The past few weeks I have been studying Spanish pretty hard.
It really feels like working out. I literally feel tired after an hour of intensive study.
My method has mainly been the Pimsleur audio program and LiveMocha courses in Spanish, and occasionally I have a Skype conversation with a native Spanish speaker.
I am somewhat pleased with my progress, and I am learning to recognize more and more of the speech of native speakers. I’ve been at it for 6+ months, though. It seems like the process is draaaaaaagging its way along.
Introducing: Ineffective Language Acquisition.
I have come up with a list of things which do not move fluency along at an appreciable pace. I have done most of these at one time or another, but have really discovered that they simply not work well. I list them here so that you won’t waste your time with them as well.
1. Flash cards with one word on them.
No one learns the structure and grammar of a language one word at a time.
You learn language in strings of phrases. If you really want use flashcards, make them with full sentences that you want to say, like “Thank you, I really appreciate that” or “Hello, you look like an interesting, person. Can I ask you a question?”
On top of this, I have found one word flashcards utterly boring… I mean, think about it: they really are only one step above memorizing a dictionary.
2. Language courses which don’t require you to produce something.
There is a big difference in the mental work required to produce the appropriate expression versus selecting the appropriate expression among a list of 4 or 5 possibilities.
In the production process, you are actually requiring your mind to do that you really want to do– write or speak your thoughts in the target language. In the selection process, you are only required to recognize a few unique features of a set of phrases, and are not required to write or speak your thoughts in the language. Massive difference.
Think back to your school days… Multiple choice tests always gave you a shot because the answer is right there. Fill in the blank tests were all-or-none; either you could produce the answer or you couldn’t. While the former perhaps enabled you to get a higher score, the latter requires more of you, is harder, but is therefore more effective.
3. No native speaker friends in target language.
If your goal is to read and converse in the target language, what better way to do this than practice chatting with native speakers?
Find friends online and setup a Skype meeting with them. It is really fun, and you can help them with English or another language you know. If you feel a little nervous, learn a little bit of the target language before you Skype… or just do a text-chat. With time, your abilities grow, and chances are the other person will be having as much fun as you.
I have found this to be one of the best ways of language acquisition. After your conversation is over, write down the phrases that your native speaker friend helped you with and review them.
4. Inconsistent practice.
Language unfortunately does not permit the “slam and cram” approach.
It is a long process which requires a consistent, daily approach– much like fitness. You simply cannot do it any other way. Practice each day. If you miss a day, forget about it and pick up where you left off. Build the castle brick by brick. Eat the elephant bite by bite. You know the sayings.
5. No external goal.
Your progress will be enlivened if you have some sort of deadline you are working toward.
In January, I am going to Colombia. Already bought the plane ticket. I really want to know Spanish as well as I can by then. I have been to countries and not known the language, but this time, I want to speak with the natives, perhaps ask a girl out in Español.
I also had the new year’s resolution of finishing the entire Pimsleur Spanish program. With that goal in mind, I have a clear indication of whether I was successful or not… A generic goal like “learn Spanish” is not measurable.
If you are doing any of these things, you are almost certainly slowing your progress to fluency.
If you have learned or are currently learning a language, what have you found to slow you down?