The fastest way to learn a language is to speak it from Day 1

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How do I start using PrettyPolly to learn a language quickly?

1. Select your desired language in the app. The AI will say something similar to “Hi, How are you?” in that language.

2. Toggle your microphone on to speak (you may have to allow it in your browser). If you can, say something back in the language and toggle the microphone back off. If you can’t, click Review Conversation.

3. Using Google Translate translate a phrase that you didn’t understand to your native language. E.g. for French, “Salut, comment ça va,” means “Hi, how are you?”

4. Using Google Translate, translate a phrase that you wanted to say in the desired language, but couldn't. For example, "I'm good, thanks" would be "Ça va bien, merci."

5. Open Anki (read more about Anki below) and create an account (either Anki Web or download the Anki app to your phone). Create a deck. Add a card with the French to English translation of the phrase you didn't understand, and add another card with the English to French translation of the phrase that you wanted to say, but couldn't. Save the whole phrase as a card, not individual words (see why below). Study the cards to memorize them.

6. Start the conversation again. This time, you will be able to add a little more to the conversation than you did last time. On your first day, you may wish to repeat this process a few times to give you some basic phrases.

7. After that, you can learn very quickly by just practicing with one or two conversations with the AI per day (each time storing the phrases you didn’t understand or couldn’t say in Anki). You’ll need to keep up-to-date with your Anki cards to ensure that you memorize the phrases.

You will be surprised at how quickly you’re able to acquire a language with this process. I’ve never had much luck with languages myself, but have had some recent success with this process.

Why is it important to start speaking from Day 1?

There is now a wealth of literature and anecdotal evidence which shows that the fastest way to learn a language is through oral participation [1][2]. There are two reasons that this has been difficult in the past.

The first and most obvious is that if, for example, you live in the US and are learning French, it’s unlikely that you have a French-speaking person who will be willing to practice with you whenever you want.

The second problem is the reticence to speak even when you do. Speaking a new language with a local is uncomfortable for most of us, partly due to our deep-rooted desire not to look foolish in front of others.

Being able to speak with an AI in the desired language allows us to fail regularly without embarrassing ourselves, and it’s a resource that is ever present and endlessly patient while we learn.

References:

[1] Winke, P., Gass, S., & Sydorenko, T. (2013). The effects of captioning videos used for foreign language listening activities. Language Learning & Technology, 17(1), 118-134.

[2] Doughty, C. J., & Long, M. H. (2003). Optimal psycholinguistic environments for distance foreign language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 7(3), 50-80.

Do I need to learn vocabulary?

Yes, but the good news is that you probably need to learn less than you think. If you take the English language as an example, there are over 170,000 words in the Oxford dictionary (and 47,000 that are classed as ‘obsolete’). However, you can understand and speak 90% of everyday conversational English with only 3,000 words.

One mistake that we commonly make when learning vocabulary is to learn word-by-word (e.g. ‘aller’ is ‘to go’ in French). A more efficient way to learn and retain vocabulary is to learn using phrases [3]. We’re better at memorizing words in context, than on their own. As such, we need to learn phrases that we expect people to say to us, and we need to learn phrases that we can use in conversation. Over time, you’ll find that you understand individual words as a byproduct, and, more importantly, that you are able to use them in the correct sentence structure in the desired language.

The best way to memorize anything is with spaced repetition [4]. Academic literature has shown that, once learnt, we tend to forget things fairly quickly unless it is reinforced. Spaced repetition tests you on the vocabulary just before you forget it fully, which then allows you to remember it for longer. The best open-source spaced repetition software is Anki, which is available for download on Mobile devices or for use in the browser (Anki Web).

References:

[3] Nation, I. S. P. (2013). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge University Press.

[4] Pimsleur, P. (1967). A memory schedule. Modern Language Journal, 51(2), 73-75.

Do I need to learn grammar?

This will come as good news to most. You do not need to study grammar to learn to speak a foreign language [5][6]. When a child is learning to speak their native language, we don’t teach them about past participles and auxiliary verbs. They understand these concepts intuitively from listening and speaking. The same is true for acquiring a second language. If you learn vocabulary and practice speaking the language, over time, you will gain an understanding of correct grammar.

References:

Krashen, S. D. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Pergamon Press.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2013). How Languages are Learned. Oxford University Press.

How do I use Anki?

1. Download the Anki mobile app from your respective app store or visit AnkiWeb.net to use the browser version.

2. Create an account by providing the requested information. This will allow your decks to be saved and accessed across different devices.

3. Once you're logged in, you can create a new deck. A deck is like a set of flashcards for a specific topic. Click "Create Deck" and give it a relevant name (e.g., "French Vocabulary").

4. In your new deck, click "Add" to start creating flashcards. You will see two fields: "Front" and "Back". In the "Front" field, write the phrase (you will be shown this and will need to remember the translation of this). In the "Back" field, write the translation. Click "Add" when you're finished with a card.

5. Now that you've created your cards, it's time to study. Go to your deck and click "Study Now". The front of a card will be shown first. Try to recall the translation before clicking "Show Answer". Based on how well you recalled the answer, select "Again", "Good", or "Easy". This will determine when the card is shown to you again. Repeat this process to keep your language vocabulary up-to-date.

Which languages can I learn with PrettyPolly?

You can practice speaking 36 different languages with PrettyPolly:

How can I contact you?

Feel free to email Chris at chris@prettypolly.app with any issues, questions or feedback.