Top 1: The Essential Language Learning List

Today I will give you a list of essential tools for language learning. Its easy to list things that language learners do: Memorize vocabulary, practice pronunciation, listen to music in the target language, read articles, maybe even visit foreign countries. And all of these are good things. But today I want to talk about a different list: a core, essential list.

Today’s list is about doing all of these other things more intentionally, and with greater purpose.

So without further ado, I present…

The Top 1 List

That’s not a typo. There really is only one thing on this list. It’s that fundamental. It’s also that easy. And it’s also that… “listy”.

1. Keep a list

If you are learning a language, you keep a mental list of things you want to learn. When someone tells you “The French word for apple is pomme,” you either pay attention and learn the information, or you don’t, based on whether “learn the French word for apple” is on your mental list.

But starting today, I want you to move this mental list to paper. Or your computer or phone. And here’s why:

How your list will benefit you

Keeping a language list will give you two primary benefits:

  1. Memory.Naturally, we write down lists so we don’t forget things. And by using your language list properly, you will prevent yourself from forgetting important things you need or want to learn.
    When is the last time you had a question (about your language, or about anything), then when you had the opportunity to ask an expert, you couldn’t remember the question? Keep your list with you, and you’ll never have this problem again.
  2. Awareness. By forming a list-taking habit, you’ll be constantly more aware when you have questions. Your target language will begin to live more in your conscious mind, and this will lead to improved learning.

Where to keep your list

There is no right or wrong way to keep a list. The important thing is that you actually do it! But there are two methods which I think make the most sense:

  • 1. A notebook

    My French list, in a small pocket notebook.
    My French list, in a small pocket notebook.

    This is an easy, low-tech solution that simply works! It’s easy to pop out a notebook during a conversation and jot down a word or phrase that you want to look up later. There’s not much more to say about this simple method!
  • 2. A web or mobile app

    My French list on my Android using Google Keep
    My French list on my Android using Google Keep

    If you’re a bit more tech-savvy, you may want to keep your list electronically. My favorite app for this is [Google Keep](, which automatically synchronizes between my Android smart phone and the web version. But there are many other options, such as [Wunderlist]( and [Evernote]( The key is that it should work wherever you are, and it should sync. So if you use a PC and a smart phone, make sure you use a tool that will synchronize between both systems!
  • 3. Other Options

    I actually use both a notebook and a mobile app. Google Keep houses my “master” list. But occasionally I don’t have my mobile phone with me, or it would be inappropriate to pull it out, but jotting a quick note in a pocket notebook would be acceptable.

    There are other tools I use for managing my list as well, but eventually everything ends up in my Google Keep list:

    • Digital Camera This comes in very handy while traveling. If I see a sign, or a menu item which needs explanation, I can just snap a photo, then later copy the relevant words to my master list.
    • Browser Bookmarks I often find an article I want to read in my target language, but I may not have the time to digest it all at once, so I’ll bookmark the article, and go back later and move the troublesome words to my master list.
    • Kindle Paperwhite The Kindle Paperwhite (and perhaps some other models) have a built in vocabulary practice list. Any time I look up a word, it automatically ads it to this vocabulary list. I later move the words to my master list. I’ll blog more about using a Kindle for language learning in the future.
    • Highlighter If I’m reading a dead tree book in my target language, I’ll often sit with a highlighter pen, and mark every word or phrase that is new to me. This is less disruptive than typing words into my mobile phone while reading. Then after a reading session, I can quickly go back through the book and add the highlighted words to my master list.

What to put on your list

This is pretty simple, really. Any time you have a question about your target language, put it on your list.

You heard the word “battement” for the first time in French, and you don’t know what it means? Add it to your list.

You were having a conversation in Portuguese and a friend asked what you do for a living, and you don’t know the word for “industrial engineer”? Add “industrial engineer” to the list–yes, write it there in English.

You read a sign with the phrase “prêt à manger”, and you don’t know how to pronounce it? Add it to your list.

You’re walking down the street, naming everything you see in your target language, and you realize you don’t know the Hindi word for “trash can”? Add it to your list.

So you have a list — Now what?

Now that you have a list of a dozen new words or concepts, it’s time to put it to use!

Attacking the items on this list can be as varied as the ways you added to the list. But we’ll go over some of the options here, and I’ll go into greater detail on many of these in future posts.

  1. Use a dictionary
    Many of your questions can be answered by consulting a dictionary in your target language, or a translation dictionary between your target and native languages. This will likely be the resource that answers the majority of your questions, especially early on, when you’re simply trying to learn the word for “trash can” and what “battement” means.
  2. Use an online reference resource

    There are many online resources to learn about your target language, and one clear advantage they offer over a print dictionary is audio files. If you’re trying to learn pronunciation, [Forvo]( is a great resource. [Wiktionary]( also offers audio clips for some words in some languages.

  3. Ask your language mentor

    If you’re in a language class, you have an obvious place to ask your question. If you’re not taking a formal class, ask a friend who speaks your target language.

  4. Online Communities

    And finally, while it’s usually my last resort, it’s also one of my favorites. There are many online communities where you can ask questions about your target language. Use Google to find a place where you can ask your question.

  5. Flashcards
    Every item that ends up on your list ought to end up on at least one practice flashcard. This is the best way to ensure that you don’t forget the information you just learned! I’ll write more about effectively using flashcards in the future.

It’s a pretty straight-forward concept. And few people, in my experience, use it. But everyone should. Will you?

Leave a comment below with your experience using a Language List.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, and share this post if you find it to be helpful!

Glossophile? Glossa-what?

Editor’s note: This article is also available in Spanish.
Nota del editor: Este artícolo también está disponible en español.
¿Glosófilo? ¿Gloso-qué?

As I was thinking about launching this blog, I knew I would need to come up with name.  I wanted something short. Something memorable.  Something meaningful.  I spent several days brainstorming with my wife and some friends, and we had come up with a few ideas.  But nothing felt  quite right.

SapiosexualThen a few days ago, while I was working, the word “sapiosexual” came to mind.  It’s a relatively new word, a neologism, apparently “invented” in 1998. And for most language purists, it’s poorly formulated, and not especially meaningful. But the touted definition is:

sapiosexual noun
a person who is sexually attracted to intelligence in others

So this word got me thinking down the path of forming a word from ancient roots to convey the message I wanted.

Looking for a Latin name

If “sapiosexual” is a person who is attracted to intelligence, what word describes someone attracted to languages?  Using the Latin root for language, I’d have “linguasexual”, or the Latin root for speaking, I’d have “loquosexual”.  The first is clearly out because “lingua” also means tongue, and that would be the first meaning to come to mind when reading the word.  The second would also be confused, at least among American English speakers, with attraction for crazy people (thanks to the word “loco”, which we borrowed from Spanish).

And all of this ignores the fact that I’m not really interested in writing a sexual blog at all! (Never mind that most people, probably erroneously, don’t think “sapiosexual” is an overtly sexual term.)

Looking for a Greek name

So my next stop was Greek roots.  The Greek root φίλος (phílos), meaning “friend” or “beloved”, was my starting point.  We have many derivative terms in English. An audiophile is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction. A Francophile has a strong affection for all things French. And of course I’m sure you can think of a few other -philias, many of which are not appropriate for work.

So one of -phile or -philia was to be my suffix. I still needed a prefix.  Greek for “language” (as well as “tongue”) is γλώσσα (glóssa). Its from this root where we get terms like “glossary”.

Narrowing it down: Glosso-

I began searching for words formed from these roots.  Glossophilia is an established word.

Glossophobia is the fear of speaking–specifically in public.

Xenoglossophobia is the fear of foreign languages (not a problem I face!).

With these precedents, I knew I was on to something.

Arriving at Glossophile

I simply had to replace the -phobia in glossophobia with my chosen suffixes, -philia and phile.  Of these two, Glossophilia is the more common as a word but it also sounds (to me, at least) more sexual than I prefer. And the domain name is already taken anyway.  So I settled on Glossophile.

I felt like “The Glossophile” had a better ring than simply “Glossophile.” Thus the name of the blog.

So borrowing from the definition of audiophile, I have accepted the following definition for glossophile, and thus the name of my blog:

glossophile noun
a person who is enthusiastic about language

I am a glossophile. I am enthusiastic about language. And this blog is about my enthusiasm about language. And not just foreign language, or I might have called it “The Xenoglossophile.” I’m enthusiastic about my native language, English, as well as the other languages I speak to varying degrees: Spanish, Portuguese, and French. I’m also enthusiastic about languages I don’t speak.

Mark Twain is one of America's favorite glossophiles.
One of America’s favorite glossophiles.

I hope you’re a glossophile, too. If you’re not enthusiastic about language, I hope you’ll stick around, and maybe some of my glossophilia can rub off on you. And don’t worry if you don’t speak more than one language. You can be enthusiastic about your own language, or about language in general. Many of the most famous glossophiles in history were mono-lingual!