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🙉 Learning languages

Written Nov 9, 2021.

I speak fluently 🇫🇷 French (native), 🇺🇸 English, 🇪🇸 Spanish, 🇵🇹 Portuguese and have street-conversation level in 🇩🇪 German and 🇮🇩 Indonesian.

My language learning is optimised for speed and enjoyment.

With a few tips, I truly think it’s possible to reach basic conversational level in any language in less than 3 months (not saying mastery).

Learning Apps

Apps like Babbel & Duolingo are only good to get you started with the basics, getting you familiar with the structure of basic sentences.

They’re not going to teach you to speak or understand real-life talk.

I practice with Duolinguo for the first 2-3 weeks of learning a language. After that it’s only occasional.

Once you feel like you have a basic hang on the language, it’s time to get serious.

There are 3 essential components: speaking, memorising vocabulary and getting exposure.

You can’t go without any of those.

🎙 Speaking

That’s the most important component and without this it’s virtually impossible to learn a language.

I spent more than 6 months on Mandarin with very little to show for because I omitted this step. I went to China and Taiwan thinking I would be able to practice there directly with locals. Reality was brutal.

It’s easy to procrastinate around that, but really once you get the ball rolling with a teacher you like, it’s easy to stay in the routine.

Go on iTalki, you’ll find plenty of teachers from 4 to 10 bucks an hour.

1-1 online classes have nothing in common with the language classes you had in school.

You can do them from your bed and there is no grading aspect to it. The goal is just to get you speaking and hearing real-life talk.

I personally like to do 30 or 45min lessons every ~3 days or even more frequently if I have time. But whatever works for you is fine.

A good teacher should:

Take quick notes of the mistakes you make and new words you learn. You’ll feed that to the flash cards.

📖 Learning (and memorising) vocab

Here the trick is to strictly follow the 80/20 rule.

You can get ahead of 95% of people learning a language by focusing on words you’ll actually use in daily conversation.

First, go on Google and search for “Top 100 words spoken portuguese (or whatever) and note these down.

These are the most common words and “fillers” that you’ll need to know.

Then search common words around the topics you’ll want to most talk about

You really want to focus on the words that give practical use from Day 1.

Then for memorising, make Anki flashcards of the words you want to learn.

Flashcards have 1 side with the word you want to learn and the translation on the back.

You can use public decks, but I don’t recommend that because the words won’t be fully relevant to you, and you might not know the context in which to use them.

Plus making the cards yourself actually makes you memorise them a little bit already.

💡 Anki tip: when you review your cars, enable the “double side review” mode so cards are presented to you half the time with the back first.

I personally use the original Anki app. It syncs between my laptop and phone but costs something like $30 on iOS. There are plenty of other Anki apps you can find if that’s too much.

💡 For words you have trouble memorizing, make the conscious effort of finding a mnemonic reference in your native language. For example I had trouble remembering “Sekitar” (about) in Indonesian. I associated the french mnemonic “C’est qui Tar ?” and now every time I see the “about” card, "C’est qui Tar" comes to mind. After a while the mnemonic fades in favor of the actual word.

You need to practice these flashcard every day. Setup a 10-15 min daily routine to practice those.

You will begin to see great progress after a month of doing it.

🎧 Exposure

That’s the easiest way of learning because it’s mostly passive. The goal is to train your ears to the sound of the target language.

Music

Find musics in your target language. There’re lots of playlists on Spotify for any style and language. And you can pull up the lyrics to help undertanding.

Rap songs are good to learn slang.

On the web

Get curious: Install DeepL on your laptop, and every time you wonder what a word is in the other language hit 2x “cmd+c” and you’ll get the translation instantly.

Watch videos & movies

Install the Reactor chrome extension so you can watch Netflix movies/shows and YouTube videos with double subtitles.

It’s a super useful extension.

Gives you the translation directly by clicking on words and has a “auto-pause” mode.

Podcasts

At the beginning, podcasts are tough because you don’t understand shit. It’s really frustrating to listen to a conversation without understanding the context.

Still, your brain will slowly get used to the language and you’ll be able to discern words with time. Then understand.

Listening to podcasts in another language is a good way to fall asleep also.

When you drive find an online radio with good mix of music + talking.


That’s it folks! Let me know what your language learning tips are 🙂