Becoming a Linguistic Mastermind/The method
Learning a language
Learning is fun. I’m not making a hopeless attempt to persuade you to stop procrastinating; it is the truth.
Any activity which is necessary for our basic survival is something we are bound to find interesting. Most of us have numbered eating, learning, playing and sports among our hobbies at some time in our lives.
In fact, learning is an important part of any pastime. If you have ever picked up an encyclopaedia and found yourself hopelessly lost in its pages you’ll know what I’m talking about. Learning is fun.
Of course, it’s important that the fun factor should not be hampered by rules and boring theory. When you leafed through that encyclopaedia, you did it of your own free will. The success of your learning was based on the fact that you could read only those things that interested you, whenever you felt like it.
These language courses work in the same way. There is no teacher. Perhaps you could find somebody to learn with you; that way there won’t be any excuses like “I don’t have time today.” Alternatively, you could study by yourself.
In this book you will find many recommendations. You can pick and choose the ones that suit you. The recommendations in detail are:
Take your time.
I’m still looking for an English version of the story of Till Eulenspiegel and the waggoner. If you know this tale, please enter it here.
Everyone needs to learn at their own pace. You should decide yourself how much time you need to finish the lesson. You can, in the beginning at least, be geared to finishing a lesson a week.
- Read the texts and their English translations. Traditional language courses often demand that you try to decipher a text all by yourself. Sometimes you are even asked to make a translation. However, the most important thing is to have a sense of achievement by the end of the lesson. In other words, you should try to keep things simple. Read the English translation at least twice and familiarise yourself with its contents.
- Listen to the spoken material. When you are learning a new language it will sound like gibberish at first. Nevertheless, listen to the spoken material, because you will at least get a feeling for the sounds of the language. What’s more, you will probably understand many internationalisms —even if you are learning Japanese or Hindi. By the second lesson at the latest, you will recognise quite a few words and structures. That will give you a certain feeling of success.
Read along with the spoken material. Try to follow the text as you listen. The passages that sound funny to you—those where the pronunciation doesn’t seem to fit the written word—will easily stick in your mind. In that way you will quickly improve your comprehension of the language.
When studying a language that doesn’t use the Latin alphabet, you will need a little preparation before you reach this step. The courses will provide this.
Read the word-for-word translation. Once you have read the stylistically faultless translation, start reading the word-for-word translation. It should be easy, but if you have any problems, the course will use annotated notes to help you.
When you have finished laughing, listen to the spoken material and follow the word-for-word translation instead of the target-language text. What you are doing was called “learning vocabulary by rote” in the prehistoric ages. Fortunately, this task is now a lot less daunting than it once was.
Reading along while you listen is something you should do again and again. Let the speakers on the recording repeat themselves until you can’t bear it any more. Do the same thing the next day and the day after that.
- Let the language sink in. This is your second main activity. You will need a portable CD or MP3 player. Let the speakers read to you non-stop. Let the melody of their speech become ingrained on your subconscious. When you reach the later lessons you will have mastered some grammatical rules without noticing—it’s just like learning English as a child.
Season your studies by using complementary learning strategies. For example, once you understand perfectly the texts in the target language you can make copies of them. But don’t trust yourself to make a perfect copy. Let someone compare the texts or use the spell-checker on your computer.
Later on (in lesson three at the earliest) you can try to speak synchronously with the recording. Whisper at first. You will get some useful feedback when your pronunciation is not like the native speaker’s pronunciation.
When you are no longer a beginner you might be able to understand a new text after just one reading. Even then you shouldn’t be without the help of native speakers.
As an example, Wikipedia offers some spoken articles. You can use them just like lessons, using a dictionary to look up any unfamiliar words.
The task of learning a language is never complete. Just as you learn new English words all the time, your competence in a foreign-language will always be improving. At some point you will be able to leave this course behind you and concentrate on newspapers, radio programmes and chat rooms. By then the foreign language will almost feel like a mother tongue to you.
Offering a course
The course is defined in terms of a source language—the learner’s mother tongue—and a target language. The course can contain any number of lessons consisting of the following four parts:
- A text in the target language—This should be a dialogue (or a trialogue) of 150 to 200 words. Roots should recur very often over several lessons, even if the style of the text suffers because of it. Giving the learner a sense of achievement should be first and foremost.
- The corresponding text in the source language—This should be made up of simple words. The reader should be able to imagine pictorially what they have read.
- A word-for-word translation—This should be based heavily on the target language text. Examples are missing here. It would be reasonable as well to adopt the same punctuation and upper-lower case usage.
- The spoken material—This should be recorded as far as possible by multiple native speakers, speaking in the standard language (and not in a dialect).
To help minimise the investment in time required, please consider doing things in the following order: first, a text in the target language should be elaborated, discussed and improved for some time. Then, somebody can write the translations and record the texts. There should be recordings of people speaking slowly as well as speaking quickly.
Anyone who wants to deviate from these recommendations is free to do so; but they should announce their intentions, so that everyone can understand them.
Once a course is complete it will be easy to offer it in several source languages. Someone simply has to write both translations of the text. It doesn’t even have to be done by native speaker.