2 weeks ago on the Language Heroes vk.com page, there was a 1-week challenge sponsored by Benny Lewis with his “Speak in a Week” language learning crash course. Many language enthusiasts participated and we all took part in learning a new language that we had never tried before. It was great to see how everyone came up with solutions to becoming familiar with pronunciation, greetings, basic vocabulary, and personalized introductions and descriptions. Whereas everyone else finished that 1-week crash course and went back to their main language of study, I decided, why not make this a 52-week challenge of learning 52 new languages, or at least initializing the beginning stage to see how much I can learn and how far I can get in just the first week. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I have any delusions of becoming fluent in just 7 days! But who knows what will happen by the time I reach week 13 or 26 or 52? I plan on keeping track of the learning process and the learning how to learn a language process to share my tips and experience while trying to develop an efficient methodology.
Let’s first take a look at Benny’s “Speak in a Week” method:
Day 1: Sign-up for Benny’s emails. http://www.fluentin3months.com/speak-in-a-week/
Day 2: Go to his website and watch videos of people speaking in a foreign language for the first time and give them some positive feedback and encouragement because this will be you within a week: https://fi3mplus.com/uploads/
Day 3: Choose a language you want to learn and send Benny an email to tell him.
Day 4: Start to prepare your script: go check out useful basic phrases with recordings in a LOT of languages at omniglot.com http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/langs.htm#lang Hello. How are you? Nice to meet you. My name is…
Day 5: Personalize your script: find and translate specific words that describe your nationality, your job, your hobbies and interests and your family. Make it all about you!
Day 6: Add some simple verbs to your script: I am…, I like…, I have… (Benny says not to worry about sounding like Tarzan at this stage)
Day 7: Record yourself Reading your script and then upload it to Benny’s website.
As the vk.com Language Heroes page is a stomping ground for voracious language learners, we decided to up our game and make a harder version of the challenge for experienced polyglots, which went as follows:
Day 1: Sign-up for Benny’s email, watch the videos, and start looking for resources for your language of question, which could be podcasts, blogs, websites, and memrise courses. Start tagging your messages and posts with a language-specific hashtag so that you can more easily share resources and findings.
Day 2: Immerse yourself in the sound of the language by finding and listening to a playlist of music in that language.
Day 3: Start listening to dialogs in the target language even if you can’t read the language.
Day 4: Start to prepare your script and start making sentences.
Day 5: Start to personalize your script even further. Use forvo.com to hear pronunciation.
Day 6: Add phrases such as I am…I like…I have… to your script and send the text to native-speakers for corrections. Italki.com notebook entries are a great place to start.
Day 7: Record yourself reading your script or better still schedule a skype chat with a native-speaker.
I went through all these steps for each day in order to learn Turkish from scratch.
Let’s take a look at what I did:
A few days before the challenge started, I already started to tell people online that I was planning on learning Turkish. So, now I was on the radar for native-speakers who reached out to say, “Merhaba! I can help you with Turkish!” So what does that represent? Community support from Day 1! It’s great to make the decision to start learning a new language, but in today’s fast-paced world of social media, starting out should no longer involve starting from zero with a boring book and by yourself.
Think about it for a little. Can you hear the pronunciation with a book? No. Can you get instant feedback on your pronunciation? No. If the book’s explanation is confusing, are you going to fully understand and be able to ask questions or ask for clarification? No. Do you think you have a good chance of continuing with a language by just studying by yourself with a book? No.
So you say to yourself “Forget the book! I have the perfect solution. I’ll take group classes at a language school.” Let’s do some math; there are 60 minutes in the class. There are 12 students and a chatty teacher who may be a native-speaker without any proper teaching training, a foreigner who knows the language pretty well and has teacher training, or some combination of these two. 60 minutes divided by 12 students = 5 minutes per student without taking into consideration if your teacher really likes to talk. If the teacher decides to spend the first class introducing “Hello. My name is…Nice to meet you.” and everyone takes a turn to practice, you’ll spend more time listening to other students and your teacher correcting their pronunciation than actually practicing your speaking.
How long will it take you to learn 3 useful expressions? Does it really take 60 minutes even though you may get bored for perhaps 55 of them? How long would it have taken you to listen and learn those exact phrases on the internet at omniglot.com for example or with a youtube video or a language101 podcast? 2 to 3 minutes maybe, tops. What happens to the 55 minutes of being bored? They don’t happen and you still have them for learning more expressions and practicing.
Let’s say your classroom teacher is a little bit more creative and has studied the communicative approach and decides to get all the students to work in pairs. Instead of going around the room one by one and only interacting with the teacher, you now have the opportunity to practice with a partner. Perhaps your teacher makes this a little more challenging and teaches you how to introduce other people by saying “his/her name is…” This may lead to some more conversation in the native language about “where are you from?”, “how old are you?”, “do you have any brothers or sisters”, “what are your hobbies or interests?”, and depending on how proactive or sociable the students are.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a teacher. I love classroom, group teaching, but quite often there are too many variables at stake that affect the learning environment. 1) Learner experience – is this the very first time ever for studying a foreign language in your life? Or is the 3rd or 4th or 20th language? You can imagine the wide difference in experience. 2) Teacher experience – has the teacher taught before? Has the teacher been trained to teach? What is their teaching style and technique? What is their personality? Patient, helpful, encouraging or impatient, rude, and critical of mistakes? 3) Personality of learners – interested, bored, shy, sociable, quiet, talkative, skeptical, motivated? 4) Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation for learning – did Mommy and Daddy pay for the classes and force the student to go? Is this class in preparation for a business trip abroad in 2 months from now? 5) Ages of students and life experience – is this a group of teenagers, children, adults, or a mixed group?
So, if you find yourself among the motivated students who want to learn and not waste time learning the basics, perhaps you would better spend your initial time becoming familiar with the basics on your own and then maybe integrating a class of learners in the 2nd level in order to focus on speaking practice, or perhaps you are motivated enough to continue being an independent learner with help from native-speakers from social networks.
I decided to go the route of the independent learner getting help from social networks. The audio on omniglot.com is ok, but I decided to ask a few people if they could record all the expressions and send me their recording. It always helps to hear a second pronunciation: man – woman; adult – child; standard – regional, etc. because languages are spoken by lots of people and not just by one person.
Next send text messages to native speakers, and make mistakes on purpose to see if they will bother to correct you or not! This way you can see who is helpful or not. Then test their corrections, by sending them to another native-speaker to see if the “corrected” version gets another correction or survives the native-speaker filter. Try this again and again until an expression successfully gets past the correction filter several times.
Do the same for vocabulary words. Don’t be shy to ask native-speakers who speak your language fairly well if they can help you complete your script with additional vocabulary that is personalized for your interests and hobbies.
When you get enough vocabulary, expressions, and a working script in place, submit it as a notebook entry on italki.com, govoluble.com, and lang-8.com. And even if you think everything you wrote is correct, go ahead and add some mistakes on purpose! Use psychology to bait the obsessive perfectionists and teachers who will feel compelled to correct you.
Also, even if it is your first day with the language and you have only heard the pronunciation at omniglot.com, go ahead and record your poor pronunciation and upload it to youtube and then to Benny Lewis’ website. You may get some feedback on his website, but the more important feedback you’ll get may be from potential italki teachers. Again use psychology and bait potential teachers by kindly asking them to check out your 2-3 minute-long youtube video in order to give you some feedback before you decide to schedule a class with them…or not. This may sound cruel, but it really is in the best interest of a teacher to be generous, helpful and encouraging to language learners. They already make an effort to correct notebook entries for free, so why is watching a brief youtube video and providing feedback any different?
Keep a notebook offline and online. Keep adding to it, reviewing it, and upgrading it. Add pictures, audio, links to resources, screenshots from books and websites and text messages. I’ve started using Google documents and making them accessible to everyone to edit in hopes that other learners will want to help develop a crowdsourced book. Basically, in reference to the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”, it takes a global village to teach a language learner to speak.
A few months ago, I went to a team-building workshop and at some point we did an activity which required the whole team to participate and we were being timed to see how long it would take us to complete it. Inside a large square area of about 4 meters by 4 meters, there were plastic cups labelled each with a unique number and the cups were scattered around the area and mostly rather far from the border of the square. We had to go in numerical order and each toss in a coin in our respective cup, and make sure that our cup stayed standing or we would all have to start over, even if it was the last person who failed. We were not allowed to step inside the area, and doing so would require us to start over. The first time we did the challenge, we failed quite often and wasted time tossing coins in vain attempts. Eventually, we finished with a pitiful time. The organizer challenged to repeat the challenge and to think of ways that we could help each other. Some people got creative and started to lift lighter people to help extend their reach without their touching the ground, and some build human bridges or pedestals that looked like parts of circus or gymnastics routines. The point is we started to trust in other people to help us succeed, we got really efficient and organized and the time it took us to accomplish the task started to decrease significantly.
My goal this year is to repeat that team-building experiment with language learning. Each week I will try to get as far as I can with a new language. I’ll immerse myself with the sound of the language, music, expressions, vocabulary, dialogs, and if possible the alphabet and writing system. I’ll try to read, listen and understand, write a few words about myself and gain more vocabulary and eventually speak with a native-speaker to document the learning process. Each language presents new challenges, but the experience I gain from one week to another is transferable. I’m improving my methodology and figuring out how to become a fast efficient learner.