Guidelines for self-teaching a new language?

egnorth

New Member
U.S.A. English
What is, in your opinions, the way someone should go about teaching themselves a new language? What things should you start with, et cetera? Also, do you recommend using computer software to learn a new language? If so which do you recommend?

Language Background:
English: First language.
Spanish: Two years under my belt, planning to continue next year.
German: Don't know too much, I would like to begin learning soon and go through next year while I'm taking Spanish III.

Thanks for the advice!

E.G.
 
  • macta123

    Senior Member
    India,Hindi
    If you want to learn the language by self, then you should do a little research on the Internet. Choose a good language website, which has the phonetic resources also in it. There are also some softwares. I haven't used any. BBC Languages is a good place for the beiggners to learn languages. There are several other sites. Secondly if you are going to study from books, make sure it comes with CDs or cassettes.

    Hope that will help you!
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    I learn three languages by self - Polish, Italian, and Piedmontese.
    I've got two textbooks in Polish, which were written specially for 'self-teachers'; they contain a lot of exercises, and those exercises are really effective.
    Almost the same with Italian - the textbook I have provides a lot of texts, exercises, and so on.
    As for Piedmontese, I've found an online training course, and it seems to be a really good one. But in general, I prefer ordinary textbooks.

    BTW, the Internet offers a very good possibilities to practice the language you're learning. Use them as well!

    Good luck!
     

    egnorth

    New Member
    U.S.A. English
    I appreciate the site you gave me, it's already very helpful even after using it for only about 10 minutes.
    Thanks!
    Danke!
    Gracias!

    E.G.
     

    nushh

    Senior Member
    en-gb / es-es
    I've never actually learnt a language by myself... but I'd imagine it's even more important to look for books and films in that language, since you won't have an "everyday model" or reference for the use of the language, such as a native/very fluent teacher.

    So... I'd suggest: lots of books for kids / beginners (reading works wonders), maybe look for penpals or chats in that language and, later on, songs and films. That, of course, on top of the exercises (online or otherwise) that you've already been told :)

    Best of luck!
     

    Senordineroman

    Senior Member
    USA English - Midwest
    Hi there, Egnorth.

    I learned to speak Spanish fluently with high school courses and eventually immersion in the Hispanic community of Chicago.

    I also worked on Mandarin Chinese for a long time on my own.

    1. Don't buy into these contemporary linguistic theories that grammar is NOT important and you only must immerse yourself in the language and let the grammatical structures swim around in your brain until eventually one day --- voila!! --- you're speaking just like them! There's some truth to that, but a lot of it is hogwash and has contributed to severe socio-psycho-linguistic problems with bilingual children in the U.S. Don't be afraid to want to know grammar structures! But there's balance in everything.

    2. Make sure you get pronounciation correctly from the start. You don't want to fossilize errors. If there's any native speakers around, try to seek them out. I worked on Mandarin Chinese at a Chinese restaurant in my small hometown at 4 in the afternoon - when no one in small Midwestern towns are eating at Chinese restauarants!

    3. Utilize online chat rooms of the language you're using, and forums like Word Reference.

    4. Tv channels - my parents got me Univision and Galavision for my birthday one year after I had been studying Spanish in High School. Helped a lot!

    5. Read stuff online or in magazines with the language you're learning. Try to make sure it's not English stuff transltaed into that lnaguage, although some publications like Reader's Digest have really good translators.

    I could go on, I'll let you know if I think of more stuff.
     

    egnorth

    New Member
    U.S.A. English
    I've learned quite a bit of German from Languages Online already... It has a great way of teaching. What I've learned there has really stuck with me. It gets you to do things repeatedly in different ways, so different that many times you don't think about it being repetitive at all. Thanks again, nushh!

    E.G.
     

    pacificblue

    Member
    New Zealand (English)
    Hmm ... I'm teaching myself Spanish with a CD package ... it's 8 hours worth of the teacher teaching 2 students and you get to hear their mistakes which would be common mistakes for all beginners and how he corrects them ... and any time you need to pause or hear something over again you just click the button ...

    (the only bad point is you hear every breath the old man takes and every time he swallows and it's gross) ;)

    The CDs are pretty good although every time I finish the first CD, instead of going on to the next I keep replaying the first one again because I doubt myself too much.

    Should really move on to CD #2 as I am getting REALLY frustrated by not being able to understand all of these Spanish posts ...

    :p
     

    Philippa

    Senior Member
    Britain - English
    pacificblue said:
    Hmm ... I'm teaching myself Spanish with a CD package ... it's 8 hours worth of the teacher teaching 2 students and you get to hear their mistakes which would be common mistakes for all beginners and how he corrects them ... and any time you need to pause or hear something over again you just click the button ...
    (the only bad point is you hear every breath the old man takes and every time he swallows and it's gross) ;)
    The CDs are pretty good although every time I finish the first CD, instead of going on to the next I keep replaying the first one again because I doubt myself too much.
    Should really move on to CD #2 as I am getting REALLY frustrated by not being able to understand all of these Spanish posts ...
    :p
    Hola pacíficoazul,
    Welcome to the foros!!
    There are some more comments on the advantages and disadvantages of the Michel Thomas Spanish course here.
    Personally, I don't like the course much, but I never came across it as a beginner.
    However, I do recommend that you move onto the next CDs - I don't think you have to have completed done and remembered and be able to recite from memory one stage before you move onto the next. You can always play the earlier ones again a week or two later to refresh your memory!
    As for understanding Spanish posts, why not use the dictionary and have a go at understanding?!
    Saludos desde Inglaterra
    Philippa :)
     

    pacificblue

    Member
    New Zealand (English)
    Ahhh I do use the dictionary ... and I still don't do very well but I will keep trying, and the more I read all of these posts the better I seem to get ... still a very long way off being able to speak or write it but I'm getting there. Might try CD #2 tomorrow. :)


    Hmm, regards from England ? Very cute (and thank goodness for that dictionary)
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    I read (and watch videos) a lot about foreign-language learning. I am convinced that the main useful activity is input: reading and listening, over and over. Teachers call it "comprehensible input". No learning grammar rules. No memorizing vocabulary. No flashcards (or the many apps that imitate them). No testing. No quizzing. No talking to other learners, or talking to native speakers -- that happens later, when talking feels comfortable.

    Input can be books, magazines, online articles, Youtube videos, online movies, podcasts. But it has to be stuff you are interested in. Videos you would watch in English. No matter what you do, acquiring Russian takes a long time. If you lose interest, you will stop. If you keep reading/listening, you can't help learning.

    At the start, you need to learn the alphabet and any new sounds. Maybe learn a bit about the language. Watch a Langfocus overview video. Read an article or two about its grammar, to get a rough idea. For a while it is hard to find things that are interesting and also simple enough to understand (not perfectly, but to get the main idea). Eventually that will be easy.

    I am studying Chinese. I took an online class for a while, but that got boring and I stopped. Nowadays I watch Chinese TV series with English sub-titles. The sub-titles tell me the plot and what people are expressing. The sound tells me how they express it in Chinese. Every minute or two I look up a word or a sentence...but not every word or every sentence. Since I'm retired, I watch one to three hours each day. If I was busy with work or school, I'd have to do more planning, watch less.

    I also practice reading every day. I've found several websites with Chinese articles (or stories) at different levels. I faithfully read every day, but only 15-20 minutes. When I read, I look up every word. I understand the sentence. But I don't memorize -- I'll see that word again and again. At some point, I won't need to look it up.

    Stay away from books and videos for Russian children. They assume near-fluency in the spoken language, which most kids have by the time they start learning to read.
     

    User With No Name

    Senior Member
    English - U.S. (Texas)
    @dojibear: Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    I'm afraid I have made a mess of things here. In an unfortunate coincidence, I decided my message wasn't worth bothering people about, so I deleted it. Meanwhile, apparently at the same time, @dojibear was writing this detailed response. So, in order to avoid confusing people, here is my original message, to which @dojibear was replying.

    Sorry for the confusion.
    So... I'm re-opening this very old thread to ask about foreros' experiences learning new languages on their own. How many of you have actually managed to teach yourselves a new language to a reasonable level (not necessarily fluent, but more than just ordering a beer) without visiting a country where it is spoken or taking formal classes?

    I have lately started trying to learn some Russian on my own, and I must say I'm finding it rough going. Mainly because of a lack of self-discipline. In my experience, once you start making some progress in learning a language and actually understanding some things, it becomes rewarding and even fun. But at the beginning, especially for a challenging language like Russian (for English speakers), it's frustrating, and hard to stick with.

    Obviously there are many more options (apps, authentic reading and listening material, forums like this) than there were when this thread was opened, for which I am grateful. So it's not a question of lack of access to materials. But still, I'm struggling a bit.

    Your experiences? Thoughts?

    Thanks, gracias, and спасибо.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I have lately started trying to learn some Russian on my own, and I must say I'm finding it rough going.
    Russian has a notoriously high learning threshold. Not only it has relatively complex morphology (compared to English, anyway) - probably the main trouble is that its grammar virtually consists of exceptions, so learning your first words and constructions will take much more effort than for more regular languages. Even simple noun and adjectival predication has its complexities and irregularities in Russian. Of course, for an English speaker the East European phonetics and the flexible, pragmatics-oriented word order don't make it easier. I'm not quite sure that avoiding to learn grammar entirely will do you much good in a long run. Understanding how it generally works first looks like a good idea. Anyway, as soon as you sufficiently familiarize with the language everything will get easier.
     

    pimlicodude

    Senior Member
    British English
    Well, I don't like those Teach yourself X, or Colloquial X, textbooks that continually use vocabulary in the various chapters that hasn't been introduced, and is often not in the index either. This is a constant problem in these two series of textbooks. I like a book where there is a single list of words at the beginning of the chapter and no words not in that list occur in the texts in that chapter.
     

    enattente

    Senior Member
    French & English; Ontario, Canada
    I taught myself Arabic with books and online resources. I worked on it every day for five or six years and got to the level where I could muddle through a soap opera or read a simple novel (both involve a lot of dictionary work. I used to joke that it was basically just a way of reading the dictionary). You just need to keep working and have pretty low expectations of yourself.

    If you don't immerse, you probably won't learn to speak well, which is just how it is. Learning to pronounce words is important for memory, as is reading outloud, but in terms of spontaneously producing useful sentences when you need them, it is a high bar. But if you are attentive, you can find situations where your language skills are useful. When a large number of Syrian migrants arrived in my city, there was a period before all their English surpassed my Arabic where having a friendly local to talk with meant a lot for some folks, even though my Arabic wasn't that strong.

    The hardest part is maintaining motivation once you hit a wall. I found it very hard to progress past my level, since there are way fewer resources for advanced learners who are still not properly fluent. I admit that I got discouraged and I lost my daily habit of study. Once you've finished Mango Languages and Pimsleur and worked through the few advanced manuals you can find, you're basically stuck with trying to find level-appropriate content that was made for native speaker. Here, I disagree with DojiBear, because I did find that stuff made for native-speaker youth was useful, since often the vocabulary is simpler, and therefore more repetitive. Watching TV shows was really good for building up my ear as well.

    My goal for 2023 is to return to my studies, so maybe we can hold each other accountable and share tips!
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    Here, I disagree with DojiBear, because I did find that stuff made for native-speaker youth was useful, since often the vocabulary is simpler, and therefore more repetitive.
    Am I allowed to disagree with myself? (Somebody check the forum rules!)

    I found several made-for-kids videos useful to me. It's easier to learn how to say "the little bat got soaked in the rainstorm" when there is a cartoon showing the little bat getting soaked in the rainstorm. And the cartoon story can make things more interesting. Will mister squirrel escape the mean old scary cat?

    I guess the only fair warning is this: don't assume that cartoons for kids have a tiny vocabulary or use simplified grammar. Is it "escape" or "elude" or "outrun" the cat? Does it use present perfect participle or future continuous subjunctive? A kid knows the right word, and uses it correctly.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Three problems for me with cartoons meant for children:

    Silly voices (I prefer cartoons where a narrator tells the story).
    You can't see the characters' mounths moving, normally a great help in hearing and copying the sounds correctly.
    Sentences may be short, but for beginnners there's an overload of new vocabulary, and seldom enough repetition of words and phrases.

    Even cartoons specially made for young language learners have this drawback of not showing real mouths moving: they can use the same cartoon for lots of languages, since they make more money that way.
     

    User With No Name

    Senior Member
    English - U.S. (Texas)
    I just wanted to thank everyone for your replies. I've been very busy lately with personal issues (I'll spare you the details), so I haven't been participating, but I have followed all your comments with interest and appreciation.
     
    Top