Monday, 20 August 2018

What I got from taking languages at school

Many years ago now, I attended Kaikorai Valley High School. It was a large school in those days (the early 70s). The roll stood at around 1300 students. Ten new third form classes started in my year (1970). Then, classes were streamed, and categorized as either Academic (2 of them) or General (8).

In both 3A1 and 3A2, French and Latin were compulsory, and I believe that some of the General-level classes had French too. I was obliged to take the two languages for two years, but was able to drop them in the 5th form by taking Art (Drawing & Design) as French and Latin were my worst subjects.

A year or two later, Japanese was offered at the school, and German thereafter. However, too late for me.

What I learned from the experience is that I am adverse to being schooled in a language. I'm allergic to the conventional, academic approach. 

I once read that only 1 in 20 English speakers who try to learn another language fail. If that's so, then it's not a good success rate.

If, for whatever reason, a person is resistant to something about a foreign language, or how it's presented, then he or she simply won't learn.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

What I get from Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen, the reigning world chess champion, is from Norway, but he speaks English fluently. I'd love to know how he acquired it. Perhaps from reading lots of chess books in English?

What I get from him as regards language learning is his attitude. He personifies the word 'berserker'. That's how you ought to tackle languages - in BERSERKER mode.

When you are berserk, you are being crazy, unconventional, super-energetic, out-of-control, wild, insane, frenzied - that type-of-thing.

Berserk also happens to be the term used voluntarily reducing your time in a chess game by a half. (Follow this link for an example of that.)

Next, I invite you to watch Magnus 'in the flesh'. Below, Magnus plays Wesley So, one of the top 5 or 10 players in the world. We pick up the match 3 hours in, where the players have moved onto the blitz portion of their match (they have a minute each per game to complete their moves).

Magnus displays true berserker mode mentality. Blue monitor light bouncing off his glasses, he bounces up and down on his seat as he wins 11 out of the next 12 games. All that his opponent can do is shake his head.

I think that we need to tackle new languages in that way too. Relaxed, intuitive and a little - no, make that a lot - berserk.

   

Thursday, 16 August 2018

What I've learned from myself over the years

Presently I'm writing a series of posts about the various people and places - some of them unlikely - from which I've gathered my personal set of 'language-learning nuggets'. In the midst of doing so it suddenly struck me that I too am one such source. I've gleaned ideas from my head too. 

And so herewith and so forth . . . 

What have I learned from myself? What's the take-home message this 60-plus-year-old would suggest to a younger version of himself if he returned back from the future?

I'd begin by telling myself not to pigeonhole or put a label on myself. That is, I'm neither a great language learner nor a poor one. I've been both. I'm actually everything in between

What I mean by that is that how well I pick up a given language depends hugely upon the circumstances. I do well under the right circumstances; I get dismal results if they are wrong.

But I will say this: I'm not good at learning languages conventionally. 

I'm no good in a classroom. I hate public performance, working through exercises, memorizing vocabulary and attempting to remember grammatical rules. At best, that puts me to sleep; at worst, that generates antipathy.

Let's assume that it is preferable to master something quickly, efficiently and enjoyably. In that case, then, in order to optimize my chances it is vitally important first to maximize my environment. 

As a result, I've devised (and am continuing to refine) my own way of learning that addresses that. 

"Give yourself (I'd tell my younger self) the permission to be you, and to do it your way, especially if 'their way' (the mainstream) doesn't work. They are wrong and you are right - at least in your particular case."

Saturday, 28 July 2018

How Steve Kaufmann inspires me

Steve Kaufmann is likable in a grumpy grandfather kind of way (says he who is a grandfather often short-of-patience himself). To me, he comes across as a mite dogmatic, a smidgen irascible, a little rambling and repetitive. I'd sum him up as a maverick with a prickly smile.  He means well, and tries hard, but I wouldn't want to start an argument with him. I regard him as a curmudgeonly coach.

Steve is the founder Lingq, an innovative language-learning site. The site is colorful and interesting. It is based on concepts that I largely agree with. You may trial Lingq for free, and I have. However, it doesn't quite do it for me, although many people claim to find it excellent.

In spite of that, I personally get a great deal from Mr Kaufmann. He has created a Youtube channel of over 1000 videos packed with useful advice onto his. He has also written up his language learning odyssey for those who prefer to read rather than listen. 

Understandably, Steve Kaufmann is impatient with the conventional approach that schools and educators bring to foreign languages. And I share that impatience. 

I'm an older learner myself, so for me Steve is a great role model. I'm impressed that he has learned so many languages later in life. It's one of my goals to emulate what he does.

The main thing that I get from Steve is the idea that it is very useful to combine listening and reading, preferably with authentic texts. 

I recommend Steve's seven principles of language learning as a great introduction to his learning philosophy.

  1. Spend the time
  2. Do what you like to do
  3. Learn to notice
  4. Focus on words over grammar
  5. Be patient
  6. Get the tools
  7. Become an independent learner


Friday, 27 July 2018

Guaranteed success

Just as there’s only one way to fail, there’s just one thing which, if you do it, guarantees that you'll succeed at learning another language. It's simply to continue. 

Continue. Make progress. Take baby steps. Place one foot in front of the other. 

That’s something I have experience of—on the road, and barefooted and all. 


‘Oh but it takes so long!’ (How long ought it to take?) 

‘Oh, but it’s so difficult!’ (Why take such large bites?) 

‘I’ll never get there!’ (No, not until you do.)

Are you telling me, or are you telling yourself?

What I managed to get from Uncle Davey (David James)

David James is one of those characters who you need to take with a pinch of salt. I consider him a true eccentric in the classic, British mode, (even though he prefers to act Russian). 

David is well-known in language learning circles. His output is prolific. From it, I ferreted out the concept of using one's long-term memory instead of short-term memory in order to make permanent progress. 

David invented an approach that he has dubbed the Gold List Method. It's a very interesting idea, but it takes some time and effort to understand.

You may need to hunt around elsewhere for a lucid explanation of its operation as Mr James is rather long-winded and not at all easy to follow. Nevertheless, the time spent exploring the idea's essence is well worth it, in my opinion. 

So with that, I'll leave it with you for now. 

(I must confess that, although I tried it for  while, I did not stick with Mr James's original version. I tweaked it to suit myself, and then eventually moved on.  However, I feel indebted to the man for encouraging me to think outside the square. )

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Give it your best shot: start somewhere



One oughtn’t rush into things. But the opposite is equally true; you don’t want to prevaricate forever. Procrastination gets you nowhere just as quickly.

We'll stay at the start unless we make a start. 

By starting you gain information. You learn whether your actions get you closer to or further from your goal. Useful information.

If it’s ‘further’ then you can do an about face. If you are neither getting closer nor moving away, then a 90-degree turn is in order. If you are getting closer, then you veer a few degrees one way, then another, to see if you can speed that process up.

Taking action is therefore the key.


As far as learning a language goes, decide upon something to do according to your best guess. Your guess is likely to be a good one, since you know yourself better than could any teacher. 


Your knowledge of yourself—your likes, dislikes, preferences, learning style, habits, motivators, off-buttons, knowing what you already know, what you need to know, what you’d like to know, your goal, your levels of skill in various areas, your history . . .


There’s no fool-proof formula into which you can plug all those factors. You can only operate according to your gut feeling. Use trial and error. There’s an element of ‘muddling through’ which can’t be avoided. We must just accept that this is so, and give it a go.


We all start somewhere . . . unless we don’t.