Language Learning: from Beginner to Intermediate

This is part of a longer post about language learning from the section about how to go from knowing nothing to becoming fluent.

Now you have a foundation but still have some work to do to unlock the fun types of practice like understanding native speakers and media. You should try to be listening/reading about 50% of the time and speaking/writing about 50% of the time. If you have no one to talk with, try writing for at least 5 minutes per day to reinforce grammar and vocabulary. I typically focus on one area to improve for a while and then move on to another after that gets boring or if my weakness in one area is slowing me down. Ideally you are splitting your practice time equally among reading, listening, writing, and speaking and especially focusing on producing output being at least half of your hours.

  • Types of practice: Duolingo, 100 common words in Anki flashcards, listening to music/podcasts, reading articles, memorizing phrases, journaling
  • Goals: learn 100 most common words, basic grammar, understand gist of podcast at 0.8x speed, playlist of music you enjoy, begin memorizing interesting phrases
  • Timeframe: 3-6 months

Listening – You need to be able to understand before you can speak, and you need to hear so that you can repeat. Music or podcasts (slowed down to 0.8x or so) are a good place to start. Focus on finding music/podcasts you enjoy and don’t focus so much understanding every word at first. Understand what you can, at least the gist, and instead try to hear where each word stops and the next word begins. This is a huge milestone because you’ll then be able to learn words in context, on the fly. Listening to podcasts at 1.2x, oddly enough, can help with this as an alternative to mix in.

Vocabulary – I try to start with the most common 100 words or so. By this point, I usually get bored by Duolingo’s “the man runs” type of basic sentences so I will venture into reading articles and internet comments about things I am interested in. At this stage, doing so involves looking up a lot of words and I will do just enough to get the gist. Don’t try to memorize every word you don’t know but put the basic or interesting ones (phrases too) in Anki to commit to memory.

Grammar – You might want to familiar with basic present, basic past, and basic future, or at least a single way to express “I did/ have done X,” “I do/am doing X,” and “I will do X”. I do the grammar trick I mentioned in the main post (read articles, find interesting phrases, memorize them with Anki, build your intuition) but I will also read up on grammar rules to be familiar with them intellectually. I will do a Google search for a 100-level and 200-level college course and look at the general outline in a course syllabus. This gives me a rough map of the ground I will need to cover.