Learning a new language can be an exciting adventure. With your new language comes a whole new world to explore - a different way of looking at the world and a different way of going through daily life.
Many of us remember our school experience and associate learning a foreign language with "boring" and "irrelevant." We had to memorize lists of strange sounding words and learn sentences we would never use; we had to figure out abstract grammar rules and we had to drill paradigms (I run, you run, he runs, we run, etc.); we had to speak up "foreign" in front of our classmates and we got graded on our pronunciation and spelling; once it was over, everything faded.
Instead, learning a language can be a fresh and fun experience. It should stretch our mind and engage our whole person. One way to do this is to tie language learning to planning a trip.
Travel is a terrific motivator. As we plan and organize our trip, we anticipate being there. We imagine walking through the streets of old Heidelberg; ordering a macchiato in a Venice outdoor café; savoring a dish of bouillabaisse in Aix-en-Provence; climbing La Giralda, a stunning Almohad bell tower, in Seville.
Now imagine visitors coming to the US, who don't know a word of English. Imagine how hard it would be for them to experience America and its people in a meaningful way! With time, of course, they would pick up a few words. But if they had learned some basic, functional English before their trip, they sure would have a head start.
It's the same for us when traveling. The better we speak the language, the more deeply we experience the country and its people. Being able to communicate allows us to venture off the beaten track and have some real conversations with those we meet.
So, pick a travel destination and, yes, jump into your new language. This too is an exciting adventure. Do it with enthusiasm and with imagination, and find a way to motivate yourself to stick with it. Then go there and speak up!
Latin American Spanish: Level 1 - Unit 1 - Lesson 5 Milestone
Here we have a situation, a story,and a conversation.
A series of pictures creates the situation: "You" are walking in the woods with your dog and you come across a young couple sitting at their solitary camping spot.
The pictures continue to show a little story: "You" and your dog walking up to the young couple. You ask them questions and they ask you questions (7 in all). So far so good. However, neither the questions nor the answers are really part of a natural conversation. They are all artificial "textbook" questions and answers.
Here's what's going on:
"You" approach the young couple, your dog runs ahead. The man asks: "Do you have a dog?" A picture of the dog prompts you to guess the answer "Yes, I have a dog."
The next picture shows the woman inviting "you" to sit down. On her lap is a book. Above the picture, you see an empty box for the question, and a box with the answer "I'm reading." The question that you are supposed to ask/guess is "What are you doing?"
"You" see a thermos standing on the ground, and you see the answer "That is coffee." The question you're supposed to guess is "What is that?"
The next 3 interactions are set up in a similar fashion: "Do you have a cup? "Yes, I have a cup." - "What do you have?" "I have bread." - "What do you have?" "We have apples."
In the last scene, we see that the dog has gotten hold of some bread and starts eating it. The young woman asks "What is the dog doing?" The answer you're supposed to say/guess is "The dog is eating." Then everyone says good-bye.
I'm beginning to understand the limitations of teaching adults a language without giving them some explanations and clarifications of the finer points. Asking and saying what is totally obvious is not real communication.
The first time I went over this milestone-lesson, I had trouble guessing the right questions and answers. By the third time around, I got a perfect score. But I don't expect to ever be engaged in this kind of conversation, in any language.
What's next? Blog #6 Grammar Drill Driven Language Learning
Latin American Spanish: Level 1 - Unit 1 - Core Lessons 3 & 4
Things got really busy, and I became sidetracked from my language learning schedule. Once I was ready to go back, I had to re-motivate myself. For this, a structured program is definitely a good thing. It was nice to just pick up from where I had left off.
New Vocabulary for these two lessons include (all through pictures): 6 basic colors; snake, rose, chick, panda, geese, sun, moon, flower, sky; teacher, police, doctor, student, cowboys; door, cell phones, tennis balls, bed, keys, chair, plates, cups, chair; shoes, skirt, pants, dress, hat, and a few more.
I confess, I did not do all the individual exercises in the units, there was too much of the same. But I did go through the grammar until I understood it. These are the basic Grammar points covered:
- -Matching colors with singular and plural (masculine/feminine) nouns.
- -Identifying numbers (1 to 6) with nouns (5 fish, 3 cell phones, 4 chairs, etc.)
- -Learning to say: "There are X items" and to ask: "How many X?" "What is this?" "Who is doing X?"
It's nice to start learning some simple expressions. They are taught through "pattern imitation" which works well at this level: You see and hear a phrase, then you identify a similar phrase that has a slightly different content. Once you've understood the question "How many geese are there?", you can identify the question "How many snakes are there?"
However, I did notice that there may be limitations to the method: A picture of running horses tells me: "The horses run." (Los caballos corren.) The next picture shows me 1 horse running, and it tells me: "The horse is running." (El caballo está corriendo.) From the two pictures, I cannot figure out why they use two different verb forms ("run" versus "is running"). Since Spanish is rich in verb forms and verb tenses, I hope that these differences will be explained later.
I'm still not crazy about most of the vocabulary that I'm learning. I'm taking a trip to Spain in a few months- that's why I'm learning Spanish. I want to be able to converse with people there. So far the vocabulary I'm learning in this program is disjointed and not relevant. I may have to schedule my trip for May 2012 and the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament. There, I'll be able to use my new sentence: "There are three yellow tennis balls."
Having a structured learning program is good because it saves time. The downside of a structured program is that you are locked into its limitations.
What's next? Blog #5 Looking for Real Communication
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