Notes on Learning a Language (Part 1)

Here are some notes on how to learn a foreign language. It is a compilation of points from a number of different resources and websites, as well as my own personal experiences and suggestions. It is a seemingly random list, but hopefully it may help people brainstorm how they should approach learning new languages or find their target language.Of course, this is more relevant for the languages I have studied and points may not be important for the language you are focusing on. I will most likely mention Swedish a lot since that is the language I am focusing on at the moment.

  • Know your learning style
    • There are lists and methods and theories of lots of different learning styles, but it comes down on how you approach learning new things and how you perfect using this knowledge or skill. Are you very hands on? Audio-visual? A listener and not a reader? A lot of it may be trial and error.
  • Learn pronunciation before you learn words
    • By learning this you will have a much easier time conversing, which is (at least in my opinion) the ultimate goal. Learning actual words can come later. Pronouncing words and listening how they are pronounced before knowing what they mean, from my experience, helps in the long run. Make recordings of yourself pronouncing words, reading or speaking freely and listen to your voice.
  • Learn the order of the words [of simple statements and questions]
    • Many languages split up into an arrangement of a Verb, a Subject and an Object. The order depends on the language as well as if the sentence is a question or a statement, for example, but generally speaking, languages can be categorised into one of the six groups (SVO-VSO-VOS-SOV-OSV-OVS)
    • Examples:
      • VSO: Irish, Biblical Hebrew (not Modern Hebrew), and Arabic
      • SOV: German, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, and Korean
    • There are also constructs such as V2 languages, but I won’t go into detail about those or the other orders. Swedish (and Nordic languages) often have this construct though.
  • Learn the most common words using frequency lists
    • These lists can be split up into spoken and written. There are statistics on film subtitles, modern books, television subtitles (Teletext), and so on. There are many, many lists, for many languages. For Swedish, check out Kelly, which also splits up over 8000 words by level (A1, A2 etc.)  in a convenient Excel. Learning the first couple hundred can be useful but I wouldn’t just study the list since some words can have multiple meanings or there is no perfect translation and context is needed. Also, just memorizing words is less effective than using the words in a sentence (make those neurons connect). Over time though, learning the top 100 or 1000 will be necessary as you advance.
  • Write 15 or 20 words ten times, twice each day
    • Those numbers are made up, but the point is repetition. The more you repeat something the more likely you are to remember it. As mentioned above, just memorizing words without connecting it with other words or memories may be less effective. Writing also creates a connection of some sort (maybe typing does too)
  • Listen to (good) music
    • Listening to music can be nice, but once you start listening and understanding lyrics in a language other than your mother tongue or second language, it becomes more fun. Youtube, Spotfiy, and a other services have public playlists and radio stations that you can listen to in your target language. Often searching for “svenska sånger” or an artist will pull a playlist or at least some songs in target language.
  • Visit forums and communities in your target language
    • lurk – verb: To view an internet forum without posting comments
    • Lurk first to get a feeling of the community; post later, if ever
    • This will allow you to learn the culture (internet culture is different from real life) and there can be something you disagree with or even shocks you, though there are many friendly and open communities for language learners and cultures.
  • Listen to a book while you read it

End of Part 1! Part 2 can be found here (does not exist yet).

Now enjoy these videos!

Hasse Andersson – Guld och gröna skogar

Veronica Maggio – Måndagsbarn

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Notes on Learning a Language (Part 1)

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