Noticing in language learning
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here.
Today I'm going to talk about noticing and many of you have heard me say that three key elements in language learning are: Number one, the attitude of the learner. Are you motivated? Do you like the language? Do you have confidence that you're going to succeed? Are you resisting the language or are you just letting it come in? All of these attitudinal things are the most important. The second thing is how much time you are prepared to spend with the language. ‘With the language' doesn't mean necessarily in a classroom. It means with the language, listening to it, reading, speaking, time with the language. The third thing is learning to notice. I think more people have trouble understanding that third principle, so I want to discuss it a little bit with reference to my recent effort to improve in Portuguese.
Remember I said I would try to improve my Portuguese because I want to make a video in Portuguese and Portuguese is not one of my stronger languages.
It's down near the bottom there, a language that I have kind of spent time learning over the last four or five years more or less relying on my Spanish, pronouncing it more or less like Spanish and so I decided I would try to step it up a notch. What did I do? Well, one of the first things I did was that I found… Well, what have I bought over the years? I have always bought lots of language-learning material, Pimsleur is one. I have Pimsleur, by the way, for Portuguese and Russian. I have a number of these things. I have Assimil for Russian and Korean. I have lots, so when I comment on them I comment from some experience.
I've always been not a great fan of Pimsleur because it has so little vocabulary in it that it would take forever to learn a language.
To me, in language learning I want to have a big vocabulary so that I can understand people, so that I can understand what I read and so I can then continue to increase my vocabulary because the more you know, the more you can learn. However, the one good thing about Pimsleur is that the sound quality of the recordings is excellent.
You have to put up with the English that's on the CDs, but the the target language sound quality is excellent.
The words repeat so that you can really start to notice how things are pronounced. So in Brazilian Portuguese it's not "comO it's "comU". The ‘O' is, in fact, an ‘Ooh'. It's not "O hotel" it's "U hotel". It's not "dO Brasil" it's "dU Brasil". So these kinds of things that you sometimes don't notice or you do know they're there but you don't pay much attention, you hear them on Pimsleur and then when I go back into listening to other more interesting stuff I find myself noticing some of those aspects of pronunciation more. So it helps me to notice.
Similarly, I'm not going to reach for it here, but I have my Teach Yourself Portuguese.
I went through that very quickly. The first time I looked at that five years ago or so it made some impression on me, but I have listened to a lot of Portuguese since then so those descriptions of grammar in that book now refer to something that I'm familiar with. So, in fact, it does, again, “help me to notice” because I see it there. I haven't really absorbed it, but it makes me a little more sensitive to it so that when I'm listening and reading I say oh, yeah, right. That's that aspect. That's what they call the personal infinitive or something. So I might underline it if I'm reading or I might pay attention while I'm listening.
Along those lines, verbs are a problem for a learner in Portuguese and so there is a very nice site that I have now on my iPad here called Conjuga-me (conjuga, as in conjugate, hyphen me, m-e, me).
There you punch in any verb and you have the full conjugation of all the different tenses and anything that's irregular is in orange. They also help you a little bit, for example, for the future subjunctive "quando eu esquecer" or "quando tu esqueceres". They help you with it so, in all, I just think it's an excellent tool.
Here again, I find I can't remember from studying these lists, but it does help me to notice.
So I start to notice a little more when I'm listening how the ‘ar' verbs, ‘er' verbs, ‘ir' verbs perform in different tenses. All of these things help me to notice. However, I would say that's like the 20% activity. The 80% activity is just the massive reading and listening. Having become a little more alert because of looking at the nuts and bolts, I become a little more attentive when I'm listening and reading. My main activity had been massive listening and reading.
Today I worked all day in the garden, actually I'm quite exhausted, so I had on my Nano here and I had these wonderful wireless headphones so I didn't cut anything and didn't get entangled in the bushes or anything while I was listening, although I was sweating profusely.
I was listening to The Kite Runner in Portuguese. Again, some years ago when I got interested in Portuguese I sent away for some audio books from Brazil and this is one of the ones that I got. It's okay.
The other day I was listening in my car to "A Arte da Guerra".
My wife now has gone to Toronto to visit with her family, so I'm doing a lot of work around the house, cleaning things up and that sort of thing and playing a couple of games of golf with friends. Unfortunately, my friends don't appreciate it if I listen while we're playing golf, but it's a 40-minute drive there, 40-minute drive back, I'm listening. Oh, another one of my favorites four or five years ago was Rubem Alves, who is a Brazilian educator, so I listen to him. This I didn't like so much. It was an audio book that I ordered from Brazil, but I listened to a bit of it.
Oh, and my reading, I don't have it all here.
I found some of the Portuguese books that I bought in the past. Unfortunately, both these books are translations because when I was in Portugal I like to buy books on subjects that interest me. I'm not normally a big reader of fiction; although, I have a book by Paulo Coelho. I must admit, I just don't like his stuff very much. So I read this book about the brain and how the brain learns and stuff, even though it's a translation from English. So I read a bit of that to get myself going. Because I'm interested in Russia and the Soviet Union, here's a book by Martin Amis on Stalin, again in translation into Portuguese.
So it really doesn't matter what you read if you're exposing yourself to it.
All the time I'm trying to notice. When I'm listening or when I'm reading if I see things I know that I have trouble with, like the subjunctive, like verbs, which form of the past tense to use when, all these kinds of things, I will occasionally consult with my Teach Yourself or look up my table on my iPad. When I'm listening and reading I want to be paying attention.
As I've said before, it's like a jigsaw puzzle.
As more of the pieces fall into place, you're able to notice more and more things and it's not because you saw an explanation or saw a declension table that you're going to remember it. But as you are let's say very comfortable with a certain tense or certain vocabulary items, then other things that were just lost in all the stuff you couldn't really understand or make sense of now those things start to standout and you start to notice them. The discovery of a language is all about helping yourself notice more and more things, whether it be noticing how things are pronounced, whether it be noticing how words are used.
One thing I started to notice, I think it's "acrescenter" or "acrescentar".
I don't remember which, but it doesn't really mean to increase. It means to add, like someone adds that in a conversation. So I hear in my audio book "acrescentou" or "acrescen-. I can't remember which it is, but "acrescentar" or whatever it is "acrescentar" means to add. It doesn't mean to increase. "Aumentar" is to increase. So you start to notice things with regard to vocabulary and how it's used. What was another one that I started noticing about the usage? It doesn't matter. You start to notice things in vocabulary. You start to notice things in terms of grammar.
Now, many of these things are fleeting.
It's not because you notice it once that you're able to use it. But the more you notice it, the more you kind of trigger a slight aha, I believe the more you are forging sort of neuro networks that are going to enable you to come up with it correctly when you're speaking.
So, basically, I talked a little bit about how I'm refreshing my Portuguese and how I go about trying to improve my ability to notice what's happening in Portuguese, in the hope that I'll notice more and more things and maybe notice and forget or notice again.
As you can see, I couldn't remember certain things. It doesn't matter to me. I never worry about what I can't remember because I know that as I go over it again and go over it again and notice it here and notice there, eventually, it is going to stick. So by making that special deliberate effort to notice, you're going to make things stick a little faster.
I want to end on this note.
Ultimately, it's the massive input that's going to do it. It's not deliberately trying to study every form of the verb and sitting there writing it out. I never write it out longhand 10 times. It's not that in-depth study. In my opinion, it's quantity over quality because not only are you then exposing yourself to that particular verb ending in different situations, but as you're listening to it you're also reviewing all of the other words and making your brain more and more familiar with how the language works.
So there you have it about noticing, I hope that was useful.
This weekend I promise I will do my video in Portuguese and tonight I'm having dinner with a Brazilian couple. So thank you for listening, bye for now.