Short Term Goals Should be Rewarded, Even if You Don’t Succeed at First
I haven’t done a video in quite a while. I thought I would report back on my trip to Europe. You may remember that one of the main goals was to spend some time in Prague and I had announced my strategy of five days to fluency, the idea being that I would set myself this goal of going to where the language is spoken. I was studying Czech, I would prepare for it, I would build up to it and that I would have this tremendous passive knowledge of the language when I got there within five days. Following on the advice of Dr. Huliganov, within three days my passive knowledge would become active. So, what was the result?
Well, I would say that after five days in Prague I did not become fluent in Czech. However, I consider the whole experiment to be tremendously successful. It’s successful because of the way it’s structured. I set myself a goal. I’m going to go somewhere in a year. I studied towards that goal. As I come closer to the date, I study even harder and when I go there, and this was my experience in Prague, I was able to understand everything. I felt comfortable. I was able to talk to people. I had it set up so that I was speaking six-seven, eight hours a day of Czech and, certainly, my Czech improved tremendously. My comprehension improved and my ability to read. I’m reading novels now with more comfort than I had before. The whole Czech language thing has become more real to me.
The final evening in Prague, I had an evening with a couple that invited me to dinner. We spoke entirely in Czech and I was quite comfortable. I could understand everything they were saying, I was able to get my meaning across, so all of that was good. However, I don’t think I achieved fluency. I still stumble. I did a video with Yarda, but unfortunately the sound is so low that I can’t use it. So what I’m going to do is, perhaps next week, I’m going to have a discussion with a tutor, maybe Yarda, maybe someone else, and try to record it so you can see just exactly what the state of my Czech is.
Unfortunately, it was actually four days in Prague. Not unfortunately, but unfortunately for my Czech, I had three weeks in Portugal, Spain and then three days in Berlin. So, essentially, for almost a month now I have not been using my Czech. On top of that, I’ve decided that I should really do something about my Korean, so I have now this week started up studying Korean again. I’m trying to maintain my Czech. I try to read something or listen to something every day in Czech. I’m still trying to maintain my Russian because the influence of Czech on my Russian was to kind of cause me to stumble a lot more when speaking Russian and, of course, when I was in Germany I was so motivated to improve my German that I figured I should do more with German. We had a meetup with our members in Berlin and I guess I really had trouble expressing myself as well as I would like to express myself in German, so I think my German has fallen quite a bit.
So going forward here, I’m going to be trying to really focus on Korean with the idea of going to Korea and doing another five days to fluency test, just to see how far I can push myself with this objective of going there. Five days is not enough, so hopefully I’ll give myself a little longer. In the meantime, I also want to maintain my Czech, Russian and German, so we’ll see how it goes.
One other thing I should report back on was this conference at Berlin. They translated that as language and business. I went there in the hope that I could interest someone there in LingQ. You know, corporate language training people. Unfortunately, the conference was well attended by teachers, coaches, trainers and academics, but there were hardly any representatives there from corporations. In other words, the potential clients for these people offering these language training services. So that was a bit of a disappointment.
There were a number of presentations, some were better than others. There were a number of themes that would come up quite often; one was this concern about intercultural communication because more and more companies are hiring people of different language backgrounds. Within Europe, you have different working groups within multinational corporations where people have to work across language and cultural barriers and so there’s a concern that people need to be trained in how to deal with people of different language and cultural backgrounds, even though everyone is speaking English typically.
I am a little bit skeptical about how much you can teach these cultural skills. In my experience in Japan, I have found that people who are sincere, respected other people and performed, in terms of their business deals, they managed to do well and that these sort of pre-packaged stereotypes about different cultures were of limited use. The number of useful bits of advice is quite limited and there is a danger that you treat people as sort of simply tokens of some culture and, therefore, people must conform to a certain stereotype rather than dealing with them as individuals. Personally, I think a better way to understand people of different cultures is to try to learn their language and learn about their history and stuff and these are things we have to do on our own. I’m not quite sure how effective these cultural trainers are.
Another thing that came up at the conference was this idea of English as a Lingua Franca. The idea being there that since a majority of English speakers are not native speakers, we should be teaching English differently than we teach other languages, that the native speaker is not necessarily the model and also that in a group people speak English at different levels of competence. First of all, the native speaker has a big advantage in these multinational corporations, but also people who speak English well have an advantage over people who don’t speak well and so we should learn how to communicate in a way that makes everybody happy and comfortable. Again, maybe it’s a nice idea, but I don’t know how practical that is. Obviously, the better we speak the language, the greater advantage we’re going to have. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea to talk down to people. So, yeah, English as a Lingua Franca is kind of a new way of teaching English.
They gave some examples that in Britain they say ‘we’re on a sticky wicket’ and people don’t know what that means, but those things are not that common. I think most people learning a language, even though the teacher may not be a native speaker and needn’t be a native speaker, the model of the language is, typically, the language as spoken by a native speaker. We can decide whether we prefer to learn the French that’s spoken in Quebec or in Southern France or in North Africa or Paris or the English that’s spoken in Australia or spoken in South Africa or India, whichever we find the most useful, but we’re still going to imitate native speakers, basically. So I think the model is still a native speaker and I’m not sure that teaching people to talk down to other people is all that useful. Maybe I’m a bit cynical here, but I didn’t see that as all that useful.
Someone suggested that really the skills that are required now are either very low skills for the hospitality industry, A-1, A-2 on the European scale, or very advanced language skills for professionals. My feeling there, again, was that I wouldn’t want to deal with a hotel clerk who only had A-1 or A-2 in English. As we learn we just continue to improve and I think most people are going to end up in the B, the sort of intermediate category. I’m also of the mind that training people for specific jobs and the specific job vocabulary is not always the best policy. I think it’s better to give people an overall grounding in the language and then let them focus on things that are of interest to them where the vocabulary is relevant, but you still need a pretty sound basis in the language.
One other thing that came up, too, was this idea that it’s not what you know, but it’s what you can do in the language that matters. So, again, there were many examples of teachers explaining what they did to get people to use the language, the idea that you have to use it or you don’t have it. As some of you may know, I really think there’s tremendous value in acquiring a passive capability in the language, the ability to understand vocabulary that builds up your potential, that gives you a strong base, rather than trying at an early stage to say a few things, which may only trigger a fluent response from someone else and then you’re hopelessly lost.
I came away from the conference thinking that it’s understandable if you’re running a classroom that you need to have certain activities and the goal is going to be trying to get people to say things and do things and you’re going to try to target specific job-related subject matter and have role playing and stuff like that. For me as an independent learner, someone who learns for fun, I’ll stick with the way I like to learn, but nothing wrong with the way other people like to learn. That’s why, getting back to my Prague experience, I didn’t become fluent, but I consider the whole thing a success because I feel tremendously satisfied at what I am able to do in Czech or in the other languages and I think that’s the important thing.
Giving Credit for Short Term Goals
However we choose to learn, whatever we like to do, we should regularly give ourselves credit for what we have achieved and we should do the things that we like to do because that insures that we stay with it. If we stay with it, if we have a good attitude and if we learn to notice the language (those are the big three keys from that lady at San Diego State University) we are going to do well. We’re going to do well not only by our own standards, but by the standards of other people.
So there you have it, just a brief summary of my trip to Europe and I hope to start getting back to doing these videos more regularly. Thanks for listening, bye for now.
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