The beginner level of learning a language.
Part 35 of the Poligo Guide to Learning a Language.
SECTION 4: This section explains how to divide the language into smaller parts and how to learn each part.
There are three basic levels in our system for learning a language:
We will talk about each one. First we will talk about the beginner level and what we think that "beginner" means.
The beginner level is when you are learning the basic grammar (structure) and sentence patterns (syntax). You know when you have mastered the beginner level:
If you can do these two things, you have mastered the beginner level. To graduate from the beginner level, you need to have a good command of the grammar and syntax of the language. Many of my students would pass this test, but might not think so!
The main point of the beginner level is to create the base you need to make sure that your future work is more effective. It helps you understand the sentences and language you will learn. If you create this base first, your future work and experience in the language will be richer. You will build on this basic knowledge as you learn. Let us be clear though: you should not expect to understand all of the ideas of the language at this stage. Some of the things you meet at the beginner level will be very different to your first language (like Japanese speakers learning "a" and "the" in English, or an English speaker learning は and が), and only with time and experience will they start to make sense. As adults though, you will be able to learn very fast and use some shortcuts at this stage.
Very simply speaking, most languages have two main parts to their grammar: the noun (nominal) system; and the verb (verbal) system. Other parts of the language will relate to verbs or nouns. If you master these two parts of the language, you will learn most of the other aspects of the grammar at the same time (like prepositions, word order and so on). For example, in the case of English, when you study nouns, you will meet "a" and "the", and learn about them; when you learn about verbs and nouns, you will learn about prepositions. But what you have to learn depends on the language. You might find that the language you study has other main parts to learn, like polite language (keigo) in Japanese.
This is a lot to learn. It should take you about a year of work to truly graduate from the beginner level. When we talk about how to study the language and cover all the parts of the system, we will talk about the verb and noun systems. There is not a special order to do this in. In fact, most textbooks and language courses switch back and forth between points about verbs, nouns and other topics in the language.*
Important: If you want to learn something seriously and to a high level, then it is important to learn the technical vocabulary. Whether we study science, music or sports (or anything else), to communicate with teachers, coaches and other students, we need to understand the common words that are used. When you learn a language, it is the same. You need to learn the correct words and how to ask questions.
- Learn the most important vocabulary for learning a language.
- Ask good questions with these question patterns.
Knowing the right names for things and being able to talk about them is really important when you need to ask your teachers questions. It will help you learn faster and understand deeply.
One final point about being a beginner is vocabulary: beginners do not know enough words to communicate easily. You will need to work slowly, with a dictionary or asking for help, to understand the things you read and hear. That's fine. At this level, you should be aiming to remember the basic patterns and rules. You should hope to become comfortable with the sounds of the language. The focus is making a base for your future work. The focus is training. Many of you might have got a lot of this base from high school classes or a university course. It is important to be patient. You need to do this work before you can start having deep conversations, read books, or watch movies in the target language.
* In some languages, like German or the Romance languages, the verbs and nouns are complex systems. If you spend time working on these systems, it can help your understanding. When you have looked at all of the system, then you get a good idea of how it works. You can better see patterns and understand relationships. We do not mean for you to be able to understand the language perfectly. That comes later with practice. We mean that you should have a good overview of what you need to work on and know.