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Mark and Steve talk about language learning systems that are available and why they believe LingQ is a better way to go.
Mark: Hello everyone.
Mark here again for the EnglishLingQ podcast.
As usual, I’m joined by Steve.
Steve: Hi there.
Mark: Hi Steve. What’s new today?
Steve: Well you know one thing I thought we would talk about, because we always say LingQ is the best place to learn languages and we probably shouldn’t say that, you know, because people are always a little bit sort of put off when you say my thing is the best, even though we think it’s the best, so maybe we should talk about why we think it’s the best.
Steve: People will, in any case, form their own opinion.
Mark: Absolutely and the reality is that, you know, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Steve: There’s an expression.
Mark: And, you know, obviously people have learned languages using many different methods; however, having said that, we do still believe ours is the most efficient way to learn.
Steve: Well, that’s right.
But, you know, it’s not uncommon for people to use more than one method too and, in many ways, a lot of these methods are complimentary.
For example, I can see people who are enrolled at say a university studying Spanish, Chinese or Russian, who would also use LingQ as a supplement.
Or people who enjoy listening to podcasts, ESL Pod or, you know, Spanish Pod and because those programs have exercises, maybe they don’t want to do those exercises.
Maybe they come over to our system, maybe they even import some of that content into LingQ in order to get the advantages of our way of the savings of words and highlighting of words and flash carding and statistics.
All of that works, so I think we can mix and match; I think people do.
I learn only at LingQ, because I find that it has everything I need.
But, yeah, not everyone is going to do that.
And I think, yeah, fundamentally and you’ve said this many times, the biggest factor in learning a language is motivation.
If someone is motivated and truly wants to learn and is willing to put the time in they’re going to learn no matter which method they use.
Having said that, obviously, we feel if the equivalent amount of time is spent on our system it will generate better results, but certainly the first thing is to be motivated.
In a way, a lot of what we do at LingQ is there to get people motivated, because we know that once they’re motivated they’re going to learn better.
Steve: But you know what’s interesting about motivation and, as you know, I have a tendency that whatever I’ve recently read about then becomes my new religion.
But having read this book by Manfred Spitzer on the brain — this is research, this is not just somebody with some ideas and I mentioned this, in fact, in a post that I did in Japanese today — the brain anticipates what’s going to happen and if the result is better…if we’re in a conversation and you start speaking I kind of know what you’re going to say.
If I see you I can actually anticipate what you’re going to do, we know that.
These are what we call mirror neurons or whatever, we anticipate.
But if the result is better than our anticipation we get a great sense of success and of motivation.
Our method of learning, whereby people are exposed to a lot of content, they listen to it, they read it, they save words and phrases, they review them and pretty soon they start to notice more things in the language, this is almost an unanticipated experience so that it’s very motivating.
As you start to understand more and more of the language, in fact, you start to feel a great sense of motivation.
Mark: And I…
Steve: Just let me finish.
I think learning that way is motivating; whereas, when you try to memorize a declension table or a rule and you keep on forgetting it, that’s not motivating, that’s very discouraging.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely, although I think that’s obviously the traditional approach to language learning.
You know we’ve all been there in French class listening to our teacher run through the…conjugate the verbs and so on and if we look at a lot of the systems available on the Web right now, there isn’t a lot of that happening in those systems.
I think people recognize that kind of approach is…that people don’t enjoy doing that, for starters.
Whether they believe like we do that that approach is useless, I guess we don’t know, but they don’t tend to have the heavy grammar-based approach on a lot of the other sites that we see.
But what they do do is…
Mark: …it’s just very simplistic.
Like the amount of material that’s covered…you know, they’ve got sort of gimmicky pictures and is this a dog or, you know…, it’s so very basic and simple.
Mark: Even if you were to complete all of the courses or assignment or what have you on these other sites, you’re still nowhere.
The biggest difference that I see on LingQ is that we have this enormous library.
Steve: And growing.
Mark: And growing all the time of material of the language that you’re trying to learn.
There are no shortcuts, it’s mostly about vocabulary and you can’t learn the language from vocabulary lists and you can’t learn the language from a set of six lessons each attached to a picture.
Steve: Yeah, that’s the problem.
They sort of almost treat the language as something that’s finite.
If you’ve learnt these 20 lessons then you’ve learnt the language; whereas, it’s not finite at all.
It’s constant and ongoing and you need a huge amount of content.
But we do get people who say, well where are the grammar explanations?
I need more grammar.
People are conditioned to look for grammar explanations and they’re not prepared to say well, you know even with a grammar explanation you’re still going to get it wrong, you still won’t understand it.
You won’t understand it until the brain has had enough of it that the brain has figured it out.
Now that’s not to say that some degree of grammar explanation isn’t useful and I still recommend that people buy the smallest grammar book they can find and occasionally leaf through it.
Mark: Or find a site on the Web.
There’s lots of grammar…
Steve: Or a site on the Web, well that’s right.
I mean you try and look at verbs in French or Spanish or look at a table for any verb, spend half an hour looking at it, you’re never going to remember it.
So when you go to write and it’s the third person singular in the past tense or the future or the conditional, you may still want to go to that Website.
Spanish verbs, put in the verb “poder” and then what is the third person past tense.
Look it up if you’re writing, it’s going to always be there; it’s handy, it’s at your fingertips.
Or you have a book handy and you look it up and over time, over time, seeing it, using it, hearing it, eventually it’s going to drop in there, but not because you read the explanation.
I mean, as we’ve said many times, you can go to a book.
Whether it’s a dictionary when you’re looking up a term or there are these books with useful phrases or verb books that conjugate all the verbs and you can spend, as you say, half an hour flipping through it and reading what looks like really great stuff and boy I really have to remember that and isn’t this wonderful and after half an hour you close the book and nothing sticks.
Steve: You know and I contrast this with…I was very surprised, a number of people commented on my blog, because I had mentioned that if I leave a language alone for a month or two — say Russian, which I’ve been working at very hard — if I leave it for a month or two, when I come back, pretty soon I’m better than I was.
And the phrases and words that I remember were not necessarily the ones that I just learned, but it might ones that I learned three to six months ago.
And so words and patterns and phrases that you learned from episodes, from meaningful content, content that kind of stuck a cord somewhere within you, that knowledge actually grows.
It grows, it gestates, it continues to grow; whereas, this other type of knowledge, like the rules and the tables, that’s knowledge that you can cram now for the exam tomorrow, maybe, and then it’s gone.
It doesn’t gestate, it doesn’t grow, because it’s theoretical, it’s logical; whereas, the brain is better at picking things up through experience, through input and putting it somewhere, you know, wherever it puts it in the brain.
Mark: Which comes back to another thing that we say all the time and that is that nobody can teach you a language, you have to learn the language, essentially, on your own.
So many people are conditioned to think, I need someone to teach me.
What can that person teach me?
They can’t teach me the language, they can teach me rules, they can test me on meanings of words, but all kinds of activities that are essentially useless.
Steve: However, what I will say is that now that I have two Russian tutors that I speak to, Rasana and Tatiana, that if you’re talking to someone, a native speaker, who is very encouraging, who speaks well, who is happy to talk to you, who gives you little corrections, which of course I save when I get my report and I save it, that’s (A) motivating and…you know, I’ll make this point, the brain misses stuff.
If you speak and you get it wrong and someone corrects you in a nice way, not because you end up with three out of ten on your exam, not that kind of correction, but people just point things out, yeah, I might still get it wrong, but I’m a little more conscious of that pattern.
My brain is now a little more observant, I notice more things, so they’re not so much teaching me.
They are, but in an effective way, because what they’re doing is they’re encouraging me and they’re making me more attentive when I do my normal reading and listening.
But I guess my point is…yeah, absolutely, it’s very beneficial to speak to a tutor and have them point out mistakes.
Just by being able to carry on a conversation successfully it gives you confidence and you realize that, actually, I can make my way in the language.
Steve: Or unsuccessfully.
Mark: Or unsuccessfully. It’s, obviously, a great measuring stick.
Mark: But I don’t equate that to teaching.
Mark: Like I don’t equate that to someone telling me, okay, today we’re going to do the parts of the body and then we’re going to learn the verb…
Steve: Or please explain something.
Steve: No, I don’t need an explanation; I would be lost in the explanation.
In fact, when I get explanations on grammar…yeah, as you say, it’s just kind of meaningless.
Mark: Tell me what I should have said…
Mark: …and I’ll try and remember that.
I’ll hopefully notice it the next time I see it correctly and over time I’ll start to say it correctly.
But I think in terms of the LingQ system…and we know that there are a lot of things that we want to add in terms of how the community interacts and we’ve talked about, you know, how the organization of our library could be made perhaps a little bit better…the fundamental activity of listening and reading and then, of course, saving these words and phrases, being able to review them, seeing them when they’re highlighted, you know it doesn’t seem like rocket science.
Steve: It is surprisingly effective, but it does require a certain amount of effort.
I know that for a lot of people if they put on Michelle Thomas or Pimsleur, they speak a bit in English then a bit in the target language, it’s kind of easy.
It is easier than what we ask you to do, which is to listen only to the target language.
Mark: Well, it’s easier, but you’re not going anywhere.
Steve: Well people learn that way too and I don’t think we can be so categorical.
I think our way is more efficient…
Mark: I guess that’s my point.
Mark: Yeah, you can do all of Michelle Thomas and you’re still very limited in what you can say.
But for a person who maybe only listens while driving to and from work, they can listen to Michelle Thomas or ESL Pod is relatively painless and they get something out of it.
Steve: I think at some point, if they really want to take the language to the next level, then they have to…I think that’s, in a way, what we’re saying at LingQ is, yeah, ours works fine from scratch and you have to be a little bit disciplined to do it from scratch, but if you’ve taken a Michelle Thomas or a Pimsleur and now you want to take your language to the next level, that’s where there’s a real big payoff in coming to LingQ.
That’s how I see it.
Mark: Yeah, for sure.
And we’ve said many times that it almost doesn’t matter what you use to get started.
Mark: You have to start with something to give you a bit of a base and then you can start using the…once you’re able to graduate to authentic content you want to be doing LingQ.
Steve: Well, the point is, we want to get people to authentic content as quickly as possible and a lot of the textbooks sort of deliberately keep people in textbook content for a long time.
But we’ve had quite a few of our learners who are familiar with our system and who were learning say English with it, have now started…Naoko said she’s going to do some French, Anna in Brazil was doing some French, Marianne in France I think was doing Russian, so we’re starting to get some our learners starting from scratch in another language.
Steve: I think that’s great, because one of my views, as you know, which you don’t necessarily agree with, is if you can have a major and a minor, so you’re 80% doing English and 20% doing Spanish, I think you’ll benefit, your English will benefit.
It’s good to have people start up another language, but, again, that’s an opportunity that exists at LingQ where you can easily just go to another language.
You can be doing three languages at the same time, so, yeah.
Steve: Well, I think we’ve kind of…we don’t want to bore people.
Obviously, we’re very happy with what we have.
We would like to see more people use LingQ and benefit from LingQ or if they don’t like it they can tell us about it.
We’re always happy to receive your feedback, you can let us know on the Forum at LingQ.
Mark: Otherwise, we’ll catch up with you again next time.
Steve: Okay, alright then.