Well just as LingQ disappeared for a few days (yay, it’s back!) I was writing this over at my blog: http://haisell.net/2016/01/01/laventure-francaise/ Now we’re back up I’ll post it here too, looking forward to another fabulous year of language learning!
This year I am starting my French adventure. A few months ago I started to think about what language I wanted to learn once I had returned from Ecuador. In the space of about 3-4 years I had learned Spanish to a sufficiently high level to conduct research in the language for my PhD. In the process I had made two important discoveries.
First, I can learn languages. This was a revelation to me, as I hated languages at school and I had always assumed that it was not something I could do. Second, I like learning languages. Once I had settled upon a particular strategy that worked for me, I discovered it could be an incredibly rewarding experience.
With these discoveries in mind, I decided it would be a great adventure to take on the other language I failed to learn at school: French. No other school subject brings back so many memories of boredom and frustration. However I am now absolutely certain that it is not the language that was at fault, but the method of teaching. Based on all the techniques, tactics and strategies that I have learned in the last 3 years learning Spanish, I am very confident about what I need to do and what I can achieve. I am starting with a “false beginner” level (5 years in school) and my aim is to reach roughly the same level as my current Spanish within 2 years. Using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), this level is described as C1: effective operational proficiency.
My main tool for learning French will be LingQ. LingQ was by far the most powerful and successful language learning tool when I learned Spanish. The only difference here will be that I will be using its methodology from scratch, whereas with Spanish I pursued at least a dozen other strategies before I found one that worked.
LingQ is an extensive input based approach to language learning. The basic principle is that in order to acquire fluency in a language you need to expose yourself to an enormous quantity of material in that language. This material must be interesting to you. So unless it floats your boat, that means no grammar or comprehension exercises, memorizing word lists or verb tables. And no speaking or writing until you feel ready to do so. However this should not be misunderstood as passive learning. You are actively engaged in the reading and listening, noticing patterns and making links. The LingQ website has made this process of highlighting and revising two or three-word combinations wonderfully easy. And by noticing recurring patterns you start to implicitly learn syntax and grammar. You also start to learn the 1,000s of words you need to fluently use the language.
For language learning to be really fun I need to break free from learner material as soon as possible, which apart from a few rare examples, is dull and artificial. This means that my first short-term goal is to build up a large passive vocabulary, making it easier for me to tackle books and articles. From my experience at LingQ this is going to be roughly the 22,000 word mark. In LingQ individual forms of words are counted separately so that apple and apples are two words, and write, writes, wrote and written are four distinct words. My rough aim is to average 100 new words a day, 700 a week, and pass the 22,000 mark sometime in August. By the end of 2017 I hope to be approaching the 50,000 word mark – the point I reached in Spanish in a similar time frame.
At the same time I will be listening. First by using the audio that comes with text in LingQ, later importing my own sourced material into LingQ, and finally searching out podcasts, youtube videos and other material that does not have transcripts. Based on my experience of learning Spanish, I will need to reach around 1,000 hours of listening. Most of these hours will be totted up in the second year when I can enjoy plenty of real-world content. In the first 6 months I will be happy if I sneak past the 100 hour mark. As I discovered with Spanish, writing and speaking will be part of the adventure, and I have a whole bunch of tactics for working on those skills. But in the first 6 months I won’t worry about them at all.
Learning Spanish has been one of the biggest achievement of my life. As someone who showed no aptitude for languages for the first 25 years of my life, I feel that if I can learn languages, anyone can. It is all about finding the right motivation and strategy for you.
So let the adventure begin!