Polyglot secret

Happy New Year, my fellow polyglots!

The year 2013 will be remarkable for me for many reasons. Finally, I have found the final motivation to learn me one major language – Russian. Until now, my only major language is English in addition to the few of the minor languages I’ve collected on the side as well. The major / minor division is by the perceived importance of the language i.e. number of language speakers on the planet.

Weber compiled the following list of the world’s ten most influential languages

  1. English (37)
  2. French (23)
  3. Spanish (20)
  4. Russian (16)
  5. Arabic (14)
  6. Chinese (13)
  7. German (12)
  8. Japanese (10)
  9. Portuguese (10)
  10. Hindi/Urdu (9)

Levels of language skills – The elmoensio scale

0 – Non-existing (Can not communicate, does not recognise many words/phrases)
1 – Very elementary (Recognises and can write some words/phrases, but usually not enough to communicate)
2 – Basic (Knows some grammar and frequently used words, can build sentences and keep a slow conversation with help of dictionary)
3 – Fluent (Knows the basic grammar and common expressions and phrases, can explain anything using only foreign language, is not afraid to make phone calls in foreign language)
4 – Super  (Can express personality and humour without any difficulties. Vast vocabulary)
5 – Native

At the end of 2012, my collection of languages and skills are as follows:

  • Finnish: 5 (6 mill. speakers)
  • English: 4 (480 mill. native speakers, 1000 mill. incl. English as foreign language, spoken in 115 countries)
  • Norwegian: 3 (5 mill. speakers, in 1 country)
  • Lithuanian: 2 (3 mill. speakers, in 1 country)
  • German: 2 (109 mill. speakers, in 9 countries)
  • Swedish: 2 (8 mill. speakers, in 1 country)
  • Russian: 1 (285 mill. speakers, in 16 countries)
  • Spanish: 1 (320 mill. speakers, in 20 countries)

My sum of language skill levels in elmoensio scale of the most influential languages is 8 (4+1+1+2) and I can communicate without much effort (levels 5,4 and 3) with 1011 mill. people.

The theoretical maximum sum is 42 (two native languages, plus level four on the rest). I can not consider myself as a true polyglot or world citizen if my score is less than 10. Hence my ambitious goal is to hitch up my Russian to level 3 asap and in the distant future, also my Spanish up to level 2 or 3.

By adding Russian and Spanish to my palette, I will be able to communicate with 1616 mill. people.

How to learn a language?

Some people throw money at a problem and hope it will be solved, some others just hope and do nothing. Neither of these will work. Instead you should be active and put the time and effort needed to achieve your goals, be it language learning or some other task. There is a rule of thumb that to be considered expert in something, you need 10 000 hours of experience in it.

Every student learns in a different way. What works for me, might not work for you and vice versa. If you haven’t though about it yet, you should seriously take some time to discover how you learn best. Are you visual person or do you learn by hearing?

Without going too much into details, you could try these methods in addition to the old fashioned method of sitting in the classroom and listening to the teacher.

  • Tandem lessons with native speaker. Very useful if you make rules and stick to them instead of chatting away in the easiest language. Good method is to have your partner say a sentence in your native language / common language and then you translate it into partners native language.
  • Flashcards. Very useful method for building of vocabulary. I am using app named Anki. It utilises spaced repetition algorithm
  • Private tutoring. Good if you take a crash course in grammar, phonetics, pronunciation and occasional problems you might have. As a long term solution it seems to be like waste of money.
  • Frequency dictionary. Learn the 1000 most spoken words in Russian. You don’t need to know “larvae” if you are not biologist planning to work in Russia.
  • Reverse learning. Find learning material for your native language in your target language. In my case that would be “Learn English” in Russian. This ensures that the Russian language is accurate both grammatically and culturally.
  • Linking languages. Find learning material for your target language in your other foreign language. In my case that would be “Learn Spanish” in Russian, but it’s better if the languages are similar like “Learn Spanish” in Portuguese.

Further reading:

Free Russian lessons online
Livemocha and Busuu online learning sites reviewed here
Benny the Irish Polyglot learns any language in just three months
Pinsleur Method reviewed
Rosetta Stone Method reviewed
Michel Thomas Method
Forvo has audio of foreign words, spoken by native speakers
Rhinospike is like forvo, but for phrases and sentences
Anki is a spaced repetition app for flashcards on iPhone, Android, OS X and Windows

posted: 13 January 25
under: Lifestyle