Language Hackers And “Polyglots” Are Full Of Shit

Since following advice from the many “language hacking” web sites that have grown like a virus on the internet in the past five years, my ability to learn a language has actually decreased. I’ve had to unlearn all the bad habits that I got from them. I want to describe what went wrong.

Spaced repetition flashcard programs don’t work

Every language hacking web site eagerly promotes Anki, the most popular spaced repetition program out there. Anki (and its predecessor Supermemo) essentially tries to duplicate paper flashcards with the added benefit of showing you words only when the algorithm thinks you will forget them. For example, if you get a word incorrect, the program will show it to you again the next day. If you have gotten it correctly the past 10 or so tries in a row, you may not see it for months. Sounds logical and reasonable, right? Wrong.

Consider that these programs were written by computer programmers. The author of Supermemo is legitimately off his rocker, dedicating his life to annotating and memorizing everything he reads. We can only speculate on the social ability of the Anki creator. Programs like this appeal to computer nerds who don’t want to interact with people and who need metrics to confirm how many words they “know.” It’s a way to gamify language, which last time I checked, is not a game but a method of communication.

A more severe problem is that you must use the program every day, or else your reviews build up to such a level that it may take you hours to catch up. If you go on a one-week vacation, you will come back to a mountain of cards that will take you half a day to complete. If Sisyphus decided to learn a language, he would use Anki. These programs make you a slave to the app, keeping you in a constant state of anxiety about maintaining a continuous streak of using the app every day with no exceptions. Once you get into a word bank of thousands, you will be forced to spend a huge part of your life doing the reviews. You become one with the program.

In spite of all the labor you expend, it still doesn’t help you speak the language. Anki aids you with memorizing words in isolation, away from context, where humans aren’t present. It happened many times that I nailed certain words in Anki, but then when I wanted to use it in a conversation, I drew a blank. While flashcards are a great way to review vocabulary, it’s a horrible method in learning how to speak a language. If more than 15% of your language study time is spent on notecards, you’re not learning.

You can’t be fluent in a few months

Language hackers are like the PUAs who market that you will NEVER get rejected while being able to land ANY beautiful girl you want. With a couple weeks of planning and practice, I could construct a five minute Youtube video that will convince most people I’m nearly fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Polish, just like how any guy can hire an actress and do an in-field pickup video that makes it seem like he’s an innovative Casanova. Today you can even find videos of pimply-faced teenagers claiming to speak 20 languages because he said two sentences in each one. I believe him!

How many years does it take to be fluent in a language and talk almost like a native? Years, if ever. These guys are selling the dream to naive and bored Westerners who want to rack up a language like horny men want to rack up notches. The bar has been so lowered that the definition of “fluent” has come to mean “has retained 500 words in short-term memory.”

Speaking a language is now seen as some kind of accomplishment, a trophy to be displayed on your social networking profile, instead of a tool that allows you to communicate with a specific culture or people. Once you take language out of its intended purpose, and attach to that a Westerner’s insatiable narcissism, you turn it into a silly competition, a way for you to brag.

If you want to learn a language, sit down and honestly ask yourself why. If it doesn’t hit two of the following three reasons, don’t even bother:

  • Romance
  • Work
  • Unexplainable love of the culture

The height of idiocy is people learning tribal languages like Quechua just to alleviate their white guilt or make people think they are progressive for going native.

The real key to learning a language is already known

To the credit of language hackers, they know the most effective way to learn a language: speaking it. They don’t hide the fact that you need to seek out conversation and make mistakes. But how the hell are they going to make that sweet internet money with this advice? So they have to add untested and dubious advice in shiny wrapping that can actually be harmful in language acquisition.

You will have to find out on your own the best way for you to learn a language. The reason is because your learning ability is different from others. Maybe you’re visual, or auditory, or sensory. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all technique (just like with game). I was doing just fine with paper notecards, making it a supplement to my studies, until I went astray by letting Anki become my main tool. It’s not the fault of the language hackers that I began studying wrong, but they are so forceful and confident with their advice that I felt like an idiot for not doing it their way.

Self-identifying yourself as a “polyglot” is sad

Imagine that you meet a new guy and ask him what his interests are. He replies, “I’m a player.” Would you not roll your eyes at him? Sure, maybe he is a player, but why is he so quick to take one of his hobbies and make it a personal label that defines his entire essence? It’s the same idea when someone describes himself as a “polyglot.” How about you just be a human being that has an interest in languages? People in Europe, who genuinely speak many languages, don’t get validation in describing themselves in such terms, but get some language nerds from America together who can “speak” a couple Romance languages and all of a sudden they’re jerking themselves off in a polygot circle. Language is a human communication tool, not a lifestyle.

So what’s the answer? How do you learn a language? I’m not an expert, or a polyglot, but here are the tips that work for me:

—Pimsleur and Michel Thomas. These audio courses get you speaking right away. Knowing words is only half the battle because natives still have to understand your pronunciation. These courses aid in that problem.

—Grammar course book in target language (with exercises). Doing boring repetitive examples are critical to learning a language, especially when you’re forced to write things down.

—Easy reading material. Grab a few simple articles or children’s books, a dictionary, and start translating. It also helps to read the articles outloud to work on your pronunciation.

—Watch short television shows or cartoons without English subtitles. Like a baby, you will only understand a few words, but through context, repetition, and looking up words in the dictionary, you will piece it together. When you speak with locals, there will be no subtitles, so you have to use context to construct meaning when you only understand a small percentage of words.

—Try to fornicate with the opposite sex. In Ukraine I wanted to approach women during the day in Russian. The first day I could only say “Excuse me, do you know where I can find a good cafe?” Then the second day I added, “I don’t like that cafe there.” Then the third day I added, “I want very good coffee.” Within a month, I had a primitive day game routine that lasted about three minutes. When I look back at my progress in Russian, the most came with approaching women. I got farther in every approach and doing so many of them in the same fashion made the language stick in my head.

Whatever you do, get away from the computer screen. Spend less time reading the hacker blogs. Stop “language exchanges” with people who are already proficient in English. Don’t fall for the newfangled language tool that wants to make money off you when a 30-year grammar book will get you farther. Instead, focus on materials written on dead tree paper or actually talk to real life people. Learning a new language as an adult is hard as hell and it should be, so don’t buy the hype that it’s not.

Read Next: Two Foreign Languages Every American Man Should Learn

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AlFromBayShore
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I’m an old married dude so the interest in learning language as a vehicle to impress and hit some “skins” abroad is not on my bucket list (although, at times, I find myself living vicariously through such persons). My point was to give an endorsement to learning language via a grammar course in a target language. I’m laboring through Latin and was fortunate enough to get turned on to a text that teaches via the “grammar translation” method (I’d like to read Cicero and Vergil one day). There are boring exercises and I’ve done each and every one in the first half of the textbook I am using, and I do each exercise in cursive. My purpose isn’t to speak Latin but to understand literacy development and the skills that coincide with it (I’m trapped in the public school system and am seeing first hand the actual reasons why so many people who go to public schools come out with atrocious literacy skills as well as piss poor logical reasoning skills). The overall moral of the story is a constant refrain that’s uttered to us by the “old timers”: there is no such thing as a shortcut. Undertake the labor and invest the time, you’ll never regret it.

Romeo_is_real
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Nice one Al, What is the name of the book you are using?
Thanks in advance

AlFromBayShore
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I’m using Henle Latin, Year One, the Henle Latin Grammar Reference text, and the Henle Latin Year One Answer Key. All three of these are essential. The Latin Grammar can be used with later editions of the Henle Latin texts (Year Two, Year Three, Year Four).

http://www.amazon.com/Latin-First-Year-Henle/dp/0829410260

http://www.amazon.com/Henle-First-Year-Latin-Answer/dp/0829412050/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=13H1XQ2H6BKP0PKQS9DW

Justin
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Ridiculous. You claim to take interest in literacy development, but what you’re doing has little to do with normal human literacy. Normal human literacy development is something one does upon languages he first actually speaks. If you already speak a language before learning to really read it, you’re already fully able to determine grammaticality of sentences without knowledge of any explicit grammar rules whatsoever. You’ll also immediately notice sentences that are phrased in an uncommon or unpreferred way for special effect. Examples of effects could be: making emphasis, simulating foreign speech, simulating archaic speech, … You will totally miss these reading a language you don’t already speak.

What you’re doing is the ESOTERIC practice done by a tiny percent of scholars of learning to read and translate a language you don’t know (or to get technical and precise in L2 acquisition terminology: a language you haven’t acquired). This practice is very much divorced from the normal human facility for language. Pretending it is a ‘superior’ pursuit to the pursuits of people who actually want to acquire a foreign language is just your ego talking. It is an easy out for you because you’ve chosen to pursue one single thing which can be achieved by spending countless hours engage in a FEW straight-forward activities – reading, vocab work, and grammar work… which I could just as easily call out as TOTAL COWARDICE in the face of the great, great, great many more facets and complexities and challenges involved in not only achieving literacy but full fluency, a good accent, and acquisition of a target language.

The big challenge probably scares you because it doesn’t depend wholly on your ability to concentrate for long hours, but also requires you to develop muscular skills (of the tongue and voice), careful listening skills (to imitate pronunciation – especially including the word AND sentence level intonation), and social skills to engage native speakers and not become ashamed. In short, it is way lest predictable and easily smashes one’s confidence over and over.

This reading thing, it’s a legitimate pursuit for sure – but the moment you pretend what you are practicing is somehow superior – that’s when you’ve crossed the line.

AlFromBayShore
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Latin is taught to learn your native language. As the expression goes: “Latin does a better job at teaching English than teaching English.”

Romeo_is_real
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Roosh, Michel thomas is better than a lot of other language programs out there. But don’t you find the voice actors (retarded idiots) on the programs to be a major test of your patience?

I’ve found Markus santamaria a huge improvement on Michel Thomas – too bad he only covers Spanish though.

Any recos on non-Michel Thomas language programmes People?

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Veni Vidi Vici
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Agreed, Michael Thomas scratchy voice is annoying as hell but I was able to tolerate his German but his French, hell no. I believe some newer courses like Russian and Arabic employ native speakers but you still have to deal with the students making mistakes.
Also I personally prefer Fluenz for languages like Portuguese because you receive practice with common words and some grammar which you see in action; Pimsleur is to damn slow for me but I would use for more difficult Languages like Arabic or Russian.
I wish they had a Synergy Portuguese too.

Southern Man
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I’m going to Spain later this spring and Mexico this fall and am trying to learn enough Spanish that I can negotiate a purchase in a store or ask directions without being taken for an utter moron. Any additional suggestions from commenters?
]Southern Man

hanfeedback
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hanfeedback
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Pimsleur.

JB
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JB
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I second the Pimsleur, it’s amazing.

Veni Vidi Vici
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Veni Vidi Vici
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Synergy Spanish like the man said above. Anyone learning Spanish for the first would be a fool not too use it. You learn 138 words and use them in sentences over and over again.

Dude
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While I agree with you about using Anki for languages, I have found it have useful in medical school for anatomy, biochemistry and other stuff that you just have to memorize.

A.J.
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The irony…

michael
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Have a child with a woman who speaks a different language (polish in my case) and insist that she speaks that langauge to the child starting at birth eleven years on my daughter is fluent in two languages and I am able to communicate abstract ideas with her in polish i must add slang is always the toughest as it is always evolving

Just Saying
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“The bar has been so lowered”

Of course, that is the Liberal way of dealing with everything – remove all semblance of sanity and define it to meet your need. If you have no army – no problem, you are “peace” oriented. Liberals always destroy – it is all they can do since they never create, build, or enhance – all they do is drag things through the mud while trying to convince you how clean something is.

Look at the Obama administration – the most “transparent” administration ever… (I rest my case…)

The ONLY way to become fluent in any language is through total immersion – you have to stop doing the “translating” in your head, and think it…

Sandy Bandy
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Sandy Bandy
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Someone’s been watching too much Fox News…just talking about languages here…

Bluegrapes
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Bluegrapes
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It’s annoying when someone, of any political affiliation, takes the opportunity to inject their political opinions on a non political topic.

Mingus
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Mingus
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Pimsleur for a base. Then pillow talk. Girls who speak no english are tremendous instructors.

what
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what
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Are you speaking English?

Emahray Trolle
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I couldn’t make any progress at all until my wife’s 6 yo nephew spoke to me in Vietnamese as he would to any other kid.

A.J.
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A.J.
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Your wife is Vietnamese? But I was under the impression that Vietnamese people can’t speak English… is that true?

what
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what
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Aren’t you reading an article about learning languages?

Ari Mendelson
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I used SuperMemo to acquire a reading comprehension in two ancient languages. This use was extremely successful for me, while ordinary flash cards failed multiple times.

Further, my wife used SuperMemo to crush (better than top 5% of doctors in her specialty) her board exam in her medical specialty. Until she tried SuperMemo, her scores were solid but not nearly so remarkable.

I would say that there IS a place for programs like SuperMemo. But if you want to learn to speak a language (rather than just understand what you’re reading), some WELL CHOSEN items of grammar, useful phrases should be JUDICIOUSLY entered into the program and integrated into your language learning as a “part of this complete breakfast” strategy.

There are no magic pills. But everybody’s different, and different techniques will work differently for different people.

Keep trying stuff and see what works. It’s hard to beat trial and error.

Roosh_V
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My beef with spaced repetition is that it doesn’t help you SPEAK the language.

Ari Mendelson
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If there’s a grammatical form you tend to forget, a phrase you especially want to remember, some vocabulary that needs to be hammered down, that’s a good application for spaced repetition.

I’d guess it can help you SPEAK the language, if used as a supplement to other forms of language education. I would venture to say that if used properly, you could acquire a language quicker with a combination of spaced repetition and, say, Pimsleur than with just Pimsleur alone.

Ari Mendelson
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Also, if you have language lessons on an audio file, you might either be able to schedule a lesson as a repetition in Super-memo, basically letting the computer tell you when you need to review the lesson. This way, you might be able to maximize how much you recall from taking the audio lessons, thus getting the benefits of both approaches.

That method might wind up stacking too many lessons up at once, but if you can figure out how to schedule the material to minimize that problem, it might be the ideal approach for some people.

Ari Mendelson
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I’d also figure that if you use some of the mnemonic techniques from Kenneth Higbee’s “Your Memory” book, you’d do yet better.

But, again, learning a complex subject is, well, complex and different people will respond differently to different approaches.

ycbin8
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To be fair, spaced repetition programs do not purport to help you speak the language. It does what it is good at: learning vocabulary. With a sufficiently large vocabulary, you can then work on consolidating your knowledge by extensive reading. Then work on producing language: speaking or writing.

citizen of the world
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It doesn’t help you converse, but it can be used to practice speaking quite well.

This works if you can find a quality large deck, with sentences in your native language on one side of the card, and the translation on the other. Then you are presented with a sentence that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of, have to translate it in your head, and then speak it out aloud. Then when you check with the answer, read it aloud while reading the now displayed answer, so that you can check your progress.

This wouldn’t be useful for a new learner, maybe after finishing a Michel Thomas course. However, even with basic vocab decks, SPEAK the words out aloud, don’t just think them in your head. Say it many times. Get the pronunciation correct. Best with decks with audio.

The best way to learn language is to study feverishly for a few of months, and then go to that country for a few months, and then continue to study afterwards. Try to interact with natives as much as possible. Prepare sentences to get started with in conversations, and then try to think on your feet.

P.S. nice rant article, agree with many points (except Anki being useless – it isn’t a magic bullet, but it isn’t useless)

Bill
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Bill
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If you don’t learn the vocabulary you will never be a able to speak the language.

preppin
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Excellent x 10.

I’m sick and tire of not only the American’s narcissism, but his/her absolute conviction that there is always a “secret,” a hack, or some easier way to success than hard work driven on determination and perseverance.

In my need to pick up some Japanese and now really learn Spanish, I’ve read much of the fluent-in-3-months kinda crap. Sure. Anyone can do it, especially in 3 months. Anki, check. Language hacking guides, check. Motivation and dedication, check. Ability to even get by in Japanese during my trip. Ha! Yeah right.

Pure and simple marketing to the get-rich quick Amercian mentality. While you’re learning your new language in 3 short months, you can also have an amazing body in 4 hours, while only working 4 hours a week to support yourself and meet all your needs financially, unless you’re already financially independent from buying real estate for nothing-down.

Steve
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Steve
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I agree that the “get ____ quick” is an american idea, but that’s because it is a global idea. It’s an idea used by the manipulators to manipulate the manipulated, doesn’t matter where you are. That said, and being american, I have very little love for most aspects of american culture.

Dmm
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Great article Roosh. Finally somebody speaks the truth about these charlatans. For English it took me years of study and speaking to get fluent and even though that I can only pass as an American for the very first 5 minutes in a conversation. For German it took me almost 2 years of study while living in Germany to get a BASIC fluency.
When I see those motherfuckers saying they got fluent in Japanese or Chinese in only 3 months I feel like punching them in the face.

What a waste of time watching those bastards on youtube.

hernandayoleary
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I can’t say for Japanese but yes one could become fluent in Chinese in 3 months simply because Chinese has almost no grammar or conjugations and the little grammar it does have is identitcal to english like sentence structure. This does not count the written part but merely speaking. I was able to get quiet far in Chinese in one month of a small class study than I was in 2 years of french because a simple verb like avoir literally has a bunch of conjugations. Chinese only have 1 single way of saying to have and it doesn’t change. So you literally learn hundreds less words learning chinese. The difficulty in Chinese is the characters and lack of an alphabet. Each word is basically a picture. In fact if I had to pick a language that was easiest to learn speaking, I’d pick Chinese. Now writing is another matter.

But imagine if french looked like this
je suis
tu suis
il/elle/on suis
nous suis
vous suis
ils/elles suis
and had no gender on nouns
I suspect I could cut down the time it took to learn by about 10 times.

Why? Because every verb had 9 different ways to be changed depending on who the verb was about. Then the noun in the same sentence could change based on the gender. So for every sentence that is about 11 different ways a sentence meaning the same thing can be written.

Dmm
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Too much bro science in your comment brah. By the way, stop licking Benny’s ass, he’s a charlatan, beta and fat.

Vezzini
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The US State Department, who know such things, rate Chinese in the top level of difficulty for native English speakers. The pronunciation and tones make verbal communication a challenge for anyone. Several sounds in Chinese have no equivalents in English. I bet your Chinese is shit.

hernandayoleary
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Each language will vary by the experience of the person learning it. Most people at the state department already have to speak a 2nd language which is usually spanish. So of course knowing another latin/indo-european language will make any other IE language comparatively easier. Had all state department officials had to learn south korean first, I suspect they’d claim Chinese was easier and languages like french and english or spanish rate amongst the hardest to learn.

I also assume that the state department is counting chinese characters as part of chinese hence that alone would elevate chinese to a difficult language to write for the average english speaker. The lack of an alphabet does make chinese a difficult language to read. But a good chunk of the chinese population is illiterate and poor and live in mud huts, hundreds of millions by the way. Your not dumber than a mud hut person are you?

The tones are a non-issue and are not a challenge. They sound very distinct. While there are about 3-4 sounds that do not exist in english that exist in chinese, they are relatively distinct sounds that are easy to comprehend for an english speaker. I am not a chinese or an asian person. So i speak from an outsider perspective. And lets not pretend that languages like Spanish with its rolling r, or french which also has a rolling r that comes from the throat like an arabic word (ie rien) or about dozens of different nasal, and throat based words that almost no english speaker over 25 ever learns to perfect don’t exist. French has more sounds that do not exist than Chinese in comparasion to English.

It is much easier to learn a new sound that is crisp and distinct like in Chinese than pronouncing the most simpliest french word like un and une correctly. In French the most basic sound like ah in Apple or est/et/es/eh etc can have about 14 different sounds that correspond to 14 different words all of which are entirely context depending on how the other words are arranged.

Eh Tu es et is indistinguishable from
et es-tu eh
And you can re-arrange this sentence around about a dozen ways. Chinese has a very simple grammer that follows english. If Chinese used solely the latin alphabet it would be the easiest language on the planet bar none for an english speaker. The complexitity is entirely in the characters. After all, how hard can Chinese be, over 1.3 billion people speak and in 1995 the average income of such person was $500 A YEAR = less than $2 a day; so most of them could not even afford a book.

Nope, my Chinese is not shit, Chinese is not difficult to pronounce, at least not compared to languages like French, or Spanish or Portuguese full of accents and weird grammatical rules surrounding pronounciation based on where a word is placed.

You can go to a 3rd year chinese class and watch a white guy speak chinese very well. Then you can go to a 3rd year french class and watch a white guy struggle to put together a grammatically correct french sentence simply because all the words constantly change depending on about 100 different factor. The verb changes based on the speaker. The nouns change based on the gender. And both can change based on the tense or possession.
In French the verb in the present tense can have 10 forms. There are about 20 tenses. so all in all a simple word can have 200 variations. In chinese you have none of this. No tenses, no gender, no changing sentences. So that time you take to learn the 200 different ways to say I came, I come, I am coming, I was coming, I did come etc, I came many times in the past vs I came and am still coming in french (yes these are different tenses). you can be learning 200 real words in chinese.

Vezzini
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grammer? Really? Damn, you don’t even speak English.

1.3 billion people don’t speak Chinese. Or, at least, Mandarin. But of course you knew that and were just joking. Right?

Right?

hernandayoleary
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Your comment is written in a bizzare way that is difficult to understand
Chinese has 1.2 billion speakers according to :
Chinese language reference at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)

So I was off by .1 billion.

Mandarin has a little under 1 billion speakers. So about 1 in 6 people in the world speak mandarin, mostly mud hut people with rottening teeth, you aren’t dumber than a mud hut person are you?

Vezzini
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400 million people on the mainland don’t speak Mandarin. You just repeated some crap you read somewhere. Also, your Mandarin is shit.

hernandayoleary
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hernandayoleary
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Your mothers a shit

hernandayoleary
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hernandayoleary
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Your mothers a shit

Mike Mack
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chinese is easy, if you’re only learning to speak it
if you include learning to read the thousands of characters then it becomes a level 4 language…

Dmm
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The point is not that whether Chinese is easy or not. The point is that you cannot get fluent in 3 month in a language that belongs to a different language family. I already speak Spanish and Catalan fluently, could I get fluent in Portuguese or Italian if I study hard for 3 months? Maybe, but it’s just a poor guess.

You don’t get fluent after a defined period of time. If you got quite far in Chinese in one month, good for you, but you are not fluent and you’re not going to be after 3 freaking months. Getting fluent is a gradual change and slow, there is no shortcut. In all the skills that shares those properties you’ll
fine charlatans, fitness, languages and business are good examples.

You stick with the stupid point of the French grammar vs. Chinese grammar. Let me show you a concept that was actually developed by a real linguistic and not an electronic engineer. It’s call universal grammar.

Wikipedia:

“Universal grammar (UG) is a theory in linguistics, usually credited to Noam Chomsky, proposing that the ability to learn grammar is hard-wired into the brain. The theory suggests that linguistic ability manifests itself without being taught and
that there are properties that all natural human languages share. It is a matter of observation and experimentation to determine precisely what abilities are innate and what properties are shared by all languages.“

With your argument you are implying that Chinese cannot express certain aspects of time as French can. You are implying that “you are talking bullshit” cannot be expressed because you cannot make the verb in gerund in Chinese. As
you already know there is a grammatical structure to express that, although the verb doesn’t change. If you still struggle with French after 3 years, you are doing it wrong. Another example I even found in your comment: the French tense “I came many times in the past” that you are actually trying to transfer to English is better done as “I used to came”. Grammatically there is no direct substitute, but it doesn’t mean you cannot express the same information.

Another beginner misconception I see in the way you develop your arguments is the idea of the more words I have the better. 200 more words in your vocabulary means shit.

Last thing I have to tell you is: learn Chinese for 3 months go to China and then tell me if you are fluent.

By the way, I speak fluently Spanish, Catalan, English and German. I have studied Chinese 1 hour a day for 8 months and have slept with a Chinese pussy for 1 year. Oh yeah, Chinese pussy tastes like soy sauce.

hernandayoleary
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You can get fluent in 3 months, just ask the missionaires who got fluent in about half that time. It just would require you to devote your entire day to becoming fluent.

I agree most of the products pitching this are frauds. The only way to get fluent that rapidly would be to literally have someone bilingual follow you around all day and give you every word.

I did not say that you cannot express concepts in Chinese as you can in French, you said that not me. Most people in my french class who were french speakers from quebec were getting the same or worse than me in the french test although their speaking was better. French people struggle with french grammar never mind fsl. Alot of the way they talk is grammatically incorrect which is why fluent quebec french speakers were getting worse than me on the written test.

Actually no, the more words you know the better because the more things you can understand. What use is their in knowing the 200 different ways a single french verb can appear when in another language that verb can appear only one way which allows you to learn literally 199 other words?

Most people use around 1000 words in typical speech not counting variations of the same word. Hence it’d be relatively easy to be fluent in chinese as the words do not morph. Whereas it can take years to become fluent in french because of the morphing words, it can take as few as 3 months to be fluent in chinese.

I learned chinese for 1 month about 6 hours a day and on my way to fluency, I understood about 40% of what a chinese in the street was speaking. Ihave no doubt had I spent 2 more months I would be fluent

Dmm
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Would you be able to get a job in China with that level?

Wayne Earl
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No, he wouldn’t, for the same reason as everyone else – he is not Chinese.

Ask anyone even tangentially related to manufacturing to confirm this.

worldchanger
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“For German it took me almost 2 years of study while living in Germany to get a BASIC fluency.” I know this is old, but you’re a fucking moron, then.

psyrus
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psyrus
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Я рад что вы это писал. Надо сказал.

Attilah
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I’ve been watching “fluent in 3 months” clips on my Facebook feed as I must have clicked a like button years ago. Three months is enough time to begin to construct sentences, have basic conversation and read some, in no way would I consider that fluent.

It takes years of work. If you have a deep interest in the culture, you will find a way if you persist and IT IS WORTH IT. Strangely, even if it is incredibly basic, I found Michel Thomas’ CDs a great beginning. It won’t make you fluent but it started up the process. From there I worked on memorizing opposites in my head, using the few verbs I knew in their conjugated forms throughout my day in different contexts . It got to the point where everything I thought in English needed to be thought in Spanish as well,
Even if slightly incorrectly. I kept a
Pocket dictionary with me constantly. By the time I moved to Mexico, I was ready for phase two. I learned quickly after. While walking around ceaselessly talking to yourself in the new language may not be everyone’s up of tea it was effective for me after being told my whole life l had severe disabilities with language learning. I haven’t lived in a Spanish speaking country in 10 years but it’s deeply fused in my brain now. I could never sit through a formal class so developed an obsession that proved seriously useful.

Eli
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I think you need to be committed to a language for many years. A native speaker develops their vocabulary and ability over years and decades of school, reading, television, interaction, etc etc. No way anyone can replicate that in 3-6 months. I try to learn a lot of grammar up front and then try to get into reading material that interests me…business, politics, history, sports, whatever. Over time the vocabulary expands just like in your native language…using flashcards or these apps is flat out boring and you won’t keep up with it. Conversation Exchange is a good way to barter and chat with someone in your target language in exchange for teaching them your native language.

Minty
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Good article. I think a key point to add is that when you learn a language, you aren’t just learning one thing – you need to learn and practise several different skills. Some of these require theoretical understanding, some require practical use, and most depend on both in different proportions. A mistake that i see many language learners make is to focus too much on one skill while neglecting others which are more relevant to their goals. Your point about anki is similar – anki is actually a fantastic tool for building your passive vocabulary, but it won’t help you to speak. Likewise, even total conversational immersion won’t have great results if you don’t back it up with grammar/theoretical study. As you rightly point out, it’s a good deal more complicated than most people appreciate.

T and A man
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“my ability to learn a language has actually decreased”

There is on factor, the most important factor you’re leaving out.

It’s something we don’t like to face nor admit.

It’s called age.

The ability for our brains to shape itself for new information as we get older, where it fragments it and stores it, decreases.

I’d recommend reading and saying(singing) kids nursery rhymes in private. They are designed for people with poor language skills (i.e. by default).

Graham
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Thanks for this timely article. As I read your critique of Anki I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. It seemed like “the answer” at first, but soon became a rather joyless way of learning and I now see why my language learning has stagnated. If, like me, you only have time to spend 20 minutes a day or so on language learning, then I don’t think Anki is the best way to spend your time. After reading this article, I am, with great relief, going to discontinue my use of this app. However, to be fair to Anki, I think it was designed originally as a way to learn Japanese characters, so perhaps the visual aspect of it had its uses in this specific context.

Switch
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The only so-called polyglot I’ve ever read is Benny the Irish Polyglot, from Fluentin3months. I believe that if you treat language learning as a fulltime job (like he does) that you can become quite fluent in 3 months. 8 hours a day x 7 days per week x 14 weeks is 784 hours, and that seems like plenty of time to become fluent to me. I believe Benny’s legit because I’ve watched videos of him speaking Chinese with native Chinese speakers, and as someone who’s been learning the language for 6 years now, his level approached or surpassed mine in about 3 months. But I agree that most of the modern language learning tools are total bullshit.

If I were to start learning Spanish right now, I’d do this: Purchase Pimsleur and a bootleg copy of Rosetta Stone, a dictionary, some blank flashcards, and then I’d find a language exchange partner online from Mexico. Practice 10 hours / week and you’ll be conversationally fluent within a year

hanfeedback
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Seems like a decent start, but Spanish is like English, it has alot of variation in vernacular among it’s speakers, If you are in the US Mexican spanish is fine but what do you do if you want to primarily communicate with people in Colombia?

JB
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My Mexican Spanish is always understood in Colombia. I can understand Colombian Spanish as well as I understand Mexican.

I have trouble understanding the Spanish in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador but they understand me.

I think the only Spanish that would be challenging (outside of Spain) would be Chilean but I haven’t been to Chile yet.

hanfeedback
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I learned Spanish as an adult, took a good solid 5 years using it daily to become fluent, yes, fluent like I could live my life in Latin America and be completely ok. Most of the advice in this article is good, I found that Pimsleur worked the best for me. When you learn a new language you can get to about 50-60% being able to hold a decent conversation, but to get to the point where you can live it daily is another ballgame and takes much more time and effort and the learning pace slows down significantly.

With that being said, I rate the programs in this order.

1. Pimsleur
2. Rosetta Stone

I have not found any other programs on the level of these 2. Pimsleur is expensive but you get what you pay for.

Mike Mack
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rosetta is trash

John
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John
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American culture in relation to commerce- your frustrations in a nutshell.
Marketing wind bags working on the gullibility of the public.

How bout we just have a revolution and let nature cleanse herself?

Jav
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I will add Duolingo and Coffee break Spanish to pimsleur and Michel Thomas as useful tools.

Poder
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Good article and I agree with most of it and some parts I strongly disagree with. Some notes:

1. I agree with Anki not showing the words frequently enough. I used Anki to study the kanji and the main problem with it is that there were over 2,000 character I wanted to study. I would put all the character in one deck but they would never show the characters I wanted to learn frequently enough. So I would learn a character one day, and a few days later when the character popped up, I would not remember it. Anki only worked well for me when I made smaller sized decks of 25 cards or so, so there character I wanted to remember appeared more frequently. I like Surusu because it gives you the option of reviewing words more frequently, 1-5 days instead of months.

2. Spaced Repetition Programs are still far, far superior to paper notecards. It is not even close, really. I did the notecard method when studying Spanish and after you write 3,000 or more notecards you learned, it becomes tedious to review them all, they take up a lot of space (literally, I had a big box in my room with nothing but Spanish notecards) and they don’t last long because they get wet or tear.

3. Spaced Repetition Programs can help you learn vocabulary, and grammar in context. You just cannot learn words in isolation. You need to use the “Sentence Method” as developed by the gentlemen of anti-moon.com and further developed by alljapaneseallthetime.com.

http://www.antimoon.com/how/usingsm-makeitems-sentence.htm

10,000 Sentences: How

4. You are correct. You cannot be fluent in 3 months in any language. Even in a “easy” language like Italian or Spanish. Benny from Fluent in 3 Months is one of the biggest charlatans on the Internet. Benny have a real superficial understand on the language. Also, in 3 months you do not have enough time to develop your listening skills which can take months, if not a couple of years. The most credible stories I hear of people learning several of languages are individuals who studied each language for 1.5 – 3 years and they basically made that language their life.

5. I agree that learning a language should be useful to you and should not be used as a source of bragging.

6. I think speaking a language first without having a lot of listening and reading experience is a huge mistake. Your ability to comprehend what is being said to you is far more important than being able to express yourself. I know a man from Korea who does not speak English well but is able to understand everything I say to him. Hence communication is possible. Now imagine talking to a man who is a perfect speaker but cannot understand what you tell him. Communication is impossible. I have met foreign language speakers who can speak well but have weak listening comprehension. I have never met a foreign language speaker that can listen well but cannot also speak well.

7. I never used Michel Thomas. Not a fan of Pimseleur. It is too slow, too boring and doesn’t help much with listening and reading.

8. Grammar books are not useless but will not get you to fluency. Also they are boring. Who wants to read a grammar book? I read an entire grammar book and although it was helpful, I would have better spent my time reading Spanish newspapers and books instead.

9. Watching foreign language shows without subtitles is an excellent way of learning how to listen.

10. Fornicating with beautiful women who’s native language is your target language is also a great way to learn.

I started with the notecard and textbook method but that did not lead to fluency for me. The best methods I have used involved a lot of listening and a lot of reading; they have deemphasized speaking and writing.

The best internet resources of learning a language to me are: http://www.antimoon.com and http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com I heard http://www.lingq.com was good but I have never used it. I watched some of Steve Kaufmann’s videos and like that he emphasized a lot of reading and a lot of listening, says you cannot learn a language in 3 months, emphasizes that you need a strong foundation in a language so you do not forget it and it is not possible to have a native like fluency in a lot of languages, meaning a person may speak a lot of languages but may only be super fluent in a few while just having a high intermediate level in other languages.

Roosh_V
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“I have met foreign language speakers who can speak well but have weak listening comprehension.”

I realized this recently when I could speak more Russian than understand. What ended up happening was I would go into routine-based speech and so natural communication was weak where I was essentially talking at the person. Watching television/movies is essential.

Gus Vanz Aunt
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also talk radio

Jorge Andres
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Learning language patterns has helped me big time in tackling Korean. As mentioned in the original post, learning isolated words hasn’t been of much help by itself. Patterns on the other hand (e.g. Please give me ~, How can I go to the ~, etc.) put everything in context and are much more useful from the get-go. As a bonus, once you learn enough of them, the grammar starts to become intuitive because you’re using correct grammar from the start rather than making botched attempts at trying to get ideas across.

The other great thing about patterns is that no expensive textbooks are required – just about any decent phrasebook will do.

The other thing that has really helped has been adhering to the “STFU and LISTEN” philosophy. New language learners are often so preoccupied with thinking of what they want to say that they never pay full attention to what the native speakers are telling them – big mistake. By shutting the f*ck up and actually listening to the person, you give yourself the chance to recognize words, which are then reinforced in your memory and can be implemented in the future.

Great post Roosh – thanks!

mark
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Great advice. Spent hours watching Mexican TV and news. Helped me understand much more than I could speak. Also, helped with the rhythm and speed of the local language. Avoiding all English contact also helped. The English speakers made me lazy.

Vezzini
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Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to bash Anki. It does work. However, it is what it is – a better replacement for flashcards. It builds vocabulary and nothing more.

I agree about its relentlessness, though. It absolutely does not permit vacations of any kind. That sucks.

It’s a pity that so many charlatans have taken to Anki as a solution for all problems, because it’s a nifty little piece of software.

Gus Vanz Aunt
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The “polyglots” also propagate bad info. Like suggesting to learning Mandarin because “it’s good for business!” or “has the most speakers!” really don’t know what they’re talking about and the reasons for selecting a language to study are more nuanced than that.

Justin
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Actually those spaced repetition work excellently. Having a decent vocabulary base is the fastest and easiest way to be quickly speaking a language. I am a former military linguist and we use programs like this in our studies. I became professionally fluent in 2 languages in a year, it is definitely possible. Of course you can’t be fluent just be doing flashcards, but it’s a great tool. With a few hours of speaking practice weekly you really can speak semi fluently in a language. If you actually believe that you can develop the same intonation and accent as a native in your lifetime then you are foolish to begin with. The only people that are upset about these people making “get-fluent-fast” programs are the ones who fell for them. They can actually be great steps to learning.

AFemaleCat
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I just wanted to tell you something that I saw today…

So I’m sitting at a coffee shop and a group of teenagers walked in. There was a white boy with blondeish hair…super super skinny…so young looking not more than 14…and there was an Asian girl who looked a bit older (maybe 2 years)…and she basically was one step away from giving him a hand job right there in front of me in the coffee shop (not really, but she was rubbing his chest and shit)! I mean the look on her face was of sexual euphoria…and even the guy aka ’12 year old boy’ was standing unusually rigid.

I’m seeing shit like this a lot more and it disturbs me. I know from experience that the men who got laid at age 14 ended up turning out a bit strange (and marrying VERY POORLY as in ugly chicks). So today I felt like there was actually an evil to the girl…as in this asian female was actually getting more from this white male through sex than he is getting from her…Like he’s going to be stunted for the rest of his life because he’s a little kid with no masculinity whatsoever getting laid by some crazy white person obsessed chick….It was so strange and creepy.

Let’s face it Roosh, you are the man you are today (I’m not condoning the lifestyle, but I am complementing you on all the knowledge you have obtained and the fact that you’ve carved out a niche of self-employment) because you didn’t get laid. You had to work for it…and by working for it you became a more knowledgeable person.

Chris Martin didn’t lose his virginity till 22 and he said that was the point of becoming a rock star…to get laid! And guess what! He succeeded on both counts!

Having to work for it builds character. Anyways, I just felt like this girl is destroying this kid…its was like interracial pedophelia. Very creepy and very disturbing. So yeah…

Mr. Toes
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Memrise is better than Anki. It’s much much much more likely to have voice and graphics for any word. Always with these programs say the word before you type it out, and if you pronounce it wrong, correct your pronunciation.

Building a vocabulary is very much a prerequisite for long-term fluency and enables you to start reading the language quickly. Once you get up to 3000 words you have the vocabulary of a 3-year old. That’s 200 days of learning at 15 words per day, which is hard to maintain! With a base in vocab and grammar one can read newspapers and the like out-loud to yourself. Watching foreign TV with foreign sub-titles can also be valuable, but you have to be able to read quickly to do this.

Eli
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I think Pimsleur is only a very introductory course. In Spanish, it doesn’t even cover much of the Subjunctive, which is critical for basic functioning. I know many gringos who claim to know Spanish yet don’t know the Subjunctive or use it incorrectly. Of course learning Spanish is easy if you leave out the difficult parts.

Mike Mack
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the subjunctive is not needed to communicate effectively

BigBoobyLovah
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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2592664/Controversial-new-book-claims-overweight-GOOD-you.html

“Fat Acceptance” is a menace that’s unfortunately gaining more widespread appeal with American women too.

One more reason for heterosexual American men to flee.

atyomommahouse
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Truly Learning a language and being serious about it to the point you move to a different country and stay away from people that speak your language is a very long but rewarding process

g
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Roosh, this is not a great article.

I used Anki to teach myself lower intermediate Korean. I can read, write, listen and speak. The fact that you were learning “words” tells me you were doing it wrong. Of course a word is out of context. That’s why you input sentences, or audio files. If you want to learn to speak, you put a focus on producing sentences over recognizing.

To learn a language well you must engage daily, so I don’t see your criticism of daily revision as valid.

I had a “bank” of over 3500 sentences. I no longer review them and I still retain a great deal (i stopped actively studying years ago), enough to navigate Korea and basic conversations with ease.

To be fair, in conjunction with this study I consumed an enormous amount of Korean media (tv shows, music, etc…). This is vital.

Anyway, I don’t think you should speak so authoritatively on a tool you have misused.

I do think you have a great blog here though, and agree these 3 months polyglots are liars, except in the rare case of savants.

RealZombi3
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I used to use anki a lot but nowadays much prefer memrise. For me, spaced repetition programs work brilliantly, but some people will be better of with a notepad or other method. I prefer memrise because you often have to write the answer down. Plus, I make sure to verbally pronounce every word that comes up. You can also add sentences in context which will help you learn to speak. You can make your own course in memrise by selecting to teach a course and then just keep it private.

I love Michel Thomas courses! They give you such a good base to work on. I’ve never found Pimsleur that great because it doesn’t get you to think enough, just remember. Assimil is also supposed to be pretty good.

Zelcorpion
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I agree. The best real polyglots start by learning grammar, then go through reading, TV clips – anything that they are interested in in order to build on that basic level. Words and phrases come naturally and with enough practice and exercise the language learning time can be shortened from 12 months to even 10 weeks depending on given memory, time applied. If you know 4 languages – learning the 5th and 6th is easier. (Personally I know 4 – plus marginally useless Latin).

Mike Mack
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anything more than basic grammar, is absolutely pointless at the beginning

hernandayoleary
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100% agreed, it took me 4 years of university french full year and a 6 month french immersion to get up to a high level of understanding, not fluency but being able to turn on a french tv and understand 90%+ of the words. Anyone who thinks you can learn a language in 3 months is delusional. Unless you are rich and can afford to hire a language tutor to follow you around 24/7 like a presidential candidate or have a live in partner and have the mental energy to learn the language and then forget learning a language under a year.

It is true missionaires did learn languages in under 12 months but this was through 12 hours a day of drilling and living amongst locals who literally held their hand and showed them the name of everything.

toby,germany
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toby,germany
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Brilliant Article.

MikeyArmstrong
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I’m a polyglot and I have a completely different way of learning languages than any other polyglots I’ve ever met. I learn languages through sounds and inflections. I make physical connections between these sounds and the meanings of words. I am also a freak in that I taught myself three different languages when I was ten years old. I recently taught myself Turkish. It took me six months to do this.

benvad
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Check out fluent in 3 months by Benny Lewis. Interesting website.

Fkarl
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Great article.
As mentioned in the article, the ability in a language must fit a useful purpose in your life as work or romance instead of being based on the ability to trick others into thinking you have a good command of the language based on pointless 5-minute talks.
“polyglots” will obviously not keep proficiency when speaking a language if they don’t practice with natives often or live in the respective country. Actually polyglots have only 5 minute fluency since they speak from memorized schemes and can’t speak naturally. Noone of them ever shows a certified proficiency exam

hji
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Haters and contributors?

ROOOSH, THIS SUCKS, THST IS FUCT, BLAH BLAH

Somepeoplearedense
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But I learned just as much in 100 hours as you did in 10,000 hours! I was just really efficient and used some novel techniques to memorize vocabulary and didn’t need to study grammar; I assimilated it all just by talking.

And every few months I switch to another language and without practicing the previously learning languages I maintain all my progress. I’m just really gifted at languages. Oh, you want me to show proof of my language methods? Do I have a teaching degree? Um….haterz!!!!

Michelle
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I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you. It’s true that for the majority of people learning and mastering a language in a couple months is close to impossible but the truth is there are some people who can learn languages fairly easily. In 5 years I’ve learned Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese and Spanish and I assure you that I’m fluent in all of them. How do I know? No native speaker I’ve ever talked to in any of these languages ever realized I wasn’t a native until I actually told them. Besides this is only my 3rd month learning English and take a look at my progress already! I’m an exception to the rule and I feel proud about it!
Everyone has a unique talent and as far as I know learning languages is a talent too therefore there’ll be people who are just naturally good at it. It’s not fair to compare those people’s talents to regular people’s. Would you compare Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston who are/were gifted to Lady Gaga or Katy Perry who need practice to be good at it?
I’m sorry to be so straightforward but it’s the truth.

AlanLovesLanguages
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Right on @Michelle!

Logic2i
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Always a good read. Would be great to hear your thoughts on Duolingo. Seems like a good starting point but I’m sure it’s not as good as forcing yourself to converse with others.

AM
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AM
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I have a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Languages, and I used to be able to casually write in both of them. I took a year of German and could speak and read it conversationally. Once upon a time, I could sightread about anything in French, although I couldn’t reproduce it.

I don’t claim to be a polyglot because people feel intimidated by it. Also, it’s been two years, so I’m pretty rusty, and vocabulary was always my weak point.

This article is (mostly) completely true. I especially love this,

“Don’t fall for the newfangled language tool that wants to make money off you when a 30-year grammar book will get you farther. Instead, focus on materials written on dead tree paper or actually talk to real life people.”

Absolutely true. The sad thing is, this mentality is invading college study, and it really screwed with my ability to learn (although admittedly, I was always more into reading and writing than into speaking).

If I had to give concise advice, I would say: a) read over the rules of pronunciation and grammar, but don’t focus on them because they will come by osmosis. b) Pour most of your study time into vocabulary. I on the other hand would spend hours pouring over declensions and little time on vocabulary, and it made a major effect on my grade.

Tlaxcalli
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So you’ve never learned another language, so now you think you should write an article telling people how to learn a language? What a joke. While I agree with some of your criticisms and points, I can assure you that the number one way to learn a language (in terms of input time) is listening to it, not speaking it. Both are important, but unless you like to blabber on (probably with broken grammar and a bad accent), then listening is key.

Endlessfoulu .
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Agreed 100%. The hardest skill is to fully understand what native speakers are saying to you at full speed, because it is so unpredictable.

jdr
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jdr
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Amen. This is the best language learning post I have EVER read!!!!!

Harrison
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Your critique of anki seems narrowly focused on using it for memorizing words out of context. First of all this is an inane way to use anki, and the value of Anki is that it can include context in flashcards. Anki is really indispensable for getting massive exposure and retaining it. There are many creative ways I use it to my advantage. However I do concede that is can turn into abyss if you’re not experienced with it. Also I completely disagree about your criticism of polyglot as an identity. Some people, like me, have an insatiable drive to learn languages for reasons that can’t be reduced to practical concerns but rather some sublime ambition. I think it’s fair for us to have a word that contains our identity and sets us apart from the dilettantes.

soup
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Being able to speak a language doesn’t make you literate. The best speakers in the world are also incredibly well read individuals, and tools like Anki can be used to increase your passive vocabulary at least to the degree that it can be used to allow you to read native material with less time spent hand-to-mouth living from a dictionary because you do not have the basic familiarity with the words on the page to be able to parse what is being communicated.

Learning a language using the spoken language as a primary means will only get you so far. Yes, with enough time you will be able to converse with people at basic adult level, but that isn’t at a level above a high school student.

Maybe one thing about these genuine polyglots people seem to misunderstand -though with all the people out there peddling a product, it isn’t hard not to- is that people use tools such as SRS to take advantage of comprehensive input, and to put it simply: you will never have an adult level proficiency in a language if you act on a belief that speaking a language is key to learning a language. It can only take you so far.

Would you be content with your English if you were able to chat with people in your workplace but unable to read at a university level? Life is richer when mediocrity isn’t an upper limit of satisfaction.

JSutt
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One of the first things these fluent in three months twits do is reduce the meaning of ‘fluent’ to ‘can get by + use a few semi-clever sentences that they’ve memorised’. They’re like the expat who can tell a girl she’s beautiful but can’t use the same words in a different sentence. Pure charlatanism.

dannyR
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“Pimsleur” No

“and Michel Thomas.” Somewhat