This question assumes that the learner of a second language (hereafter abbreviated as L2L):

  1. has at least an undergraduate Major in linguistics.

  2. is learning, from scratch, a common language such as one these 100.

Popular books or resources on language learning may prove shallow and superficial, because e.g.:

  1. they fail to explain exceptions to rules, or help the L2L whom memorisation has failed for understanding nuances (e.g. as a method to acquire adpositions).
  2. knowing phonetics and phonology, the L2L may prefer precise IPA transcriptions over 'non-phonemic' or 'newspaper' systems of pronunciation respelling.
  3. knowing historical linguistics, the L2L may prefer an etymological approach to new words.

3 Answers 3


I have a degree in linguistics, and used a very simple method to use my background in learning the languages I wanted to learn (in my case, Mandarin and Spanish): I took university-level Mandarin and Spanish language courses. They are aimed at students of the philology of the respective language, therefore, they are intensive and the grammatical descriptions are more detailed than in typical language courses.

Of course, that's not the only thing I did, and I wouldn't even say these courses were an indispensible part of my language learning. I used many "normal" language courses for self-learning, and had classes with "normal" private language tutors. Still, the university language courses were very useful for sorting out my grammatical knowledge, avoiding typical mistakes and recognising many patterns that I was unable to pick up before.

In case of Chinese I additionally took a class in Classical Chinese, and yes, I think it does help with understanding Modern Chinese as well (on higher proficiency levels).

(University courses are free in the country where I live. High tuition fees in some countries may make this method much less practical, I'm afraid.)


There are some ways that a linguistics major can approach language learning differently.

First, they should be able to analyse the language more. They are used to analysing syntactical and morphophonological structures in languages they are not familiar with, and they can bring this into their studies of a new language - helping them to study grammar more independently. This can be very useful, because often descriptions of grammar in textbooks are simplistic or shallow, and learners can understand them better if they analyse them for themselves. (Note: this does not mean that grammar study should dominate their learning.)

Second, they'll be able to take advantage of the International Phonetic Alphabet more easily. When they have trouble with certain sounds, they can look more closely at descriptions of the articulatory phonology of the language to help them make the sounds.

These aren't big differences. They will probably know the importance of getting lots of input by reading and listening a lot, too.
Of course, someone without a linguistics background could do all of these things too, but most won't, and the person with a linguistics background will have experience, so they'll be better prepared to do things like analyse the language.


I don't think a person with a background in linguisitics would approach learning a language any differently than someone without linguistic training.

The benefit of a degree in linguistics is the ability to appreciate a language at a much deeper level (metalingusitically). For example, you mentioned in your question how popular language books are superficial in many ways. This is something only a person with linguistic training would notice due to their experience learning about the structure of a language.

One of the precursors to audiolingualism was the "Informant Method". This method was used during WWII and was developed by the Army Specialized Training Program. This method involved a solider who needed to learn the target language. The soldier was teamed with a native speaker (aka informant) of the target language and a linguist. The informant provided phrases for the solider and the linguists job was to identify the basic structure of the language to support the solider learning the target language. Naturally, the linguist learned the target language as well. Both the soldier and linguist participated in guided conversation with the informant.

From this example, we can see that a linguist will have the advantage of being able to decipher the structure of a language due to their training.

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