Foreign Language Learning Hacks
I have not studied linguistics. These are just a collection of my own pseudo-random hacks to learn a language. If you have any additional pointers feel free to submit them here.
- Use and memorize pangrams. Pangrams are holoalphabetic phrases that contain every letter of a word. Some pangrams contain every type of pronunciation of a letter. My favorite pangram is in German: Victor jagt zwölf Boxkämpfer quer über den großen Sylter Deich.
- Frequency Word Count. Learn the top 1000 spoken or written words of a language and couple them with watching and reading the right media content on a timely basis.
- Quirky ethnic television shows. The voice, (name of nationality) idol, and world news are a great way to learn and remember a language. Take for example, this rendition of a Michael Jackson song by Dutch Artist Waylon or robotic dancer Atai Omurzakov’s Kyrgzstani dancing troupe on Ukraine’s Got Talent.
- Native language buddy. Have a group of 5-10 people you can randomly text questions to about the language. I use whatsapp and have a network of 5 to 10 friends who help me along the way with every language
- Foreign Memes. Find foreign meme fan pages and groups. Subscribe to them and learn what they mean.
- Dual Language Magazines. I love Delta airlines magazines as they are in Spanish and English. I can flip between pages and see how things get lost in translation. While I can’t speak Spanish fluently, my ability to read it given the lack of formal instruction always surprises many of my native speaking friends.
- Memorize phrases, movie titles, and colloquialisms that have significance to you. Here are a few of my favorites that always remind me of different people and places. If you have any, please submit them here.
“das ist nicht gut” –A yiddish phrase repeated to me by an investor describing the due diligence process.
“Estudiante de postgrado”– Whenever I see my Spanish PHD friends at Georgia Tech, I think of this phrase. It reminds me that in Spanish the adjective usually comes after the subject.
“Tak Tak” - polish for “yes.” I remember it because of a few of my polish friends at Georgia Tech who exchanged witty banter with these words and more.
“Buongiorno Principessa” My favorite Italian movie phrase in La Vita e Bella. Il Divo and Gomorrah, both stories of Italian crime and politics, are my second and third.
“Jak Zapomniec”- A famous polish rap song.
“Du bist meine Göttin.”- A german kumpel(buddy) was one of the singers on a large performance with a song called “Göttin” He is the one wearing the white beret.
“faghedaboutit”- I can say this in a few languages. I grew up watching American mafia movies and found significance in this word.
This list goes on and on for different languages. On occasion this hack will score you a gold-mine sentence that serves both as a reminder of pronunciation, grammar, and full alphabets.
- Use Online Tools. Babbel and Verbling are my favorites. Rosetta stone, pimsleur, and Michel Thomas are good, but somehow I’ve always felt they are an ineffective tourist trap. I’m looking forward to when Verbling completes their addition of more languages. Learning grammar is always the uphill battle.
- Foreign Music. Ask your foreign friends and native speakers for song suggestions. For German music, I constantly check Tape Tv.
- Swing for the fences. I met an Uzbek pizza shop owner in Nashville. I asked him if he’d make a custom menu for me and some friends. He taught me more about the culture, cuisine, and language of Uzbekistan. If you happen to be reading this, thank you Farhov Abdulomavich. He goes by Frank if you ever happen to be eating pizza at his restaurant, say hi.
- Grammar is always the toughest. I’d love to hear your suggestions here. One of the most powerful tools I’ve ever used for language learning and translation is DakWak. It’s an excellent way to perfect your error detection and correction skills on relevant websites. Also if your friends have a website, you can offer to expand their service area with a translated site at an extremely reasonable price. I did this and improved my language skills in Spanish by 3x to 4x. Also using DakWak on my friends site got him more business.