I read an article the other day about an interesting fellow who learned to speak four languages in a very short amount of time. He had these four broad steps:
Stage 1: Learn the correct pronunciation of the language.
Stage 2: Vocabulary and grammar acquisition, no English allowed.
Stage 3: Listening, writing and reading work.
Stage 4: Speech.
Having a background in Chinese, the pronunciation wasn’t too difficult. The second step was where I have been stuck for the past fifteen years. My vocabulary consists basically of common words I would hear at home, which is greatly inadequate for say ordering food at a restaurant or watching television. Enter Anki.
For stage 2, the article recommended this amazing program called Anki. At its core, it’s just a flashcard program. At its best, it’s pure and utter genius. If you need to learn a bunch of facts into your long-term memory (e.g. Chinese characters), then this is the program for you. The basic idea is that you don’t learn your whole deck of flash cards at once. You are slowly introduced to new ones every day. After you “look at the answer”, you rate how easy or hard you found it. The program will then show you that card at an appropriate time interval just when you are about to forget it. See this video for more details. Just find a pre-existing deck for what you want to learn (there were tons for Chinese), install the app, and you’re on your way.
There’s one catch though: the program is free, the decks are free, but for some reason the iPhone app costs $24.99 (the idea is that the iPhone version subsidizes all other development). I know what you’re thinking: “that’s an outrageous price!” But let’s remember what Oscar Wilde said, “A fool knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Working backwards. This program has the potential for me to learn Chinese, how much would I be willing to pay for that goal? A lot more than $25. Even if I got 1% closer, it’s still worth it.
I’ve been using the app for over a month now at about five to ten minutes a day. Each day I learn five new characters/phrases. I’m currently at 245 cards that I’ve seen (out of 3000 in this deck). Maybe I won’t be fluent any time soon but at least I’m 245 cards closer.