We have already established that studying on your own is best, but what’s the optimal way to dive into a completely new language?
The secret lies in attacking the language from many different angles. This is not an original idea. In fact, I borrowed it from a personal hero of mine, Barry Farber. His method works!
Apply a multi-front attack to win the war
When Napoleon was busy conquering Europe, do you think he did it all with one army? Of course not. He deployed a multitude of armies and brigades with infantry, cavalry and artillery, not to mention skilled mercenaries hailing from close and afar. The enemy’s defenses were broken down by the sheer force and variety of Napoleon’s armies.
Studying a language isn’t all that different to warfare. Over time, you may grow to love your chosen language. It will become closer to you, like a friend or eventually even a lover. But do not be fooled! As a beginner, the language is your enemy. You must attack it on multiple fronts with a variety of armed units. You must show no mercy!
To build an army, you need to assemble some basic troops first. Your infantry, also known as books, will form the bulk of your armed forces. Get as many books as you want. I’m totally serious. As many as you want! Buy several different books and experiment with them to see which you like the most. It’s impossible to know which book is best for you just by looking at reviews on Amazon.
Before you cheapskate yourself out of your studies, think about this rationally for a moment. Even an investment of 15 or 20 books is peanuts compared to what you would shell out on going to language school. These books can be consulted whenever and wherever you need them. A good investment if I ever heard of one.
For the cost-conscious among you, buy your books used (veterans always come in handy!). Either way, your books will be vital in the war against an enemy language. To save time, you might want to check out our book reviews:
Chinese books we liked
Japanese books we liked
Korean books we liked
Cavalry (audio courses)
In warfare, you need to move forward rapidly in your attacks and for this you need cavalry. You will want to buy a minimum of 2 audio courses for your target language. This is vital.
These courses will act as your teachers in the beginning stages. I’m a huge fan of the Michel Thomas series – We have used it for Chinese, French, German and Russian and can vouch for the quality of each course. In addition, I have heard good things about the Japanese course.
Pimsleur is another great choice if you can afford it. Assimil and Living Language are also excellent. I will cover these courses in more detail at a later date.
Artillery (vocabulary aids)
Vocabulary aids are the hard-hitting firepower that is your artillery. In the language wars, vocabulary trumps all, so you need to build up your vocab base as much as possible.
Books and audio courses will give you a start, but you should also seek out vocabulary yourselves. Use our free applications to discover new words online and save them to your preferred flashcard program. Vocabulary acquisition is truly the bread and butter, whether you are studying Chinese or Zulu. After all, at their core, languages are made from words.
If you prefer, you can also buy flashcards ready-made. This makes for easy revision so that you can learn any place, any time. You can find tons of sets for available for Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Mercenaries (personal tutors)
As with any armed force, you need some skilled mercenaries in the mix.
After reaching a certain level of proficiency, having a native speaker available to correct your errors will be extremely valuable.
You can now find personal tutors on sites like LingQ. A tutor can correct your errors and give you some gentle pointers on how to express yourself. But remember that nobody ever fought a successful war with mercenaries alone! The important point here is to use tutors as an extra boost. They are NOT there to teach you the language. The learning part will be achieved by your hard work alone.
So now you know how to raise an army ready for linguistic war. The rest is up to you.
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Rohan has spent years studying Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and currently lives in Japan. He created the perapera pop-up dictionary plugins to help other learners of Chinese and Japanese.