It’s no secret that language learning is considered a daunting task by the general public. So much misinformation exists that people with little foreign language experience believe it’s too difficult to attempt.
We’ve all heard the typical discouraging ‘advice’ that has been hashed out:
• “Being able to speak another language will take years!”
• “You have to live in a country where the language is spoken in order to pick it up!”
• “It takes unique innate talent to be able to learn a foreign language!”
• “You speak English! There is no point in learning any other language!”
When the topic turns to specific languages, even more discouraging ‘advice’ arises:
• “Certain languages are IMPOSSIBLE for English speakers to learn!”
• “Learning Chinese or Japanese will take you a whole lifetime!”
• “A foreigner will never be able to grasp the grammar of Slavic languages!”
Most of these people are well-intentioned. They just have absorbed so much misinformation and have accepted it as fact.
With so much false information around, it’s no surprise that people are dumbfounded when somebody like Moses McCormick posts a video of himself being able to speak Polish after only studying for 3 months.
The video instantly went viral in Poland, and Moses was featured (Polish) in one of the largest newspapers in Poland.
The Polish language has long had a reputation of being incredibly difficult if not impossible to learn. So how is it possible that somebody could learn enough to be able to speak and converse in it after 3 months?
In Moses’ own words, successful language learning requires a method. Knowing exactly what you need to do every day will allow you to progress faster. Moses’ approach can really be distilled down to a few basic principles:
Focus on Relevant Material First
How often have you picked up a foreign language textbook that contains phrases you would never use in daily conversations? Most textbooks aim to teach you the basic grammar points and simple vocabulary. The problem with that is they often use highly unnatural language in order to teach you the things they deem important.
Moses circumvents this using his FLR Method, a technique he has created and honed over many years of studying languages. FLR essentially allows you to form sentences and ask and answer questions from the start of your studies.
Since Moses lives in America, whenever he meets a native speaker of a language he has studied, he normally immediately gets hit with a barrage of WWWWWH (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How) questions:
• “Who taught you this language?”
• “How are you learning this language?”
• “What is your reason for learning this language?”
• “How long have you been learning?”
When Moses began learning his first language, Mandarin Chinese, at 18 years of age, he noticed that most people he struck up conversations with immediately began asking those sorts of questions. This revelation shaped the way he approached acquiring new languages.
Textbooks are great for learning grammar and basic vocabulary, but to make quick progress in the language you are studying, learn the things that are relevant to you first. This can include:
• Asking and answering basic questions
• Ordering food
• Talking about yourself (career, goals, family, etc.)
• Talking about your likes and dislikes
Being able to hold a conversation in the language early on and getting feedback in return will keep you motivated to learn.
Avoid Grammar at First
You didn’t learn to speak your first language by picking up a grammar book. You had your native tongue in your head for years before you started to study its rules at school.
Foreign language materials such as Assimil and Pimsleur allow you to absorb little chunks of a language without getting too caught up in grammar. The most important skill to develop is the ‘ability to notice things’. When you begin to notice recurring patterns, you will infer grammar without studying it in a formal way.
Moses opts to use his FLR method in conjunction with Assimil or Pimsleur. He does not dive into the grammar of a language until he is at least at level 2 of his FLR course. Even then, he just uses grammar books as a reference.
Constant exposure to the language will take you much farther than trying to learn it in a very theoretical, linguistics-heavy manner.
Expose Yourself to Native Material
Material designed specifically for teaching foreign learners a language is almost never representative of how native speakers of that language interact. Pronunciation on audio recordings is often slowed down and exaggerated to make it easier to grasp. Textbooks tend to use language that is often too formal or even worse, outdated.
Once Moses reaches level 2 of his FLR course, he begins reading bilingual books and listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos in the language.
Bilingual books allow you to see the actual vocabulary and grammar of your target language in action. Authentic material makes it easier for you to absorb and remember new words and constructions, especially if what you’re reading interests you.
Audio exposure through podcasts and videos gets you accustomed to the musicality of the language. Native speakers of a language do not speak as clearly as voice actors in material made for foreign learners. You have to get used to the actual rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation of the language at normal speed. Also, native audio material exposes you to colloquial speech you won’t see in textbooks.
Having a set schedule and sticking to it will make the learning process much easier. You want to wake up every single day knowing exactly what you need to accomplish in your studies that day. Moreover, if you study at the exact same time every day, it will make the process of developing that new habit easier.
Skills are not acquired by some unique talent, but by lots of repetition. Any person that has gotten really good at something did so because they persisted even after failing over and over again. And Moses is no exception.
Practice Whenever Possible
Studying a language consistently without using it is bad practice. Practicing speaking and typing in the language from the beginning will allow you to progress faster. If you are selective and only learn what’s useful to you in the beginning, it shouldn’t take long before you can incorporate output in your daily routine.
Begin chatting with native speakers of the language as often as you can. If you’re nervous about speaking at first, you can text chat with natives through apps such as Hello Talk. From there, you can move on to using video chat through apps such as Skype.
Getting feedback early on is useful for correcting mistakes before they become bad habits. Also, positive feedback will keep you motivated.
Moses chats with native speakers online, but he also goes to restaurants, stores, and malls to meet natives face to face in his ‘Level-up videos’. The idea of doing such a thing would probably frighten most people, but it is Moses’ dedication to getting practice by any means necessary that has attracted a large and loyal YouTube fan base.
Enjoy the Process
Above all, Moses has fun when learning a new language. He doesn’t worry about making occasional mistakes when speaking. He’s not concerned with being ‘perfect’ (if such a thing was even possible). If you place unrealistic expectations on yourself, you’ll quit before you even get started.
Studying a new language using Moses’ method for three months will not make you ‘fluent’, but it will give you a solid foundation and put you on the right path to allow yourself to constantly improve.
Language learning is a journey and it takes patience. When you get stuck or confused about something, don’t get upset. Just think about how months down the road, you’ll be surprised at how the things that used to puzzle you are now like second nature.
There is no such thing as the ‘perfect time’ or ‘perfect conditions’ to get started.
You can get started any day. Except for someday. That’s not a real day.