Ever buy a book of idioms or phrases in the language you wanted to learn? Somewhere at my wife's parents' house in Japan is a book that I bought several years ago with several hundred pages of phrases. I tried studying some of them, but at some point tried out a few on native Japanese speakers. The response I got was,
"No one says that."
Not being a native speaker myself, I didn't have the facilities to judge whether this was an accurate claim. It may be that the Japanese people I associate with are not particularly literate. Or maybe, in their enthusiasm to find enough phrases to make a book out of, the authors ended up including a lot that were not very common.
But - me and my language conspiracy theories - I have another explanation for why my friends may have...
In order to speak a foreign language well, you’re supposed to think in that language. We all know this. The idea is so widely accepted among learners that it’s almost a cliché. So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we think in the language that we're trying to speak?
People often contrast thinking in your target language with translating. Supposedly people who don’t speak fluently are thinking things up in their native language and then trying to translate it to the target language.
I don’t think that’s what’s really happening. While there may be some very misguided learners who literally do think out a sentence and then try to translate it, most of us don’t do this. In fact, I don’t think I put my sentences...
Something odd happens in my brain when I attempt to speak French. I formulate an idea that I want to express, get a couple words into putting it together, come across a concept that I don’t remember the word for, and suddenly I’m remembering the word... in Japanese.
This happened to me tonight as I was having dinner at a vegan restaurant with some French speaking friends. I had finished eating a delicious risotto and wanted to express something regarding the food. I slowly built up the phrase:
J’ai - aimé - mon - tabemono.
Yes, for some reason the part of my brain that searches for missing words is connected to the part where I keep my Japanese. To fill in the gaps, French is a language that I studied in high school and college. I...
One other aspect of finding good learning material that I wasn't able to touch on in my last post is the issue of variety.
Let's say that you've found a great, convenient study method for building vocabulary and reading comprehension. You've found a good news site that provides video clips and an accompanying transcript. You watch the clips, read along, and use an online dictionary or some Firefox plugin to look up the meaning of words that you don't understand. Then you copy those words to your notes or enter them into an SRS program. You repeat this for 30 minutes a day for 6 months.
At the end of that 6 months, you will undoubtedly be much better at reading and watching clips of current news. But you will probably not be much better at describing the problem you're having...
I'll assume that you're thoroughly convinced by my arguments for using real, authentic language rather than material that's been created for learners.
But where do you find good examples of language in its natural habitat? The good news is that there's more good learning material out there than ever before.
The Ultimate Weapon: Immersion
Let me go ahead and get this out there. Immersion is the ultimate way to learn. Immersion means that you talk with your friends in the target language, you watch TV in the language, you do your banking, buy your groceries, and get your hair cut in that language. You will get so many hours of education in without even knowing it, and what you learn in the morning will be reinforced later in the afternoon, so the problem of forgetting...