Tried Everything, Nothing Works

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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby RMM » Tue May 14, 2019 7:05 pm

I used to be like you with foreign languages. I kept toying around with new programs and then setting them and languages aside periodically over the course of years. Thanks to the old HTLAL board and all the new ideas I saw there that changed for me.

Other people have already brought up this idea, but one of the best pieces of advice I've seen from a polyglot was Prof. Arguelles' advice on habituating yourself to learning languages every day just as part of your daily life, like brushing your teeth. So long as you look on languages as special study or something extra you have to force yourself to do, you will likely keep dropping them, even though consistency is one of the most important things in language learning (along with realistically understanding it takes most people a whole lot of time to learn a language well).

Perhaps the most important thing for me personally was that I also learned how to make language learning easy and fun for myself, which made turning language learning into a habit much easier. I spent enough (too much) time on academic tasks in my life already, so I often found studying languages in a formal manner to be boring. My big breakthrough was when I discovered you can use native materials from very early on if you find ways to make them at least partially comprehensible.

The Listen-Read (L-R) method that was discussed extensively on the HTLAL board and periodically on this board especially jump-started my learning. (With the method, you take texts of the same book in your native and target langauge, perferably but not necessarily laid out side-by-side, and follow along with them while you listen to an audiobook of the text in your target language). This meant that I could listen to interesting audiobooks in my target languages while having the English meaning right in front of me making it comprehensible from the start. I was recently even able to use this method with Russian, a difficult language with a different alphabet, after just 3-4 hours of study.

Also importantly, I joined the Super Challenge (that is still active in this forum now). Extensive reading and listening/watching are wonderful ways to learn in a natural, fun manner. It was a little hard to learn to accept ambiguity and not understanding everything (or even most things) at first, but the more of it I’ve done, the easier it gets to understand it well. I found that earlier on, it was very helpful to read a page, chapter, or book first in English and then in my target languages. Likewise, I would often watch shows and movies first in English or with English subtitles and then watch it over in just my target languages. This made it easier to pick up vocab without having to look up very much (do not get bogged down in looking up words) and to read more rapidly without having to worry that I would miss what was happening in the plot. Dual language texts can also make matching the foreign language with its meaning much easier. Later, you can move on to reading/watching/listening just in the foreign language and picking up more things through context.

Sure, I still have to check grammar books every once in a while, but all the foreign-language novels, non-fiction books, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, articles, news broadcasts, and documentaries I’ve consumed make it a lot easier to recognize and understand foreign grammar points, in addition to being a great way to learn tons of vocab in context. The main thing for me is that probably 95% of my language learning is actually fun. If I had to spend most of my time with flash cards and Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, though, I think I would have given up (again) a long time ago.

I know you said you tried "everything," but have you tried large amounts of extensive reading and listening (you have to do a lot; a small amount won't do anything)? I would think that learning everything in context would help you retain the information much better. Naturally, this would be easier to do with Spanish than Japanese, since the Japanese writing system is so complex (although it should still work with Japanese with a lot of extra preparation—maybe after learning the kana and the most common particles, going through Heisig volume I for the top 1,000 kanji, and reviewing over some of the most common vocab words?). Have you considered perhaps putting Japanese aside for a time, while you concentrate on properly learning Spanish? Based on the FSI scales Spanish is a tremendously easier language to learn for an English speaker than Japanese. Perhaps if you learn Spanish first you can figure out what works for you in language learning before tackling Japanese. Just a thought. Good luck.
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby Cavesa » Tue May 14, 2019 7:51 pm

Looking at that list, I think you haven't tried the most obvious option: getting a coursebook and sticking to it. It works. It won't teach you everything, but it can get you un-stuck and several steps forward in the right direction. And yes, while it may not look like the most fun method, the results open the doors to more fun and are rewarding.
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby seito » Tue May 14, 2019 11:36 pm

Arnaud wrote:Assimil Japanese is not especially user-friendly and amusing like any other Assimil courses, imho.

I've seen a lot of posts that suggested that Assimil Japanese isn't as good as other Assimil courses. I haven't used any others, so I can't comment on that. But I did find the time I spent with Assimil to be my most productive.
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby StringerBell » Wed May 15, 2019 5:09 pm

As usual on this forum, there are so many really amazing and helpful responses's truly a treasure trove. Sadly, I think Elvis may have left the building.
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby IronMike » Wed May 15, 2019 5:10 pm

Iguanamon's multi-track approach changed my language learning. Worth a read.
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby tuyanka » Wed May 15, 2019 6:43 pm

I understand! Honestly, when it comes to learning languages I think that emotional connection is super important. So basically the most useful thing is to have a friend that speaks the language you're trying to learn (it also can be a tutor but then it requires monetary investment, on one side it's a positive one as it'll keep you accountable also you want to make the most of it; just be really careful on finding a person that you get along super well so you're excited about having a class), or find something you enjoy doing and integrate it into the process. Not every learning strategy is going to work for you, nor they work out for everyone so don't get too discouraged... :D If there is any movie or show that you enjoy watching (and have watched before so you have an idea of what's going on there) then it's worth giving it a try to watch it in Spanish/Japanese with original subtitles. I know it's likely not as easy/fun/enjoyable but you're learning and slowly building up your vocabulary. Also, you can throw subtitles in English to the mix to make it even more effective :lol:
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby Decidida » Sun May 19, 2019 4:25 am

For basic vocabulary, I have made the fastest progress with the kids Dinolingo program. The website breaks the videos up into handier modules, than the full videos available for free through Hoopla and a free subscription through my local library. This might be babyish and something I should be ashamed to admit, but it WORKS. There are limited resources available for Haitian Creole and I used everything and anything available. Sometimes the Hoopla videos are hidden. To get to the Spanish videos right now, I have to find the Creole videos and click on the series name.

For learning the grammar of an inflected language like Spanish, I do better starting out with something that kind of cheats with the verbs, like Michel Thomas and Spanish with Paul.

For goals setting and accountability, I like The Quick and Dirty Guide to Learning Languages Fast by A. G. Hawke. The book includes a schedule and fill in worksheets. ... 1581600968

I do not always have control over this, but when someone is texting me in the target language and expecting me to respond in the target language, my brain seems to process language as being of critical importance and seems to file information differently. I progress even faster from texting than speech. The greater the frequency of the texts, even if they are very short, the faster my progress. That constant shock to the brain that this is relevant and critical.

When I am being texted, I am forced to create a cheat sheet. I have made handwritten ones to start, but eventually, I create a chart grid in a word processor and type in a tiny font the words and phrases I need most to respond to texts. I think the creation and use of that cheat sheet is important to my progress.

My library offers a free subscription to Mango languages. Being able to click repeatedly on individual words and chant along to the word being repeated about 20 times, helps my pronunciation. The walls are paper thin where I live, and it drives one of my neighbors batty when I do this.

Popular with homeschoolers is Getting Started with Spanish. The Kindle book is $9.99 and the author supplies the audio for free. This is especially good for language learners with previous experience of Latin. ... 8&me=&qid=
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby Fantsuworkshard » Fri May 24, 2019 3:11 am

rdearman wrote:You don't have to edit your original post, you can just reply. OK, so looks like you're doing Japanese & Spanish. I don't do either of those, however I have been studying Mandarin & Italian, so close enough.

Firstly over 10 years did you study at least 15-20 minutes every single day? If you did study very single day for 10 years for 20 minutes then you'll have clocked up only 50 days of studying. You don't really think you're going to learn something as complex as a second language in only 50 days of study? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you didn't study every single day. I am going to guess you did it for 7 hours one week, then 1 hour for a week, then nothing for 2 months, then 10 hours for a week, etc. etc.

If you want to learn a language then set yourself a goal, target, whatever you want to call it of studying for at least 30 minutes each and every single day. Also you need to pick one course and work it through to the end before moving on to the next one. You have to complete what you start, and you have to start every single day.

BTW, immersion is over-rated, but you can do your own version of immersion just replace everything you'd normally do in English with Japanese. Write on twitter, write in Japanese. Read Wikipedia, read in Japanese, watch films, watching Japanese. You get the idea.

So here is my advice.
  1. Get a book in Japanese, copy each sentence character by character. Look up each character, translate into Japanese. (see example below for Mandarin)
  2. Get some films in Japanese, watch them, then watch more of them. Only watch them with Japanese sub-titles or no subtitles. Do this until you've watched at least 2000 hours of films, TV, etc in Japanese.
  3. Start a new Anki Deck. Put in the sentences from the book in the step above. Cloze deletion so you have to write them in. Get sound if you can (use the computer generated stuff if you have to)
  4. Go to and find a couple of language exchange partners. Speak to at least two people every week.
  5. Get a coursebook like Teach Yourself, Pimsleur or one of the many listed here and just go through the courses. Start one, get to the end, start another.
  6. Start reading in Japanese. Get books, read a lot.

When you complete the book, get a new book. When you've watched all the films and TV, find more. Every time you see a new word, put it into a sentence, put the sentence in Anki as a cloze deletion. Each time you complete a course, start another. But make the commitment to consistency. Don't go to sleep without doing your 30 minutes of Japanese. Ever.

Sir, do you have a suggestion for tackling reading in the very early stages? I love the idea of learning a language through literature but It seems pointless reading if I can't understand even children books.
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby zKing » Fri May 24, 2019 10:32 pm

Fantsuworkshard wrote:Sir, do you have a suggestion for tackling reading in the very early stages? I love the idea of learning a language through literature but It seems pointless reading if I can't understand even children books.

This is relatively straightforward (if you find the right tools):

1. Get electronic versions of texts you want to read.
Websites, forums, ebooks, etc.

2. Use a pop-up dictionary or a reader app like:
- Free version with support for MANY languages: The Reading Tool at
- Pay version with support for some languages:

And then just spend LOTS and LOTS of time reading stuff you are interested in.

If you are a true beginner in a language, I'd highly recommend spending a couple of hours of bootstrapping yourself with the following:
1. Read a good summary of the pronunciation of the new TL, particularly the things different from your NL.
2. In dead time, listen to the TL, even if you understand very little. Just get the sounds bouncing around in your head and listen for odd sounds, etc.
3. Skim a description of the grammar of the TL, but don't attempt to memorize it. Keep a grammar cheat sheet/website handy when reading if you get lost or not knowing something REALLY bugs you.
4. Consider skimming the first several chapters of a textbook as they will often point out the most common head-scratch-inducing bits of the TL that will puzzle new learners. Again, make no attempt to memorize, but just get an awareness of the issues and use these materials as reference later.

Translated versions of Harry Potter are a common resource that many use as they are considered relatively easy. They are quite long if you read through the series and most people are familiar with the story. But, while I really enjoyed the movies, I never really got along with the books as there were way too many silly/pointless elements that took me out of the story (it's like I could see the writer's hand every time some silly/funny element popped up that seemed to have no point other than to make the reader laugh), for some reason the movies appeared to gloss over these bits quickly, but when reading the books they seemed much more glaring to me.

So I've been reading 'Twilight' in Italian and while I find the fawning school girl story is a little too much at times (yes, I get it, Edward is really PERFECT), it keeps my interest enough for me to keep reading. And again, I've seen the movie, so even in the beginning I could easily follow what was happening. I'm something like 2/3 to 3/4 through the book and its becoming fairly easy to read now with just a scattering of unknown words popping up.

For languages with a written form that matches up well to the spoken form, I think reading in this manner is a VERY good way to build a lot of receptive skills quickly and relatively painlessly. (Other languages like Cantonese... not so much. Ask me how I know.)
That said, even if someone gets to the point of reading fairly fluently, there will be a not-so-small chunk of work to turn those reading skills into listening skills. There ain't no free lunch... particularly in language learning.

EDIT: I should add that there is a bit of a skill/art to reading in this way. There will be words that aren't in the pop-up dictionary/reader tool. There will idioms and turns of phrase that will not make any sense to you. Some words will have lots of different meanings and the tool will be missing the one that is intended in the context you are reading. Advanced grammar will be used that will totally go over your head. Don't worry about it, just keep reading. Pick up what you can get easily/quickly... go for QUANTITY, not quality. If something appears repeatedly and it really bugs you, then perhaps go deep diving looking for the answer, but do this very rarely. In the beginning, picking through it word by word, you will understand a decent portion of the text, just don't start with something that uses really literary/archaic/poetic language. As the basic parts become easier and easier, the harder parts will start to become a little more clear as well. You'll also notice that perhaps there will be some words or grammar bits that you see often and keep confusing with each other, so when you look them up and clearly differentiate them in your head, they will stick pretty well because you have seen them often. Or perhaps you keep seeing some pattern in the grammar; you aren't quite sure what it means, but you have a guess... you look that up and it really firms it up in your mind. But just let the shear volume of what you are reading (while understanding a good size chunk of it) do the heavy lifting. Only when the pain of something stabbing you in the eye again and again becomes unbearable, only then should you take the time to look it up. I'd say no more than once per reading 'session'; don't interrupt the flow.
Last edited by zKing on Fri May 24, 2019 11:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tried Everything, Nothing Works

Postby Flickserve » Fri May 24, 2019 11:37 pm

Fantsuworkshard wrote:
Sir, do you have a suggestion for tackling reading in the very early stages? I love the idea of learning a language through literature but It seems pointless reading if I can't understand even children books.

One method I did for written Chinese was to get a list of the four hundred most commonly occurring characters. These high frequency characters made up about 65% of texts. It needed a bit of hard work copying them out repetively but my motivation was quite high since the utility was very high. Found it pretty useful myself
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