Steve and Alex – Starting From Scratch (Part 1)

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Steve and Alex talk about good ways to start learning a language from scratch and share their experiences.

Steve: Hi Alex.

Alex: Hi there Steve.

Steve: Well, you know what I would like to talk to you about this morning?

Alex: What is that?

Steve: About my experience in learning Czech, because it’s really the first time that I’ve started a language completely from scratch at LingQ.

Alex: Interesting.

Steve: Because Russian I started before we had LingQ.

Alex: Right.

Steve: So I did the Teach Yourself and colloquial and those starter books before I started at LingQ and, of course, all the other languages.

I mean my most recent languages, Portuguese or Cantonese.

Cantonese we don’t have at LingQ.

Alex: Right.

Steve: Portuguese I did a fair amount before we started at LingQ.

I think it went more quickly once we had it at LingQ, but… So Czech is the first one that I’m starting from scratch.

Alex: Oh, very interesting.

Steve: Yeah.

Alex: So, how long have you been then studying Czech for?

Steve: Well, you know you quickly lose track of when you started, but I know that I had my Cantonese radio interview on the Friday, whenever it was, 23rd or 25th.

I didn’t do any Czech before that because I was listening to Cantonese podcasts in order to get my Cantonese up to the level where I wanted it to be.

So, basically, I would say at this point it’s a little over a week.

Alex: Wow.

Steve: A little over a week.

Alex: So, in this say call it a week and a half, what have you noticed?

I mean how has it been on LingQ?

Steve: Well, it’s been great.

First of all, of course, we’re lucky in that some of our members have created content for us.

I mean LingQ is a beta language, so we at LingQ Headquarters…

Alex: Czech.

Czech is a beta language.

Steve: What did I say?

Alex: LingQ.

Steve: Yeah, I’ve got to watch it.

Czech is a beta language at LingQ; therefore, we at LingQ Headquarters aren’t putting any effort into finding content.

Fortunately, Jarda, one of our Czech members, has created a mountain of content and, also, one other member, Pandora from Brazil who’s studying Czech, has also uploaded some good content and now Makacenko, another one of our members from the Czech Republic, has uploaded some content.

So there’s a fair amount of stuff there. Alex: Excellent, ha?

Steve: So, I essentially started with greetings and goodbyes, which is one of the three items that we have in all languages or at least in all of the supported languages.

But, thanks to Yarda, we also have it Czech now.

And, of course, you know what it’s like.

If you listen without reading you don’t understand a thing.

It’s just noise.

If you go through it and read it and save words and phrases and if you’ve done that a few times then, for example, if I listen and read on my iPad, I can understand what’s being said, if I’ve been through that text a few times.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: If I go back to listening without the text, I still don’t understand. You know what I mean?

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: It’s extraordinary.

You’re listening to it and reading and it all makes sense.

Take away the crutch of the reading, I can’t understand it.

Except that every time you listen there are more words that you understand.

As I say, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, right?

Alex: Right.

Steve: So, the first time you hear it there are two words you understand.

Then you read it again.

You review it.

You listen and read at the same time.

You look up the words that you’ve forgotten again and again and you listen again and now there are six or seven words that you understand.

So that’s been part of the process.

I also found a little phrase book at home.

So I have that by my bedside, because I don’t like to have my computer by my bedside or even my iPad.

Bedside is book.

So I kind of flip through that and that helps.

I like the idea of doing it from different directions.

So the phrase book is kind of not connected to anything.

The stuff at LingQ is within a meaningful context.

I mean I’m doing ‘Who is She?’

I’ve been through ‘Who is She?’

from one to 26 a couple of times.

I know the story, so that helps. I really recommend people do stuff where they already know the story.

I mean, the more familiar you are, obviously, with the context the better you’re going to do.

That’s one less thing to worry about.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: So now you’re just looking at words.

So, this morning I went to a Czech newspaper and used our bookmarklet to copy and past and import an article from a Czech newspaper and, I mean, I can make my way through it.

So, I feel that I have gone faster in Czech at LingQ than I have ever gone before in starting a new language from scratch. Alex: Wow.

And you’ve done what, 12 languages now? Steve: Yeah.

Now, to be fair, you can say well in Czech the structure is very similar to Russian.

I haven’t yet looked at tables for case endings, but I can tell if it’s the instrumental it ends in an “m” if it’s masculine and neuter like in Russian.

There are a few funny things that happen.

I haven’t bothered looking at it yet, but I know when I’ve had enough exposure I’ll go to those tables and it will make sense, so I’m not worrying about them.

But it’s much easier than when I did Russian because I now know how a Slavic language works.

Alex: Right.

Steve: I don’t know.

I shouldn’t say all Slavic languages, but at least Czech works a lot like Russian.

I’m surprised at the number of words that are different and I think as I get into it perhaps there will be a higher and higher percentage of words that are similar.

In a lot of languages the very common words will be more different.

The more seldom used words are more similar, right?

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: That’s why we have irregular verbs.

It’s never the rare verb that’s irregular.

It’s the frequently used verb that’s irregular.

So, the more common language tends to be developed differently in different languages within the same family; whereas, the more call them sophisticated or less frequently used words are going to be more similar.

So, yeah, I’m encountering a lot of different vocabulary, but yeah, I’m really enjoying it. Alex: Yeah.

So, what is different in your mind say when you started Russian?

I mean how is your approach different now than it was then?

Steve: Well, I mean there are a number of things.

First of all, even though the Russian alphabet is a lot easier than Chinese, Korean or Japanese it’s still different alphabet, right?

So reading in Czech, which is in a Roman alphabet, is a lot easier.

Even though I read Russian quite comfortably, it’s easier.

It’s less of a strain to be able to do it in the alphabet that you’re most familiar with.

That’s number one.

Number two, a lot of the patterns that seemed very strange in Russian now are already familiar to me.

So (A) I’m with a familiar alphabet (B) I’ve got a familiar structure and a good percentage of the words are recognizable based on similar words in Russian, so it’s a lot easier.

It’s a lot easier. But, I must say, if I think of when I started into Portuguese, I have made more progress, I think, in my Czech than I had in Portuguese.

And the reason for that is with Portuguese I started again with Teach Yourself or Living Language, didn’t have LingQ, so you’re relying on listening to these texts and reading through the textbook and there’s a lot of English and English explanation, which I find distracting.

I found the process of reading on our screen, saving words and phrases, being able to review them a little bit, listening, reading, listening, reading, that concentrated interaction with words that is basically what the LingQ System is, I find that moves you along faster.

Particularly as adults, we don’t have to always be learning the language around things like “Hello, how are you?

My name is… That’s a green pen.

That’s a blue shirt.” After 10 days I uploaded this newspaper article about political developments in the Czech Republic.

I’m interested in the subject.

I have that vocabulary in other languages.

It’s interesting to me and I don’t mind picking my way through the text.

Also, I’m not looking to master anything and I think that’s where a lot of language learners have difficulty.

I don’t mind the fact that the article is not completely clear to me.

I don’t mind the fact that I looked up every third word and can’t remember any of them.

That doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Alex: Right.

Steve: I know that if I keep washing these words over me, listening to them, reading them, reviewing them, that they will eventually stick because that has happened to me in all these other languages, so I’m confident.

Like I’m climbing up this mountain, I know I’m going to reach the peak.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: Someone who hasn’t done this before is gee, I wonder how far it is.

Am I going to make it?

I’ll never get anywhere.

I’ll get stuck.

I’ll get lost.

So they have all these kinds of apprehensions, which I don’t have.

But, yeah, with Portuguese it took me forever, listening to Living Language, listening to Teach Yourself.

I went to Portugal and I really couldn’t understand what people were saying.

Although, I could read the newspaper, it’s largely the same, right?

Whereas, now I feel after 10 days I’m very confident that in a year from now if I go to Prague I’ll be able to communicate.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: I would also advise learners if you have that degree of confidence you’ll do it, you know?

I think one of the biggest problems language learners have is that they have no confidence that they’re going to get there and so they’re constantly doubting themselves and therefore not committing enough.

If you doubt yourself every day you’re not going to continue.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: I studied today, I didn’t understand.

I forgot my words.

I’m no good.

All of this kind of negativity discourages you. Alex: Yeah.

Yeah, I think that’s definitely a problem.

You touch on quite a few interesting points.

First off, one is that you study stuff that you’re interested in.

I think that’s huge, too.

Steve: Yeah. Alex: I’m reading a book in Korean now, which is quite difficult.

Without a dictionary it’s fairly difficult to navigate through, but the benefit is I’ve read the book in English already.

Steve: Yeah.

Alex: I have this background and I have an interest in the topic, so I go onto LingQ and I save these words.

I see them the next time and have no idea what they mean, but again it’s that process of seeing them over and over that really solidifies my understanding of those words.

Steve: And as an experienced learner, you’re not bothered by the fact that you looked this word up, you saved it as a link, you reviewed it in your flashcard and you still can’t remember what it means.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: It doesn’t bother you.

Alex: Right.

Steve: You know? It doesn’t bother you.

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