How to learn a language fast – maximising return on investment

Today I would like to share a little known fact from the world of languages. In day-to-day interactions, we often use no more than 100 words. To maximise return on investment, you have to focus on acquiring the basic vocabulary ie it’s probably not going to matter if you don’t know the Chinese word for aardvark (土豚or “tu tun” for those who must know).

The key to language mastery is knowing how to string different words together (we call these ‘rules’ grammar). Here are 4 key tips on how to learn a language fast.

The 80/20 rule. In the English language, the most common 25 words make up about one-third of all printed material, and the top 100 most common words make up about one-half of all written material.

At the bottom of this article, I have reproduced a list of the top 100 most commonly used English words (thanks Wikipedia). The key words may vary depending on language, but most likely you will find that it’s only the relative ranking of the key words that change, and the top 100 most commonly used words would be pretty similar across languages. Focus on what matters.

Don’t get too stressed over mistakes. The point to remember is no native speaker expects you as a non-native speaker to speak their language perfectly so don’t get too worked up over whether you have the word order 100% right. Remember: the aim of communication is to get the message across. Unless you’re planning to be a United Nations interpreter, the locals will most likely not care if you make a few mistakes here and there. Memorise the key vocabulary first. The rules matter, but without the vocabulary, you have no ammo.

Know what to talk about. This is related to point 1. It takes a lifetime to master a language, so as you can imagine it’s not

easy to work out the order in which we learn topics. We asked our clients what they needed to know when travelling overseas and came up with a long list. Unsurprisingly, knowing how to order a beer and telling a good-loooking girl she’s beautiful ranks pretty highly. At Euroasia, we teach language learners the important stuff that you can use everyday. Here is a sample outline of what we expect to cover at the most basic beginners level.

Unit 1 – Greet people, give your name and ask how people are.

Unit 2 – Ask and answer questions about your job; you will also be able to ask about and give your phone

number.

Unit 3 – Say where you come from and give the language you speak.

Unit 4 – Talk about the people in your family and say how old they are.

Unit 5 – Tell the time and give days and months; you will also be able to ask for a ticket on public transport.

Unit 6 – Say what you like or don’t like, and also talk about your freetime activities; you will also be able to say what the weather is like at the moment or at particular times of the year.

Unit 7 – Ask about something in a shop, understand and talk about prices, and also describe clothes.

Unit 8 – Talk about different meals, also food and drink; you will know what to say to buy these things from a shop.

Unit 9 – Order a meal in a restaurant, book accommodation and check in, also know how to talk about simple problems.

Unit 10 – Talk about where places are in a town, ask for directions and understand simple instructions for getting somewhere.

Constant practice. Learning a language is all about persistence. Much like going to the gym. No pain, no gain. Attending a class on a regular basis makes a huge difference (which is why language schools still exist despite language software and internet courses having been around for the past two decades). Ultimately, to improve you would need to practice speaking the language.

p/s: Check out thelanguage courses at Euroasia.We offersummer school programmes starting 5 Jan and 18 Jan, with regular courses starting 31 Jan.

Top 100 Most Commonly Used Words

  1. the
  2. of
  3. and
  4. a
  5. to
  6. in
  7. is
  8. you
  9. that
  10. it
  11. he
  12. was
  13. for
  14. on
  15. are
  16. as
  17. with
  18. his
  19. they
  20. I
  1. at
  2. be
  3. this
  4. have
  5. from
  6. or
  7. one
  8. had
  9. by
  10. word
  11. but
  12. not
  13. what
  14. all
  15. were
  16. we
  17. when
  18. your
  19. can
  20. said
  1. there
  2. use
  3. an
  4. each
  5. which
  6. she
  7. do
  8. how
  9. their
  10. if
  11. will
  12. up
  13. other
  14. about
  15. out
  16. many
  17. then
  18. them
  19. these
  20. so
  1. some
  2. her
  3. would
  4. make
  5. like
  6. him
  7. into
  8. time
  9. has
  10. look
  11. two
  12. more
  13. write
  14. go
  15. see
  16. number
  17. no
  18. way
  19. could
  20. people
  1. my
  2. than
  3. first
  4. water
  5. been
  6. call
  7. who
  8. oil
  9. its
  10. now
  11. find
  12. long
  13. down
  14. day
  15. did
  16. get
  17. come
  18. made
  19. may
  20. part

Source:The Reading Teachers Book of Lists, Third Edition; by Edward Bernard Fry, Ph.D, Jacqueline E. Kress, Ed.D & Dona Lee Fountoukidis, Ed.D.

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How to achieve your new year resolution: learn a foreign language

So you’ve decided your New Year resolution in 2011 is to learn a new language. You’re not alone. So what do you do next? There are myriad options available for intending language learners, and we’ll outline a few here. I know first and foremost you’re interested in knowing the cost, time and

effort involved in learning a language.

Cost: This can range from FREE (lesson downloads/youtube) to thousands of dollars. How much you spend would depend on your budget and how committed you are to learning a language. Generally there are 3 options (also check out the detailed comparison between Euroasia and other providers/options).

1) Going to a school: You may choose to go down the academic route and enrol at university, especially if you want to dedicate yourself to mastering the language. Some even decide to spend some time at a language school overseas in full-immersion ($5000+). There are also private providers like Euroasia who offer part-time courses (cost: $368).

2) Private tutor: Proceed at your own pace. Supply of private tutors is plentiful. You can even hire a teacher off the supermarket notice board. Quality is highly variable, and so are costs ($20-$60 per hour). You can also hire a teacher from a recognised language school. You will definitely pay more, but at least you have some assurance of the quality of the teacher and the backing of the school.

3) Online/Independent learning: There are plenty of CD or online packages available as a search on google would confirm. This option gives you some flexibility. And is not that expensive (FREE to a few hundred dollars, depending on package you choose). In fact you can get started right away. But do you have the discipline to do everything by yourself? What if you need to ask a native speaker how to pronounce certain words? Or if you get stuck with a certain problem with grammar?

Time/Effort: What do you mean by “learn a language”? To get by in everyday situations, to speak it like a native, or to reach one of many different stages in between? There’s a huge range of possible levels of competence, and a huge range in the amount of time needed. Which one do you hope to achieve? People are also different; some pick up a language faster than others. The ads which say you will be speaking your target language by studying ten minutes a day, watching a video clip or simply listening to your Ipod while you exercise overlook this fact.

In my experience, most Kiwis want to learn enough to “get by”, ie. to introduce yourself, ask for directions, engage in small talk, some bargaining, order food. This is why we’ve designed our course to be as practical as possible, so that you leave us with practical know-how you can immediately use in real life. Our basic beginners course involves 10 lessons delivered over 2, 5 or 10 weeks. Even in this short space of time you can make really significant progress. If you can find time in between lessons to go over material, expand your vocabulary, listen to CDs, then you will undoubtedly make faster progress.

New Year resolution: Learn a language

Language learning is an aspirational goal that ranks highly on many resolution lists. It’s an especially worthy endeavour for avid travellers wanting to maximise their travel experience. You’ve probably heard stories from Kiwis who have returned from their “Overseas Experience” lamenting the fact that they would’ve enjoyed themselves more if they could speak the local lingo.

These days travel is not the only driver of foreign language learning. Increasingly Kiwis realise that knowing a foreign language gives them a distinct edge in dealing with clients and suppliers from other cultures. Job seekers also realise that employers value people who speak more than one language. Language learners also demonstrate to potential employers that they are proactive enough to make the effort to learn

a foreign language.

Every January, we see a surge in interest from people wanting to learn a language, and I’m sure 2011 will be no different. It’s worth checking out my blog entry from last year, on how to make a SMART plan to ensure you meet your language learning goals.

For a zero-risk evaluation of whether language learning is for you, check out the Euroasia FREE language taster lesson that is taking place on Wednesday, 19 January 2011.

6pm-7pm: French,

German, Portuguese, Mandarin.

7.30pm-8.30pm: Spanish, Italian, Japanese.

Venue: Euroasia, 10 Titoki Street, Parnell (next to Birthcare) – plenty of parking at Auckland Domain or along Titoki Street.

Please register for the free class as we have a limited number of spaces.

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