Learning to speak multiple languages at a beginner level – is it worth it?

Author: Karol Cyprowski
Translated by: Karolina Koszałkowska

I’ve always compared using a foreign language to a lifelong relationship: you have to care for it in order to maintain it. Keeping up with two or three foreign languages, even at an intermediate level, is already a huge time-consuming commitment that stops you from adding another one to the list. Being able to speak a language is nothing like riding a bike – there are known cases of people forgetting their own mother tongue as a result of not using it daily. This approach may be hard to accept for the so-called polyglots, who struggle to strike a balance between keeping the skills they already have and learning something new. I’ve been there too – I’d start learning Czech, Albanian, Bulgarian, Dutch, Arabic, being able to say a phrase or two – and after a few years it all would just disappear from my mind completely. Today’s article provides the answer to one of our readers’ (or frankly anyone who gets involved in language learning) burning dilemma. The reader writes:

“I simply can’t decide on one specific language to commit to. I’d like to learn the basics of 10, maybe even 15 different languages, get to know each of their cultures, and then call it a day. Maybe I’d go back to them someday, who knows? By saying “the basics”, I mean learning the basic vocabulary, most frequent phrases and elementary grammatical structures.

Being stuck to one or two languages for the rest of my life seems boring and limiting to me. I love to learn anything that’s new and unknown.”

There are some crucial issues to address:

  1. Does it make any sense to learn so many languages only to reach the elementary level? Isn’t that a waste of time?

It depends on what you consider a waste of time – the matter is very subjective here. If you’re not passionate about languages, there is probably nothing more pointless than studying them at a basic level. I’d even say that watching an episode of your favourite soap opera or a Champions League game has more of a practical sense – at least it’s relaxing. But if learning about cultures and languages of the world is something you enjoy doing, definitely go for it, as it could become somewhat of an intellectual pleasure. I wouldn’t call it a waste of time – I think everyone deserves a hobby and a little bit of “me-time”. But I also wouldn’t say it’s something to be praised and looked up to – frankly, learning the basics of your eighth, ninth or tenth language is no different than spending your time running, watching TV, or crocheting.

  1. What are the advantages of it, besides satisfaction?

I’m not going to lie to you – there are almost no practical advantages. Best case scenario, you’re going to impress the monolinguals who never really got to learn any language, and think that “speaking a language” equals knowing a few greetings and salutations. Natives will probably appreciate it too, as it’s always nicer to hear “thank you” said in one’s mother tongue. It varies from country to country though – Russians and Germans won’t probably be too surprised by your basic knowledge of their languages. However, saying “faleminderit” to an Albanian could really change his attitude towards you. And that is basically it.

  1. Is it useful in life? If yes, in what circumstances?

Besides the example given above, the only thing I can think of is being able to read things written in languages that are similar to the ones you already speak. It seems quite possible to master the skill of understanding all languages within the Slavic, German or Romance family in their written form, which can definitely broaden our cultural horizons. It is also worth noting that the reading comprehension doesn’t fade away as quickly as other language skills (e.g. actual communicating), so it takes relatively less time to achieve. However, this will only work if you master a few main languages within a language family at a really decent level. My ability to actively speak Bulgarian is almost none, although it doesn’t stop me from understanding newspaper articles written in that language. The reason is that I already speak very good Serbian, Russian and Polish (my mother tongue) and I have a general Slavic language related knowledge.  If it wasn’t for that, my very basic Bulgarian vocabulary and grammar would be useless for reading.

  1. How would it look in my CV? Would it impress my potential employer?

An employer’s main concern is if you are able to do your work properly and if he’s able to pay you for it. That’s why he’s mostly interested if your ability to speak language X is high enough for your particular job position. It can be easily measured through interviews or language tests which you will most likely fail with only the basic knowledge of a particular language. He or she is not necessarily interested that you have a bunch of certificates in a language that you won’t need for your job. For example: I have recently worked at a call centre where I was hired thanks to my good knowledge of German. Even though I spoke at least 3 languages better than German at the time (which I even happened to use once or twice in my working), I knew it wouldn’t be much of a help in the recruitment process. When I later started recruiting people myself, I didn’t really care if a person speaks anything besides proper German (even though I always appreciate people that have a language hobby or a hobby in general). Truth is, we had to do our job in German, so there’s no chance I would employ someone with a basic knowledge in it, even if he had a basic knowledge in ten other languages. Personally, in my CV I only include languages that I speak at least at an intermediate level (B2). Anything lower would simply be considered useless for the work environment. If you are unable to actually USE a language, why would you even brag about it?

Study languages at your own responsibility

I might have appeared a little harsh on the topic, but don’t get me wrong. I’ve learned from my own experience, that spending time on the languages I don’t really need (French, Ukrainian, Afrikaans, maybe even Serbian) keeps me from developing other, usually far more important skills (both language and non-language related). So if you are like I was six years ago (wanting to speak as many languages as possible), remember that you should really be passionate about it. Otherwise you might feel like you’ve wasted your time (especially if you compare your profit to your loss). If messing around with that many languages makes you truly happy and fulfilled, then go for it! I still think there is nothing more enriching than being able to reach these parts of the cultural world that you wouldn’t be able to access speaking just Polish and English, but in order to really reach them, achieving at least a communicative level (enabling you to process information, watch movies, reading books and listening to the radio) is crucial in my opinion, and that’s what you should focus on.


How to persist in learning?

persistAnyone who has ever started learning a language knows that there is a really great chasm between the desire to do something and bringing it to an end. In many cases reading different motivational texts is not enough. The initial fervor quickly goes out when encountering unforeseen obstacles, and they do not have to be large at all. One tiny little thing can turn upside down the entire study plan. Fortunately, some of these problems can be prevented, and this is exactly what this text will be about. The rest is up to you.

1. Do not force yourself to learn a language

It is true that nowadays knowing foreign languages is a desirable skill. However, you cannot afford to get yourself carried away by trends or promptings of friends. If you do not learn from necessity or because it is a source of direct or indirect pleasure for you, you should simply let go. There is no point in forcing yourself to do something you are not convinced of, when you can devote your leisure time to develop various passions.

2. Do not announce your goal

It is quite widely believed that telling your family and friends about your plan of learning a language will help you achieve that goal. Unfortunately, this is not true and can be even harmful. Language learning is a continuous process in which the limits of fluency are really blurred. It is difficult to objectively assess whether someone has made the expected progress. This can be the cause of unjustified criticism on the part of others, which lowers the motivation for action, or overestimating one’s efforts, with the result that the person stops trying so hard.

Publicly challenging yourself can also end in a different course. It is not uncommon for people from one’s environment not to take such a declaration seriously, to not be concerned about whether someone has actually got cracking. In some cases, this may result in the learner throwing away his or her learning goal completely, feeling insufficient external motivation to continue. In addition, the study of people who have bragged about what they were about to do has shown that it has not helped them, and has even given them the belief that they have done more than they actually did, and due to that their results were worse.

3. Avoid general goals

When learning a language, you cannot suddenly declare that you have learned it. A similar rule applies to reaching the levels of its knowledge – these abstract borders only approximately define  your skills. If you want to measure your progress objectively, you need to set more specific goals instead of general ones, such as going through a chapter or textbook, learning how to order something in a restaurant, memorizing  a list of words, communicating with somebody without having to look into a dictionary or reading a text with a satisfactory understanding, etc. All of these are things achieving of which shows with great accuracy how much you can already do.

4. Plan only as much as necessary

If you think that you are doing it right by planning everything from start to finish, you are unfortunately barking up the wrong tree. Some things are impossible to predict, so the only sensible solution is to limit yourself to write in a notebook (not a computer, mobile or tablet) a plan for one or two days. The complexity of such a list should not be too large. It is best to break the daily study session into small points, each of which can be ticked off after no more than an hour. It helps a lot in focusing on performing a given task and gives you satisfaction when the list for the day is finished.

5. Use time effectively

Studying every day brings the best results. You should assign yourself some more or less fixed time for learning, so that maintaining regularity will become your habit. Moreover, you can also use the time spent when driving a car, bus or train. Your session should consist of no more than 20-minute segments of intensive learning, separated by up to a maximum of 10-minute breaks. You can change its duration according to your taste, as long as you keep a level head and spend a minimum of an hour on it. You do not have to study in one session, because most important is the overall amount of time spent on learning.

6. Set yourself possible goals

Plan on doing just the things that seem to be achievable in the short term. This prevents discouragement caused by waiting too long for visible results. It is also worthwhile to give yourself little challenges in the form of assigning yourself a few percent more than you consider feasible in a given time. If you are successful, it will increase your motivation; and if you fail, you will have no reason to worry, because all the same you have accomplished your basic goal.

7. Isolate yourself from distractions

The modern world is flooding us with a lot of distracting stimuli. The main source of these are people and electronic devices, which together effectively draw us away from language learning. This can be remedied by finding a quiet place, warning others not to disturb us and disabling distracting hardware or even removing it from our field of vision. In situations where we are forced to use them, it is sufficient only to disable or temporarily dispose of digital distractions, for example using browser extensions blocking the most tempting pages (e.g. StayFocusd).

8. Learn right away

Relatively often, when learning a language, a problem occurs with choosing the right materials. Searching for better and better textbooks, courses, or articles on the Internet leads to neglecting real learning. If you do not incorporate immediately the content you found into the to-do list for the day, then gathering a stack of titles and links will be for naught. Besides, just by trying to learn something you can discover the weaknesses of the found materials, the faults of a learning plan or the shortcomings in your knowledge. And from that point, there is a clear way to fixing them and avoiding similar situations in the future with more ease.

The above guidelines help to prevent most problems associated with understanding a foreign language and communicating in it. Generally speaking, it will be enough if you remember to set yourself appropriate goals, make the most of your time, and be serious about learning, then foreign languages will stand open before you.

学外语需要啥啊? // 學外語需要啥啊?


【作者】Karol Cyprowski

【翻译者】Michał Nowacki

原标题 (波兰语):“Co jest potrzebne do nauki?”


#1 动机





阿拉拿外语学起来,假使有得课本高声音文件个说话,就老舒服个。勿然个说话,就也问题勿大勒,因为有得电视机、互联网、电台。用哀能介个媒体有利,因为阿拉听个宁个讲法比常语言一样介快,但是课本呢,演讲者讲得呒没介快个。有得宁可以想错:够用文本材料或者音频材料,就学得到外语勒。 (前几年,吾也想得一样,错勒!)。侬是勿是可以想像侬肯讲英语,不过侬只学读英文书呢?侬是勿是可以想像侬肯用英文写字,但是侬只看电视或者听电台广播呢?搿能介学勿到啥物事个!







【作者】Karol Cyprowski

【翻譯者】Michał Nowacki

原標題 (波蘭語):“Co jest potrzebne do nauki?”


#1 動機





阿拉拿外語學起來,假使有得課本高聲音文件個說話,就老舒服個。勿然個說話,就也問題勿大勒,因為有得電視機、互聯網、電台。用哀能介個媒體有利,因為阿拉聽個寧個講法比常語言一樣介快,但是課本呢,演講者講得嘸沒介快個。有得寧可以想錯:夠用文本材料或者音頻材料,就學得到外語勒。 (前幾年,吾也想得一樣,錯勒!)。儂是勿是可以想像儂肯講英語,不過儂只學讀英文書呢?儂是勿是可以想像儂肯用英文寫字,但是儂只看電視或者聽電台廣播呢?搿能介學勿到啥物事個!






One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – a book review

Do you know the feeling when you finish a book and then it stays In your head for a very long time? The answer is probably positive. The book that literally changed my life is “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” by Ken Kesey. If you don’t read it, you may have seen the movie based on this story with the same title with a brilliant role of Jack Nicholson. You may see his speech while receiving the Oscar – click here. No more digressions, let’s start!

In 1962 Ken Kesey published his first book and thereby changed the history of an American novel. The book has been included on the list “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005” published by Time Magazine. It was also adapted as a play in 1963 by Dale Wasserman.

The story is set in a psychiatric hospital with the narration of Chief Bromden who has been a patient for ten years. He wants bo invisible so he presents himself as deaf and mute. He tells the story of a normal routine on the ward that changes with Randle McMuprhy. The rebellous man decides to fake insanity to avoid a prison work farm. Unaware of the rules of Nurse Ratched he thinks that can spend his time mainly gambling with patients. Chief describes exactly what happens when two different characters meet. McMurphy understands very well that every single move against Nurse Rachted Is a sign of rebellion, not only for him, but also for the others. At the very beginning patients are afraid of loosing their daily routine, but then, Randle shows them that he is not afraid of being sent to the Disturbed Ward. He does whatever he can just to upset Big Nurse. She knows that patients should obey the rules. This is the main rule. What to do with somebody who doesn’t cooperate and ruins her work? The rest of patients seem to be normal. They are aware that they need to well behave. If they don’t there are many different ways to make them obedient like shock therapy. Big Nurse realizes that McMurphy rebels against her iron fist by having no use for her. He is different. He doesn’t follow the rules. What’s more, other patients treat their encounters as a kind of entertainment and that’s something she can’t stand.

I don’t want to reveal all mains events in the story so that you can read the book and see what happens on the last page. The story seems to be simple, one man spends some time in a mental hospital and tries to deal with the daily routine. This is just a surface. Ken Kesey’s novel is full of symbols. That’s what I really love in it – its multi-layers context. Chief sees the whole society as the Combine. He seems that he doesn’t fit so he needs to spend the rest of his life on the ward. But thanks to McMurphy he starts to treat himself as an individual. After Nurse Ratched’s therapy he can’t be cured, but after spending time with McMurphy Chief regains his faith in his humanity. In addition, the image of women presented in the book is extremely sad. We can only take to prostitutes, except for them, women are presented in a very unattractive way as a overpowered and threatening figures.

To read this book is not enough. To truly see what the author meant You need to understand it. To achieve that You need to read carefully the title. Ken Kesey took it from a nursery rhyme:

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest

Have you ever seen the cuckoo’s nest? Well I guess nobody has. Even if you are not an ornithologist you may know that cuckoos don’t build their nests. Their children are raised by other birds. It must be read as an allegory, McMurphy is the one who flew over this nest. He passes the border and does something that seems to be impossible.

The most beautiful thing about this book is the fact that you can read it many times and every single time you can go deeper and deeper. You can spot the power of laughter in the book and than you may focus on the sexuality issue. Every single dialogue is powerful. There are plenty of symbols that you may undertsnad in many different ways – like for instance the white whale on the McMurphy’s boxer shorts. Does it sound to you like Moby Dick?

This novel will stay in your mind for a very long time. It will – trust me. So powerful and up-to-date. The story of our live in a modern society, roles that we need to play and punishments for those who refuse to do it. This novel is also about humanity, our treatment of mentally ill people, and about our fight for our own freedom and our dignity.

Don’t wait – read it. Fly into the Cuckoo’s Nest!

How beliefs affect your life

Much has been written about how beliefs influence our lives. Various companies exploit this by advertising self-affirmation, offering programs to improve motivation and trying to convince us that we cannot live without it. As a matter of fact, however, the truth may be quite different and may even completely undermine the idealistic picture of self-help from the marketplace.

Self-affirmation theory

In 1988, Claude Steel popularized the theory of self-affirmation, which posited that people feel the need to maintain their personal integrity. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves. In the event of a threat to one of these core values whether it be religion, family, work or hobby, people try consciously and unconsciously to diminish the negative feelings. Moreover, the frequently-occurring phenomenon here is a defensive reaction to diminish or make light of the threat; but also consistent with the theory of self-affirmation is to deal with the threat by referring to those spheres of life that we value equally highly and focusing our attention or action on them.  As a result,  self-esteem increases and this allows for a rational approach to the given issue.

Many experiments have been conducted to confirm this theory which in various ways made use of many personal values measured on scales as published in 1960 by Gordon Allport, Phillip Vernon, and Gardner Lindzey. For example, in the experiments of Mark Reed and Lisa Aspinwall (1998), participants were informed of the risk of a particular disease caused by profuse coffee drinking and then they were instructed to think about situations when they were kind to someone. As a result they were able to accommodate the threat. Similar research was undertaken by Peter Harris and Lucy Napper (2005) regarding women who drank too much alcohol.  It was shown that the test subjects after a month continually considered their habit harmful, although their behavior did not change. It could be that the power of the addiction hindered change.

Reduction of anxiety

Aside from studies of the change of beliefs strengthening the ego, research has been done on the reduction of stress.  What is particularly significant according to Amy Arnsten (2009) is that the excess stress interferes with solving problems and weakens creativity.  Also appearing interesting in this context is the experiment of the team of James Cresswell (2005), which asked participants to rank on a scale of importance items that would improve their mood.  Later, when they performed stressful tasks, the level in their blood of cortisol, a stress hormone, was lower than that of the control group.

A group of scientists led by Lisa Legault (2012) applied a slightly different procedure that recorded a reduction of errors made during the task of choosing correct answers.  The results suggest that self-affirmation helps test subjects focus on how they can perform better.  Additionally, according to the research of Creswell (2013), highly stressed individuals who underwent strengthening of their global self-esteem coped better with solving problems, and thus they associated more easily correlated facts and were more creative. This gives hope to pupils and students who have worse outcomes because of nervousness.

The role of self-Esteem

In 1993, Steele and his colleagues found that people who have high self-esteem and therefore feel above average in regard to various aspects of life are better prepared to manage problems, trying to resolve them instead of rationalizing their ignorance. Such people, however, must first recognize their own psychological resources by becoming aware of how important particular values are for them. Experiments carried out under the leadership of Shelley Taylor (2003) and Mark Seer (2004) make it possible to assume that these results can also be linked to the matter of coping with stress.

High self-esteem turned out to be a crucial influence also in the struggle with a threatening stereotype or when a social role was involved that is widely associated with submissiveness.  A good insight into this issue is the observations by the team of Laura Kray, which pointed out that strong preconceptions reduced the competence of women relative to men in the area of important negotiations. However, this effect disappeared if the point of view was presented that a typical feminine characteristic produced an advantage in this situation. Making different assumptions, however, was Sonia King (2015), who with the help of some colleagues managed to improve the negotiating effectiveness of the psychologically weaker party (when buyer and seller were paired up) by directing his or her attention to other important parts of his or her life.

The effectiveness of positive formulas

In the popular understanding of self-affirmation, positive statements about oneself are repeated in the hope of making them come true. Furthermore, both the concept of freedom of acceptance developed by Muzafer Sherif and Carl Howland in 1961 and the theory of self-comparison quoted and confirmed by Donna Eisenstand and Michael Leippe (1994) and William Swann and Daniel Schroeder (1995) say that one cannot accept claims that differ significantly from the picture that one has of oneself, and it is not significant whether it comes from oneself or one’s environment. In addition, according to Mark Zanna (1993), inconsistent statements can even strengthen us in a negative belief.

This view is also confirmed in the research of the team under the leadership of Joanna Wood (2009), which focused on the influence of self-affirmation on people with high and low self-esteem. The participants expressed their belief about the effectiveness of this form of self-help, and the first group declared their frequent use of it. The experiment revealed that the people with low self-esteem did not benefit from the repetition of positive statements, which might have even slightly worsened their mood.  On the other hand, people with a high level of self-esteem benefited only slightly.  This outcome questions the validity of using self-affirmation because it does not help those who truly need it and gives a false impression of usefulness for the others.

With an alternative to traditional self-affirmation came the research team led by Ibrahim Senay (2010), who first ordered the volunteers to think over whether they could solve anagrams and then asked them to do it.  The control group differed only in that they were to think that they would succeed. The results were that the first group finished significantly more problems.  The next two parts of the experiment were to test the effect of writing down short questions (“Will I”) and their components (“I”, “will”), which were to be seen as connected and separate items.  Here better results were obtained, but only if the participants believed that the phrases and words as presented made any sense.  This last procedure, in addition to the exposure to the question “Will I” also involved an assessment of the participants’ motivation to start or maintain regular physical activity.  After that, the volunteers pointed out which of the twelve possible reasons to do it were most convincing for them.  It turned out that the very contact with the question increased the level of self-motivation for the exercises, which suggests that the question is a mediator between the awakening – even unconsciously – of a thought and the desire for action.

How it relates to language learning?

At this stage you should already be aware that many of the above facts can have a direct impact on your learning. However, the validity of applying the results of these experiments to language acquisition is not conclusive, because the very impact of beliefs on the process of acquiring such knowledge and using it in practice has not yet been adequately examined. From what is known so far, we can draw the assumption that self-affirmation consisting in focusing attention on other important life values can be effective in changing habits related to language learning because they convince you that it is not that hard, they improve communication skills in stressful situations where one party seems to have a psychological advantage, they reduce stress and the number of errors you make and they increase creativity and problem-solving skills through overcoming your nervousness, that is they improve the things that are essential when you take aim at mastering a foreign language. When it comes to simple affirmations for learning languages, I would not bother with them; they are likely to help only those who don’t actually need them. And finally, speculation over whether you will do something seems to be a good idea for improving the motivation to do something.

Further reading

  1. Creswell, J. D., Dutcher, J. M., Klein, W. M., Harris, P. R., & Levine, J. M. (2013). Self-affirmation improves problem-solving under stress. PloS one, 8(5), e62593. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062593
  2. Kang, S. K., Galinsky, A. D., Kray, L. J., & Shirako, A. (2015). Power Affects Performance When the Pressure Is On Evidence for Low-Power Threat and High-Power Lift. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin41(5), 726-735. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167215577365
  3. Legault, L., Al-Khindi, T., & Inzlicht, M. (2012). Preserving integrity in the face of performance threat self-affirmation enhances neurophysiological responsiveness to errors. Psychological science, 0956797612448483. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797612448483
  4. Senay, I., Albarracín, & D., Noguchi, K. (2010). Motivating goal-directed behavior through introspective self-talk the role of the interrogative form of simple future tense. Psychological Science21(4), 499-504. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797610364751
  5. Sherman, D. K., Cohen, & G. L. (2006). The psychology of self-defense: Self-affirmation theory. Advances in experimental social psychology38, 183. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0065-2601(06)38004-5
  6. Wood, J. V., Perunovic, W. E., & Lee, J. W. (2009). Positive Self-Statements Power for Some, Peril for Others. Psychological Science20(7), 860-866. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02370.x

语言嘅误会 // 語言嘅誤會

语言嘅误会; (粤语版)



上个礼拜我去咗剧场。我坐到o系张好舒服嘅凳度,仲谂住一阵可以睇好戏添。出舞台剧真系好好睇呀,不过冇办法享受。o系我后面坐咗一对年青男女,佢哋倾得好大声。我好嬲,我差唔多听唔到演员嘅对白。我拧转头。我怒睥住佢哋,佢哋当我透明。最后, 我顶唔顺。我又拧转头。



o系法庭 :

法官: 「陈太,你几大呀?」

陈太: 「法官大人,我廿二岁又几个月啫!」

法官: 「几多个月呀?」

陈太: 「即系一百廿个月之嘛。。。」


波士: 「陈生,你中唔中意啲好多汗嘅女人呀?」

陈生: 「唔中意嘞。」

波士: 「噉你中唔中意饮热啤酒呀?」

陈生: 「都唔中意嘞!」

波士: 「好,噉样我决定咗喇,你冬天先至放假嘞。」




阿仔:「 哦,噉你估呢只狗知道王生系乜嘢人咩?你怕呢只狗可以嬲咗我哋,系唔系?」




上個禮拜我去咗劇場。我坐到喺張好舒服嘅櫈度,重諗住一陣可以睇好戲添。齣舞台劇真係好好睇呀,不過冇辦法享受。喺我後面坐咗一對年青男女,佢哋傾得好大聲。我好嬲,我差唔多聽唔到演員嘅對白。我擰轉頭。我怒睥住佢哋,佢哋當我透明。最後, 我頂唔順。我又擰轉頭。



喺法庭 :

法官: 「陳太,妳幾大呀?」

陳太: 「法官大人,我廿二歳又幾個月啫!」

法官: 「幾多個月呀?」

陳太: 「即係一百廿個月之嘛。。。」


波士: 「陳生,你鐘唔鐘意啲好多汗嘅女人呀?」

陳生: 「唔中意嘞。」

波士: 「噉你鐘唔鐘意飲熱啤酒呀?」

陳生: 「都唔鐘意嘞!」

波士: 「好,噉樣我決定咗喇,你冬天先至放假嘞。」




阿仔:「 哦,噉妳估呢隻狗知道王生係乜嘢人咩?妳怕呢隻狗可以嬲咗我哋,係唔係呀?」


The role of attention in language learning

Scientists have long debated the extent to which attention and conscious effort improve or harm the process of learning a foreign language. This controversy did not lead to a compromise as each side became entrenched in their respective positions, and the only thing that was changed by the passing years was toning down their positions and making some concessions. This article aims to elucidate the complicated situation on the effective mechanisms of language learning.


In 1977. Stephen Krashen put together the observations of previous researchers and created an input hypothesis. It was based on the assumption that the only things required to learn a language are comprehensible spoken or written utterances in the target language that do not greatly exceed the student’s understanding. Krashen believed that it is mostly the absorption of prepared materials similar to the way children learn, and not listening to teacher’s instructions, that leads to mastery of speaking skills. Moreover, in his opinion knowledge of grammar rules does not translate into greater fluency of speaking, but serves only as a tool for conscious checking of its correctness. Until this day, these assumptions continue unchanged.

Every great idea, however, has its opponents. For example Rost (1990) pointed out to Krashen that understanding does not necessarily translate to mastering, because someone can easily guess what something is about but at the same time not know the grammar rules that were used. A similar view was shared by White (1987), who stated that the lack of problems with the interpretation of the meaning does not necessarily contribute to language acquisition. Fuel to the fire was added by Doughty and Williams (1998), who stated that although the dominant view was that a large part of the language can be learned in a natural way, some of its elements can be mastered only with a teacher’s assistance.


One of the main opponents of Krashen was, however, Richard Schmidt, who in 1983 came upon the case of an English learner who was still committing significant errors in spite of a long stay in a foreign language environment. Schmidt concluded that his failure could result from not noticing that he speaks in a different way to his interlocutors. His subsequent experiment with the teaching of Portuguese (1986) confirmed his conviction that frequent contact with a foreign language ceases to be significant when the learner does not notice the constructions that are used. In a similar way, not getting a correction may make it difficult to learn from one’s mistakes. This discovery later became the basis on which the noticing hypothesis has been coined as a response to Krashen’s idea.

Of course, Schmidt could not avoid criticism either. One of the most important was the analysis performed by Truscott (1998) who stated that the mastery of grammar rules may not be possible because of the difficulty associated with the conscious noticing of all these abstract rules in an utterance. And he was talking only about drawing attention to them and not understanding them, because according to Schmidt (1990) drawing conclusions is not a part of the process. Due to these reservations, he moderated his postulates two decades later, recognizing that the concept of conscious learning applies mainly to adults.

However, some positive opinions in support Krashen idea also appeared. For example, Ellis (1995) found that most of the features of the language escape learners’ attention if they are not instructed by a teacher. In addition, in the case of things that have a chance to latch on by themselves students do not cope too well with their subsequent use. On the other hand, Rosa and Leow (2004) showed that the very awareness of the existence of certain elements of a language helps in their later acquisition. Subsequent research by scientists such as Takahashi (2005), and Simard (2009) confirmed the importance of learning methods that improve attention that include consciousness raising, emphasing selected parts of source utterances, high exposure to content, etc.

According to Ellis (1997) consciousness raising consists of explaining specific rules of a language and then ordering students to carry out certain tasks with the source materials, which stimulates them to understand how the rules work in practice. An alternative to this technique, described by VanPatten (2004), is to learn the rules and try to achieve some goal, which requires the use of acquired knowledge. The results of Amiran and Sadegi’s experiment (2012) show that consciousness raising is more effective than traditional teaching of grammar, but in the study of Jafarigohar (2015) it came out worse than performing practical tasks.

In the same experiment, emphasing fragments of texts, e.g. using bolds, turned out to have no impact on generating utterances. Moreover, Lee and Huang’s meta-analysis (2008) suggests that this way of increasing noticing might not be very effective or even completely ineffective when it comes to learning grammar and could also hinder understanding of the content. This calls into question the implementation of solutions focused on text enlarging, underlining, bolding, italicising etc.

Many researchers, such as Lightbown and Spada (1993), have confirmed the effectiveness of exercises in which the emphasis is put on communication, and grammatical explanations are only used from time to time, for example when there is an interruption in speech or a teacher decides to take a closer look at some rule that seems to be needed at that time. According to Fotos (1998), this approach is a response to the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the methods of science in which most attention was paid to grammar. Of significant importance could also be the fact that according to Jean and Simard (2011) rigid learning of rules is considered tedious and demotivating.


However, Krashen did not have to deal only with the supporters of Schmidt’s thesis. The third person who joined the controversy was Merrill Swain. In 1985 she created the output hypothesis, which was kind of a mirror image of Krashen’s claims. It was grew from her observation of participants in a long-term program emphasizing immersion in a foreign language. The results of this study were surprising, because it turned out that although children significantly improved their understanding and pronunciation skills, the level of grammatical competence was far less than the one presented by native speakers. In this respect, they knew only just as much as they needed to cope with normal situations and tests. Based on these findings Swain came to believe that simple contact with a language is not enough to acquire it.

One of the key tenets of the output hypothesis is that the imperfect attempts of communication are essential because they allow people to spot gaps in their knowledge and language skills. On this basis, learners build a picture of what needs to be improved and pick up with greater ease, for example, useful grammatical structures when they come across them in the future. According to Qui and Lapkin (2001), the higher the level of fluency students present, the easier it becomes for them to notice things that need improvement. However, according to Shin (2010) people who know quite a lot also encounter problems with noticing, which may be due to the complexity of the issues that occur at this stage.

Unfortunately up to this point, not enough studies have been performed to fully verify the validity of this hypothesis. The previous findings come mainly from experiments coauthored by Izumi (1999 – 2002), who studied the impact of the production of statements on noticing and obtained ambiguous results. Another attempt was made by Russel (2014), who ordered the subjects to learn the text filled with target structures and then take grammar tests. It turned out that their ability to use the practiced rule improved, although no one had explained to them how it worked.


On the basis of Ünlü’s (2015) words, it can be concluded that a significant number of scientists insist upon maintaining their opposing positions regarding conscious and unconscious language learning. This is particularly visible in Krashen (2013), who does not take into account any significant interaction between the knowledge acquired unconsciously and the one that is learned. The growing amount of research does not help to determine which hypothesis is the right one, because there will always be some counterarguments. Each group may very well be partly right without providing a complete explanation of the process of learning a language. People who are looking for effective prescriptions should then look for insight from the lucky ones who have managed to achieve their language goals, because the dispute among researchers still waits to be resolved.


  1. Ahn, J. I. (2014). Attention, Awareness, and Noticing in SLA: A Methodological Review.MSU Working Papers in Second Language Studies5(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.2001.tb00016.x.
  2. Fotos, S. (1998). Shifting the focus from forms to form in the EFL classroom.ELT Journal,52(4), 301-307. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.4.301.
  3. Godfroid, A., & Schmidtke, J. (2013). What do eye movements tell us about awareness? A triangulation of eye-movement data, verbal reports and vocabulary learning scores.Noticing and second language acquisition: Studies in honor of Richard Schmidt, 183-205.
  4. Jafarigohar, M., Hemmati, F., Soleimani, H., & Jalali, M. (2015). An Investigation of the Role of Explicit and Implicit Instruction in Second Language Acquisition: A Case of English Embedded Question.International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature4(3), 98-108. http://dx.doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.4n.3p.98.
  5. Latifi, M., Ketabi, S., & Mohammadi, E. (2013). The Comprehension Hypothesis Today: An Interview with Stephen Krashen.Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching10(2), 221-233.
  7. Russell, V. (2014). A closer look at the output hypothesis: The effect of pushed output on noticing and inductive learning of the Spanish future tense.Foreign Language Annals47(1), 25-47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/flan.12077.
  8. Schmidt, R. (2012). Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning.Perspectives on individual characteristics and foreign language education6, 27.
  9. Sarkhosh, M., Soleimani, M., & Abdeli, J. (2012). A Closer Look at Noticing Hypothesis and Focus on Form: An Overview.International Journal of Linguistics4(3), 179. http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/ijl.v4i3.2201.
  10. Ünlü, A. (2015). How Alert should I be to Learn a Language? The Noticing Hypothesis and its Implications for Language Teaching.Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences199, 261-267. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.07.515.

点解M字同拿破仑好有渊源呀? // 點解M字同拿破侖好有淵源呀?


《拿破侖———战神》 波兰画家 – Wojciech Kossak


M字母对拿破仑嚟讲好紧要。佢嘅六位元帅嘅姓都系M字开头:Murat、Moncey、 Massena、 Mortier、 Macdonald同埋Marmont,而且佢廿二位将军o个名都系M字母开始添。佢第一场战争o系Montenotte,最后一场o系Mont-Saint-Jean。拿破仑Mollesime, Mondowi, Marengo, 莫斯科, Montmireil同埋 Montereau 都打胜杖。 Mailand系佢嘅第一个虏获嘅城市,莫斯科系最后一个。 响马德里同埋莫斯科嘅战役系拿破仑失败嘅主要原因。拿破仑、 Montholon同埋拿破仑贴身男仆人Marchand一齐前往圣海伦娜岛。 Murath系第一个背叛拿破仑嘅元帅。 Menou响埃及战败。拿破仑同Moreau斗咗好耐,斗得你死我活,,后来Moreau亦背叛拿破仑。拿破仑三位大臣系Mavel、Montalivet同埋Moll。佢嘅第一个管家系Montesquieu。佢最后住o系法国嘅地方系Malmaison。 Maitland骑都尉将拿破仑送去圣海伦娜岛。

以上资料来自一八八零年波兰报纸:《Biesiada literacka》。


《拿破侖———戰神》 波瀾畫家 – Wojciech Kossak


M字母對拿破侖嚟講好緊要。佢嘅六位元帥嘅姓都係M字開頭:Murat、Moncey、 Massena、 Mortier、 Macdonald同埋Marmont,而且佢廿二位將軍嗰名都係M字母開始添。佢第一場戰爭喺Montenotte,最後一場喺Mont-Saint-Jean。拿破侖Mollesime, Mondowi, Marengo, 莫斯科, Montmireil同埋 Montereau 都打勝杖。Mailand係佢嘅第一個虜獲嘅城市,莫斯科係最後一個。响馬德里同埋莫斯科嘅戰役係拿破侖失敗嘅主要原因。拿破侖、 Montholon同埋拿破侖貼身男僕人Marchand一齊前往聖海倫娜島。Murath係第一個背叛拿破侖嘅元帥。Menou响埃及戰敗。拿破侖同Moreau鬥咗好耐,鬥得你死我活,,後來Moreau亦背叛拿破侖。拿破侖三位大臣係Mavel、Montalivet同埋Moll。佢嘅第一個管家係Montesquieu。佢最後住喺法國嘅地方係Malmaison。Maitland騎都尉將拿破侖送去聖海倫娜島。

以上資料來自一八八零年波蘭報紙:《Biesiada literacka》。


The dangers of pen pals and why lang-8.com is an awesome website

lang8You can either study a language all by yourself, or pay someone to guide you and a group of people in this process. Regardless of the chosen form of learning, there always comes an ultimate moment of truth: using the language in its spoken, interactive, social-based form.

The need of achieving this goal becomes even more urgent once you are no longer progressing from having conversations with other students of the same language. While watching movies and TV series outside of the course is certainly going to make the input of the spoken language easier for you, it won’t probably affect your output performance. And until comes a time of perfectly programmed and usable artificial intelligence devices for language learners, you are most likely left with no other choice than finding a living, breathing and thinking conversation mate. The ultimate goal here is to make your spoken performance more authentic and natural sounding, all thanks to interacting with a native speaker.

Once you succeed in finding the right person for this journey, you can even start thinking about setting even more ambitious goals, such as gaining new friendships and expressing your emotions in the target language. If sharing emotions is not necessarily your thing, better keep in mind that being able to communicate and have a verbal impact on someone is often thought to be the main principle of a successful language learning process. You learn to express, to impress, to inform; basically exchange thoughts with another human being (often a representative of a totally different cultural context).

One way or another, you have to set your expectations right. But the main question is – are you even allowed to have them? How do you find a native speaker who’s going to keep in touch with you for longer than one evening?


Needless to say, if it wasn’t for the Internet and the possibilities that it brings, globalisation would probably be a much slower process than it is today. Travelling to distant lands seems to be priceless in terms of meeting new cultures and people that can make us understand them – but as we all know – it can get pricey, as well as energy and time consuming, and most people are simply not able to go around the world – even if that’s what they dream of.

That’s why there’s only one place you have to be – online.

Most people’s first step is to google websites or social networks that are strictly focused on language exchange. Interpals.net is a widely known example of such place.


*NOTE* Everything written underneath is an expression of my own thoughts, opinions and subjective experiences related to Interpals.net.
However, I’ll try my best to point out both dangers and advantages that come with it.

What’s a pen pal? A pen pal is a new friend from another corner of the earth whom you get to know through letters… or online messages and chat”

– taken from interpals.net

I wish it was that simple, but it hardly ever is.

The reality of Interpals can hit you in a few unfortunate ways:

1. Not all users are people you’d find worth talking to. Most of them won’t message you at all, and those who will are often intruders, naggers or people unable to hold a decent conversation. A friendship doesn’t just pop up at the very first try.

2. Even though Interpals is not a dating website, people tend to fall for the same unrealistic expectations, not really regarding romantic relationships as much as just hoping to find a perfect friendship match.

3. The reality of Interpals is somewhat similar to making friends at those summer camps you used to attend when you were a child. Entering a penpal website, you feel almost obliged to start chatting with someone right away, just so that you are not alone. Later on, you may find it quite awkward to continue being around that person till the end of the “camp”.

Luckily, Interpals provides you with a wide range of setting and filtering options, so that you can limit your search to people who are most likely into similar hobbies that you are. But unfortunately…

1. Just the way in which Interpals expects you to make friends is highly unnatural – even for the reality of Internet communication.

2. If you are a native English speaker, your “popularity” considering the cultural exchange will be way higher than other nations. Same goes with each language that is ‘hyped’ enough at the moment – the best match is usually someone Korean or Japanese exchanging their knowledge with someone from an English speaking country.

3. The creators of Interpals.net try to keep the conversations between users within the website’s own inbox. Bringing the conversation outside of the network is discouraged, and people really have to be determined about keeping contact via other channels of communication (facebook, e-mail, phone). If you’d rather keep it casual, good luck with remembering about checking your interpals inbox regularly. I’d forget about it right away.

4. Some guys are there just to hit on gals. Simple as that.

I personally failed there twice. First time, when I send more or less 20 messages to randomly picked Swedes asking them to help me start having simple conversations in their native language. Only one person wrote back, and even though we still wish each other happy birthday on Facebook, we stopped talking after a few (awfully simple and therefore probably tiring for him) conversations.

My second fail wasn’t really my fault – at least not in terms of my poor language skills. Surprisingly, an American guy answered positively to my willingness to discuss the newest album of my favourite rock band. I decided to send him my detailed, 10,000-character review. I still can’t understand why he never replied.


I would rather recommend looking after internet forums of all sorts: the main goal here is to find a foreign community (speaking your target language) but focused on something you are REALLY passionate about. It could be anything: a discussion board for Norwegian anglers, an Italian chat for football lovers, an online network of Czech housewives… and so on). My English would never be so good if it wasn’t for last.fm – a social network for music lovers – and the amazing people I met there.


Absolutely yes. It just takes determination not to be discouraged by trying over and over to find the right person to chat with. But for those who are not quite sure of their abilities it’s probably better to stay within those laid-back and not-so-deep relationships. It takes a lot of stress for a beginner to keep a conversation in their second language – so it’s better to do it as anonymously and casually as possible.


Saving the best for last, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favourite language websites which perfectly combines two absolutely crucial features: educational and social. Welcome to lang-8.com, where you can become a teacher, a corrector, a reviewer, a discussion partner – and lastly, but not leastly – a friend.

Lang-8.com is based on a selfless act of language help – first you set up a completely free account to gain an opportunity to post journal entries in whatever language you want to learn. Then you wait for a correction (or a few corrections) made by a native speaker (or speakers) of your target language. Meanwhile, you can return the favour to someone else – there is always a hobbyist that wants to improve their writing, no matter if it’s in English, Catalan, Finnish, Hindi or Korean. You are also able to share your interests, which is the best possible way to grab someone’s attention for a (possibly) long-term comments/letters/PMs or e-mails exchange. Whoever dreams about being a teacher of some sort, will find loads of joy and pleasure in correcting other people’s texts, explaining them either grammar or vocabulary issues they should work on. While this is obviously not a professional kind of tutoring (unless that is your real life occupation), most of the advice and tips given by lang-8 users look professional and reliable.

Lang-8, in comparison to Interpals, has also provided me with much more interesting conversation partners, both English and Swedish speaking. Not sure what exactly is the case here – maybe the corrected entries themselves are interesting enough to be a good conversation starter – depending on what you write them about, of course.

What are the real chances of having our journal entry corrected by others? Are some languages more popular, or certain nations more helpful?

It may sound surprising, but there are a lot of people keen on actively learning Polish. These are mostly East Slavic nations, as well as… the Japanese! People from the far East seem to obsessively love Chopin and present quite an impressive attitude. Poles, obviously charmed by all of this, are super helpful with correcting entries written in their mother tongue. Being personally interested in Swedish, I seem to have it a little bit more tough, but still manageable. It usually takes around 24h to receive feedback on my writing from native Swedes.

To sum up: lang-8 seems to be the easiest and fastest way to reach foreigners that are enthusiastic enough to help you with learning their native language. It’s a community based on people passionate about spreading and sharing their cultural heritage; open-minded and patient towards everyone. My suggestion is not only to use lang-8, but also any other website that meets your expectations. It’s good to follow people’s recommendations, as long as it results in your own noticeable progress that you can be proud of.