As my motivation for language learning surges, I find myself practically stumbling over more useful tools. I’ve recently found an absolutely fantastic essay about language learning on Scribd. It’s both inspirational and full of useful advice.

I’m guessing that the sorts of people who read my blog are already acquainted with Scribd, but here’s a brief explanation for those of you living under a rock- Scribd is the YouTube of documents. You can browse or upload pictures, documents, flash files. Documents can be downloaded as .txt, .pdf, .doc, or even .mp3 voice files. Scribd is packed with everything from pictures of cute animals hugging to sheet music to this slightly less than legal version of O’Reilly’s Learning Python. Like Reddit, Scribd is one of Paul Graham‘s Y Combinator start-ups.

The particular document I read was called How to Learn Any Language. The author, Barry Farber details how he went from knowing being a monolingual English speaker who nearly failed his high school Latin course, to being tested and qualified for work in fourteen different languages by the time he joined the army eight years later, in 1952. He talks both about how he did learn them, and about how he would go about learning them if he had to start over from the beginning. The basics of his approach were:

  • The Multiple Track Attack
  • If you want to get in shape, do you pay attention to your nutrition, do cardio-vascular exercise, do strength training, stretching or get quality sleep? No. You do them all. Similarly, language students shouldn’t settle for a single pronged attack.

  • Hidden Moments
  • All throughout the day, we have minutes here and during which we are waiting for something. Use that time.

  • Harry Lorayne’s Magic Memory Aid
  • This is actually a very old memory association trick that goes back to at least Roman times in one form or another.

Barry Farber: How to Learn Any Language Quickly, Easily, Inexpensively, Enjoyably and On Your Own

It was a long read, but it was worth it.

Update: Sebastian has already put some ideas from the article into use.