In an earlier post about the first steps one should take when starting a new language I mentioned my method of classifying tools into something I like to refer to as primary and secondary language learning strategies.
Any language learner who is serious about pursuing their language goals – be they long term or shorter term – needs to pay attention to both of these, and neglect neither over the course of their studies.
So what are primary and secondary tools? I’ve outlined for you the differences between the two and given several examples of each.
As the name suggests, these are your mainsails, your heavy warhorses; your linguistic battering ram.
A primary resource is going to be the central program or method you use during your language project – or a part of it – and tends to encompass a variety of language facets.
A good primary method usually includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing instruction and practice all wrapped up into one.
Some examples of primary language learning strategies could be complete language classes such as those taught at a school or university, a dedicated private tutor or regular video chat sessions with a native speaker or highly advanced fellow learner.
Primary resources can also be things such as a larger, more inclusive software program or audio course such as Rosetta Stone, The Pimsleur Approach or Rocket Languages. While none of these programs are perfect – some even less than others – they do at least have one thing in common: they touch on multiple aspects of language learning in a way that is both productive and relatively linear.
Choosing a primary method
While you are no means required to use only one primary method, picking one to begin with is a good place to start.
If you’re currently taking or soon plan to be taking academic language classes either at a high school, collegiate level or other formal classroom style sessions those will certainly suffice. Most of us, however, are not so fortunate.
Language classes are either unpopular or out of reach for many of us, but that’s really not a problem either. Private tutoring is available online (or sometimes in person) for relatively little or sometimes nothing at all. Some would argue that private tutoring is the better bet anyway.
Language exchange between two learners is a fantastic secondary method that I’ll get to later. Personally, in the absence of regular tutoring or classroom time I would recommend The Pimsleur Approach to most new learners. Despite my first impression of the program I find that it forms a solid core for a good three month period (around the length of a semester’s worth of classes) and is easily supplemented with as many other methods as desired. It doesn’t offer much by way of reading or writing, so supplements in that area will be required, but they are, luckily, not hard to find.
It’s important to remember that you are by no means stuck using only one primary strategy, in fact using more might be beneficial, but unlike secondary strategies these tools will carry most of your learning weight and offer the bulk of your day to day routines.
Secondary methods are my personal favorites. These tools encompass, well, everything else. Every mobile app, website and all of your flash cards, radio channels, movies, music and more.
While I just finished saying you can use as many primary methods as you like, you really should use as many secondary methods as you can. This is where the diversification of your language project comes in and in my opinion this is one of the most important aspects of your success.
You can read all about diversifying your language routines and the benefits in this article that I wrote a while back.
My personal favorites – tools anyone familiar with this blog can probably guess by now – include Memrise, Duolingo, and Lingua.ly. Season to taste with one or more language learning social networks such as Colango, Linqapp or Parleremo and you’re going to have a hard time going wrong.
You can read more about these tools and programs here.
The important thing to remember about secondary language learning tools is that you cannot really learn a language using any one of these alone. This is an important point to stress because many, if not most, of these products and services claim that you can.
These are supplements, but that doesn’t make them weak or in any way less worthy of your attention than their primary counterparts. Use them for what they are.
They are quite often free, too!
Language exchange – the misfit
As I mentioned before, I include language exchange arrangements (two learners speaking face to face, either in person or online; trading off teaching and learning their native and 2nd languages) to generally qualify as secondary methods. While a highly recommended tool – perhaps more powerful than the others – I classify it thus due to its typically informal nature.
You should absolutely participate in a language exchange! But it’s important to bear in mind that you are most likely not working with a professional teacher under a structured curriculum. Furthermore what really drives this home as a secondary method is that it really only tends to focus on listening and speaking, not reading and writing.
Exceptions exist however, and whether the particular arrangements of your exchange qualify as primary or secondary is for you to decide.
In the end it’s up to you
I like to use this method of tool classification as it helps me write reviews and make suggestions to you; the reader. What really matters though is that you are able to find a system that works for you.
Any standard language learning project is going to have to include listening, speaking (to a person), reading and writing and despite what many of the companies who produce learning tools claim, most of them don’t excel in all four areas, or often offer them at all.
If this is the first time you’ve started working seriously on a 2nd language it is vital that you experiment. Mix and match. Combine more than one primary, sample from a flight of secondaries. Heck, see what happens if you cut out the primary entirely and use only a properly crafted selection of secondaries.
So what do you think?
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