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Revision as of 12:00, 8 December 2019 by GrimPixel (talk | contribs) (Vocabulary)
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One may want to be a polyglot, but has no idea about what to do.

I think it's time to provide some help.


Why do you want to learn languages? It's a basic question, but it determines your level.

  • If you mainly feel bored and want to do something in the spare time, then you can be a beginner forever. You don't want to endeavour, you just want to kill the time. Thus, you can't make real progress. But you may have potential enthusiasm towards becoming a polyglot.
  • If you mainly want to get a better job, then you can have useful skills, but nothing more. You have a goal, so you can make progress, but you are just interested in practical things, you just consider a language as a tool, so you will not dig into the languages and explore the cultures of the speakers.
  • If you are mainly forced by your parents, relatives, etc., then I feel very sorry for that. I don't know how much progress you can make because it's mainly determined by your attitude. There are many ways to attract people to learn languages, but coercing is not attractive at all, so it's the worst thing to do.
  • If you mainly want to touch the whole world, to make friends, to become a world citizen, can spend time on it seriously, then you may be qualified to be a nice polyglot.

Choice of Languages

Which languages do you want to learn?

  • You may want to learn the easiest ones, which may have a close relationship with your native language; you also may want to learn the hardest ones, to challenge yourself.
  • You may want to learn the well-known ones, which have much influence around the world; you may also want to learn the rarely-known ones, to discover distinctive cultures.

It is all up to you.

You can try Esperanto and/or other constructed languages because they are usually made to be easy to learn. By learning an easy language, you can clearly understand which steps you should take to learn a new language. This helps you to learn a difficult language.

If you want to learn a language that is not popular for learners, you should know that the materials are relatively hard to find. You will likely have to pay for it. You even have to learn another language before learning the language you want to learn, because the speakers of the firstly-learned language have a better knowledge about it, or the language you want to learn is similar to this one. Many languages have a lot of loanwords, which means that if you know the languages being borrowed, you can learn the vocabulary of them very quickly.


Maybe changing the viewpoint can be better.

Many people carry the traits of their native languages when learning a new one. It may be fresh if you do this: assume that you didn't know any language. That is to say, forget how to express in your native language temporarily. Read the text in your native language, then pretend to have forgotten your native language.

You will start to wonder how you can express your thoughts. If you can reach here, you have changed your perspective successfully. Yes, it is an urgent demand of using languages, instead of a duty to complete a school assignment. You desire to express, but you assumed yourself unable to express in any language, so you have got to accept the new one thoroughly.

But if you are a nationalist and thus feel frustrated doing so, just skip this step. But you still need to accept things not belonging to your own language.

Concept to expression.png

Attitude towards Mistakes

You should reduce the impression of mistakes, so you can instantly feel strangeness when a mistake is made. For example, when you hear “a apple”, you can immediately know what type of mistake has been made.

In the ideal situation, when you makes a mistake, it can be instantly corrected. But in reality, you will make mistakes without noticing them. As a result, you need to develop the ability to check them. That is to say, you should always remember and pay attention to what to do when forming a sentence: person, tense, mood, case, and so on. It's hard at first, but finally it will become a conditioned reflex.

Free or Paid

Do you want to spend money on learning languages?

You should know the limitations of free resources:

  1. They may not be very reliable. Also, it is harder to find out its errors if you have only one material.
  2. You will lack proper training, especially on speaking and writing. Not all native speakers can be qualified as teachers. You can chat online, but without payment, no individual and no group can keep you practising and point out all your mistakes.

Many people become upset and quit it on their endless ineffective ways. It is clear that if you pay and pay the right ones, you will save a lot of time, and even save your determination.

But if you learn easy languages such as Esperanto, there is no much difference between the free and the paid.

Methods and Experiences

You need to be both the coach and the athlete, especially when you don't rely on paid services.

You may have heard this tone: you will succeed as long as you work hard. This is a trap. You also need good methods. There are some people that can act as a coach, take care about how you learn, for a price. But if you choose to do it on your own, you will gain more, if you are insightful.

As a coach, your methods of learning should suit your own habit and be effective. You can find other people's methods and choose which one suits you. If you are sure the method is wrong, abandon it and choose another one. When you find something hard to go through, and there is no experience for you to learn from, you can do it by rote, or find a way on your own. And if you like, share your experience with others, even if that method failed. Also, you should watch yourself, don't goof off. Do not rely on “word of the day” illusion. If you are really interested in learning languages, you shouldn't learn only one word or two each day.

As an athlete, you should do enough exercise. Having suitable methods is an aspect, having enough experiences is the other. An athlete can practise an action over and over again, every day. It's same with learning languages. You should practising over and over again, until you can master it.

You may need to dig into linguistics to have a better understanding. There is a good channel for it.

There is a great finding called “forgetting curve”. Always keep it in mind.

You can practise meditation to develop your concentration. You will be able to focus on tables of declensions, pronouns, and so on, then recall them quickly.


If you have good tools, you will progress faster.


Essential terms

These words are for language learning.


Understand their meanings, then you won't be frustrated by encountering unfamiliar terms from time to time.


You will surely face this problem first. As you are going to be a polyglot, you need to get to know the International Phonetic Alphabet. IPA is not very hard to learn if you know oral cavity well.



If you do not have the determination of spending time on memorising vocabulary, you are very likely unable to learn a language well.

You must overcome the frustration of forgetting most of the words you just learned. Don't expect to memorise them once and for all, be prepared to review every word you've met many times later.

Remember that your confidence will grow following the growth of your vocabulary.

Vocabulary are not one-to-one correspondent. A word may have several meanings and being several “parts of speech”. Usually there is no corresponding word in another language with the exact meanings as that one. Even if two words in two languages have the same meaning(s), their usages and frequencies are not all the same.

You will want to know how many words you need to know. There is an article about this:

You may hesitate on choosing a dictionary. First, see which brands have good reputation; second, see what you need:

  • if you are a beginner of the language, then a dictionary with 5 000-10 000 entries is enough for your current level;
  • if you want to use for daily life, then a dictionary usually with 30 000-50 000 entries is enough;
  • if you want the words as many as possible, then buy the thickest one, which usually have more than 100 000 entries, but you will need to spend more time on finding the entry you want as well as more money;

There is a page of the statistic of Wiktionary.

You may want to ask: when should I choose a dictionary with 10 000-30 000 or 50 000-100 000 entries? Well, if you want to learn a bit more than these recommended numbers, you can try them.

There is an article on how to choose a dictionary.

Now you may want to memorise all words in a dictionary. Good, but that should be done after having a good command of the most frequently used words. With these words, you can start your reading and listening practice and build your confidence.

You can find specific words to practise specially on:

You can follow this way: find ready-made vocabulary learning resources (like Ankiweb, Memrise) and practise, when they are depleted, you can create a spreadsheet, write down all words you are not familiar with and memorise them with Anki or Mnemosyne. To find which words you are not familiar with, you can either buy an intermediate dictionary or search entry by entry on a computer according to the frequency list at Wiktionary.


Some materials teach you to memorise words with some interesting homonyms in your native language. This is superficial and won't help you to understand its underlying structure. Maybe it is effective, but it also has a side effect: when using these words, you can't get rid of that funny stuff in your mind.

You should pay attention to the word roots an affixes instead. This is orthodox of memorising words. You will know how a word is assembled, and how to assemble in this language's style.

But this only helps you to understand them. To get familiar to them, you need to memorise by rote.

Wiktionary has “Etymology” for many words in several languages. If you still can't find them, try to cut the word up and search them.

There is already a list of English roots of Greek and Latin origin:


There are several words with similar meanings. Which one to choose?

You should understand the difference of “translation” and “definition”. Translation is for knowing the meaning of a word, a phrase or a sentence in another language, while definition is for understanding the word and avoiding any ambiguity. Usually, definitions are written by native speakers for native speakers, so you need to read the definition in the language you are learning.

It would be very boring to search for the definition of every word. The best way is learning it through a large amount of reading with searching for the definition as a supplement.


Adpositions are easy to know and hard to master. For example, English beginners are usually confused about the use of “on”, “in”, “at”. Then you can consult a dictionary. You may find more than 10 meanings of such a word, but don't upset, because words with so many meanings are few.

Dictionary definition is not enough at all. You can write down the meanings of the adpositions and see which two or more words have the similar meaning, and pay attention to distinguish them.


Collocation requires as much attention paid to as vocabulary. A sentence with a wrong collocation is just like a wrongly buttoned shirt. The example of “strong tea” and “powerful computer” on Wikipedia is good:

Again, a large amount of reading with searching for the definition as a supplement is the best method for it.


When you learn numbers, you only know the rule of reading numbers, instead of knowing each number, because the numbers are too many. So you need more practice to get the hang of the rules of reading them.


Sometimes you say something correctly in grammar, but it is unnatural for native speakers. The reason why it happens is that there may be several possible ways to express an idea and the unnatural one is not commonly used. This is similar to the frequency of vocabulary: some are common, others are uncommon.

Sentence structure

You should provide words of needed parts of speech, in the correct order, to express your idea. That is to say, you should get to know the structure of the sentences. You can say you really know what a sentence means only when you know that which part is playing which role. You can get to know some syntax knowledge and the “parse tree”, then try to draw them, and induce the rules of sentence structure of a language.

There is a video about how to draw parse trees.

But notice that there are exceptions due to custom, such as “that thing is easy to do” should be “that thing is easy to be done”. Though being irregular, they are still accepted, just because they are not making much confusion.


When you are reading, you may want to read every word through your mouth. But it limits your speed. Your elementary school teacher may want you read word by word, with voice or not, but it will be inappropriate when you are already a teenager. You are potentially able to view the text line by line.

Of course, you should get all the important information of a text. Speed is secondary.

That is not to say that you should not read aloud. You should practise in both ways.

Another thing to notice is that there are a lot of material on the Internet to read, but not all of them are grammatically correct. Don't expect native speakers always speak correctly. For English, there are also a lot of non-native speakers making all kinds of mistakes on the Internet. As a result, choosing the right material to read is important.


You should keep listening audios that you can understand as much as possible. When you are familiar enough with the language, you can predict words when hearing the first syllables and incoming words.

For practising listening, you should have enough knowledge of the pronunciation, vocabulary, sentence structure and also reading comprehension. Thus listening should be practised after other practices.

Proper names in the listening material, unless known, should be avoided as much as possible.

When you find somewhere you can't understand and you don't have the transcript, follow these steps:

  1. Slow down the recording
  2. Recognize each syllable
  3. Recognize each word

If you still failed, try some similar phonemes (with different places of articulation and less likely with different manners of articulation), such as [m] for your recognized [n], [t] for your recognized [ʔ]; maybe you have recognized an open syllable as a closed syllable, or reversely; maybe the vowel is not pronounced clearly, then you should try to recall any word with the same consonants before and after it.

If you want to listen to music, be aware that not every song's lyrics are grammatically correct, not every singer's pronunciation is standard.

Irregular rules

There may be irregular rules in a language, which takes much time to be mastered but can be avoided in other languages. This makes learners upset. In fact, when parents are teaching their children, it is also annoying both of them, until the children get used to it. This is indeed a tragedy of the human.

Keep calm and carry on.


You may have got a nice score in an exam, but it doesn't mean that you can wield it as you wish. Many people feel confident until they go abroad. They just don't know how to express instantly and precisely in diverse situations, in real life.

There are people working on learning languages through virtual reality, but for now, enough money is required.

Other Subjects

You may have learned the geography and history of a country, but you still don't totally understand the culture of it.

You will need to learn other subjects like sociology and psychology. After learning these subjects, you will even find that you have a new understanding of your own country.




GrimPixel, Vincent and Marianthi

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