This is the second part of the series, where I talk about how to implement the principles I wrote about in part 1.
5. Use the technology you always have on hand to create an immersion bubble.
Three devices form the cornerstones of my language learning. You may use other tools, and I encourage you to think about how you can use these to design for your desired outcome (L2 immersion) by making slight changes to your existing technology habits
a) My smartphone. I was planning on writing a more in-depth article on using a phone as tool for language learning, which I haven't gotten around to yet. My big takeaway though was this: Find 2-3 L2 immersion apps that form the backbone of your immersion, and put them on your homescreen. The hard part is forming the habit of using them regularly. I'd recommend experimenting to find the apps, and media, you most enjoy. In my case, I've used two apps far more than any others: a French radio app with several talk show channels, and Duolingo (more on that in rule 6).
b) My Kindle. This has been one of my best investments, period, particularly for language learning. I've filled my kindle with dozens of books in five different languages. L2 ebooks can be easily found online. I won't condone wantonly downloading illegal copies from the internet, but that is an option. For the honest folks out there, an easy way to get foreign language ebooks from a foreign Amazon marketplace (like amazon.br, amazon.it, etc) is to switch your account briefly to that country. You keep all your digital content and account information, but you can shop from that website instead. This is important because, for example, you can't get Brazilian ebooks on the US Amazon market. So if you're learning Portuguese, you can switch your marketplace to Amazon.br, download all the ebooks you want, and switch back to the US marketplace. All your content transfers. On that note, I think that because of the way the EU works, if your marketplace is set to, say, amazon.es (Spain) you can still download Italian, Portuguese, etc. ebooks.
Foreign language dictionaries built in to the Kindle allow you to tap an unknown L2 word and have it defined for you, right there. Even cooler, the Kindle tracks the words you've looked up and creates a flashcard deck built into the device. On the front of the digital flashcard, it shows the sentence the word came in with the unknown word underlined. You're getting the word in it's context, which is huge. On the back, it defines the word. You can also highlight entire passages you like and transfer them easily to your computer. For readers, a Kindle really does change the way you approach learning to read in your L2.
c) My netbook. I've loaded my netbook (as well as an external hard drive) with hundreds of gigabytes of TV shows, music, and movies in the languages I'm learning. There are plenty of sites where you can stream media from the internet, which I occasionally do. I still prefer to have the hard copies, however, because it makes it much easier to open them up at my leisure and watch or listen to them.
I usually leave a TV show or movie playing in the background as much as possible. In fact, as I write this I'm listening to a French dubbed episode of How I Met Your Mother (Season 8, Episode 2 in case you're wondering). It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that I learned Italian by watching How I Met Your Mother dubbed in Italian hundreds of times over the past couple of years. And yes, I really like the show.
6. Do small bits of active output in your L2 each day.
I say active to distinguish it from passive input. I think of watching a movie or listening to music as passive. I don't use the word negatively, but you're not really interacting with the media in those cases. Good examples of active learning for beginners are the language app Duolingo, and a Spaced Repetition System (a fancy name for flashcard program), or SRS. I've always used an SRS program called Anki. If you have a Kindle, you could even try using the flashcard program built into the device (described in rule 5), though you do lose your control over the content in that case.
On the topic of how to build an SRS deck, I'll yield the floor to those who know much more about it than I do:
I have mixed feelings on Duolingo but I do use it. Why? It's easy to digest because of its small, short exercises; I can do it on my phone in between bigger tasks, it supplements my passive input and finally, it gives me a sense of progress and completion, especially important in the beginning phases of learning a language. I plan on starting an SRS deck after I finish the French Duolingo exercises. No sense doing both at the same time because they fulfill the same purpose for me: easy to do exercises that gives my logical, conscious brain a sense of progress while my subconscious is busy soaking everything in. If buying a Rosetta Stone type program if your equivalent of this, great. In that case the price tag might serve as extra motivation to keep you accountable and you may enjoy that type of software more than the two examples I've given.
The exception to this rule is if you just started, in which case rule 2 is more important.
7. Challenge yourself to use the language in contextually meaningful or real world situations.
This is taking the "active output" idea I mentioned in rule 6 to the next level.
Reading is a great activity that I'd recommend trying before you feel comfortable doing so. I know it's not technically output, but reading comprehension is certainly an end goal that many language learners put off. If you're want to read a book for pleasure, try and find it translated. Find books you can read: start with kid books or books you've already read in English. Pair it with a Kindle to get built in dictionaries and easy flashcard content, or use the highlight feature to pull your own SRS content and build MCD style cards as described in the two links in rule 6.
Reading is the number one way to improve your vocabulary, but it also won't help with speaking or speaking comprehension. For that, I love video games. Playing a video game you enjoy dubbed in your L2 is fun, low stress, and best of all, it 1) requires you to understand what's going on, and 2) pairs the language with context (so you can understand what's going on more easily) and feedback (ie your actions in the video game have results, which confirms or corrects your understanding of the language). I use Steam to download L2 videogames. The trick is to change the settings of your Steam to your L2. The program will then download language packs for your games, automatically switching to dubs, if they're available.
If you're in a position where you can actually start talking with native speakers of your L2, then you can really accelerate your progress. One common suggestion is to find a language parent. This is somehow who doesn't mind talking to you like you're a toddler, gently correcting your mistakes, making an effort to understand you, and showing you around. I can say the language parent idea is excellent- I've used it myself in varying ways. Best in my opinion is dating someone who speaks the L2 but doesn't speak your L1. How exactly you go about finding a language parent is probably a topic for another article. Mainly it's a question of being personable and taking every opportunity to chat people up in your L2.
Tim Ferriss recommends you immediately learn the following phrases before any others:
The apple is red.
It is John's apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.
Is the apple red?
The apples are red.
I must give it to him.
I want to give it to her.
I'm going to know tomorrow.
I have eaten the apple.
I can't eat the apple.
The idea is that by learning these you're getting all the basics of sentence structure and conjugation. For example, you can think of them as formulas you can plug new nouns into. If you can say "I want an apple", you can learn any new noun and already know how to express your desire for it. He also stresses using helping verbs to simplify your task. Learning to conjugate to have + a past participle (I have eaten, for example) is way easier for beginners than learning myriad conjugations for all the different kinds of past tenses. And more importantly, as Ferriss notes, with this structure and the extra vocabulary you pick up (focusing on the hundred or so most common words) you can start saying most anything you'd want to say.
I also hit up friends I have in Italy, for example, to skype with me on a semiregular basis. You can offer to help them with their English or in some other way. If you lack an existing L2 friend group, you can use language exchange websites like livemocha or ask your friends who have traveled, worked, or studied abroad to introduce you to a friend. I've skyped with an Italian guy that a mutual friend introduced me to in this way.
The End Game
How do you know when you've reached your goal? How do you know when to stop learning and challenging yourself to improve your L2? These are fair, reasonable questions.
But a better question to ask is: if you're having fun, doing things that are personally meaningful and important, and connecting with amazing people, all in your L2... why would you ever stop?
Learning a language well means inventing, creating, or redefining yourself in some way. The language becomes a part of your identity, and a cherished part of it at that, filling your life with fun, adventure, and meaning. Learning a new language and putting it in practice is the ultimate opportunity to write your own narrative and reinvent yourself accordingly.
Those are the 7 rules I use on a daily basis. They are not inclusive of all possible learning strategies, and in describing them I've undoubtedly left out many interesting nuances and useful tactical considerations. But they have served me well, and if you accept the basic principles then I believe they can work for anyone. Language learning isn't hard, and it's not rocket science. It does, however, require lots of sustained input (so why not make it fun input), healthy motivations (like an interest or passion for some part of the culture), and a bit of courage in its application. I trust that these ideas have mapped out a path, albeit a rough one, through the craggy mountains to the sunlit uplands of multi-lingualism.
...sees much and knows much