The busy person’s guide to learning a foreign language on LingQ

New students regularly ask how long it takes to learn a language, and how much time you should spend doing which activities. I’m sure we all have our own pet theories on this. These are my opinions learning four languages on LingQ while looking after three children.

Qu: How long will it take me to learn a foreign language?

Depending on various factors, it can take between 400 and 1000 hours listening to material that you understand to get fluent, and the same again to get really good.  Assuming you can spare and hour and a half a day to learn (which is manageable for most people with the methods I suggest below), that means you will have up to 600 hours of learning a year.

If English is your native language, this table will give you some idea of what you could achieve in that time:

Language

Improvement

Learning Time

French or German

No Knowledge to Intermediate 1

400 hours

French or German

Intermediate 1 to Advanced 1

400 hours

French or German

Advanced 1 to Advanced 2

400 hours

Japanese or Chinese

No knowledge to Beginner 2

500 hours

Japanese or Chinese

Beginner 2 to Intermediate 1

500 hours

Japanese or Chinese

Intermediate 1 to intermediate 2

500 hours

 

(All figures shown are my own wild approximations)

Be realistic! One of these ability improvements represents a very real and instantly noticeable improvement in your language proficiency. No, you can’t go from No Knowledge to Advanced 2 (near-native proficiency) in one year. Not unless you are prepared to spend over three hours a day doing it.

Qu: Can I learn more than one language at once?

Yes. The only impact it will have on your learning is that, instead of having 500 hours a year to spend learning one language, you have to spread it over two languages and your progress in each language will be slower.

Qu: What is the best use I can put my learning time to?

Take a close look at the LingQ statistics on your profile page. They are based on the assumption that you will spend 40 minutes a day listening to material that you understand, with about 20 more minutes reading lessons and reviewing vocabulary.  That’s sensible advice.  Especially as, if you have an mp3 player, it is quite convenient to spend 40 minutes listening to mp3s during the day.

Qu: What should I listen to, and how?

Depending on your level, and the language you are learning, you should be able to find plenty of lessons in the LingQ library. If you don’t fancy them much, you can use your own material.

In general you are looking for material where you have already met over 80% of the words used. That way you will get at least the general gist, and understand a little more with each repetition. LingQ works out the percentage of familiar words for you, based on the words you have already learned or marked as known on the system.

The ideal lesson length and number of times it is worth listening to the same lesson depends on your level and is something like this:

Level

Lesson length

No of repetitions

No knowledge

30 secs

80

Beginner 1

1 minute

40

Beginner 2

2 minutes

20

Intermediate 1

5 minutes

8

Intermediate 2

10 minutes

4

Advanced 1

20 minutes

2

Advanced 2

40 minutes

1

 

Qu: How carefully should I be listening?

Listening while jogging or washing up is fine. Just try not to fall asleep.

Qu: Do I have to read out loud or speak along with the audio?

Only if you want to. It’s not really important.

Qu: Should I read along while I listen?

At No Knowledge and Beginner  levels this is a very good idea. Of course if you are listening while jogging then you can’t. But it is a good idea to read along for a few of those repetitions, while you are learning how to read the language.

Qu: Does listening to the radio or the TV count?

It all counts, as long as  you understand it. You can manually add the time to the statistics bars on your profile page.

Qu: What should I be reading?

Anything that you like as long as you understand at least 80% . Newspapers, websites, your partner’s secret diary. If it’s in electronic form you can import it and turn it into a LingQ lesson. If it’s in paper form you can scan it and convert it into a text document, or just read it and manually add the number of words read to your LingQ statistics.

Qu: What if I don’t have time for reading?

Who does? An ebook reader can be really useful. With some free software you can easily convert all your printouts to PDF files, and so carry around with you all your LingQ lessons in PDF and mp3 format, chapters of ebooks and audio books, podcasts, even interesting looking posts from the LingQ forum. An insomniac can easily do 80% of their LingQ work in bed without waking their partner.

Qu: What if I don’t get time at the computer without distractions?

Then you may have to put up distractions while  you work.

I do most of my vocabulary review while my children are sitting six feet away from me, laughing their heads off at Basil Brush. If you have listened to your lessons often enough, you should have already learned the vocabulary. You just have to take five minutes now and then to go to the vocabulary list page and tick off the words you have learned.

As for taking part in discussions, we are all busy people. I regularly take part in discussions over Skype while a small child is sitting on my lap trying to wrench my headset off. I have been fed biscuits, shown hamsters and even vomited over during discussions. (Fortunately the webcam wasn’t on for that one).  

The only thing I really can’t do with distractions is write essays. So I don’t write essays. No tutor has complained about it yet. They are busy people too.

Qu: Do I have to study grammar or do flashcard exercises?

Not if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to learn to write the language if you haven’t got the time. As long as you can type using a virtual keyboard program, that’s probably all you will need for the first couple of years. It’s not as if you have time to write essays anyway.

I could say more but the little one has found a stack of presents and is busily unwrapping them. I’d better make him stop it. I hope this has given some encouragement to other busy souls who still dream of learning a new language but never seem to get a moment’s peace and can never find a dictionary when they need one.

One Reply to “The busy person’s guide to learning a foreign language on LingQ”

  1. This is really useful – thanks! I realise from this that I really need to listen more. I read a lot and I do listen to Portuguese radio which sometimes I can understand but I could definately do with increasing the amount of time I listen to the exercises I have in my library. Great new year goal! Happy New Year – Feliz Ano Novo x

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