About LLS:

Throughout my career, I have received thousands of questions regarding languages and I have finally decided to answer them objectively with no strings attached. If you have any questions or feedback, please leave your comments below.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is it worth becoming proficient in a foreign language while living in your home country?

Today's debate is whether it is worth to learn a foreign language proficiently while living in a country where the language isn't spoken. Don't get me wrong, trying to improve your level is never a bad idea, but I was thinking rather in terms of becoming as adept at speaking as a native speaker. The proficiency level is described as C1, C2 and above according to the EU-Assessment grid which is displayed below.

Become familiar with this table!

The issue arises when I start to compare the results to the time spent gaining them. Usually, when a person begins to learn a language, it’s easier to progress from total beginner into intermediate. The reasons are quite obvious; since we don't know anything our brains tend to soak in information much faster. In most parts, the information in question is very basic making it extremely easy to just remember single words and structures rather than complex arrangements of grammar. Hence, students beginning always learn faster than those who are already advanced. If you are able to keep up a conversation, those small mistakes that one makes are usually the hardest to get rid of.

The better you want to be, the longer it takes!
As a person interested in languages, I have found that students are able to learn on their own up to B1-B2. Afterwards it becomes extremely difficult to advance on your own without having native speakers surrounding you. Even if you have somehow managed to take the C1 test and passed it successfully, I doubt that your level in speech is equal to that of a native speaker. Anyone can memorize grammar and take their time to answer questions. Furthermore, non-native speakers usually conduct the spoken part of the exams which makes it even less accurate and objective.

- " Spend this time on new languages because it's simply not worth it unless you are abroad! "

If you happen to be one of those students who are endlessly stuck at B1-B2, don't give up! It would be more advisable for you to save that money up and plan a trip to wherever in order to go over that plateau. 
Therefore, I have concluded that it is better to develop your language skills up to B2 on your own than to struggle stuck and frustrated. I think that B1-B2 level is the most accurate level in order to go abroad to develop your skills further. If on the other hand you are unable to travel due to a confined lifestyle, it isn't a bad idea to continue studying, but keep in mind that your progress will take years and years.

I personally tend to study a language from A1 until B1-B2 and then I leave it behind me to begin another one. This is a method that many hyper polyglots use in order to have such a broad knowledge in the field, and if I somehow have the opportunity to go abroad to take advantage of this language once again, I just have to brush up my knowledge before heading on to the airport. Nothing will ever beat the exposure one will have when going abroad!


Creative Commons License
LanguageLearningShortcuts! by Peter Masalski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://languagelearningshortcuts.blogspot.com/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available athttp://www.pmls.pl/Disclaimereng.htm.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Common mistakes students make when studying languages!

There are a bunch of common mistakes students make when attemping to learn a new language. I won't go as far as to say that these mistakes can make a huge difference, but in the end they could boost results.

1- They try to learn everything at once and cram whichever words they encounter:

Unless you need them at work, don't start memorizing words like "heritage" or "accountancy" just because you have seen them somewhere along the book. You should approach a new language with some prudence. In the very beginning, words such as big and tall can replace more unusual ones such as "humongus" or "giant". If you are able to memorize such words effortlessly, then more strings to your bow, but i wouldn't recommend it. 

Start by making a list of all the basic essentials. For example: Street, house, bar, wall and so on. Afterwards, practice them to get a good feel of the language before attemping more advanced vocabulary.

Take it easy!

2- They don't cover the basics and attempt to get into more advanced structures:

If you don't understand why verbs have certain endings and sentences are built in a certain manner, there will only be confusion awaiting you further along the way. Make sure you leave no stone unturned and grasp the essentials. A language is not memorized, but understood. Schools don't really care if their students have knowledge gaps; they just want to fill as many groups up as possible for monetary purposes.

When i used to teach large groups, students from B1 to C1 would often try to appear at the same level, at the expense of their true abilities. The amounts of mistakes determines the level and knowledge of a student. The only true way to know what you lack is to have a brief conversation with a teacher capable of properly evaluating. As long as you don't make a mistake, even without using more advanced and stylish structures, the teacher can't say anything. Never think of a language as a race.

You can lie to others, but not to yourself.

3- They don't understand the grammar and attempt to go around it with vocabulary and pre-made sentences:

If you really believe that your memory will remember 10,000 sentences and expressions from the very beginning, then you are really waiting for the challenge of your life. Don't focus on idioms from the very beginning, but rather on getting your point across. Rarely will I see someone integrate expressions on an A2-B1 level. The quicker you try to understand how the sentences are built according tot he grammar, the easier it will all unveil in your mind.

4- They try to speak, basing their understanding on sounds rather than lettering:

Just because your friends taught you some bad words here and there, doesn't mean that you actually know what you are saying. The phonetic value of a word needs written validation. It is important to at least see how the word is written to truly know how to pronounce it. For languages using another alphabet than the classical latin one, it might be a way to get yourself started. In the end, learning how to read is inevitable.

5- They sit down for hours staring at their books without any day to day regularity:

I don't believe the brain can endlessly stare at books without overheating. I keep repeating myself over and over again about the same thing; it’s better to study 5 minutes 3 times a day, than 2 hours staring at your book on a lonely weekend. 

The biggest mistake ever made by students.

6- They don't understand the universal difference between nouns, adjective, verbs and adverbs:

If you can't seem to comprehend what a noun is and why it has a certain position in a sentence, then you truly require emergency help. Every language has those elements, and I wouldn't see how languages would even make sense without them. When I open a book up, whether it is in German, I can still recognize what is a verb and what would probably be the noun without actually speaking the language.

If you understand those elements in your own language, then new ones should be a piece of cake. 

7- They study 2 languages at once:

Some people might be able to pull this one. I personally don't study this way, because I do believe that the brain requires certain breaks and certain periods to absorb new knowledge properly. I simply don't believe that 2 languages can easily divide the learning lifestyle of a student. Another reason is that languages can mix themselves and create confusion.

A good example would be to learn spanish and portuguese which essentially have the same vocabulary. The brain is remarkably good at confusing words with other similar ones. I remember once that a ukrainian teacher said that it was easier to teach Ukrainian to an African than to a Polish person.

8- They don't practice with others:

Spoken practice shall never be outmatched by any other method, but one cannot behave like a parrot expecting to speak without knowing the grammar.

Il never stop repeating it, practice!


Creative Commons License
LanguageLearningShortcuts! by Peter Masalski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://languagelearningshortcuts.blogspot.com/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available athttp://www.pmls.pl/Disclaimereng.htm.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Can't seem to learn? A few tips for hard learners!

The "Bell Curve" is a theory which dictates distribution of talent amongst the population. It accounts for talent as much as it does for appearance, intelligence and most important of all; the ability to learn languages. The theory claims that the majority of the population is average, and that a small minority is either very gifted or not at all. This theory was originally designed to talk about crime, education and income, but I find it extremely versatile and universal.

More information about it at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve

The "Bell Curve"

For those who don't understand the amount of effort involved in order to break from one extremity to the other, look at it from a very simple perspective. If you are one of those people who simply can't seem to lose weight, then you understand that in order to get physically fit you would have to endure much more than the skinny nerd living next door. Is all hope lost? Well technically you could shift from one end of the curve to the other, if you changed your eating habits and began a disciplined sport regime.

The point is that, talented or not. Some individuals have it easy. Don't worry, with today's article we will take a look at the options available, if of course, you aren't one of the lucky ones.

Firstly, let’s identify on which end of the curve you are:

- How many languages can you speak? (B1 level and above)
- How many years have you been trying to learn a language unsuccessfully?
- Have you been studying seriously or just messing around?
- Do you consider yourself "bad" at languages?
- Do you find it hard to learn other subjects?

There is no way to say for sure, but no matter how bad you think you might be, these tips will be helpful.

The brain also needs a good workout routine.

1- Mix plenty of materials together:

If you have finally decided to learn the language of your dreams, it would be a good idea to get different sensory input. What I mean by "sensory input" is that you can try to listen to audiotapes, read books, do grammar exercises and use some kind of interactive programs in order to mix from different sources, thereby greatly increasing the amount of material learned. The more you mix, the better your results will be.

2- Know yourself:

One must know exactly how lazy one is. Try to cheat your laziness with slow steps without forcing yourself to stare at grammar for hours. Try to remember 5 words every day. How much of your time would you actually have to invest to accomplish such a feat?

3- Make it into a lifestyle, not a task:

People often make the mistake of making education into a mission or a completable task. A language is something that you improve and polish as years go by. Don't expect to just learn everything after a summer course. Pick a language you like and just let it be the background of your daily activities. Many examples include listening to music, going to foreign concerts, reading about the history of the country, having posters in your room in that language.

4- Establish a list of goals and reach them one at a time:

Series of realistic goals can have a tremendous impact on motivation. Instead of saying "I want to speak English" try to say "I will cover the English Conditionals". Give yourself some time to do it and advance as you go.

5- Stay motivated:

Even if you're having a bad week, don't quit. You're planning to go on a binge drinking spree? As soon as it’s over, continue where you left off. Take a break and get back to it after a while. It doesn't matter how motivated I am, I still have my ups and downs. 

6- Routine and daily habits:

A good way to get something done is to do it regularly. Don't think about convincing yourself that you’re not lazy. Just make it into a habit! How do I that? Start doing it and try to maintain steadiness for a few days until "Habit Mode" kicks in. Once you make something into a habit, it becomes hard to break.

7- Find people and places to practice regularly:

The best way is to integrate business with pleasure. Luckily, languages can be practiced in the field where most of the drinking, rambling and flirting occur. Find language tandems and bars that offer opportunities to speak. Nowadays with the advent of Facebook and other social websites, places such as these are everywhere. A good place to start would be to look into "Local Language Tandem Exchange" and "Couch Surfing".



Creative Commons License
LanguageLearningShortcuts! by Peter Masalski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://languagelearningshortcuts.blogspot.com/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available athttp://www.pmls.pl/Disclaimereng.htm.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Learn a language (B1 Level) of your choice in 60 days completely on your own!

“The LLS Program is a newly innovative approach developed by the military during the Cold War to help spies learn foreign languages for infiltration purposes in only 60 days, but now the DVD containing all its secrets is available to you for only 3 easy payments of only 99, 99$, but wait!, if you call now we will throw in the second DVD showing how to get even more fluent! Call Now! "

Its easier than it looks!

If you have ever encountered such claims online, please don't even bother wasting your money on secret techniques. If there was an efficient way to teach someone a language faster, the education system would have adopted it already. All those secret methods used to advertise language schools are a great addition to train specific aspects of the language but are overall supported by good old-fashioned study, cram and practice.

My secret program:
The ingredients (in your language):

- 60 minutes of your free time, every day for 60 days. Split into 3x 20 minutes sessions.
- 1 extra hour of your free time on the weekends.
- An empty notebook for notes (on paper so you can carry it around with you)
- Pimsleur Audiotapes or a similar product. (An mp3 player or your phone)
(Get it here: http://thepiratebay.se/search/pimsleur/0/99/0 )
- A beginner and intermediate text book (A1-B1)
- A grammar compendium (a book or source containing all the grammar for reference)
- Google Translate (or any other translator of your choice)
- Anki (Get it here: http://ankisrs.net/ )
- Rosetta Stone and a Microphone (Get it here: http://thepiratebay.se/torrent/5210152/Rosetta_Stone_3.4.5___Crack(VasiaZozulia) )

Follow the recipe!

How to do it:

1- When you wake up in the morning take 20 minutes before work to do 1 colored segment of Rosetta Stone. The colored segments are the ones presenting new material unlike the white ones which only serve as a review.

2- On your way to work, listen to 1 unit of Pimsleur (which vaguely lasts 20 minutes) until you reach your destination.

3- Work all day

4- On your way back home, listen to 1 unit of Pimsleur until you reach your house.

5- Go out and get a beer (ideally with native speakers).

6- Do this from Monday to Friday.

7- At the weekends, take some time to cover and write down the main essentials of the grammar in your notebook. Take your newly learned grammar and create Flashcards using Anki for quick daily revisions. This is what grammar you should be reviewing:

Weekend 1:
A list of essential phrases used on a daily basis (How are you? and so on)

Weekend 2: 
A list of essential vocabulary covering situations (your room, your kitchen and so on)

Weekend 3: 
Verb tables (What is the rule to write and conjugate your verbs)

Weekend 4:
A list of essential verbs used on a daily basis (to go, to do, to make, to eat and so on)

Weekend 5: 
Questions (How to ask them and how to build them)
Articles and plurals (What are the endings and which article does what)

Weekend 6: 
Comparatives (An example: I am happier than you are)
Superlatives (An example: He drinks the most in my family)

Weekend 7:
Relative Clauses (An example: The man who was here, left)

Weekend 8:
Habits (How to say "I used to", "I am used to", "and I will get used to")
Modal verbs (How do they work and what do they do)
Conditionals (What is the rule and how do I apply them)

8- Carry your notebook everywhere and glance briefly at the grammar, whenever you have the chance.

9- Every Weekend, do 1 or 2 units from your student's book.

10- Go out and meet people in order to practice the spoken language. You can also hire a private teacher or attend some kind of language exchange tandems. Speaking has a tendency to bind it all together which makes it more accessible in your head.

Warning: If you don't practice orally with others (ideally in a party-like environment after a couple of beers), you will advance at a much slower pace.

If you follow these steps accordingly, I promise B1 level in 2 months’ time without actually struggling with old school learning methods. The key is to simply do it everyday.


Creative Commons License
LanguageLearningShortcuts! by Peter Masalski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://languagelearningshortcuts.blogspot.com/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available athttp://www.pmls.pl/Disclaimereng.htm.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Watching movies to learn a language? You're doing it wrong!

It came to my attention while teaching, that certain students boast about their efforts to study a language with how many movies they have been watching lately. The problem isn't that I am complaining, but rather the way in which they do it.

I do believe that movies are a great way to get additional vocabulary and to hear the language in action. At the same time, there are some who don't do it properly by mixing two different languages; one for the sound and the other for the subtitles. No matter how hard you try to simplify certain things by putting your mother language at the bottom of the screen, you must understand that without struggle, there isn't much one can learn. Ideally, you should even consider having Google translate and a dictionary present as you watch your movie. The moment your auditory senses get confused about what the protagonist of your movie just said is the time where proper subtitles should cure your misunderstandings.

- Why does watching a movie with subtitles in the same language helps?

1. Too much slang, expressions and informal language.

Often, movies have the tendency to use a lot of slang. Rarely do I come across a movie with formal language throughout the storyline. It doesn't matter how advanced you are, there are certain idioms, expressions that one must learn by heart.

Have a dictionary on standby.

2. They speak too quickly.

This is probably the major reason why someone can't watch a movie in the language that he is learning. In certain scenes where more than 2 actors start yelling at each other as they get into conspiracy theories starts putting a toll on your comprehension.

Try four people screaming at each other.

3. Different accents and different dialects.

I don't know about you, but even Americans have sometimes problems understanding the British and this due to some crazy pronunciation. I personally have watched hundreds of British movies and am well acquainted with them so far, but my beginnings were very mind bending.

In Snatch, even the lead actors had problems understanding "Pikey" Brad Pitt.

4. If you see and hear it, you double your chance of remembering it.

Seeing is believing! Don't try to figure out what they said on your own because you will end up cheating yourself. Ego or not, make sure that what you just remembered was validated by proper subtitles.

A language within a language.

5. You can pause your subtitles.

If you're having a hard time understanding anything at all, just slow down the pace and freeze frame in order to get the storyline.

We have them in movies!

It isn't possible to translate everything properly from one language to another for reasons which are quite clear; different idioms, expressions and slang fuel your confusion. It saddens me to say this, but if you don't watch a movie in its original language with subtitles in the same language to support your understanding, your progress will be limited. We are strictly talking about watching movies in order to improve a language and not for the sheer pleasure of it.


Creative Commons License
LanguageLearningShortcuts! by Peter Masalski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://languagelearningshortcuts.blogspot.com/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available athttp://www.pmls.pl/Disclaimereng.htm.