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Natural Language Learning
Without a Teacher!

A step-by-step guide about how to learn a language naturally on your own!

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Natural Language Learning (without a teacher!)

6 Apr 2012
Fake ebook cover

Note: This article is a follow-up to this article from 2012-03-29.

Thanks to everyone who commented and sent emails over the past 2 or 3 weeks. I literally received hundreds of emails! I'm trying to reply to all of them, so if you're still waiting for a response, please be patient!

I'd especially like to thank everyone who completed the survey about the FREE ebook!

Right after I posted the last video, I had to run to a meeting with a client. (I'm a freelance software developer.) After several hours of work, I finally had a chance to look at my inbox - and the first two pages were completely filled up with survey responses! ;-)

Based on your responses to the survey, I've chosen a topic for the FREE ebook:

Natural Language Learning (Without a Teacher!)

A step-by-step guide on how to learn a language naturally on your own!

(NOTE: There was also a significant group of people who wanted advice on getting over their fear of speaking. Unfortunately, it didn't get enough votes to be the topic of this ebook, but I promise to make more articles and videos about this important topic!)

Please read more for the full ebook description and to sign up to get your copy when it's finished!

Who is this ebook for?

This ebook is for people...

  • ... who have spent years in traditional courses but still can't order in a restaurant, watch a movie without subtitles, or have a casual conversation with a native speaker.
  • ... who think that their course was too fast, too slow, or too boring.
  • ... who think they don't have a talent for learning language (but in truth no talent is necessary - just a good approach!)
  • ... who want to take control of their language learning journey and study using a method that will help them achieve their goal efficiently!

I personally studied several languages for many years and failed to learn more than how to pass a grammar test. It wasn't until I tried a new method, based on how the brain actually learns language, that I was finally able to achieve success learning Polish.

I've described this method several times in articles and videos. But always in a very general way.

Natural Language Learning will give you step-by-step instructions on how to use my method, with tips on how to modify it for your needs.

Why traditional methods fail

Traditional methods focus on consciously memorizing grammar rules. You must understand the rules, explain the rules, and then take tests to prove you know the rules. If you're a good student, you can usually learn them and do well in the course.

The problem is that truly speaking and understanding a language isn't a conscious activity! (I've written extensively about this in the past.)

When you're speaking your native language, you aren't thinking about grammar rules, declinations, conjugations, verbs, nouns, genders, tenses, etc.

You simply think a thought and your brain is able to unconsciously assemble a grammatically correct sentence. Or, you hear a sentence and immediately understand the meaning.

When you truly acquire a foreign language, your brain will process that new language in the same way!

How the brain learns languages

A brain with frog feet
Photo (and brain!) by Emilio Garcia.

The human brain is designed to learn languages. This is why talent is unnecessary!

Linguists talk about a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) that exists in all of our minds.

If you can activate this device, your brain will start to learn the language naturally and unconsciously.

So, the question is: How do you activate it? It's actually very simple!

The language learning formula

According to linguists, you activate your Language Acquisition Device (LAD) by listening to (or reading) content in the language that you can understand.

Linguists call this comprehensible input.

It works more efficiently if:

  1. You are interested in the input, and
  2. You are in a low-stress environment.

Everyone learns languages this way, whether they realize it or not. Even someone who successfully learned a language in a traditional course! But it isn't the memorization of grammar rules that led to their success - it's the comprehensible input.

The main problem with traditional courses is that 90% of the time is spent on activities that don't activate your LAD (like grammar and tests). Traditional courses also tend to focus on mistakes and correction - which leads to greater stress. And, of course, the learning materials tend to be very boring and artificial.

That's why they usually work very slowly or not at all!

The BIG problem

Even though the formula is very simple, there is one big problem: How can you understand input in a language that you don't speak yet?

This is where having a method is helpful!

Of course, there isn't only one correct language learning method - the best method for you depends a lot on you and your personal preferences. An effective method is made up of a few parts:

  • A source of interesting content in the language
  • A method to understand this content
  • A system to review and remember what you've learned

But all of those parts can be customized to your interests and personal preferences!

The advantages of self-study

A real-world course with a teacher can be nice for a few reasons:

  • You have an expert (the teacher) to consult with
  • All of the lessons are planned for you
  • You can interact with other people socially

However, I think those advantages are greatly outweighed by the disadvantages:

  • You move at the pace of the rest of the class, which could be too fast or too slow
  • You have to learn what the teacher plans, which could be boring or might not apply to your goals
  • You have to travel to a specific place at a specific time, which might conflict with other commitments
  • You aren't actively learning 100% of the time (ex. when another student is answering a question)
  • Depending on the teacher and the other students, it can be stressful
  • It's generally more expensive than self-study

In short, you can accomplish more, faster and more conveniently, with self-study. And if you need to consult an expert, there are lots of internet communities where you can ask for help (or socialize!) - like Bibliobird!

What will be in Natural Language Learning?

In the ebook, I will describe:

  • Why this method works (in more detail)
  • How to find content in the language that is both interesting to you, and at the right level
  • A few common methods for understanding the content
  • A couple systems to review what you've learned

This will be based on my experience learning Polish in this way - but not only! I've also talked with many other people who have tried my method or similar methods.

I will try to include several variations, so that after reading this ebook, you will be able to create your own method to learn any language effectively!

Do you want this? Let me know!

Like I said last time, I only want to create something that you actually want! Even a short ebook will be a lot of work to write. If I spend a lot of time making it and nobody wants it, I will feel like an idiot!

While I know from the last survey that a large number of people are interested in some ebook from me, they were all interested in different ideas.

If you are interested in this ebook, please fill out this NEW survey! (If I end up making it, I'll send it to you at the email address you provide.)

If you and enough other people want it (I'm thinking around 300), then I'll write the ebook!

Please let me know if you are interested by filling out the NEW survey! If you have any other comments, please write them below!

Anonymous's picture

Comprehensive post! Great stuff and a good read and one I hope all language learners will stop by and read.

Posted by: Aaron (not verified) | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 01:01
David Snopek's picture

Thanks, Aaron! I actually felt like this post left a lot out - but it was already getting long and I didn't want it to turn into the ebook itself. ;-) I'm looking forward to trying out a longer format medium.

Take care and Happy Easter!


Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 06:43
Anonymous's picture

Hey, I’ve finally figured out how to translate LAD into Polish and it sounds good: Language Acquisition Device → Ośrodek Akwizycji Języka.


Posted by: Wojtek (not verified) | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 01:28
David Snopek's picture

Ah, awesome, thanks! You don't happen to know a good way to translate "Comprehensible Input"? :-) I'm not crazy about anything I've come up with and just tend to use the term in English.


Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 06:44
Anonymous's picture

Yup, I would translate it into „zrozumiała treść”. Input has many meanings, depending on context, and because ‘listening’ and ‘reading’ can be subsumed into one general term – ‘content’, „treść” isn’t so bad.

But I would have more problems with the word ‘output’ (as in ’comprehensible output’). Kinda intricacies of languages. :D

Happy Easter, David!

Ah, David, have a peek at my finished and translated video:

hope you like it! :)

Posted by: Wojtek (not verified) | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 07:20
David Snopek's picture

Ok, cool. :-) In my video I was trying to decide between "zrozumiała treść" and "zrozumiała zawartość". I'm glad I got close! ;-)

Happy Easter to you and your family as well!

Heh, yeah, it's a very entertaining film. :-)

See ya!

Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 07:28
Anonymous's picture

Actually to keep ebook content clear (if Polish version is planned of course), I would vote for using officially recognised terms in science world to not make reader confused in further reading. So, according to , "Language Acquisition Device" could be translated to "Mechanizm Przyswajania Języka"

Posted by: Milosz (not verified) | Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 11:47
David Snopek's picture

Yeah, a Polish version is planned and I would love to use standard terms - I just need to know where to get the terms from. :-) It would be nice if the terms made sense on their own, but I'm going to be defining them anyway.

Thanks for the sugestion!


Posted by: David Snopek | Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 12:30
Anonymous's picture

David, it's nice that you want to write Polish version :-) I believe you could create some wiki page on your blog where community could help you in some ugly cases.

I use two methods for finding accurate terms:
1)opening wikipedia page of term in one language and then changing wikipedia's language to another (doesn't work always)
2)if first method fails, I select in Google to show me results only in Polish and then type english name

Posted by: Milosz (not verified) | Friday, April 13, 2012 - 02:34
David Snopek's picture

Thanks for the advice!

Posted by: David Snopek | Friday, April 13, 2012 - 06:08
Anonymous's picture

I don't think we have a good equivalent of "comprehensible input" in Polish.
I've just realized I've been using this term for many years but never thought about its Polish translation.
So I searched the Internet and found "ekspozycja znacząca".
I don't know whether it's an "official" term or not, but it sounds OK to me.

Posted by: Wiesiek (not verified) | Sunday, April 8, 2012 - 11:18
David Snopek's picture

Aha, thanks for the suggestion! :-) Unfortunately, I think the theory section of my ebook might be a little difficult to translate. :-/ Best regards, David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 17:23
Anonymous's picture

Howdy David!!! I think that study without a teacher is possible, but for people who are at least at an intermediate level.
I don't like grammar, but the most imported is to learn a group of words ( phares) and realistic english materials;-) ;-).
What is your opinion David??

Look forward to seeing you answer

Kind regards

Radek from High Wycombe

Posted by: Radek from High Wycombe (not verified) | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 08:37
David Snopek's picture

Hi Radek!

I think anyone can learn without a teacher at any level! But it certainly requires more motivation and a solid plan to work for beginners.

Although, I feel like my ebook is not going to be geared at absolute beginners. For whatever reason I feel more compelled to help the people who have tried to learn a language in a traditional course and then failed. But I'll certainly speak to beginners in it as well.

Happy Easter!

Best regards,

Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 09:03
Anonymous's picture

Czekam z niecierpliwością na e-booka. Bardzo chciałbym nauczyć się języka węgierskiego. Myślę, że taka książka będzie bardzo pomocna. Trzymam kciuki!

Posted by: Kamil (not verified) | Monday, April 9, 2012 - 04:55
David Snopek's picture

Dzięki za zainteresowanie i wsparcie. :-) Język węgierski jest bardzo ciekawy! Nie wiem zbyt dużo o nim ale ludzie ciągle mówią, że jest tak trudny więc oczywiście, chciałbym kiedyś go się nauczyć. ;-)

Pozdrawiam serdecznie,

Posted by: David Snopek | Friday, April 13, 2012 - 06:15
Anonymous's picture

How long will it take You to write this e-book?
Please don't say "It's done when it's done" ;)
I am aware about how stupid is that question but still...;]

Posted by: Lukas (not verified) | Monday, April 9, 2012 - 06:51
David Snopek's picture

Like I said in my latest article:

I'm going to try and write it in two weeks. :-) But we'll see!

Best regards,

Posted by: David Snopek | Friday, April 13, 2012 - 06:13
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Anonymous's picture

Hi Dave,

I started reading through your website and agree with you 100%. As a language teacher, I try to get as much right brain learning in as possible. I am familiar with the TPR method which works well, however, there are two things that are working against me. 1) I am required to follow a book that can take away from spontaneous language learning and 2) 20 to 30 kids in a class makes it difficult for these spontaneous right brain activities. It can be done but there are limitations. There is nothing that kills me more to hear that a person has been in a language class for four years and only remembers the greetings. Well, I am going to be reading more of your material to look for ideas to help me out. Thanks for the blog. George M.

Posted by: George (not verified) | Friday, February 8, 2013 - 00:12
David Snopek's picture

Hi George!

I'm glad your enjoying my blog! If you haven't read my ebook, I highly recommend it. It's my "magnum opus". ;-)

Yeah, having a set curriculum is VERY limiting for teachers and working with so many students means you have "maximize", ie. do what would benefit the most students, essentially leaving off the top and bottom groups. And, of course, if you're working with kids, there are obvious discipline/focus problems with big groups like that.

I have the highest respect for teachers who can do good work under those conditions! The world needs teachers like you, George!

Usually, though, when talking to learners directly, my advice is to take their learning into their own hands. That's the best way to ensure that they'll get exactly what they need.

Best regards,

Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, February 9, 2013 - 12:41