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How to Hack Language Learning

How to Hack Language Learning
    Photo credit: Lorna87 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    There are no two ways about it: learning a foreign language is a lot of work.

    There is grammar to master, vocabulary words to memorize, and the culture behind the language that adds context. That’s a tall order. For that reason, so few people actually learn a foreign language. It’s demanding — and lots of people speak English anyway, so it falls off the radar. However, the payoff is huge.

    Speaking another person’s language creates a bond, and it demonstrates a respect and interest that is compelling. It also sets you apart, especially if you are American.

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    So, if you have made the decision to learn another language, I am going to offer you three major hacks to speed up your progress. As someone with a PhD in Linguistics and varying degrees of fluency in Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, French and Spanish, I know a thing or two about this stuff. And these are real, field-tested hacks, not academic theory.

    The Ultimate Sacrifice

    The first hack is a big one, and it will only work for some people. The single best way to learn a foreign language is to find a girlfriend/boyfriend who speaks that language, whose English is pretty minimal.

    Why?

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    You want to communicate with your beloved — perhaps their family — and you spend a lot of time together. I have seen this work many times. Among my fellow language students, we would jokingly call this “the ultimate sacrifice.” If you are THERE, in country, as opposed to HOME, where we speak English, all the better.

    Now, if you already married or otherwise committed, I would recommend against using this hack…for fairly obvious reasons.

    The Powerful Shortcut

    Okay — that was pretty “macro” but the next one is “micro”: Learn the adverbs. Why the adverbs? Well, there are tons of nouns and verbs and adjectives. You will eventually need to know many in order to have a decent conversation, but that is a lot of work. Also, you can often figure them out from context. If the other person says something like “I like that XYZ” and is pointing at some object, you can guess that it’s an XYZ. Adverbs are different, and they can change the meaning of a sentence dramatically. Look at the following pair of sentences (adverbs are IN CAPS):

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    “John BARELY caught the train.”

    “John ALMOST caught the train.”

    Big difference in meaning, right? And it may not be obvious from context. The nice thing about adverbs, unlike nouns, verbs and adjectives, is that there are far fewer that are used commonly. If you learn 100 nouns or verbs, it’s a drop in the bucket. If you learn 100 adverbs, you have significantly increased your ability to have a meaningful conversation. Here is a link to a list of common adverbs in English. Find out how to say them in your new language and get to work!

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    Maximize Input – No Excuses

    When I was in high school in New Jersey in the 80s, studying Russian, if we wanted a real copy of a Russian newspaper, we would have to drag our butts into Brooklyn to spend a ton of cash to get  two-week old copy of Pravda. That sucked. Today, you have access to amazing new resources via the internet. Go in the internet and type in “Russian [or whatever language] radio,” and you get a whole bunch of live streaming radio from all over, some from the mother country, some from the US. Listen to it, leave it on as much as you can stand, even if you have no idea what they’re saying, you’ll be picking up the rhythm and melody.

    Getting foreign language TV is easy too; there are services similar to Netflix for many languages. There is music in your language on YouTube (trust me, there is — no matter how obscure). Look up the major newspapers in your language and pick through them, word by word. You can practice foreign language chat at sites like SharedTalk or My Language Exchange.

    Why do this? Think about how much English you heard before you ever uttered “Mama”. You probably heard tens of thousands of words. You need that sort of input to make sense of a language, and you can do it passively, just like when you were a kid.

    So, just turn on talk radio or YouTube and you are off to the races — even when you aren’t paying attention.

    Conclusion

    The three powerful strategies for learning a foreign language so you can have an advantage in today’s global economy are as follows:

    1. The boyfriend/girlfriend who speaks <Foreign Language> but not English. This is the most fun, of course, but it is limited in application, and comes with certain other risks
    2. Learn the adverbs. You will have to do this anyway, and it’s the best way to enlarge your useful vocabulary FAST
    3. Get as much exposure to your language as you can. Listen to TV and radio, read the emergency instructions in the seatback on the airplane, in order to replicate the environment when you were learning English, without concentrating so hard on it…
    Have fun — and come back fluent!

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    Last Updated on December 2, 2018

    7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

    7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

    When giving a presentation or speech, you have to engage your audience effectively in order to truly get your point across. Unlike a written editorial or newsletter, your speech is fleeting; once you’ve said everything you set out to say, you don’t get a second chance to have your voice heard in that specific arena.

    You need to make sure your audience hangs on to every word you say, from your introduction to your wrap-up. You can do so by:

    1. Connecting them with each other

    Picture your typical rock concert. What’s the first thing the singer says to the crowd after jumping out on stage? “Hello (insert city name here)!” Just acknowledging that he’s coherent enough to know where he is is enough for the audience to go wild and get into the show.

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    It makes each individual feel as if they’re a part of something bigger. The same goes for any public speaking event. When an audience hears, “You’re all here because you care deeply about wildlife preservation,” it gives them a sense that they’re not just there to listen, but they’re there to connect with the like-minded people all around them.

    2. Connect with their emotions

    Speakers always try to get their audience emotionally involved in whatever topic they’re discussing. There are a variety of ways in which to do this, such as using statistics, stories, pictures or videos that really show the importance of the topic at hand.

    For example, showing pictures of the aftermath of an accident related to drunk driving will certainly send a specific message to an audience of teenagers and young adults. While doing so might be emotionally nerve-racking to the crowd, it may be necessary to get your point across and engage them fully.

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    3. Keep going back to the beginning

    Revisit your theme throughout your presentation. Although you should give your audience the credit they deserve and know that they can follow along, linking back to your initial thesis can act as a subconscious reminder of why what you’re currently telling them is important.

    On the other hand, if you simply mention your theme or the point of your speech at the beginning and never mention it again, it gives your audience the impression that it’s not really that important.

    4. Link to your audience’s motivation

    After you’ve acknowledged your audience’s common interests in being present, discuss their motivation for being there. Be specific. Using the previous example, if your audience clearly cares about wildlife preservation, discuss what can be done to help save endangered species’ from extinction.

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    Don’t just give them cold, hard facts; use the facts to make a point that they can use to better themselves or the world in some way.

    5. Entertain them

    While not all speeches or presentations are meant to be entertaining in a comedic way, audiences will become thoroughly engaged in anecdotes that relate to the overall theme of the speech. We discussed appealing to emotions, and that’s exactly what a speaker sets out to do when he tells a story from his past or that of a well-known historical figure.

    Speakers usually tell more than one story in order to show that the first one they told isn’t simply an anomaly, and that whatever outcome they’re attempting to prove will consistently reoccur, given certain circumstances.

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    6. Appeal to loyalty

    Just like the musician mentioning the town he’s playing in will get the audience ready to rock, speakers need to appeal to their audience’s loyalty to their country, company, product or cause. Show them how important it is that they’re present and listening to your speech by making your words hit home to each individual.

    In doing so, the members of your audience will feel as if you’re speaking directly to them while you’re addressing the entire crowd.

    7. Tell them the benefits of the presentation

    Early on in your presentation, you should tell your audience exactly what they’ll learn, and exactly how they’ll learn it. Don’t expect them to listen if they don’t have clear-cut information to listen for. On the other hand, if they know what to listen for, they’ll be more apt to stay engaged throughout your entire presentation so they don’t miss anything.

    Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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