17 Comments

  • parasitius

    Are you willing to put in 10s of hours or 1000s? That is the fundamental 1st decision to make.

    The saddest thing in the world is that most people can’t make up their mind. So they start with the normal curriculum intended for people who eventually want to learn the full language – learning the fundamentals of grammar – going through the equivalent of 101 201 textbooks in a college – and in the end they weren’t willing to put in 1000 hours so they end up with 0 useful ability and completely forget everything in a few months/years.

    They’d be INFINITELY better served if they could have decided at the onset that they’ll never reach fluency and just straight-up memorized 100 valuable phrases from a phrase book and used them as often as possible in real life. It will never hurt you to do this if you change your mind later, because you’ll have these fully correct sentences in your mind and can “take them apart” once you start with formal grammar and such understanding why they mean what they mean. (And, if you’ve used them a lot, you’ll probably never totally forget them. )

    If you go the 10s of hours route, honestly the most important thing of all is quality audio that you can stand to listen to over and over. As you have REM sleep cycles, repeating the same things day by day, you’ll hear more and more detail and be able to correct your initially very shitty pronunciation.

    Memorizing isolated words with all the trendy “apps” has limited value, except for things like yes/no or simple nouns you think you’ll want to point out. Phrases serve you better because they take only marginally more effort to memorize than a single word (1 sentence is about as hard to remember as 2 words, not 10-12) and later when you recognize and become extra comfortable with the component words you’ll learn to use them on their own.

    It’s important to understand with the 1000 hours route – when you reach landmarks like 200 hrs 300 hrs or even 700 hours (Chinese, Arabic, etc.) you still will understand VERY, VERY little of what people are saying extemporaneously to each other in day to day life. So learning basic grammar and being able to put your thoughts into words isn’t going to lead to a conversation and the payoff for the long road is still very far off. If you quit then – you’ll have wasted a ton of effort.

  • Semisonic

    I triage.

    1. **Trade languages** – My term for the common languages [with high adoption rates](https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-worlds-languages-in-7-maps-and-charts/?utm_term=.66954a7154a0), used in multiple parts of the world. I’m talking Chinese, English, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, etc. They have higher ROI, so I am likely to invest more time here. Grab a tutor, spend significant amounts of time learning the language, aim for at least a grade-school fluency, etc.
    2. **Niche languages** of places I enjoy or concentrate my time. I’m talking languages like Portuguese, Czech, Croatian, etc. Learn 1000+ words of vocabulary, be able to put together simple sentences, muddle through ordering in a restaurant or giving/receiving directions, etc.
    3. **Any other language** – I will almost always try to learn 100 words in the local language. You would be surprised how quickly that can be done, as well as how useful 100 words worth of vocabulary can be! Example vocab: “Yes/no”, “please/thank you”, “excuse me/I’m sorry”, “Do you speak $other_language_I_speak_better?”, “Where is the bathroom?”, etc.

  • rollickingrube

    It’s half the point for me. Allows you to get into the culture more, and if it’s a widely used language, could be useful professionally down the road.

    Personal tutor and language exchange are the ways to go. Use a textbook to learn the basics of grammar and all that, and then start binge watching series and socializing with locals.

  • ChelseaDagger13

    I totally believe that learning a few basic words and phrases is always helpful. Even for people who aren’t super into languages, it’s an achievable goal to pick up a bit here and there and it can open up really fun conversations and encounters when you show that you’re making a bit of an effort.

    There are also plenty of places in the world where English skills aren’t guaranteed. I was super grateful in China for example that I picked up some Mandarin before going, got me out of a few potentially frustrating experiences. South America was a bit of a surprise to me too, I speak Spanish so I was fine but there were loads of times where I really, really needed it, even went into Tourist Information Centres and similar places where no one spoke English. End result: don’t assume everyone speaks your language 🙂

    In terms of resources, one that hasn’t been mentioned here yet is YouTube. Not necessarily for learning vocab or grammar, but it’s really helped me with pronunciation for non-Romance/Germanic languages. I relied on it a lot for Chinese, there are many amazing tutorials where people are breaking down the pronunciations and the tones in a really accessible way!

  • Nanosleep

    I’ve only been at this for a little under a year, but my rule of thumb has always been to learn hello / please / thank you / sorry, and learn to count.. that only takes like a week. You don’t need any special resources for that apart from a simple google search (although [omniglot](https://www.omniglot.com/) is pretty cool if you want to pick up some additional useful phrases)

    The only country I’ve been in longer than a month has been vietnam and I picked up a fair bit of the language just through osmosis, but that was over six months. I wouldn’t say I’m conversational but goddamn if I can’t read menus and order food / coffee, buy smokes, ask people about their day and answer simple questions, haggle, etc.

  • indiebryan

    I recommend learning the numbers anywhere you go. It comes in handy when negotiating prices and often gets you a lower price than if you bartered in English.

    I know all of the numbers now in Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Khmer.

    For learning basic language I’ve had success with an app called Ling as well as Duolingo.

    Good luck!

  • Jaqqarhan

    Language exchanges are the easiest free resource. If you are willing to pay, then you can get a personal tutor or take a class. Pay for local language teachers is usually very low.

  • BVB77

    I have about 10 different full, entire language translations saved on my Google Translate app that can be used with or without signal; it’s come in very handy when traveling throughout Europe.

    I’m one of those college kids that backpacks Europe during the summer (from USA) so I try to learn/brush up on all the languages of countries I think I will visit throughout the summer when I’m back at school September to May.

    I use Duolingo and listen to few podcasts daily just to keep my mind in a polyglot state rather than just English 24/7 when I’m home.

  • quidnam

    Thanks, everyone. I’m a big language geek, and I’m competent in three (European) languages other than English, so I will be making the effort to learn as I go. My wife and I are planning to visit a bunch of different countries, including ones where the language is way outside the Germanic or Romance language families I’m familiar with. I appreciate the resources; most of my language learning beyond the odd Duolingo or Memrise refresher course has been old school, classroom-based stuff. I will definitely look into language exchanges and such as we sort out which places we’re likely to stay for longer periods.

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