Rapid Language Learning

Today I came across an interesting article entitled Rapid Language Learning, in which Konstantin Ryabitsev from Russia gives details of how he managed to learning enough French to pass TEF (Test d’Evaluation de Français). At the time he wrote the piece (2004), he was in the process of immigrating to Canada, where they favour applicants with knowledge of both English and French. He already spoke English, so decided to learn French as well, as he was planning to move to Montreal, where he now lives.

At first he tried to learn to read French using a French translation of Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, but soon found that too difficult because he wasn’t familiar with French grammar. So he got hold of a copy of Schaum’s Outline of French Grammar and after about four months of working his way through that, he was able to read the Harry Potter book, then managed to tackled Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.

After that, he started working on his understanding, speaking and writing skills, using flash cards and associations to learn vocabulary and practising listening and speaking while walking to and from work. He also watched TV programmes that had been dubbed into French, French TV programmes and films, and also tried listening to audiobooks, but didn’t find that very helpful.

You can find out more about his methods in the article. I find such stories interesting. The methods he used wouldn’t necessarily work as well for other people, but he does have some good suggestions.

This entry was posted in French, Language, Language learning.

20 Responses to Rapid Language Learning

  1. David says:

    It’s interesting he managed to learn so quickly, but I would think he may be more proficient in some areas than in others. Perhaps he has poor speaking or other small problems.

    (BTW, I think you meant ‘immigrating to’ rather than ’emigrating to’. As I understand immigration is to and emigration is from. Just a thought.)

  2. Polly says:

    One thing he had going for him was ample MOTIVATION.

    If my entire future lifestyle depended on my learning a language, many other things would be shifted to the backburner to allow room for language-learning…insteadof vice-versa;
    language learning often takes a backseat to more pressing, practical concerns because it’s not a necessity, just an enjoyable “hobby.”

  3. Jeksi says:

    I can relate to him, because I learned French pretty fast as well, but obviously not as fast, since I’m still learning after 1/2 a year.
    While we’re on the topic of French, does anyone know how to spell the word for “yeah” in French, and if it’s used often (pronounced “weh”, instead of “wee”)? I met a girl from France who I asked about it, and she said it was a real word, but she didn’t say anything else. I think it’s spelled “Ouiah”, but that doesn’t make too much sense phonetically.

  4. Polly says:

    but that doesn’t make too much sense phonetically.

    So, it’s probably correct. It is French after all. 😉

  5. Giovanni says:

    Jeksi: I believe you are referring to ouai, an informal version of oui.

  6. James says:

    I learnt Spanish faster than that (in one sense…. As you´ll see), but it´s interesting the overlap. Here´s the story.

    I had NO Spanish at all in summer 2004 (though some Latin and I used to speak passable French) and that summer got a Teach Yourself Spanish course and listened to the CDs for about a month to get the sound of Spanish in my head. I then went to Seville, Spain from 9th Sept to the 15th December (with a two week break around 1st of November for my PhD defence). So 10 weeks. I lived with a monolingual Spanish-speaking family and studied at the International House school (CLIC), starting with a week of private classes (we covered 6 weeks of curriculum in 5 days) and then went to normal intensive classes of 20 hours a week.

    I was hearing Spanish spoken by natives maybe 6 or 7 hours a day (I listened to radio and TV from the start, even though I couldn´t understand much), and read from the second week. My first book was a history of Latin America. I read 3 or 4 hours a day, listening to Spanish music in the background. I spoke maybe 15 minutes of English a day (with other students). Weekends I read and walked around Seville, church on Sunday (in Spanish: thank God for a liturgy that I could follow along with). You couldn´t get more intensive. I kept reading all the time, mostly detective books and fiction (I read Perfume after maybe 2 months of study). We are talking maybe 30-40 pages an hour, depending on the book. Not noticeably slower than English. Some words I look up, others I guess. After a while you figure it out. To begin with I was getting the plot fine, but maybe missing some of the elegance of the way it was told.

    I went back to the UK and was capable of holding a reasonably sophisticated conversation (in fact I had a half hour chat with a woman from the Canary Islands about the divergences between Peninsular, Latin American and Canary Islands´ Spanish and what Christianity involved in Starbucks near Kings Cross shortly before Xmas 2005). While in the UK I read from cover to cover “Modern Spanish Grammar” by Juan Kattán Ibarra and Christopher Pountain (in fact it was reading this that started the conversation with the lady in Starbucks).

    The next stage was the forgetting stage. I went to the USA in 2005 and for the first 5 months had a Mexican friend who was studying where I was working, and we met and chatted for a couple of hours every Monday (again, normal conversation, not “I have two brothers”). Favorite topics included how strange North Americans are, and how much we liked them (he is married to one). Then they moved to Argentina, and I barely spoke Spanish the rest of the year, even though I was living in Florida. I also stopped reading in Spanish, but listened to music and radio in Spanish every day while driving. Then I was back in the UK and barely spoke it at all for 9 months. I stopped working on it and forgot lots.

    Then I moved to Chile, in September of 2006. I started reading again, was surrounded by Spanish speakers, Spanish radio, TV and it was back to immersion. Lived with a Chilean couple for the first month. Very hard. I laughed at this bit of the article “If you have visited Québec, you probably already know that there is a vast conspiracy among all travel guide publishers, since they will all tell you with a straight face that French is the predominant spoken language in that province. However, if you have been there, you know that it’s a bold-faced lie. Their written language may look like French, but whatever it is that they use to communicate cannot possibly be the same language you have studied so hard, since it’s impossible to understand a word of it.”

    Swap Spanish for French and Santiago for Québec. You don´t believe me?

    or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps058d_DuVw&mode=related&search=
    (though this sounds easy to me now, and is very funny).

    Next stage, a few hours of classes a week for two months (reading hours a day, maybe 3 or 4), then (and this is the odd part) from January I started writing lectures in Spanish and started teaching in March. And that´s how I learnt written spanish: writing lectures on theology. 8,000 words a week. I basically wrote a book, and each week I´d go to my teacher who would help me translate hard concepts and correct my Spanish. I also listen to Colombian radio for an hour or 2 a day.

    So the next stage starts next month: I´m teaching the history of philosophy and reformation history, but won´t have the time to write the lectures, so I have to teach them in Spanish from an outline (which is in English).

    Oh and I had three months of voice classes to get rid of my accent (my job is teaching so it´s vital that I am easy to understand and can talk for hours without straining my voice). I deliberately chose not to have a Chilean accent (it makes it much easier for other spanish speakers to understand me) and have modelled it on Central American Spanish (Colombian and mexican are my favorite accents). My teacher tells me (I don´t believe him) that I now have no trace of an English accent at all (at least when I am reading texts I know or saying things I know how to say: when I stumble the accent comes back a bit).

    So that´s the story. I haven´t been able to study Spanish systematically for 6 months as I have been spending all my time on the classes, so there are still lots of weird gaps. I am planning on two weeks of 1-2-1 total immersion classes in Guatemala next February.

    Well anyway, reading and forgetting have been important for me, as well as radio and writing a book.


  7. Polly says:

    That puts my paltry efforts to shame. I listen to a Spanish radio station sometimes on my commute to, or back from, work. I bought the book “Freakonomics” in Spanish and have read the preface, so far.

    I was once told by a Mexican friend that my Spanish sounded like a commercial for a used car dealership. I took it as a huge compliment – Hey, at least it sounds authentic. 🙂

    I didn’t know they had Starbucks in the UK. Are they on every corner like in the US? What is the connection between Christians and Starbucks? At my local SB, half a block from my apartment (across the street from the other Starbucks!) there are often more Bibles open than at church. 😀

    I’m planning to go to Italy later this year and am learning as much Italian as I can, quickly. My Spanish knowledge is really helping. If that goes well, I may just decide to round out the whole Romance Language theme and try French, too. At least it might make me appear suave in upscale restaurants. 😉

  8. James says:

    You don´t need to learn Italian if you speak Spanish. We can understand each other well enough for tourism at least (in fact on Colombian radio Brazilian football players have routinely been put on the radio speaking portuguese during the copa de America, which I confess I still struggle with). Maybe in 5 years I´ll have a go at Portuguese, but I need to relearn my Latin first.

    No idea bout SB- it is spreading a lot in the UK and we have them in Chile too (not so many, very expensive and very chic, as are the loans “plis” y “sorry”)

    My Spanish was literally for survival… not fair to compare with “hobby learning”.


  9. I may have told this story already, but…
    I learned Esperanto when I was a student, in the 70s I guess, from a book, in something like a week. After that – those were the days before the Web – I met no one who knew the language, and had very few chances to read it.
    Years after coming from my hometown to São Paulo, I became aware of the existence of the São Paulo Esperanto-Asocio, found it, walked boldly in, and spoke to the first person I met: “Bonan tagon. Chu vi vendas chi tiujn librojn?” And she answered: “Bonan tagon. Jes, certe.” (Or words to that effect)
    What I had learned some 10+ years ago was indeed Esperanto, I could speak it, and no one noticed it was the first time I was speaking to another Esperantist!
    But that, of course, is a language designed to be simple! 😉

  10. Polly says:

    That’s interesting. You really think that Spanish would be enough to get by in Italy, eh? That’s good news. Nevertheless, seeing as I’m not completely fluent in Spanish I think I’ll still give Italian a try. If nothing else, it’ll give me a broader perspective on Spanish and Romance lang’s generally.

    @Ronald Kyrmse: I remember that one. I found it interesting that you could communicate without any interactive practice all those years. My little story about my Spanish accent is also a “re-run.”

  11. James says:

    Well I´ve had a couple of conversations me speaking spanish, them speaking Italian… depends how used you are to Italian (I guess that is why you have untranslated portuguese on Colombian radio: I have not heard it on Chilean radio). Obviously you won´t be able to discuss Kant like this, but you should cope.

  12. BG says:

    @Polly: I was just in Italy on a school trip, although the main part was in Germany, as most of us are learning German. I have learned some Spanish on my own and Latin in school, and I also learned a bit of Italian before the trip and it did seem very similar and I could understand the written language somewhat. I didn’t actually speak Spanish with anybody (I didn’t think of it) and only spoke a tiny bit of Italian because we weren’t there long and for most of the time we were in the North (Bolzano) where many people speak German. Then we went to Venice where I used Italian pretty much just at restaurants, and then not a whole lot.

  13. Polly says:

    Thanks to you, James and BG.
    This is a good preview. I’m glad I mentioned it.

    Originally, I had intended to go to Russia hoping to use and improve my Russian, but after reading about it and asking around, my wife decided she didn’t want to go somewhere so…”bleak”, especially near winter.
    So, we compromised. Everyone we know who’s gone to Italy has loved it. My 2nd choice was Spain, so I could use my Spanish, but honestly, Rome and Venice seem more appealing. But, looks like I might still practice some Spanish after all.

    Other countries considered: Germany, Austria, Japan, and France.
    My wife found nothing that appealed to her about England. No offense, guys. And of course, for me, well, I already speak American which is pretty close to English. 😉

  14. James says:

    You know of course that “My wife found nothing that appealed to her about England.” is a statement that tells me more about your wife than it does about England…

    No offense taken 😉

    Not saying that your Spanish will improve or you won´t get funny looks in Italy, but you should be able to cope and it might even be fun (though I have never been there)


  15. BG says:

    Personally, I actually preferred Bolzano in South Tyrol to Venice in quite a few ways, especially less tourists. Most tourists in Bolzano are Italian. In Venice there are a lot of Americans and Asians. Bolzano is also in the Alps and is prettier IMO. Most people in my group seemed to like Germany better than Italy, but that was mostly because we were there to practice German, not Italian and because we stayed with families in Germany, not in hotels. The hotel in Venice had very small rooms, but was supposedly one of the nice “centraly located” (as in at least a 30 minute walk or water bus ride from St. Mark’s Square) hotels. Venice was still nice and it being at the very end of our trip probably contributed to our not liking it as much.

    I also live in California (Monterey) and have been to England and it wasn’t bad, but we were lucky to have sunny weather for a whole week, rare in England, I have heard, especially for April. I don’t think Polly’s wife is the only American (I know she’s Armenian) who wouldn’t want to go to England, though.

  16. Polly says:

    About England, it’s nothing against the people. I think she just didn’t see too much in the way of sightseeing opportunities – chicks don’t dig castles. It’s not a political or cultural thing.

    BG, I suggested Armenia since neither of us has ever been there. You know she said, “NO WAY!” She speaks the Western(diaspora) dialect. It’s a totally different culture and that, I think, is the reason she has no interest in the “homeland.”

    This will be my first trip outside of North America – if nothing pops up before then.

  17. James says:

    honestly don´t go to England this summer: it has been floods and rain and a total disaster of almost noahic proportions. UK is nice in a good summer/autumn. The rest (or the present weather) is not worth braving


  18. Vinny says:

    Hi Simon…

    You took the TEF-Test d’Evaluation…

    How was it?? Easy?? Any thing you can recommend??



  19. Simon says:

    Vin – I haven’t taken the TEF myself – it was the guy referred to in my post, Konstantin Ryabitsev, who did that.

    The only French language exams I’ve taken are GCE O and A Levels.

  20. jessie says:

    I learned French pretty fast before my Europe trip with this thing called Rocket French! [me & my friend bought it and shared it] Its actually pretty freakin cool if anyone on here is interested in learning French for a trip or just for kicks! Check it out on http://www.LearningFrenchFast.com

    It would probably help with the TEF! I will have to look into that!

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