5 Language Learning Tips for 2014

Happy 2014! It’s that time of year when lots of people are thinking about seriously tackling a language again.

I was referred by a friend to this YouTube video: 5 techniques to speak any language, by polyglot Sid Efromovich.

Lists like this always feel a bit arbitrary to me, because while they’re almost always good recommendations, you’re always leaving some good stuff out for the sake of brevity or sticking to that succinct number.

Here are Sid’s 5 tips, and some articles of my own that complement them nicely:

  1. Make Mistakes. I wrote a post on the importance of making mistakes called Tone Purgatory and Accent Exorcism.
  2. Scrap the Foreign Alphabet. This advice seems a bit strange, coming from a language lover. Really what his point boils down, to, though, is not reading a foreign language through the filter of your native tongue. When it comes to Chinese, it means learning pinyin ASAP (and really learning it). Check out the Sinosplice Chinese Pronunciation Guide, the free AllSet Learning Pinyin iPad app, and also X is the Unknown.
  3. Find a Stickler. Although I spend a ton of time on “how to best be a stickler” with the AllSet Learning teachers, I don’t have much on Sinosplice that corresponds exactly to what Sid talks about. Here are two sorta related ones: Animals as Language Partners, and Recasting in Language Learning.
  4. Have Shower Conversations. Ah, talking to yourself… and you don’t even have to do it in the shower! My take: Talking to Oneself Productively, later followed by Thinking to Oneself Productively.
  5. Use the Buddy Formula. Sid specifically refers to “Best Language in Common,” which is an important point in one of my most popular posts: Language Power Struggles. I also like his reference to “Best Secret Language in Common.”

Remember, there are a million ways to learn a language right. The key, in the short-term, is to just get started, and for the mid- to long-term, to enjoy it. Why not do it in 2014?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. His Greek pronunciation is spot on.

    With the issue of stickler in relation to correction, what I found best is that a native speaker isolates a problem. They write it down while the student is producing freely without telling the student. Only afterwards they give the list to the student so they can work on the problems together.

    Correction is a big issue for all foreigners who learn Chinese. There are many variables that come into play. They can extend from cultural to sheer laziness – or even a lack of belief that a student can learn the language to a competent level. But to be fair, if a native speaker gets the message of anybody speaking their language as a foreign language, they tend not to correct. They hear messages, not words. Maybe the best stickler is a person who has your target language as a foreign language too.

    With Chinese, one can only wonder how much correction is required as opposed to production in communication. For the beginning stages – which means a number of weeks (maybe 8 weeks) – a student should only focus on the sounds and tones of Chinese. The stickler – or teacher – is very strict at this stage. The student should understand that if they get the tone wrong, they get the word wrong. Also they should understand that eventually he/she will be communicating in the language – so be patient. The focus should only be on tones and sounds. Sure enough, get them wrong and build the data base as Sid recommends. But the student will require a lot of correction, some of which they can do on their own. A student should become so familiar with the tones of Mandarin Chinese before they attempt any form of communication – or shower conversations – to the extent they can distinguish the tones in isolation as well as produce them. This is not about perfection, but about the ease of communication. In Mandarin Chinese, if pronunciation is better refined at the very beginning the better off the student will be in the long term. After a certain level of competence has been demonstrated, a student can go ahead and have all the shower conversations they want.

  2. Funnily enough, Kevin Rudd (former Prime Minister of Australia and a Mandarin speaker) also suggested the shower to me as a way to improve my Mandarin[1], although I’m still trying to work out if it was a serious suggestion!

    1. http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1lbe0s/i_am_kevin_rudd_the_prime_minister_of_australia/cbxjkpi
  3. […] about this quite yet. So, if you’re feeling ready to study the hell out of Chinese?  Here are 5 language learning tips, for you to get even more […]

  4. Even though this article is 6 years old, the tips are still relevant! I am sure that this has helped many people learn new languages. I hope that you will continue to publish this type of content.

Leave a Reply