First off, I apologise for the lack of posting in the last month or so. The reason is that I’ve had exams for my Portuguese course so I’ve had my head in books revising and spending hours talking to myself in Portuguese to prepare for the oral exam! Now that I have only one exam left, I have time to breathe and time to write. I have no idea how I will do in the exams. [update - I'm proud to say I received a top Grade A :-)]
Usually in schools, children study for about 3 years before they do a GSCE in a foreign language. Really I’ve only had one and a half years of ‘proper’ studying and a year of floundering trying to figure out how to learn. That said, the first two exams were easier than anticipated – probably courtesy of listening to a lot of Portuguese radio (Antenna 3)!
Anyway, this brings me nicely to LingQ; a site I discovered at the beginning of the year. You could say Steve Kaufmann is passionate about languages – he speaks 9 of them fluently - Yes 9! However, what is even more fascinating about Steve is that he has a profound belief that anyone can learn to speak a foreign language fluently, no matter what age you are. Discovering Steve’s website was like a breath of fresh air for me as he flies in the face of a lot of conventional beliefs. If you are over 25 and discouraged by constantly hearing “You can only learn a second language properly as a child” or “You’ll never learn it unless you go and live there” then please visit LingQ and I assure you you’ll feel a lot better!
Take grammar for example. I reckon just about everything you’ve ever read about learning languages starts with ‘read at least one good grammar book’, study verbs, learn conjugation, figure out what on earth pluperfect means. I can certainly remember reciting conjugations in Latin at school (yes we did Latin for a while because of an eccentric headmaster) and whilst I have been studying for my GCSE I have also quietly recited Portuguese conjugations to myself in an effort to learn them.
Personally I do actually like grammar and I enjoy reading how the language works. However the huge amount of rules and their exceptions can be overwhelming, not to mention the linguistic terminology.
The LingQ approach runs contrary to this. You won’t find lists of irregular verbs anywhere on the site and in fact you will rarely find anything translated. Steve Kaufman has found that he learns best when he devotes himself to reading and listening to texts that he really enjoys the sound of or on subjects that interest him. He spends several months listening repeatedly to natural speech on topics of interest and simultaneously reading transcripts of these. During this process he builds up an internal picture of how the language sounds and works.
On the LingQ website you will find a huge variety of podcasts and their transcripts in Portuguese (as well as other languages). The podcasts are spoken by native speakers (both from Brazil and Portugal) who chat about places they’ve visited, language learning, where they live and so on. As you read the accompanying transcript, you can look up words in the dictionary that you don’t understand. Gradually you begin to realise that certain words appear over and over again and before you know it, you know it! As you highlight words you don’t understand, you can create sets of flashcards as well.
In a way, LingQ mimicks the way a child learns – by listening and then copying. I recently dug out an old diary from when I was 7 years old and was delighted to find there was once a time when I didn’t understand English tenses! It’s so easy to forget that there was a time when we didn’t know our own mother tongue. As children, we copy the speech of those around us, we try out the rules and sometimes get them wrong (such as “I didded it! instead of “I did it”). But these attempts show that we are starting to pick up on the rules like verbs in the English past tense often have -ed at the end.
When learning a foreign language, the spoken word is both a joy and a terror: those first tenuous stumbling syllables, the look of incomprehension on your listener’s face, the blushing and frantic gesturing as words fail you. Or the tentative phrases that bring you joy as you are understood, moments of clarity, pride as you show off to your friends that you understand ‘the lingo’ (until the waiter gives you a withering look and speaks so rapidly that even someone from their own country couldn’t follow it).
I love speaking in Portuguese. In European Portuguese, people often comment on how they ‘swallow’ some of the sounds – particularly the letter o. To me, Portuguese is a tasty language, one that I want to wrap my tongue around and savour. For me, speaking in Portuguese is akin to eating home-made cheesecake. I have reached a point now where I can comfortably tell you about my life, my last holiday, my job and what I would like to eat but at times I still find myself sometimes translating in my head and feeling my speech is slow and cumbersome. But for all that, I have little fear of trying and will get my point across even if it ends up being pigeon-Portuguese! Getting away from translating in my head is one of my primary objects now.
LingQ advocates a period of silence before trying to speak in your target language. Steve believes that by repeated listening, you build up the patterns in your mind and eventually this makes it easier to talk. He doesn’t put it exactly like this, but that’s my understanding of his method. Whilst I tended to listen a lot to the radio when I first started learning Portuguese, I certainly noticed words and phrases that were repeated and having heard them so often, I found myself easily able to say them.
I decided to take a GCSE course because I wanted to gain some structure to my learning and speak with a native speaker. It has of course been extremely useful to to be able to ask how to pronounce a certain word and have my pronunciation corrected. Our teacher has been fantastic and it’s been great to meet like-minds but sometimes I have felt overwhelmed with the sheer amount there is to learn and frustrated with what seems so little time to learn it in. Then there’s the trick questions set by dusty examination boards and the 3000 words to learn which seem to contain words that I’ll probably never use in English never mind Portuguese. Had I not been quite so obsessed with the language, there are times when the conventional path could have taken the shine off things.
Perhaps if LingQ had been around when I first started learning, I think I would have been a lot further ahead than where I am now. However, I can’t complain because now I have discovered it I feel as though I will learn a lot more with greater speed and efficiency.
LingQ is free to use although there are paid options as well. Aside from all the podcasts and transcripts, there is also Steve’s book on the LingQ method which is a free download plus the option to have one to one chats with tutors (or groups chats). You can also submit writing to be marked by a tutor. Chats and writing submission need to be paid for but prices are very reasonable and on a points basis. This means you aren’t forced into a monthly suscription but can pick and choose what you pay for. I would definately recommend Steve’s book as it charts his journey through language learning. The book is available in Portuguese. I have chosen to read that one and only refer to the English version if I am completely stuck!
Once you have joined up, your first page is your workstation where you can see how many words you’ve learned and read and how much time you’ve spent listening. These are accompanied by targets according to your level. They are great as incentives to learn and a useful benchmark. If you want to talk to other members there’s a well used forum as well.
LingQ is a fascinating method that I believe is suitable for everyone learning Portuguese (and of course other languages as well). I strongly encourage you to take a look. I would also advise watching Steve’s videos about language learning on YouTube as well. I found it fascinating just watching him do his introductions in all of the languages he knows – inspiring stuff!. Lastly he has a brilliant blog with tons of articles on language learning which will keep you enthralled for hours.
I have never had any doubt in my mind that I will one day speak Portuguese fluently although I don’t know when that time will come. But what I am also sure of is that the LingQ method has brought that time much closer.