It's a fairly well-known saying, though honestly, I hate it. The idea of faking anything just doesn't sit well with me. However I really couldn't think of a more fitting title for the advice I want to share today.
This weekend I began testing out a new theory about learning. It's not extremely new, of course — I've used variations of this in the past, with every language I've learned — but this is the first time I made an attempt to learn from scratch using just this method.
What I'm talking about is chatting with someone completely in their language, using Google Translate — just talking through the translator until you can talk without it.
This weekend I made a new Facebook friend in Macedonia who is kind enough to help me learn the language. My proposal went like this: I will write to you using Google Translate, and I will learn by watching how you write to me, or from any corrections you feel like giving.
That's it. Pretty simple. The only additional step I've taken was simply to read the Wikipedia page on Macedonian grammar... and to be honest, I didn't even read the entire page.
There is a well-known concept in language learning that suggests the size of vocabulary required for typical day-to-day conversation is quite small. Whether you believe it's 100 words or 1000 words, there is very little argument that you don't need an enormous vocabulary for standard language use. So it stands to reason, then, that getting straight to the conversation will get you repeated exposure to that basic vocabulary much sooner, and you will therefore learn those words much faster.
So that's what I'm doing. My new friend and I are just having a real conversation! No lessons, no instruction, no study. Just fun! I tell about myself and where I live, and I get to learn about my new friend, and life in Skopja, Macedonia.
How it's working out
After just one day, I have already found myself understanding a lot of what I read without the need to run it through a translator, and even understanding a few puns. I've also found a lot of situations in which I've been able to write portions of my responses without the translator.
It's not quite the same level I reached with Polish in 8 days, but it's close. The biggest difference is that Macedonian does not have the complicated noun cases that Polish has, so grammar is much more similar to English.
I already know the words I, you, me, him, her, he, she, it, us, is, are, yes, no, like, have, want, tell, see, read, write, work, good, thing, many, who, how, where, what, my, your, our, to, for, and, and much more, and can use them correctly, after just one day of exposure to the language by way of an email conversation. There are some nuances to verb conjugation that are still unclear, but I've already got the endings under control.
The best way to learn a language is by using it
There couldn't be a better endorsement of my language advice than these results! I continue to say, over and over, that the best way to learn a language is simply to use it, and here I've done exactly that: I began using a language I had never previously studied, and in just one day of use I acquired an an exciting level of knowledge in it!
Yes, I am already familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, so I didn't have to learn that. Sure, I recognize a lot of vocabulary by virtue of the fact that I already have a lot of experience with Slavic languages. But actually, in many ways, my experience with Russian and Polish was an obstacle, because I had to get past the fact that Macedonian is not declined!
I'm doing a lot of experiementation this year. My 8-day Polish experiment was quite eye opening. This weekend experiment with Macedonian is incredibly exciting. And of course my year-long Turkish project is certainly revealing a lot about language and learning.
There are still 8 months ahead, so there is still time for plenty of other experiments. By the time this year is over, I expect that I'll have a really solid learning strategy worked out, which will be important when I tackle the exciting idea I have planned for next year!
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.