If many learners fail in learning a language, will you fail too?
Have you ever wondered how to start learning a new language? Or was your experience that you were motivated to learn a new language, you started learning it, but then you gave up quickly because you did not know how or did not see results? Or even worse, did you feel like you were lacking some special language talent?
Well, let me tell you: you are not alone. Actually about 50% of language learners give up in their first four months. And what is even worse, 80% of the remaining ones never reach conversational fluency in their target language. Staggering, isn’t it?
The main reason why my language learning felt like a waste of time
My name is Mateusz and I am one of the co-founders of Taalhammer — language learning that works. I have been learning foreign languages for over 20 years, and apart from my native language Polish, I have managed to learn English, German, Dutch and Italian. All eventually with quite some success. But it took a lot of time and it was never easy for me. Every time I was learning a language it felt like I was wasting my time.
- the content (i.e. the ‘what’) I was learning was hardly relevant for what I was trying to say, as it covered topics that I was not interested in. The lessons were about going to a restaurant or talking about art. But I do not eat out! And I just don’t care about art — I have nothing to say about it.
- the methodology (i.e. the ‘how’) I was using was not really efficient. How difficult is matching a picture with a word, a moment after you have seen the translation of the word? How challenging is putting the words in a sentence in order? Not challenging at all …
In other words, I was learning the wrong things in the wrong way!
Why learning the wrong things (and in a wrong way) is a problem?
Let me tell you a short story to illustrate why this is a problem. A few years ago I was going on holiday to Mexico, and before going there I spent three months learning Spanish with Duolingo as preparation.
Then, while travelling in Mexico, I ended up in a minibus full of Mexicans going from Tulum to Playa del Carmen. And I really wanted to say something to someone, just for the human connection. But unfortunately the only thing that came to my mind was “Yo como pollo con arroz” ( “I eat chicken with rice”, a very typical Duolingo sentence).
I had never had a conversation in Spanish with anyone before, so the situation was really stressful for me. Under this circumstance, I really could not find anything else in my memory, except for the sentence mentioned above. And I did say it to the person next to me, greatly amusing not only him but all the passengers in the minibus. Quite entertaining, isn’t it? But also embarrassing — you have to admit it is not really what you would expect from learning a language for a few months.
What is different about Taalhammer compared to other language apps?
Taalhammer is the answer to all those frustrations that we go through using other tools or visiting language courses. In Taalhammer we focus on:
(1) a highly personalized curriculum — through interaction with our application you are building your own language course with things that you really need or want to speak about.
(2) development of native-like reflexes — through focusing on fundamentals of the language (i.e. question, negation, disagreement etc), so you react instinctively without searching through your memory or applying grammatical rules like in mathematical equations.
We achieve that by learning complete sentences (or variations of sentences) rather than words. This has a number of advantages.
First of all, your brain, while memorising, cuts the sentences into fragments, identifies patterns, optimises the memorised data and calculates statistics. This is exactly the same process that took place in our neurons when we acquired our native language. You will be able to speak grammatically without consciously knowing the grammatical rules behind it.
Secondly, learning words in context is not only more memorable, but also it is more useful to learn how words are actually used. Seeing the same word or grammatical item in different contexts will help you innately absorb how it should be used in other sentences as well.
Finally, this also makes sure that you always have something to say, which allows you to have conversations very early in your learning journey — which will in turn improve your motivation to keep going.
My story of how I decided to learn Indonesian with Taalhammer
Back to the current situation. A few weeks ago I decided to go to the island of Bali, in Indonesia. I had got really depressed by staying at home in Europe during the pandemic and I figured out I can work just as well remotely from a tropical island. After a few complications with my visa and five days’ quarantine in Jakarta, I finally arrived in Bali a few days ago. I like it here and hope I will spend several months here!
I have also decided to learn the Indonesian language. Why? Because I like learning foreign languages, and out of respect for the Indonesian people, but predominantly in order to be able to chat with ladies. Who knows, maybe I will find my second and better half here in Bali!
And of course I want to use Taalhammer for this purpose! It is a tool that I have been building with a friend of mine for the last few years of my life. The only problem was that Taalhammer did not support Indonesian out of the box. It supports Dutch, Italian, German and English, but not Indonesian. So something needed to be done.
Because of this, our team has created the first ever core collection for Indonesian for absolute beginners, as I do not speak any Indonesian right now. Two users from our community have already created collections for Indonesian, so I will also use them for support.
How exciting is the beginning of language learning?
The very beginning of learning a new language is the most exciting stage of the whole journey! It is like the first day of a new school, where you meet a new friend, or of a new job, where you meet your colleagues for the first time!
At the beginning, every new word or structure will contribute a lot to my progress. Think about it. I know one phrase in Indonesian, which is “teri makasi” meaning “thank you”. So if I learn 10 new phrases, this is 1000% more phrases! And then with every new structure, I am learning a new way of saying something. I am building my new self, a new person that is able to express thought in a new language.
Talking to people is the best way to put your skills into practice and feel like you’re making progress, which is going to be my motivation. I plan to spend ca. 2–2.5 hours each day — this is the amount of time you need to invest in order to truly learn a language. It is ca. 700–900 hours per year. This is a marathon and I will need very strong motivation to keep going!
Now I will give a very practical demo on how to take the first steps in learning a language using Taalhammer. This will be the absolute first minutes of my learning journey. I am actually excited!
Let’s start learning a new language with Taalhammer — language learning that works!