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So, you’ve reached the intermediate stage of language learning. You can understand most things people say to you, you can express yourself fairly well in conversation, and you no longer struggle with grammar so much. While being able to effectively communicate has given you a burst of confidence, you have one big problem — there is still so much you can’t understand, and now you feel like you’re never making any progress.

Welcome to the “intermediate plateau”. You keep studying and studying, but never seem to get anywhere. You know that you need to keep working away to improve your…


People often ask me what the secret is to learning foreign languages quickly and effectively. The thing is, there is no super secret method to learn a foreign language. You don’t need any fancy software, expensive textbooks, or magical pills.

Polyglots, language learning enthusiasts, and people around the world are achieving success mainly through the use of a few simple strategies. Here I have listed the basic techniques that have helped me achieve fluency in a handful of foreign languages.

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Listen, listen, listen

Listening practice is the number one way to improve your fluency in a foreign language. More than anything, this is…


“You should read Harry Potter in the language you’re studying!” This is one of the most common pieces of advice I hear nowadays for students of foreign languages. People recommend language learners to read Harry Potter because most already know the story so it’s easy to follow, it’s available in most major languages, and of course everyone loves Harry Potter. While there is nothing wrong with the book series itself, there are a few reasons why you should reconsider reading Harry Potter in a foreign language.

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The point of learning a language is gaining access to something new

One of the biggest advantages to learning a foreign language is that you can…


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I recently read an article about Transformer, an artificial intelligence application which creates texts good enough that you might think they were written by a human. A “modern neural network” hosted by Adam King, anyone can input a short prompt to the machine, and it will spit out a few paragraphs of original writing.

Although some prompts result in incoherent nonsense, most of the time the writing is surprisingly good. For example, I tried prompts like: “There are a few obvious advantages to reading literature” and “There are many good reasons to read comics”. …


At age 18, I was a hopeless introvert. I had been described by well-meaning peers as “socially inept”. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone for more than a fraction of a second. Speaking in front of people would put me in a nervous fit, to the extent that I would have to excuse myself from the room. In short, speaking with other people was one of the hardest and scariest things for me to do.

Today, I consider verbal communication to be one of my best skills. I love giving presentations and speaking in front of people. …


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Rex Pe from Savannah, Georgia, USA [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Nearly everyone hopes that their foreign language instructor is a native speaker. I have heard people groan and complain, or even flat out quit language courses just because their instructor was not a native speaker.

Of course it’s only natural that we want to learn from someone who has a good knowledge of the language and can speak it fluently. But does it make sense for us to be so obsessed with having native speakers be our teachers? Here I present a few reasons for why native speakers don’t necessarily make good language teachers.

Native speakers don’t know how their language works

Quick question: can you tell me…


As someone who speaks Chinese, there is one question that has always irritated me: “Do you mean you speak Mandarin or Cantonese?” I am here to tell you why you should stop asking people this.

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It doesn’t make you look smart

One of the reasons that this question bugs me is that most people who ask it don’t know anything about Mandarin or Cantonese other than that there is something called Mandarin and something called Cantonese. My overall impression is that most people aren’t asking because they actually care and are curious about which language I speak, but because they want to subtly signal how they…


Like many people, I used to derive a sick pleasure from writing scathing negative reviews. Whether it was for a restaurant that gave me poor service, a book that bored me, or a product on Amazon that didn’t meet my expectations, I was completely merciless. I would write every little criticism in detail and was sure to underline how infuriated I was at their incompetence. But then I went through a few experiences that made me eventually decide that I would never write a negative review again. …


Our culture has given us an obsession with producing a masterpiece or performing well even if it is our first time doing something. If we write a few stories or paint a few paintings and don’t think any of them were good, we give up. “I guess I’m not meant to be a painter,” you say to yourself. This is unfortunate, since everyone who starts something for the first time is bad at it.

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When we start a new activity, it is often because we are inspired by what we see around us. Maybe we want to become a writer…


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Yakuzakorat [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]

What do we mean when we say “science”? This is not a mere semantic trifle. The way we choose to interpret the role of science will have an effect on safety, health, and quality of education for future generations. We live in an era in which many of the most contentious debates are fought with only one side claiming science as an ally. In recent decades many Americans use the word “scientific” as if it were a slur, thinking of scientists as a mysterious clique of biased individuals who do not align with American values. On the other side of…

Tai Arima

With a background in molecular biology and linguistics, I write on language, science, and culture.

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