Language Learning Needs to be Real
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here.
It's a glorious day here in Vancouver, sunny and warm. It's the warmest day so far this year. Normally, I'd cover the sunlight to get better lighting for the video, but it's just such a glorious day I decided I would leave the sunlight flooding in here. I want to talk about making language learning real and how important that is to our success and I'm going to refer, again, to my most recent experience with Romanian. I had a goal.
I had to go to Romania and that really focused me on learning Romanian and I think I learned quite a bit in the two months that I had to prepare, largely listening and reading. After the first three weeks of listening to more basic patterns and some of the simple content we have at LingQ, I was able to find Radio Romania _ and listened to news, history and this kind of thing. Plus, in the second month, I had about five hours a week of discussion with my tutors, but I was still stumbling. It's amazing in, basically, I guess four days.
I spoke a bit of Romanian in Austria at a reception and then I was in Romania for about four days. Being in the real environment it's not just that you hear words, many of them you've heard before and you're speaking some and I was speaking some with my tutors, but I've had this experience before that when you're in the real environment you're language learning can take a real jump forward. There was a fellow on our forum at LingQ who was talking about going to France and hoping that he would be able to really improve his French while there.
I said in my experience he will, because you're now in a situation where you're not talking to a tutor who speaks to you slowly, is understanding and whom you've paid. You're talking to people at the train station, in the shops who may or may not be patient, may or may not phrase or pronounce things carefully and you've got to respond to it. You're surrounded by the language, the newspapers, the radio and it's just a different feeling. All of a sudden the language is not an academic exercise, it's real. It's something you need to communicate and it just changes the way our mind deals with the language. So much of language learning, I believe, has to do with your emotions and your attitudes toward the language.
Do you like the language, do you not like the language, are you confident, not confident. And, of course, this sense of being a real situation with the language really can propel you forward; however, there are some conditions. I firmly believe that if you are not prepared, if you go into a store and someone barks something at you, you haven't a chance to understand what they're saying. Again, in Romania I had a factory visit one day and then we visited these monasteries, magnificent monasteries up in the northern part of Moldova.
The next day I had a car and driver because in Romania if you rent a car for another 20 Euros a day you can get driver. We were six hours in the car. Six hours we were speaking in Romanian the whole way. Now, had I not been prepared, I couldn't possibly. I mean once I get past ‘my name is', ‘how old are you', that's it, if I don't have the sufficient preparation. So I firmly believe that to take advantage of a visit to a country and to get that thrust forward in your language skills prepare yourself ahead of time.
I've done this before. I've done it with Czech. Czech took a lot longer than Romanian because of the greater complexity and the fact that Romanian has a lot of freebie words from French and Italian and so forth, but it's the same idea. You focus on the fact that you're going to go somewhere and then you prepare ahead of time. Then when you go there you have this major breakthrough because you're sufficiently well prepared. I'm going to ramble a bit, but I was in a restaurant locally here and one of our waitresses had studied Mandarin for a year in a high school here in Vancouver.
We were with a Chinese couple and so we said well, can you say anything. So she turned to the Chinese couple and all she could say was . In other words, I'm Sarah. Who are you? First of all, that's extremely impolite. You don't speak to people like that, what's your name, even in English, in Chinese, but that's all she had, which is kind of sad. A year is a long time. You can learn a lot in a year. Now, granted, she's not very motivated. Although, her father is Chinese, her mother is not Chinese, she should have been motivated. Motivation is key.
That's why so many people in the French language programs in Canada don't learn because they're not very motivated. So how do you motivate them? Well, you make it real because the pleasure that I derived from my, albeit brief, four days in Romania was immense. I met this mayor of a small town in Vienna. His small town is where one of these sawmills is located that we deal with and he made me change my schedule. Instead of going to Brasov, I ended up going to his little town Comanesti. Then we had a dinner with different kinds of cheese and and stuff like that. He was such a nice guy, kissed me on both cheeks every time I met him, and then he insisted that I take his car and driver, a little Volkswagen, it's not like a limousine or anything, to go the next day to Sibiu through the mountains, which was like a nine-hour drive and he wouldn't take no for an answer.
That's just one example of how tremendously nice people were towards me. I was in Sibiu and the sun was beating down.
I didn't have a hat and I get headaches from the sun and I managed to find this secondhand shop and they had a little hat there, but I mean we had a lovely conversation. In Romania people speak English well, many people speak English well. She spoke English well. In fact, this particular lady was married to someone from South America, but we had a great conversation in Romanian and people were just so friendly. So you come away with this wonderful experience like you've made new friends. Unfortunately, I shouldn't say unfortunately, but I have to go back and concentrate on Korean now because I've said I'm going to learn that language.
It's always like this every time you've had this brief fling with a language, Russian, Czech, Romanian. I'm very reluctant to leave it because I had so many pleasant experiences associated with the language, but they're the real situations. That's why to prepare for yourself for those real situations I still think that intensive listening and reading and building up your vocabulary is the way to go. You can do it wherever you are. You can do it on your own. You can follow your interests. If you're listening to and reading things of interest it's meaningful, more meaningful than in a classroom where they have role playing or what they call task-based language learning.
Let's pretend that you are buying groceries or let's pretend that you are the checkout girl. I find these things artificial and not meaningful. I far rather, in my interactions with my tutors, just talk about whatever we can come up with, whatever interests us that day. That's real; therefore, it's real meaningful. What did you do today? She asks me about my job, I ask her. We talk about politics. We talk about anything, rather than try to artificially pretend that I walk into a store. If you have this broad base in the language, if you have a lot of words, if you've been listening the brain has started to get used to hearing where words begin and end, picking up on certain phrases.
So you go into the store the first time somebody barks something at you, you don't get it, but the next time you go into that store you'll be ready. You'll be encountering then in the real life a variety of these situations. You'll be sitting in on a triangular conversation and slowly starting to pick up on it. So, I guess what I'm saying is that having a real-life goal of visiting the country, one of the countries where the language is spoken, throwing yourself into that real-life situation is tremendously beneficial to your language learning.
It gives you so much more enjoyment in terms of visiting the country then you could possibly have if you didn't speak the language. It becomes a very concrete goal that can motivate you in your language learning, but you have to prepare for it. Artificial role playing and pretending that you're at the bank and other artificial scenarios, to my mind, is not as good a way of preparing as massive listening and reading on subjects of interest then followed up with natural meaningful conversations, meaningful interactions with native speakers, which you can initiate, therefore, via Skype and then, eventually, hopefully, going to the country.
Now, not everyone can afford to do that. I realize it, but in today's day and age there are more and more opportunities to travel, the cost of traveling has come down, and you can always try to look for people in your own community that speak the language. I tell you, my visit to Romania was very brief, but I still have this very fond feeling about my experience in Romania and sometime this week I'm going to put up a discussion with one of my Romanian tutors.
We are also going to have it translated and the translation will appear as captions underneath so you'll get more information about my visit to Romania and you'll be able to judge how far or how quickly you can advance in a language with this combination of massive input, a little bit of online conversation in preparation and then immersion for, unfortunately again, only four days. Obviously, if it were a month that would be a lot better. So thank you for listening and we will talk again, bye for now.