There are 10 golden rules for learning languages with stories.
And if you apply even ONE of these 10 rules, then you’ll find yourself learning much faster: more words, more grammar.
And you’ll even start thinking in your new language before you know it.
So let’s get into the rules.
If you like watching videos, just click on the video above to discover the rules. If you're in a rush or you're more of a visual person, you'll find the rules on the infographic below.
And if you're more of a reader, well, keep reading!
In time honoured tradition, we’re going to be counting down from 10 to 1, so make sure you read till the end.
So coming in first, the 10th rule of StoryLearning is…
Rule #10 Read At Your Level
Now, we’re starting with this rule because literally everything else depends on this — it’s like the pin in the grenade.
If you want to learn a language by reading, you’ve got to read at your level.
And reading at your level means that it’s not too easy, not to hard.
How do you know you’re reading at the right level?
When you can follow the plot of what you’re reading. Not everything, just the main ideas.
Now this typically means that you’re going to understand at least 7 out of every 10 words that you’re reading.
I can’t overstate the importance of getting this right.
If it’s too hard, you won’t learn anything.
And if reading hasn’t worked for you in the past, it’s almost certainly because you’re reading something that’s too hard.
Rule #9 Focus On The Plot
When people learn languages, they’re often desperate for the “learning to happen”
And that’s when they start to look up words in the dictionary.
Or worry about grammar rules.
But StoryLearning magic works when you focus simply on understanding the plot of the story. Because when you understand what you’re reading, you’ll learn vocabulary and grammar naturally.
As Steven Krashen says: “We acquire language when we understand messages, when we understand what people tell us and when we understand what we read.”
So when you’re reading, you have ONE job.
And that job is follow the plot.
Just focus on the following the plot – even if it’s just the gist – and read through to the end of the story.
Rule #8 Door Closed, Phone Off
There’s a famous study from the UOC that found that, if you get interrupted in the middle of a task, it takes 23 minute to refocus.
It kinda sounds like a lot. But look at it in another way, we all know what a “flow state” feels like, when we’re super absorbed in a task and time flies.
Well look – language learning is about focus.
The deeper you focus, the more you learn, and that makes it critical that when you do sit down to study, you should do everything you can to focus on reading the story and understanding as much as you can
So sit down, close the door, for the love of God turn off your phone, and make every minute count.
Rule # 7 Learn The Script
The StoryLearning method relies on reading,
And this throws up the question: what if I’m learning a language with a new script?
Answer: Learn the script.
Seriously, most scripts are not that hard to learn.
Arabic, Japanese hiragana, Russian – you can learn it in a weekend.
And once you got it, it’s like that Narnia analogy where you open up a whole new world.
Yes, it’ll take you some time to really get used to the script and read fluently, but there’ll never be a better time to learn it than RIGHT NOW.
So learn the script right away.
Rule # 6 Don’t Look Up Words
As human beings who crave certainty, it can be a really stressful experience when there are words we don’t understand.
But in language learning, you MUST develop the skill of understanding what’s going on EVEN THOUGH you don’t understand every word…
Because then you win!
Because when you can read and understand – even if it means guessing those words you don’t know – you become completely free!
You can read anything you want!
But there’s another important reason why you shouldn’t stop to look up words when you read.
Looking up even one word steals your focus from your reading.
And it’s a slippery slope. Before you know it, you’re looking up every single damn word.
So remember the goal of focusing on the plot of the story…
And stop looking up all those words!
Rule #5 Listen While Reading
The fifth rule of StoryLearning is to always listen along while reading.
Listening and reading together doesn’t take any extra time. But you’re getting double the benefit, because you’re training your ears at the same time.
Which helps you learn to understand the spoken language.
It’s like a free lunch.
Listening also has the magical effect of activating different parts of your brain, and this is going to help you learn faster and put words into your long-term memory.
And if you’re interested in the science behind learning through stories, then make sure to check out this article about the theory of StoryLearning.
Of course the great thing about having the audio is that you can listen when reading isn’t possible, like driving, or in the gym. I mean it’s possible but not advisable!
Rule #4 Read It, Then Read It Again!
So StoryLearning is about reading.
And the magic of reading is that you can learn words and grammar naturally. Because your brain can notice things by itself.
And one of the best ways to give your brain the chance to notice things about the language is by reading things more than once.
It’s like a great film, where each time you watch it, you notice details that you didn’t spot first time round.
- The first time you read something, you might just focus on understanding the plot.
- When you read it a second time, you already know the plot, so can start to guess some difficult words that you didn’t catch first time.
- And if you read it a third time, you might notice some interesting grammar that’s being used to tell the story.
Point is – give your brain the chance to notice as much as possible by reading chapters more than once.
Rule #3 Don’t Study Grammar
- But Olly! Grammar is important. Yes it is.
- But Olly! You need to learn grammar. Yes you do.
- But Olly! Grammar is the most important thing…
Ehhh, not so much.
Look, I’m not hating on grammar. I actually really enjoy grammar.
But the trouble is, grammar has a habit of being all-consuming – to the point where many people ONLY study grammar and don’t think about anything else.
And, truth is, grammar simply isn’t as important as you think it is, at least not until you’re more advanced.
And so, the point of this rule isn’t to say “Don’t ever study grammar”.
The point of this rule is to say – just set grammar to one side, don’t worry about it, and just focus on reading, and enjoying the story.
You’ll learn more grammar than you ever dreamed of, with a tenth of the effort. And have a lot more fun doing it.
So: don’t study grammar rules.
Go on – I dare you!
And if you don’t believe me, I refer you to the first rule of StoryLearning, coming up soon!
Rule #2 Learn Every Day
When the pandemic hit back in 20– : you know what year I’m talking about…
I got a bit stressed, and I started going for a daily walk.
One hour of walking first thing in the morning.
I really enjoyed it, just as a way to stay active in lockdown and clear my head.
It became a daily habit, and after a few months of walking every day, I jumped on the scales one day and realised I’d lost 5kg. Just from a simple daily habit.
Our bodies and our brains adapt to literally anything.
And I believe the biggest secret to any change you want to bring about in your life is to just do a little bit every day, stay consistent, and let TIME do the work.
You know, As a language learner your biggest enemy is yourself!
If you can commit to reading in your new language, just a little, every day, then I promise you you’re in for a transformation you won’t believe.
All you have to do is not get in the way!
And on the topic of not getting in the way, this brings us to our last and final rule of StoryLearning.
Rule #1 Trust In The Process
If one thing is likely to stop you learning every day, it’s getting restless.
It’s being impatient for results, expecting quick wins and EUREKA MOMENTS every time you sit down to study.
Because this leads to the butterfly effect – jumping from one language resource to the next, hoping that this time, will FINALLY be the one that works for you…
Don’t let that be you.
Remember that slow and steady wins the race.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Yeah, enough cliches.
Just trust in the process. Because everything you’ve ever wanted is waiting for you just outside your comfort zone.
That was another cliche!!
But look, if you’d like to apply these rules in practice, then why not try them out in a real StoryLearning course.
I have StoryLearning courses in lots of different languages and at different levels.
These courses come with all the material you need to try out the method – the stories, the audio, even coaching from me.
And of course everything at your level so you can get on with learning, rather than wasting time looking for more stuff.