I recently met the inventor of Fetch-a-Phrase, a method of keeping all the key phrases you need for a language in your back pocket. You take basic phrases for you language, correlate the words from one language to the other, and then use the correlations to build new sentences.
You don’t have to be great at languages. You just have to care. You don’t have to be fluent in a language. You just have to try. You don’t need to understand everything. You just have to say something. You don’t have to impress anyone. You just have to do something for someone else.
It’s easy to get off track in one’s language learning (unless you’re one of the lucky few who gets paid to do so). Work projects become demanding, kids’ schedules take up time, and the spring cleaning needs to get done somehow. I found myself in this situation over the past couple months; I got off track. But languages always pull me back. Fortunately, I’ve thought for a long time about methods for learning languages, and a few of my favorite on-line language-lovers offer good advice that got me going again. The two pieces of advice that helped a lot: 1) work a little every day and 2) passive learning is important.
No shame in falling off the horse
I admit that I got out of the daily habit of setting aside time for my languages. This happens to everyone. I am not independently wealthy, so I spend a lot of time working. I do not work professionally with languages, so I have to find the time amidst my spare time. As we all know, spare time ebbs and flows; we have little control over how much we have. Many voices call out for our spare time, as well. Family, community, and relaxation all require some of our time–and that’s after coming home from work.
Nevertheless, I want back up on the language horse I fell off of. I needed to find a way to work on my languages amidst all these demands. So I recalled some great things I’ve learned from the web.
Aaron Myers at the Everyday Language Learner site constantly reminded me via his Twitter feed (@aarongmyers) to do something every day. I love the name of his blog because the double-meaning fits me perfectly. I need to learn languages “every day,” plus I’m a simple, garden-variety “everyday” language learner with cares, demands, and responsibilities like everyone else.
Finding 30 minutes to figure out what exercise I should do, though, was more than I could do. Learning every day was too much. So I was hardly learning anything. This was demoralizing and out-of-character for me. I had to learn how to do something every day, even if it was 5 minutes.
Passive learning jump-started my active learning
Passive learning allowed me to start up right away with little concentration and commitment, and then it led me easily–and unexpectedly–to more active study. Steve Kaufmann, who blogs and vlogs about language-learning, advocates passive language input, which will aid language-learning when one turns to more active methods. While I’m not beginning my language, I thought taking a passive-learning approach for now would help.
The BBC offers a one-hour daily news digest in Farsi, and I challenged myself this week to listen to the whole thing every day. It’s certainly over my head, but it’s well-produced and discussing topics I already know a little about. I listened a little in the morning while brushing my teeth, during my commute, and during some of my workouts. Though I didn’t make it all the way through every episode, and on a couple days I listened to the last few minutes while I was falling asleep at night, I still benefited. I was remembering words I thought I had forgotten and I looked up words occasionally. My mind turned again towards Farsi–exactly what I’d hoped for!
On Saturday, then, I started using the great learning app, Anki. This app soups up my old flash cards. It offers universal accessibility–platforms for PC (Windows and Linux), Android, and on-line–and keeps track of what words I know best. It also reminds me when it’s time to study. Creating new cards I find the hardest, but the application makes it easy to cut and paste from emails, articles, or Google Translate. I can also tag the source of my word. Thanks to Anki, I spent 10 minutes in bed this morning reviewing some words, in addition to the 25 minutes (so far today) of listening to the BBC. I’m back!
Quantity, not quality
Of course, the quality of your language-learning materials are important, but quantity got me back up into language-learning. Doing something–anything–every day not only helped my language knowledge but also my motivation. It’s easy to lose focus when life is busy, but 10 minutes that’s over your head is better than nothing.
Another thing I learned was that searching for quality input is important, but can’t stand in the way of practice. When I’m looking for material more than I’m praticing, I’ve lost my balance. I can tend to be a perfectionist, so I have to beware of this balance. “Just do it!” has to be my motto.
This coming week, I’m going to try more of the same. I’ll listen to the Persian BBC podcast as well as work my Anki cards as much as possible. We’ll see where I end up.
Are you languishing in your language-study? Did you fall off the horse? What’s one thing you can do–even for one day–in the next day or two to work on your language? Tweet this article and help spread the encouragement!
To improve our problem-solving capabilities, we all need to see things from a new perspective. We may be successful in our careers and relationships. But our successes possess some parts that are not working as well as they could. We can’t see them, though. When we live inside our mind, the mind that has figured out how to be successful, we learn to skim over the gaps in our lives.
Learning a language forces us to struggle for success. We can’t live under the illusion of inevitable success in our lives; our constant failures in basic communication remind us of our shortcomings. We sit in front of someone who has great success in speaking this language; the native speaker’s every at-bat appears to result in an inevitable home run. In stark contrast to the native speaker, we struggle just to hear the crack of the bat.
The other person has a different complement of successes and failures in their experience. When we build a relationship with that person, we enjoy the opportunity to learn.
When we struggle with a language, we can plug into a new world of success and failure. An immigrant, for example, has struggled with great loss, moving away from their entire support system in order to support themselves in a new way. This movement brings loneliness through separation. Immigrants also likely struggled with languages, leaving them trapped in their poorly-expressed thoughts. When we move into their comfort zone, we leave ours, and we are ready to learn: about a new person, a different life, a foreign way of thinking.
Have you had such an encounter learning a language or a new way of thinking? How did it affect you?