Chinese mnemonics and annotator

Extensive reading method

There are thousands of ways to learn a foreign language, some more and some less efficient.

Some people have problems learning a single one, while famous polyglots were supposedly fluent in more than twenty languages.

What makes the difference?

I believe that with sufficient motivation and adequate method anyone can achieve a high proficiency in the language of their choosing.

Now, how do you get motivated?

There is a way.

When I say high motivation, I mean the feeling of passion, the strive for getting it done, when you are bothered even by the fact you have to sleep or eat, because you just don't ever want to stop to do something else.

Your mental picture

So, what is the first thing you think of when someone says “study a language”? Is it sitting over a grammar book, trying to memorize seemingly infinite amount of irregular forms?

If yes, I doubt you were ever caught overworking. Actually, I doubt you might ever reach proficiency.

Let's imagine something else.

How do you feel, when you are watching a movie that you know or reading a book with such an exciting story that you think of it before falling asleep? Even days after you finished reading?

Yes, I am referring to what people usually call “fun”. Ever thought that studying could be like this?

Common misconception

Now, when I suggest reading books in a foreign language, the number one reply is a sad “I am not so far yet.” But this is a misconception. It is a bad notion that real-life foreign texts are like a fruit hanging in a future so distant that you subconsciously know you will never get there. It is never too early to start reading.

Textbooks can wait, you can always come back to them later, should you ever miss them.

Books are your friend

The best way to start learning a language is by reading real-life texts right away. As I started learning German, I had to do it very quickly, as I decided to start studying at an university at that country, and it was Christmas already. I knew by observations that the school methods take people nowhere.

So the first thing I did was to google for bilingual comics. And I simply read the German text parallel, tried to guess the meaning, and then looked at the translation. I obviously did not understand much of the German first, but reading the comics was so fun I could continue two days in a row.

During that time I picked a few words and also observed some grammatical patterns (when I felt like it I checked the dictionary and a grammar reference to be sure). And so I proceeded from comics to simple children stories, and then to more advanced fantasy and science-fiction literature. I listened to the sound of it as well when I could find a recording. I still have good memories of that time, as it was a very enjoyable time.

There is always plenty of audiobooks available online for free, and for some you can find the corresponding text in written form quite easily.

Quick results

You will simply keep getting better. Every few days you’ll notice you don’t have to check the translation or the dictionary so often. At times you might feel like getting nowhere. But then, the moment will come, and it will feel like crossing a threshold and you’ll start thinking in that language.

This method is useful if you are targeting to a near-native level of proficiency. You will be able to read native texts quite quickly, and even understanding spoken word won't be a problem thanks to audiobooks. You will also develop an intuitive feeling of what is right in the language, so after you start writing, the grammar won't be a problem. Just have your first writings checked by native speakers (e.g. using iTalki journal or at Lang-8 - although lang-8 seems to be dead for Chinese at the time of writing).

Who is it not for

Even though reading books won't automatically make you speak fluently and confidently, you’ll be able to develop talking skills very quickly after you get exposed to a native environment.

However, if you just want to start speaking right away, don't mind a somewhat superficial vocabulary knowledge and if you don't care about reading books, this approach would an overkill. In that case I would suggest practising your talking skills with native speakers right away. (You might find iTalki useful. BTW. This referal link gives you $10 free.)