by AJ (also posted on Effortless Acquisition)
Ive always considered myself one of the worst language students in the world. Im terrible. I lived in Korea a year-- and speak no Korean. I lived in Japan a total of 6 months... and almost no Japanese.
Ive lived in Thailand for two years and speak only "taxi Thai". Pitiful, eh?
Yet I still believe that learning another language is very important. Without the local language, there is a permanent barrier between you and the culture which is very difficult to breach.
So I criticize myself for this (Im a language teacher after all). But lately Ive reconsidered this criticism in light of the research, knowledge, and techniques I use as a teacher. I KNOW that traditional language teaching methods are a huge failure (somewhere in the vicinity of 95% of language students never attain proficiency). As a teacher, I also know that living in the country is of little help to beginning students.. the input they receive is far too complex to be of use.
Yet for some reason I continued to follow the traditional mindset as a student. I thought just living in Korea or Thailand or Japan might be enough. Its not.. unless you are already at a mid/high intermediate level. I tried to learn Japanese from language tapes and textbooks... and totally failed. I studied a little Thai in a natural way (thus my "taxi Thai" ability) but then reverted to the "Ill absorb it from my surroundings" mentality.
But lately, Ive caught on and decided to try the methods I encourage my own English students to use. As Ive mentioned earlier, Im lazily trying to acquire a bit of Spanish. Ive been doing this, so far, simply by reading baby books and the lowest level graded readers (available from the TPR site... by Blaine Ray). This has been a very pleasant and indeed "effortless" approach.
Truth be told, Im not one of these gung ho people who can grind out studying for hours every day. I hate trying to memorize vocabulary- and grammar is even worse. In the past I made attempts to "study" Spanish and I got bored and frustrated very quickly... my attempts never lasted longer than two weeks.
But Ive been doing light reading for about a month now... very leisurely... I just do it when I have a little spare time... and Im making much better progress. Because I dont do this a lot, my progress is slow. But it is pleasant and most importantly-- I am continuing with it. Learning a language is like running a marathon... its not a sprint.
After a month of light reading, however, I realize Id like to get some oral input. I suppose I could order a "language tape" and do endless drills (ugh). But instead Ive decided to use movies. Im going to start with "The Motorcycle Diaries". I just watched it (with English subtitles) and loved it.
My plan is to imitate the movie technique... watch the movie in short scenes and play each scene two or three times. Since I won't have a teacher to explain the dialogue to me (in simpler language)... I may resort to looking up key words in a dictionary as I pause the scene.
To be sure, this will be slow work. But Im not in a hurry. And it will be much more pleasant than repeating drills from a language tape. My guess is, in the longrun it will also prove to be much more effective.
With Thai, I first need to learn the alphabet (so I can use a Thai-English dictionary).... then I will use the same technique with Thai kids shows (Bob the Builder, etc...).