How many times have you heard it? Context is the king. It’s so important. You simply cannot ignore it.
But it’s no king of mine! Why?
Well, using this metaphor, I can only arrive at one conclusion. Most kings are evil bastards and don’t want you to succeed it in life. Just stay where you are a stable boy and scrape the dung off my shoes!
I strongly believe that when you start learning you don’t need and you should not use context-rich learning materials. I think that the there is a fundamental flaw in reasoning that the context is that important
We are cognitive misers. We follow the path of least resistance. Such is our nature. We may choose to oppose or we can accept it and use it in our favor.
When you start learning a new language, the priority is to be able to express yourself clearly as soon as it is only possible. Diving into too many contexts taxes us immensely. There is no denying it. If we are to pay the price, shouldn’t reward be at least satisfying?
And it is not. Not for me anyway. Why should you spend hours and hours reading texts and listening to things which you can’t make sense of?
You can’t because you don’t know the vocabulary, and learning from context at the early stage of language learning is not always possible, nor is it pleasant. Such approach is not efficient.
WHAT’S DICTIONARY FOR ANYWAY?
My philosophy of learning is drastically different. If my aim is to get to B1 level as quickly as possible, I very often neglect extensive reading.
Why is that?
Because that’s always been a purpose of dictionaries. If I provide myself with a small, good dictionary I get an immediate access to the most popular words in a given language.
Good (yet still small) dictionaries are also characterized by other important features: they include pronunciation, the most important meaning of words and popular phrases and collocations.
If I want to get the most out of, say, 4 hours of learning, I’ll spend roughly 70% percent of this time trying to learn vocabulary from a dictionary.
This way, I can rapidly learn new vocabulary without spending a lot of time on thumbing through texts.
Provided of course, that I already know at least basics of grammar. Thus, my means of communication are greatly increased.
CONTEXT IS ROUGHLY THE SAME IN MANY LANGUAGES AT A BASIC LEVEL
There. I said it. Have you ever tried to listen, really listen, to many of your everyday conversations?
Are they really that complicated? Is the language really that bombastic? It is not.
You don’t usually use flowery expressions to impress anyone. I don’t deny that if you truly want to master the language, you need a lot of practice and a lot of materials and contexts.
But it’s not half as important as many people and polyglots claim if you want to learn to communicate.
How wrong can you be when you use words “eat”, “drink”, “assume”, “bad”, “good” (etc.) and their counterparts in other languages?
Speaking from my experience, not very wrong. Sure, sometimes you get the context wrong. Sometimes, some collocations simply do not exist.
But because you’ve learned quickly enough how to communicate, you can now start adjusting what you already know to the real-life situations.
Just to be clear – I don’t advocate abandoning other activities and sticking only to learning vocabulary. I simply believe that in order to speak as quickly as possible such an approach works fantastically.
I spend about 70% learning vocabulary and 30% listening on my journey to B1/B2 level.
If anyone wonders – yes, I haven’t mentioned grammar on purpose. That’s a topic for another article.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SUCH APPROACH?
I start speaking very fast, imperfectly though. Extensive vocabulary practice gives me a huge advantage when I start listening.
The answer to “why? is obvious – it’s much easier to listen when your vocabulary is big.
Reading also becomes easy, once I start doing it.
I try to keep an open mind about my abilities and every time when I can confront my knowledge with real-life context, and I see that I’ve been wrong so far, I revise my outlooks.
I’m sure that it doesn’t sound like fun for many people. But the question I always ask is: do you learn for fun and you or do you want quick effects?
I want effects – but we’re all different in that manner. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t have fun while learning!
I’m aware that for many people my approach is quite ludicrous.
But it’s always good when we read something that triggers our emotions as long as we approach them with an open mind and curiosity.
How often do we discard theories and opinions of others because we can’t seem to look at them differently than through the lens of our biases?
What do you think about the importance of learning? Let me know.