Science-backed way to learn new language

So, according to science, flashcards are a key to learning via ‘spaced repetition’. Interesting, short article:

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Duolingo certainly uses that approach as one if it’s learning methods.

I left school with an o’level d…much to the irritation of my new tutor…I had changed schools and went from being top of my class in French at my old school to failing with a d in my new school…and years later came to France with that very same d grade and subsequently mentally exhausted the taxi driver who drove me to see my house…(may the Great Goddess bless his patience…!) I was doing great with Duolingo till I lost all my gems through not doing it when one of my kids was over for a visit…I do really like Duolingo but that pissed me off…lol…x :slight_smile:

I completed the Duo French course but have to say that it is a bit odd - and I never got the feeling that it was really remembering stuff that I got wrong and re-presenting it more often.

I also quickly stopped doing the translation exercises. As far as I know Duo never really managed to commercialise that so I never felt it was doing anyone any good. Also if someone came along and corrected a translation that I got wrong I felt annoyed with myself and if someone corrected a perfectly good translation (occasionally with a totally incorrect one) I got annoyed with them. So most of the time the crowdsourced translations just annoyed me :slight_smile:

Memrise seems to follow the method more rigorously but I’m not clear whether that platform has a future - again I think there have been problems making it pay. Also most of the courses are community generated which means that the quality varies - there’s a “5000 most common French words” course which I thought would be ideal but the author had problems where two words are almost synonymous - eg, say, fleuve and rivière. Both translate as river so if memrise presents you with “river” you don’t know whether it has picked fleuve or rivière as the French translation - and it will mark you “wrong” if you don’t read its mind.

The result was that the English was edited to “river [not fleuve]” for rivière and vice versa - but I don’t think that’s actually terribly helpful, much better to have “river, runs to sea” for fleuve and “river, joins another” for rivière.

So I’ve abandoned that one as well for the moment.

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I think that you have highlighted another problem about learning a foreign language. I have a French cousin who speaks fluent English with a French accent, unlike his sister who sounds like the Queen. They speak English because their mother is English and the two languages have always been spoken at home. I went to England with him for a very short time and while he was there he quickly began to lose his accent. When I pointed that out to him he said, great, do you think I could be mistaken for an Englishman? We talked about it for a while as I knew there was a difference between him and the average man on the street and eventually decided that his English is too precise. He was far more particular when choosing the vocabulary he used. An example might be that when we were travelling west along the M25 he would say our velocity is 70 mph, technically correct but not natural. The examples you have given are the same, if I lived in the Charente near La Vienne how would a visitor know that one was a fleuve and the other was a rivière? Sometimes you can over complicate matters.

Yes, it’s a subtly different point to the one that I was making but I agree 100% - it’s all very well knowing the dictionary definition of everything but if you don’t know the way the vocab is used day to day you will risk sounding a bit odd. Or even getting it completely wrong if attempting literal translation of idiom eg. don’t try saying “Je suis plein” to signal satisfaction with a meal! :slight_smile:

It’s the sort of thing that can only really come from exposure to natural speakers.

I learned to sing in French first, by listening to Johnny Hallyday et al … but of course, I couldn’t go singing into shops etc… and anyway, the song-content was not always suitable to the moment…

Nothing beats (IMO) sitting in a crowded cafe… or wherever/whatever…just listening to the language being spoken. :relaxed:

I watch television programmes in French to listen to a range of French voices in a closed context.

Excellent idea… we listen to French radio quite a bit… generally on in the background in the kitchen… not just the music shows of course…there are some interesting Chat/Information Shows as well…

and, of course, we have neighbours who like to visit… elderly/lonely folk make very good teachers as they simply want someone to listen to them… and I am happy to oblige…

Which radio stations?

I agree with previous comments. I find the title of the original article very misleading because learning lists of vocabulary is only a very small part of the nuts and bolts of “learning a new language”, and not at all the most important part either. The best way to learn a language is by using it. Obviously you need a certain level of basic vocab to get started, but after that it’s better to build up your vocabulary naturally as you go along, through hearing words used in context and then using them yourself. Learning a new word from a flashcard or whatever puts it into your passive vocabularly, ie you know what it means when you hear it or read it but you couldn’t call it to mind if you needed it. Those are the words that when you get stuck on them look them up you immediately say “Oh of course, I knew that!” but you knew it passively, not actively The only way to get words into your active vocabulary is to use them.

Then there’s the pronunciation problem. Reading vocabulary from cards is all very well but it always amazes me how although many words are the same in both English and French but the way they are spelled and pronounced are poles apart.

I’ve been caught out like this a couple of times, real Doh! moments.

The first was the first time I travelled in France in my Hymer motorhome, and I was having a conversation about camping cars with a random Frenchman on an aire and he kept talking about a type that sounded like Eeemare… and after talking at cross purposes for a while the penny dropped and I had to admit that I hadn’t realised he was talking about Hymers.

Didn’t learn my lesson and when I bought my first washing machine here, the lady in the shop didn’t have a model in stock that did everything I wanted but she said she could order one, and she recommended something called an Andayzee. I said I’d never heard of it but she assured me it was a good brand so I said Fine. Yep you’ve guessed it - when it arrived, it said Indesit on it.

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Sebastian Marx on French pronunciation, plus a few other bits.