How to start learning a new language
Learning a language isn’t easy…
If you’ve ever learnt a language yourself or know someone who has, perhaps someone who has done one of our Spanish courses in Bristol, then you will have heard of the difficulties learners have to go through: it’s no easy chore!
However, there isn’t really anything difficult to language learning. In fact, the problem lies in time: you need “the necessary time” and “an effective approach” to successfully learn a language.
This hasn’t really changed with the advent of new technologies. If anything, the overwhelming choice of (often free) technological options to help with language learning can make things even more difficult. Our blog post on using technology in the language classroom sheds more light on this.
So, we know a lot of time is needed, but what do we mean by “an effective approach”?
We need to understand where to place the focus: do you concentrate on tenses, adjectival order or words connected to business? All of these are important when learning a language, but they present their own difficulties and have to be ‘learnt’ according to an appropriate approach.
The Economist takes a look at the different challenges learners face between learning one language or another, such as Russian or English. The Economist article highlights that some languages have complex “inflectional systems”, such as Russian, while others are much simpler, such as English.
So we know English has a simpler grammar in terms of inflections, but what about words and word formation? Is it easier to make a new word in Russian than it is in English? Aren’t there more words in English than in Russian anyway?
This brings us to the age-old question:
Should we focus on grammar or vocabulary?
Scott Thornbury (2005) in his book Uncovering Grammar refers to the fact that the status quo in language learning is to focus on grammar at the beginning and then move towards vocabulary and general communication as your grammar improves i.e. as your language level increases.
However, that leaves you with a problem – a problem Thornbury highlights: by focusing on the grammar of the language, you know how to speak correctly but you won’t have the words to convey your message.
This would suggest that the opposite is the reverse of the above: if you concentrate on vocabulary, then you’ll have the words to say what you want to say but you won’t be able to speak correctly.
So, which of the two options is better in your opinion?
For me, the answer is clear: focus on vocabulary. You can’t communicate any message with only grammar but you can communicate a wealth of messages with only vocabulary.
Just think of when you’re on holiday in Spain: you go to the bar and say “un cerveza” – it’s incorrect (it should be ‘una’) and it lacks a number of other grammatical features (such as quería – the conditional form of the verb querer) – but you get your message across successfully and the barman hands you a cold beer.
So, next time you’re doing some studying, maybe put the grammar book down for 20 minutes and have a go at learning some new words.
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A polyglot and international traveller. Anthony speaks 6 languages and loves sharing his passion of language learning through his writing.
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