Last week, I asked you guys on Twitter and Facebook what you wanted to know about language learning. These are the top questions people sent me.
Question: What is the best method for learning a new language? Learning vocabulary first, or grammar?
Answer: It depends on the language you are learning and what your first language is.
As an English speaker, when learning Mandarin, vocabulary was super tough. Everything sounded the same to me. Learning Mandarin, for a Japanese speaker, is much easier. Both languages have a similar tone system and similar words.
If you are an English speaker learning Spanish, there are many words that already share roots. Despite everything you've ever heard, English is a good friend. For example, "Un taxi, por favor" is literally "A taxi, please." By relating English word order and sentence structure to Spanish, you're leveraging all the grammar and syntax you already know to learn something entirely new.
Question: How much practice in a language do you recommend to truly immerse, and enjoy a foreign country?
Answer: Again, a very personal question.
When I go to France, I enjoy the culture differently than when I go to Italy, simply because I speak French better than I speak Italian.
In France, my conversations are deeper. I feel more comfortable talking to the locals. I don't have to think that much about what I say because speaking French has become second nature to me.
In Italy, every interaction is a learning experience. I face bigger challenges. I work harder to form sentences. I am more attentive to the locals and how they speak to me.
That is the magic of travel. No matter what stage you are in with your new language, every interaction can be pleasurable in its own way. Don't let not being fluent in a language deprive you of that.
You need to feel the culture: the music, the people, the food, the place. This can't be a chore, a mathematical problem or a silly game in an App. It's an amazing challenge and the reward will be very beautiful so you need to be all in.
Question: Starting from zero, how long does it take an average student to get through all lessons of a new language?
Answer: This depends on the program you are using and the amount of sessions you do per week. A good range is a year to a year and a half.
You need to work on the language every week so you don't lose momentum. The key is to take the building blocks you're learning and create different combinations, and to keep doing it in your head all day long. Try to practice your vocab with the stuff you encounter, try to put questions and sentences together and then try again. Use your iPhone, use flashcards, put everything you've got into it.
Begin with the stuff that's useful, like asking simple questions such as "where is the subway?" Don't waste time learning descriptive sentences, such as "the boy is eating" or "the woman is running" which are seldom part of any conversation.
Question: How did you battle feeling self conscious when testing out your skills on a native speaker?
Answer: This is something everybody battles with when learning a new language. My best advice to you would be don't be afraid to make mistakes. Trying to be perfect will slow down your learning when you need to loosen up. Ignore perfectionists and language purists. Practice in front of a mirror. Don't think about it. The first time you do it, it will be scary. But the second and third time, you will feel much more comfortable.
You have to practice and learn new stuff every single week. Sometimes you'll feel like you're not making any progress, and all of a sudden you'll make a big leap. Before you know it you'll be communicating in real life situations.