I would like to start this article with a hymn of praise for languages. Oh, how beautiful they are. Their sweet melody. Their hypnotizing rhythm. The ear-caressing flow of perfectly arranged words.
Ok. Joking aside. I’d like to pause again for a moment, just to think why learning a language resembles residing in one of the hell’s circles. You see, Dante was wrong. His vision did include only 9 circles.
There is actually the tenth one. It’s designed for beginners in language learning.
To successfully have a chat in a foreign language, you have to achieve so-called communicative competence. Sounds sexy, I know. But even without reading about it, you know that communicating in a language is damn demanding.
The simplified list of requirements looks like this. You need to quickly recall needed words (between 1k and 2k minimum). You need to know how to pronounce them (Phonology). You need to know where to put them in a sentence (Syntax). You need to know how they change (Morphology).
You need to when to use them depending on circumstances (Pragmatics). At the same time, you need quite a high level of comprehension to understand your interlocutor.
What’s more, if you happen to talk to somebody attractive of the opposite sex, you must remember to:
- keep it cool
- block excessive sweating
- be at least remotely funny
And then there is a phase after each conversation when you have to swallow sadness, pick up the pieces of your self-confidence and convince yourself that language-learning journey IS exciting.
That sucks. We’ve all been there at one point or another. And the progress. Don’t get me started on this one. It’s excruciatingly slow in most cases.
Let’s take a look at the typical (unorganized) language journey.
Typical Effects Of Learning After A Few Years
Just a short notice – I didn’t make this up. These are actual words of one of my students.
“I can talk quite ok when it comes to vocabulary, listening, and pronunciation. I understand many things which I hear on the radio and TV. However, I make tons of mistakes in conversation and can only use a few tenses.”
That’s a bit shortened version. But it should give you some foretaste of the frustration. And all due to the typical classroom teaching language philosophy.
I, The Teacher, Will Correct The Cr*p Out Of Everything You Say
The common language-teaching philosophy is to correct or try to correct almost every mistake. That’s the way one-way ticket to becoming a mayor of the Looney Town.
Just try to imagine that you learn English (unless you really do!) and you say something along these lines – “Tim want to become doctor.”
Your tutor looks at you. His face slowly changes. And then the shitstorm ensues.
“First of all, you don’t say want, but wantS. Also, you always should remember that In English, an indefinite article is needed in front of professions. What’s more, you need to work on your pronunciation! You don’t pronounce x and y the right way…. “. And so on.
The chance is that after one lesson of this kind, you don’t remember most of these remarks. How could you? You can’t concentrate equally on talking and processing all the mistakes. Also, you probably haven’t uttered more than 30-40 sentences during one hour. The constant interruptions are not very helpful. At this pace, you’ll become fully conversant in about, well, 3-4 years?
I believe there is a better way to learn and to teach. The body-building champions can give us a great point of reference.
How Body Builders Train
“It all starts with body-part splits. The researchers were surprised to discover that every single one of these bodybuilders used body-part split-routines either five or six days a week. Every. Single. One. Not most of them or almost all of them, but every single one.”
(You can find the original article here)
A small explanation for those of us (including me) who keep their distance from gyms. Body-parts split mean that body-builders train a certain part of the body on a certain day.
You can imitate this process by conducting grammar and vocabulary drills.
Grammar and Vocabulary Grammar Drills
The main purpose of doing such grills is to concentrate on one thing and one thing only.
For a limited period of time, you practice just this one part of a language.
It means ignoring (as much as possible) all the other mistakes you make. If you decide to work on some future tense – so be it. Ignore the rest.
You can use this technique to activate and practise your vocabulary at the same time.
Simply prepare the list of, say, 20 words which you would like to practise and include it in your grammar drills.
Where Should You Start?
That’s always a very good question. But the answer is relatively simple. You should always choose the part of grammar which is essential for communication and the one that you are the worst at.
Personally, I recommend doing such drills 6 times per week. No, you can’t unwind on the seventh day. On the seventh day, you should put all the pieces together and actually have a conversation with someone. Unless, of course, you have a conversational partner handy. In this case, talk as much as possible.
If you have done it before, I don’t have to convince you. For all the non-believers:
Secondly, to be a tad more mature, the said method allows you to significantly decrease the cognition burden on your working memory. You simply can’t process, analyze and correct all the mistakes you make. This method allows you to eliminate mistakes one by one.
It helps you join together and strengthen the elements that you already know, and build toward a higher level. It is like the big jigsaw puzzle when you can start plugging the missing pieces into the picture more and more quickly.
Language teachers can also use it. Instead of correcting all kinds of mistakes of your students, concentrate on one or two of them. Such approach will accelerate your students’ progress rate.
I’ve experienced it for the first time with my German. I was doing drill after drill. And I felt like my progress wasn’t that great. And suddenly one day BOOM! Magic happened. Language fairy sprinkled some magic dust all over me and I started speaking with such confidence that I felt as if somebody else was speaking.
And I wish you the same! Let the language fairy be with you!