Foreign Languages – Learn By Talking To Yourself and Get a Job Thanks To This!

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself and Get a Job Thanks To This!

 

It’s funny, isn’t it?

All your life we’ve been told that the only place where talking to yourself can get you is a padded cell. And yet, somehow it landed me a job in one of the top corporations at this side of Milky Way.

You might ask – so what’s so special about this story? Well, I learned Swedish in order to get the job in less than 4 months without talking to anyone in Swedish. And while working 50+ hours per week.

I also managed to break up with my fiancée and started drinking after a 1,5-year break of abstinence. So if you’re expecting only rainbows and unicorns go somewhere else. I’m pretty sure there is a lesson somewhere in this story but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Here is how it happened, more or less, and how you can duplicate the results. Hopefully without crippling your private life.

Discovering Swedish – Beginnings

 

“It is such a beautiful-sounding language”, I said to myself. I was standing in the middle of a bookshop in my hometown. My then-girlfriend who recently had moved to Sweden was pointing at some sentence in a textbook and asking me to read it.

I tried but my effort was mediocre at best. Why do you pronounce these f***ing letters so randomly?! Here is some foretaste:

It was about 8 years ago. Shortly thereafter we went our separate ways and I was left with just a few words. Quickly I lost interest in this language and moved on with my life.

Rekindling Of Interest

 

About 2 years ago I started feeling this unbearable itch to switch a job. At that time I had been working close to 3 years in the Industrial Automation industry while teaching English, German and Statistics and I really started feeling bored.

After browsing some job offers it hit me that there is a considerable amount of positions for Swedish speaking people and almost no competition since this language is considered a pretty exotic in Poland. And there was my solution – learn Swedish and go into corporate. With my skills and languages, how could I not make a career?!

I wish I could bitch-slap myself then and get back 11 months of my life. But that’s another story.

How To Learn By Talking To Yourself

Word of warning

It’s necessary to give you some background before I go into details. Back then I already spoke 5 foreign languages including German and English. Since they belong to the same language family as Swedish it gave me the upper hand I was also obsessed with mnemonics – that makes remembering much easier.

Approach

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Alexandre Duret-Lutz

I’ve never been a big fan of language textbooks. Not only are they pricey but also (usually) structured in a pretty moronic way. I mean – who really needs to know the names of 30 professions when you can’t even ask “where is the nearest toilet?”.

That’s why I bought just a simple grammar book and dictionary. Total cost? About 25$. Not bad for the skill which has brought me a hundred times more since then.

Limitations

Always know your limitations. I knew mine. One of the main problems which I had to face was lack of time. I had a full-time job after all. And a fiancée.

That’s why I had to define my priorities. I knew that an interview would be conducted in Swedish and I had to be classified on (at least) B2 level to get the job. That’s why I decided to focus my efforts on speaking and listening. Throughout the preparation period, I read only about 4-5 articles.

What Real Learning Is All About

Have you heard about the Flow?

Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Enjoyment? What a load of crap. If you want to get results quickly, learning won’t be pleasant. You can’t have it both ways. If you don’t feel exhausted after learning session it simply means that you haven’t pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Deep work leaves you drained (Cal Newport is the unquestionable authority in this field) . That’s why top performers don’t do it for more than a few hours. And this is exactly all the time which I had during the day.

One of my favorite mathematicians of all time Henri Poincaré had the following routine:

He undertook mathematical research for four hours a day, between 10 a.m. and noon then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.. He would read articles in journals later in the evening.

And I do understand why. After every learning session, I felt like a shred of a man. Maybe I cried. I don’t really remember. I wanted everybody to leave me alone – and they did eventually. Now I remember! The lesson is: there is a price to pay for everything.

My Chamber Of Madness

 

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Petri Damstén

This is how I called my room at that point in time. What another name there is for the room where you spend most of your time by talking to yourself?

But coming back to the story – after buying a dictionary and a grammar book I got home and for the first few days, I started outlining the grammar. That was an easy part. I knew that the biggest challenge lies in pronouncing things correctly. Back then I didn’t have any consistent method for learning pronunciation.

I also started learning tons of vocabulary. And that’s why my learning style is so different from others.
You might frequently hear that you don’t need a big vocabulary to talk with someone in your target language.

And that’s true. But the problem is that you need a lot of words to UNDERSTAND somebody.
It’s natural that your passive vocabulary will always be bigger than your active one. Even in your native tongue. But you need to know them in order to understand because the context won’t always save you.

That’s why after learning about 2k words I started listening to Sveriges Radio and conducting my proper learning sessions. Remember Rocky training? It was exactly like this but absolutely different – I was sitting at the desk and talking to myself. For hours. I covered about 4k in Anki and created thousands of sentences.

Interview

 

Foreign Languages - Learn By Talking To Yourself

Picture by: Ludovic Bertron

On my way to the company’s seat, I still was coming up with excuses for why I should call them and tell them that I found another job. Or that I got sick. Or that the homework which ate my dog got sick. Anything. Maybe the car will run me over.

She entered the room. I held my breath. I was scared sh*tless. Then I heard a first question:

– “Can you tell me something about yourself?”. I did. In details. Who wouldn’t expect such a question?

– “How did you learn Swedish?”, she asked.
– “On my own. At home. I talked to myself a lot.”

Awkward silence.

– “But I’m asking seriously”, she gazed at me in disbelief.
– “That’s the truth”, I mumbled

20 minutes, 2 questions and one grammar test later the interview was over. I don’t think she believed me. I don’t blame her.

Results

 

Two days later I got results of my language evaluation. I was on the B2 level. The job is mine if I want it. I do. I want to work there. It turned out that I didn’t want a relationship with my fiancée half as bad. I broke up with her. I couldn’t stand constant arguments.

Conclusion

 

I’m not even sure. I guess it’s better if you draw your own conclusions.

 

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language – How To Learn A Language On Your Own (Part 3)

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language

Why even bother with studying pronunciation?

Well, as always, there are no easy answers. Some say it’s important to master the pronunciation of a foreign language. Some say it’s a waste of time

The question is – why should beginners and semi-advanced learners care?

There are some obvious benefits – the better your pronunciation, the bigger a chance that native speakers will understand you. It means that there is always some minimal amount of work that has to be done in order to talk with native speakers.

Otherwise, each person will soon get discouraged from talking to you and leave or get black-out drunk to match your level of mumbling.

But what comes next after you reach the level, where native speakers have no problems understanding you? Does it make sense to reach for the Holy Grail of learning languages – speaking with no accent?

Considering the amount of time needed, I dare to say no. It’s better to spend this time mastering grammar and vocabulary. I have never seen any point in pronouncing everything perfectly while still mixing up words and butchering grammar.

Many people claim to have achieved the level where there is no difference between them and native speakers. I believe that very often this is simply an exaggeration.

Typically, the longer someone talks to a native speaker, the bigger the chance that “the truth gets revealed”.

Ultimately, I’ll leave that for you to ponder. So what should you do to achieve good pronunciation as quickly as possible?

And to avoid such mistakes:

0. BRIEF (AND NOT SO BORING) THEORETICAL INTRO

 

It won’t take long, I promise. If you’re interested in practical tips, move to point 1.

To speak clearly, we must first understand what the (highly simplified) building blocks of pronunciation are.

  • Phonology – can be seen as “abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds or signs”. Which means – what is the difference between sounds. What makes French language French and English English (and Hodor, Hodor, Hodor)
  • Phonetics – deals with “physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status” of sounds. Basically, how to produce sounds.

As you can see, mastering pronunciation requires learning the aforementioned elements of a language of your choice.

Now, how to do it practically…

1. IDENTIFY ALIEN SOUNDS

As children, we have the ability to distinguish different sounds and “assemble” them into words (in other words, we combine phonemes into morphemes/words).

The sad part about learning new languages is that we mostly lose this ability when we grow up.
It means, that without preparation very often we won’t even know that we pronounce something incorrectly.

That’s why the first step to get familiar with pronunciation is to identify the sounds which you might even be not aware of.

How to do it

look it up in a dictionary

Every good dictionary has a description of sounds typical of the given language. What’s more – as I’ve written before, always try to choose a dictionary which includes phonetic transcription of words.

google it

” Language x (e.g. Swedish) phonology” will usually deliver best results.

visit mylanguages.org

It covers 80+ languages. Choose the one you want and click “alphabet”.

Now, after using any of these methods, you’ll end up looking confused at the strange set of characters. They are part of the International Phonetic Alphabet. They look scary but are not so difficult to learn.

To become even more aware of the differences between your native and target language, you should learn the sounds of English language. Here you can find an interactive phonetic chart for English.

2. TRAIN YOUR MOUTH TO PRONOUNCE SOUNDS

Congratulations, by now you should know more or less, what sounds you should pay attention to. To imitate them as precisely as it’s only possible, you need (ideally) combination of a couple of methods.

learn how to produce sounds mechanically

It’s a great starting point – grab a dictionary or some textbook and read a description of how you should pronounce given sounds. If the description is accompanied by a picture – even better.

Usually, the biggest problem is how to pronounce vowels. Since your tongue moves up and down, forward or backward, you have plenty of positions to experiment with.

Once (it seems that) you nail the target sound, try to memorize what the position of your tongue and lips was. And don’t be too quick thinking that it is over. You have to check it first. (see feedback)

start small

Choose only one or two sounds to begin with. Let’s say that you have no idea how to pronounce /æ/.

You check how to produce this sound on Wiki. Then you pick up a word or two and try to pronounce this sound as closely as possible. Say, this word is “tab”.

 

Master Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language

 

Once you are sure that the sound is pronounced decently, you can move on to other words.
Sounds like a lot of work but I assure you it’s not.

When I was a child I suffered from a really bad speech impediment and couldn’t pronounce a truckload of sounds in my native tongue.

Can you imagine how I talked to my parents or friends?
– “mc wohn sdno”
– “Yes honey, of course, we love you”

I used this method to learn how to express myself like a normal human being.

record yourself

Find some interesting text, grab a microphone or use your mobile and start reading aloud using the aforementioned rules.

How can you tell if you produce new sounds effectively?

It won’t be difficult – assuming that you did everything right, your mouth will hurt.
It means that you use muscles which haven’t been used before.

Of course, If you’re learning a language with a different alphabet, you should learn how to read it first.

3. LEARN HOW TO HEAR THE SOUNDS

 

Now, you can start practicing your hearing. You’ve successfully identified the sounds which are new to you. It’s time you started noticing them in sentences!

Such knowledge gives you immediate head-start when it comes to listening to and communicating with foreigners.

Remember, however, that grammar rules concerning your target language might alter your understanding of speech. Some sounds blend, others are silent or reduced.

For example, in French “à” followed by “le” combine to form “au.”

4. BE AWARE OF MISTAKES

It’s always safe to assume that you pronounce sounds at least partially incorrectly until you receive some kind of feedback. Such assumption can save you hours and hours of tears and frustration.

5. FEEDBACK

You need final confirmation of how awesome your pronunciation is. And who’s better to do it than native speakers?

If you have a tutor or friends who can help you – then great. Ask them all the questions you have and to correct you if there’s something wrong.

If you are on your own, try www.rhinospike.com
You can ask native speakers there to record some text for you and then you can use it to compare it with how you speak.

You can also use Google Translate or http://www.forvo.com/ to compare pronunciation of single words. But how will you know that you sound good enough?

You will sound in unison with the recording. Simple as that!

FINAL WORDS

As you can see, learning how to pronounce sounds can be turned into a relatively easy to execute the process. However, as always when it comes to mastering such complex task, the better you try to be, the more time-consuming it is.

And don’t beat yourself down, if it doesn’t work right away. Good things take time.

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him David Brinkley

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