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1A: Language Basics

The purpose of Stage 1 is to create a foundation for comprehension so that you can learn directly from target language (TL) content in Stage 2.

As described in Stage 0: Activities Explained, active study helps you build this foundation much faster than immersion alone.

There are four parts to active study:

  1. Phonetics
  2. Writing system
  3. Vocabulary
  4. Basic grammar

Phonetics

Each language has a unique set of sounds that are different from other languages. There are sounds in your TL that aren't shared with your native language (NL).

When you first start learning, you won't be able to hear many of these sounds. Your brain literally cannot make sense of them and you will hear them differently from how they actually sound.

The ability to hear these sounds comes from hundreds of hours of listening practice. You can speed up this process by learning about the phonetics of your TL.

To learn the phonetics of your TL, search online for YouTube videos or blogs that explain the sounds and also provide listening examples.

Don’t practice pronunciation until you can accurately hear the phonetics of the language. If you do, you may get a bad accent that will be hard to undo later.

Writing System

To accurately learn words, you need to read them in the language they were written in. If your TL uses a phonetic writing system, then learn the characters and connect the symbols to the sounds you learned about in your phonetics study.

Chinese and Japanese have character sets that represent meaning. If you are studying one of these languages, you will need to start learning these characters.

Each language has different tools for learning the writing system. Join the Refold community to find the best learning resources for your language.

Don't try to perfectly learn the writing system through study. Just learn the basics. Reading is a core part of the Refold Roadmap, so you will have plenty of opportunities to master the writing system over time.

Vocabulary

When you first start learning a language, you won't be able to understand any of your immersion. The fastest way to boost your comprehension is to learn the 1000 most common words. The 1000 most common words cover 70-80% of daily speech.

Once you have a foundation and can comprehend some of your immersion, you will start to study vocabulary directly from your immersion content instead of from a vocabulary list. This method is extremely effective because it focuses your vocabulary study on the words that are most relevant and useful to your personal learning experience.

There are many tools you can use to study vocabulary. You can use a simple tool like paper flashcards, but we recommend using a spaced repetition system (SRS). An SRS is much more efficient than regular flashcards because it automatically adjusts your study to focus on words you are struggling to learn.

In the next article, we’ll explain what an SRS is, which one to use, and how to start studying the most common vocabulary for your TL.

Grammar

There Is No "Why"

When new learners learn a new piece of grammar, they often ask, “Why does the language work this way?”. They are looking for a concrete rule that explains the language.

Unfortunately, there is often no answer to their question. The truth is that language is too messy and chaotic to be explained by a simple set of rules. There is no why and it is pointless to ask why a language is the way that it is.

It's important to realize that grammar "rules" aren't actually rules. They're just guidelines for how the language is generally used.

Grammar study is not useful for speaking fluently because it’s impossible to memorize every rule and exception. Even if you were able to, you wouldn’t have enough time to use that knowledge while speaking.

Fortunately, our brains are really good at learning grammar intuitively. Through immersion, you will gain an intuitive understanding of the language so that you can speak correctly without needing to think about grammar.

grammar meme

Comprehension Focus

Although grammar study isn't useful for speaking, it is very useful for comprehension. While vocabulary study helps you understand individual words, grammar study helps you understand full sentences.

Start by reading about the basic grammar of your TL for 10-15 minutes per day. As you see new grammar structures in your immersion, read about how they work.

Most of your grammar study probably won't make sense until after you've immersed and seen many examples. If something doesn't make sense, then skip it. You'll eventually figure it out through immersion.

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