How to Learn a New Language: Lesson 4

Grammar Hacking

"A philosopher once said, 'Half of good philosophy is good grammar.'" - A. P. Martinich

In the previous lesson on how to learn a new language, we focused on the hacking the learning curve by memorizing the most common words (minimum target of 2,000) to achieve our desired results (92%+ oral understanding).

Now it’s time to introduce grammar rules for putting these words together, in order to form comprehensible sentence structures others will understand.

To summarize, grammar is a story telling weapon. All it takes is a few characters and actions in your plot, and you’re well on your way.

In every single language, grammar is conveyed using some combination of three basic operations:

1. adds words (ex. You like it -> Do you like it?)
2. changes existing words (ex. I eat it -> I ate it)
3. changes the order of those words (ex. This is nice -> Is this nice?)
*referenced from The Four Hour Workweek Blog

That’s all there is to it.

To better illustrate examples, we’re going to use some traditional sentences you’re already familiar with in English.

Story #1: My Dog Ate My Homework

For simplicity, let’s take the traditional “my dog ate my homework” analogy that we love, and use it as a reference point.

Here are the 4 components that are involved:

1. You
2. Your dog
3. Homework
4. Eating

The easiest way to shortcut the learning process of these grammatical forms is to understand the actual meaning of the sentence and use flash cards to memorize it effectively.




The reason why this is so effective (compared to typical language textbooks) is you’re using visual representations to tell a story, allowing you to easily embed it into your memory. For instance, with the first example, you can associate “by” with the guilty look of the dog for eating the homework.

Remember to use write down the sentence structures in your target language, as this will naturally have you thinking in the foreign language.

Story #2: I Give John the Apple

This is a popular framework introduced by Tim Ferriss, originally to analyze how fast you would be able to learn the language you want.

However, it also serves as a powerful framework to learn how the grammar rules are applied in your desired language by breaking down each part of the sentence.

According to Ferriss, these 8 “golden” sentences are just about all you need to know in order to understand how the language works because it shows verbs are conjugated between speaker and subject, they show gender, number, direct and indirect objects, negations and tense.

The first thing we recommend is to write down the 8 sentences you see below on the left side of a paper, and directly translate the meaning of the sentences in your desired language on the right side.  We advise you check with a native speaker or your Rype coach to verify that this is correct.

In this example, we did it with Spanish.

how to learn a new language

You should pay attention to where the indirect object (John) is located in the sentnece and where the direct object (Apple) is located.

For example, you’ll notice that in the first sentence, the Spanish translation is the exact same ordering as the English version:

The apple is red. La manzana es roja.

However, in the third sentence, the ordering differs:

I give John the apple. Le doy la manzana a Juan.

It starts with “le” which is the indirect object pronoun (IOP), it’s like saying “him”. In Spanish, the speaker must be told from the very beginning of the sentence, to anticipate that someone is going to receive an action. That person is revealed to be John, by “a Juan”.

From this analysis alone, you can learn a lot about how the Spanish grammar differs from English. We advise you work with your Rype coach to understand on a deeper level the meanings of the sentences, and how the grammar rules work for each.

Tim using the sentence structures in Arabic

Using Google Images (Bonus hack)

On its surface, Google Images appears as just a search engine. But hiding beneath that surface is a language-learning goldmine: billions of illustrated example sentences, which are both searchable and machine translatable.
(Instructions here).


And if you mouse over the text, you get this:

Berlusconi2This is a viable option for you as it has all the important components you need, including a visual image (to help you remember better), direct translation, original text and billions of options — for free!

Next Steps

  1. Pick one of the references we mentioned
  2. Use flashcards to create a front side and back side (answer) as we illustrated (in my dog ate my homework example). You can use:
    -Digital flashcards (tutorial)
    -Physical flashcards (you already should have them from your word memorization assignment!)
  3. Spend the next week memorizing these meanings
  4. Get immediate feedback from:
    your Rype coach
    -native speaking friend
    -use lang-8 (where native speakers correct your work in exchange for correcting theirs)

*Optional: Purchase or find a grammar book (ask your Rype coach as it will differ for each language you want to learn) to expand your grammar base and practice your skills!

Links Used:


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