Excerpts from Tricks and Techniques

Strategies of Successful Language Learners

Cognates, Anyone?

Trick: If, as an English speaker, you're studying French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese (Romanian, too, for that matter), make cognates a priority.

Cognates are the same, or similar-looking, words found in related languages. You must exploit this! The six languages mentioned above share thousands of cognates, making them easier to learn and retain. As a native or advanced English speaker, you already know half the Spanish and French lexicons.

Similarly, the Slavic family of languages - Russian, Czech, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Polish, Slovakian, etc. - is cognate-rich. The same holds for Swedish and Norwegian; German and Dutch.

Your Objective? Cognate consumption in mass quantities. As a native or advanced English speaker, you already possess a huge Spanish-Italian-French vocabulary; why not take advantage of all this already-familiar vocabulary, and make it a priority? In fact, why not study two of the above languages together?

Item: There are four good places to find mass quantities of cognates:

  1. The Dictionary. A large dictionary will contain just about all of a Target Language's (TL) cognates, the point being ... you can put them to use right away. How many cognates are we talking about here; what are the numbers? There's a terrific paperback bilingual dictionary series, the Bantam New College Bilingual Dictionaries. Our Italian-English/English-Italian copy has, by our count, 8,000 cognates.
  2. A lengthy fiction or non-fiction work.
  3. A stack of newspapers, website printouts, or TL magazines.
  4. An encyclopedia.

Item: Even if you're a complete beginner, starting in on an English-language short story, novel or nonfiction work that's been translated into your chosen TL pays big dividends over the long term, and not only because they'll be crammed with cognates. Write them out in lists on file cards and use them as bookmarks, or keep them in your briefcase or bag.

Item: Even if you're in the larval stage of learning French, or Spanish, you can acquire the habit of regular review, and of concentrating on cognates, can't you? The "trick" to locking them in for good is to focus on them while imagining actually using them in conversations.

Wake Up and Smell the Synonyms!

You've heard of immersion courses; have you ever tried immersing yourself, alone, in a second language? On your own, no backup, no teacher, no class? You're familiar with the term "paperless" office - what about  "paperless" language study - a dictionary, a bilingual short-story collection, not a tutor in sight. Ever tried it?

Dictionary Addiction - Ask for It by Name!

Question: How far away are you right now from the nearest foreign-language reading matter? From the nearest dreadnought dictionary and book, newspaper, or magazine?

Trick: Successful language learners always read something, anything.

They always develop a steady reading source - Japanese Manga, Italian comic books, Le Monde every day, The Long Goodbye in Spanish, Russian Short Stories in bilingual format, or maybe Der Spiegel every week. Moreover, they read with a purpose, extracting vocabulary items (VIs) from every page, every paragraph, always with the aid of a nearby bilingual dictionary.

Trick: Master students make special use of those middleweight, 900-page paperback dictionaries.

And for good reason. One, they're both comprehensive and portable. Meaning? Meaning, they've got important sample phrases and sentences that can and should be memorized, and they can be cut in half for better ease of use. Cut in half, and used; kept in the car, the kitchen, the bathroom. And, there's room for margin notes, bookmarks, tabs, post-it paper, underlinings, check marks and hi-lightings - note-taking being another habit of advanced learners.

Item: Hardcore language learners keep at least three dictionaries around: compact, medium, and very-big size.

I Have Only One Life to Live ... Let Me Live it As a Bilingual!

Trick: Got a public or university library card? We do. Twelve of them.

Objective: Foreign Lit! Magazines! Poetry collections! (With opposite page translations.) Art books! Put some color in your language campaign! Think of it - think of the effect on your snob rivals: Mallarmé, Rilke, Montale, Lorca on one page, the English or native-language version on the other. For access to the classics, libraries are a must.

The Mother of All Word Lists.

Here's what separates the men from the monolinguals: your core 2000 need-to-know verb list:can you recognize, and use, these verbs in your chosen target language?

(The complete list is included in both of the study manuals.)

The Marathon 2000 Verb List (for the letter A)

Learn Arabic in Only Ten Years!

Item: It's a fact that three crucial parts of serious language training are usually neglected by most language institutes and private tutors:

Test this out: go ask any tutor or language school if they provide you with coaching in successful language-learning strategies before, during, or after a course. We do.

See the Services page for information on private, one-on-one instruction. Or order study guides now.