Meta-Skills for Language Learning

Learn how to learn languages.

Learning a second language is something that many people attempt but few accomplish. Despite the wide variety of books, apps, and courses promising fluency with little effort ("in only 15 minutes a day"), most language learners do not achieve their goals. But there is lots of research studying how language learning works and how to do it effectively. Unfortunately, few language learners are aware of it.

This course aims to remedy that situation, offering an accessible and applicable introduction to the science and practice of language learning. You'll learn:

  • How to select materials (textbooks, tutors, courses, apps) for language learning (and which kinds to avoid!)
  • How to use language learning materials effectively
  • How to manage motivation throughout the language learning process
  • How your needs change as you move through the stages of language ability from beginner to intermediate to advanced
  • How to learn multiple languages at once (and whether you should do so)
  • How a little knowledge of how language works can save you a lot of time

In short, this course provides you with a toolkit of knowledge, techniques, and mindsets you can use over your lifetime as a language learner. Over the four weeks you’ll design your own personalized language learning roadmap, outlining a realistic plan for your next year of learning.

Syllabus

Week 1: Introduction

In this class, we'll introduce ourselves and the languages we're learning. This class will have a lot of discussion, focusing on the question: Why do so many language learning resolutions fail? We'll talk about why we learn languages, how we've tried doing so in the past, and the frustrations we've faced. We'll make explicit the limiting assumptions we bring to our language learning practice and consider how well supported they are. We'll take an inventory of our language learning practice as it is today and use it as a starting point to build a new one.

Week 2: A Scientific Approach to Learning Languages

This class introduces the results of the last few decades of research in second language acquisition. We now know a lot about how language learning works. And it turns out that it's not much like the way most people go about learning languages. We're going to bust language learning myths, and replace these myths with science-backed knowledge. For example, we'll learn why the best apps for language learning aren't language-learning apps at all. We'll use this knowledge to examine and revise the techniques and resources we're using in our current language learning practice.

Week 3: A Little Theory Goes a Long Way

Linguistic theory is not necessary to the language learner: but it can be incredibly helpful and time-saving to know a few fundamental concepts from linguistics, especially when learning languages that work in ways very different from English. To this end, we'll employ some useful concepts from linguistics to make our language learning lives easier, including the reason why Japanese might be the perfect preparation for learning Turkish. We'll also talk about the challenges presented by the specific languages you're learning and how to incorporate a little linguistic training into your language learning roadmap.

Week 4: From Theory to Practice

This class is all about taking what we've learned over the previous sessions and applying it to our own language learning practice. We will learn practical techniques for working within the constraints of our all-too-human psychology: techniques for maintaining motivation, fighting burnout, and keeping our love for language learning alive. We will also look at how to handle:

  • learning dead languages
  • learning less-commonly taught languages, and
  • learning multiple languages at the same time (including the age-old question how to learn Spanish and French at the same time without mixing them up?)

We'll end by looking at our new language learning roadmaps: how our approach to language learning has changed over the past month, and where we can go from here.

Who is this course for?

This course is for anyone actively learning a language (any language, at any level) or considering doing so in the near future. No theoretical background in linguistics or language acquisition is assumed.

However, if you are an experienced polyglot with a track record of successful language learning, this course is probably not for you (too basic!).

Requirements

  • No linguistics background is assumed.

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