Your best friend when you learn a new language – your own language

Your best friend when you learn a new language is your own language, or any language you know well. There is a lively debate in language learning circles between those who favour a bilingual dictionary versus those who favour a dictionary entirely in the language you are learning. I am 100 % on the side of those who favour a bilingual dictionary, always.

 

I suddenly realized that I really just rely on my own language to learn a new language, when I sat down to try to write a series of 12 articles for a Korean newspaper about how to learn English. I went to my own library of books and got out all the grammar books, TOEFL and TOEIC guides, EFL books, phrasal verb guides and similar books that I have bought over the years, and which were part of my research in developing the learning system that eventually became LingQ.

 

As I looked through tables of content of these books, with terms like predicative, transposed order, kinds of sentences (declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamatory), complements, verbals, appositives, modals, passive and past forms of infinitives and gerunds, causative verbs, coordinating conjunctions, reduction of adverb clauses to modifying adverbial phrases, and on and on and on. I suddenly stopped and said to myself; “Who can possibly read this stuff and study it?” I have never bothered getting to know these kinds of terms in any language that I was learning.

 

So what do I do when I learn? First of all I listen and read a lot. Then, I just observe how they say things in the new language. On the computer I can look up any word, and with google translate, I can look up any phrase, and find out roughly what it means in my language. Sometimes the translation does not make sense, but it is usually close. In any case, if the word or phrase is worth worrying about I will see it again. But my point of reference is what I already know, my own language. That is much clearer to me than all the distinctions described in the grammar books.

 

I just have to be on the look out for these words and phrases and patterns in the language. When in doubt I refer to my own language. Needless to say the yellow highlighted save LingQs are very helpful in that regard.

 

I do so much reading and listening in the language, often repeating at first, that referring back to my own language to understand words and phrases, does not distract me from getting into the new language.

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