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April 16, 2009 8:35 PM   Subscribe

What the best way to learn a new language yourself?

I am interested in learning one, one that I studied as a child so I know the script. I cannot seem to remember words. I am not interested in using audiotapes but other suggestions are most welcome. I know this is vague but if you learned a new language yourself, I'd love to hear from you!
posted by xm to Education (26 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
Rosetta Stone.

Everyone I've ever heard of that tried it gives it high marks.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:50 PM on April 16, 2009


Traditional methods have always worked best for me. Pick up a good coursebook, ideally including audio tapes/CD, and work through it. Read as much as you can in that language - children's novels, news, light reading, whatever.
posted by pravit at 8:52 PM on April 16, 2009


Don't dismiss audio out of hand. I've picked up basic Japanese, Bahasa Indonesian, Spanish, and German enough to make trips to those places easier from listening to Pimsleur tapes. Granted, they're not the best for a long term in depth study, but when you are starting out something simple that you can do in your car/commute can build some confidence in going further.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:01 PM on April 16, 2009


Don't forget to supplement your tapes with magazines, BBC World Service broadcasts, and movies in the language of your choice. It's the next best thing to having a real-life conversation partner.
posted by aquafortis at 9:06 PM on April 16, 2009


speaking of real life, getting a skype tutor can be cheap and effective
posted by kickback at 9:34 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Podcasts can also augment something like Rosetta Stone. Similarly, some universities have their language course materials online for free.
posted by Nelsormensch at 9:41 PM on April 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Subtitled TV and movies, preferably in the subtitled in the language.

I can sorta follow complicated Japanese TV but when they subtitle it it's perfectly clear (same thing with watching music performnces on Japanese TV).

That plus go on Amazon and get the best grammar reference book you can find. Learning grammar via osmosis is pretty hard, and all the course books are expanded grammar references anyway.

The grammar book should become recreational reading for you, so when you encounter the grammar in context you will likely remember it. This is kinda a "pull" method, instead of learning grammar in a textbook setting.
posted by mrt at 9:57 PM on April 16, 2009


Some free resources for many languages here.

I wasn't that pleased with Rosetta Stone, but my theory is that the more language stuff you have around, the more you can pick and choose and learn different ways. The last two languages I've been learning, however, are not serviced by Rosetta Stone.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:15 PM on April 16, 2009


Yup. Pimsleur has worked wonders for me. Buy it or slsk it. Listen to it in the car. Highly effective.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 10:26 PM on April 16, 2009


I was also not super pleased by Rosetta Stone, but it may be because I'd learned my second language through years of real, interactive classroom practice, and Rosetta Stone lacked the feedback aspect. It's also really repetitive (which is intended) and boring.

Learning to read and write it on your own is easy, and I found books with written exercises most helpful in this regard. Learning to hear it and understand it is harder. For this, I would recommend tapes, or depending on the language and where you live, music or talk radio in that language is really helpful, real life, and free.
posted by fructose at 10:31 PM on April 16, 2009


Go live in a country where it's spoken. Put yourself in situations for many hours every day where you have no choice but to speak and hear the language. You'll learn it and never forget it.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:48 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Babbel is an online source that lets you "learn on your own pace or brush up on your languages". You can learn English, French, German, Italian or Spanish using their teaching system of games and repetition. It's kind of cool, and the price is right. I also agree with the Rosetta Stone being a good learning tool.
posted by whiskey point at 11:26 PM on April 16, 2009


I think you should combined as many approaches as possible, which helps to not get bored.
Here's what I'm using right now to learn Swedish:

1) Rosetta Stone for an easy introduction to sentence structure. It's also very good at teaching vocabulary.

2) Pimsleur for pronunciation and the feeling of actually being able to say something.

3) I have the FSI program mentionned above, as well as an Assimil book, and I enter sentences from those into a spaced repetition program.

4) Grammar drills from FSI.

5) As much immersion as possible in the form of music, radio, movies, friends who speak the target language...

6) When you get good enough, start reading kids' books, newspaper articles, whatever, as long as it interests you and it's written in the target language.

7) Spend as much time as possible in a country that speaks the target language. Insist on busting out your language skills at every opportunity. Be mean and don't let the natives practice their English on you.

Good luck!
posted by snoogles at 11:27 PM on April 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've heard tons of good things about Rosetta Stone - but none of these people have actually mastered the language (or even say anything particulary useful), so it can't be that good.

The only way to learn a language is complete immersion: go to a country that speaks the language natively and learn the language full time for a month or more with other students. Do not switch to English unless completely necessary, stay in the new language no matter how stupid you think you look.
posted by devnull at 12:24 AM on April 17, 2009


go to a place where you have no choice but to live and work with locals who speak the language. having nobody to talk to in your native tongue will force you to articulate yourself in the most unexpected ways. you'll improve more than you'd ever think even if you do this for just a few weeks or months. key is to have no choice but to speak that language and surround yourself with nobody who speaks anything else. consider living with roomies and such.
posted by krautland at 2:08 AM on April 17, 2009


nth-ing cultural immersion. There is no better way to learn a language. Despite the fact that everyone here in Copenhagen speaks pretty much perfect english, by keeping away from other english speakers and forcing myself into the language I managed to pick up danish rather quickly (talking a few months here for reading, listening and holding basic conversations with an improving accent). OK, now it was cheating a bit because I am fluent in Spanish, but I also lived for some time in Barcelona and after a short immersion period catalan (language of Catalonia) was also added to the list.
posted by alchemist at 4:02 AM on April 17, 2009


The website LiveMocha is great - it's based on some of the same visual cues matched with words principles as Rosetta Stone, but involves interaction and peer marking by language learners around the world. It's basically social networking with an actual end goal in mind. I've really enjoyed what I've tried with it, and it's been a pretty good supplement to my schoolboy German.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:19 AM on April 17, 2009


This has been mentioned before, but I found this wired.com article sometime last year and kept meaning to give SuperMemo a try.

I've got a small book called 1001 Most Useful French Words, which I've been meaning to commit to memory for ages now, and it clearly was never going to happen. I'd get a few pages in, drift off to something else, and promptly forget everything I'd learnt.

Using Mnemosyne (open source version of SuperMemo) I managed to learn all those words with a high level of retention in a few weeks. I'm currently working through a comprehensive vocabulary and have memorised more than 2,200 words with a high level of retention. Anki is another program which does the same thing, and can be used on old-style (PowerPC) Macs as well. Mnemosyne works on Intel Macs and PCs.

An experienced language learner I know (he speaks fluent French and German in addition to native English) wanted to learn Italian a few years ago. He hired someone for one-on-one tuition, spent six months of a sabbatical in Italy, and now lives there. Hiring a tutor is my next step, and although I can't go and live in France for the foreseeable future, I'm close enough that I can visit for weekends and day trips, so that will be step 3.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 4:56 AM on April 17, 2009


See here, maybe it'll be helpful.
posted by dubitable at 6:31 AM on April 17, 2009



* What's the best way...

Excellent points people! I have already lived in the country as a kid and don't foresee going there anytime soon. I can read it (with almost zero comprehension) but I guess I want to be able to talk fluently and understand people as well. I really like all the links and I know these will help me learn better.
Thank you very much :)
posted by xm at 10:51 AM on April 17, 2009


Rosetta is expensive but very good, IME.
posted by everichon at 11:03 AM on April 17, 2009


xm, you didn't mention which language you were trying to learn. Since you mentioned script I'm guessing Arabic, Hebrew, or Sanskrit. Which language is it?
posted by Burhanistan at 1:46 PM on April 17, 2009


Arabic.
posted by xm at 2:27 PM on April 17, 2009


In that case, if you live in a large city one option is to see if the local mosques offer Arabic classes. Of course there will be a religious slant, but they probably cover basic grammar and sentence structure, and I've seen many that are either free or very inexpensive.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:37 PM on April 17, 2009



Not that I am going that route but out of curiousity (and forgive my ignorance if this is really silly), are women even allowed in mosques?
posted by xm at 8:39 PM on April 19, 2009


Maybe not in Afghanistan or such places, but for most of the world, of course women are allowed. There are generally seperate entrances and prayer/activity areas. Plnety of mosques in my city do in fact have Arabic lessons for women.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:51 PM on April 19, 2009


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