My memory is so bad that I start to lose self confidence. In order to boost my spirit, I decide to learn a new language, but this time I want to do it differently from what I did with English (as a non-native speaker). My English learning process has not been a satisfactory one–remembering vocabulary is boring; grammar exercises cold and rigid; the progress often slow to a crawl despite big efforts. I have to say calling it uninspiring is an understatement; calling it traumatic is not an overstatement.
For the new language, I want to adopt a new learning philosophy: no vocabulary memorization, no grammar practice, no writing exercise. Basically everything I did before with English learning will be abandoned. In its place, I will watch videos, listen to podcast, review websites, and read news. I’ve already started with this new method for two months–so far the new approach has not dampened my spirit or demoralized my mind. So far so good–let’s keep our fingers crossed. I want to continue with it for a year–half an hour each day–and at the end of the one year period, I will do a checkup to see how much I’ve grasped the new language.
a. no vocabulary routine
I know the importance of having a vocab routine every day so that one gets the habit of reviewing new words while trying one’s best to memorize them. This routine is actually rather ineffective. As I have been a foot soldier of English learning all my life, I can testify that most of the words I remember are through reading rather than memorization. I did memorization of English words from the time I was an 8-year-old until I was 23. For the 15 year period, I didn’t remember much at all despite all my big effort. At the end of my 15 year period, I probably had more than 8000 words, and the majority of them, although memorized, were only known on a definition basis and nothing beyond. By the way, after 15 years, I still couldn’t use a real English dictionary and everything was based on translation.
Then I started to pick up reading gradually, and it was this reading process that really helped me gain more vocabulary. And one day (three years into my reading regimen) I was surprised to find that English reading was actually a pleasure–I was either reading Saki or Austen at the time, and the humor really hit me. Ever since then, English has shed its image of being a torture.
The first 15 years of memorization is quite a lot of wasted energy–not much progress to show for it.
b. creative listing
As I know vocabulary is still essential to a language, I’ve designed my own strategy that is called creative listing. I will watch a video of this new language, for example, a beginner Spanish YouTube video on “seeing a doctor”. After the video, I will use a translation software–there are several out there being free and accessible–and list the body parts and various illnesses that I can think of. You type in English or your native language, and the translation software will translate for you. Then you review the list and make a mental comparison of the video you watched and the translation you are reviewing. Later on, I will watch a new video about “seeing a doctor”, and retype in a translation software.
My typing in the translation software can be creative. For example, I can type “the doctor is probably not a specialist” or the “illness is nothing but a complaint” or “the mind rather than the body needs attention.” Just to make the listing process more fun for myself. During the entire process, no forceful memorization, only reviewing, comparing, or typing something that can perk up one’s spirit in order to see the translation results.
No grammar exercise, at least not for the beginning period. I am not saying no grammar at all–I am only saying no grammar exercise. For Spanish, grammar is a big part since one gets confused with all the verb conjugations and the various changing forms of a word. I will only read about grammar from studyspanish.com or view YouTube videos like “The Language Tutor”, but that’s it. I will not do even one grammar exercise. If I am still not clear of the grammar after this, I will watch another video or visit another website since there are plenty of Spanish grammar videos and Spanish grammar websites.
Many videos and websites recommend that you do grammar practice yourself to reinforce what you’ve just learned, but I dislike this method. Some language experts actually say that doing grammar too early in the learning process will gear one’s brain towards thinking of a language through grammar, which is the worst way of learning a language. I experienced that with my own English learning. Even now, when I speak English, I can’t help constructing a sentence through grammar–it is utterly humiliating. Old habits die hard and I just have to live with it.
With Spanish, I want to minimize the grammar into a secondary position and only use it to clarify my confusions when encountering grammatical variations. I will try to rely on the natural internalization of the language and my familiarity with the language to construct a sentence when necessary. My mind should not be trained to think of a language through grammar structures.
I realize that I have more to say about this topic, such as unsuitable learning methods, overrated writing practice, and the myth of total immersion etc. However I don’t have time today and I will try to elaborate on all my learning methods and strategies in later posts.