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Immersion: Learning a Foreign Language by Yourself

Deep Dish

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For the past 19 months, I’ve been learning French. It’s not the first time I’ve tried to learn French, and French is not the first language that I’ve tried to learn, but it’s the first time with real progress being made. Just thought I would share some things which I've learned...

Learning vs. Acquisition

You learn a language through intellectual study. You acquire a language by naturally picking it up.

Many people think there’s a window of time when children are wired to have an easy time learning a language. Children do have an easier time with pronunciation, but adults have the advantage in learning vocabulary and grammar. While your adult brain doesn’t have the same plasticity of a child’s, you can still acquire a language like a child, without teachers, if you create an environment of immersion. There’s a good body of science by the works of Steven Krashen and his Input Hypothesis.

Immersion, just by itself, doesn’t work. You, as an adult, don’t acquire a language by osmosis quite like a child. There are people who live in a foreign country for decades but who never pick up the language (beyond a few words). For immersion to work, you need three things: comprehensible input, fun, and active listening.

According to Steven Krashen, language acquisition happens with comprehensible input. It needs to be just above your level of comprehension, because if it’s too hard, or too easy, you won’t learn anything. In the beginning, nothing is comprehensible, so you have to grind through memorizing vocabulary before immersion really starts working.

It also needs to be enjoyable and interesting to you. Dopamine plays a big role in staying focused and motivated.

You need to be actively engaged in paying attention to what people are saying or writing. There are people who spend thousands of hours with passive listening, hoping to absorb the language by pure exposure, but passive listening doesn’t work. Passive listening helps you get comfortable with the language, but you won’t learn anything. You need thousands of hours of active listening.

Many people think immersion means living in a foreign country. Living abroad has its benefits, you go into “survival mode” where you must learn the language to get by, but for most people for most of their lives, it’s simply not a practical option. Luckily, you can create immersion in your own bedroom.

Learn The Most Common Words

There are really no shortcuts or tricks, no methods which can speed up your learning, except by investing greater amounts of time. But the closest thing to speeding things up is the strategy of learning the most common words.

Luckily, the Pareto Principle applies to language. You only need to know a “few” words to understand 90% of conversations. For French, you need to learn 600 words, for Italian it’s 1,000 words. This is just to get you started with a basic level of fluency, where you still don’t understand every word but enough to follow along with the gist of conversation.

You learn words by spaced repetition. You need to be exposed to a word at least three times over a period of time before you will remember it. Some words will stick into your brain easily and some words you’ll keep forgetting (until you finally remember it).

Whenever possible, learning phrases is more valuable than learning individual words. Phrases give you context to words and the grammar is all done for you. “Chunking” is a method where people learn a lot of phrases.

Listening – Say What?

The tricky part to learning vocabulary is connecting the words with sounds (phonemes). It’s a common struggle in language learning where you’ll intellectually know most or all the words that someone says but it all flies over your head because your ears don’t know the sounds. When you were a child, your brain was imprinted with the sounds of your native language and it ignores the phonemes of all other languages, so you have to retrain your ears.

It’s best to watch content without any subtitles, because it’s pure listening. Subtitles, however, are very helpful in connecting words with sounds.

When you have subtitles, it needs to be in the target language. Science shows that you learn more with foreign subtitles than native language subtitles.

For some reason, it’s very hard, basically impossible, to find French movies with French subtitles. It’s very easy to find French movies with English subtitles, or English movies with French subtitles, but for some nebulous reason French on French is taboo. (Do the French not have any deaf citizens?, it makes me wonder.) The two or three times I’ve found French on French subtitles, the subtitles were incomplete, with huge gaps of time. Netflix has some French on French subtitles, but I quit Netflix.

Movies subtitles are often not word for word. I recommend Youtube because the subtitles are word for word.

Don’t Worry About Grammar

This is probably the most counter-intuitive advice.

In the words of Optilingo, "Many people are unwilling to accept that grammar isn’t necessary at first. They fight against it. Traditional language teachers are probably the worst culprits. Most believe you can’t learn a language without studying grammar first. Reality disagrees."

Grammar is so complex it’s only going to daze and confuse you. Grammar is one of the biggest reasons why people quit, because people feel pressure to speak correctly. The thing is people can still understand the gist of what you’re trying to say even if the grammar is all broken, depending on how closely related are the two languages. Grammar between English and French is very close, so you can get away with speaking English with French words, for the most part.

It’s good to have a grammar book for reference, but don’t try to study it (unless you really want to).

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t learn grammar, but it’s not a high priority. You will naturally acquire grammar through immersion without necessarily having been formally taught it.

Native Speakers Are Not The Best Teachers

You need careful about listening to advice given by native speakers. People who learned a language as a foreign language are generally better than native speakers at explaining grammar. Native speakers know when something sounds wrong, but they can’t tell you why it’s wrong. The thing is you didn’t learn your first language by studying it, you naturally picked it up. There are grammar rules which most native speakers are unaware of, so they are more vulnerable to giving you bad advice, telling you something isn’t a rule, when it actually is a rule.


Monolingual Dictionaries

It’s a good idea to a monolingual dictionary, because it allows you to stay in the language. Obviously, it isn’t helpful in the beginning when you don’t know any words, but once you have some reading fluency, it’s time to switch.

Absorption

A crazy thing happened to me when I was about a year into my learning of French.

I became frustrated of being frustrated of not understanding spoken French, so I decided to take a break to learn Italian. It’s not recommended to learn two languages at the same time, but I wanted to try Italian to see how much easier it would be since it’s phonetic.

After two months of Italian, I went back to French, to maintain my learning, and the most unexpected thing happened. I found after the break that I could understand more spoken French. The subconscious of your brain performs background processing. It was still absorbing and wiring up the language for two months while I was on a break.

So I’m staying with French.

Ever since then, I’ve been more focused on watching content with subtitles. My listening skills are noticeably improving and there are now a few Youtubers who I can understand, without subtitles.
 

Zimbabwe

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It works well with francophile girls but they are rare, especially the hot ones. With regular girls it doesn't really change anything but it helps when approaching, they hear the accent and give you a chance. They respect the fact that I have the courage to approach them in Russian, they know it's difficult, they are curious too. But after the approach you deal with the same BS, being a foreigner is not a plus value anymore, most Russian girls prefer dating Russians, it's easier that way.

@Deep Dish
Keep learning French it's good time investment, I'm sure it's going to open some doors in the future, it's a useful language (one of the six official languages at United Nation) and French girls dig anglophones who can speak French ;)
Good luck!
Most people really appreciate foreigners learning their language besides those of us in the anglosphere. For some reason a person learning English isn't interesting to anyone in the Anglosphere.

Go to any foreign country, learn a few words and the locals would seriously appreciate the effort. When i was in Korea for two weeks the girls were extremely happy that i knew a few basic words and they were excited to teach me more. This applies to any country and the same with Russians. Most foreigners never bother to learn the local language or culture.
 

Deep Dish

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I just found out that French might actually need 2,000 most common words to reach 90% comprehension. This brings up an issue that it’s tricky to know how many words are really needed to reach a level of comprehension, because there are different ways of counting. There are words and word families (and headwords). A word family counts all variations of a word as one word. Some studies count each variation as a word. I think word families is the most sensible approach, but that's just my opinion.

I chose French for cultural and artistic reasons, and that has been helpful towards staying motivated. As silly as it may sound, you really need to know why you’re learning a language. If you don’t really know why, or if the reason is too flimsy, you’re likely to quit. As someone else said, “If you want to learn Russian simply to impress that cute Russian you met at the bar, if you’re thinking of picking up French phrases to impress people and look smart, well, I have bad news for you. Motivation is a tricky thing. You can will yourself to learn something difficult for a short period of time. But in the long run, you need to be reaping some practical benefit from your efforts. Without that, you’ll eventually burn out.”

Once this pandemic blows over, one thing I hope to do is visit Monaco to watch a Formula 1 race. That should be really fun!
 

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Mike32ct

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I just found out that French might actually need 2,000 most common words to reach 90% comprehension. This brings up an issue that it’s tricky to know how many words are really needed to reach a level of comprehension, because there are different ways of counting. There are words and word families (and headwords). A word family counts all variations of a word as one word. Some studies count each variation as a word. I think word families is the most sensible approach, but that's just my opinion.

I chose French for cultural and artistic reasons, and that has been helpful towards staying motivated. As silly as it may sound, you really need to know why you’re learning a language. If you don’t really know why, or if the reason is too flimsy, you’re likely to quit. As someone else said, “If you want to learn Russian simply to impress that cute Russian you met at the bar, if you’re thinking of picking up French phrases to impress people and look smart, well, I have bad news for you. Motivation is a tricky thing. You can will yourself to learn something difficult for a short period of time. But in the long run, you need to be reaping some practical benefit from your efforts. Without that, you’ll eventually burn out.”

Once this pandemic blows over, one thing I hope to do is visit Monaco to watch a Formula 1 race. That should be really fun!
Do you have any books and/or products you used during your study of French that you would recommend?
 

Deep Dish

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Do you have any books and/or products you used during your study of French that you would recommend?
Hey Mike!

The only products that I have is a Larousse paper dictionary, and also French-English Translator app on my Android phone. My approach, so far, which has focused on vocabulary, has simply been to study from a list of the most common words and watch lots of Youtube. With so much information freely available, I've tried my best to stay away from products, because in my view it hasn't been necessary.

I do recommend checking out Olly Richards on Youtube. He has a learning by stories method and has books which you can find in bookstores, if stories are your thing. I've never bought any of his books but he gives out a lot of insights and advice on his channel.

I also recommend Learn French with Elsa. She focuses on teaching grammar and is entertaining to watch. Her videos are entirely in French, though, except for her early videos, so she is for intermediate learners.
 

Jack22

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I also recommend Learn French with Elsa. She focuses on teaching grammar and is entertaining to watch. Her videos are entirely in French, though, except for her early videos, so she is for intermediate learners.
I enjoyed your post, it was very well put together. I've looked into Lingq by Steve Kaufmann and so far I'm making steady progress in Spanish as Steve created a platform precisely tailored to this standard of language learning. I've learned just over 200 words in a weeks time, and I'm very excited with my progress. May I ask how you're doing with French? Thanks for the amazing thread by the way!
 

Kotaix

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The best possible way to learn a language well is to go to the country and be forced to speak it.

I took 6 months of german prior to going to germany. My teacher actually asked me if I had ever learned german before because I picked it up so fast. But when I got to germany, I couldn't have a real conversation with people for a good two months.
 

Deep Dish

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I enjoyed your post, it was very well put together. I've looked into Lingq by Steve Kaufmann and so far I'm making steady progress in Spanish as Steve created a platform precisely tailored to this standard of language learning. I've learned just over 200 words in a weeks time, and I'm very excited with my progress. May I ask how you're doing with French? Thanks for the amazing thread by the way!
Thank you for the kind words, and your welcome!

I know somewhere between 500-600 words, which places me around the end of A1 and the beginning of A2. It's not many words for getting close to two years, because the first year was focused on reading / vocabulary and the second year was focused on listening comprehension, so learning vocabulary took a backseat. It's my goal for this year to put more effort into vocabulary and learn 2,000 more words.

I can understand what people say if they talk slowly and casually. I struggle with television news broadcasts but it is getting better. I can understand words, phrases, and sometimes whole sentences, but it's mostly still a soup of noise. The good thing about television news is that reporters speak clearly and without slang.

This past weekend I met up with a French group on meetup.com, which was fun and I look forward to more times.

Cheers!
 
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Lippy

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I learned French at the Uni. Need to say, my biggest scare is speaking. And the best way to get rid of it is to speak more, desirable with native speakers, and yes, don't mind your grammar, just speak.
 

MatureDJ

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For the past 19 months, I’ve been learning French. It’s not the first time I’ve tried to learn French, and French is not the first language that I’ve tried to learn, but it’s the first time with real progress being made. Just thought I would share some things which I've learned...

Learning vs. Acquisition

You learn a language through intellectual study. You acquire a language by naturally picking it up.

Many people think there’s a window of time when children are wired to have an easy time learning a language. Children do have an easier time with pronunciation, but adults have the advantage in learning vocabulary and grammar. While your adult brain doesn’t have the same plasticity of a child’s, you can still acquire a language like a child, without teachers, if you create an environment of immersion. There’s a good body of science by the works of Steven Krashen and his Input Hypothesis.

Immersion, just by itself, doesn’t work. You, as an adult, don’t acquire a language by osmosis quite like a child. There are people who live in a foreign country for decades but who never pick up the language (beyond a few words). For immersion to work, you need three things: comprehensible input, fun, and active listening.

According to Steven Krashen, language acquisition happens with comprehensible input. It needs to be just above your level of comprehension, because if it’s too hard, or too easy, you won’t learn anything. In the beginning, nothing is comprehensible, so you have to grind through memorizing vocabulary before immersion really starts working.

It also needs to be enjoyable and interesting to you. Dopamine plays a big role in staying focused and motivated.

You need to be actively engaged in paying attention to what people are saying or writing. There are people who spend thousands of hours with passive listening, hoping to absorb the language by pure exposure, but passive listening doesn’t work. Passive listening helps you get comfortable with the language, but you won’t learn anything. You need thousands of hours of active listening.

Many people think immersion means living in a foreign country. Living abroad has its benefits, you go into “survival mode” where you must learn the language to get by, but for most people for most of their lives, it’s simply not a practical option. Luckily, you can create immersion in your own bedroom.

Learn The Most Common Words

There are really no shortcuts or tricks, no methods which can speed up your learning, except by investing greater amounts of time. But the closest thing to speeding things up is the strategy of learning the most common words.

Luckily, the Pareto Principle applies to language. You only need to know a “few” words to understand 90% of conversations. For French, you need to learn 600 words, for Italian it’s 1,000 words. This is just to get you started with a basic level of fluency, where you still don’t understand every word but enough to follow along with the gist of conversation.

You learn words by spaced repetition. You need to be exposed to a word at least three times over a period of time before you will remember it. Some words will stick into your brain easily and some words you’ll keep forgetting (until you finally remember it).

Whenever possible, learning phrases is more valuable than learning individual words. Phrases give you context to words and the grammar is all done for you. “Chunking” is a method where people learn a lot of phrases.

Listening – Say What?

The tricky part to learning vocabulary is connecting the words with sounds (phonemes). It’s a common struggle in language learning where you’ll intellectually know most or all the words that someone says but it all flies over your head because your ears don’t know the sounds. When you were a child, your brain was imprinted with the sounds of your native language and it ignores the phonemes of all other languages, so you have to retrain your ears.

It’s best to watch content without any subtitles, because it’s pure listening. Subtitles, however, are very helpful in connecting words with sounds.

When you have subtitles, it needs to be in the target language. Science shows that you learn more with foreign subtitles than native language subtitles.

For some reason, it’s very hard, basically impossible, to find French movies with French subtitles. It’s very easy to find French movies with English subtitles, or English movies with French subtitles, but for some nebulous reason French on French is taboo. (Do the French not have any deaf citizens?, it makes me wonder.) The two or three times I’ve found French on French subtitles, the subtitles were incomplete, with huge gaps of time. Netflix has some French on French subtitles, but I quit Netflix.

Movies subtitles are often not word for word. I recommend Youtube because the subtitles are word for word.

Don’t Worry About Grammar

This is probably the most counter-intuitive advice.

In the words of Optilingo, "Many people are unwilling to accept that grammar isn’t necessary at first. They fight against it. Traditional language teachers are probably the worst culprits. Most believe you can’t learn a language without studying grammar first. Reality disagrees."

Grammar is so complex it’s only going to daze and confuse you. Grammar is one of the biggest reasons why people quit, because people feel pressure to speak correctly. The thing is people can still understand the gist of what you’re trying to say even if the grammar is all broken, depending on how closely related are the two languages. Grammar between English and French is very close, so you can get away with speaking English with French words, for the most part.

It’s good to have a grammar book for reference, but don’t try to study it (unless you really want to).

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t learn grammar, but it’s not a high priority. You will naturally acquire grammar through immersion without necessarily having been formally taught it.

Native Speakers Are Not The Best Teachers

You need careful about listening to advice given by native speakers. People who learned a language as a foreign language are generally better than native speakers at explaining grammar. Native speakers know when something sounds wrong, but they can’t tell you why it’s wrong. The thing is you didn’t learn your first language by studying it, you naturally picked it up. There are grammar rules which most native speakers are unaware of, so they are more vulnerable to giving you bad advice, telling you something isn’t a rule, when it actually is a rule.


Monolingual Dictionaries

It’s a good idea to a monolingual dictionary, because it allows you to stay in the language. Obviously, it isn’t helpful in the beginning when you don’t know any words, but once you have some reading fluency, it’s time to switch.

Absorption

A crazy thing happened to me when I was about a year into my learning of French.

I became frustrated of being frustrated of not understanding spoken French, so I decided to take a break to learn Italian. It’s not recommended to learn two languages at the same time, but I wanted to try Italian to see how much easier it would be since it’s phonetic.

After two months of Italian, I went back to French, to maintain my learning, and the most unexpected thing happened. I found after the break that I could understand more spoken French. The subconscious of your brain performs background processing. It was still absorbing and wiring up the language for two months while I was on a break.

So I’m staying with French.

Ever since then, I’ve been more focused on watching content with subtitles. My listening skills are noticeably improving and there are now a few Youtubers who I can understand, without subtitles.
French is one of my 2nd languages (took a few years of it in high school, LOL); however, for the GeoMaxxing PUA, it's not very useful, not like Spanish or Russian (I don't think any chicks still speak French in Indochina); surely you are not planning on going to Francophone Africa :eek: :eek: :eek:. A great French movie to watch is "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg". That said, it's a good language for skiing since French folks in the countryside tend to be the worst at learning English.
 

Ricky

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Got Spanish going from 2 years of learning at work when i was an engineer who travelled to Mexico. Use Duolingo now

French is a beautiful language. Took it in highschool. I'll probably focus on that after i finish the Duolingo work.

I've recently looked into listening to radio stations that broadcast in spanish
 

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Deep Dish

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Mature DJ:

Surely you are not planning on going to Francophone Africa. A great French movie to watch is "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg". That said, it's a good language for skiing since French folks in the countryside tend to be the worst at learning English.
@MatureDJ

I will definitely check the movie! I found a copy of it, which I'm downloading now, so I will watch. One great thing about learning a language is going through the history of cinema all over again.

And yeah, I don't plan on traversing Africa. I've been invited by some friends of family to visit Morocco, which seems cool, but that's about it.

Ricky:

French is a beautiful language. Took it in high school. I'll probably focus on that after i finish the Duolingo work.
@Ricky

I agree, French is beautiful. It has musicality to it, which is also what makes it hard to learn; for words mostly end in vowels and have liaisons, enchaînement, and elisions.
 

MatureDJ

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I agree, French is beautiful. It has musicality to it, which is also what makes it hard to learn; for words mostly end in vowels and have liaisons, enchaînement, and elisions.
French is a difficult language to listen to because the consonants are so weak (thank you, Gaulish tribes for being so sloppy learning Latin). That said, because singing elongates the syllables, the consonants become easier to pick out.
 

SW15

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Spanish is the most useful second language to know if you are a United States resident, especially in Florida, near New York City, or the Southwestern United States. Watch some Spanish language media content. It's not too difficult to find people who speak Spanish in the United States.
 
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