Author Topic: Tried and true way to learn a second language?  (Read 9938 times)

whitewaterchica

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Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« on: May 07, 2014, 07:48:11 AM »
Morning everyone,

I am looking to FINALLY become proficient in speaking Spanish and am committed to putting in the work to make it happen. I took several classes through high school and college but never reached a point of being truly conversational. I can understand a bit but always formulate my responses in English and have also lost a great deal of what I learned over the last few years. On the bright side, the work force at my current employer is quite diverse which will give me ample opportunity to practice.

With that said, what is the best starting point? Rosetta Stone? Additional classroom courses? Just bucking up and trying to speak with my associates straight away?

Any insight from others who have tackled learning a second language (particularly as an adult) is valued and appreciated!




zinnie

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2014, 08:32:07 AM »
All of the above? Seriously, I've had the most luck using multiple methods. Take a formal class if you need something to get you started, buy a few used textbooks and go through them as well. Do all the exercises. Watch lots of movies in the language with subtitles and listen for words and sentences you know. Browse news sites once you get the basics down and read articles. Look up words you don't know. Meetup.com has foreign language conversation meet ups, too.

I use these for French/ Italian but they also have spanish:
http://learner.org/resources/browse.html?discipline=3&grade=0 (they have the Destinos videos all for free)
https://www.duolingo.com (I love this site; it is great because it makes you recall and formulate sentences instead of just memorizing)

I wasn't impressed with Rosetta Stone compared to the more old school methods or Duolingo, but YMMV. I found myself understanding but rarely able to formulate my own sentences out of the context of the program.

Good luck! I've found it's actually a lot quicker as an adult now that I kind of approach it from all angles instead of just using the class textbook. But, in order to formulate sentences myself I need to understand all of the grammar rules, verb tenses, etc. And there doesn't seem to be any shortcut to that other than just studying them all and trying to use/ read them for reinforcement as much as possible.



Silvie

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2014, 08:45:10 AM »
Immersion. I am currently working in Barcelona and I have language classes twice a week, but apart from that I am forced to speak Spanish with my neighbours and pretty much anywhere, whether it's at the bakery or at my local gym. Just talk, talk, talk. Classes are good for grammar, but just talking is best for vocabulary.

SweetLife

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2014, 09:18:14 AM »
Take 3 or 4 weeks and stay in a country where they speak the language you want to learn ... once you have a base this is the BEST way to really "get" a language ... from shopping in a fruit/bread/meat market to taking the bus ... your brain will pick up new words even without you realizing it :)

Villanelle

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2014, 09:28:03 AM »
I was/am disappointed in Rosetta Stone, admitedly, I didn't use it for every long before giving up.  I've just started it again because I find that I once again will have use for Japanese, and I've committed to myself to get much further before deciding whether it works for me. But it is damn expensive, extremely difficult to find used, and I felt like I didn't learn much.

I just did a session before coming to MMM.  I got 95% correct.  That's a great score.  Except I didn't feel like I actually learned the things they were attempting to teach me.  Based on context, I could choose the correct picture.  But what I heard was "blah blab Book blah".  Only one picture had a book, so I knew that was correct.  Or "blah blah eat blah".  Only one picture included eating, but I wasn't really processing "adult, male, group, eating".

Again, I gave up early last time and I am still very early this time, but if I hadn't already paid for the damn thing, I'd not be using it.  I really like duolingo and wish they had it for Japanese. 

SwordGuy

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2014, 09:34:01 AM »
Sir Richard Burton ( of exploring the sources of the Nile fame, not the actor who dated Elizabeth Taylor) was a very noted linguist.   His method was to shack up with a local woman of ill repute for several months.  It appears to have worked, he was fluent in more than 25 languages...

whitewaterchica

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2014, 10:02:31 AM »
These are all great responses, thank you! I especially appreciate the feedback regarding Rosetta Stone because it is so pricey and hard to find used. I am not currently in a position to travel anywhere for 3-4 weeks but can easily ask my colleagues to address me only in Spanish as a good starting point.

yyc-phil

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2014, 10:14:29 AM »
Sir Richard Burton ( of exploring the sources of the Nile fame, not the actor who dated Elizabeth Taylor) was a very noted linguist.   His method was to shack up with a local woman of ill repute for several months.  It appears to have worked, he was fluent in more than 25 languages...

I traveled the world as a freelance English/French/Spanish tutor for women of ill repute until I got married...

galliver

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2014, 10:21:33 AM »
The tried and true method of becoming truly fluent: move to a foreign country. Permanently. Or at least semi-permanently.

Barring that you need to find an environment where you can use your Spanish every day. Could be at work, could be at home, could be a conversation group. Also, read books (helps vocabulary, grammar, etc, but not pronunciation and on-the-spot thinking).

snellbert

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2014, 10:22:48 AM »
The best self-learning CDs (HIGHLY recommend CDs-- you need to hear/pronounce the audio) are the Pimsleur series. Got mine out of the library. Start there, use sites like LiveMocha and Duolingo for interactive lessons and to quiz yourself. Pick up some childrens books or phone aps (seriously!) to see real-life examples of the language. Watch kids cartoons (and eventually adult shows dubbed into the language) on Youtube. Pick up a Grammar workbook (I like Schaum's books) for proper grammar and practice. Once you're conversational, find a tutor to practice speaking with (and to ask any questions).

This is what worked best for me, anyway!

Daleth

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2014, 10:40:54 AM »
Ditto what Snelbert said about Pimsleur. Check if your local public library has them or can get them on interlibrary loan. Make sure you're getting the "Level I" (about 30 hours of instruction), not the shorter tourist-oriented courses.

Classroom-based language learning is almost universally a complete waste of time. The only exception is intermediate and advanced classes conducted entirely or almost entirely in the target language, or classes for people who already speak the language reasonably well and are learning to perfect their writing or translation skills.

I say all this as a multilingual person who has taken and taught innumerable foreign language classes in the US and abroad and has used Pimsleur, Berlitz (one on one and CD-based) and Rosetta Stone.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2014, 10:43:42 AM by Daleth »

Iconoclast

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #11 on: May 07, 2014, 12:30:35 PM »
One important thing that always worked for me: listening A LOT to music in the target language. It will familiarize you with the most common words and verbs and their pronounciation, and perhaps some interesting phrases if you look up the lyrics.

Also, what I sometimes do is to set the operating system of laptops and smartphones to the target language. Now that will force you to read the language quickly!

With internet, itunes, bittorrents and what have you not, it has never been easier to learn a foreign language. Forget those language CD's as your only source of knowledge of a foreign language.

Good luck with Spanish, it is a beautiful language!

CarDude

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #12 on: May 07, 2014, 01:29:35 PM »
From a post I made elsewhere in the forum:

One will never reach the level of a native speaker, but attaining a level at which native speakers are at ease during casual conversations is possible.

Got to disagree with this, having known several folks in person and online who've done it. Online, examples include the guy from www.alljapaneseallthetime.com and the dudes from www.antimoon.com off the top of my head. Ditto this example from Stephen Krashen's website: http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/what_does_it_take.pdf

Basically, the way you do it is to surround yourself with native materials 24/7, and from there on, it's just a question of logging the hours. A buddy of mine did this and got to the point where he passed the proficiency test for being able to teach in the language (Spanish) as a public school teacher, could speak the language fluently to the point where native speakers had trouble believing he didn't have native parent speakers, and decided to raise his newborn daughter bilingually. And this was all in less than two years of daily work. The guy from AJATT did it with Japanese in about the same amount of time.

It takes a lot of work, though, as well as a rock solid level of dedication. You essentially have to trade everything you do in your native language for everything in the second language, which is not a sacrifice most folks are willing to make. My buddy stopped listening to music except for in Spanish, only listened to the radio in Spanish when driving, and used headphones whenever using his computer at home because he was always listening to online radio in Spanish. He only read books in Spanish (children's books, teenage books, adult novels), and watched several telenovelas (Spanish soap operas hundreds of episodes long) start to finish. In other words, he surrounded himself with the language the way the guys above describe (that's the method he followed). In the end, though, it got him where he wanted to go. And in true Mustachian style, he barely spent any money in the whole process.

I can vouch 100% that it's possible to get to the native level in a second language as an adult, and it's not something that takes the rest of one's life to do. However, just like retiring early, it's something that most people believe is impossible because it involves changes they aren't willing to make.

ohyonghao

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #13 on: May 07, 2014, 01:56:40 PM »
I learned Mandarin Chinese as an adult, and I'd say it took daily practice and learning phrases that I used often.  A great thing to do is to spend some time thinking in the language and try to write out things you wish you knew how to say or wish you could say better, and keep a notebook to write down the answers when you speak with native speakers and review them often.

Try making journal entries of the days events in the language and do the same thing as above, keep a small notebook to write down things you don't know how to say or express or wish you could say better.

Spanglish is your friend.  When I was learning Chinese we spoke a lot of Chinglish.  The idea is to keep a conversation going and if both of you understand both languages then Spanglish will work.  With this method you get to hold a conversation with people and not suffer from lack of communication or get frustrated with the inability to express yourself.  Others can helpfully teach you the vocabulary you are missing and you'll learn which words you often want to use that you don't know yet.  The largest problem with vocabulary lists is they either all focus on the same basics or they choose words which you don't use often.

Sometimes, especially with learning Chinese, when people learn a second language they tend to adopt a new voice for that language, I found a lot of other foreigners learning Chinese would speak in an unnaturally high pitch, speaking Chinglish helps bring the pitch and tone down to the same level in both languages.  Not having learned Spanish before I can't say if the same thing is true with other languages.

Reading a familiar book can be helpful, if you like Harry Potter it is available in most languages, although you'll come across quite a bit of unique vocabulary which may throw you off because it is vocabulary unique to the world of Harry Potter.

Another fun game to play is a translating game.  Again you'll need a bi-lingual partner, but you try to test your knowledge by having them say a word in one language and you translate it to the other.  This can work both ways with the partner either saying words in the language you are learning or in English.  It's to help you get quicker at translating the words and not having to stop and think about the words so much.  I also got into live interpretation and at my peak I was sitting between a native Chinese speaker and an American with a pair of the same speaking in front and translating both languages back and forth; to make matters more confusing is the pair in front would occasionally switch back and forth between Chinese and English themselves, which lead to me sometimes repeating what they said without translating, or translating to the wrong person.

I still keep up with my Chinese due to my wife who barely speaks any English, and some coworkers who have caught on to me being fluent.  My first day on the job I was talking to my wife on the phone and when I got done a coworker looked around and said he thought he heard someone with a Taiwan accent, a great compliment to my abilities.  It's always an odd experience when my fame proceeds myself and someone walks up speaking Chinese to me.

brandino29

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2014, 02:09:59 PM »
It takes a lot of work, though, as well as a rock solid level of dedication. You essentially have to trade everything you do in your native language for everything in the second language, which is not a sacrifice most folks are willing to make.

I think this is right on the money.  Rosetta Stone and other language programs are staffed by great marketers who make people believe that learning a foreign language is easy and fun.  It's definitely not easy and generally it's not fun.  I'd say it's like running or dieting is to most people, it's a means to an end that you hope is better or more enjoyable but the activity itself can be monotonous, painful, or both. 

Most people I know who want to learn a foreign language do so just for fun.  I think that's great, it's a great way to help you keep your mind sharp and could provide some extra enjoyment and appreciation out of a trip to a country that speaks that language.  These people will never become fluent and probably not even proficient -- just basic speakers who can carry-on a simple and short conversation with a native speaker.  There is nothing wrong with this at all.  But it's important to understand this going into it.

So, it's important to really tease out what your goals are and why.  I hate to sound cynical about it but I think it's just being realistic.

With all of that said, as for learning a language, there is no better way than to actually go to a country that speaks it natively.  If you want to learn Spanish, spend at least a few months doing an immersion program through a school like IMAC in Mexico where you stay with locals and have classes everyday.  There are small language schools in every reasonably sized city so go somewhere where there aren't a bunch of tourists. 

Personally, I learned Spanish the old fashioned way. I met a girl from Mexico whose family doesn't speak English and quickly discovered that if I wanted to be with her for the long haul I would have to learn it to be able to be a part of her family and friends.  I studied my ass off using self guided books, taking online classes, taking classes in Mexico, and immersing myself for weeks at a time with her family.  Still, more than seven years later I still struggle at times to convey my point.  We speak Spanish almost exclusively with our daughter and about 50 percent of the time by ourselves, but I still feel like I have a long way to go even though her family would consider me to be fluent (there's no hiding that I'm not a native speaker though). 

I also learned French but much more in a traditional way, I studied it for years in school, spent a summer living with a family in France while in high school and again in college where I got a minor.  After college I moved to France and suddenly felt overwhelmed.  As well as I did in school my language ability was still pretty limited.  I lived there for nearly a year with French roommates and co-workers and improved greatly but again, I still struggled sometimes. 

I've also learned that "if you don't use it you lose it" definitely applies to foreign languages.  That was 2006-2007 that I lived in France and I've hardly spoken, read, or listened to it since.  Not so long ago I emailed one of my old roommates to catch up and it took me 20 minutes to write a basic, paragraph long email asking how everything was going. 

Good luck!

brandino29

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #15 on: May 07, 2014, 02:13:33 PM »
Reading a familiar book can be helpful, if you like Harry Potter it is available in most languages, although you'll come across quite a bit of unique vocabulary which may throw you off because it is vocabulary unique to the world of Harry Potter.

I'll second this advice as well.  Funny that you mention Harry Potter because that's exactly what I did with French in college.  I had never read any of them or seen the movie so I figured I could do it in French to kill two birds with one stone.  It turned out to be an amazing experience -- although I was quite surprised when I watched the movies that the names were completely different. 

BikerSaver

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #16 on: May 07, 2014, 02:45:11 PM »
I've been following the advice of Gabriel Wyner. His site & blog have a lot of language resources.  He is also very interested in how memory works as it relates to language acquisition and retention.  His site is http://fluent-forever.com and he wrote an article on lifehacker which is where I first came across him. (http://lifehacker.com/5903288/i-learned-to-speak-four-languages-in-a-few-years-heres-how ).  I'd never spend the money to go to Middlebury but I think a lot of his other suggestions are good and not too expensive.

lhamo

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #17 on: May 07, 2014, 03:46:27 PM »
Agree with immersing yourself in the language as much as possible.  I studied Chinese in university, had about 2.5 years of classes, but was really in over my head on my first trip to Taiwan and later mainland China.  I lived with a local family in Taiwan, and after my 10 hours a day of classes/homework (I was in a very intense program with a strict language pledge) I would eat dinner with them, watch some local TV, and then head off to my room for more homework.  Before bed I put on my earphones and listened to local call in talk radio programs until I fell asleep.  Later, when I got to mainland China, I discovered that the English language version of the news that they had on the central TV station at 10 pm was almost a verbatim translation of the Chinese language news that aired at 7pm  So I would first watch the 7pm broadcast, and then later watch the 10 pm English version to see how much I really understood. 

All of these things, but especially the talk radio listening, very quickly got me to a point where I really heard how the language sounded when spoken by native speakers.  Things like intonation, pace, the little placeholders people thrown in when they are trying to think of what to say -- you pick that stuff up when you hear it a lot, and it isn't what most classes or language programs deliberately teach you.  But boy, does it make you sound more like a native speaker when you can throw it in there.  I spent a lot of time in Sichuan, where lots of people throw in this syllable "ga" at the end of a sentence -- it is basically the local equivalent of "you know?" or "right?" (with valley girl upspeak kind of connotation, though in Chinese it is an emphatic).  I picked that up and it became a natural part of my speech.  It wasn't until I moved to Beijing -- where people don't use it and would look at me quizzically when I did -- that I realized how much I used it.  I dropped it out of everyday use, but I throw it in when I'm speaking to someone from Sichuan still because I like it and people like it when they know I kind of know some Sichuan dialect.

You also need to move as quickly as possible away from thinking in your own language and translating in your head.  Try to think as much as possible in the target language.  Pick a sentence pattern or two and repeat it incessantly in your head with small variations.  "I would like a pound of apples, please.  I would like a pound of plaintains, please.  I would like a pound of garbage, please."  You can have fun with it by making nonsense sentences, but the repetition is really important in terms of absorbing and internalizing the grammatical patterns so that they come out totally naturally and fast when you need them.  If you walk or run, you can incorporate this kind of language practice into your workouts -- personally I find I retain a new pattern better if I can put it to the rhythm of a walking or running tempo.  May seem weird to combine language learning with exercise, but it works for me.

And definitely talk with/listen to your Spanish speaking colleagues as much as you can.  I learned a ton from my Chinese grad school colleagues, and they enjoyed being able to discuss things in Chinese with me, especially as my language level improved and we could even talk theory, etc.  If they aren't completely fluent, it is tiring/draining for them to speak English all day, so having someone they can talk with in Spanish at lunch can be a real treat.


athenap

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #18 on: May 07, 2014, 08:14:08 PM »
I would third Pimsleur recommendation for being able to get conversational skills going. I eventually found it limiting because it's pure audio and I need kinetic aspect of learning, but the habit of forming sentences and speaking them out loud that you pick up while practicing with Pimsleur does actually carry over to an ability to open your mouth in a foreign country and ask for directions or order food (and even understand the reply:)). So for basic conversational skills, Pimsleur from the library gets my vote.

I tried Fluenz CDs for French and while I really liked the style of instruction, learned to write a bit and increase my vocabulary, I felt the lack of conversational aspect was crippling.

Immersion is ideal (worked for me when I immigrated to States 20 years ago :)), but there are some basic building blocks that can probably be picked up through programs like Pimsleur, DuoLingo, Mango, etc, that can help get the ball rolling.

dweebyhawkeyes

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #19 on: May 07, 2014, 09:13:08 PM »
Fantastic thread. Summer quarter includes a Spanish class, and I'm making it my goal to actually learn the language.

In high school I took French, became conversational, but had nobody to talk with besides my teacher. I used to wonder why I picked up the language so "quickly" (took two years) compared to my classmates, but I see some habits I had are included here as tips: thinking in French, consuming French media (music, movies, magazines, and cookbooks), and speaking it often. Trouble is, French is all but useless where I live and I had no actual people to speak with. My French is gone; I lost it. Spanish, however, surrounds me and I feel so lazy for not having learned it yet. It will be useful at my job, schooling, speaking with bilingual friends... I feel optimistic about this. Thanks to everyone for the advice.

Jamesqf

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #20 on: May 07, 2014, 11:09:19 PM »
Take 3 or 4 weeks and stay in a country where they speak the language you want to learn ... once you have a base this is the BEST way to really "get" a language ... from shopping in a fruit/bread/meat market to taking the bus ... your brain will pick up new words even without you realizing it :)

This may or may not work.  My experience was that the minute I tried to say something in the native language, the person I was trying to talk to seized the opportunity to practice their English with a native speaker.

ohyonghao

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #21 on: May 08, 2014, 05:47:15 PM »
Take 3 or 4 weeks and stay in a country where they speak the language you want to learn ... once you have a base this is the BEST way to really "get" a language ... from shopping in a fruit/bread/meat market to taking the bus ... your brain will pick up new words even without you realizing it :)

This may or may not work.  My experience was that the minute I tried to say something in the native language, the person I was trying to talk to seized the opportunity to practice their English with a native speaker.
Yeah, there are those that will take their opportunity to practice their English, especially it seems in some Asian countries, not sure about Europe.  A problem I saw in Taiwan was that many of the foreigners who came to teach English could get by just fine without learning any Chinese.  You go to a restaraunt, you can point at what you want, or many of them have English menu's (always frustrated me having the waiter bring an English menu over for me, but it was fun to surprise them with my fluent Chinese too).

Grocery shopping is just picking up what you want and then looking at the register for how much to pay, no need for language interaction unless you can't find something.  Most of the maps for transportation are done with English also, and the train announces in English, Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Taiwanese.  Some had been there 5+ years and still couldn't say anything more than hello, goodbye, and thank you.

CarDude

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #22 on: May 08, 2014, 06:40:54 PM »
See, I personally agree with the Antimoon perspective that too much contact with the natives can be a negative, depending on the circumstances (e.g., in "sink or swim" situations). They posit that the reason you see lots of 2nd language adults who speak with heavy accents and fossilized errors is because there's a survival tendency in people to learn as much as it takes to be understood, and then to focus on other things. In other words, if you try to learn, say, Russian by moving to Russia and getting a job, you'll most likely learn Russian, but you won't learn it beyond the level at which you can be understood in day to day life. And if that's where you want to end up, that's fine. However, if you're going for native level comprehension and expression, they suggest not rushing speaking and instead focusing on input more, as that's the quickest way to build up the tens of thousands of correct sentences it takes to speak a language natively. It's the same principle behind why you can memorize songs or commercials perfectly if you hear them enough. However, if you rush to speak, you end up making up your own language, which permanently sets you apart from native speakers.

whitewaterchica

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #23 on: May 12, 2014, 10:02:16 AM »
Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the informative responses!! I will be checking my local library this week. The idea of reading books I already love (Harry Potter) in Spanish is one I didn't even consider. I know there's a lot of work ahead but am really excited for the challenge!

kaetana

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #24 on: May 12, 2014, 07:36:14 PM »
I learned Spanish on and off in classroom settings for decades and came away from all of it utterly unable to actually, you know, SPEAK it. Last year I decided to get it to fluency (not native-like, but fluent enough to have a conversation with a native speaker). I did it by quitting my formal classes and spending the money on conversation classes. I used to do a one-on-one conversation class, but then moved on to Italki, where I paid native speakers to speak to me sometimes and also did bilingual verbal exchanges with native Spanish speakers.

I also second the suggestions to immerse yourself in Spanish. Going to live in a Spanish-speaking country was not an option for me, so I attended all the Spanish language events in my city that I could find. I stopped reading English novels and traded them in for YA Spanish ones. I started with books I've already read, so I could pick up the gist even if I didn't know the words. I got the ebook versions so I could get the Kindle app to translate words I didn't recognise. I cancelled my digital subscription to a technology magazine I read and got the Spanish one. I downloaded Spanish podcasts to listen to on the train. I changed the language of my computers and mobile devices to Spanish to force myself to learn terminology.

Good luck! :)

rugorak

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #25 on: May 12, 2014, 07:57:03 PM »
Check out http://www.fluentin3months.com/ as his current "mission" is to document his girlfriend learning her first second language. And he has great resources and insight on what has worked for him and what has not. He has done both going to the country and immersing himself in the language in person as well as going to the wrong place and learning remotely. For example he went to Brazil and learned Egyptian Arabic. He also links to lots of other language learners. He has used resources mentioned such as italki. And had some good things to say about duolingo, etc. In the end it comes to time, effort, and little tricks to get you over the bumps. I've been trying to teach myself German for a while using some of these tools. I have had ok success but primarily because of time. I work full time, live by myself, and am working on a MBA so time is not something I have a ton of.

prefrontalfinance

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #26 on: May 12, 2014, 09:16:57 PM »
I'm a little late to the party, but here is my advice, from my own personal experience, understanding of neuroscience/psychology, and good hard research into the primary literature.

Step 1: Clearly and specifically list your communication goals. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. A vague goal is: have a conversation in Spanish/"learn Spanish". A specific goal could be: In person, be able to ask for directions and understand spoken explanation/Over the telephone, order a take-out dinner from a restaurant/Watching a native drama, understand the basic plot of the episode/Read Harry Potter in Spanish in 1 month.

Goals tend to be focused on 1 or 2 of the 4 "skills" of a target language: Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing.
Goals are specific about the skill level they want to achieve. For example, How quickly can you produce a novel sentence with that grammar pattern (short conversation pause/short stutter/slow and steady/quickly and proficiently)? Do you want to be able to enjoy cartoons/anime (usually spoken more slowly, simpler language targeted to younger viewers) or do you want to be able to watch the equivalent of Game of Thrones with archaic language in a weird accent?

Why is the first step the most important? If you don't know the target skill or the target proficiency, you're going to have difficulty choosing how to practice and when you've reached your goal.

If you don't know your goals yet, I would start some short term ones that you have a high confidence you'll achieve. The other posters have given good advice on the How to Practice side....but you need to be a discerning learner and figure out what the targets are first.

Step 2: Practice, practice, practice. Practice every day. Use an app like HabitRPG or Beeminder if you need motivation help. Language learning can be quick (see your goals!) but it tends to be a long term project that requires consistent effort over several years. The motivation component is important to your momentum, or at least, to not slide backwards (I am in this phase with one of my languages right now....and I'm ok with that!)

Free/cheap resources:
SRS Algorithms (explanation: http://www.gwern.net/Spaced%20repetition) - Anki, Memrise, Duolingo, etc. etc. Use spaced repetition for vocab memorization, sentence formulae memorization, exposure to audio or audiovisual materials. I think Anki has one of the best SRS algorithms and communities out there, I've also used Duolingo a bit. I think Duolingo is a complementary thing but maybe not strong enough on it's own. It does try to get at all 4 skills which is good.
Lang-8 : writing and reading practice. Have your writing corrected by native speakers. Great for putting up assignments from a textbook (free corrections) or for daily diary entries.
RhinoSpike: Listening practice. Any text you have in the target language (eg, conversation in a workbook), put it up there, and a native speaker will record themselves reading it. Pros: Multiple speakers with slightly different accents, Male/Female, can request slow or fast reading speed. These features are important for language learning. Cons: Works best with short texts, as its free, and people don't want to spend as much time reading long things.
Skype: There are millions of people out there willing to be your language buddy. Make sure you clearly define which skype sessions are for their English, and which for your Spanish to avoid the 'tug of war' (http://www.thepolyglotdream.com/how-language-exchange-is-like-tug-of-war-guest-post/) Other commenters have espoused Spanglish, but I would encourage you to set a very high bar for yourself for when you will 'cave' and use an English word. Circumlocution, asking your convo partner "you know that thing...?", dictionary lookup, etc.

Other peoples' good advice/more background:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_learning_in_language_acquisition (Adults also learn this way - the immersion technique isn't wrong! It's just, as some others have said, not always enough on it's own to reach goals)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speech_perception (Focus mostly on the two parts about variation between male/female/child speakers and how phoneme inventories vary between languages)
http://confusedlaowai.com/2012/06/four-strands-language-learning/
http://ilearnmandarin.blogspot.com/2013/01/developing-advanced-language-skills.html

Hope this doesn't turn into a tl:dr post :/ Oh well.

kyanamerinas

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Re: Tried and true way to learn a second language?
« Reply #27 on: May 13, 2014, 01:23:25 AM »
All great advice, I really recommend chatting to your Spanish work colleagues. Let them know you're learning and willing to learn, say what you can to them and ask them to help you, maybe recommend things to read, listen to, watch, places to go. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, it will happen but most people are very accepting. If conversational Spanish is what you want, get speaking as soon as possible, however basic.

Learn a few basic sentences and use them with different nouns, for example 'I would like' 'Where is' 'I like' 'I have' then change them to 'You like' 'You would like' 'You have' then 'he/she/they/we'. This helps both sentence structure, noun learning and verb conjugation. I used to do it throughout the day in my head rather than making it rote learning in solid blocks which would be boring.

Be actively aware of language in your everyday life, for example make a note of words and phrases you often use in English then find them out in Spanish. Choose one or two each day or so and be alert for them in conversation, when they come up think about the Spanish equivalent.

Discover what you find interesting in the language. I love idioms so I often listen out for them then look them up in my second language (German). This keeps me learning and interested, plus I often learn new vocabulary and cultural information along with it. It might be that you find etymology interesting, which is where words come from. I like to find the similarities and differences in common words between various European languages. Looking up the history of a word can help you understand it better and lead to you learning more words, for example other related nouns or verbs.

As others have said, it's about creating an immersion environment, but not only around you but in your head. I used to do a short run through (present or past tense depending on language level) of my day in my head just before bed. If you're a list maker, make them in Spanish (to do, shopping etc). When you're shopping imagine how you might have made yourself understood in Spanish (this is the key, not being perfect initially but making yourself understood. It's such a confidence boost).