What's helped me learn languages more efficiently

by Adebayo Ijidakinro

I'm sure you would agree, that learning languages can be difficult. Many people want to learn a language, they start learning a language, and then they stop. There are various reasons for this of course, but oftentimes it's because there's just simply a ton of work involved.

Over the years, I've been able to learn Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, and am now learning Indonesian. When I first began learning, I was frustrated because I wasn't sure what I needed to do to learn a language efficiently. I felt like a lot of the advice that I would receive was mainly for people with more extroverted personalities, and so myself as an introvert, I felt it difficult to apply the techniques and the strategies that were recommended to me.

As time went on, and I continued to learn and speak with others about their techniques and what they find to be most efficient, I was able to hone my techniques into these three things: Reading, writing, and repetition. Let me explain what I mean.

Learning a language involves two things, input, and output. Input can either be through listening or reading. Output can either be through speaking or writing. When you break it down, it's that simple. Speaking and listening are also extremely important for learning, but you would be amazed at how far you can get from reading and writing. Since language is a mental exercise, reading and listening, and writing and speaking are more related than we realize. Especially the writing and speaking part. The faster you get at writing, the faster you'll see yourself getting at speaking. The better you get at formulating your thoughts and expressing them through writing, the better you will be at formulating your thoughts and expressing them through speaking.

Reading is an excellent method of learning languages for a few very important reasons.

Reason #1 - You can move at your own pace

When you read, you can go as slow, or as fast as you want to. In conversation, you're left to the mercy of the speaker, and in watching videos or movies, you're left to the mercy of the video. Now granted, these mediums are also good and effective, but I've found that the fact that you can go slow when you read and slowly increase the pace, is one reason that makes it an extremely effective method of learning languages.

Reason #2 - You'll encounter words in context

When reading, you're not going to learn words in isolation, instead, you're going to learn them in context. Let's look at an example. Take a word like 'run'. The dictionary.com definition for this word is:

"to go quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and in such a manner that for an instant in each step all or both feet are off the ground."

Okay, so that works, but think of all the ways you can use the word run. "I'm going to run to the store real quick", "my nose is running", "I'm running out of time", "He's running late." You'll quickly realize that the definition above really does not fit all these instances.

This is why learning words through reading is so effective. You will encounter these words within context numerous times, and you will begin to understand the flavor of the word as opposed to just a definition. Since authors often have a specific way of writing, you'll find that they use many similar words and phrases throughout a book.

Therefore, words that appear once, are more likely to appear numerous other times. So many words will naturally make themselves into your speech patterns. There have been numerous times where, in conversation, I throw out a phrase that I've read without even thinking about it because the words that I'm learning, I'm learning in context and as phrases.

Reason #3 - You will encounter more words from day to day language

Another reason why reading is more effective at times than learning from a vocab list is that the words that you learn are words that are part of day to day speech (Depending on what you read of course).

Think about this article. All the words that I've selected are words that I use regularly. So if you were to read this article as a method of learning English, if you learned all these words that I've written you would be greatly improving your working vocabulary. When learning the words on a vocabulary list, many of the words are not used very often, or you don't know how to use the words because they're learned in isolation and not context.

Now obviously this will greatly depend on the content of what you're reading. For example, if you're reading a scientific paper on the mating habits of killer whales, there's probably a decent amount of vocabulary that you won't use very frequently unless that comes up in conversation for you a lot. But when reading most novels, much of the words I'm learning are words that I'm also encountering in day to day life.

Reason #4 - Helps reinforce your understanding of different grammar points

When learning a language grammatical structures can be very difficult to grasp. Oftentimes the best way to learn a grammatical structure is through practice and seeing that same structure in numerous circumstances and contexts. Reading naturally provides the opportunity for this.

When reading, you are going to see the basic grammatical structures constantly, as well as more advanced or complex grammatical structures. This continued exposure helps to increase your understanding, and also will subconsciously aid you in reproducing these grammatical structures as well. You will still need to practice these, through writing or through speaking or texting with native speakers, but the reading aspect can help you with grasping more fully the grammatical concepts and structures.

Reason #5 - Helps you think like a native speaker

The way that we think is directly related to the way that we write. That's one reason why every writer has their style. You'll notice that in all the articles that I've written, you'll see a consistent theme and a consistent style, even similar word choices. So by reading in a foreign language, you will begin to get a better understanding of how the people who speak that language think, and this is invaluable to helping you achieve the same goal of thinking in that language.

Reason #6 - You can learn different forms of speaking

When learning a different language, you will find that within the confines of the rules of grammar, there exists much freedom for expression, as long as you follow the rules. By reading information from different authors, you can see how they use their ingenuity to write their own playbook so to speak. For example, let's say you want to learn more colloquial ways of speaking. You can pick up a novel made for young adults, which will familiarize you with their thought processes and even local slang among other benefits. You could even try reading comics or manga. What if you want to sound more formal? You can read more nonfiction type material such as newspapers, or more technical books. You can read speeches from great leaders from times past to grasp how to move your audience in a way tailored to them. What if you wanted to improve your ability to explain things? Simply read technical manuals or other things that excel in explaining technicalities and instructions. Little by little, you will subconsciously become more familiar with different types of speaking and how to imitate them, making you into a better speaker and writer. This in turn will help you to find your own voice in the language.

Now onto writing

Honestly, I could write an entire article that speaks to the benefits of writing in a foreign language, but in this article, I will only mention two benefits, or I should say facts.

We learn more by applying than passively taking in information. The reason for this is because we learn more when we make mistakes. I know we've all heard this before, but there's scientific proof to back this up.

Reason #1 - The human brain learns more when we make mistakes, even very subtle ones. (Click here if you want to read a great article explaining this.)

When we write, we're going to make mistakes, this even happens in our native tongue. Each time you make a mistake, your brain goes in a heightened mode of focus, and at that time, your retention rate increases. It's quite amazing, you should do some research on this if you haven't heard of this before. So when you write, you make mistakes, you correct them, and that helps you remember to not make those mistakes in the future.

Reason #2 - You can write at your own pace

Another benefit of writing in a foreign language is that like reading, you're able to do so at your own pace. When in conversation, you're somewhat forced to speak at a specific speed. I'm sure we've all had the experience where we're not able to formulate a thought fast enough and the person whom we're talking impatiently moves onto something else, or perhaps ends the conversation prematurely. When writing though, you never have this experience. You can take as long as you want. You can look up words in the dictionary that you don't know, and this allows you the time you need to learn. And as you continue to do this, the speed of which you write will increase, and as I mentioned before, this correlates with the speed in which you speak.

Repetition

Now onto the point of repetition, we won't talk much about this because I'm sure that this is a point that many already understand.

This is one of my favorite quotes:

"Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment."
- Zig Ziglar

There's no denying it, repetition is vital to the learning of a language. Honestly, repetition is vital to the learning of anything. Repetition is how we get things from our short term memory to our long term memory. Without repetition, we'll quickly forget all that which we've learned, and with a language, that would be crippling.

This is why we constantly need to be reviewing words and phrases that we learned, or have a system that allows us to encounter the same words and phrases over and over again.

What I've been using to learn Indonesian and improve my Chinese

I've recently been using an app called Easy Remember: Forget Nothing to learn Indonesian and improve my Chinese. I use the app in three ways. The first way I use the app is ...

Easy Remember: Forget Nothing app screenshots

To record and review words that I encounter in conversation or from what I watch or listen to. Whenever I'm watching a Chinese or Indonesian show on Netflix or listening to a podcast or talking with someone, I'll input the new phrase or word that I've encountered into the app, and what's cool is that that word will then be sent to me as a notification until I feel that I've mastered it. Over the last few weeks, I've used this method to learn over 250 new words and phrases. It's been extremely effective.

The second way I use the app is...

I can import foreign language books into the app, and with just a few taps, I can translate phrases and words that I don't understand and instantly get the translation in my mother tongue, as well as up to 13 other languages. It's an amazing feature that makes reading foreign language books so much easier. But what's also nice, is that once I have those translations, I can press the 'Create Card' button, then save, and now that translation card will be sent to me as a Push Notification until I remember it. This has been invaluable to me learning words and phrases through reading.

The third way I use the app is...

You have the option to decide if you want to receive writing notifications, or more specifically, notifications that have you write something in the foreign language. You'll get five words, and then you have to create at least one sentence with those five words. This feature helps me to write every day since that I feel like is one of the hardest habits to form. The writing feature helps to make me more of a fluent speaker.

The app is free to use in a limited format, but if you want to subscribe then subscribe here or go to https://dephyned-web.web.app/easyremember and enter the code simon50

If you subscribe through the app you can't get the discount so it's better to subscribe to the app using the website.

The app link is: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/easy-remember-forget-nothing/id1512930248

Summary

Reading and writing are two very effective methods of learning a language. I find it easier to build the habit of writing over speaking and reading over listening, perhaps because I'm an introvert. Do whatever works for you. But I would highly recommend if you haven't made it a point, to start reading and writing more in your target language. The benefits are well worth the effort. I use Easy Remember to do this, and it's been helping me out a ton!

Thanks for reading guys, I hope that some of the things that I mentioned above can help you out. If you have any questions about the app you can email my personal email at adebayoiji@gmail.com

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