Mastering a foreign language is at once extremely complex and predictively simple. On the one hand, you have to learn the nuanced meanings of thousands of words, internalize hundreds of grammar patterns, and be able to understand and use these terms and structures at rapid speed. On the other hand, most of the complexity happens at a subconscious level. Our brains do almost all of the heavy lifting for us if we get enough exposure and practice. In essence, you just have to show up. But how you show up matters. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t learn languages by osmosis. Just being around foreign languages is not enough. Read on to see the 3 essential ingredients you need to ensure that this exposure will lead to fluency.
Studying Linguistics in university changed my life. It lead me to travel the world and dive into the languages and cultures of far-off lands, including Japan, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. Linguistics also helped me develop a greater appreciation of my home language and culture, including the many regional dialects, accents, and linguistic varieties found right here in the United States. Perhaps the greatest lesson from Linguistics was learning the difference between “prescriptive linguistics” and “descriptive linguistics.” This critical distinction accounts for the vast majority of the language-related arguments I’ve had with friends, family, and internet trolls. So what is the difference and why does it matter? Read on to hear my two yen.
I’ve written before about whether or not you can learn a language well using smartphone apps. The short answer? It depends. Some language apps can help, but none can replace the primary tasks that will actually get you fluent: tons of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Moreover, most language apps teach languages indirectly and out of context. Not exactly a recipe for fluency. But there are a few apps that do a pretty good job of providing contextual, direct practice. Clozemaster is one of them. Instead of trying to teach you words in isolation as many apps do, the gamified app teaches you vocabulary in context through mass exposure to complete sentences. So how does Clozemaster work? And how can you get the most out the app and ensure that you aren’t wasting your time? After thoroughly testing the app, here now are my best tips for how to use Clozemaster and maximize its effectiveness.
My Japanese language learning journey has been anything but smooth or linear. Sure, I eventually figured out what works best for me, but it took a lot of trial and error. If I were to go back and start learning from scratch, I would certainly do things very differently. And I certainly have done exactly that as I’ve started other languages. At the same time, I am grateful for my missteps as they have proved to be one of the most effective teachers one could ever ask for. As Brazilian Jiu Jitsu legend Carlos Gracie, Jr. put it, “There is no losing . . . You either win or you learn.” I’d now like to share my “trail map” with you and point out my five biggest blunders so you can avoid them on your Japanese journey. You can then save your mistakes for practicing the language itself instead of “wasting” them on selecting your methods, materials, or beliefs.
Once upon a time, you had to two choices if you wanted to get fluent in Japanese: ① Take Japanese language classes. ② Move to Japan. I did both and had a (mostly) great time doing so. But while I think classes can be great for those who can afford the time and tuition and that living abroad can be a profoundly transformative experience, neither undertakings are a requirement for learning a language. Today, anyone with an internet connection, a little creativity, and sufficient discipline can reach a high level of fluency anywhere in the world if they design the proper environment. Read on to see exactly how to create a fun, effective Japanese language environment no matter where in the world you happen to live.
I am pleased to welcome back my first repeat guest on the podcast: the author, teacher, and grammar guru Ellen Jovin. A lot has happened since our first chat over five years ago, including travels all over the United States discussing the inner workings of English grammar with passing strangers at her “Grammar Table,” and a new book for English learners called “English At Work: Find and Fix Your Mistakes in Business English as a Foreign Language.”