Laddering is a popular technique for polyglots everywhere. If you’re trying to learn more than one language, this can be an incredibly helpful way to avoid mixing languages and vocabulary while you are learning. We are going to show you why you might want to incorporate the laddering technique into your next lesson plan.
What is the laddering technique?
Popularly used business management, laddering for language learning means that you use a different base language as the jumping off point for each new language. Sounds complicated? It’s not really. Let’s say you’re a native English speaker who wants to improve their language skills. You’ve gotten pretty good at speaking French and you would consider yourself close to fluent. If you want to learn Spanish next, don’t go back to English as your starting point. Even though its your native language, you’ll always be making the same references for both French and Spanish. The laddering technique means that you use French as your jumping off point for learning Spanish. So you always refer to the French word when learning about new Spanish words, phrases, and grammar points. This makes it easier to think about Spanish when you are trying to keep your languages straight and, bonus, makes you better at thinking in French.
Some benefits of using the laddering technique…
- It improves your ability in the language you are laddering from- Because this technique forces you to practice both your new target language and the language you are laddering from, you get a refresh on vocabulary and grammar points and you get practice thinking in that language.
- Some concepts are clearer in other languages- Not all languages are structured the same, so sometimes laddering can help you make a concept more clear than you could from your native language. Laddering does not have to be an all or nothing thing, making it easy to switch out some concepts or words for ones that make the most sense.
- It’s a great brain boost- If you’re hoping to improve your proficiency in a language you already know by applying it to a new language, laddering is perfect for bridging that gap. It works on multiple levels and forces your brain to do some serious work in fluency.
- It’s good for honing your attention to detail- If you want to really test yourself, you can ladder with two very similar languages. A good example is Spanish and Italian. These languages are fairly similar, but have lots of small differences, like accents and spellings. Learning Italian from Spanish, or vice-versa, can help you pay close attention to all those little differences and truly master both languages.
How to use the laddering technique in your language learning plan?
- Determine how each language is related to one another.
Knowing how each of your target languages connects to each other is incredibly important when learning one while using the other. If your target languages are close to each other, or in the same language family, you’ll want to make sure to watch out for small nuances in each language that may trip you up if you’re not careful. Language families can be a good way to work up to learning all of your target languages without placing too big of a strain on you. This can make it feel more like you’re moving step by step instead of taking large leaps.
- Create a roadmap of the languages you wish to learn and in what order.
After determining how your target languages are related to each other, you can start to put them into an order that works for you. You can either do this systematically by language families or based on how urgently you would like to learn them. If you only think you will end up learning a language or two using the laddering technique, be realistic about this possibility.
- Benchmark your priorities and decide when to move on to the next language.
You’ll probably never feel fully fluent in your target language. There will always be moments when you will hear a new word or phrase and be excited to find out what it means. When you’re using languages in the laddering technique, there comes a point when you have to say you are “fluent enough”. Be sure to set this goal before you start learning so you know when you reach it. Maybe it’s being able to discuss your favorite movies with a native speaker, maybe its hearing a song on the radio and knowing every word. This point will be different for everyone based on their goals. When learning a new language, it’s important to set realistic goals for yourself, so make sure you have benchmarks you can reach and a timetable you can follow.
- Practise the language extensively with a native speaker.
There are so many things that reading and writing just can’t teach you. Practicing with a native speaker gets your brain processing in your target language while helping you to use the language in real life. The hardest part of language learning is speaking, but you have to remember that people will be patient and forgive your first few attempts. Practicing with a native speaker helps you pick up on the nuances of the language, like colloquialisms and pronunciation. This can help you become more fluent in your target language with every conversation.
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