(probably) effective language learning

mar 7 23

There's certainly no shortage of options for learning languages, but I've come to the view that straightforward is probably better. For my goal of reading German fluently at a ~9th grade level, I'm learning just by reading YA and using Calibre's lookup tool as I go along.

I began with the theory that grammatical rules can be intuited to a large degree, based on anecdotal accounts as well as the fact that when we learn our native language, we pick them up without being taught explicitly there either. I intended to learn from a premade anki deck of common words for the first 500-1k and then to start reading with that base, but out of the ones I tried the terms weren't always a good match to the body of words I would need to know for YA. So instead I started reading Magic Treehouse and making my own flashcards as I went. I chose that series for its level of difficulty, being more complex than first readers and a transition to chapter books.

The idea with reading is to establish greater context for individual words and sentences, so that terms are more closely associated with meaning instead of learned by rote which, aside from being much more tedious, is less efficient as well without those strong menomics. This led me to move away from making single word cards and to mainly use sentences, either the example ones from deepL or from the book.

As I went through the first book, I kept noticing that in context, the meaning of something might be obvious but removed from that on the flashcard it would be completely impenetrable. The problem is establishing the necessary context for a phrase to make sense isn't always satisfied by including the whole sentence--it could require the circumstances of the paragraph or chapter. Because of this, it felt like an unreasonable practice to commit terms to memory by flashcard, when they are so much more understandable in context.