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Methods

How I’m learning what I’m learning,

and how I learned what I’ve already learned.

While I am grateful for both my high school and university education, I will be the first person to admit that trying to learn a language in a classroom is like trying to learn to paint by drawing with crayons. Yes, there’s a lot of rough concepts you can pick up that way, but it’s not going to turn you into a fluent speaker. The only way you can learn to speak is by speaking. A lot. With real native speakers. In this age of the internet, that’s not as difficult as it used to be. There’s italki, for one, and there’s also vk.com (short for VKontakte), which is essentially Facebook for Russia and Europe.

Back in MY day, we had to take a plane to another country. After we walked to the airport. Uphill. Both ways. In the snow. I might be exaggerating slightly, but my point is it’s incredibly easy to make contact with people on this day and age. It’s an absolute godsend for language learners. And there’s no excuse not to, because if the absolute worst scenario happens – you say something unforgivably rude and awful, or you make an utter fool out of yourself and start hyperventilating – that person lives in another country and there will be zero effect on your life. Personally, I remember worrying about that sort of thing, but it very rarely happens. The worst I’ve ever actually experienced is fumbling through a bunch of words while the other person has a confused but tolerant expression on their face. Eventually, I shrug awkwardly and decide I probably need to study more before attempting conversation beyond “My name is Jenny. I want to learn <insert language name here>.”

There’s also SRS (Spaced Repetition Systems) such as the old-school Leitner box, AnkiWeb, and Duolingo (if you’re lucky enough to be learning a foreign language that they have available). The short and sweet explanation for SRS’s is that you need to recall information before you forget it so it stays in your head. You can either do this by hand, which is rather arduous and requires a fair measure of organization and self-discipline, or you can let technology take care of that and simply play with your phone for a few minutes every day.

Other methods that I love include mnemonic techniques. I’m all for fully grasping a concept and making logical connections until you’ve built a solid foundation of knowledge on which to build your expertise. However, the reality of life is that we don’t always have that kind of time, or foresight, or degree of interest. Sometimes we just need to memorize material. That’s where mnemonic techniques come in, such as memory in loci, simple visualizations, shadowing, and other such things, some of which will make you feel quite foolish but are remarkably effective.