If you’ve ever learned a foreign language I’m sure you remember these long vocabulary lists to cram for the upcoming exam. I’m sure you remember learning when and why you should use this tense and not the other. I remember it too. I was even trying to teach others this way when I still was earning some extra money by teaching English.
Everything I know in English I learnt in typical school way. Grammar, exercises, fifty sentences to make in a given tense, out of which 30 affirmatives, 10 negations and 10 questions.
Writing essays in a specific way to get maximum points. I learnt to catch specific information in a text I hear – in order to choose the correct answer. And that’s ok – I speak English quite fluently, I understand people speaking to me.
But it took me over 10 years.
When I started learning Russian that’s what I thought – I’ll learn some grammar and vocabulary, I’ll pass an exam for some certificate and I’ll have another thing to put in my CV. I learnt Cyrillic alphabet and some basics.
I could introduce myself, say what I’m interested in, give directions, talk about weather and my daily routine. And then I found a teacher who turned my whole image of effective language learning upside down.
How to learn a foreign language without cramming grammar and vocabulary?
Mrs Svetlana told me at the very beginning that on her lessons grammar and “put the verb in a correct form” exercises are last on the priority list. She requires me to learn one story from the recordings, videos and cartoons she will give me for each and every lesson. I should tell this story as accurately as possible, almost word for word with the recording.
Frankly speaking, after hearing this on the first lesson I had huge doubts if I can be happy with this teacher. How can I learn a language WITHOUT GRAMMAR EXERCISES?
But I decided to give it a try. The reasons did make sense to me. Each and every one of us learnt at least one language in our lives – our mother tongue. And back then we weren’t really able to study all the grammatical nuances. Mum didn’t read us dictionaries for a bedtime story.
A child learning his mother tongue listens.
Listens a lot, listens all the time. Then he starts to speak. But he doesn’t begin with building his own sentences. At first he repeats what he hears – which might frighten some parents 🙂 Why couldn’t we, adults, learn a new language this way?
Actually, we can, and it’s super effective. How does it work?
How to learn a foreign language without cramming – manual
1. Listen to one recording in the language many times.
It could be a recording from a textbook you use to learn this language. It could be Little Red Riding Hood or another simple cartoon. It could be a podcast or a short dialogue from a movie.
The recording shouldn’t be too long. I notice the best effects with recordings shorter than 3 minutes. If your text is longer, divide it in shorter parts and work on them separately. It should also be adjusted to your level. You shouldn’t start with BBC news if you have just started learning English. Otherwise the only result will be discouragement.
2. Stop the recording sentence after sentence and repeat what you hear
Even if you don’t fully understand it yet. Try to figure out when one word ends and another begins (oh that was a challenge in French 🙂 ). If you’re not able to repeat the whole sentence – stop every few words. Play each part until you are able to repeat it accurately.
3. Listen and read simultaneously
After hearing the recording at least 10 times (now you know why it really shouldn’t be longer than 3 minutes :)) and after trying to repeat it accurately open the written text, listen and read simultaneously.
It’s time to translate all words and phrases you don’t understand
5. Read the text aloud along with the recording
Play it and read it simultaneously till you can do it as well as the lector.
6. Tell the story as accurately as possible.
It would be best if you could remember the text so well that you know it by heart only glancing at the original text from time to time. If someone in your family wants to listen to you that’s perfect. If not – talk to your teddy bear. He will never betray you 🙂
It’s also great to write the whole text down as you listen to it.
I know it’s not easy to find motivation. Ask someone in your family to ask you about the story once, twice a week. Set a time – e.g. every Saturday after lunch and stick to it. If you have private courses, ask your teacher to require a story every week. Find someone who also learns a language and motivate each other.
External motivators are very effective. I knew that there’s really no use going to my Russian course without a story… 🙂
It sounds more tiring than regular vocabulary learning?
It is not. You can listen while you do your household chores, when you go to work/school – while doing everything which doesn’t require your full attention. If you can divide your attention while you drive, listen in the car.
Don’t do anything absorbing while you listen. Don’t read or text. Don’t watch TV, don’t talk to people at home. Check this post and learn how to avoid distractors and work significantly faster.
Learning vocabulary in a “classic” way is effective short-term but the words magically disappear from your head. With the method described above the whole expressions stay in your head. They appear just when you need them.
The biggest advantage is learning the whole expressions, not separate words. I can learn that “parler” means “to talk” in French but I won’t make any use of it if I don’t know how to say “I talk to you about the weather”.
Grammar can’t be ignored though. It is useful because it helps you understand why the phrase you know is built this way, not another.
It’s a theory which explains practice you already know, not the other way around. It helps you use the gives phrase in different cases.
If you are serious about learning a language, start using this method and I guarantee you, you will see the results. Find one or two recordings in the Internet and start listening. And if you already have this long list of vocabulary you need to learn – read it aloud, record yourself and listen. Yes, I know, you don’t like your recorded voice, neither do I. But firstly, you will notice your own mistakes easier. Secondly, you will remember it much quicker.
Still not convinced? Just think how many useless songs you can sing only because you’ve heard them many times. And I don’t think you’ve been learning the lyrics for hours… 🙂
A small gift for non-native English speakers who still can’t remember all the irregular verbs. Just listen to this rap. And you will soon be singing to yourself “the microphone I take took taken, you shake shook shaken, wake woke woken to the style I’m creatin’…” 😀
Now, when you know how to learn a language, it’s time to learn 5 proven ways how not to forget a foreign language and how to finally break your language barrier. Also when you travel it’s often not possible to communicate in a language you know. In this case you might want to check these 4 easy tricks helping travellers communicate with the locals!
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