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How to make the transition from typical English-speaking tourist to local language speaking expat

| 70 comments | Category: learning languages

viennaHello from Prague! (not the photo, that’s me being a typical tourist in Vienna) I’ve been here for just 4 days so far (working full time from home since I arrived) and have yet to actually study, but I am still making the baby-steps needed in starting on my mission to speak fluent Czech! Here’s how…

When will I be ready to speak the language?

This is an important question that a lot of people ask themselves. Surely if you don’t have enough basic vocabulary, intermediate or even basic grammar and some general understanding when others speak, then you are simply not ready to speak the language? Maybe, but when you have all these, then there are still finer grammatical points and turns of phrase to learn, as well as accent variations and slang. Maybe you should wait until you learn them before you can properly start actually speaking a language? But after that there is formal writing and perfecting your pronunciation, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on, and do you know what kind of list it is? A list of excuses!

You are always ready to speak a language, no matter what level you are at. Even if you know just one word in a language, you can communicate (albeit limited). When I started learning my first foreign language (Spanish), it took me a very long time before I was comfortable speaking to others. The reason was that I very simply never felt “ready” and always needed to study more. Well, I’ve only had a quick flick through a grammar book and a couple of hours studying a phrasebook in Czech (no study since because of work) and I’m already saying a lot more in Czech than I was after my first several months of Spanish study. How am I doing it?

Spanglish, Franglais and other intermediate languages

Ever hear of these words? They are just from merging two language titles together. You can do this for any combination with enough imagination; español and português? Portuñol. Deutch (German) and English? Denglisch, etc. While this might be an amusing new word, the concept behind it is one of the most important ways I try to speak a language. By gradually changing your English into the other language rather than starting off in the deep end. I suppose the word for what I’m trying to do with Czech is Englisky, or maybe Czechish?

The point is that I will start with this “Czechish”, which is currently 99.99% English and 0.01% Czech and gradually tip that balance in the opposite direction. I will likely never speak perfectly (i.e. 100% Czech; that’s not fluency, it’s bilingual and does in fact take years and not 3 months!!), but maybe I can turn my “Czechish” into 90-95% Czech or more?

So, right now my Czech is still abismal. I only learned off a few pages of phrases since I was tired when travelling, and I still have next to zero grammar or vocabulary. And yet… I have been mostly speaking in Czech since I got here! I have no intention of waiting until “I’m ready”. I’ll never be ready and I’ll always be ready depending on how you look at it, but by putting off actually speaking I’ll greatly slow down my learning process. I prefer to go for the optimistic upbeat version! I’m here to speak Czech so I started as soon as I got off the plane!

Talking the local language with your English-speaking friends

How can you speak the language when you barely have a few words in it? I use the hell out of the small amount that I know, and I cheat! I love short-cuts and I will share a couple with you over the next few months! One way to cheat (when you are starting off), is to do very typical Spanglish/Franglais/Czechish thing and use both languages in one sentence. You should really only use this when you know that other person speaks some English. You’ll be ready soon for the almost-no-English speakers anyway! If you learn a basic phrase like “Where is…?” (“Kde je” in Czech), then you can look up the word to put in after that most of the time. But if your dictionary isn’t handy? What the hell, just cheat! “Kde je… the library?” I would never use something like this with a stranger on the street, but with friends who speak both languages, why should I be stuck in English? For couples and friends that travel together and want to learn a language, it can really help if they try to get used to saying basic things like this to one another, even if the rest of the conversation is in English. Throwing in some of the local language’s “please”, “thank you” and “How are you?” even with your English speaking friends is a big step. A mistake a lot of expats make is sticking with English the entire time they don’t have to speak the local language. If you start out small, as time goes on you can say more and more and bring your Spanglish/Franglais/Czechish etc. further and further away from English :)

How about speaking with no English when you have just started?

Even with very little of the language, you can still get by with absolutely no use of English (and you should always try this when not with your friends, and when with them if you can convince them to help you learn). So here’s how I’m doing it… Since I’ve been working a lot I haven’t had time to socialize etc. in the few days I’ve been here (that starts this weekend!). I’ve mostly gone out just to eat, due to time pressures. Since my flat is central, all of the restaurants nearby have English menus and waiters who can definitely get by (most of them very well!) in English. But I don’t want to be a typical tourist, do I? It’s bad enough that I am intentionally going to more expensive restaurants in the centre rather than something more typical, but here’s what I do…

Example: eating out in a restaurant

I go in, say “Dobrý den” (Hello/Good day) for lunch or “Dobrý večer” (Good evening) for dinner. I don’t know how to say table for one etc. yet, without just looking up each word individually in a dictionary, so I just put up my index finger to indicate 1 and say nothing more than the word for lunch/dinner/food or something similar (followed by “prosím” (please) or some formality in order to try to be polite) . Hand gestures may seem like a cop-out, but it’s crucial not to fall back on English. Hand signals and gestures are better than nothing because you don’t lose the flow of maintaining the correct language of communication and a lot of these signals are international, especially in Europe and the Americas. When I sit down, before they go off to get a menu I do something most people wouldn’t do… I ask for BOTH an English and a Czech menu!

“Máte jídelní lístek v angličtině, a ještě jeden v češtině?” (Do you have a menu in English AND another one in Czech [believe it or not that's actually a lot easier to pronounce than it looks]). I made this sentence up myself, so I imagine there are probably plenty of mistakes in it (feel free to correct me in the comments ([and you did!])!), but it has definitely gotten my point across and, despite raising their eyebrows at that very strange request, they get them for me! I wouldn’t try this in restaurants outside the centre since it’s arrogant to presume that they all translate their menus to English. I will eat elsewhere very soon, but for now I need to make sure I get what I want without using a dictionary to look up every single word (and I’m a vegetarian, so I can’t just take anything. I can eat in any restaurant that doesn’t have vegetarian food when I speak enough of the language to explain to them to alter one of their dishes slightly). I admit that for my first week or two I am almost as bad as any of those tourists with Bermuda shirts and ridiculous SLR cameras around their necks, since I’m only eating in these kinds of restaurants, but I am still starting off on the right foot in terms of speaking the language!

So I read the English menu, choose what I want and see where it is on the Czech menu; the layouts are always the same so you can find it easily enough, and basic word similarities (such as “brokolice”) confirm this. Now when ordering it and reading unfamiliar words, I am at a slight advantage over other English speakers starting to learn Czech. I can speak Esperanto, which is an interesting language that I’ll talk about another time. There may be a couple of words that might help out, but in general Esperanto’s vocabulary is absolutely nothing like Czech’s… however, it turns out that its phonetics system is almost exactly the same! So pronouncing a Czech’s “c” like “ts” and č (ĉ in Esperanto) like “ch” and lots of others (š = ŝ (sh) and nearly all vowels and consonants are the same) comes naturally to me, and my r is much less pronounced (a very typical letter that English speakers have problems with) thanks to other languages I’ve learned. So I can just read the words directly and they’ll understand me, since my accent isn’t that strong. But if you are not confident with pronunciation you should still try, even if you do it badly, and they will likely still understand you. :)

Most language phonetics are actually very easy to understand anyway (especially compared with English, as I’ve mentioned before), and you should try to learn these as soon as possible to associate the word with the correct pronunciation. But even if you aren’t confident with how you are saying the word, you can point to it on the menu and try your best and the waiter will get the picture. After eating, I make the internationally recognised “bill please!” scribble on invisible paper in the air, pay them what I remember the price as from the menu (no matter what they might say about number amounts that I don’t understand yet), say a hearty “lahodný!” (delicious!) and “děkuji vám” (thank you) and simply wave goodbye since I don’t know how to say “Have a pleasant evening” yet :P (Also… if they played along with my attempts to try speaking in Czech and were patient, then they get a good tip of course!)

Never say “Do you speak English?”

I must know only a couple of dozen words in Czech and yet you can see how you can stretch this out. But of course, this can only get you so far. One thing I absolutely had to do in English so far was buying a SIM card, and I’m sure I will need to use English a lot at first in other situations, but I will always say “Dobrý den! Mluvíte anglicky?” (Hello, do you speak English?) before using any English. I hate it when people actually say “Do you speak English?” Even if you are in a country just for a day, you should learn a couple of phrases and this is one of them. I would say this EVEN if there was a huge British flag on the counter with “I speak English” on it for that person. I feel a lot more embarrased about having to speak English than I do speaking my horrible Czech or any other language; if English isn’t the language of the country you should not make any presumptions about people’s level and force it on them. On top of this, once they see you are really trying and can say even basic things in their language, people will almost always show you more respect since you have shown it to them.

Now my opportunies to speak Czech will greatly improve! It’s the weekend, so it’s time to go out and MINGLE. More on that later ;) In the mean time, any thoughts on starting to confidently speak a language? Something you disagree with in this post? Any tips for me or others in starting to learn a new language? Share them in the comments :D

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  • Cari

    Excellent stuff Benny.
    Those are really promising comments about how to go in at the deep-end. I hope you’re having lots of fun in Prague.
    Take care,
    Cari

  • Cari

    Excellent stuff Benny.
    Those are really promising comments about how to go in at the deep-end. I hope you’re having lots of fun in Prague.
    Take care,
    Cari

  • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

    I agree with you that you should avoid English (or your native tongue) as much as possible when learning another language, but speaking right away won’t help you that much.

    Why would you speak if you only know three words and two phrases? Pretty much useless if your goal is fluency. Also, speaking early without proper and massive input will cause you to speak with a heavy accent or simply a totally wrong pronunciation. The more you speak incorrectly, the more you’re reinforcing this way of speaking. Do you really want to sound bad after a year of studying?

    I (and not only me, quite some succesful learners and linguists with me) prefer massive input over speaking. Sure, speaking is nice to practice and actually use the language, but if you have nothing to say (because you missed the input) you’re going nowhere.

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    I agree with you that you should avoid English (or your native tongue) as much as possible when learning another language, but speaking right away won’t help you that much.

    Why would you speak if you only know three words and two phrases? Pretty much useless if your goal is fluency. Also, speaking early without proper and massive input will cause you to speak with a heavy accent or simply a totally wrong pronunciation. The more you speak incorrectly, the more you’re reinforcing this way of speaking. Do you really want to sound bad after a year of studying?

    I (and not only me, quite some succesful learners and linguists with me) prefer massive input over speaking. Sure, speaking is nice to practice and actually use the language, but if you have nothing to say (because you missed the input) you’re going nowhere.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

    @Ramses Patience ;) I have literally just started learning this language, and I’m only talking about what you need to do in this initial stage of any language. I will definitely be recommending input and corrections in a later post. Corrections when you have just started aren’t that helpful because you will be making too many mistakes and it is discouraging and you can’t think analytically enough to actually appreciate it. That should come from lower-intermediate upwards.
    I highly disagree with you about using what you know as much as you can being “pretty much useless”. It begs the question (that I brought up) of when exactly you’ll be ready… which has no answer. I really think people should start speaking asap and not look on a language as something that absolutely must be perfect.
    Although I disagree, you are absolutely right that it works for you and for other successful learners. I’m sharing my learning methods as a suggestion since they work for me, but they definitely are not the only way to fluency ;)
    Thanks for the interesting discussion! Just to warn you; a lot of my posts will have this theme of avoiding perfectionism and speaking as soon as you can, and not worrying about mistakes when starting to learn a language. When you are ready, then aiming for perfection should become your new goal. But NOT when starting ;)

    • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

      Hehe, I’m looking forward to some good conversations then (I hate discussing :-P). The point is; if you don’t know how you should sounds, etc. you’re bound to make mistakes.

      When I started learning Spanish, I started speaking right away. This was a HUGE mistake as I spoke with a heavy accent, made MANY mistakes, etc. It took me lots of hours and energy to fix my accent (which still isn’t perfect, but you have to listen closely to hear I’m not a native) and other fossilized mistakes.

      People often talk about not speaking or receiving correct as bad things becaue they could discourage someone, but nothing is more discouraging than not being able to speak correctly after years of study. Think about that.

      • http://joop.kiefte.eu/ Joop Kiefte

        @Ramses But then, he’s a polyglot and you just speak spanish well ;) and bet he speaks well! Your point is not worthless at all, but just not that universal…

        • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

          Correction: I’m fluent at English, Dutch and Spanish (Dutch being my natiive tongue). The only reason I’m not fluent at more languages is because I never studied any other language. I’m not saying Benny’s method doesn’t work, it clearly works for him. I’m only saying that it doesn’t work for many people, classrooms being the proof (they concentrate on output rather than input, leaving most students non-fluent).

          • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

            Once again Ramses, I highly disagree. I think my method (although definitely not the only one, or the best one) would work extremely well for most people, who (like me) claim not to be good in languages and can’t naturally pick them up in an organised academic way.

            A second language should be learned like your first one. With you speaking it as much as possible and not feeling discouraged at first. You don’t hear a mother correcting her child when he says his first words, do you? Of course not, then he’d be less encouraged to speak again.

            But the same child WILL get corrected after he has started forming sentences and is ready for it. I’ll repeat that I am discussing the beginning stages. Please don’t get ahead of yourself; I will be looking for corrections soon and I don’t intend on making the same mistakes forever, but these corrections will be absolutely useless to me right now, as I am still working on forming my own sentences and I frankly don’t care if the they are 100% correct or not.

            Classrooms are proof of nothing in terms of my method. In a classroom students repeat sentences drilled into them because their teacher tells them to. I am repeating these phrases because if I don’t then I’ll be hungry or I won’t be able to ask directions to find my way home etc. This is VERY DIFFERENT to a classroom environment!!! My world isn’t just inputs and outputs, it’s motivation in seeing a living language and trying to survive and have a worthwhile life through that language.

            I think our methods converge in later stages but we have very different approaches in starting a language. Please don’t think that what I say at a particular learning stage is applied to all of them. When I later discuss techniques for perfecting a language it will NOT be aimed at beginners for example. I consider my approach very dynamic and tailored to the level at hand, instead of using the same learning technique from day 1 up to year 20.

            @LaPingvino I appreciate the support, thanks!! But my number of languages does not give my words any greater strength than Ramses’ based on quantity alone. Neither does someone speaking a language well make them a particularly good explainer, but both Ramses and are doing so (and I think both of us have are own strengths) so we both know what we are talking about, despite differences in opinion.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

    @Ramses Patience ;) I have literally just started learning this language, and I’m only talking about what you need to do in this initial stage of any language. I will definitely be recommending input and corrections in a later post. Corrections when you have just started aren’t that helpful because you will be making too many mistakes and it is discouraging and you can’t think analytically enough to actually appreciate it. That should come from lower-intermediate upwards.
    I highly disagree with you about using what you know as much as you can being “pretty much useless”. It begs the question (that I brought up) of when exactly you’ll be ready… which has no answer. I really think people should start speaking asap and not look on a language as something that absolutely must be perfect.
    Although I disagree, you are absolutely right that it works for you and for other successful learners. I’m sharing my learning methods as a suggestion since they work for me, but they definitely are not the only way to fluency ;)
    Thanks for the interesting discussion! Just to warn you; a lot of my posts will have this theme of avoiding perfectionism and speaking as soon as you can, and not worrying about mistakes when starting to learn a language. When you are ready, then aiming for perfection should become your new goal. But NOT when starting ;)

    • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

      Hehe, I’m looking forward to some good conversations then (I hate discussing :-P). The point is; if you don’t know how you should sounds, etc. you’re bound to make mistakes.

      When I started learning Spanish, I started speaking right away. This was a HUGE mistake as I spoke with a heavy accent, made MANY mistakes, etc. It took me lots of hours and energy to fix my accent (which still isn’t perfect, but you have to listen closely to hear I’m not a native) and other fossilized mistakes.

      People often talk about not speaking or receiving correct as bad things becaue they could discourage someone, but nothing is more discouraging than not being able to speak correctly after years of study. Think about that.

      • LaPingvino

        @Ramses But then, he’s a polyglot and you just speak spanish well ;) and bet he speaks well! Your point is not worthless at all, but just not that universal…

        • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

          Correction: I’m fluent at English, Dutch and Spanish (Dutch being my natiive tongue). The only reason I’m not fluent at more languages is because I never studied any other language. I’m not saying Benny’s method doesn’t work, it clearly works for him. I’m only saying that it doesn’t work for many people, classrooms being the proof (they concentrate on output rather than input, leaving most students non-fluent).

          • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

            Once again Ramses, I highly disagree. I think my method (although definitely not the only one, or the best one) would work extremely well for most people, who (like me) claim not to be good in languages and can’t naturally pick them up in an organised academic way.

            A second language should be learned like your first one. With you speaking it as much as possible and not feeling discouraged at first. You don’t hear a mother correcting her child when he says his first words, do you? Of course not, then he’d be less encouraged to speak again.

            But the same child WILL get corrected after he has started forming sentences and is ready for it. I’ll repeat that I am discussing the beginning stages. Please don’t get ahead of yourself; I will be looking for corrections soon and I don’t intend on making the same mistakes forever, but these corrections will be absolutely useless to me right now, as I am still working on forming my own sentences and I frankly don’t care if the they are 100% correct or not.

            Classrooms are proof of nothing in terms of my method. In a classroom students repeat sentences drilled into them because their teacher tells them to. I am repeating these phrases because if I don’t then I’ll be hungry or I won’t be able to ask directions to find my way home etc. This is VERY DIFFERENT to a classroom environment!!! My world isn’t just inputs and outputs, it’s motivation in seeing a living language and trying to survive and have a worthwhile life through that language.

            I think our methods converge in later stages but we have very different approaches in starting a language. Please don’t think that what I say at a particular learning stage is applied to all of them. When I later discuss techniques for perfecting a language it will NOT be aimed at beginners for example. I consider my approach very dynamic and tailored to the level at hand, instead of using the same learning technique from day 1 up to year 20.

            @LaPingvino I appreciate the support, thanks!! But my number of languages does not give my words any greater strength than Ramses’ based on quantity alone. Neither does someone speaking a language well make them a particularly good explainer, but both Ramses and are doing so (and I think both of us have are own strengths) so we both know what we are talking about, despite differences in opinion.

  • Edgar

    Great post, Benny. I feel like going some place else and learn a new language.

  • Edgar

    Great post, Benny. I feel like going some place else and learn a new language.

  • SplogSplog

    Impressive. I know several people who have been studying Czech for years who have less courage than you in a restaurant. You are spot on when you say that you have to focus on communication. Otherwise, what is the point?

    I have tons of (free) resources for learning Czech , if you are interested let me know. In the meantime, I will be following your blog with a smile.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks SplogSplog!! I’ll get in touch with you through the email you gave when you left the comment. I’m curious to see what kinds of resources you have! I’ll share them on this site if they are relevant

  • SplogSplog

    Impressive. I know several people who have been studying Czech for years who have less courage than you in a restaurant. You are spot on when you say that you have to focus on communication. Otherwise, what is the point?

    I have tons of (free) resources for learning Czech , if you are interested let me know. In the meantime, I will be following your blog with a smile.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks SplogSplog!! I’ll get in touch with you through the email you gave when you left the comment. I’m curious to see what kinds of resources you have! I’ll share them on this site if they are relevant

  • Pavel

    >>Máte jedalny lístok v angličtine A ještě jeden v čeština?<<

    Huh, the part of "jedalny lístok" is actually in Slovak, are you sure you use Czech phrasebook and dictionary ? :)

    But it is perfectly understandable… grammatically correct version of your sentence (although a native Czech would probably used different words and a more complex sentece – but as I said this is perfectly understanable) is:

    "Máte jídelní lístek v angličtině, a ještě jeden v češtině?"

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks Pavel!! I’ve updated the phrase I had written on this site. I actually did an Internet search for the phrase and found one saying “Do you have a menu in English?” and added a bit to it. It did claim to be Czech, but apparently wasn’t!! I’ll use the correct one from now on thanks ;) But as you said, even though it was wrong, it was understandable and that is most important when starting off :)

  • Pavel

    >>Máte jedalny lístok v angličtine A ještě jeden v čeština?<<

    Huh, the part of "jedalny lístok" is actually in Slovak, are you sure you use Czech phrasebook and dictionary ? :)

    But it is perfectly understandable… grammatically correct version of your sentence (although a native Czech would probably used different words and a more complex sentece – but as I said this is perfectly understanable) is:

    "Máte jídelní lístek v angličtině, a ještě jeden v češtině?"

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks Pavel!! I’ve updated the phrase I had written on this site. I actually did an Internet search for the phrase and found one saying “Do you have a menu in English?” and added a bit to it. It did claim to be Czech, but apparently wasn’t!! I’ll use the correct one from now on thanks ;) But as you said, even though it was wrong, it was understandable and that is most important when starting off :)

  • http://www.icbangkok.org/ stewart

    Diggin the blog. This idea to document your language learning over a few months is a great idea. As one who struggles to hear and speak new languages but learns to read quickly – it will be great to read about how you do it and try to apply your strategy to my own endeavors.

  • http://www.icbangkok.org stewart

    Diggin the blog. This idea to document your language learning over a few months is a great idea. As one who struggles to hear and speak new languages but learns to read quickly – it will be great to read about how you do it and try to apply your strategy to my own endeavors.

  • Ludmila

    hi Benny, that’s an interesting way to learn a langueage. i should definitely try it. thanks for the advices.
    have fun with Czech and Czechs!
    regards,
    Ludmila

  • Ludmila

    hi Benny, that’s an interesting way to learn a langueage. i should definitely try it. thanks for the advices.
    have fun with Czech and Czechs!
    regards,
    Ludmila

  • Rene

    You mentioned that you are vegetarian. Maybe you already know some of these expressions:
    vegetarián, vegetariánské jídlo, bez masa

    To say delicious, “lahodné” is fine, but you can also say “moc chutné” (meaning the food was delicious – “jídlo bylo moc chutné”).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Experience has thought me to avoid the translation of the word “vegetarian”. Other cultures do not have the same concept as I do of that word (I don’t eat fish for example). I prefer to be clear and explain exactly what I will and will not eat :) I can get a much richer meal that way (a lot of people just associate vegetarianism with salads, and I need something heavier than that for dinner!!)
      I may even write an entire post just about how to be a non-English speaking vegetarian if I can think of how to make it linguistically relevant :P
      Thanks for the translations!!

  • Rene

    You mentioned that you are vegetarian. Maybe you already know some of these expressions:
    vegetarián, vegetariánské jídlo, bez masa

    To say delicious, “lahodné” is fine, but you can also say “moc chutné” (meaning the food was delicious – “jídlo bylo moc chutné”).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Experience has thought me to avoid the translation of the word “vegetarian”. Other cultures do not have the same concept as I do of that word (I don’t eat fish for example). I prefer to be clear and explain exactly what I will and will not eat :) I can get a much richer meal that way (a lot of people just associate vegetarianism with salads, and I need something heavier than that for dinner!!)
      I may even write an entire post just about how to be a non-English speaking vegetarian if I can think of how to make it linguistically relevant :P
      Thanks for the translations!!

  • http://escapetherace2.blogspot.com/ Chris

    Hi

    I think communicating as soon as you start is important. That’s what languages are all about. You also get direct feedback and usually have a good idea of what they might be saying. My friend took this approach with Chinese and he was holding conversations within a few months. Also, natural ployglots (non-travelers), who out of necessity speak one or more languages usually take this approach as most don’t have the chance to go to classes.

    Also, on reflections I think listening (comprehensive) to podcasts and if you’re luckily enough, having TPR instructions will also give you a head start. I guess this would be part of Ramses ‘massive input’.

    I don’t see a conflict in yours and Ramses’s approach. I think they can be combined.

    I also like your point on concentrating on what’s easy in your choosen language rather than getting down on what’s difficult (I think that was a different blog entry though).

    Some tops tips.

    I will be following your progress

  • http://escapetherace2.blogspot.com/ Chris

    Hi

    I think communicating as soon as you start is important. That’s what languages are all about. You also get direct feedback and usually have a good idea of what they might be saying. My friend took this approach with Chinese and he was holding conversations within a few months. Also, natural ployglots (non-travelers), who out of necessity speak one or more languages usually take this approach as most don’t have the chance to go to classes.

    Also, on reflections I think listening (comprehensive) to podcasts and if you’re luckily enough, having TPR instructions will also give you a head start. I guess this would be part of Ramses ‘massive input’.

    I don’t see a conflict in yours and Ramses’s approach. I think they can be combined.

    I also like your point on concentrating on what’s easy in your choosen language rather than getting down on what’s difficult (I think that was a different blog entry though).

    Some tops tips.

    I will be following your progress

  • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

    @Benny (can’t comment directly, so will do it this way)
    The thing that worries me (yes, it worries me seeing this, or am I being too extreme?) is the fact that you focus quite a bit on output in the beginning. Now my question is; how can you get meaningful output if you don’t get meaningful input first?

    I’m highly encouraging the way kids learn their first language and I’m also applying the method to my language learning (currently using it to break into Turkish). But guess what? A child doesn’t talk for the first year at least (don’t know the exact number, but seems te be at least one year). What do they do in that period? Getting correct [meaningful] input.

    I’m all for speaking (I noticed it helped me finding the gaps I still have in my languages and it helps me getting my knowledgde from my ‘slow memory’ to my ‘fast memory’), but we have to be honest if we look to how kids learn. And that means getting meaningful input first. Krashen writes way better about this than me, but you get the idea (I hope ;)).

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your future posts about more advanced learning, getting fluency, correction, etc. Should be interesting!

    • Marek

      Ramses, I am afraid the analogy does not work – babies` brains work in a totally different way. Unfortunately :-)

      I back Benny`s direct and confident approach – in a way, you can`t have too much respect for the language. Ie. not be afraid to twist it your way. Then learning is fun, rewarding and (potentially) quick :-)

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    @Benny (can’t comment directly, so will do it this way)
    The thing that worries me (yes, it worries me seeing this, or am I being too extreme?) is the fact that you focus quite a bit on output in the beginning. Now my question is; how can you get meaningful output if you don’t get meaningful input first?

    I’m highly encouraging the way kids learn their first language and I’m also applying the method to my language learning (currently using it to break into Turkish). But guess what? A child doesn’t talk for the first year at least (don’t know the exact number, but seems te be at least one year). What do they do in that period? Getting correct [meaningful] input.

    I’m all for speaking (I noticed it helped me finding the gaps I still have in my languages and it helps me getting my knowledgde from my ‘slow memory’ to my ‘fast memory’), but we have to be honest if we look to how kids learn. And that means getting meaningful input first. Krashen writes way better about this than me, but you get the idea (I hope ;)).

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your future posts about more advanced learning, getting fluency, correction, etc. Should be interesting!

    • Marek

      Ramses, I am afraid the analogy does not work – babies` brains work in a totally different way. Unfortunately :-)

      I back Benny`s direct and confident approach – in a way, you can`t have too much respect for the language. Ie. not be afraid to twist it your way. Then learning is fun, rewarding and (potentially) quick :-)

  • dzurisova

    Excellent idea. I’ve always felt that submersion into the culture/language is the absolute best way to learn. I’ve always wished for the opportunity to stay a few months in a different country, but never got it. I’ve been studying Czech on and off for a couple of years now (mostly off). My husband is Czech. We will be going there the end of this month for 2 weeks. I’m not sure I have the guts to do like you though. :) Any suggestions for someone not so bold/brave? It’s not that I worry about looking like a moron (although I admit that the concern is somewhat there), I more worry about offending that person. Once in Chicago, we went to a Czech restaurant. I tried to speak Czech to the waitress. She got annoyed, gave a dirty look and said, “I do speak English you know.” So I quickly shut up and left the ordering to my husband. We’ve been back to Chicago (Czech restaurants) several times since then and I’ve never tried it again for fear of the same result. It seems to me in Prague you would face the same issues – Czechs getting offended by your assumption that they can’t speak English (not that you’re assuming that, but that’s obviously what my waitress thought).

    • jess

      Don`t give up practising Czech! Can I make a suggestion? Next time you talk to a server, make small talk first in english, THEN segueing smoothly into Czech! This way you acknowledge they are competent native speakers, you show some interest in them as a person (and not just a straw person for showing ur language abilities), and open the way to a longer and deeper conversation.

  • dzurisova

    Excellent idea. I’ve always felt that submersion into the culture/language is the absolute best way to learn. I’ve always wished for the opportunity to stay a few months in a different country, but never got it. I’ve been studying Czech on and off for a couple of years now (mostly off). My husband is Czech. We will be going there the end of this month for 2 weeks. I’m not sure I have the guts to do like you though. :) Any suggestions for someone not so bold/brave? It’s not that I worry about looking like a moron (although I admit that the concern is somewhat there), I more worry about offending that person. Once in Chicago, we went to a Czech restaurant. I tried to speak Czech to the waitress. She got annoyed, gave a dirty look and said, “I do speak English you know.” So I quickly shut up and left the ordering to my husband. We’ve been back to Chicago (Czech restaurants) several times since then and I’ve never tried it again for fear of the same result. It seems to me in Prague you would face the same issues – Czechs getting offended by your assumption that they can’t speak English (not that you’re assuming that, but that’s obviously what my waitress thought).

  • Marek

    Benny, I am really interested to see how you cope with a Slavic language. The ones you`ve mastered so far have a soooort of common background ..

    Czech (as Jerome K. Jerom put it in 1890`s after visiting Prague in his Three men on the bummel) “… is said to be of great antiquity and of highly scientific cultivation. Its alphabet contains forty-two letters, suggestive to a stranger of Chinese. It is not a language to be picked up in a hurry.”

    Thare`s a challenge … prove him wrong! :-D

  • Marek

    Benny, I am really interested to see how you cope with a Slavic language. The ones you`ve mastered so far have a soooort of common background ..

    Czech (as Jerome K. Jerom put it in 1890`s after visiting Prague in his Three men on the bummel) “… is said to be of great antiquity and of highly scientific cultivation. Its alphabet contains forty-two letters, suggestive to a stranger of Chinese. It is not a language to be picked up in a hurry.”

    Thare`s a challenge … prove him wrong! :-D

  • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

    @Merek
    Please back this up with research. I’d like to refer to Krashen’s research about second language acquisition. We can certainly acquire a language like babies do, it’s no BS.

    • Cainntear

      You’ve yet to refer to Krashen’s research, only his conclusions. It is fairly widely held that Krashen wouldn’t have got anywhere near as far with his theories in any country other than the USA. His evidence (mostly from other people’s research) has been subject to a lot of criticism, and much of it was soundly rejected before Krashen even wrote about it.

      IMO “the silent period” and “comprehensible input” are incompatible notions. How can you engage meaningfully with a language if you don’t interact with it?

      • http://www.spanish-only.com/ Ramses

        What do you mean by interacting? Speaking? I had a pretty long ‘silent period’ for Spanish and I interacted with the language by watching things I enjoyed. That kept me going en also forced me to think about things in Spanish instead of forcing me to speak and thus forcing myself to make errors.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

          Ramses, this time instead of disagreeing with you, I’m going to straight off tell you that you are wrong. If you think that sitting and watching a language is interaction, then you don’t know what the word interaction actually means…

          It may have kept you going and definitely would have helped your progress (albeit extremely slowly), but nothing as good as actually getting over your shyness to speak and saying something. I think your fear to make mistakes and wait until you “speak perfectly” is the kind of thing that slows people down when they are learning a language. You should embrace making mistakes when starting to learn a language. That kind of fear and perfectionism is not productive for any language learning method. I don’t believe you can ever just magically start speaking perfectly one day. You HAVE to make mistakes!!

          Weren’t you the one previously telling me that I needed input?? Surely the only way to get that input is to actually speak to a person and make mistakes first?

          Our opinions of course differ, but your answer to Cainntear saying that you need to “engage meaningfully” with a language by you claiming to interact without actually interacting is just silly…

        • http://Music-subtitle.blogspot.com/ ppminhphung

          Sorry Benny, but in this debate, I’m much inclined to Ramses. Speaking too soon may lead to bad accent. And as u said, maybe, wait until we feel input enough is too long, but I bet it would be much better. I think it’s not necessary for me to talk much about it, Dr Marvin Brown, he wrote in much more beautiful English than me: Please take a look at it, only an excerpt:
          “Learning Languages Like Children”
          Everyone knows that when people move to a new country the children will eventually speak the
          language natively and the adults won’t. The normal explanation is that children have a special
          ‘talent’ that they lose as they grow up.
          Teachers said that for adults, languages should be taught and studied instead of learned naturally.
          But are we any better with present language teaching? Why, for example, do adults in Central Africa
          do better when they move to a new language community than our modern students do? Could it be
          that early teachers were mistaken? Maybe adults can do what children do. Maybe it’s just adult
          behavior (not lack of talent) that prevents them from succeeding.
          THE MISTAKE – Children can do something that adults cannot.
          THE UNASKED QUESTION – What would happen if an adult were to just listen for a year without
          speaking?
          OUR ANSWER – Both adults and children can do it right, but only adults can do it wrong.”

          AND THIS IS THE RESULT:
          In 1984, the AUA language center in Bangkok started doing exactly this in its Thai classes. The
          students just listened for as much as a year without speaking at all. We found that adults get
          almost the same results that children do. If adults understand natural talk, in real situations, with-
          out trying to say anything, for a whole year, then fluent speaking with clear pronunciation will
          come automatically.

          AND I ALSO THINK THIS IS IMPORTANT:
          It seems that the difference between adults and children is not that adults have lost the ability to do it
          right– but that children haven’t yet gained the ability to do it wrong (that is, to destroy it with forced
          speaking).
          Forced speaking damages adults. Consciously thinking of one’s sentences – with translations,
          rules, substitutions, or any other kind of thinking prevents you from speaking like a native.
          Natural speaking (speaking that comes automatically) won’t cause damage (not even when it’s
          wrong). The damage doesn’t come from being wrong; it comes from thinking about the lan-
          guage.
          What we’re suggesting is this. The reason that children always end up as native speakers is
          because they learn to speak by listening. And the reason that adults don’t is because they learn
          to speak by speaking.

          I ACTUALLY WONDER HOW ABOUT YOUR ACCENT IN THE LANGUAGES U HAVE LEARNED SO FAR, BENNY.
          .-= ppminhphung´s last blog ..The Role of Music in Education =-.

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    @Merek
    Please back this up with research. I’d like to refer to Krashen’s research about second language acquisition. We can certainly acquire a language like babies do, it’s no BS.

    • Cainntear

      You’ve yet to refer to Krashen’s research, only his conclusions. It is fairly widely held that Krashen wouldn’t have got anywhere near as far with his theories in any country other than the USA. His evidence (mostly from other people’s research) has been subject to a lot of criticism, and much of it was soundly rejected before Krashen even wrote about it.

      IMO “the silent period” and “comprehensible input” are incompatible notions. How can you engage meaningfully with a language if you don’t interact with it?

      • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

        What do you mean by interacting? Speaking? I had a pretty long ‘silent period’ for Spanish and I interacted with the language by watching things I enjoyed. That kept me going en also forced me to think about things in Spanish instead of forcing me to speak and thus forcing myself to make errors.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

          Ramses, this time instead of disagreeing with you, I’m going to straight off tell you that you are wrong. If you think that sitting and watching a language is interaction, then you don’t know what the word interaction actually means…

          It may have kept you going and definitely would have helped your progress (albeit extremely slowly), but nothing as good as actually getting over your shyness to speak and saying something. I think your fear to make mistakes and wait until you “speak perfectly” is the kind of thing that slows people down when they are learning a language. You should embrace making mistakes when starting to learn a language. That kind of fear and perfectionism is not productive for any language learning method. I don’t believe you can ever just magically start speaking perfectly one day. You HAVE to make mistakes!!

          Weren’t you the one previously telling me that I needed input?? Surely the only way to get that input is to actually speak to a person and make mistakes first?

          Our opinions of course differ, but your answer to Cainntear saying that you need to “engage meaningfully” with a language by you claiming to interact without actually interacting is just silly…

        • http://Music-subtitle.blogspot.com ppminhphung

          Sorry Benny, but in this debate, I’m much inclined to Ramses. Speaking too soon may lead to bad accent. And as u said, maybe, wait until we feel input enough is too long, but I bet it would be much better. I think it’s not necessary for me to talk much about it, Dr Marvin Brown, he wrote in much more beautiful English than me: Please take a look at it, only an excerpt:
          “Learning Languages Like Children”
          Everyone knows that when people move to a new country the children will eventually speak the
          language natively and the adults won’t. The normal explanation is that children have a special
          ‘talent’ that they lose as they grow up.
          Teachers said that for adults, languages should be taught and studied instead of learned naturally.
          But are we any better with present language teaching? Why, for example, do adults in Central Africa
          do better when they move to a new language community than our modern students do? Could it be
          that early teachers were mistaken? Maybe adults can do what children do. Maybe it’s just adult
          behavior (not lack of talent) that prevents them from succeeding.
          THE MISTAKE – Children can do something that adults cannot.
          THE UNASKED QUESTION – What would happen if an adult were to just listen for a year without
          speaking?
          OUR ANSWER – Both adults and children can do it right, but only adults can do it wrong.”

          AND THIS IS THE RESULT:
          In 1984, the AUA language center in Bangkok started doing exactly this in its Thai classes. The
          students just listened for as much as a year without speaking at all. We found that adults get
          almost the same results that children do. If adults understand natural talk, in real situations, with-
          out trying to say anything, for a whole year, then fluent speaking with clear pronunciation will
          come automatically.

          AND I ALSO THINK THIS IS IMPORTANT:
          It seems that the difference between adults and children is not that adults have lost the ability to do it
          right– but that children haven’t yet gained the ability to do it wrong (that is, to destroy it with forced
          speaking).
          Forced speaking damages adults. Consciously thinking of one’s sentences – with translations,
          rules, substitutions, or any other kind of thinking prevents you from speaking like a native.
          Natural speaking (speaking that comes automatically) won’t cause damage (not even when it’s
          wrong). The damage doesn’t come from being wrong; it comes from thinking about the lan-
          guage.
          What we’re suggesting is this. The reason that children always end up as native speakers is
          because they learn to speak by listening. And the reason that adults don’t is because they learn
          to speak by speaking.

          I ACTUALLY WONDER HOW ABOUT YOUR ACCENT IN THE LANGUAGES U HAVE LEARNED SO FAR, BENNY.
          .-= ppminhphung´s last blog ..The Role of Music in Education =-.

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu/ balint

    Hi Benny,

    Excellent blog, congratulation! I’m currently studying Spanish (my mother tongue is Hungarian), and I’ve just finished the “basic” period (5 months of intense study), and since yesterday I’ve had a language exchange partner, so I started off speaking. You set a good example how to be “brave”, and using the new language shouldn’t be a pain in the ass. And you know what? I won’t be embarrassed about my mistakes!

    And I’ll adapt your ideas, thanks for sharing them! And of course I’ll follow this blog! Keep it up!

  • http://otevotnyelv.blog.hu balint

    Hi Benny,

    Excellent blog, congratulation! I’m currently studying Spanish (my mother tongue is Hungarian), and I’ve just finished the “basic” period (5 months of intense study), and since yesterday I’ve had a language exchange partner, so I started off speaking. You set a good example how to be “brave”, and using the new language shouldn’t be a pain in the ass. And you know what? I won’t be embarrassed about my mistakes!

    And I’ll adapt your ideas, thanks for sharing them! And of course I’ll follow this blog! Keep it up!

  • Stephen

    Hi,

    love the blog.. I;’ve been here 9 months. get by but been a bit lazy.. I kinda feel inspired!

    btw from what i’ve heard/been told by my cz friends most people frmo Prague always use děkuju rather than děkuji and never děkuji vam. Makes you look like a foreigner ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Yes, I’ve long stopped saying “děkuji vam” that was recommended by my phrasebook and opted for the better sounding děkuju (actually not děkuji as you’ve said) since this is more casual.
      Thanks for your comment; hope you start learning a lot soon!! :)

  • Stephen

    Hi,

    love the blog.. I;’ve been here 9 months. get by but been a bit lazy.. I kinda feel inspired!

    btw from what i’ve heard/been told by my cz friends most people frmo Prague always use děkuju rather than děkuji and never děkuji vam. Makes you look like a foreigner ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Yes, I’ve long stopped saying “děkuji vam” that was recommended by my phrasebook and opted for the better sounding děkuju (actually not děkuji as you’ve said) since this is more casual.
      Thanks for your comment; hope you start learning a lot soon!! :)

  • JanLS56

    Hello SplogSplog,

    I just read your post and would be very interested in the resources you mention for learning Czech. I currently live in the US and am trying to learn the language as I will be moving to the Czech Republic next year to begin an ESL course in Prague. I agree with Benny's posts that speaking the language ASAP is the best way. I have several books and an audio program so far.

    Thanks for any help you provide.

    Jan S.

  • JanLS56

    Hi Benny,
    I love your blog!! I stumbled across it just this morning and I think I have read almost every post! I am trying to learn Czech from my cozy home in the US and your posts have GREATLY encouraged me. I was pleased to learn that I have already implemented many of the ideas you have suggested. I found a radio station that I listen to and even though I don't understand much, I do pick up a word here and there. I have also watched some movies in Czech with English subtitles and understood even more words. I purchased several grammar books at a used book store, and I also have a software program that I am using. I have a facebook friend in Karlovy Vary and hope to meet a Czech native who lives near me through a friend of a friend of a friend….you get the idea! Anyway, I am very excited about your approach and you have given me the boost I needed to really dig in and study.

    And… your comment about teaching an old dog new tricks….I am 53 and I am starting a new adventure in my life. I have decided to become an ESL teacher mostly for the sake of traveling and learning about new cultures and people. My first destination is the Czech Republic.

    As I am not a social butterfly, I do agree with your philosophy. It will be more difficult for me, but I will press on!!

    Many thanks for your blogging and updates.

    Jan S

  • adamasao

    Selamat pagi, mis amigos!
    I'm pretty much an amateur when it comes to languages, but I speak Indonesian quite well, can have a conversation in Japanese and am trying to get into Spanish now.
    I've learned them all in different ways – Indonesian was studied throughout high school; very much in a structured input/ouput way. And you're right – I have very good grammar and accent with many compliments from native speakers.

    Japanese, on the other hand, was much more organic. My grandmother is Japanese, so I was exposed from birth to the language – particularly the pronounciation comes naturally, but perhaps my grammar isn't the best.

    And Spanish – well, it's almost entirely self study in preparation for an extended backpacking trip around Sudamerica.

    I think you're all talking about different definitions of being able to 'speak' a language well.

    To illustrate, if I wanted to play football, I could spend a lot of hours reading the FIFA rules, watching youtube clips of Maradona, Kaka and Zizou, practicing techniques and ball juggling at home, getting coached by the best…. I am sure I would have much better technique, and a much better chance of making an A grade football squad, than someone that joined in a pick-up game down at a local park and just gave it a go.

    But if all I want to do is play games with my friends in the park, why would I spend so much time on technique?

    On the other hand, if I want to play in the World Cup, I'm going to have to make sure I know what I'm doing first so I don't learn the wrong way at the start.

    But, as many others have said, peoples' brains work in very different ways, so many methods can be used to achieve a particular outcome.

    On that note, one little thing that works for me (so far) with Spanish – and it's sort of an input method too – is downloading podcasts of BBC Mundo and listening to them each day after I read the news in English.

    Although the newsreaders are often speaking way too fast for me, I already know what they should be talking about – context is everything – so I can follow along and pick up heaps.

    good luck, all, with your languages, however you do it.

    bloody great blog, by the way.

    cheers.

  • Boom

    No, they are not. Anyone can learn any language in the same way as babies, adults just never try, because “everyone knows you can't learn a language just by listening to it”.

  • http://caitoceallaigh.com/ Katie

    I tried something like this years ago, while visiting with a friend in Poland. I'd been studying Russian for a few years at the time, and new some Czech from having lived there several years before. I spoke with my new friends some weird combination of Czech and Russian, and they were very kind to me! Everyone in Poland I met was. I was an American, speaking Russian and Czech to them, this freak of nature. They loved me! I didn't spend enough time in Poland to become close to fluent, but when I returned to the States, I found myself speaking Polish in my Russian class, instead of Russian, which really annoyed my teacher, but anyway.

    The whole point is to make a connection with people, isn't it? No one cares if your language is perfect. People can see through that, and get to the real you. In time, your language will improve if you stick with it and keep striving.

  • Ellen

    Boom,

    Respectfully, what I learned in developmental psychology refutes that. Babies and young children learn language at a phenomenal rate, and most people lose that ability as they grow older. Necessity certainly aids in language acquisition (such as Benny's method of communicating entirely without English), but children seem to have a leg up on adults. Not that learning languages has to be like pulling teeth as an adult, but it in general will be far more difficult than doing so as a child.

  • http://sratoz.wordpress.com/ João Paulo

    Three weeks ago, I was a Brazilian on holiday in Southern Germany. I hardly speak any German to speak of ;-) but I simply force myself to try something and keep on soaking words from newspapers and ads. Apparently I have a very good pronunciation too, even though I do not understand the words I am pronouncing. :-) Anyway, every time I approached a German and found I did not know the words I needed, I would ask, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I've found this helps a lot — though, as respect goes, I admit I am in a better position than you, seeing as English is not my language either (a point I usually made too, so they saw I was not an American tourist trying to force my own language).
    Keep up the good site,

  • Jaime A Ellis

    I know this blog post is now over 1/2 years old, but I thought I’d chime in with my own humble anecdotal evidence. English is my native language, but I also speak Spanish and Hungarian. In both cases I learned using similar methods to Benny, by speaking right away knowing full well that I would make mistakes. Listening was a large component, but so to was forcing myself to think and talk in the target language nearly %100 of the time. I was conversational in both within three months. I’ve also been mistaken for a native in both languages. It would only be after a lengthy conversation that they would pick up on a slight accent or grammatical error that their eyes would widen and ask me with a tone of shock if I was from another country. I would go so far as to say that Benny’s method is the only one that has worked for me. I’ve taken Russian and German the old fashion way and can’t speak anything beyond a few pleasantries. Perhaps speaking and interacting with others won’t work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. I should point out however, that I am adamant that if I made or make a mistake in my grammar or pronunciation others around me should correct me immediately.

  • http://www.creativityandlanguages.com/ Peter

    found it funny the two menus ideas, good one. About speaking with other expat, I find that once you start to speak in a language, english for example, you usuallly stick with it. So, yes, if you can avoid it, not easy though!

  • Anonymous

    I just found this blog and have started reading it from the beginning. When I travel, I don’t learn “Do you speak English?” in the native language. Instead I learn how to ask “Do you understand English?” Speaking and understanding are two very different skills and I’ve found that people who say they don’t speak English will often understand the English word when I can’t remember the native language word I need.

  • nguyenzoro

    There are so many things to keep in mind while making a decision to going abroad for studies. Article shown a great checklist which will surely help in making decision