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Lifehacker reader Gabriel Wyner was tasked with learning four languages in the past few years for his career as an opera singer, and in the process landed on “a pretty damn good method for language learning that you can do in limited amounts of spare time.” Here’s the four-step method that you can use.
Stage 1: Learn the correct pronunciation of the language.
Time: 1-2 weeks
Starting with pronunciation first does a few things—because I’m first and foremost learning how to hear that language’s sounds, my listening comprehension gets an immediate boost before I even start traditional language learning.
Stage 2: Vocabulary and grammar acquisition, no English allowed.
Time: About 3 months.
This stage takes advantage of a few valuable tricks: First, I’m using Anki, a wonderful, free flashcard program that runs on smartphones and every computer platform. Second, I use a modified version of Middlebury College’s famous language pledge—No English allowed! By skipping the English, I’m practicing thinking in the language directly, and not translating every time I try to think of a word. Third, I’m using frequency lists to guide my vocabulary acquisition. These lists show the most common words in a given language, and learning those words first will be the best use of your time—after 1000 words, you’ll know 70% of the words in any average text, and 2,000 words provides you with 80% text coverage.
Stage 3: Listening, writing and reading work.
Time: This stage overlaps quite a bit with stage 2 and 4. Once you’re comfortable reading or writing anything, usually a month or two into stage 2, you can start stage 3
Once I have a decent vocabulary and familiarity with grammar, I start writing essays, watching TV shows and reading books, and talking (at least to myself!) about the stuff I see and do.
Stage 4: Speech
At the point where I can more or less talk (haltingly, but without too many grammar or vocab holes) and write about most familiar things, I find some place to immerse in the language and speak all the time (literally).
// Photo – Spree2010