I’ve just finished reading The Word Brain by Bernd Sebastian Kamps. Its tagline is A Short Guide to Fast Language Learning. Initial caps aside, it’s a 70-page document that covers (with a single chapter each) Kamps’s advice on words, listening, reading, teachers, speaking, memory, and nailing. The latter is a term he uses to better encompass the concept of learning a word by heart.
Kamps’s methods are not for the faint of heart, and he mentions this right at the beginning of the book. He presents the total number of hours you are likely to need to reach a competent language level (being able to at least follow along with newspapers and TV news), and drums in the fact that you will need multiple hours of study multiple times a week to make good progress. I agree with this (even though it’s not always possible for people to commit this amount of time).
He puts the different skills into a logical recommended order – listening, reading, then speaking. The kicker is that Kamps suggests not attempting to speak at all until a few months into the language learning process. His reasoning behind this is sound – receiving more input first will invariably improve your understanding, accent, and pronunciation – but I can’t help but feel that this would be a nearly impossible task for a regular person. I’m not sure what he would suggest for those of us who are somewhere in the middle of our language learning process.
The book contains some useful information about spaced repetition, a good introduction to the way the brain stores information, and some very good comparisons between the way children and adults learn language. He also debunks the myth that children are better language learners than adults (and I should add that it is with hindsight that most adults think that language learning was easy when they were children). One piece of new information for me is that if you push any new information into your brain after studying (including spending time on your favourite social network), it will decrease the likelihood that you will remember what you studied later. So, after studying, do something relaxing instead.
According to Kamps, the ideal situation for a language learner would be to be young, have a lot of time, be living in a foreign language immersion situation, and to have a speaker of the language as a lover. Now, most of us will never be in this situation (sadly), but all it means is that the learning will take more time and perhaps more dedication. This book contains a lot of interesting information and suggestions, and I’d like to hear what advice you will take away from it. Let me know in the comments!
Download the full e-book, short version, and mp3 at The Word Brain.