Learning languages is like boxing. I have to work out and practice–like Rocky in the meat locker or running up the stairs of Philadelphia Museum of Art. But I also have to remember that I have to get in the ring. I’m doing my language exercises so that I can “go the distance” and successfully engage in conversation. Lately I’ve been struggling with my language study because I lose sight of how all the learning-exercises fit together and how it all fits in my daily schedule. With recent concrete experiences I’m discovering practical ways to balance learning exercises: to practice my language on my own, but always with the end that I will be talking to people.
I’ve made a cycle through my Farsi resources. For a long time, I was reading articles and listening to podcasts. I memorized lots of vocabulary. I finally burned out on these exercises for two reasons. One, I was too isolated. I couldn’t sustain language-learning without my ultimate end before my eyes, that is, the end of talking to people. Two, my schedule changed and I didn’t have the same kind of time to dedicate to these activities. I was bored because I was stuck with the same vocabulary words and didn’t have time to look for more.
As a result, I recently turned to the internet and Skype. I’ve found several generous Iranian students of English through italki who patiently help me with my Farsi. Two problems have arisen from these conversations. One, the time difference and my work schedule conspire to block frequent meetings. Two, my vocabulary is not good enough to say precisely what I want to say and to understand others’ responses. I’ve recently had a couple of Skype conversations that were frustrating because I was asking people to translate what they said and help me translate what I wanted to say. The talk was not exactly “conversation.” Previously I ran into the same problem with our neighbors.
I can classify my learning problems into two categories: time and skills. I have to work, spend time with my family, and have a social life (even with non-Farsi speakers!). So I need to figure out how much time I have to work on my language and when. This re-analysis would be a good task for the new year. I need to be honest about my time, what I’m spending it on, and how much can I spare on my language. Also, managing my language time so that I don’t get stuck in an unproductive rut like where I found myself this fall.
For my skills, I have to work constantly with an eye on balance. I need the vocabulary and I need conversation. Like a boxer, I have to do push-ups and hit the bag; I also have to get in the ring to spar. I can’t do one without the other. Sparring–conversation–shows where my weaknesses are so that I can go and work on the areas that I’m weak in. Learning vocabulary is the push-ups and punching-bag workouts, but with the goal of engaging with a partner.
One exercise that I’m working on, I’ve mentioned before. I’m working on dialogues to repeat. I’m writing ones in English so that language-learners can use them for multiple languages. Then I’ll translate them into Farsi, and then into Somali. On Skype these work well because I can have lots of different partners and so repeat the same dialogues over and over. This reinforces vocabulary as I converse. I can also use my “unproductive” Skype time to translate something concrete that I can use again later.
I will succeed if I use the little time that I have for languages well. I will use my time well if I am balancing exercises on my own with conversations with other people. The goal for both is to “go the distance” in Farsi–and then any other language.
Can you tell me about times when you ran into time problems? How about problems balancing learning on your own and practicing with others? I’d love to hear your stories.
- EFL teachers’ perceptions about vocabulary acquisition and instruction (udini.proquest.com)
- Creativity in Teaching a Language (languagepie.wordpress.com)
- 50 Great Language Learning Podcasts (edudemic.com)
- 7 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language (travelwithkate.com)
- Re-motivation: Sharpening the axe (lovinglanguage.wordpress.com)
- Just make progress! (lovinglanguage.wordpress.com)
- Progress and perseverance in learning langauges (lovinglanguage.wordpress.com)
- Overcoming fear to end a slump (lovinglanguage.wordpress.com)