The Best Way to Learn a New Language.

So what is the best way to learn a new language?  Is there a language learning program available that provides everything you need?  I don’t think there is, so I’d like to build one.

I came up with an interesting acronym for language learning: ICE.

The primary element is the Idea.  That’s really all language is: the communication of ideas.  Regardless of the language, including body language, sign language and braille, it is simply the communication of an idea or feeling.

So, the underlying element for everything MUST be the idea.  Not grammar rules or anything else.  What is the IDEA being expressed?

When someone says ‘hello’ in any language, including eye contact from across the room, the idea is clearly understood, regardless of whether you know that particular language or not.  Learning your first ‘word’ in a new language is as simple as that.

Next is Comprehension and Expression.  Did you understand the ‘hello’ or not?  Did you reply ‘hello’ or not?

I want to create a language learning system that starts with ‘hello’ and carries on, leading you step by step, word by word, Idea by Idea, until you can Comprehend and Express everything in a new language.

Similarly, if a girl walks across the room, smiles, offers her hand to shake and says, “Hi, I’m Julie.” or “Привет, я Наташа.” or “Konichiwa, watasha wa Yuko.” you can bet your life that I will understand what she said regardless of the language and will reply “Hi, I’m Brian.”

Now, if I had a perfect memory, I’d already know how to say that expression in the new language and I wouldn’t ever forget.

Of course, most people, and definitely me included, have a hard time remembering names, let alone how to say it in a new language.  So, we need to hear the idea expressed again and again.

The perfect language learning system would understand this need but provide it naturally and pleasantly.  And it would also provide the repetition in accordance with your own particular needs, not simply at an average speed for everyone.

So, she then introduces herself to the rest of your friends at the table and you get a natural repetition of the expression: Привет, я Наташа. [privyet, ya Natasha]

She then motions to the empty seat beside you and says: Можно? [moshna]

Well, you’d have to be braindead not to realize that she asked: May I?  And you’d have to be completely dead to anything but quickly reply, “Yes, yes! Please!”

Offering her a drink, learning where she’s from, etc, etc, is perfectly simple even though neither one of you speaks a single word of the other’s language.

Now, if she became my girlfriend and had endless patience and could be with me 24/7, then I’d have “The Best Way to Learn a New Language.”

Since that’s not likely to happen any time soon, and certainly can’t happen to everyone all over the world, there needs to be something else that’s “The Best Way to Learn a New Language.”  There needs to be something online, on the internet..  language learning software that accomplishes the same thing.

I believe it’s possible and I have a friend in Kyiv who’s a programmer and is currently working on just such a program. When we get it finished, I’ll be sure to let you know! Until then, let’s continue to figure out exactly what’s needed.

The language learning program needs to maintain repetition but in a ‘spiralling’ manner.  One of your friends needs to forget her name, so that she has to repeat, “Я Наташа.” and then again but the expression ‘my name is..’ gets introduced:  Меня зовут Наташа. [menya zavyt Natasha]

Other language programs like Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone like to give it a special name, and trademark it, but let’s be honest, it’s pretty obvious to all students. We forget and need to be reminded.

Within seconds or minutes, most people forget what they just ‘learned’.  There’s no need to use any special memory techniques if the learning material is set up correctly.

Pimsleur calls it “Graduated Interval Recall”, and he’s absolutely right that it’s a key element to a good language learning program, and in fact any learning program.

In his research, Dr. Pimsleur discovered how long students remembered new information and at what intervals they needed to be reminded of it. If reminded too soon or too late, they failed to retain the information. This discovery enabled him to create a schedule of exactly when and how the information should be reintroduced.

Thousands of teachers and millions of students all over the world have ‘discovered’ this, as I did, and it is extremely interesting to see it in action.  For some reason, if you see a word 5 to 7 times with gradually increased spacing within the context of a story you will have learned the word.  It will now be ‘locked in’ and shifted from short term memory to long term memory.

I don’t need to be a scientist or perform a whole bunch of (government funded) research to reach the obvious conclusion.  And it’s impossible to create a schedule of exactly when and how the information should be reintroduced.

Different people learn at different speeds.  If you’re gifted at languages or sports or music, you will learn quicker than someone who isn’t, so a learning program needs to take this fact into account.

I envision a language learning software program where the student simply chooses the speed: ‘just right’, ‘slow down’, and ‘speed up’.

If you have a private teacher, you’re not left to decide what to study. Most language learning websites are an imposing array of section on verbs, tenses, etc, etc and students are left dazed wondering where to go and what to do.

I want a language learning system which starts with ‘Привет’ and simply takes me forward and all I need to do is control the gas pedal.  ‘Speed up’, ‘slow down’ or ‘just right’.

Getting back to Наташа, imagine someone decides to have a cigarette and offers her one, to which she replies, holding up her hand: Нет, спасибо. [niyet, spaciba]

From her body language, you know she said ‘no’, so it’s obvious she said, “No, thanks.”

As you continue to enjoy the evening and order a few more drinks, offering Наташа another drink and she replies each time: “Да, пожалуйста.” [da, pazshalsta] or perhaps “Нет, спасибо.”

If you’re listening to the audio for this story while reading along, then you don’t need to see the […] guide for how to pronounce the Russian, and very, very quickly you will have learned how to read Russian; naturally and effortlessly. That’s another key element to the ‘perfect’ language learning program. It all needs to happen naturally and effortlessly.

When Наташа gets a phone call and says to you, “Извинте.” [izvinitiya], you know she said ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’. And when she answers “Ало.” [a’loa], you’re very surprised by how close it sounds to ‘hello’ but it has a slight inflection that you can’t quite figure out.

And if you’re really on the ball, when she’s done you’ll ask: “Можно your telephone number?”  🙂

… to be continued

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