You want to learn a new language. You’ve picked it out and have a program that suits your learning style. But the learning is just not happening. Some days you forget to do it, other days you clearly procrastinate. Cleaning up your desk seems vitally more important than learning and practicing 15 more vocabulary items.
Language Learner’s Block
What you may have is Language Learner’s Block. It has some similarities with Writer’s Block. To borrow and adapt a definition: Language Learner’s Block “is the condition whereby a language learner cannot summon up the will and energy to continue learning a foreign language.” (From Fiction Writers’ Mentor)
There may be various reasons for feeling blocked. A lack of confidence in yourself as a language learner may be sapping your motivation. Or you may feel you’re too busy with other things. But even people with a full schedule find ways to add an item they want to do. As a matter of fact, doesn’t the saying go: “If you really want to get a job done, find a busy person to do it”? The implication is that such people will be disciplined and efficient.
Seven (7) Habits...
Here are seven (7) simple ways to help you get out of a Language Learner’s Block.
1. Tell yourself that you’ll do a minimum of 5 minutes a day. Be honest with yourself, if that’s all you do, that’s fine. Your main goal is to get into a routine that will get you into an easy language learning mode.
2. Get a daily reminder. For most online programs, you can sign up for a daily e-mail to remind you. Or, you can put a daily alert on your phone.
3. Set yourself a small, specific task for every session (see examples below). Then do it with gusto, for a minimum of 5 minutes.
- Go through a specific exercise/segment in your chosen language program.
- Learn & pronounce 1 new verb, and its conjugation in the present.
- Learn, write, and pronounce 7 new words.
- Learn & practice 5 new phrases.
- Read (aloud if you can) 1 page in a book that’s on your level
- Watch a YouTube news video.
4. When you’re done, set yourself a quick next task. That will make it easier to get right into your next session.
5. Try things out, and don’t worry about making mistakes. As Benny the Polyglot says, perfectionism leads to paralysis. Don't go for perfection in speaking and writing in a foreign language. Even when you sound a little weird (in comparison to the native speaker on the program), don’t worry about it. Your first tries may be tentative, but if you keep trying, you will improve. The same goes for writing. With time, you’ll master the new spelling and grammar.
6. Every time you complete a task, feel good about it! Or treat yourself to something special, after 10 days in a row, after 30 days in a row, etc.
7. Embrace a new personality for your new language. For example, when practicing Italian, allow yourself to be more dramatic than you usually are. Have fun with exploring new ways to express yourself. And read, Change of Language, Change of Personality? by François Grosjean about being different when you change languages.
PT Lessons for BT (Brain Therapy) and Language Learning
Moreover, as a Lifehacker blog sums it up, engaging in regular language learning will begin to boost your brain. If you’ve ever done physical therapy after an injury, you know that patience and persistence can lead to very rewarding results. Most of the PT exercises you do at first consist of small movements done for a short time. Eventually, you’ll be moving normally and no longer have think about doing things carefully. That’s also a good lesson to take into language learning.
Last week, I read an article on the difficulties that the majority of Spanish high school students are facing in understanding spoken English. According to data taken from the latest European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC), only 12% actually understand simple expressions about everyday topics.
Given such data, a simple question arises: What is wrong with ESL programs in the current educational system in Spain? From my own experience, two main reasons immediately occur to me:
- Firstly, the quantity of English input that a student receives in class is extremely low. On average, the amount of time spent engaging in listening activities is 30 minutes per week.
- Secondly, and as importantly, the quality of the English that students hear is quite poor because: (a) Portable stereo systems have inadequate sound quality and can hardly be heard in the back of classrooms. (b) Exceptions aside, the pronunciation of non-native teachers is sometimes not quite up to standard. This fact, together with not hearing native speakers often enough, makes it hard for students to improve their listening skills.
Consequences of Dubbing
In addition, there are a few extra-academic factors, which definitely have an influence on the listening skills of high school students. One mentioned in the article is the dubbing into Spanish of movies and television shows. This alone represents an additional obstacle to ESL students because, as a result, they are not being exposed to the English language as much as it would be desirable outside of class.
Benefits of digitalization
However, I'm convinced that with the advent of media digitalization, the option to choose between Spanish and English audio tracks on multimedia content is giving students the chance to improve their language competence. It might actually be interesting to research a bit further: Will those students, who regularly watch content in English, do better than the 12% percent of students who understand simple expressions?
Pablo Montoya is both the writer and a speaker of our Spanish 1 course; he is also assisting us in developing our ESL course for Spanish speakers. For a description of our Spanish 1 course, click here
When you’re engaged in speaking a language, you don’t have time to think much about grammar. Conversations just move too fast. There are, however, a few rules that are easy to keep in mind. With time, you’ll apply them automatically.
1. Diminutive nouns with the ending -chen or -lein are neuter:
2. Nouns ending in -heit, -keit, -ung are always feminine
3. “die” is the plural article for all nouns (subject forms)
4. All seasons are masculine:
5. All days are masculine:
6. A group of prepositions contract with “das."
These all imply a “change of place” or “direction to”:
7. A predicate Adjective takes no ending
A predicate adjective follows a noun and is preceded by a form of “sein” (to be).
e.g.: einundzwanzig - twenty-one (21), neununddreißig - thirty-nine (39), etc.
9. The verb forms of formal "you" (Sie) and "they" (sie) are the same.
10. Word Order: In simple sentences, the verb is in second position.
Note: Whatever word/phrase occurs before the verb is emphasized.
A recent blog reviewed some evidence of the question: "Can Playing Language Games Make You Smarter". Anyone scanning the Internet will find a huge number of online language learning programs. In addition, there are lots of apps available for phones and tablets, including iPhones and iPads. Those are all a tremendous resource for language lovers!
Flashcards do work!
Many of the online programs and apps are based on a flashcard model, and teach words and short phrases only. Flashcards exercises are indeed an excellent way to drill and recall vocabulary. They are also perfect for grammar items, such as verb conjugations, adjective endings, noun genders, contractions, etc. In digital form, flashcards can space recall optimally, and often use pictures and combine visual and auditory information. You’re in charge of your learning and you can easily track your progress.
Are Flashcards enough?
However, one may reasonably ask: Can you really learn to speak a language by just memorizing words and word forms? For most of the European languages – and those are the ones we know best – we believe, the answer has to be no!
The reason seems quite obvious: Conversations and narratives are not just a series of isolated words or phrases. In order to create meaning, you have to choose the right words and put them into a particular sequence. Often, it's the sequence that is crucial for the meaning. As a starter, you need to show whether you're making a statement or asking a question. Add to this the need to find the correct gender of the noun (and, depending on the language, also the correct ending), the right tense and verb conjugation, the position of a preposition, etc. - and it becomes clear why speaking a foreign language is not an easy process.
The Language Games Challenge!
The challenge to those of us who are developing online language games or apps is this:
How to create compelling games that can teach much more than a series of words and phrases -- games that build the confidence to communicate?
It's the repeated use and practice of phrases and sentences in a meaningful context, that will ultimately enable you to speak with some fluency. Words and grammar rules are not enough. Conversations are a process of dynamic communication. By the time you have deliberately constructed the perfect sentence, the conversation may have already moved on.
In future blogs, we’ll review some of the available language games, and please, share with us your experiences!
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