Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Learning The Lingo #4: Many Methods

Okay, up until now you probably think that I am anti-language classes, anti-videos, anti-language books, anti-lesson material altogether, but am just in favor of immersion into the social community of native speakers. Well, I do believe that immersion into the social community of native speakers is foundational. It will make the biggest difference in our language learning endeavor. But that doesn’t make me against other methods. In fact, I believe they’re all good. (Think Samuel L. Jackson.)

For effective language learning I’m very much in favor of an “all of the above” approach—just so long as it includes lots of social contact with native speakers, preferably immersion into their community so that real communication can take place in the language we’re attempting to learn. But along with that, I believe it is a great idea to take language classes, read language books, do a language route and hire language teachers. I wouldn’t limit myself to just one approach.

In my experience, I found that I learned different but very valuable things from different people. Had I limited myself to one language teacher three times a week, it would have been crippling. Even if I lived with this person 24/7 it wouldn’t have been as helpful as having a multiplicity of language teachers (both people and books). I found that after an extended time each morning with one teacher I would get a pretty strong headache. I needed a break. After I started using three different language teachers (while also living with a national family) my headaches weren’t as much of a problem.

I also found it helpful to have both national and expatriate language teachers. The native speaker would do a much better job of teaching pronunciation and of just knowing what was right or wrong in the language. They would also have a much wider vocabulary and knowledge of the language to share. The expat teacher, on the other hand, would have a much better understanding of where I was coming from and why I made the mistakes I always made. The expat teacher could explain many things about the language better than the national speaker because they understood what my “hang-ups” were as an English speaker.

Flash cards were a tremendous help for me when I first got started. The language here in The Location doesn’t use roman letters, so I learned the alphabet by using flash cards. After I had that down I used flash cards for basic vocabulary. I repeated the cards I had trouble with. It wasn’t long before I learned all the words on my cards and no longer had a need for the original cards I made. I had to keep making more. They were very helpful.

Recording a native speaker saying difficult phrases on audio tape was also a big help. Especially when it came to pronouncing different “tones” in the language. I could replay the recording a hundred times without the tape recorder getting tired. If I had my language helper say the phrase a hundred times in a row they would probably have quit on me the next day. But I would listen to these phrases one after the other until I could say it at the same speed, rhythm and pitch contour as the native speaker. It was a vital help to me.

Books were also good, though confusing at times. I went through several books with a couple of my teachers. I also bought children’s school books from kindergarten through sixth grade and read them on my own. I would constantly try to decipher signs around town. I learned to play some of their popular songs on my guitar and wrote down the lyrics. I studied them with my friend until I understood the meaning of all the words in the song. Then I discovered how much fun it was to play those songs with The People. They were always amazed that not only did I know their music, but that I could play and sing it too. It was an amazing social connection that opened many doors for me.

I also did a language route for a while a la LAMP (Language Acquisition Made Practical). Though it was a bit slow for me, it was helpful as another contributor to language learning. I enrolled in language classes, too. I also found them to be slow and sometimes below my level, but I learned many things that I previously didn’t know about the language. It helped me, too.

Learning a language effectively takes many methods. We should not limit ourselves to just one or a few.

Now, does this apply to other areas of ministry, too?

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