Tip of the day: Ignore everyone, do what you want

It’s easy to forget your overall goal sometimes, and language learning is no exception. It’s easy to get caught up in learning about learning languages, as opposed to learning languages. I certainly find myself suffering from this sometimes. Instead of learning more vocabulary, I’ll find myself poking around at the how-to-learn-any-language.com forums. Instead of studying a grammar point that’s giving me trouble, I’ll read (and write) blog posts about “the debate” – whether or not one should study grammar.

There’s nothing wrong with learning about methods, but there is a problem when the amount of time you’re spending on learning about learning languages rivals (or even surpasses) the amount of time you’re actually spending on learning languages. All the wonderful methods of the world won’t teach you a language if you don’t put the time in.

So, today’s tip: ignore everyone, and go do what you want. Just make sure it’s language learning, not learning about language learning. For today, we’ll set aside the grammar debates, the vocabulary debates (context vs. no context), and all of that. Today, just do something, even if someone somewhere on the internet (even me!) tells you it’s wrong. Go do SRS reps, or make some word lists, or study grammar, or translate, or something. For today, no more learning about language learning.

(And yes, this post is at least partially written to myself.)

By |2009-04-09T07:28:44+00:00April 9th, 2009|All Entries, Language Learning, Learning Tips|11 Comments


  1. WC April 9, 2009 at 7:49 am - Reply

    The only time there’s a problem with spending more time learning about methods to learn, than learning the subject itself, is when you’re using it as excuse not to learn the subject itself.

    On the other hand, if you actively enjoy learning about learning methods, go ahead! Spend as much time as you like at it. Just don’t use it as an excuse.

    In fact, don’t use -anything- as an excuse. If you are dreading or avoiding learning a subject, it’s time to examine why you are doing so and correct it.

    For example: I love learning Japanese. I started using iKnow to learn vocab, and it was great! Then I got to Core 2000 part 3. Suddenly I dreaded even turning the computer on. The answer was very simple: The course wasn’t easy enough. It was generated programatically with no regard to how hard the words were, but instead how often they were used. Once I found (and helped create) easier word lists, it was fun again! Eventually, that wore down as well and I realized that iKnow’s learning method was tedious, repetitive, and not optimal. I switched to Anki and it’s been good so far.

    I’m sure in the future I’ll need to mix things up again… I already do other things like watch anime (still with subs, but I recognize a LOT more of what’s being said now) and read manga (no translation). I intend to get to a point that pre-made lists are starting to be just tedious, and then switch to just reading manga, while adding all new words to Anki. Eventually, I’m going to drop Anki as well and just look up the word. You know, just like English.

  2. Ramses April 9, 2009 at 9:04 am - Reply

    There’s a solution to all this. Debate about learning language but do it 1) in your target language or 2) while listening to your target language. That’s what I always do (but then, I always listen to Spanish, even when I’m doing other things in Spanish).

  3. Mick April 9, 2009 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    This post has some good advice. I’d elaborate on why actually studying a language is better than quibbling about learning techniques, but my time will be better spent learning more Finnish.

  4. Kelly April 10, 2009 at 4:48 am - Reply

    I totally agree. The best way to learn a language is to read something in that language, go and talk to a native speaker or log on to an online radio station.

    As much as I enjoy reading about other people’s experiences of learning languages, it’s so much better to discover these things for yourself. Translation is a great way to boost your vocabulary and learn how to convey the same meaning in your own native language, while listening to a radio show in the language you’re learning is a great way to improve your listening comprehension skills, especially when you have little or no contact with native speakers. I have little use for language acquisition theories in my language learning..

  5. amboycharlie April 11, 2009 at 8:43 am - Reply

    Here’s another thing you can do. Figure out an interesting project that you can do with the language, especially with Kanji, that forces you to use them meaningfully. That way you’re working with the language, rather than trying to force feed yourself. I have a site where you can play some spelling and matching games with it, putting those together taught me a lot.

  6. Paul April 14, 2009 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Josh this is excellent advice and I take it very personally 🙂 I am certainly guilty of this; except I am worse. My problem is I get so caught up in the grammar I am too scared to actually use what I have learned. So I’d go further and say that the time has to come when the learning theories and grammar rules must be put aside and start living the language you are learning.

    (And yes, this comment is entirely written to myself.)

  7. Erin April 27, 2009 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Hey Josh,

    This really is excellent advice, but I think I may have taken it differently than you intended. 😀 I say this with a smile because you helped me figure out my focus in my MA Linguistics degree. Thanks for all the good blogging, and keep up the good work! 🙂

  8. Josh April 27, 2009 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    Erin: Care to elaborate a bit? 🙂 Sounds interesting!

  9. Erin April 28, 2009 at 2:14 am - Reply

    Sure! I’ve been debating which “track” to take in linguistics for awhile, theoretical or applied. (You can’t really do both and why not is something I don’t really understand, but all my profs agree, so it’s apparently the standard.) Your post reminded me why I went into linguistics in the first place–which is because I love learning languages so much, and also love learning about learning languages just as much. So I went applied, which largely deals with language acquisition (but also includes other applications of theoretical linguistics such as sociolinguistics). Writing this now makes the decision seem obvious, but I’ve agonized over this for over a year now. 😀

  10. Josh May 3, 2009 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Erin: Sounds fascinating. Glad my little post helped you make youre decision. 🙂

  11. Erin May 6, 2009 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    It turns out I was mistaken on a few things, and my adviser set me straight! 🙂 There’s a great deal of language acquisition research going on in the theoretical camp, so even though I’m studying the same thing I said I was, technically I’m headed toward a career in theoretical linguistics. Regardless of which camp wants to claim me, your post helped me articulate what it was I wanted to research. 😀

    And btw, I do agree with you–spending time being angsty over language acquisition is something I sometimes do instead of actually learning a language, and it’s just using one interest of mine as a means of procrastination and doesn’t actually count as studying a language.

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