Sunday, November 26, 2006

Things I Wish I Knew Before

In the course of my life, I've studied several langauges and like to think that I'm proficient in some. Each language has its own difficulties and challenges and sometimes require different approaches. I've probably tried every language learning method available and these are some of the things I've learned.

1. CLASSES ARE A WASTE OF TIME: Every person's pace of learning is different so it can be very frustrating if you are faster than the class or slower than the class. Finding one that matches your pace exactly is very difficult. Besides, when you are sharing your class time with many other students, the time you can actually speak the language is severly limited and your listening can be screwed up by someone else's bad accent.

2. GET A GOOD TEXTBOOK SET: This seems very obvious, but I think a lot of people are not sure what to look for. For one, make sure it does not use romanization. There is no way to get around it; if you want to good at a language, you need to invest the time and effort to learning to read and write. Also, it is not a good idea to jump around different series. Unless the set you are working on is undeniably terrible, finish it. After that, you will have a feel of what you need to work on and you can focus your studies to your weaknesses. Another thing that needs to be considered is whether or not there is audio for you to hear the language. If there are no cd's included, you could be butchering the language and not even know it. And finally, a good series builds on itself so you don't waste your time repeating lessons. Find a series that goes from beginning to advance and go throught it all. For example, if you work on a three book series and then move to a six book series, you just wasted your money and time since the six book series should have everything the 3 book series has. In any case, before you start spending big, do lots of research and make an informed decision. P.S. You cannot learn a language in 10 minutes a day. Avoid these or similar books like the plague.

3. AVOID PRIVATE TUTORS AND LANGUAGE EXCHANGES: The only time I might recommend this is if you are not in your target language's country. Private tutors are overpriced and language exchanges are usually just trying to practice their English rather than seriously teaching you anything. Besides, if you are in the country, there are plenty of opportunities to practice just by going out your door. However, find a friend who can help you out if you have any questions. When I was studying Japanese and had a question, I just called one of my friends and asked him/her to explain it, and they me. I didn't burden them with the expectation that it was their responsibility to teach me the language at a certain time everyday like the terms tutor or exchange would imply. And they didn't burden me with that, either. If your or your counterpart's expectations are not met, it only leads to frustration.

4. HANG OUT IN GROUPS: If you are with one other person, often times, they will speak English, which is something you probably don't want to do. But if you are in a group, you will be immersed in the language because people will speak their language since it is more comfortable for them. Besides, a lot of people are shy about speaking English in front of their friends.

5. ALCOHOL: Drinking relaxes you and relaxes the people you are with. You lose that nervousness you get when speaking another language and you get some new friends. And more importantly, since you got these new friends now, all the formalities melt away and you can hear how the language really is. And if they don't understand you, you can blame it on their drinking. : ) Anyways, I'm sure there are a thousand other ways to get closer to people, but I have yet to see anything break social walls faster than a little bit of fire water.

6. FORGET ABOUT FLASHCARDS: Learning words on their own is really not helpful. Learning them IN CONTEXT is. Think of the words 'over', 'finish', 'end', and 'terminate'. They all basically mean the same thing, but the situations in which they can be used can be quite different. The movie can be OVER or the movie can be TERMINATED. I can FINISH my homework, but Can I END my homework? It is all in the conotations of theses words and you can't get that from flashcards. A student trying to learn English would be at a loss if he/she only used flashcards to learn these words. Read and keep reading. Works a thousand times better than flashcards. The ONLY exception for me is when you are trying to learn Chinese characters. I don't mean Chinese words, but recognizing Chinese characters.

7. SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE: Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid of looking like an idiot. Nothing burns a word or grammar point into my mind better than making an ass out of myself by saying something completely ridiculous because I got the word/grammar wrong. Will I look stupid? Yes. Will I remember? Yes. Small price to pay if you ask me. But most importantly, if you don't know, ASK.

Anyways, these are some of the conclusions I've come to all these years later. I wish I knew them a long time ago. It would have saved me a lot of money and a lot of headaches.


왕음치 said...

I disagree with some of this post.

1) classes are a waste of time for some people but not all. Classes also provide structure and commitment to learning that many people need. I for one learn better when attending classes.

2) I agree. However regardless of whatever series one buys it is important to remember that you may not learn the grammar/structures in the order they are presented in the textbook. This is due to order of acquisition which is not at all related to order of study.

3) agreed. Though once you reach a

4) No opinion

5) I don't drink, but have read research that supports drinking and increased fluency. But the benefits of drinking disappear rapidly after ones second drink.

6) absolutely 100% correct.

7) My mantra is mistakes are your friend - as long as you think about them and use your knowledge of your mistakes to your advantage.

GooMiHo said...

wow. my very first comment. : )

actually, i should have added a disclaimer stating that this only applies to me and may not apply to the experiences of others. regarding 1, i agree with you 100% that classes add structure and commitment. to be honest, those are things i lack myself when trying to tackle whatever i'm studying. i would say that relying on yourself to keep at it is definitely one of the hardest things and i'm the first to admit i have a problem with it. unfortunately, for every class i've taken, i was either too good or too bad and frustrated to all hell. especially if you get a teacher who just reads the textbook out loud.

about 2. i guess my point was that if you don't start with a good comprehensive set, it is hard to build on what you've learned. i've studied many sets and when i start another, most of the time it just covers what i already know with maybe 3 or 4 new grammar points or whatnot. One set's 'advanced' level is another set's 'intermediate' level.

Yopparai said...

While living in Tokyo, I learned (too girly) Japanese from a few girlfriends, but most of my Japanese I picked up in izakayas. My Japanese friends forgot all the English they ever had known after the first drink, and I forgot to be embarassed about making mistakes ;) It also helped to actively avoid people who speak English; it was funny to hang out with foreigners having Japanese as the only common language...

GooMiHo said...

hi yopparai,

i learned my japanese the same way. izakaya style or in more scientific terms, nomunication. in my case though, i was working in a small island in the kansai area so everytime i leave the region everyone thought i sounded thuggish or dangerous. i'm trying to tone it down and learn 'proper' japanese. there weren't many foreigners where i was at. so much so that even i would point and stare.