to speak French to the best of your capacity and that's already something as well then at Stage four when your friend starts chatting with the waiter you can actually understand what the chatting is about you can follow their conversation in other words you understand relatively here fairly I can say casual spoken language even when it's not addressed directly to you and this can also be extended to watching movies for example most movies anyway and watching television shows then at Stage five you can actually chat with the waiter yourself in other words you can speak spontaneously without too much hesitation and well that's what many people understand by fluency but it doesn't really stop there on the right side we have some more advanced stuff Stage six then you have been served your food in your wine and you proceed to argue politics philosophy and and let's say the Eurovision results with your friend for about two hours in French of course in other words you can carry a sophisticated conversation on a variety of topics you have enough vocabulary for that and finally at the last stage at stage 7 you can do all of the above without making errors and I would like you to note here that grammatical errors making grammatical errors and word choice errors is perfectly okay and well actually it's unavoidable at any of the earlier stages and I would also like you to note that whichever stage you have managed to reach so far now your language skills can actually come in handy they can be useful in even if it's just for reading the menu well the next question is how do you reach any of these stages well like I said there's no magic recipe but I do have three general tips that I think are essential I also have some more specific advice for you and I have one major revelation which will come at the very end of this presentation now essential tip number one do not try or do not even expect to be able to reach all seven stages at once chances are you'll feel frustrated very soon and you'll give up and that'll be tragic of course so like elsewhere in life I suppose it's important to set goals for yourself that are slightly unrealistic but not too unrealistic essential tip number two well they say that when it comes to language learning it's better to study for 20 minutes every day than for two hours once a week and that is absolutely true except I would add that it's actually even better to do both and it's better still to study for 20 minutes several times a day every day in other words you need to study you need to do a little language learning whenever you can whenever you have a choice let's say between working on your Japanese for 20 minutes and doing something else you should always go for Japanese well do 20 minutes of Japanese and then do the other thing okay well it's 20 minutes or two hours the next question is what exactly do you do during this time how for example can you work on your accent on your pronunciation oh well the first thing I should mention is that no matter how you work in it if you're an adult you will probably never sound like a native but you can definitely make your accent less foreign you can make it easier on natives ears so to say how do you achieve that well of course it's different for different people but one thing that is probably true for everyone is that listening alone is not enough in addition to listening which is important of course you also have to repeat what you hear not just repeat you have to imitate it you have to ape it as much as you can you have to do it thoroughly sound by sound word by word phrase by phrase sentence by sentence eventually as many times as you can as many times as you have time for well you why do you have to do that well you have to do that because you have to make your mouth and your tongue and your brain ultimately you have to make them get used to these for in these alien sound combinations that's really important now repetition and imitation and aping all of that is really important but there's a little snag the problem is when you listen to a language you don't really know very well your brain doesn't really hear at least a half of what is actually being said pronunciation wise you have to teach your brain to hear things right as it were and that's why it's usually a good idea to read about the sounds of the language that you're learning before you start imitating them or read about them while you're imitating them in the process as it were well not actually as you speak of course it's important because well of course there are other languages have sounds that you have never dreamed of for one thing and then even those languages that sorry even those sounds that may sound familiar to you well they may turn out to be quite different in some important way and this distinction may amount to the difference between mother and foul language for example something like that and finally when you do all this aping and imitating and all this tongue twisting it will feel strained and unnatural and you will feel silly and that's a really good sign if you if your mouth literally box at it it's a really good sign because if it doesn't feel silly if it doesn't feel unnatural if it doesn't feel strained at first you're probably not doing it right and you should probably try harder next how do you study grammar well some people might tell you that they can manage just fine without knowing any grammar for example in English unfortunately they don't know what they're talking about grammar put simply is about how you put words and sentences together and you have to know at least something about that if you want to understand other people and if you want to be understood now if you didn't grow up with the language you have to learn that you have to learn grammar by learning rules grammar rules however scary that might sound at first if you want to make that task easier for yourself it's a good idea to get familiar with some basic concepts with a few let's say general principles of how languages work some basic terminology that is used in grammatical descriptions and there are a couple of ways to do that now one way is by getting hold of a of a nice introduction to linguistics you can say something that is well very light and very engaging and there are plenty of books like that on Amazon and and elsewhere you just need to shop around a little now another way and here comes a shameless plug for Esperanto is by trying to learn a simple artificial language like Esperanto first as a trial round so to say now Esperanto is delightful it's ridiculously simple and it will give you very nice hands-on experience of things like adjectives and nouns and direct objects and verb tenses and agreement and stuff like that and you will never have to worry about your accent for example or even your progress no it is a truth universally acknowledged as they say that a third language is always easier to learn than a second one and if you well if your warmup Act is a spur Anto so to say well yeah it will go really smoothly I can guarantee you that pretty much and as an extra bonus of course you you'll be able to befriend any number of Esperanto speaking nerds like myself next once you know the basic concepts you'll have an easier time understanding rules once you understand the rules it's really important to watch out for them now at least sometimes when you're reading a text or when you're listening to the language you're learning try to pay attention not to well not to what is being said not as much at least but also to how it's being said grammar wise it's really important and likewise when you learn a grammar rule you need to make a point of actually using it the next time you speak or write the language finally usually pays to compare the way things work in the language you're learning and the way they work in English or your first language for example now it's it's good to be aware of how similar how different the languages are because just like in pronunciation a lot of bad grammar is caused by unwitting interference from your first language from English it's caused by your grammar instincts that well that belong let's say to a different language and while this point actually provides us with a nice little bridge to my first tip about learning vocabulary which is don't learn words negative what does that mean well that means that words never exist in isolation they never exist alone so to say they always interact with each other let me give you an example of that let's say you're Italian and you're learning English and you want you want to learn the English word love okay now let's say the meaning of love is in many ways similar to what you know as amore but there's a lot more to than that than just that similarity I have to tell you consider this sentence I fell in love with you now you can see the word love in there and it still means what it usually does but you can see that in this sentence it is part of a very complex relationship with the three other words and namely fall and and with and this relationship is as permanent as it gets and you'd better well learn about before it's too late to save yourself some trouble later now if you're an english-speaking person learning Italian for example something else happens you want to express the same idea you want to say I fell in love with you in Italian and well if you try hard enough if you use a dictionary you will find out that the word and mortar will not actually be of much use to you because you don't use it for their purpose you have to learn a different word you have to learn the word in them Oh Darcy and not only that you have of course to know how to make it fit the sentence and you have to know that the word in Namur are C teams up with this little word D miss ona in the maratti tear in Italian to express this idea so you can see that languages do different things well sometimes they do the same thing in very different ways and that's why it's really important to be aware of differences and similarities between languages where do you find this information by the way well any good dictionary will have this information and yeah you find it there and talking of good dictionaries a good dictionary will also list a lot of meanings for common words for example and the next trick is to ignore most of those meetings at least at first initially you need to ignore most of them and only focus on the ones that are import and as a rule the important meanings will be listed first but it's always a good idea to check of course then besides the dictionary a good place to see how words work is the Internet what I do myself when quite often when I learn a new word I google the word I google it on its own first and then perhaps in in some of its different forms if there are different forms and I can also google it with some of those little words that it has a relationship with as it were and then I can just see how the word works I can see how it's used in sentences how it's used by people and that's well that's something that is really useful next just like with grammar rules when you have learned a new word you need to go out of your way to actually use the word perhaps even overuse it at first and you need to do that because you have to convince your brain that this word is actually worth remembering because your brain is like that your brain will do its best to forget as much as it can as quickly as it can so you have to keep reminding your brain that well these words are important I want you to remember them how do you do that well well besides actually using those words you can also read as much as possible and listen to as much of the language as possible and then note these new words as you come across them that's really helpful and it's really it works especially well for common words when it comes to less common words one trick that I find useful I'm especially fond of this trick myself is using the reminder function on your mobile phone now what you do is – you just you take this new word you and it's translation first then you enter the word itself preferably with with some other words around it in a sentence and perhaps with some grammatical information and it's really important to make sure that when the reminder goes off you don't see the word right away because you need to make a mental effort to remember it so well when it does go off you well you remember the word and then you renew the reminder and you do it again and again with increasing intervals so to say let's say one day the first time the three days and a week perhaps then a month something like that yeah and you continue in the same vein until you have convinced your brain that well this word is actually worth remembering and it does work now my phone is pretty basic and it can only do a few dozen reminders at a time but of course more advanced gizmos have have more and things like iPhones and such they have special applications for vocabulary learning actually and it's a good idea to use those as well now at this point you may be thinking okay pronunciation vocab grammar it's all very well and still very good but what about those seven stages how do I actually learn to do stuff in a language well I'm afraid I only have one answer to that you'd learn to do stuff in a language by actually doing it this is the only thing I can say you learn to read menus by reading menus you learn to order a meal by trying to use that funny phrase from your textbook to order a meal you learn to understand movies by actually watching movies first with English subtitles let's say or subtitles in your first language and then with subtitles in the language you're learning and then without any subtitles at all and you learn to chat with people by actually trying to chat with them in the language you're learning and yes I know it will feel awkward and perhaps even humiliating at first I know the feeling very well and I used to be plagued by it myself but here comes the great revelation the great revelation is that if you're doing your best as long as you're doing your best you never lose face by trying to say something in another language well quite the contrary you really should be proud of every little attempt you make to say something in another language and if someone makes fun of you if someone is stupid enough to make fun of you well you can just tell them to go practice some palatalized Russian consonants for example or Mandarin tones or something like that now if everything I've already said sounds like work that's because it is again and again and again and again you have to spend some time and you have to make an effort to learn a language at the same time this effort can be really exciting and extremely rewarding provided you follow my last essential tip so sensual tip number three it's really hard to learn a language for a rainy day it's really hard to learn a language just because I'd say it sounds cool or because it's cool to be able to speak a foreign language or because it looks good on your CV no it will look good it will look good at your CV at some point in the future too to have enough motivation to work up enough motivation well first to get started in there to keep going sort of persisting with the language you have to have a real reason for learning it now any reason we'll do any real reason we'll do it can be work it can be research romance and it can be another fascination for another culture for example but mind you the fascination has to be utter but you have to find a reason to get started and to keep going and if you have that reason I can only wish you the best of luck thank you [Applause]

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