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The Best Way to Learn a Language

jason-oxenham-ceo February 1, 2016, 7:54 pm
From traveling to textbooks and speaking to software, there are more ways to learn a language than ever before. With all of the options out there, it's also more difficult to chose the best method for you than ever before. So what's the best way to learn a language?

There are five basic approaches to learning a language. Let's take a look at these five different approaches and the methods they entail, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach: 

1. The Immersion Approach

True to its name, the immersion approach plunges you into a foreign language and culture. It involves traveling to a foreign country, spending an extended period of time there, and living your day-to-day life in the language. An often-mentioned alternative to the travel immersion approach is the personal immersion approach, when you learn a language by dating or becoming close friends with someone who speaks that language.

The Advantages

  • For those who don't like formal study, have some time and money to spare, want to learn a language in its natural environment and are outgoing and ambitious, this is the language learning method for you!  Immersion forces language learners to use the language on a daily basis, helps them connect with native speakers, and teaches them valuable cultural knowledge.     

The Disadvantages

  • For those of us with less time and money on our hands, learning a language by immersion isn't the best option. This method is expensive, time-consuming, and not to mention stressful. The initial communication barriers and culture shock can be very stressful and even frightening, and many long-term stays in foreign countries involve lots of headache-causing paperwork.

2. The Translation Approach

Anyone who studied a language before 1900 or has studied an extinct language (like Latin) has used this approach. In the translation approach, language learners find a book in their target language and use a bilingual dictionary to translate between the language they are learning and their native language.

The Advantages

  • If reading Latin or understanding written Egyptian Hieroglyphics is your goal, the translation approach is the one for you. This language learning approach is very useful to study real texts written in languages that aren't commonly spoken. It's also a very cost-effective way to learn.

The Disadvantages

  • If actually communicating is you goal, then the translation approach is not for you. It is a very difficult and tedious way to learn a language, and it doesn't teach speaking, listening, or writing. The accuracy of your dictionary is crucial, and there are very few ways to check your progress.

3. The Grammar-Based Approach

The grammar-based approach is the language learning method typically used in most textbooks and "teach yourself" language books. These books usually are divided into several chapters that contain a small amount of vocabulary followed by a large dose of grammar rules, and students incorporate the vocabulary into the grammar throughout the chapter. The emphasis is placed on learning the grammatical rules of the language and being able to read and write in that language.

The Advantages

  • Learning the grammatical rules of a language makes it easier to integrate and correctly use new vocabulary. For learners who like to know the rules of a language and want to be able to write well in a language, this is a great and cost-effective method.

The Disadvantages

  • Once again, students learning a language with the grammar-based method do not get many opportunities to actually speak or listen to their target language. Students must memorize a lot of grammar rules, which can be very frustrating and--as we all know--boring. In addition, the vocabulary learned is often not the most practical vocabulary, so students may not be able to use their knowledge right away. This can be frustrating and lead to a lack of motivation.

4. The Communicative Approach

The communicative approach is used by almost every modern language school today. If you've learned a language in a classroom, odds are that you're familiar with this method. The communicative approach involves a teacher who gives lessons to a small group of students. Lessons are usually divided into reading, writing, listening or speaking activities to help students learn a language quickly.

The Advantages

  • Students who learn a language with the communicative approach are given a well-rounded education. If the class is planned and taught well, students can learn quickly and have the benefit of live, face-to-face interactions with their teacher and other students in their target language.

The Disadvantages

  • Language classes can be very expensive, and it's difficult to predict their quality. The teacher can often make-or-break the students' language learning success. Classes are usually designed with a generic student in mind, and students who learn more slowly or more quickly are not give the extra help they need or are not challenged enough. In addition, it's difficult to make progress after a certain level, so more advanced students make much slower progress.

5. The Vocabulary-Based Approach

Most language-learning software and applications (like Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Busuu) use a vocabulary-based approach. In this approach, students learn a language by associating words in the language they are learning with pictures of the objects they represent. Traditional grammar rules are not taught, but are naturally learned by students as they progress.

The Advantages

  • Students can learn vocabulary very quickly with this method because of the use of repetition and images. Students can save travel time and money by using this method instead of a traditional class, and can progress at their own rate.

The Disadvantages

  • While students do learn lots of vocabulary, the vocabulary that is taught is often not useful for travelers or people who want to learn a language and be able to communicate quickly. Since grammar is not directly taught, students risk sounding a bit like Tarzan when they try to speak ("I Tarzan, you Jane..."). Finding a good program that also helps students with practical grammar, speaking, and writing can be expensive, and a lot of language learning software neglects these areas.

The Verdict

So what is the best way to learn a language?

The answer: All of them.

Every method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and every method has a slightly different focus. In order to chose the best language learning method, students must decide what they want. If used alone, a single method like the vocabulary-based approach or the communicative approach can be very effective for most people to learn a language, but each method also has its drawbacks. The key to language learning success is incorporating as many different methods as possible.

If we take into consideration the two most common excuses not to learn a language (time and money), then one of the best options is to learn a language using an affordable language learning software program that incorporates as many aspects of all five of these methods as possible.

What would that program be like? The best language learning software program would include interactive lessons while teaching vocabulary and grammar, allow students to speak and listen, provide students with language learning tips, offer reinforcement testing and motivational incentives, and let students progress at their own pace. This may sound like a lot to ask for, but new programs like Rocket Languages can provide language learners with all of these features and more.    

It's easier than ever to learn a language and find great language learning resources. So what are you waiting for? Go for it!

This is a guest post by Andrea Reisenauer. If you found this article interesting please share it!
The Best Way to Learn a Language
Tatjana-L February 1, 2016, 10:05 pm
Great article, thank you!
I agree about importants to use All methods, yes , we find almost all of them here. But I miss a chat room, were we (students) can practice conversation direct. Voice chat? I use some other pages to find native speaker or just people who learn the same language,  but why not here? See example on Gospeaky.com, they developed  a great chat room! But I would like to chat with "Rocket students"! (I learn italian now). So long I use Skype....
Greetings from Norway!
Ciooooo
Tatjana
The Best Way to Learn a Language
jason-oxenham-ceo February 3, 2016, 12:23 am
Hi Tatjana - We are looking into adding a chatroom style learning environment. It is though a medium/long term project!
The Best Way to Learn a Language
Steven-W15 February 3, 2016, 9:26 am
Rocket Languages is my Spanish learning “home”.  All of the various aspects of the course have contributed to keeping me motivated in my language learning, which is by far the most critical element. I can’t say enough positive things about it. That said, I don’t think any one course can “do it all”.

RL requires an online connection. I walk a lot and, in order to profit from that time, I go through a different course on my iPod which is more “drill” oriented: where you have to conjugate the same phrase differently or use different persons. The language lab at a Suisse university where I learned French (emersion) was terrific for this. It was exhausting but I think the pain involved is part of hammering your brain to accept a new language...Read More
Rocket Languages is my Spanish learning “home”.  All of the various aspects of the course have contributed to keeping me motivated in my language learning, which is by far the most critical element. I can’t say enough positive things about it. That said, I don’t think any one course can “do it all”.

RL requires an online connection. I walk a lot and, in order to profit from that time, I go through a different course on my iPod which is more “drill” oriented: where you have to conjugate the same phrase differently or use different persons. The language lab at a Suisse university where I learned French (emersion) was terrific for this. It was exhausting but I think the pain involved is part of hammering your brain to accept a new language.

The free web site veintemundos contains short articles focusing on different Spanish speaking countries. With each article there is an accompanying audio with test questions at the end of each article. There are no doubt other web sites out there which are similar but for different target languages.

Preparing for the language certification tests (B1/B2). There are web sites out there for doing this.

I would not even suggest that RL incorporate any of the above approaches: what it does, it does well – and trying to do all things well usually means you don’t do anything well. But on the subject of techniques and using software to assist in language learning, I’ve found it helpful to complement / expand the approaches I use in my language learning as I’ve progressed in conversational fluency.
The Best Way to Learn a Language
redcurligirl2 February 7, 2016, 6:17 pm
I want to speak Arabic within a chat room and go slowly until I am able to speed up!
The Best Way to Learn a Language
jason-oxenham-ceo February 11, 2016, 1:27 am
Hi Steven - I agree wholeheartedly that we should "stick to our knitting" as the saying goes! In saying that, it is always interesting to keep on top of developments in the e-learning space to see if there is anything we are missing that would dramatically improve the language learning ability of our users!
The Best Way to Learn a Language
Tony-S10 March 8, 2016, 6:29 am
Before using this website I found that flash cards and learning the alphabet really helped speed up my ability to learn.
The Best Way to Learn a Language
LaGalleta March 11, 2016, 12:41 am
Andrea,

Great article!  I agree with you that it's important to incorporate some of each method (apart from translation, I suppose) in my day-to-day attempt at learning Spanish.  I studied the language in college about 30 years ago, and I'm thinking that they incorporated elements from methods #3 and #4 you mentioned.  It was very effective, and most of my classmates and I learned quickly.

I find the Rocket Spanish course a little more difficult, unless I have the transcripts in front of me as I listen to the interactive lesson.  I suppose that my eyes and ears need to learn together.  I get agitated and lose concentration if I cannot 100% discern what Amy or Mauricio is saying, so it's best that I read along. 

Immersion is another method I'm using, although, since I cannot afford the time or money needed to travel, I cannot spend extended amounts of time in Spanish-speaking regions...Read More
Andrea,

Great article!  I agree with you that it's important to incorporate some of each method (apart from translation, I suppose) in my day-to-day attempt at learning Spanish.  I studied the language in college about 30 years ago, and I'm thinking that they incorporated elements from methods #3 and #4 you mentioned.  It was very effective, and most of my classmates and I learned quickly.

I find the Rocket Spanish course a little more difficult, unless I have the transcripts in front of me as I listen to the interactive lesson.  I suppose that my eyes and ears need to learn together.  I get agitated and lose concentration if I cannot 100% discern what Amy or Mauricio is saying, so it's best that I read along. 

Immersion is another method I'm using, although, since I cannot afford the time or money needed to travel, I cannot spend extended amounts of time in Spanish-speaking regions.  Unless, of course, you count Texas.    I do have a number of Spanish-speaking friends whom I beg to speak to me (slowly) in Spanish from time to time to help me get used to hearing it.  I also tune my radio in to the local Latino station and listen to a lot of Spanish songs on YouTube.

Anyway, again, very nice job.  I look forward to reading more posts from you.

¡Hasta luego!
~Shawn (a.k.a. Hermano Joaquin)
The Best Way to Learn a Language
J W March 23, 2016, 4:28 pm
I agree that learning a language should be an incorporation of the different methods. I started learning Russian last September on Mango Languages and, although it is a great language program quite similar to Rocket, it doesn't teach you enough grammar rules. So I bought books to complement (as well as spend a lot of time thinking but that should be for any kind of learning!). Now, I am using Rocket to 'fill in the meat' -- words that weren't in Mango that is used in everyday Russian conversations. Pimsleur did not work for me as it was all just audio and I am a visual person that needs to SEE the words to sound them out and also to remember. I didn't want to be strapped to a computer with Rosetta Stone and also thought learning single isolated words makes no sense if you cannot form proper grammatically-correct sentences.
The Best Way to Learn a Language
Tatjana-L March 23, 2016, 5:00 pm
I am on the same page with you JW, I use differend resourses to learn my italian. I like Rocket Italian because of Audio files, great to  work with pronuncuation, I like grammar part and much more...But I use Podcasts and italian Radio for listening comprehentions, and some free pages with grammar exercises. For speaking practising I use Skype groups and conversation with natives one to one. 
JW, If you need some help in russian - take contact, I am russian!  : ) Ciaooooooo
The Best Way to Learn a Language
J W March 23, 2016, 5:12 pm
Oh, thank you for your offer of help, Tatjana! I just read your post way up there and I think a chat room might be helpful too. Because sometimes you are in the middle of learning something and have a question that should be answered pretty quickly in order to 1) move on and 2) stay focused on a train of thought. A chat room could come in handy then (provided there are people present in the chat room). And Skype groups! I didn't know they exist but maybe it's because I haven't touched my Skype account in years. I should look into joining one. I guess I shall get my first real test in May when I go to Russia. Best of luck with your Italian too. And, btw, I love, love, LOVE Norway -- best country in the whole wide world!
The Best Way to Learn a Language
paolomutri April 3, 2016, 9:54 am
Chatrooms and boards in the target language should totally be implemented in Rocket Language to make it better! 
The Best Way to Learn a Language
nebrahim April 20, 2016, 8:20 pm
Agreed with Paolomutri... the only problem would be the fact that natives would need to use these rooms, in which case students would be interacting with each other - and most probably in their native languages.... 
The Best Way to Learn a Language
davidj-- May 2, 2016, 1:40 am
I've been auditing Spanish classes at a local (small) university the last 5 years.  Auditing is cheap.  Also, the professors and i have become friends because they see me all the time.  I jumped into RocketSpanish level 2 which is allowing me to continue and reinforce what I've learned in class.  This has given me a new element of the learning curve.  Thanks for your help!
The Best Way to Learn a Language
David K July 18, 2016, 3:51 am
I'm studying Rocket German, and have used about a dozen other programs to build up vocabulary and grammer.  I like the sentence communication pattern Rocket German uses.

I also have found a German Radio news station on the internet - RBB out of Wittstock Germany, which I listen to for about an hour every night as I fall asleep and when I am doing my exercises or swimming.
The Best Way to Learn a Language
trutenor July 26, 2016, 4:18 am
I have to agree with everyone suggesting a chat room for all of the languages.  I feel that would be the best way to practice everything you have learned.  And Jason, if you are reading this, here is a suggestion for you since you said you are slowly trying to implement the chat rooms.

I'm learning Rocket Japanese.  I've been using the Rocket program for almost two months now.  I'm just now finishing up Module 1 (as of this writing).  And its not because I'm slow, but because I wanted to be sure that I fully understood the material presented, so I would study it several times.  I would rather spend two months trying to perfect one module then spend one month going through three and I can't remember 85% of the information from any of them...Read More
I have to agree with everyone suggesting a chat room for all of the languages.  I feel that would be the best way to practice everything you have learned.  And Jason, if you are reading this, here is a suggestion for you since you said you are slowly trying to implement the chat rooms.

I'm learning Rocket Japanese.  I've been using the Rocket program for almost two months now.  I'm just now finishing up Module 1 (as of this writing).  And its not because I'm slow, but because I wanted to be sure that I fully understood the material presented, so I would study it several times.  I would rather spend two months trying to perfect one module then spend one month going through three and I can't remember 85% of the information from any of them.

Which brings me to my next point.  When the chatroom is created, and I go to the "Rocket Japanese" room, I'm going to be confused and feel incompetent trying to converse with fellow students who have finished like three or four modules (or even finished the entire program), simply because I haven't caught up to their level of study yet.  On the other hand, some of my fellow students will feel frustrated if they can't practice their current level of study with folks who are on their current level.  It would end up being a cluttered mess for all involved.

So my idea for the chatrooms is that for each language, you have different subsections that you can visit.  Like a beginner section, intermediate, expert, etc.  Another idea (although it might be too many rooms) would be a chat room for each module.  For example, Rocket Japanese 1 has 6 modules of study (with the 7th one basically being review for all the past 6).  What if there were 6 rooms for Rocket Japanese (or Spanish or whatever language you are learning)?  That way, users of the Rocket program can enter the chat room that will only have material for the module they are studying.  Everyone stays on the same page, and there is no fear of material that you haven't learned yet.  And if this stuff is "too elementary" for you, then you can just move up to the more advanced section, and converse on a higher level.  

Just a suggestion...but whatever you decide to do, I'm certain that it will be great, and I definitely look forward to testing the chat rooms out when they are up and ready.  Thanks for everything so far!
The Best Way to Learn a Language
jason-oxenham-ceo July 28, 2016, 8:12 pm
Hi Trutenor - On the face of it these are good ideas.  I think if we were to make sub-sections within a language that we would do it on a level basis. In saying that, we have been talking about integrating a tutor-led webinar style lesson as well. There are quite a few complexities to this e.g. how it works on mobile devices.
The Best Way to Learn a Language
trutenor July 28, 2016, 10:41 pm
Thank you for the response Jason!  I do like the sound of what you have planned so far.  The webinar style lesson would more or less simulate the classroom setting in that it gives the user a sense of "structure".  This would be a great answer for a lot of the users that want to attend a class but can't because of time, money, or simply nothing being offered in their area.

One of the major reasons why I love Rocket so much (and others might agree with me) is because you schedule Rocket languages around your life, not the other way around.  Rocket is available for you anywhere, anytime!  It is this flexibility that allows me to keep up with the program.

One solution to the issue of webinar style lessons would be to make special unique lessons specifically for mobile devices, instead of just making an "all size fits all" product, and then trying to fit it onto the mobile device...Read More
Thank you for the response Jason!  I do like the sound of what you have planned so far.  The webinar style lesson would more or less simulate the classroom setting in that it gives the user a sense of "structure".  This would be a great answer for a lot of the users that want to attend a class but can't because of time, money, or simply nothing being offered in their area.

One of the major reasons why I love Rocket so much (and others might agree with me) is because you schedule Rocket languages around your life, not the other way around.  Rocket is available for you anywhere, anytime!  It is this flexibility that allows me to keep up with the program.

One solution to the issue of webinar style lessons would be to make special unique lessons specifically for mobile devices, instead of just making an "all size fits all" product, and then trying to fit it onto the mobile device.  This would not only make sure that everyone gets to stay in the loop, but play to the systems strengths.

Best of luck with the next step in your development.

 
The Best Way to Learn a Language
crisfreitas July 29, 2016, 8:58 pm
In  my view anything else is more efficient than when we practice with another native speakers by chatting... by the time we are talking we are enjoying and this makes our brain perfectly accumulate experiences and stick it on our memory.
 
The Best Way to Learn a Language
jolietil May 29, 2017, 12:44 am
Exactly, That's why a chat room would be GREAT !
 
The Best Way to Learn a Language

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