Sunday, December 6, 2020

Organic Language Acquisition Guidelines

Guidelines for learning-without-studying approach to language acquisition


  1. Pick only organic, relevant content! Discard irrelevant, miscalibrated and toxic content.
  2. Focus on quantity, not quality
  3. NO NEED to be a perfectionist
  4. NO NEED to judge yourself
  5. Allow your subconscious mind to work for you
  6. Give up the idea of control
  7. Abandon the idea of importance
  8. Focus on the incoming flow
  9. Learn words in context
  10. Don't rush to speak
  11. Avoid complicated words
  12. Use a monolingual dictionary
  • Take only what is relevant to you — miscalibration is the biggest obstacle in language learning. It can occur in many forms - input that’s too easy or too difficult, mismatched interests, moods, attitudes, values, methods, cultural and social backgrounds, psychological profiles and interaction models. Find what activates you and discard the rest. Too much miscalibrated input can cause 'indigestion' problems and make you sick, and lead to a "cognitive disability". You will still learn even in a miscalibrated environment but at a higher cost and at a much slower pace than you could. Small challenges that push you outside your comfort zone can be refreshing and stimulating, but not having a comfort zone at all will quickly drain your energy and cause burnout.
  • Focus on quantity over quality avoid getting stuck in details - aim for a general understanding. Keep moving through as much ‘language traffic’ as possible. Especially when at the beginner level, allow yourself to lower your standards and settle for the mediocre goal of simply getting the general idea of some text, speech, or video you encounter. Don't spend too much time on clarifying every possible detail.
  • DON'T be a perfectionist! - Understanding everything in great detail isn’t necessary. Keep going and don’t get stuck on minor things. The key is to keep moving forward comfortably. If you get the rough idea - it will do just fine. Fine-grained understanding will come gradually over time without you having to make a conscious effort. Just continue what you are doing. It's not about results and marks, but about being able to continue moving without getting stuck.
  • DON'T judge yourself! — unlike children, we often self-invalidate and label ourselves as “not good with languages” when we don’t see immediate results. This mindset can ruin your learning and make you quit. Don’t fall into the trap of compulsively expecting positive reinforcement. It’s a side-effect of our results-oriented education system that makes kids addicted to praise and good grades. "I must succeed or otherwise I'm a failure...", "I must win and be a champion or otherwise I'm a loser.... Let go of the need to succeed and win at all costs. It’s stressful and causes constant tension. Instead, allow yourself the luxury of not needing a reason or motivation. Enjoy the journey without expecting immediate results. Recommended reading: Why You Won’t Learn Like a Child
  • Allow your subconscious to work for you even if you don't fully understand how exactly this is happening; all you need to do at the conscious level is to:
  • Give up the idea of control over the learning process and adopt a playful attitude towards the game of learning - no need to be in control, no need to be serious. Enjoy the process and allow yourself to keep going so that you spend at least half an hour every day, but don't torture yourself if you skip your 'language fix' for a day or two.
  • Abandon the idea of importance - no matter how pressing it is for you to acquire the language, get rid of any idea of importance. Attaching importance to anything kills the fun and excitement that you could have had otherwise. By attaching importance to a process you make the area heavier, less approachable, less spontaneous, less inventive, less playful and, most importantly, you rob yourself of the excitement of discovery.
  • Focus on the incoming flow and develop your ability to capture ideas, meanings, and your individual needs. Don't expect to be able to use the words and expressions immediately. All the linguistic input you receive is stored as passive vocabulary. When you will build sufficient passive vocabulary the transfer to active vocabulary will happen automatically, and you will not even notice how you will start to use the language.
  • Learn words in context, and avoid focusing on single isolated words except when you are dealing with 'super-words' that need special attention. Focus on concrete ideas, needs, situations, phrases, contexts. The words are the last in terms of priority and importance. Verbs and all verb forms are useless on their own. If they are not hooked into specific ideas, emotions, contexts, situations, usage patterns or needs, then don't spend time trying to remember them. If you still decide you need to focus on single words or verb forms, then put them into real life context and find useful usage scenarios for them.
  • Speaking should start much later than usually expected on language courses. As a child you listened continuously for at least a year before you started speaking. Allow yourself the luxury of not speaking until you feel comfortable. Instead, focus on the incoming flow and passive accumulation. When you have accumulated enough, speaking will come out naturally and without effort. It will burst out under the pressure of the incoming flow. Also see this short clip.
  • Avoid words whose meaning you don't fully understand. Replace complex words with the simplest possible words or use descriptive words if you are dealing with a complex idea. If you cannot find a simple word or give a descriptive definition, then make it clear to the other person that you are not sure of the exact meaning of the word you are using, and ask them to confirm or correct your usage.
  • Use a monolingual dictionary rather than a bilingual one. Prefer dictionaries designed for language learners rather than for native speakers. While Google Translate can be useful, remember that it is not a substitute for a good dictionary. For most languages the requirement to be able to use a monolingual learner's dictionary is around 1500-3000 of the most common words, so as soon as you reach this mark switch from a bilingual to a monolingual dictionary. Switch as soon as possible. If you find a specific monolingual dictionary too difficult, find another one that is easier. Otherwise, fallback temporarily to a bilingual dictionary.
  • Make sure your dictionaries are easily available and have a search function. It's best to have them on your smartphone, tablet, or something that you always carry with you.
  • This is so important that it bears repeating: AVOID USING BILINGUAL DICTIONARIES if you possibly can. Using bilingual dictionaries after you already know the most common 1500-2000 words is very likely to incorrectly map semantic spaces in your brain, and the only way to avoid this is to switch to a good monolingual dictionary as early as possible. If you already have the minimum vocabulary base, the only case where it makes sense to use a bilingual dictionary is for words that have a fixed one-to-one translation, i.e. names of plants, animals, foods, utensils, etc., but even with these words you will find exceptions. Most other words occupy different semantic spaces and DON'T HAVE A ONE-TO-ONE SEMANTIC MAPPING. You have been warned!

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