Learn to talk about learning a language in 6 minutes!


Rob: Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English – the show that brings you an interesting topic, authentic listening practice and vocabulary to help you improve your language skills. I’m Rob… Neil: Watashi no namae wa Neil desu. And that means ‘my name’s Neil’. Rob: So Neil, here’s a question for you – can you speak any languages other than English of course? I think you can! Neil: Un poco de español that means a little bit of Spanish. Some Japanese, which I tried at the beginning and also a bit of Czech language Dobrý den. Jak se máš? Rob: Very impressive. So what tips can you give for learning to speak another language? Neil: Well, practise, practise, practise – and don’t be afraid of making mistakes as I no doubt have. Rob: Of course. Well my aim this year is to master the Spanish language. Master means to learn thoroughly. Neil: Muy bien! Well you’re not alone. A survey by the British Council found learning a language is a new year’s resolution for about one in five Britons in 2018. So learning Spanish is a good start Rob but do you know approximately how many languages there are in the world altogether? Are there… a) 70, b) 700 or c) 7,000 Rob: Well I know there are many but surely not 7,000 so I’m going to say b) 700 – but don’t expect me to learn all of them. Neil: I won’t Rob. But I will give you the answer later. So, we all know learning another language is a good thing – it brings us many benefits. Rob: Yes, we can communicate with people from other countries and when we’re travelling we can understand what signs and notices say. So we don’t get lost. Neil: That’s right – but many scientists also believe that knowledge of another language can boost your brainpower. A study of monolingual and bilingual speakers suggests speaking two languages can help slow down the brain’s decline with age. Rob: All good reasons. But Neil, learning another language is hard. It would take me years and years to become fluent in say, Mandarin – by fluent I mean speak very well, without difficulty. Neil: Well this depends on your mother tongue. In general, the closer the second language is to the learner’s native tongue and culture in terms of vocabulary, sounds or sentence structure – the easier it will be to learn. Rob: But whatever the language, there is so much vocabulary to learn – you know, thousands and thousands of words. Neil: Maybe not Rob. Professor Stuart Webb, a linguist from the University of Western Ontario, may be able to help you. He spoke to BBC Radio 4’s More or Less programme and explained that you don’t need to do that… Professor Stuart Webb: For language learners in a foreign language setting – so for example if you were learning French in Britain or English in Japan, students may often really struggle to learn more than 2,000, 3,000 words after many years of study. So for example, there was study in Taiwan recently that showed that after nine years of study about half of the students had still failed to learn the most frequent 1,000 words. Now they knew lower frequency words but they hadn’t mastered those most important words. Neil: So Rob, don’t waste your time trying to learn every single word. Professor Webb spoke there about research that showed students knew lower frequency words but weren’t learning enough high frequency words. Rob: Right, and frequency here means the number of times something happens – so the important words to learn are the high frequency ones – and how many are there exactly? Neil: Here’s Professor Stuart Webb again… Professor Stuart Webb: For example, with English, I would suggest if you learn the 800 most frequent lemmas – which is a word and its inflections – that will account for about 75 per cent of all of the English language. So that learning those 800 words first will provide the foundation for which you may be able to learn the lower frequency words. Rob: Fascinating stuff. And good to know I just need to learn about 800 words – or what he calls lemmas. Neil: Yes a lemma is the simplest form or base form of a word. And the inflection here refers to how the base word is changed according to its use in a sentence. Knowing these things give you a foundation – that’s the basics from which you language learning will develop. Simple! Rob: Thank goodness I am learning just one new language! Neil: But how many languages could you potentially be learning Rob? Earlier I asked you, approximately how many languages there are in the world altogether? Are there… a) 70, b) 700, c) 7,000 Rob: And I said 700. Was I right? Neil: No Rob, you were wrong. There are around 7,000 recognised languages in the world but UNESCO has identified 2,500 languages which it claims are at risk of extinction. Rob: A sobering thought Neil. Now shall we remind ourselves of some of the English vocabulary we’ve heard today. Starting with master. Neil: To master a new skill, in this context, means to learn thoroughly or learn well. “Rob hopes to master Spanish before he starts a new job in Madrid.” Rob: Really? That’s news to me Neil! But it would be good to be fluent in Spanish – or any language – or to speak it fluently – that’s speaking it very well and without difficulty. Neil: Now our next word was frequency. Here we are referring to high and low frequency words – so it means how often they occur. Examples of a high frequency word are ”it’, ‘the’ and ‘and’. Rob: And our next word is inflections. These are the changes to the basic form of words according to their function in a sentence. Such as adding an ‘s’ to the end of a word to make it plural. Neil: And don’t forget lemma which is the simplest form or base form of a word before an inflection is added. Rob: And finally foundation which means the basics your learning grows from. Neil: That just leaves me to remind you that you can learn English with us at bbclearningenglish.com. That’s it for today’s 6 Minute English. We hope you enjoyed it. Bye for now. Na shledanou! Hasta luego! Ja-ne! Rob: And in English, goodbye. Neil: Goodbye.

58 thoughts on “Learn to talk about learning a language in 6 minutes!

  • Fascinating stuff! But where do we find the list of the 800 most frequent lemmas? Now, with this episode my 6 Minute English Vocabulary has 2225 words and frases!

  • I always listen you " BBC six minutes". My first audio was "English at the University". You do an excellent work and I can feel my progress in English language. Thank you so much! YOU ARE THE BEST.

  • Really 6 minutes is really really so useful

    Thank you so much
    English learner and I deeply appreciate the great effort that you are putting to bring us this amazing 6 minuets

    Thanks and do you ever stop just keep amazeing us and going

  • Hi! I'm interested in what else Professor Stuart Webb says at BBC Radio 4' s More or Less programme. Is there a podcast that can be downloaded or any link to listen to the full interview? Thx a lot for the always amazing videos!!

  • Oh I really like to learn a new langauges. English of course my favorite and the second one German which I learn about one year and four month. So, what I have to say it took me around two years to understand most of the English that is used and I hope with the German would be the same. All the best to you guys who learning a new languages and please, believe in yourself you will be unstoppable!

  • I dont know the meaning of the sentence "as I know doubt have" at 0:47. Anyone can explain for me? Thank a lot.

  • When it comes to learning a language. Vocabulary is extremely important. You may use bad grammar, but without vocabulary you can't do anything. The more words you know, the more you can say. The more grammar you know, the better you can say it or even write it.

  • I live in Taipe, and I've subscribed BBC six minutes for many months. I think the videos are smashing. And all the topics are fabulous. Thanks a million.

  • When learning a new language; DON'T GIVE UP. Practice makes perfect!! But you must include "study" …understand how the word is used. The different uses of the word.

  • いきなり「私の名前は〜」とか言われてびっくりしたわ😂
    Japanese language don't belong to any language group, so I'm still struggling English😂

  • Thanks for the video. It is motivating and inspiring. And I guessed on the spot there were 7000 languages in the world. Neil, don't forget that UNESCO counts very raee languages too used only by some small tribes.
    As for me, I'd like to speak Spanish fluently. And your information about 800 lemas motivates even more. I will not give up ! Good-bye ! !Hasta luego!

  • oh..I noticed the word"mother tongue was practically used here!because the people who I asked oversea said we usually used the first language instead of mother tongue,so I had been thinking the word"mother tongue" was onsite not used and just written in the English text book.I worked out my confusion.

  • I'm a Taiwanese and I have learnt more than 3000 words actually.XDDD

    But for acadedic articles, it's still hard for me because of too many uncommon words. QQ

    Is anyone here preparing for the IELTS too?

  • Hello BBC . Could you please explain me why you used "there are" instead of " are there " in 1:10 min? Isn't it a question sentence?
    Thanks in advance.

  • I usually hope that ' If I practice enough a lot I will perfect in English ' so I listen every day , learn new words when i meet one strange word , Everything seem to better but when I write I have lots of fault about grammar . someone can share with me how to improve your write skill . This problem make me feel really sad and sometimes I want to give up .

  • I did not know why but BBC Leanring English came to me by surpise a long time ago before my first year studying in university. Beyond my awareness, BBC Audio became something I had to listen to in my free time. What I have learned here is priceless. Thanks for the benefit you have been bringing to the community. : )

  • 3:08 , please let me comment on the most frequent 1000 words theory.

    I am a government interpreter for mandarin language(which is my 4th foreign language), and come across various situations where the words are new to me, even though, I have mastered at least 5000 words.

    When I am with my french friends they do not always use the frequent 1000 words, moreover, in case of deep conversations we tend to use rare vocabulary. The simple things we see every day are not included in these 1000 words, thus we may often not be able to communicate proficiently.

    According to all these years of observation, I would suggest the learners to definitely learn the 1000 frequent words, however, they should not forget to practice every single day. For example, reading news papers, watching videos on youtube, and meeting native speakers of the target language are some of the many ways they can train their minds to start thinking in a foreign language.

  • thank u bbc.I am from india. I watch almost all ur videos.its very short and helpfull. looking forword for new videos. Thank u😊

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