It’s 3 am on Saturday and I’m wide awake after drinking an iced espresso drink past my cutoff time of 4 pm. It never ends well. While the washing machine is spinning, the woofer lies on the couch in hopes that this new found energy will soon wear off, I am going over my language learning schedule for the next week. Gathering online resources and sifting through workbooks, I figured out that three methods work for me when it comes to learning a new language: reading, writing and listening.
For starters, vocabulary and grammar books have always spiked my interest. In 2016, I am still learning new words in English, Spanish, and French. I obsessively check my grammar and revise my work, almost to a fault. In addition, rather than learning a new language through one of my mother tongues, I learn other languages through a language I am still learning, in this case, French. For example, not only does this help improve my French, but it is also essential to the translating skills I hope to acquire.
While many suggest learning conversational phrases and connectors and leaving the grammar for later, I believe you can have a healthy balance of both. Of course, our main goal is to converse, but as for me, I would also like to effectively communicate through writing as well. The Goldlist method is another strategy for learning vocabulary, although many believe this is better suited for advanced language learners. I say why not challenge yourself and give it a go?!
As always, if you are in need of a physical book it goes without saying that your local library can assist you. Some libraries and schools offer access to Mango Languages, which is essentially a better and free version of Rosetta Stone. By the way, never buy Rosetta Stone. That's just my two Euros.
Before you go on and drill your pretty little brain with vocabulary and grammar lists, understand that it means nothing if you do not know how a language sounds. Find something that you will stick with and for many people listening to music, podcasts or watching movies with subtitles fills this void. I often play video games on my phone, which is why I love Duolingo because I don't just improve my skills, I level up. Woot! Usually, the beta languages can only be accessed via their website. Still, it is a great way to take your language learning wherever you go. No excuses!
There are several websites I can recommend as they are my favorites and the most engaging:
- Internet Polyglot (http://www.internetpolyglot.com)
- I found this website by accident and spent about 4 hours one night going through vocabulary flash cards and playing memory games in Russian and Dutch. This is a great way to jump-start your goldlist. It's also available as an app for iPhone and Android. (Price: Free)
- Fluent in 3 Months (http://www.fluentin3months.com)
- Please look up Benny Lewis, the Irish Polyglot. He's awesome and when I grow up and I want to be just like him. If you think you are too old to learn a language, think again. His story is inspiring and he has created an impressive online polyglot community. He does have a premium content on his site, which I am test driving at the moment. So far, so good. (Price: Free for limited content and message boards; Fee for premium)
- Live Lingua (https://www.livelingua.com)
- On of my late night wild internet goose chases, I came across a website where you can find tons of courses in several languages that include a workbook, audio, and video. There are three different types of courses:
- This is a set of comprehensive language courses created for the U.S. State Department to train diplomats. When I came across this my little heart sang with joy. Many of the courses include audio and video, for free.99.
- Similar to FSI; however, this caters to military and law enforcement and can be used as supplemental language learning tools.
- Peace Corps Language Archive
- In this set, you will find hundreds of languages including Wolof, llokano, and Kreol (Creole).
- Tatoeba (http://tatoeba.org/cmn)
- A collaborative collection of sentences and translations. (Price: Free)
- Speechpool (http://speechpool.net/en/)
- Need to improve your translation skills (deja vu)? Write about the topics you care about, share your expertise, while helping others. Genius! (Price: Free)
What about apps?!!
As I mentioned above, Duolingo is great. It combines grammar, vocabulary, speaking, writing and to some extent translating skills. I started learning Russian this way when it was still in beta. With Russian, I was able to switch between phonetic and Cyrillic spelling, which helped me learn the Cyrillic alphabet quickly.
Below is a screenshot of the language apps I currently use on iOS. I'll list the ones whose name have been cut off.
- 100 Questions Orthographe by Méthodos (French)
- Dictionary Plus (Arabic)
- Diccionario de la Real Academia Español (DRAE). A big shout out to my friend, illustrator, artist and graphic storyteller Salvador Castío for recommending this one. (Android, currently does not appear in the App Store?)
- iTranslate Voice Translator & Dictionary by Sonico Mobile (there's a lite/free version also)
- La Conjugaison (French)
- Speak and Translate (Parlez & Traduisez on the screen; the one with the microphone) by Apalon
One last recommendation: don't be afraid to look up children's books and tv shows in the language you are trying to learn! Have you ever watched Sesame Street (Sesamstraße) in German? It's all kinds of amazing. Admittedly, I was hesitant because I didn't want to feel stupid having to resort to using children's books for basic language phrases, but I soon noticed that I was naive for thinking that. After all, you didn't wake up speaking your mother tongue did you?