How to Learn a Language/Introduction

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Once you have set your mind on it, learning a language can actually be surprisingly simple. The first step is to approach it as a fun challenge. Get excited and be confident about learning something new and it will make the whole process a lot easier.

Technology can also make learning a language a lot easier. Audio players are a great aid for those spending time in transit or trying to learn a language while doing something like cleaning, and provide good models for speaking practice.

Even working 8 hours a day, getting 8 hours of sleep and allowing for one to two hours driving to and from work leaves you with about 40 hours a week. Your schedule may vary for better or worse, but you will almost certainly have some moments of down time during your day. During those free minutes, put in the cassette tape or CD, or review some vocabulary briefly using flash cards. It will make a world of a difference. Buy some books, a learning guide, and some cassette tapes or CDs. Then make sure to make time for practicing your new skills. Write letters to yourself, or carry on conversations in your head.

As a learner you are putting together a mosaic of brightly coloured pieces that will fit together into meaningful shapes. Small and clunky at first, but bigger and more natural as you make progress. When they start moving and interacting with you, take on life, you are well on your way to mastering the language. And remember that every shape you make, however primitive it might seem to you, can be used in real life - nothing is wasted.

There are several basic methods of learning a language. Along with the information on the bottom, keep in mind which method/approach you are using. Methods are rarely encountered in "pure" form.

Natural method[edit]

The natural method does not focus on grammar and pronunciation. Instead, the user of this method learns a whole lot of vocabulary and phrases which he/she uses whenever the time is appropriate. Pronunciation and grammar will come when the person speaks more with others and starts to understand the language. A relatively undemanding way to develop a working knowledge, provided you are constantly surrounded by fluent users and have a retentive memory for words.

Old-style classroom method[edit]

In this method, people learn grammar (with some vocabulary) and build on that until the whole language is learned. This method is usually performed with a teacher who knows the language. This method is the most time-consuming of all the methods, and emphasizes the formal written language.

Pattern method[edit]

This method is where people learn languages from a mathematical standpoint. They combine words and phrases as if combining numbers. This requires specially developed materials and well-trained teachers.

Insight method[edit]

This modern approach tries to combine the best of the other methods. Using interesting materials (texts, spoken word, video scenes) the learner is encouraged to talk about, write about, and act out the situations presented, using words, phrases and grammatical forms that occur naturally in the context. Difficulties are discussed with the teacher where appropriate, if necessary in the learner's own language, even though the use of the language being learned is encouraged whenever possible in the learning situation.

Discredited methods[edit]

Nowadays, discredited methods are those based entirely on one approach, such as parrot-like repetition, detailed grammatical analysis, translation to or from a language instead of free composition or discussion. Repetition, grammar, and translation are all useful tools but only work in moderation and in combination with focus on understanding and communication. Though these are discredited there is still widespread use of these methods across the world.

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