How to learn a language when your life depends on it.

1. Decide if it’s just gonna be a hobby, or if you need the language to survive or make a living.

No seriously. It’s cool to learn Korean from Dramas and Kpop as a hobby. But if you actually need the language you don’t have time to mess around with that stuff yet. Cuz you need to build a functioning foundation first if you need it for survival. I’m talking about a serious need. I’m talking about “Pass me the drill so I can relieve pressure from the patient’s skull!” rather than “Baby come back to me, oh don’t you see what you mean to me? ooooh no no no no no no~~~~~”

2. Understand language acquisition theory.

Go read Krashen’s work. Seriously. So you can talk about it with other people.

Read through all of the research and papers on his website. You need to do that. Don’t be a lazy pseudo-intellectual.

For the lazy, here are some main points from his books and papers:

a. We acquire languages by one way only; through understanding messages.

b. Grammar is useful. But only as a monitor.

That is, something in your head that can edit what you were about to say, or what you’ve written. Conscious use of the monitor is very taxing on the brain.

c. Grammatical structures are naturally acquired in a certain predictable order.

This is GOOD. This means that using materials such as programmed textbooks and graded readers will help tremendously.

d. Having background knowledge on a topic in your L1 (native language) will help you in acquiring language in your L2 (target language) about the same topic.

This is the reason why bilingual education is so important. It helps younger students grow. This has been a hot topic in the States and here in Korea in regards to Universities such as KAIST that offer English only courses. I believe that a bilingual education is a great benefit to everyone. And that’s scientifically proven. That’s not just me being an internationally multicultural hippie dude. Cuz, I’m totally not like that yo.

There’s lots more you can learn from Krashen’s work. The more people know and understand the better.

3. If you seriously need the language, take a language course. But not just any!

Since most of you won’t be able to take a course at DFI and many aren’t religious enough to take a course made for missionaries, I will give you another suggestion.

The best thing is to take an intensive language course that focuses on Comprehensible Input teaching methods. Such methods include TPR and TPRS. (Yes, I realize Asher doesn’t like us to refer to TPR as a method because teaching is an art, not a science.)

If you can’t find a class like this, try to get a traditional intensive course. But even better, get a tutor and teach them to do TPRS with you. This should be done daily. I used to do this for Korean on a weekly basis. It worked well. But it would have worked so much better if I had done it 2 hours every day for a month.

As for other experience with TPRS, I have had a few lessons in Mandarin Chinese on Skype from a woman very experienced in TPRS and for the little Mandarin I know, it is quick and I rarely make grammar mistakes. When I do, It’s because I haven’t fully acquired the grammar. TPRS is like magic. It works. It’s interesting. And there are videos online that show you how it’s done.

I suggest you read up on TPRS and order the big green book. It takes some time to read. It doesn’t read like the Davinci Code, unless you’re a language nerd like me. If you are a teacher, it will show you why your students are struggling so much and what it takes to help them acquire the target language. Pick up the book. Stop making excuses.

Even in your typical language class. Let’s say Spanish. The teacher get’s upset when you don’t know a word or you can’t answer back in Spanish. Guess what? It’s not your fault. Krashen and the big green TPRS book will explain why.

4. Use graded readers to supplement the classroom experience.

Graded readers are AMAZING! Much better than native material for learners.

There’s two types of reading in foreign languages. Reading above your level and reading at or below your level.

Reading above is painful and slow. It’s good for learning lots of vocabulary, but it sucks for developing fluency. This is called intensive reading.

Reading below your level is called extensive reading. Guess what? When you read like this, you understand the messages. You are therefore acquiring language. Duh! You are also developing your reading fluency and fluency in general. Amen.

5. Use easy native material if you can, but not as a main staple at first.

Harder is more intensive and slower to acquire. If you are interested in the subject and have good background knowledge of it in your mother tongue, go for it.

However, I would say getting exposed to the people who speak the language, the culture, the sounds, and the taboos are vital experiences for learning the language. Yes, go make friends. Get your hands on as much Native material as possible, if for nothing other than pure motivation. Get some music that you might like to play in the background. Just remember that this is for acquiring the culture. Your level of the language is still far to low and will be for quite some time before you can enjoy the native materials.

This should be sprinkles on the ice-cream sundae. The brunt of your acquisition should be from a teacher or tutor who gives you messages that you can understand. Next comes your own reading.

6. Use flashcards.

Let’s face it. Most people (even teachers, believe it or not!) won’t give adults like us enough comprehensible input. They won’t dumb down their adult language so you can easily acquire and understand what’s going on.

You either have to force them to do it, or you can go out and use other materials on your own like flashcards for sentences and vocabulary.

Not a bad idea. If you seriously need to learn the stuff, flashcards is a good way to help supplement a good class. Just remember language needs to be repeated vigorously in order to use it reflexively.

7. If you’re doing this as a hobby, do whatever you want.

No seriously.

Who am I to tell you how to do your hobby?

It’s fun. Japanese and Korean were good hobbies of mine. I’ll admit that. I had no real need for Japanese or Korean other than cultural interest at the time. I didn’t need Korean or Japanese to make money or survive.

Yes, I do know a bit of survival Korean to function here in Korea. But I’ll admit, it’s a hobby.

8. Make a commitment. Change your life.

My plans are to learn Japanese to a functional business level for next year. This is for survival and making a living. YES! Therefore, I’ll be relying on tutors, and extensive reading mostly, with sprinkles of native materials. This also must be intensively done. That means tracking activities, and setting priorities. That also means saying no to a lot of things that I used to like to do. It means changing my life and making a commitment.