یادگیری زبان رایگان و ارزان ورژن دومکتاب: سلاست در سه ماه / فصل 11
یادگیری زبان رایگان و ارزان ورژن دوم
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CHAPTER 10: Free and Cheap Language Learning 2.0
Study a new language beyond spoken practice sessions with invaluable—and mostly free—resources.
It’s time to discuss the final piece of the puzzle missing from your language learning artillery—the tools you need to study and learn with.
One of the first things people ask when learning a language is what courses they should buy. The good news is that you can actually start learning your language today, right now, for free or at very little cost. As you have seen in most of this book, language courses are greatly overshadowed by my advice to use the language, ideally with another human being—and conversational practice can be found in many instances for free. Even in this final chapter, I don’t want to present some particular course as able to solve all your problems, but I will discuss other resources for learning a language and improving your skills in that language.
You can get started right away by creating your language learning logs, learning conversational connectors, using good free online dictionaries, finding interesting examinations to take in order to motivate you to push toward a particular level, and implementing spaced repetition learning. And, finally, you can expose yourself to genuine native content in that language.
Cheap Generic Courses vs. Expensive Courses
I get asked all the time my opinion on particular well-marketed language learning courses, especially by Americans overwhelmed by marketing and advertising campaigns. In my experience, the price of a course and its quality, usefulness, and results are not related. In fact, my favorite first resources, which I would buy in a target language, come cheap (between five and thirty dollars) and provide excellent teaching materials.
I’ve tried Rosetta Stone, for instance. There are some useful bits in it, but far too many aspects of it I didn’t like at all. Overall I can’t say that a higher price point delivers better results than much more affordable book courses. There are also completely free courses, just as good or better, such as the ones at Duolingo.com.
One thing that is generally effective, if you do spend a lot of money, is the purely psychological effect of feeling more pressure to work harder because you’ve spent so much money. How effective this truly is, is debatable (you can’t throw money at all your problems), and I find I get the same kind of pressure from simply being public about my project.
As such, the tools I recommend for learning a language are the following books, which you can get at your local bookshop or on Amazon.com: For an absolute beginner (phrases and words, with very brief grammatical overview), I suggest a Lonely Planet, Collins, Berlitz, or Assimil phrase book.
Colloquial and Teach Yourself are two basic book courses that provide very good representations of the dialogues tourists are likely to have, and they introduce you to some basic grammar. The presentation is friendly, and they teach what you essentially need to know.
Assimil also creates excellent language learning courses, and I especially like how they indicate the level you are aiming for on the CEFRL scale. As such, I have used Assimil in both the early and later stages of learning, although they have more versatile courses in French, so I use the laddering technique discussed in chapter 9 with this.
Of course, some books, courses, and materials can be better than others depending on the language you are learning. Make sure to see the language-specific summaries at fi3m.com/langs that expand on the language introductions from chapter 6 and go on to mention recommended learning resources.
The Perfect Learning Approach
The courses I listed in the previous section are generic courses in that they provide exactly the same content for vastly different language learners. This is why I recommend that you use them not only as a beginner but also between sessions of doing something more direct with your language.
No course, no matter how convincing its marketing may be, can be the one all-encompassing solution to your language learning problems. This is why I focus on speaking, and I use studying these types of books as my generic improvement for a few hours. But I spend the majority of my hours either speaking the language, fixing particular issues I had in a spoken session or in independent study, or addressing issues I may not find in these courses.
You have to find your own learning style, and that’s why I recommend you experiment, but do so in such a way that it is affordable and well directed. A huge problem many language learners have is hoarding language learning material and feeling that they can experiment a little with it all. As mentioned previously, a survey that I ran on my blog clearly showed that successful language learners were more likely to be those who used less language learning material.
And as I’ve said, any time you spend researching the best materials to buy will have been better spent actually practicing the language.
I don’t give the previous or following recommendations as examples of the one and only way to learn a language, but as guidelines you should consider that I have found work for many people. Even if there is theoretically a perfect course out there for you, it would be wiser to spend your time on an okay course and really make progress, than spend all your time and energy searching for that perfect course. Your energy should go into language learning, not course research. Buy an affordable course (or find a free online alternative, such as Duolingo), use it, and get active in other ways with your language learning!
What About My Learning Style?
The courses I recommend are very visual: you read the rules and sentences as the majority of your input. Audio CDs may be included, but these are accessories to the main book-based course. I have found this works for me, but there are major problems with a visual learning approach, especially for languages that use the same script as your mother tongue; you have that mother tongue bias on how the words “should” be pronounced.
This is why many people opt for an entirely audio-based learning approach. I find this way is more efficient for those with a conversational focus, but there is still a lack of good materials. For those learning (Mandarin) Chinese, for instance, I find that Chinesepod.com—which has podcasts for learning Mandarin—does this excellently in various language levels with entirely audio-based explanations. Similarly, Japanesepod101.com does the same for Japanese. Both of these are paid access podcasts. Other audio-based courses include Pimsleur and Michel Thomas, both of which don’t rely on visual cues at all and get you more focused on the sounds of the language, which has huge advantages for communication-focused learners. These may or may not be worth the investment, depending on the language version and your learning style.
Beyond audio, there are methods that involve leaving courses and teachers or tutors aside altogether and deconstructing natural speech or text yourself. This option is way too difficult for most people, including me. I do think we need some kind of learner-oriented guidance in language learning, up to the B1-B2 level.
The trick is that there is no perfect answer; it depends on style. If you think you can learn better through visual means, see the books I recommend, and if you appreciate audio learning more, use podcasts or audio-based courses or, ideally, focus on getting private spoken lessons or engaging in a free exchange, since that would be way more interactive and tailored to your specific needs.
Apart from the course you use, you should definitely have a goal with your language learning project, as I discussed in detail in chapter 2.
With this in mind, go to fi3m.com/forum and announce your mission to the world there! You can also go to Wordpress.com and create your own free blog, then link to it in Facebook. Or you can just make brief updates on your progress within Facebook or on another social media site. Some people prefer to write about their progress, while others prefer to post video updates on YouTube, or audio updates on SoundCloud if they consider themselves to be more audiophiles with their languages.
Even if you are not public about it, document your experience in some way that helps you feel a sense of achievement. Even just writing or typing in a private diary can make a world of difference.
Language Social Networking
As well as the Fluent in 3 Months forum, which is one of the most encouraging and active language learning forums online for those with a spoken focus in language learning, you can try How-to-Learn-Any-Language.com for a more technical focus, or search for forums specific to the language you are learning.
Whatever you do, don’t take on this language learning challenge alone! When you see others struggling at the same level as you, they can be comrades to relate to. Others ahead of you can give you the advice you need to solve a particular problem you may be having right now, and you can feel proud of your level by helping those a little behind you.
Engaging in forums, such as those mentioned previously, commenting on blogs, tweeting, joining Facebook groups, and generally discussing language learning in any online community can give you what you need and help you understand your current problems.
As well as this: never forget in-person meet-ups!
Anthony Lauder, a Brit living in Prague who reads my blog, introduced me to a great way to learn essential vocabulary. Conversational connectors help your side of the conversation expand beyond single-word answers.
As you can imagine, if someone asks you a question, you may only be able to provide a single-word answer, which abruptly ends the flow of the conversation. I might ask you how old you are, and you could say “Thirty-one” or “Thirty-one. You?” Or I might ask “How are you?” and you could say “Well” and feel bad that you are providing such short answers.
Conversational connectors are words or set phrases you learn in advance to help a conversation flow much more smoothly. These not only add buffer to a conversation, so you are speaking more, but they also help the other person feel like he or she is not doing most of the talking.
The initial examples Anthony gave me that can be applied in a versatile manner were to answer the two questions “How is your food?” and “Where are you from?” He suggested that we answer the first not with “Good,” but with “Thanks for asking. To tell you the truth, I must say that the food is good. Let me ask you the same question: What do you think of your food?” And answer the second not with “England” but with “To tell you the truth, I’m from England. Thanks for asking. Let me ask you: Where are you from?” As you can see, we are using the exact same connector phrases, which are not directly relevant to the current conversation but are very effective in keeping the conversation flowing and establishing intimacy.
There are quite a lot of different conversational connectors you can learn or come up with yourself to fill otherwise silent moments in a conversation or expand on very short answers. In English we have many “filler” words, like “you know,” “well,” “so,” which don’t actually add any information to a sentence, but they make the interchange sound more relaxed. I always try to learn these as soon as possible to help with my sentence flow.
Anthony came up with the examples below, and as such they are sometimes more relevant to him (for example, he refers to what his wife has said). You can easily imagine similar phrases yourself that will be useful in keeping your conversation flowing with more than single-word answers. I would recommend you take this list and add in one or two examples of your own that you might use in that situation. Then translate them to your target language and learn those words as early as you can, since this will enable you to keep conversations flowing, even as a beginner.
To help you, I’ve provided translations of these examples in more than two dozen languages at fi3m.com/connectors.
Don’t be upset, but . . .
It was a slip of the tongue.
I said it by mistake.
I am sorry that . . .
One hundred percent.
In no way . . .
That isn’t true at all.
That is an exaggeration.
I really can’t believe that.
In principle that is true, but . . .
Admittedly that is true, but . . .
That’s one way to say it.
Only up to a certain point.
Certainly. Why not?
That is all there is to say.
That is all for now.
To sum up . . .
And there is the problem.
I hope it is only a matter of time.
That remains to be seen.
That is to say . . .
Nevertheless . . .
Even though . . .
That sounds like . . .
And that is why . . .
Thank you very much.
That is a good question.
That is such a difficult question.
Once upon a time, long ago . . .
Can you tell me please . . . ?
Would you be interested in us talking about something else?
And what do you think?
To tell you the truth . . .
I presume that . . .
I hope that . . .
In my opinion . . .
If that is true . . .
I don’t know exactly.
I would like to think that . . .
The way I see it is that . . .
As you may know . . .
I don’t have a big interest in that.
If I understand correctly . . .
As you already know . . .
Frankly speaking . . .
Between you and me . . .
Anyway . . .
Well then . . .
Well, as a matter of fact . . .
How can I put it?
I must say that . . .
First . . .
Second . . .
I would like you to know that . . .
I am afraid that . . .
Now and then it seems to me that . . .
After all . . .
As far as I am concerned . . .
More and more . . .
Actually . . .
All joking aside . . .
Now seriously . . .
To be more precise . . .
And what’s more . . .
Since I am already talking about it . . .
I would like to emphasize that . . .
Should I explain in greater detail?
Allow me to say it another way.
That isn’t such a big problem.
That is a matter of opinion.
As far as I know . . .
I have the impression that . . .
It is usually true that . . .
You never know, but . . .
I haven’t thought about it before, but . . .
If I am not mistaken . . .
I am not certain whether . . .
Like every other man/woman . . .
I have my own opinion on it, but . . .
I am not an expert, but . . .
She said something like . . .
My wife/husband pointed out that . . .
Recently, I heard that . . .
My better half said . . .
Now it occurs to me that . . .
By the way . . .
I have an interesting story about it.
And besides that . . .
Oh, I nearly forgot . . .
And one more thing . . .
On the other hand . . .
There are countless free online or app-based dictionaries you can get access to. The following are some that I have found useful: Wordreference.com: The most versatile in terms of number of languages. The dictionary itself can be very useful, but I also find the forum that discusses particular words and expressions to be helpful when something doesn’t come up in the dictionary itself.
Wikipedia: A surprisingly great option on Wikipedia is to look up particular place names, technical accessories, and many common items in the language of interest and then see the list of translations available in the left-hand bar of the main article’s page. The translated article title is enough to give you a good translation. This is especially useful when a single word can mean multiple things.
Google Translate or Bing Translator: You should never rely on automatic translations for most of your work, but they are good for getting the gist. I generally have Google Translate open while I’m having a live Skype session or use it to help me understand long texts I may find online.
Book-based dictionaries: When I start to learn a language, I find that the dictionary at the end of my phrase book (Lonely Planet, Berlitz, Assimil, Collins, etc.) tends to include the most essential vocabulary and be small enough to take with me in my pocket (although apps on my smartphone are obviously more versatile). Book dictionaries are harder to keep updated and may miss lots of important words unless they are very large and bulky, so I would recommend using digital alternatives beyond pocket dictionaries.
Monolingual dictionaries: The previous options are mostly for bilingual dictionaries. That is to say, you look up the word to find its translation, whether that is to or from your native language. When reading or hearing words, though, once you pass a certain level (usually for me, it’s from B1 and up), you should opt to use monolingual dictionaries: Spanish–Spanish or French–French, etc. This will greatly facilitate the process through which you attempt to think through that language and not through translations the entire time.
Image searching: When you use your favorite search engine, you can set it to search for images rather than web pages. For beginners, this can be a great way to understand the meaning of a word without going through your native language, and you get used to not thinking via translations. In this case, use the search engine in that language. For instance, go to Google.fr for the French version of Google, Google.es for the Spanish one, etc., and click to image-search in that language.
Particular language dictionaries: The extent of free online or app-based dictionaries that are better for particular languages is too long to include here and may change with time, so check out fi3m.com/dict to see a list of the best dictionaries per language, both for bilingual and monolingual options.
Many More Resources
“The difference between a stumbling block and a stepping stone is how high you raise your foot.”
Don’t let choosing which book or course to use be a stumbling block that slows you down for any reason. It should simply be a stepping stone that is part of your greater language learning journey, most of which involves practice, studying from other sources, and, hopefully, making good friends for life.
While many people think that the course or tool you buy is what decides your success in language learning, I hope I’ve shown you in this book that the greatest tool of all is your persistence and willingness to use the language with real people—or at least with real native books or native audiovisual media.
Even though a perfect language learning tool doesn’t exist, you can definitely get further with good tools. The ones I’ve listed in this chapter are only some examples, but new ones crop up all the time, especially in the digital age where online cheap or free options are becoming more and more plentiful.
As such, I’ll keep an up-to-date list of my favorite ways to help you learn languages more efficiently, as well as more thoughts that expand on concepts introduced in this chapter, and reviews of the best known language products, at fi3m.com/ch-10.