German can be difficult according to Kristi Fuoco, in this article in our local Vancouver Sun newspaper. Kristi is living in Germany, studying German and is baffled by German grammar, especially the cases, and thwarted in her attempts to speak German since most Germans are so good in English. At the same time she is not sure that she really likes German. In other words,is she truly motivated enough to learn it?
I think that Kristi has identified some basic issues that affect all of us language learners at some time. But when I am confronted with these feelings I get back to the basic issues, motivation, enjoyment and commitment.
If you are not motivated to learn a language it will be very difficult to do so. So Kristi’s first task is to think of the things she like about the German language and culture, or even individual German people she likes. This need not be all aspects of the culture and language nor all the people, just some. Then she needs to stop worrying about the cases and other elusive aspects of the grammar, and start enjoying the language as a means of communication. As for Germans speaking to her in English, she only has to reply in German. Some will switch to German and others will insist on speaking English, from my experience. You win some and you lose some.
I enjoy being in Germany. There is a lot to like in German culture, its cities, the liveliness and energy of the people. Above all I get a thrill from the fact that I am able to operate in that language environment and communicate, even though I make mistakes. Yes, there are many people who speak English well and insist on speaking English. I have not found them to be the majority.
So in summary, Kristi needs to remind herself of how lucky she is to be in Germany, learning German and immersing herself in another culture. But even more so she needs to remind herself how well she is doing. She needs to focus on the moments of success, and I am sure they are many. She should not set impossible standards for herself but rather enjoy what she has achieved. This will fuel new energy for her studies, and gradually, impreceptibly, her German will continue to improve.
I am a fan of online learning for languages. Without the Internet I could not have advanced so quickly in Romanian and Czech, for example.
But online learning can have its problems. For three or four days last week, LingQ was so slow that it became difficult to use. We had not done anything different at LingQ. We contacted our service provider and they claimed that they had not done anything different either. We posted a notice apologizing to our users at LingQ and had our tech people in Vancouver, and the people we work with elsewhere in the world, look at all the things that might have caused the problem. Then all of a sudden, yesterday, we were back to normal. According to our service provider there was a routing problem in the network somewhere upstream from them.
I love using LingQ, as well as the iLingQ app on my iPhone and mini iPad. But sometimes all this technology can be a little finicky. The power of online learning and the complexity of the technology which supports it is amazing. Sometimes we take these benefits for granted and when problems arise it is easy to get quite annoyed. I have to remind myself how much better off I am, and how much faster I’m learning than if I were in a traditional classroom.
For the last three or four days when LingQ was quite sluggish, I spent more time on my iPhone and iPad. This meant more reading on the iPhone and iPad, and more reviewing of flashcards. I also spent more time with good old paper resources, like books. I am happy, though, that I can get back to online learning with LingQ. I have only got two weeks until I go to Romania.
Do grammar instruction, corrections and role playing help us learn languages? I guess it does but only to a very limited degree. Here is an interesting excerpt from a discussion on a recent Internet forum.
“To me, the research appears to indicate that explicit form focused instruction (EFFI) and corrective feedback (CF) as they are commonly practiced don’t have a particularly significant effect on learners’ underlying linguistic systems (See John Truscott’s criticisms of corrective feedback for example).”
It is worth reading this sentence a few times, in order to really understand it. “Form focused” instruction means grammar instruction. “Corrective feedback” means correcting learners’ mistakes. Research indicates that these two mainstays of language instruction don’t have much impact. A good example of this is the “s” in the third person singular, present tense, in English. We say “he goes”, “he works”, “he lives” etc.. This is taught very early, yet most English learners continue to struggle with this simple rule, even after years of studying the language.
I have three Romanian tutors with whom I talk via Skype. Two are women, neither of whom were trained as teachers. They are happy just to converse with me and send me a report with a list of phrases containing the mistakes I made during the conversation. This is enjoyable and works well.
Today I started with a new tutor since I want to step up the pace of my conversations. I will be in Romania in a couple of weeks. This man is a trained teacher of Romanian, and an editor of educational books and magazines in Romania. At first he insisted on correcting everything I said. Then he told me that I should only use very simple short sentences for the first few weeks. To top it all off, he proposed that we choose a theme to talk about. Rather than just converse on subjects of interest, he suggested we pretend that I am in a store. We could then talk about the items that could be found in the store, sort of like role-playing I guess.
I told him that I was not interested in this traditional approach to language learning, with corrections, and artificial dialogues. I just wanted to have a natural conversation. I don’t want him to speak English. I don’t want him to correct me while I speak. Both of these activities interrupt the flow of our conversation.
I do want a thorough list of the phrases that I use incorrectly. I import this list into LingQ and save the words and phrases to my personal database at LingQ. In this way I take advantage of speaking in Romania with a native speaker, and then later can take my time reviewing my mistakes or the vocabulary that I need to learn. The whole process is enjoyable and I look forward to my next lesson.
When I hire my teachers I can tell them what I want. I would not want to sit in language classroom where I am at the mercy of the teacher.
Our motivation is what determines success or failure in language learning. So what motivates us to learn different languages? For myself over the last few years, I can see a variety of different motivations. I am learning Romanian, a language that had not interested me before, simply for the reason that I will be visiting Romania in June. So now I am putting in an hour or two a day into learning Romanian.
I decided to learn Russian because I wanted to read Russian novels in the original. I also wanted to prove my approach to language learning, which focuses less on grammar, would work with Russian. I decided to learn Czech because my parents grew up in Czechoslovakia. I wanted to learn more about the country and it’s history.
I am also motivated to learn languages that are related to languages I already know. I learned Czech after Russian and Portuguese or even Romanian because I know other Romance languages. My reason for learning Korean has many motivations. Yes, it is easier because I already know Chinese and Japanese. But my short-term motivation for learning Korean is my golfing buddy Mr. Choi. Sharing language learning with friends is a great experience. It is a great way to practice and keep you inspired. It’s those initial motivations that get you going in the language. I find that once I start learning a language the motivation becomes to reach fluency. The pleasure of discovering a new language and culture becomes it’s own motivation and reward.
I have been learning Romanian for past three weeks. I can understand newscasts and interviews. I can even speak, although with regular pauses. Never have I progressed so quickly in a language. Of course, Romanian is related to French, Italian, and Spanish, which I already know. But then Portuguese and Italian were not this easy, and I was younger.
The reason is that I now know how to learn. Before we had Romanian at LingQ, I bought Pimsleur Basic. Three days of listening on the way to work and back. I gained a few phrases and broke the ice with the language. Then I went through Teach Yourself for Romanian.
Lately, I have been listening to two things: about 20% of the time have about 150 or so sentences that I have written in English and have translated and recorded in Romaninan via Elance. I then am able to import them into LingQ where I can study and share them. The other 80% of the time consists of listening to and reading content of interest. I have imported anticles in Romanian about Romanian history from Wikipedia into LingQ. Then I discovered Radio Romania. At first I imported a great number of articles into LingQ and listened to the radio broadcasts separately. But then I discovered the podcasts.
I have had them transcribed and study them at LingQ. I have created almost 5,000 LingQs in three weeks. I now know over 10,000 words!
Now, I am able to understand most of the interviews and radio broadcasts in Romanian. I still have a month to go before I visit Romania. The snowball is picking up speed. The more words I know, the more interesting content I can listen to. The more interesting content I listen to and read, the more I see the structures of the language in use, and the more they stick. And the more new words I know, the more I can learn.
This is the fastest I have ever learned a language. It really makes me want to learn more languages. Of course, much depends on how much common vocabulary there is with languages you already know. I may try Dutch or Polish next, or should I attempt Turkish or Arabic. But first I had better complete my Korean project.
I like the grazing approach, nibble on a bit of grammar, then read and listen, and then go back to a bit of grammar. Work with examples, in the grammar book and then from real meaningful context, and above all avoid drills and exercises. Here is a video on the subject.
I am often asked to comment on, or to mention, or to promote, different language related websites. I usually prefer not to do so. However, this dictionary, with a new approach to using context, or what the linguists call “corpora”, is really quite unique. Have a look. Linguee.fr.
I agree largely with Krashen, and Kato Lomb, the legendary Hungarian polyglot. Input is the key to language learning success. It takes commitment, discipline and curiosity. It is very rewarding. Here I talk about this in three languages. Chinese J…