To learn a language you have to learn the words used in that language. You have to learn many words, how they are used, when they are used and which words are used together. That is all you need to learn. If you learn many words and how they are used, in a natural way, the grammar will be learned, also in a natural way.

If you just want to have a superficial social competence in a new language you may get by with a few words, the most frequently used words for example. If you want to be fluent and to be able to cope with most situations that matter to you, you need to learn a lot of words. This includes the less frequently used words.

The less frequently used words are harder to learn precisely because they appear less frequently. You need an efficient method to learn them. Chances are that you will learn words that matter to you and which you need. Then, when you are tested you should only be tested on the words you claim to know.

That is why we developed the “language learning engine” at The Linguist. Our statistics on learned words and phrases and known words etc. are designed to give you a clear measurement on your progress towards your goals. The measurement of the number of words you know, once verified, is a simple and effective indication of your ability in a language.

Tips on Writing

Click here for the podcast of this article.

I believe the writing correction or WRITE section of The Linguist is very very important. This is where you have the chance to use the words and phrases you have learned. You are under much less pressure than when you speak. You can take a little more time to try to express yourself accurately in English.

Your writing submission is a sample of your language. It is an indication of how you are doing. It is very valuable, both to you and to your tutor. So just write and submit. You should not review your writing too much before submitting it. Your writing sample need not be perfect. It should just be an indication of how you are using English. Just write down your thoughts and submit your writing. The chances are that the errors identified are also occurring in your spoken English.

When you get back your corrected writing, please treat it as a valuable piece of information. Read the corrected text out loud at least five times. Review the errors and recommended new phrases. Try to see the pattern of your mistakes. Look for phrases in your new reading and listening that can help you improve in your areas of weakness.

If you are a Basic member you can write 300 words a month. If you are a Premium member you can write 1000 words a month. This is not a lot. Our Linguist correctors try to correct every mistake. We want the corrected version to be the same as native speaker English. We want you to spend a lot of time studying the corrected text so that you can learn and improve.

From now on our correctors will not normally correct spelling mistakes. You should use the spellchecker to make sure that your spelling is correct. We will no longer treat contractions as a mistake. Although contractions are not usually acceptable in formal writing, they are common in normal communication and correspondence. Similarly, even though it is considered good practice not to use numerals for numbers up to and including ten, we will not treat it as a mistake if you do.

You invest a lot of time in writing, and our corrector spends a lot of time correcting writing. Finding mistakes is a good thing. It tells you what to work on. It is like finding a new content item in our Library with new words to learn. Remember that in language learning the goal is not perfection, it is constant improvement.

My book

Cliff Kwok asks if my new book is available in Hong Kong.

I have not really written a new book. My original book, The Linguist, A Personal Guide to Language Learning which is available in audio book and ebook format as part of The Linguist system, has been revised and republished as The Linguist, a Language Learning Odyssey. This book is now available at Amazon. This book is longer and improved. This is the same version as the Chinese versions that were published in Mainland China and Taiwan, and the same as the French, Japanese, Korean and Spanish versions which are available in ebook format.

I believe this book provides useful advice and encouragement to people interested in languages. I believe this books can turn people on to language learning and stimulate them to greater effort and more confidence. But then that is only my opinion.

Professional English

Sharon asks

“Do you have suggestions of ESL resources that can be downloaded, for teaching writing skills to engineering professionals?”

I recommend using The Linguist system. Engineers can import any electronic document they are interested in and save the key words and phrases to their personal database. They can then systematically review these new words and phrases to really get used to them.

You, the teacher, can work with them and correct their writing using our unique writing correction system. In that way you can direct them towards words and phrases that will make their writing more natural and persuasive.

Check our how The Linguist system can help your students and expand your reach as a teacher. The Linguist is a powerful platform for teachers of all levels.

" I feel so stupid"

I spoke today with an immigrant from China who has been in Canada for 7 years. He is obviously an energetic and enthusiastic person. He was a doctor in China. Here in Canada he is working in a casino. He is frustrated because even after 7 years he does not understand everything that is said and people do not always understand him. If he says 14 people think he said 40.

He said that he was most motivated to learn English before he came to Canada. In China his English was the best among his friends and acquaintances. Once he came to Canada he realized that his English was not good enough. He said that he felt “stupid”. This discouraged him.Now he wants to try again with The Linguist.

I had my hair cut today by a new barber. She is from Japan and has been in Canada for 20 years. Up till now she had mostly Japanese clients and was busy at home bringing up her children. She was too busy to learn to speak English properly. Now that her children are grown up she has decided to learn English. She is enrolled in a local school where she goes four nights a week for two and a half hours each time. She was told that rather than just studying English, if she enrolled for Adult Education and went for her high school diploma, her studies would be totally free.She is now at the Grade six level, in other words, not yet in high school.

Her classmates are mostly Chinese, mostly with university diplomas. They are at the grade six level because of their English. Their studies are free. Everyday they get homework. The teacher gets angry at many of these students because they do not do their homework, and attendance is very poor. Now that Chinese New Year is approaching, few students bother showing up. But when they show up there are 15 students in the class and my Japanese barber has trouble understanding what her classmates have to say in English. On the positive side she has made some new friends.

Now back to the immigrant from China I mentioned in the first paragraph. He is the kind of person who would not attend a free language school just because it was free. He is not a complainer. He lives in a neighbourhood with no Chinese neighbours. He lives in a town house which suggests that he is not wealthy. He has no trouble speaking to his neighbours when they come over. His wife however does. I am hoping they both enroll in The Linguist. I hope they stay away from the schools subsidized by the government, where they can make new Chinese friends but will not really progress in their English.

Classical audiobooks

Thank you Rita for your comment on I Promessi Sposi. I agree that in some parts of I Promessi Sposi the descriptions and commentary seem a little excessive. Certainly by today’s standards the book could do with some editing. Perhaps a modern Italian reader would find these sections boring. For me as a non-native speaker working to improve my Italian, I enjoyed the use of language throughout the book. It was, for me, an almost sensual enjoyment of the Italian language, Manzoni’s sometimes ironic observations of human nature, the historical atmosphere, and of course Il Narratore’s outstanding story-telling skills.

I enjoy listening to the classics of the early 20th century,19th and even 18th century in different languages. I also enjoy history audio books in different languages. In French I have audio books of Balzac, Maupassant and Zola, Proust as well as “Memoires d’Hadrien” by Marguerite Yourcenar which is classic in its style, and others.In German I have audio books by Goethe, Mann, Rilke,
Schnitzler. I am always on the lookout for similar books in other languages. I have not found many in Spanish or Chinese, but there are more and more available now in Japanese, German, Swedish, Italian and French. There are also plenty in English. The MP3CD format is popular in French and Italian audio books and I think that is a great step forward.

I imagine most people prefer to listen to modern novels. I think, however, that the classics of Romantic literature are more effective in enriching the language power of the listener, especially if combined with a system like The Linguist where words and phrases can be saved and studied and linked to the contexts where they are used.

What do yo think? Would you rather listen to “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, or “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen for example. I am always surprised by how few of our Linguist members study our Literature items in The Linguist library. People seem to prefer conversations or radio programs. I wonder why that is. Any comments?

Language learners could form small groups to jointly buy these audio CDs and share them among themselves. The e-texts of the classics are often available free of charge at Gutenberg. To me it is a great way to raise one’s language to a new level. But maybe my tastes are behind the times.

Repetitive listening

Listen to the podcast of this post.

???How many times do I need to listen to the same content item????

This is a question that I am often asked by users of The Linguist. My answer is as follows. How do you feel? Please email me and let me know.

I feel that in learning a language it is very important to have as much contact as possible with the new language. Ideally you should try to listen or read or review or write or speak every day. The more you enjoy what you are doing, the more likely you are to do it regularly. So, rule number one is ???do what you like to do???, at least that is what I do.

In my experience it is beneficial to listen to content more than once. The first time you may be trying hard to understand the content. You will probably save some words and phrases. The second and third time you are better able to focus on these new words and phrases. Hopefully you have reviewed these words and phrases and said them out loud a few times. When you hear them again in context this helps to reinforce your memory of them. You are also participating in a familiar environment in another language. This helps train your ability in the language. But if you find it boring or annoying to listen to an item, by all means move on to the next item. I certainly do. I do not like listening to boring content. It is a little like reading grammar rules. It does not really stay with me.

As a beginner I find that I have to listen to the same content five or ten times before I can move on to new content. When I am better at the language I may listen as little as twice or three times and then move on. If you really do not like a content item, do not listen again. Find something you like. In any case you can always go back to earlier items and try again or just to review and reinforce.

You will find it easier to listen again if the voice is pleasant to your ears. Spend more time on content that you like. There are some content items in various foreign languages that I have listened to 20 or more times. I always enjoy them. Some items I can only listen to once or twice.

So there are no hard and fast rules. Repetition is important. Enjoying yourself is important. Being in daily contact with the language is important. The decision is up to you. See what works best for you. And let me know what you think.