Language Learning

I have a goal of becoming bilingual.  Spanish makes the most logical sense for me. In order to this, I’ve always thought that the best way is moving to a foreign country and giving myself no option besides speaking their native tongue.  In three days at an orphanage outside Buenos Aires with no English speakers, I left my language skills growing quickly. No cheating and isolating yourself in a group of English speaking friends, no being shy or a perfectionist, but just speaking as much as possible, making all the mistakes, and learning by trial and error.  My Dad is by no means fluent in Portuguese, but without ever taking a class or any formal education, he picked it up much better than I ever did Spanish or Italian.  Over three years of Spanish class in high school I spent at least 500 hrs  in class and even more studying for tests and doing homework.  Over 18 months of Italian in college, I probably spent about 300 hours.  And what do I have to show for it!?  Less than 10 total sentences in each language and very little confidence that I’m capable of having a meaningful conversation.

My conclusion is simple…Classroom learning is not the way to go about language learning. You need to immersed, having adventures and experiences, hearing people speaking and watching their body language in real life situations.  This is how I believe the brain will most efficiently retain language.

To get some other perspectives, I listened to 3 book summaries on Blinkist. Below are my thoughts on each.


  1. Fluent in 3 months. I’m not going to read it, but it seems simple. A Practical guide to learning languages quickly and easily. 

– Myths- learning many languages is genetic. 

– Specific tasks and realistic goals are key. How fluent do you want to be? 2 hours per day, 

– Key word method- connect visual image to word. 

– Spaces repetition- flash cards. If you remember the word, put it on the bottom. If you don’t, out it on top so you see it more frequently. 

– Get couch surfers at home. 

– Use body language to fill in vocab gaps. 

– Become conversational before learning grammar

– Free courses like and others are often better than a lot of expensive classes

2. The Language Instinct- I wouldn’t read this book. It’s too scientific and historical for me. It teachers about philosophers and science, less about actually learning language. Not my style, not so practical. 

– Noam chomski- theory of universal grammar. idea that grammar is hard wired into the brain. And that all languages have a similar structure. 

– Linguistic relativity. 

– Language is based on 2 principles to facilitate ease- arbitrary-ness of sound and we have a finite amount of words to create infinite amount of sentences. 

– Understanding speech is like a 6th sense. 

– Coarticulation- how sounds blend together- why computers can’t translate well. 

– Language instinct could have come through evolution, but like everything around that subject, there are arguments against that. 

– Chill out about good grammar. It’s more arbitrary than you think. 


3. Fluent Forever

– Bringing neuroscience together with tricks on pronouncing and memory. 

– Make it game, not a fight. 

– Images and personal experience connections makes it easier for the brain to remember. 

– The brain processes words on 4 levels: structure, sound, concept and personal connection. 6x more likely to remember on personal connection. 

– Recalling is better than reviewing. Repetition is not the best way. Tricks for remember is better

– SRS (spaced repetition systems)-learn the word today and be reminded of it in 1 months. In 4 months you can memorize 3600 flash cards with 90%+ accuracy

– Listen, don’t study. 

– Word games build vocabulary. Spot the difference with google images. Memory game is the action of searching for past connection. 

– Learn in the order children learn. Don’t be a perfectionist. Feed your brain with comprehensible input, don’t try to learn something too advanced in the beginning. 

– PAO (person action object) technique. Example:der hunde (the dog). Dog throws chair- easier to remember. 

– Avoid translations. Use monolingual dictionaries. Turn off subtitles in movies or shows. 

– Listen carefully for rhythm and sounds. 

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