A New Approach To Language

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

My memory is so bad that I start to lose self confidence. In order to boost my spirit, I decide to learn a new language, but this time I want to do it differently from what I did with English (as a non-native speaker). My English learning process has not been a satisfactory one–remembering vocabulary is boring; grammar exercises cold and rigid; the progress often slow to a crawl despite big efforts. I have to say calling it uninspiring is an understatement; calling it traumatic is not an overstatement.

For the new language, I want to adopt a new learning philosophy: no vocabulary memorization, no grammar practice, no writing exercise. Basically everything I did before with English learning will be abandoned. In its place, I will watch videos, listen to podcast, review websites, and read news. I’ve already started with this new method for two months–so far the new approach has not dampened my spirit or demoralized my mind. So far so good–let’s keep our fingers crossed. I want to continue with it for a year–half an hour each day–and at the end of the one year period, I will do a checkup to see how much I’ve grasped the new language.


a. no vocabulary routine

I know the importance of having a vocab routine every day so that one gets the habit of reviewing new words while trying one’s best to memorize them. This routine is actually rather ineffective. As I have been a foot soldier of English learning all my life, I can testify that most of the words I remember are through reading rather than memorization. I did memorization of English words from the time I was an 8-year-old until I was 23. For the 15 year period, I didn’t remember much at all despite all my big effort. At the end of my 15 year period, I probably had more than 8000 words, and the majority of them, although memorized, were only known on a definition basis and nothing beyond. By the way, after 15 years, I still couldn’t use a real English dictionary and everything was based on translation.

Then I started to pick up reading gradually, and it was this reading process that really helped me gain more vocabulary. And one day (three years into my reading regimen) I was surprised to find that English reading was actually a pleasure–I was either reading Saki or Austen at the time, and the humor really hit me. Ever since then, English has shed its image of being a torture.

The first 15 years of memorization is quite a lot of wasted energy–not much progress to show for it.

b. creative listing

As I know vocabulary is still essential to a language, I’ve designed my own strategy that is called creative listing. I will watch a video of this new language, for example, a beginner Spanish YouTube video on “seeing a doctor”. After the video, I will use a translation software–there are several out there being free and accessible–and list the body parts and various illnesses that I can think of. You type in English or your native language, and the translation software will translate for you. Then you review the list and make a mental comparison of the video you watched and the translation you are reviewing. Later on, I will watch a new video about “seeing a doctor”, and retype in a translation software.

My typing in the translation software can be creative. For example, I can type “the doctor is probably not a specialist” or the “illness is nothing but a complaint” or “the mind rather than the body needs attention.” Just to make the listing process more fun for myself. During the entire process, no forceful memorization, only reviewing, comparing, or typing something that can perk up one’s spirit in order to see the translation results.


No grammar exercise, at least not for the beginning period. I am not saying no grammar at all–I am only saying no grammar exercise. For Spanish, grammar is a big part since one gets confused with all the verb conjugations and the various changing forms of a word. I will only read about grammar from studyspanish.com or view YouTube videos like “The Language Tutor”, but that’s it. I will not do even one grammar exercise. If I am still not clear of the grammar after this, I will watch another video or visit another website since there are plenty of Spanish grammar videos and Spanish grammar websites.

Many videos and websites recommend that you do grammar practice yourself to reinforce what you’ve just learned, but I dislike this method. Some language experts actually say that doing grammar too early in the learning process will gear one’s brain towards thinking of a language through grammar, which is the worst way of learning a language. I experienced that with my own English learning. Even now, when I speak English, I can’t help constructing a sentence through grammar–it is utterly humiliating. Old habits die hard and I just have to live with it.

With Spanish, I want to minimize the grammar into a secondary position and only use it to clarify my confusions when encountering grammatical variations. I will try to rely on the natural internalization of the language and my familiarity with the language to construct a sentence when necessary. My mind should not be trained to think of a language through grammar structures.


I realize that I have more to say about this topic, such as unsuitable learning methods, overrated writing practice, and the myth of total immersion etc. However I don’t have time today and I will try to elaborate on all my learning methods and strategies in later posts.

37 thoughts on “A New Approach To Language

  1. That’s quite interesting. I’m half Chinese but can’t read the words, so a few years back I’ve taken to memorising the top words. I think for Chinese, memorising does have its uses (I don’t think there’s any other way to go about it—you either know the word or you don’t). For alphabet-based languages though, I share your non-preference for memorising. Anyway, I love going through your old posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Stuart. Happy New Year, and what you said resonates with me. Yes, I have a love-hate relationship with memorization–don’t we all–and this ambivalence sometimes can drive me a little crazy. LOL. Life is a mystery and memory is a happy woe.


  2. When I started learning English in my school days, my teacher asked us to forget grammar while speaking, and think of it after achieving fluency. Different are ways, I think. But you have very well brought out this issue in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a wonderful teacher you had. You are so luck, unlike me and millions of other Asians who had to go through the ridiculous rigor of grammar drill. I was almost a grammar robot for more than 15 years. Can you believe that?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You have to see what’s right for you. There is no conventional method. Vocabulary must be put into effective use. Practice makes perfect. I have experience. There’s no beating reading, writing, and speaking. Good luck! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You just inspired me to write a new post about “what’s right for you”. It is so true. Language learning is so different from one person to the next that there’s no one size fitting all. Unfortunately people like me don’t know that until it is too late. Hahaha. This is life.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You know, you are teaching me to look at language learning in a different way! Ditch the grammar, watch specific videos about everyday things, excellent! I know only English but tried to pick up my schoolboy French a while ago (I’m now in my 70s) online but I found it very frustrating. Your approach sounds amazing. I wish I did speak another language, perhaps Gaelic, as I live on the island of Ireland, but for now, I might be better off learning sign language as my hearing diminishes with age! What a joy to read your post this morning! 💐🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ashley. Yes, pick up a new language and I highly recommend it. And no grammar, no vocabulary. Just watch videos and do a creative listing on one of your favorite translation software. It is very refreshing and your brain will feel rejuvenated–my brain feels that way after I started two months ago.
      Never know “Gaelic” and wonder how it sounds like. Must be something very interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our used to force us to recall Hindi pronunciation of English words. Your post gives right direction to learning languages.

        Comments on this post are inspiring. And I have restarted English and German classes on Duolingo.😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sooo sooo glad you got it right! Whatever we’re taught at school in language classes is next to useless because we don’t learn the vocabulary needed to hold up daily conversations, but rather random words that won’t benefit you at all. What’s the point of learning words like “Buffalo, pig, pigtails, skirt,” etc.. when you hardly use them in daily conversations? I’ve been learning German for over a year now through Duolingo and I can attest that listening to native speakers is the best way to grasp any language.
    I don’t know why you seem to feel rather insecure about your English. It is impeccable! Can’t say about spoken English, anxiety, etc.. Ofcourse, but your written English is great! All the very best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Sam, you are soooooo right about it. The school’s language classes are almost like a little peanut when compared with the big watermelon like problem of learning and using English as a tool in one’s daily work. And what an ineffective and dogmatic peanut it is. All the irrelevant words and forced memorization. Language education is probably the worst kind of education a school can offer. Completely off the mark.
      Hahaha. I have a love hate relationship with English. I think most of my insecurity comes from the fact that I have an accent and I won’t be able to respond in way a typical American can to a conversation–I mean with a combination of self effacing humor and good-natured assertion of one’s own idea. There are those things that I know I can never reach. However I know I have other strong points that I can explore… Thanks again for your positive energy. Your wonderful personality and beautiful comments. I am always delighted to hear from you. You made my day.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ‘Forceful memorization’ is not fun at all! And yes less productive than simply reading more. Even in my experience it was the reading of books a-plenty that embedded words into my vocabulary, which just surface now and then when required. And sometimes not! But agree with you that whatever one is learning, language or other, should be fun and not a chore

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Totally agree with you. It’s the reading that has finally made English bearable to me. And yes, many of those not-fun methods are not even effective in addition to being a torture and a bore. I spent a lot of time on those rigorous approaches, only to realize later on that that the entire methodology and philosophy are wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m glad you got some time to write down some things about learning a new language. I was looking forward to reading about this topic and I’m looking forward to reading more in the future. I avoided grammar for a little bit as well when I first started learning German because it’s what I’m worst at. I wanted to learn new words first and be comfortable with the vocabulary before I learn the grammar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you are right. Avoid grammar as much as you can so that you learn the language in a more natural way. Grammar drill will only make a language lifeless. Be comfortable with the language first and one can even read before knowing grammar–although there will be a bit of confusion coming up from time to time. Given the killjoy reputation of the grammar, the farther away from it, the better.

      Liked by 1 person

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