What is the best way to learn language?*

The Question:

What is the best way to learn language?


The best way to learn a language is to immerse oneself in the language and culture, practicing speaking, listening, reading, and writing as much as possible. This can be done through living in a country where the language is spoken, taking classes or lessons, joining a language exchange program, or using online resources and programs. It is also important to set goals and create a consistent study schedule to make progress and stay motivated.

The follow up:

What if I am lazy?


If you are lazy, it is important to find ways to motivate yourself and stay focused on your language learning goals. This may involve setting small, achievable goals, finding a study partner or language exchange partner to hold you accountable, or rewarding yourself for making progress. It can also help to switch up your study methods and try different techniques to keep it interesting and engaging. Consistency is key, so finding a study routine that works for you and sticking to it can also be helpful in overcoming laziness.

More follow up:

What if I don’t have much time?


If you don’t have much time to devote to language learning, it is important to make the most of the time you do have. This may involve setting specific goals and creating a schedule to make sure you are using your time efficiently. It can also help to find ways to incorporate language learning into your daily routine, such as listening to language learning podcasts or using flashcards while commuting. Utilizing online resources and programs can also be a convenient and effective way to fit language learning into a busy schedule.

And finally:

How long does it take to become fluent?


The amount of time it takes to become fluent in a language varies depending on several factors, including the individual’s natural aptitude for language learning, the amount of time and effort they devote to studying, and the difficulty of the language. On average, it takes approximately 600-800 hours of study to become fluent in a language, although some people may reach fluency in less time while others may take longer. It is important to remember that fluency is a continuous process and can always be improved upon.

* This is a conversation I had with OpenAI’s ChatGPT bot.

The Numbers 1 to 10 in Russian

1. один – one
2. два – two
3. три – three
4. четыре – four
5. пять – five
6. шесть – six
7. семь – seven
8. восемь – eight
9. девять – nine
10. десять – ten

Play this video below for the pronunciation of each of the numbers.

Word of the Day on Twitter

We have just launched Twitter Word of the Day feeds for French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Follow a feed to get a word of the day video which includes the word, its meaning and its audio pronunciation automatically in your Twitter feed every day.

More languages to come soon.

The ‘total approach’ to learning French – the Institute de Français

The Institute de Français is a French language school in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Rivera. A few years ago I attended a 4-week course there. It was excellent.

The school is set up to immerse student in the French language to the greatest degree possible (shy of holding them completely captive). It is what the Institute calls the ‘Total Approach’ and it is highly effective. They achieve immersion through various means:

  • A ‘French only’ policy is strictly enforced on campus. And most students also try to speak only French off campus in the evenings and on weekends.
  • Most students are there for a full 4-week course which is long enough to really get deeply into the language.
  • Instruction is in French only – even at the absolute beginner levels.
  • The French-only days are long – 8 1/2 hours.
  • The day includes breakfast and lunch. Students sit at tables of eight and each table includes a teacher who is there to ensure that the meal is accompanied by conversion – in French of course.
  • In the class-room the focus is very much on functional French that gets the student speaking as much as possible. Rather than focusing on grammar theory, the emphasis is on providing patterns that can be used in conversion.

For me the Institute was an inflection point. Prior to attending I had lived in Paris for 6 years but both my personal/social and work environments had been very much Anglophone. So while my French was sufficient to get me into the top class at the Institute, it was embarrassingly inadequate considering I’d already lived in France for an extended period.

It is not cheap – 5,800 € for the 4-week course. But the month I invested at Villefranche-sur-Mer changed everything. On returning to Paris I found myself speaking French comfortably – of course not perfectly – and without hesitation. The most important benefit of my time at the Institute was that it forced me to get over any hang-ups I had about making mistakes and embarrassing myself.

Here is a link to the Institute website.

Ready to learn French grammar step-by-step?
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🇫🇷 Step-by-step introduction to French grammar in 224 topics.
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Learning Japanese – what does Dōgen say?

Hmmm… before we get started I have a confession – I don’t know where the pitch accent is for Dōgen… Oh well – anyway, let’s plough ahead.

Firstly, who is Dōgen (道元)? Well it turns out that he is a 13th century monk who makes humorous Youtube videos in Japanese, mostly making fun of foreigners in Japan, including himself. It is very Zen.

Here are Dōgen’s top tips for learning Japanese

  1. Only ever watch the Japanese dubbed versions of Western films and TV shows.
    • 100% immersion is the only way.
  2. Switch your computer and phone OS to Japanese. You’ll see – there is no going back. And once you do know how to go back you won’t have to.
    • 100% immersion is the only way.
  3. Talk to everyone in Japanese – including other foreigners who are learning Japanese. Including your mother even if she is not learning Japanese.
    • 100% confusion is the only way.
  4. Mutter to yourself in Japanese.
    • 100% institutionalisation is the only way.
  5. Focus only on phonetics – especially pitch accent. Everything else is of secondary importance. You won’t be able to say anything but at least you will be spared the humiliation of putting the pitch on the wrong syllable of that nothing.
    • 101% precision is the only way.

Source : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aooW1HdV4k

Is Korean hard to learn?

Korean is hard to learn for English speakers. Indeed, the United States Foreign Service Institute ranks Korean in its most difficult tier of languages to learn -in the same tier as Japanese, Chinese and Arabic.

While it is true that many of the grammatically concepts that determine how the Korean language works are completely foreign to an English speaker, it is not the language itself that presents the biggest hurdle, but culture inherent in the language that is most difficult for foreigners to grasp.

Why is Korean easy?

  1. The Korean “Hangul” writing system is brilliant. And part of that brilliance is that it is easy to learn.
  2. While the grammar certainly is different, it is in fact not that difficult once certain concepts have been mastered. For instance the use of particles or markers attached to nouns to signify the grammatical function of a word is completely different to European languages. A big part of learning Korean is memorising grammatical patterns – in much the same way as a student learns vocabulary.
  3. Pronunciation is not difficult. While there are some sounds not found in English, the language is not tonal and presents few problems for most English speakers.

Why is Korean hard?

  1. There is not a lot of shared vocabulary. While everyday Korean increasingly uses English borrowed words (derisively referred to as ‘Konglish’), often in a form unrecognisable to an English speaker, these will on get you so far.
    • Cognates include 주스 (ju-se) – juice, 오렌지 (or-rin-ji) – orange, 에어컨 (ae-o-kon) – air conditioning, 텔레비 (tel-le-bi) – television, 아파트 (a-pa-teu) – apartment, 원샷 (won-syat) – bottom’s up (one shot), 홈피 (hom-pi) – homepage, 오토바이 (o-to-ba-i) – motorcycle, 슈퍼 (syu-peo) – supermarket.
  2. The word order of Korean sentences take some getting used to. While in English sentences usually follow the <Subject> <Verb> <Object> pattern, in Korean the order is <Subject> <Object> <Verb>. That said, this difference does not seem to be a huge barrier to English speakers.
  3. Korean has three or four (depends how you count) levels of politeness which can be very challenging to master. But a beginner can get away with focusing initially on two and not offend anyone too much.

Ready to learn Korean grammar step-by-step?
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🇰🇷 Step-by-step introduction to French grammar in 185 topics.
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Is Russian hard to learn?

Russian, like most Slavic languages, is quite challenging to learn for English speakers. The United States Foreign Service Institute ranks Russian in its forth tier of difficulty of languages to learn for English speakers – harder than French and German, about the same as Hindi and Turkish but significantly easier than Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Arabic.

Russian is challenging to learn because:

  1. There is not a lot of shared vocabulary. While there are not many borrowed Russian words in English, Russian does have some English (and French) borrowed words but this does not get you very far.
    • Useful cognates include центр (tsenter) – center, студент (student) – student, класс (klas) – class, иде́я (ideya) – idea, но́мер (nomer) – number, фильм (film) – film, метро (myetro) – metro and автобус (avtobus) – bus.
  2. Russian nouns have one of three genders – male, female and neuter. While at first this might seem daunting, the noun endings very often give away the gender – an ‘a’ ending for feminine nouns, an ‘o’ ending for neuter nouns and a consonant ending for masculine nouns.
  3. Russian grammar is hard for English speakers – there are no two ways about it. The verbs conjugate according to number, tense and gender. Moreover there are two verbal moods – perfective and imperfective. Nouns, pronouns and adjectives all decline according to number, gender and grammatical function (case). And there are six grammatical cases!
    • The complicated grammar is somewhat offset by a very flexible word order and the lack of articles (‘a’ and ‘the’).
  4. The verbs of motion are complicated. In English we have ‘to go’. But in Russian the verb of motion depends on whether we go by foot or by transport. And whether it is a oneway or return (or habitual) journey.
  5. Pronunciation is challenging. The actual pronunciation of words is not really difficult for English speakers – the exception being the vowel “ы” which has no equivalent sound in English. And the rolling “R”. The difficulty in Russian is that the position of stress in a word can change the sound of certain vowels. The most obvious example is “o” which when not stressed is pronounced “a”. For example “Большой Театр” is pronounced ‘Balshoy’ since the stress is on the second syllable. To make matters worse, the position of the stress and therefore the pronunciation of vowels can change when a word changes its grammatical function.
    • The Russian Cyrillic is easy – that is once you accept that fact that while the letters might look a little like the latin script, their pronunciation is not the same.
  6. Russian has two levels of politeness (the вы and ты forms) are quite straight forward even though getting comfortable with the situations in each should used can make an English speakers as bit nervous. The fact that they вы form conjugates in the same way as the second person plural (‘you’ as in ‘you guys’) makes things easier.

Ready to learn Russian Grammar step-by-step?
Bootstrap Russian Grammar

A 535-page book and accompanying mobile app.
● Step-by-step introduction to French grammar in 200 topics.
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● High-quality audio pronunciations via the app.

Is French hard to learn?

French is not that hard to learn

French has long been the most popular language learned by English speakers – including in Britain, Canada and the United States. Indeed, it has among the highest proportion of non-native speakers of all major languages.

French is among the easiest of languages for an English speaker to learn. The United States Foreign Service Institute ranks French in its second tier of easiest languages to learn for English speakers.

French is easy to learn because:

  1. There is a great deal of shared vocabulary thanks to William the Conqueror and the Norman conquest in 1066. Indeed half of English vocabulary has French/Latin roots.
  2. All French nouns have one of two genders – male or female. While at first this might seem daunting it quickly becomes natural with the gendered article (‘le’ or ‘la’) learnt as part of the noun. So rather than just chat (‘cat’) we memorize le chat (‘the cat’). And ‘la chat’ just sounds wrong.
  3. French grammar, though somewhat irregular, is not that challenging despite the much-feared subjunctive mood.
  4. Pronunciation can be challenging with quite a few sounds that aren’t found in English. But the French are so used to hearing their language spoken with a foreign accent that this is rarely a barrier to being understood.
  5. The two levels of politeness (the vous and tu forms) are quite straight forward even though getting comfortable with the situations in each should used can make an English speakers as bit nervous.
  6. Oral comprehension can present difficulties – that is understanding a native speaking talking. The French language has a lot of contractions and small particles which can be difficult to catch, especially when spoken quickly (and perhaps with a regional accent). For example ‘il y en a un‘ which means ‘there is one of them’.

Ready to learn French grammar step-by-step?
Bootstrap French Grammar

A 550-page book and accompanying mobile app.
🇫🇷 Step-by-step introduction to French grammar in 224 topics.
🇫🇷 Over 4,000 annotated examples.
🇫🇷 High-quality audio pronunciations via the app.

How to learn Russian – Fiona Hill

Fiona Hill is a British-American expert on Russian affairs. She speaks Russian fluently. She was born and raised in a coal mining community in the North East of England and still retains her robust northern English accent.

How to learn Russian by Fiona Hill

She has no family connections to Russia but decided to learn Russian on the advice of an uncle who, at a time of rising tensions between the West and the Soviet Union, thought that promoting understanding between the two sides would be fruitful. As the daughter of a struggling coal miner, she was granted funding by a coal miner’s union to begin her studies of the Russian language and was then accepted into the Russian language program at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

She spent a year studying at the Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow and she earned a master’s in Soviet studies and a doctorate in history from Harvard University. She then went on to be appointed to the US National Security Council and to advise three presidents of the United States on Russian and European affairs. She has also worked in a number of foreign relations institutions and think-tanks. She authored several books about Russia including an autobiography entitled “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century” published in 2021.

We have reached out to Fiona asking her what is her secret for language learning success and for her Five Top Language Learning Tips. We will get back to you when we hear back from her. Stay tuned.