It's my first post here.

I was planning for a long time to learn another foreign language. Polish is my mother tongue and I also speak english. Not on a professional level of course but I'm pretty satisfied with it. I can understand and I'm understood most of times.

Anyway, yesterday I came across a youtube video made by a man who speaks 8 languages. He stated that today's methods of teaching languages at schools are completely incorrect.

He said that learning grammar in the beginning was a bad idea. As an example, he mentioned his daughter who was 4 years old and spoke polish, spanish, english and portuguese. Such a kid mustn't have a clue about any grammar. Kids don't know about adjectives, attributives and stuff like that and still they are able to wield those languages. It's stunning, isn't it?

His suggestion was to:

  • Find 1000 most common words in a given language and memorize them
  • Do something he called "absolute immersion" which can be listening for 4-8 hours a day to some news radio channel even without fully understanding it (not music, because it stimulates other part of brain or sth like that)
  • Reading texts with phonetic notation and physically repeating it

So here come my questions:

  1. What do you think about that way of learning new languages?
  2. Has anyone tried this? If yes, how would you describe the result?
  3. Do you know any good websites where I can find XXXX most commom words in a given language?
  4. Have you got any other good and rather fast method?
  • 4
    Such questions are common, but I suggest you to reword it for a better fit with this site: (1) Acquiring new languages and methodology of teaching is an offtopic at Linguistics; you will hardly find a good answer here; (2) "what do you think" is a bad question at StackExchange. Check this article for greater details; (3) Ask one question at a time; (4) teaching is person-specific; a method that works for me may be useless for you. Hence, many answers would be equally valid, unless some objective criteria defined. – bytebuster Oct 19 '14 at 10:10
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    Most linguists think that the first language acquisition of children and the second language acquisition of adults are substantially different, so there can really be no comparison with a four year old in a multi-lingual society. As to immersion, of course it's important. Whether you can fake it by listening to recordings I don't know... – curiousdannii Oct 19 '14 at 12:11
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    Children would refuse to memorize a list of thousand common words. This is absolutely not the way children learn language. – rogermue Oct 20 '14 at 20:33

Any advice on learning an additional language is kind of like dieting advice. It has probably worked for a few people at some point. But it generally involved unrealistic expectations about behavior and resources. This particular advice is more than a little kooky because it completely ignores communication but it would certainly take you some of the way towards learning the language. But memorizing 1,000 words is not trivial. Also, completely unfiltered radio or TV is probably not very useful without at least some initial guidance.

If you really want to devote that much time and effort to learning a language, Benny, the Irish polyglot offers more comprehensive advice in the same vein on his website here: http://www.fluentin3months.com.

Language learning is hard and it takes a lot of time. So whichever way you slice it, you will have to put in the hours. The internet is certainly a helpful resource for that.

As to the point about adults modelling their learning after that of children, that is completely unrealistic. Children have different motivations, life experiences and generally not as fully developed cognitive strategies as adults. Giving up on those (such as by ignoring any grammar at all) is foolish. However, the biggest obstacle will be inhibitions and trying to maintain your linguistic identity. So that's certainly a lesson, you can learn from children. Simple immersion without marshaling at least some of your adult cognitive advantages would be unwise. There is also a lot of individual variation in how well different adults learn without some sort of guidance.

Perhaps an even better resource is therefore Rebecca Oxford's learning strategy inventory.

  • Benny is OK but I find him a bit hard to stomach sometimes such as his "Why Language XYZ is easy" blurbs. He has properly studied the languages he is better at and did pretty miserably with some of his immersion challenges, such as Thai. In my opinion the most impressive of the Internet polyglots has to be Stu Jay Raj who is genuinely at native level in several languages including Danish, Mandarin, and Thai. He also has a much better grasp on learning and teaching as well as linguistics. – hippietrail Oct 20 '14 at 7:03
  • I haven't really heard of Stu, thanks for pointing him out to me. But his achievement sounds perhaps a bit too extraordinary (at least at a casual first glance) and I'm always skeptical about bringing mindfulness and NLP as being integral to language learning (suggestopedia has never made as much difference as was once hoped). I find Benny slightly more approachable as a model for normal human beings. However, his 'failures' (e.g. Czech) do underscore that this regime (just like a diet) is hard to maintain as part of typical person's life. – Dominik Lukes Oct 20 '14 at 7:13
  • I don't think Benny fully groks that different people learn best in different ways and he oversells ease of languages that he then can't back up. But he seems like a nice bloke. Another nice bloke in internet polyglottery is Moses McCormack (aka Laoshu). He knows the basics of dozens of languages but I'm not sure he's mastered any besides Mandarin. A few other internet polyglots are very smug though and insist their approach is the one best method. – hippietrail Oct 20 '14 at 9:20
  • Yes, I agree. The great variability of styles and strategies is often forgotten. The reason I do mention Benny, though, is that all the strategies I've seen him recommend are actually quite universally useful - even if not equally effective for all. And once you remove the breakneck speed requirement and understand all the caveats, I have no problem with his approach. I spent years working with Peace Corps Volunteers and we used many of them. I wish I'd had a nice package like that backed up by somebody with demonstrated success - even the languages where he 'failed' he showed enough progress. – Dominik Lukes Oct 20 '14 at 9:37

In my own experience as an English teacher, I'd like to share that I've thought using both methods: Teaching without giving any grammar structures and teaching guided by grammar, and the outcomes in both situations haven't been good enough. In the first case the students were given a lot of vocabulary per class, but they didn't know how to use it in the right way, on the other hand when I taught following grammar points, the students learned in a mechanical way, that's way I think the best way to learn another language is doing it following a natural approach.

  • Hi liz! The reason why your students didn't know how to use their vocabulary could be attributed to lack of grammar, a point I address in my answer to this same question-page. Something I didn't mention though is that, without grammar, you mostly memorize phrases. That can give you some hints on what the rules that govern the language are, but then it may not. My idealized approach would involve focusing in vocabulary and afterwards in grammar, maybe a little different from you since you presented grammar as I assume bullet points? Regardless, can you tell me what is your natural approach? – Duarte Alfonso Martin Feb 27 '19 at 3:09

Learning grammar in the beginning is a great idea. It's true, we before learning any formal grammar can be great in our native languages but didn't you ever notice that after learning grammar our communicative abilities get even better?

To me, fluency of a language means expressing your thoughts in words as exactly as possible and without knowing well the rules that govern the usage of the words you cannot reach that goal. Then again you can learn some rules unconsciously, as you learn constructions that are common in the language but in this way your mastery of the rules is limited simply because speech is a much more active activity than most people think - we have to be (consciously) aware of the rules to explore them the best.

Now, I don't mean to say that you should learn grammar first and vocabulary after. It's just that grammar doesn't and shouldn't be completely left out as the guy from your video suggested.


*Is very interesting your post although it isn´t a discussion board I will give my opinion. Firstly, I think the learning depend of the student´s motivation, if he wants to learn a new language will do everything to achieve it. Second, is important to have study habits (adult learners) to learn out of classes and to dedicate many hours to the study.

Also there are many strategies and methods to teach and learn a L2 and currently the technology advances give us many tools to self manage our learning.

On the other hand, the psycholinguistic areas that explain the acquisition of language. Based on their conceptual baggage and researches about that, teaching and learning strategies are developed and improved.

The idea of "total immersion" is great but difficult ´cause the context influences a lot, but as much as possible we can seek to be in contact with the language we are trying to learn.

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