Appendix B: The Core Resources

Further advice on flashcards

Should I use pictures instead of words?

Some people advocate using pictures instead of words to learn. The theory goes that using words interferes with the learning process by anchoring the learner to her native language. Recall that translations should be considered approximations of the true word only. If your chosen translation is understood with this in mind, there is unlikely to be any significant issue caused by using words instead of pictures. In addition, the kinds of words that lend themselves to using pictures such as concrete nouns rarely overlap with different words in a way that is different between languages. Overall, if you like pictures, use them, but there is nothing wrong with using words.

Learning through flashcards

Flashcards with phrases can serve as an effective method of absorbing useful structures. Generally, you will choose a phrase you want to have easy mental access to. This is because it can serve as a kind of mental “island” to reduce cognitive load when speaking or because it sheds light upon the usage of a grammatical construct. These phrases can function as a kind of template in which you swap out words or grammatical markers as necessary.

I recommend making the phrases personally relevant and interesting to you, since you’re going to be finding them anyway.

It is not recommended to build your own phrases unless you are sure it is native-like (i.e. you have made it with a native teacher). Because of that, you will have to either take the sentences from your content or use services that provide sentences. If you are lucky, the language you are learning has a good dictionary that also provides phrases (such as Spanishdict for Spanish learners). Otherwise, you will need to use another service.

Anki also provides pre-made decks which often have sentences. These can work too if you like them and the sentences are relevant and at your level. They can also save you time if you don’t have the time to build your own deck.

Further Advice on Using Content

Input is essential for four main reasons:

  1. Languages are far too complex to be adequately described by any book or course. To be introduced to all the different ways and specific contexts words and forms can be used together, you need to be exposed to a lot of the language.

  2. Input introduces you to new forms and words in context in a way that is interesting, which helps you remember.

  3. Input gives repetition of words and forms that solidifies them in your memory.

  4. Input builds your intuition for the language. This is what happens when certain things can just sound correct or incorrect without you having any explicit understanding of why. Much of your native language knowledge is intuition.

Key tip: Use context to help you learn
When using content, the context you encounter a new word or concept in can provide a useful hint as to its meaning. The situation, surrounding words, topic, and type of resource you’re using all provide hints you can use that let you guess at the meaning of something. Even if you’re not sure, encountering something in context enough will gradually help you understand. At all times avoid trying to learn new words or forms in isolation.

Your level +1 in your content

As I noted, the definition of +1 depends on what you are doing with the content. Here are some examples to help you think about it.

Imagine your listening level is comparatively low. An audio dialogue with all known words would still present a challenge for your ears. Utilising this principle, you would use this resource focusing only on your ability to hear different words. You may also want to do a first pass over a text version of the audio so you know what to expect. Be careful though, you don’t want to listen simply relying on having near-memorised the text.

If you want to finish a long text, you are reading without a dictionary, or you just want to expose yourself to as much of the language as possible without stopping to look up words,  98% known words is closer to the ideal +1 amount. If you are prepared for a careful study session and want to make multiple passes over the same text, 90% is acceptable. If 90% sounds high to you, try this and see what 80% comprehension feels like.

In addition, real word factors such as resource availability often result in the learner using resources that are slightly too difficult. This is okay, but if you understand less than 80% of the vocabulary, you should strongly consider abandoning that resource regardless.

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