Learning Words (Intermediate)

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In this episode, Steve talks about learning words which is the fundamental task in language learning.

I’d like to talk a little bit more about words.

Learning words, really, is the fundamental task in language learning. The words are the meaning. The words?how they work together, how they change form in some languages, what prepositions they take, getting familiar with the words, the meaning of the words, I mean, this is the fundamental task and there are so many words.

And we have A.J., who has a very exciting blog called Effortless Learning and is now working on learning Spanish and, of course, he sent me a little comment where he sort of said how frustrating it is when you can’t seem to remember the words that you’re learning. If that’s true for him in learning Spanish where there are a lot of words in common with English, it’s an even bigger problem for people who are Chinese speakers or Japanese speakers trying to learn English where there is very little in the way of common vocabulary. And, of course, it’s the same for me now learning Russian where there is very little common vocabulary.

So, I talked a little bit in two blogs here about some strategy. But, first of all, I think attitude, again, is very important.

Don’t give up; don’t get frustrated. You will find it difficult to retain words. You will learn the same word 10 times. It will be frustrating to lookup a word and then realize that you have already seen that word. What’s the solution? Well, in the first period of language learning you have to listen to a limited, a small amount of content, over and over again. And you should read it and you should lookup the words, not in a dictionary that you thumb through like the old-style dictionaries, but using an online dictionary or using readers that have word lists. So, you have this limited content.

You read it, you listen to it, you make lists of the words or you have lists of the words, you study these individual bits and pieces and then you go back to listening and reading. And, hopefully, you have the patience and you have a strong enough desire to learn the language that you can do this. And you take–I have my iPod with me now with Russian wherever I go and I have listened to some items 30 or 40 times. So, that’s the initial stage. It’s that very intensive stage where you’re focusing on a small amount of content; but then, the next stage.

After a while, you can’t do that anymore. After a while, it’s just too boring.

So, now, you are at the stage now where you’ve learned to say hello, how are you? My name is such and such. But, now, you need to increase your vocabulary so you can actually talk about meaningful things or read meaningful things. Now here, as much as possible, try to find interesting content that you select. You have to be in charge. As long as you are waiting for someone to teach you, you will never learn. So, nowadays, there are Podcasts. There is all kinds of content on the Internet. At The Linguist we have a huge library, which we will continue to expand. Select something of interest. Select something that is just a little difficult for you. We make this easier for people to do at The Linguist.

So, now, instead of listening 30 times to the same content item, you may only listen three or four times. And you may progress through five or six items, not necessarily understanding everything or learning every word, and then you go back to the first one again.

But, throughout it all, the key concept or one of the key ideas that I think all language learners have to have is that when you are learning a foreign language, there will always be uncertainty. There will always be–you know, the language is a little fuzzy. You don’t fully understand why the words come together that way. New words seem so difficult to remember because the sounds, the combination of sounds in those words, are so different from your own language. It just seems to frustrate you.

You have to remember that everything that is frustrating in the language, everything that is difficult to learn, will, over time, become easier. Your task is to stay with it. Everything you can do that helps you stay with it is going to help you in the long run. That is why we place so much emphasis on finding content that is interesting, so that at least if you can enjoy the listening and reading, then you will be less frustrated at your inability to remember everything. And move along, even though you haven’t mastered the last chapter or the last content item, move along to the next, do three or four and then go back to the first one. And, if you do this, if you continue doing it, you will gradually accumulate words. You will not lose.

Your vocabulary will grow. It will not decline.

Anyway, that’s a start on this subject. And I look forward to hearing questions or contents from others and, if there’s interest, I’ll maybe have another little chat on this subject.

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