Monday, November 27, 2006

How to Learn a Foreign Language

A friend remembered a post I did on learning a foreign language, and in the process of searching for it, I thought I'd repost it. It's from a piece for NPR by linguist John McWhorter:

As a linguist, I get a letter or message about once a month asking me what the best way is to learn a foreign language at home. I always answer "The Magic Books," by which I mean the wonderful Assimil series. I've been giving people Assimil sets for 20 years now. It's the With Ease series you may have seen -- Russian with Ease, Dutch with Ease, and so on.

These are some of my favorite Christmas gifts because they're the only self-teachers I know that work. In just 20 minutes a day -- if you do exactly what they tell you to with the books and accompanying recordings -- then presto! You will be talking like, roughly, an unusually cosmopolitan three-year-old. No, you won't be "conversing like a native" the way the ad copy says, unless you already are one, which would presumably make one's use of the set somewhat peculiar. And, they can only give you so much vocabulary. But the magic is that you will be able to carry on a decent conversation, instead of just being able to count to 100 and say things like "My uncle is a lawyer but my aunt has a spoon."

Read the whole thing.