Advice for learning a second language

I’m thinking of torturing myself with a little self improvement. I wouldn’t mind picking up another language and I want to know what methods Dopers have found useful. Emersion by travel isn’t an option, and neither is taking college courses.

I was thinking that those language tapes would be the best bet. But I figure that someone on the board has to know a method that works decently well.

I’ve only done the school/immersion route, so I can’t give you very good advice on getting started. Once you’ve acquired the basics, however, I would highly recommend foreign media (films, papers, etc.) as a good building block. Disney movies (or other cartoons), make particularly helpful aides - you can follow the plot well enough to get context for words you don’t understand, but won’t “cheat” via subtitles nor get totally lost.

Good luck.


Expecting this thread to get moved to IMHO, but, in the meantime…

I second the “watching foreign movies” approach. Most movies on DVD now have an option for subtitles.

This is more of an IMHO than a GQ, so I’ll move it.

moderator GQ

Pick a language that you might actually use. That is, Spanish if you live say in the Southwest somewhere. Or the language your SO speaks. Or a place that you’ll probably go on vacation to sometime in the future. If there’s a culture that’s always intrigued you or something you like such as Italian cooking, then it might keep you interested in learning italian.

I would avoid more difficult languages you probably are not going to use such as Japanese, Chinese, Bengali, Russian even though there are a lot of speakers of these languages.

Tapes will get you a few hundred word vocabulary if you work at it.

Practice every single day.

Remember that language is about communicating. Unlike other academic disciplines, it’s okay to use intuition. If you think the soap opera lady is saying “You bleeping bastard, I hate you,” but you don’t know the words, don’t get anguished because you don’t know the words. She probably is saying “You bleeping bastard, I hate you.”

If you can get your hands on them, read books for young children and/or comic books.

Movies that have been dubbed into your target language are not as good as movies that were made in the target language, because peoples’ lips aren’t making the lip movement they’re supposed to make.

Listening to songs is excellent. Singing along is even better. You get to hear the language strung together the way the natives string it, and you get that all important repetition.

I’m sure I’ll pick up a lot of crap for this, but here’s my opinion: unless you think you will have a real, demonstrable use for knowing another language, don’t put yourself through it. Any energy you put toward learning another language could surely be put to better use, IMO. I mean, if you have extra time on your hands, why not learn more about history?

Why history? And where would you recommend I start? What are the history books you’d recommend.

Thanks for the advice, and yeah in retrospect this is more of a IMHO. I guess the GQ version would have been what methods are proven to be better.

As a student of foriegn languages I recommend getting computer programs in that language, there are some great programs that tech language as well as cultural aspects of the country. I’m currently yaking Japanese, but am fluent in Spanish too. Other than this small bit of advice I totally agree with other dopers, you might even try going a chat with people who are native speakers of whatever language you choose. BTW, What language are you hoping to learn. Buenas suertes!

Yes, chat rooms on the net are fine and convenient ways to practice a foreign language. But there are drawbacks. You must have a reasonnable knowledge of the language first. Chats are fast, people use a lot of shortened words, of slang, etc…So, it’s not easy at all to follow.



with this set you can go anywhere (VISA limiting that is)
as these guys were the colonisers of the past and widely spoken , also watch alot of films of the language of your choice without subtitles or with but cover them up its how Jackie chan learn English (but english is easy) , heh but learn something with a greek based alphabet darned Chrylic Russian and Chinese are very difficult to learn , speaking is easy writing and reading not so , but practice and don’t get rusty

  • chat rooms are a bad idea i think , i met a bunch of Koreans in a chat room and they tried to practice their english on me and others and others just led them on and made fun ,

Forgive me for being an icky here, but perhaps learning Latin will make learning other languages easier, should you decide you want to go learning two more languages, say.

It also makes Maeglin’s posts a lot easier to understand;)

Here’s my small tidbit to add. Granted I don’t speak much of anything (including English, kidding) fluently but start with basic words.

I think of it this way. We as children learn a language before we learn the ins and outs of grammar, sentence structure and the like. We need to start very rudementary (sp) and then go from there.

I don’t know of any easy ways to learn a new language but get the basics down. If you can learn about word origins and you can pick up a lot more than you thought you could.

Get to know common items, some verbs and such. Then once you learn more about how to actually speak and remember the words then move on to more structured compilation of a language.

One reason I did horribly in my jr. high school and high school Spanish classes is because they focused more on structuring a sentence than the appropriate way to pronouce and to rememember a word.

Remembering the two words “El Baño, por favor” is much more practical than learning exactly what words go where. Even if the sentence is correct, if it were incorrect most people will recognize you as an English speaking person and will do their best to direct you in the right direction.

BTW, thanks to my Hispanic friends in school and work I learned more about Spanish and the proper way to speak it. I go nuts when I hear a friend or family member totally butcher the language. One of my friends commends me on the actual verbalization even if I am not fully versed in the language – her family came from Mexico a generation ago, her mama has a very broken English.

Try for latin, then youll know a bunch of other languages too cause a lot are based on latin.

If you need women, learn sign language, those classes are full of women.

The Tim: It’s wonderful to hear you’re considering learning another language. I wish you the best in your efforts to expand your horizons.

Personally, I’ve used lesson books (occasionally with tape backup for pronunciation purposes) as my main source of learning. There are two series - the “Teach Yourself” series by NTC and the “Colloquial” series by Routledge that are my personal recommendations for the independent student. You can most likely find all of the titles in a B or Borders book search engine - they’re quite readily available.

I also recommend picking up a halfway decent dictionary; Oxford makes several paperback editions that are “pocket” sized and quite up-to-date. Unless you’re learning Russian, in which case the dictionary by Kenneth Katzner is unsurpassed.

The suggestion for Latin is of limited use on a number of levels - if you’re unfamiliar with noun declension systems it’s going to give you a bear of a headache. In addition, it’ll really onle help you with these languages:
which really isn’t “a bunch of languages” if you consider the actual number of languages actively spoken in the world today.

Now to a couple of other “suggestions”:

Crafter_Man: There is no reason to discourage someone from learning a language if they’re so inclined. Besides, if you learn another language you’ll then have access to books on economics, history, politics, etc. that may not be available in your native tongue. Look! Two birds with one stone! Not a bad use of intellectual energy, eh?

From China Guy:

That’s one of the most ludicrous arguments against learning any language I’ve ever heard. Did it ever not occur to you that actually teaching yourself a language would provide the impetus to seek out opportunities to actually use it? Which means you’re reaching out and expanding not only your personal horizons but your awareness of what your city may have to offer culturally.

The Tim, don’t listen to such tripe. Teach yourself a language you want to learn, and get out there and dig up the opportunities to speak it. It is well worth the effort and I have never found anyone who isn’t at least pleasantly surprised to find out you speak their language. I could tell you about the one time that speaking a few phrases of Albanian got me several rounds of free beer, but this post is long enough already. :smiley:

First ask yourself why you want to learn a new tongue. Is it to fit in at your spouse’s family barbecues? Would you use it for work? Is there a significant community of speakers in your town?

Most home study programs prepare the learner for an overseas vacation. If your primary motivation is anything else, then I strongly suggest gathering a small arsenal of resources and creating your own strategy. The extra effort will be worth it.

Here’s why: fluency in a language requires a vocabulary of about 10,000 words. That would take 5 1/2 years if you memorized 5 new words every day.

You’ll be pretty restricted about subject matter if you want to follow a conversation or speak sentences with a smaller vocabulary. Start with the topics you’ll use first. If you’re a nurse then learn symptoms and anatomy. If you’re cooking with Grandma then learn food. Let things develop from there.

Budget your expectations realistically and make the new language part of your social life. It’s a lot easier to stay focused if you gather with other speakers for a weekly coffee hour or some other regular event.

      • I second msplaced in suggesting computer programs, if you don’t mind being tied to your computer for it. There’s cheap ones you can find in close-out and bargain-bins, so scour local cheapie store racks first. Usually these are tourist-level materials (not comprehensive, usually light on grammar) but they’re a good start. Another idea highly suggested to me was to get a translation dictionary and regularly obtain foreign newspapers, and read the paper, no matter how painful it is. You will not remember a language you do not use… -and I didn’t!
  • The software I found is all from an outfit named Eurotalk that were 2-CD sets for $10 each- I don’t know what the regular price is, but for ten bucks they’re great. They show a photo of something, the printed word and then also pronounce it, and offer small interactive tests so you have some idea of how well you’re really remembering.
    Fair warning: the easiest languages to learn are the European alphabetic languages (French, Italian, German, Russian, Spanish,); the toughest are the ideographic languages (Chinese, Japanese…).
    Right now I am looking for Mongolian software, but cannot find anything… :frowning: - MC

If you can’t go to the country or take a classroom course, I suggest finding a real live person who speaks the language well and even better has taught it. Whether or not you have that, the more exposure you get, the better. But it’s far more helpful if you have a particular goal to help you decide which language to learn. Some are easier for those of us who start out as English speakers than others.

One question you may want to ask is are you more interested in learning the written as opposed to spoken version. If read it you may want to focus on that aspect of the language.(Since in my case it was impossible to learn the spoken version but the written one wasn’t as horrible.) Then again maybe you’ll be luckier than me and you might even use it for something.(Gee, can you tell that the foreign language was completely useless to me and only made me completely despise the parent culture? Guess that’s what happens when you force this stuff on people who quickly don’t care about it.)

One useful step that often gets ignored – learning about your own language first. When I started learning French, I suddenly realized I didn’t even know the names of tenses or how they’re used. Once I started thinking about what I was saying, learning how to say it another language gets easier.