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  • 25 tips for language learning

    Posted on March 23rd, 2009 Mairo Vergara 14 comments

    helpful_tips_language_learningI summarized 25 tips for language learning from Teach Yourself a Foreign Language Podcast episode six. I hope you like it!

    1. When first starting out, try to just listen to your target language as much as possible without attempting to speak it. This helps you acquiring an ear for the language.

    2. Develop a deep desire to learn the language. Without a desire you won’t get far.
    3. Use time for you language learning which is ordinarily wasted. Standing on line, waiting for an elevator, etc., are all opportunities not to be missed.

    4. Think in terms of phrases and not individual words. It’s easy to remember a phrase like “a breakfast of bread and butter” than it is to remember each word in isolation.

    5. Use your imagination. Visual images can help you remember words.

    6. Invent stories using as much of your new vocabulary as possible. Any words you can’t think off in your target language use your native language and then look up those words later.

    7. Listen to internet radio broadcasts and podcasts as much as possible.

    8. Likewise, watch videos. (

    9. Utilize the BBC for news broadcast and lessons in your target language. (

    10. Utilize flashcards or small notebooks to review vocabulary words and phrases.

    11. Invent funny or silly mnemonic phrases to help you remember new words or concepts.

    12. Use a bilingual dictionary often, not just to look up specific words, but browse through it.

    13. Draw columns on paper, words in your native language on the right and target language on the left. This allows your eye to easily scan to one column to the next and it helps your brain absorbs that word.

    14. Write a simple children’s book in your target language. Make it silly and utilize simple concepts as though a child was actually going to read the book.

    15. Learn the past tense before learning the present tense, and save the future tense for last.

    16. Practice unfamiliar sounds in your target language in the shower or in the car. Example: the English “th” sound. Say it over and over.

    17. Use computer programs and free online dictionaries. (,,

    18. When reading, read more slowly and deliberately than you do in your target language. Later, as you progress, your speed will increase to normal levels.

    19. Read bilingual books or books in the target language that you are already familiar in your native language.

    20. Read comics and cartons in your target language

    21. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

    22. Read your grammar books.

    23. Think in your target language

    24. Put stickers in everyday life items until you’ve learned their names.

    25. Take an occasional break or a day or two off to let your mind sort out your new vocabulary words.

  • The pros and cons of working as an English teacher

    Posted on March 3rd, 2009 Mairo Vergara 9 comments

    teacher_appleI have been working as an English teacher for about 2 months now. I really like my job. It’s amazing to see how the students are pleased with their progress. Students start with no knowledge whatsoever and in just one month they can follow the English-only classes without many problems. Working with a group, teaching them how to understand and using this strange language is just awesome. I really like the classes and my students. I am working like crazy, learning a lot and doing what I have always wanted to do.

    But of course there are some problems. We are really, REALLY poorly paid. I get paid 6,44 reais (“reais” is the Brazilian currency) per hour (“class hour”, which is 50 minutes). It means I get 12 reais for each class (the classes have duration of an hour and a half). Working 21 hours inside the classroom (plus 10 or more hours preparing classes, correcting tests, and so on) I end up with a salary of 680 reais (around 280 dolars). Just to let you know, a cheap rent here in Brazil is about 550 reais…

    Besides being absolutely poorly paid, another thing bugs me a lot. The school treats the teachers like robots that areinto the students head. It’s all about the money! If there are fewer students in a class, they just move the students to a different class, hindering both the students’ progress and the teachers’ work. It’s funny how the classes/students’ organization is made by non-teachers, who absolutely don’t understand what happens inside a classroom.

    I dream about a school made by teachers for teachers, a place where they care first about the students, second about the teachers and after that about the money. Finally, I understood what people mean by “transforming education in marketing” able to magically insert the English language

  • Revolutionary approach to learning languages!

    Posted on January 28th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 6 comments

    revolutionary-article-on-language-learningKatz just twittered (can use twitter as a verb? “to twitter”) about this great article: Revolutionary approach to language learning. By the way, you can follow me on twitter at

    “Teachers should recognise the importance of extensive aural exposure to a language. One hour a day of studying French text in a classroom is not enough—but an extra hour listening to it on the iPod would make a huge difference,” Dr Sulzberger says.

    This kind of article makes me think that someday in the not-near future, students will receive iPods when enrolling on language courses, play RPG games to improve their reading abilities, use SRSs, and set up blogs in their target language (just like me…).

  • Do language classes work?

    Posted on January 27th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 13 comments

    classroom-does-it-workSome language learner bloggers have been discussing Tim Ferriss “Why language classes don’t work” article. Street-Smart Language Learning, Aspiring Polyglot and Confessions of a Language Addict gave their opinions on the matter, so I think now it’s my turn.

    I recently started teaching English here in Brazil. The school I work for has an 18 months program which aims atin the method, to be responsible for our students and to give shows instead of simple classes. Excessive grammar and translations are not allowed at all. The students should like you, like the class, like the language, and have fun! If you can do it, you’re in, if you can’t, you’re out. The school and its method (fluency in 18 months) are relatively new here. English courses usually take four or more years and aim at “language proficiency”, which I assume is much more than fluency. Without going too deep into my school‘s methodology and its effectiveness, let me throw out this question: Is it possible to achieve basic fluency inside a classroom? fluency. You’re not allowed to use Portuguese inside the classroom, everything should be taught and explained in English. Sometimes it’s really difficult to explain certain words or expressions, but you just have to find a way to do it. At the initial meeting with other teachers and the school manager, we were told to believe

    I would say, yes, you can achieve basic fluency inside a classroom. By basic fluency, I mean being able to understand native English and communicate at least at a daily conversational level. When students come to my school, they are amazed by the idea that in a year and a half they are going to be understanding and speaking English. “Hey dude, in June 2010 I’ll know English! Awesome!” is what mainly motivates them. I partly disagree with Tim Ferris. Classes tend not to work, because students are lazy and teachers neither know how to teach nor how to learn a language. But it does not mean classes can’t work at all. There are many people that have learned languages inside classrooms, so in some way classes must work.

    In order to work, I think some requirements have to be met inside and outside the classroom…

    A good and motivated teacher

    Perhaps that’s why most classes don’t work. A good teacher isn’t easy to find. Universities don’t prepare students to be good teachers. University teachers themselves usually aren’t good teachers. They are good researchers and thinkers. But teaching is a practical, not a theoretical skill. You don’t learn how to teach by reading books or simulating classes. You learn how to teach by teaching real classes over and over again. If classrooms can work, it absolutely requires very very good teachers, who know their subject and know how to teach it properly. Remember AJATT and Outliersto teaching. 10000 hours thing? The same applies

    Good materials

    Good material really can help. However, I think good materials are those materials that the students can use outside the classroom. Inside the classrooms, the focus should be on the teacher. Even though I just started teaching, I often find myself asking the students to close their books and pay attention to me. I want them to look at me, listen to me. I want them to understand what I am trying to say verbally and non-verbally. The good materials are going to be used at home, for self study. Perhaps a combination of motivating/fun classes with a set of very good materials for self-study could work very well!

    Motivated students

    This depends on students and teachers. Every teacher wants motivated students of course. But what to do with the unmotivated ones? Stimulate them! You can’t motivate someone else, since motivation comes from within yourself, but you can stimulate them so that they get motivated. It is easy to blame students for being unmotivated, but teachers should remember that their role is much more than simply throwing their course material at the students and expecting them to learn it. As I said before, teaching is practical and entails many different abilities.

    In conclusion, I believe classrooms can work in the same way that self-study methods can work. At the same time, classrooms will fail for the same reasons that self-study methods will fail. Every one has his own manner of learning, although certain principles are universal. The hard task is to find and apply these principles, be it inside or outside the classroom.

  • Amazing Article – Picture Stories, ALG Concept in ESL

    Posted on January 23rd, 2009 Mairo Vergara 4 comments

    logo-algPerhaps one of the best articles on language learning that I have read in these last months! Antonio Graceffo is a language teacher, writer and martial artist. In this amazing article he discusses how he uses the ALG Concept (Automatic Language Growth) in his teaching. This article is just awesome, it shows how we can in fact change the way we teach, how we can forget this thing about “make the students talk” and start focusing on what’s really important: comprehensible input (OK, I love Krashen!).

    Some quotes from the article:

    So, in a strict ALG classroom, students would listen for around 800 hours before they are permitted to start speaking.

    This is so cool! Listen to almost 1000 hours, after that start speaking. Katz and Steve Kaufmann would go crazy!

    Sadly, EFL, ESL, TESOL and whatever other acronyms you want to use for English language teaching, is a business. If parents knew that their kids weren’t speaking in class, they would pull their students out and send them to another school.

    That’s a reality we have to change. Unfortunately too many TEACHERS still believe it is necessary to speak in order to speak. Listening and reading, and how it can improve your output skills still misunderstood by many people.

    “Just keep them talking!” is a mantra I have often heard from employers. But how can students talk if they have nothing to say? Perhaps the correct mantra should be “Keep them listening.”

    100% agreed. Keep listening and you’re going kick a…

    Check out the following video, and after that read the article! You have to!

  • Language Learning Quotations

    Posted on January 23rd, 2009 Mairo Vergara 2 comments

    quotesOn the right sidebar of this blog there is a quotation by Stu Jay Raj, which says “When I get really stuck into a language though, I eat, drink, sleep, breathe the language“. Lately, I have been saving these cool quotations in a txt file,  now I think it’s time to share it with you guys. Hope like it!

    “Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.” Stephen Krashen

    And the thing, as I have said once or twice before, about a language ? in fact, any advanced skill ? the real key is that you don’t need to get “good” at it; you just need to get “used” to it. It needs to just become a habit, a reflex for you. Let it get inside the muscles of your hands, face and mouth. And it’s the biggest no-brainer ever, because all you have to do is expose yourself. Expose yourself to “language radiation” until you not only get temporary radiation sickness, but actually develop the “cancer” of fluency in a language. Katz

    “Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.” Stephen Krashen
    My dictionary became an extension of my skin, just as my headphones were of my ears. Katz

    “The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.” Stephen Krashen

    “In the real world, conversations with sympathetic native speakers who are willing to help the acquirer understand are very helpful.” Stephen Krashen

    My goal for this blog is to apart from infect some people out there with my enthusiasm for language, take a peek behind the curtain of language, communication, learning, history and political thought to see what’s really going on there behind the scenes when we speak – and even more importantly, when we’re not speaking! Stu Jay Raj

    My grandfather used to tell me “When you’re learning a language, you want to try your best to avoid having speakers of that language complimenting you. If people are complimenting you on how well you’re speaking ‘their’ language, it means that you still haven’t arrived”. Stu Jay Raj

    Perhaps it’s thanks to my grandfather’s advice that I’ve mentioned in other posts of never allowing “words to limit my thoughts ? always think LOUD”. That ‘LOUD’ for me wasn’t just loud colours, but it was anything that would stand out in my mind and have an emotional effect on me.  Stu Jay Raj

    I am interested in what enables a lot of people to learn languages, not in linguistic pedantry. Steve Kaufmann

    If discipline is what it takes to turn dreams into goals into realities, and discipline is remembering what you want, then pretty much all you have to do to get from here to there, is remember what you want. Not remember where you are [this’ll just make you sad], not remember where you’re not [another recipe for sadness], but remember what you want. Katz

    Congratulations, You just graduated the lesson. You are on your way to being a typing legend! My typing program (perhaps this isn’t direct related to language learning, but it’s still so cool)

    Want to get good at reading and writing in any language? Then read more. A lot more. A lot.  Katz

    See you all guys,
    Mairo Vergara

  • Tips on language learning by Laoshu

    Posted on January 14th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 1 comment

    I use to watch many videos about language learning on YouTube. I think it’s a good idea to start posting these videos here so that you can watch all of them in one place (this blog!). Today Laoshu, another polyglot at YouTube give his personal advices on language learning. Hope you like it!

  • Me and the old lady

    Posted on January 13th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 3 comments

    old-ladyYesterday I had one of the most terrific experiences in my life. Let me tell you about it; I guarantee it’s worth your time. On the way to my girlfriend’s house at about 12:30 I randomly met an old lady on the streets. She patiently asked me: “Hey son, could you help me cross the street?”. I of course replied “Yes, sure”. I helped the old lady cross the street and while she was talking I noticed she had a strange accent. Where is she from I wondered. “Are you from Londrina?” (Londrina is the city where I live) I asked her. “No, I’m not from Londrina. I live here but in fact I am from Mozambique, Africa. Oh that was nice I thought. Just after that she said: “I’m an English teacher”. The was REALLY nice I thought again! “Well, I just finished University, I am also an English teacher” I said. When I said this the old lady started talking in Enlgish…

    Ohhh so do you speak English?
    Of course I do!
    … and so on…

    We spent one hour chatting on the middle of the streets. I even took a bus with her to the bus terminal here in Londrina. She told me about how she lost her job (she used to teach English in a church, but they had some problems she winded up without a place to teach), how she was looking for a new place to work, about her husband who was sick, about her sun, which has around my same age, etc. The old lady was 74 years old and she was very, very cool! She reminded me of my grandmother.

    She talked about English and how she liked to teach it. How those modern teaching methods are not good and how she liked the old, more traditional methods. I agree with her, even though I don’t know much about methods. The old methods seem really nice. For example, Prof. Arguelles in his videos talks about how the old Assimil methods are better than the new ones. Nowadays it seems professors want to make the methods so comfortable and easy to follow without caring at all about the effectiveness of it. Words like repetition and memorization cause horror in actual language teachers who want every method to be “inter-socio-communicative”.

    My talk with the old lady made think about how simple language learning and teaching should be. You just learn the words, learn how to say the phrases, and use the grammar as a way to polish, to clean points where you have problems. My girlfriends told me that old people learn, after so many years, to separate necessary from unnecessary things. Maybe this is what we language learners and teachers should try to do. Put aside what is unnecessary and stick to what is truly necessary in our studies.

    I hope I can talk to the old lady again. I’m sure you and I can learn so much with her. She said God put me in her path. I, being a really rational person, personally don’t believe in God. But for those who believe in it, maybe it really exists. I would say God put me in her way in the same way coincidence put her in my way. Just to finish it up, her name was Raquel and her accent was awesome!

  • The 90-day rule – How to learn a language in 90 days

    Posted on January 6th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 9 comments

    90daysHave your ever heard about the 90-Day Rule? Basically it means whatever you are doing right now, today, will affect your life in 90 days. Start working on it today and the results will come 90 days from now. Are you wondering why you still can understand German newspapers or Japanese Anime? If so, ask yourself what were you doing 90 day ago. Were you practicing you German, Japanese, or whatever language you’re learning? Did you practice it from 90 day ago until today, every day? Probably if you did it you must have improved a lot, didn’t you? If you didn’t,  you will most likely realize that you simply don’t understand the German newspaper or the Japanese Anime because you were not working on it, you were doing other “important” things.

    Start working on something, be it language or whatever, and keep working on it for 90 days. I guarantee you the results will come up and you will be amazed of how “easy” it was. In fact, becoming good at something doesn’t require a tremendous amount of effort, it requires regularity, patience and discipline. One can sit down and study Chinese for 4 hours, but can you do these same 4 hours in 15 minutes a day for 16 days? Even though you’re going to spend only 15 minutes a day, it will still take 16 days, which is a lot a time. If you sit down and study for 4 hours straight, it will be just one day and you’re done, it’s over. Unfortunately, we tend to learn more through regularity than through intensity.

    Getting into languages, you can easily learn a good amount of any language (or improve a language you already know) by working on it during 90 days. 90 days isn’t a long amount of time, but also isn’t a short amount time. Devote one hour of your day to learn a language, do it for 90 days and see what comes out of it. Let’s say for example you want to learn Spanish from scratch in 90 days, what you can do?

    You can use Michel Thomas and Pimsleur. Curiously, Pimsleur is divided in 90 lesson, so you can do one lesson a day. Or you can use methods like Assimil and set up a plan to finish it in 90 days. Or you can even just read and listen to content on the Internet. Whatever you do, do it regularly for these 90 days. The results will come for certain. Maybe if you take a difficult language they will not be big results, but they still will be good results. If you take an easy language for you (like Spanish for me) you could end up learning a good amount of the language in just 3 months. One thing I can guarantee, you are going to learn much more than those guys at the language school. Just make sure you are doing it every day, at least one hour a day.

    Take for instance this blog. I set up this blog for two main reasons: 1) to improve my English, 2) to blog (because I like blogging). The first post published dates December 15th, which means I have been working on the blog for less than a month. Let’s see what it will look like and March 15th, 90 days after the first post. Surely it will be better than now, as long as I keep working on it everyday.

    And you, what language do you want to learn? Start working on it today and stick with it for 90 days. After that come here again and tell me the results!

    See you all later!

  • Language Learners Grand Masters – Steve Kaufmann

    Posted on January 4th, 2009 Mairo Vergara 1 comment

    steve-kaufmannThe third Language Learning Grand Master that I bring to you here at The Language Learning Blog is my friend Steve Kaufmann. Kaufmann is another amazing language learner which isn’t a linguistic or an academic. When young, Kaufmann traveled the World, living in France, China, Japan, etc. After learning 10 (or more!) languages, he started working on a project for language learning, which resulted in his great website LingQ. LingQ is a complete system for language learning, where the ideas of Steve Kaufmann can be seen in action. At LingQ you can select texts from a vast library, listen, read and save words and phrases from the texts to further studies. You can also have you writing correct and join discussions with native speakers (although these features aren’t free). Free or not free, LingQ is great and you definitely should take a look at it.

    However, if want to know more about Kaufmann and his ideas on language learning, I suggest you visiting both his blog The Linguist and his YouTube Channel. Although he sometimes seems a bit extremist, I agree with many of his ideas, like for example:

    – language learning should be fun, you have to have interest on what you’re reading/listening to.
    – you learn far more by reading and listening than by speaking and writing
    – perfectionism isn’t good when it comes to language learning
    – grammar and even pronunciation are usually overrated
    Here are two video by Kaufmann: the first is a recent one where he talks about Stephen Krashen. In the second one he talks in different languages, which is very interesting.