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Having trouble getting started with a language

Posted: Fri Nov 16, 2012 3:40 am UTC
by Josephine
Every few months or so, I revisit a language I want to learn (Swedish in this case), and I always run into the same problem. I want to be able to learn vocabulary and grammar by context, by reading text in the new language, watching and participating in conversations, that sort of thing. I look at how I absorb vocabulary in English (which I know natively), and it's frustrating not to be able to do the same thing for a language I don't know a lot of. If I reach this point, it seems like the rest will follow naturally. But that requires at least a simplistic knowledge of the language. Grammar enough to form sentences and some basic vocabulary, that sort of thing.

Getting to that "key point" is what I've never been able to do. Memorization doesn't really seem to stick because I can't use it for anything. What do you guys suggest I do?

Re: Having trouble getting started with a language

Posted: Fri Nov 16, 2012 2:27 pm UTC
by Iulus Cofield
Take a class. For the reasons you've said, it is about a million times easier to get through the early stages of learning a language in a group setting.

Re: Having trouble getting started with a language

Posted: Fri Nov 16, 2012 4:29 pm UTC
by eSOANEM
If classes are unavailable, it is possible to use the internet quite like a classroom, particularly with threads like the practice threads here.

A while ago, I learnt na'vi (more because I wanted to learn a conlang than because I particularly liked the film) and, when I started the community wasn't as developed and didn't have the classes it now has. What it did have was a forum and a load of documents (reference grammars and dictionaries). Eventually, I was able to get to the stage where I could produce grammatical sentences on a reasonable range of subjects without reference to the documents.

Obviously, as a conlang (and a very regular one at that), the learning curve was a lot easier than with a natural language, but it shows that it is possible to learn without classes via the internet (certainly the written form of a language, pronunciation and speaking/listening will always be harder to do in this medium).

Anyway, the way I did it was reading sections of the reference grammars and then trying to write sentences using the constructions I'd read about, or else trying to write sentences and then looking up the structures I might need. I then posted these sentences online for other people to comment on and correct (which then helped both of us learn).

As I said, this technique is always going to work much better for quite regular and easily described languages such as conlangs, but should work a bit at least, with all languages but, other than this, it's main disadvantage is that it does have the overhead of having to learn a significant amount of linguistic terminology in order to understand what a reference grammar is saying or how to look things up.

For instance, if you don't know what the perfective aspect of the past tense is then you probably won't understand a reference grammar's description of the preterite tense in Spanish for instance.

The advantage of this linguistic overhead though is that it gives you a greater understanding of language generally and will aid acquisition of further languages (and progress in those you're still learning).