Friday, 12 August 2016

Speak Any Language in 6 Months?

Today I found this TED talk, and I found it very interesting, as you can imagine. The most important points are personal relevance; communicating from Day 1;  "comprehensible imput" (that is, when you know it, you know it); physiological; having a positive, relaxed mental state.

My Polish skills have approved a lot this summer because I have been focusing on one project--reading a children's book with my Polish learners' club. I am the moderator, and so I put a lot of work preparing for the meetings, including compiling little dictionaries for each chapter. I hand out the vocab for the next week's chapter at the end of meetings.

At the beginning of meetings, I give a quiz--an incentive for everyone else to memorize at least ten words. The one big rule of Polish club is that nobody is allowed to speak English for an hour. Thus we all have one solid hour of Polish immersion, even though that Polish is mostly Learner Polish. However, kindly Polish native volunteers appear to help us out, which is extremely awesome of them.

Preparation + our little group conversations about the book + listening to Polish recordings in the morning = greater fluency in spontaneous conversations, as I've discovered from visiting the Historical Café.  And four of five of the above points do indeed play a role in this:

1. Club conversations are about chapters of this book, so the vocabulary of the chapters is highly relevant for our conversations.

2. Everyone gets a turn reading aloud and everyone asks each other questions, so communication is a given.

3. Many words are repeated in subsequent chapters of the book. Frequent repetition in different contexts most definitely sticks vocabulary words in the mind. As my friend in the Historical Café struggled to grasp what a Scot meant by "bin bag"(i.e. garbage bag), I was able to supply "wórek na śmierci" because two of them show up in the early chapters of the club's book.

4. The physiological is something I could definitely work on, but I have been trying to a certain extent to improve my accent by, er, lifting my top lip in a kind of Elvis-sneer.  I really like the idea that learning--or at least speaking--a language is more about physical exercise than about knowledge. Of course--you use your eyes, your ears, your tongue, your voice box, your jaw and probably your teeth.

5. In Polish club, we have some time to chat in English and get ready for our hour of speaking and listening to only Polish, and we start by chanting the week's vocabulary list together, repeating after the Polish volunteer. Next the volunteer reads aloud to us like a young Matka Polska to her babies. Then, thoroughly relaxed, we read aloud. Finally, we ask each other questions. A question sometimes leads to a full-fledged group conversation, interruptions and all.

Naturally we have all been trying to learn Polish for more than six months. Meanwhile, I really very much want to improve before I go to Warsaw in November and very much immerse myself.

The TED talker says that immersion doesn't work, but I think it probably works if the immersion is geared to the student (as French immersion school is geared to schoolchildren) or if the student has already had a good grounding in the grammar and, say, a thousand words. Of course we'll drown if we're just chucked into a pond of foreign without being taught the first thing about swimming.

I am not sure yet where I am staying in Warsaw. However, I wrote an email to a convent there this morning, so hopefully I will have good news soon.

Update: Hmm. The language learning blogging community begs to differ with Mr Lonsdale. Here's one post on the topic. Gosh, there's a whole world of language blogs out there.

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