I do not think that the grammar as such is a bad thing. If you like it and if you "use" it in a proper way and time ... why not. Maybe, I could (I do not say intentionally "I SHOULD") start to pay more attention to it. NOW - after some years of neglecting it (=and being rather happy without it at the same time :-) )
Resurrection of my English
Firstly – Why I am writing about myself and my English learning experiences? Right question. It is because I would like to share with you what was working for me and what was not. It could help you. I am aware that everybody is unique, individual being, but something we have in common. Maybe you will be able to find this “common” to make your language learning process easier and quicker than was the mine.
I studied in university and chose different languages than English to learn. When I think of it now, I had to be very fed up with English! In that university I chose Spanish because they told that it is very easy language (in reality it was not so easy but our teacher was quite benevolent – it was a pleasant elderly woman). But my English was still “sleeping” in me. I was burnt out somehow. I needed time. And it was given to me. After a while I was able (and slightly to forced) to use English at least for reading of a technical literature – I studied computer science, programing and knowledge engineering and most of that materials were in English. The programing languages are based on English of course. Otherwise I did not have any motivation or craving to study English or use it at all. Maybe the reason also was that I had a lot of different things to learn and my capacity was used sufficiently at that time.
So, although not very clever I graduated with quite good grades and actually I was invited to stay at that school. But at fist I had to go to military service (it was obligatory) and there (more or less for fun and because of necessity to fill the free time) I started to learn Esperanto. Now I do not remember anything from it, to say the truth. But my zest for language learning was slowly returning back. And this even slightly accelerated after being back in university. I started to read more and it was mostly in English. At that time I was not able to speak and understand nearly at all. But the will was there inside of me to learn again and after leaving the university and starting my professional carrier I wanted to move forward with my English. I restarted. Fist I used traditional approach again – some books, grammar, learning new vocabulary … but not at language school. I did it jut on my own, and by my own pace. There was some slight progress but not too very significant. There were such periods of activity and then after some disappointment time of “rest” again. And it repeated itself several times. Then I met a man, Czech, who lived in Canada for some time (he was willing to speak with me in English, but actually I was not at that time – I had no will and ability to do it). He did business with me and suggested me to watch satellite TV in English. I followed his suggestion for a while, but I was not able to understand well and after some frustration I finished this activity too (now I know why it was so – I will tell you later).
And finally! The year 2005 was the break point! I found in library an interesting book written by V.F.Birkenbihl and I started to apply her approach. Few weeks later I even managed to find a course based on her method. It was English course for Czech people. Coincidence? I started to do it – to learn this untraditional way. Yes, I followed the rules exactly as they told and after some time (about 3 months I think) I was very excited. I was getting started to understand! I understood English without inner translation – I understood it directly. Not all, of course, but I saw that it is possible, that it is working. My paradigm of learning English shifted from reading to predominantly listening.
It was the beginning of the “New Age” of my English. It was just a beginning!
To be continued ...
THE EARLY YEARS
My journey started nearly 40 years ago (time really flies, isn't it?). I was a small boy in elementary school – I can hardly remember those times now. But some things we remember better and those are usually moments of joy or on the other hand (in most cases?) painful moments. In my early years of „search for English“ I encountered unfortunately mostly the second ones. My parents sent me to the language school to learn English. At fist I welcomed it. It looked like a new adventure for me and it was not so bad. To say the truth, I was even quite enthusiastic about it (at first). But such a state did not last for long!
Needless to say, we were taught by Czech teacher (there were no native language teachers in our country at that time) using classical methods, of course. It was a lot of vocabulary, grammar, exercises, reading, tests... It is the truth, that I was able to cope with it somehow, especially at that particular lesson in which we were taught some grammar phenomenon for exeampe, but a few weeks later? It goes without saying – I had such a mess in my head! And on top of it, I had newer been a good at speaking. I am not speaking only about English but it was the same my native Czech language. I can remember our teacher (regular, not language teacher) saying: „Jirka is such a silent boy. He is not stupid but he is very passive, when I ask him, he usually know ...“. Yes, I used to be very silent and shy. Actually I was not (and still I am not) very clever. I have just had no thoughts in my head at that time and because of it the speech of the teacher „recorded“ somehow into my memory. Maybe that lack of thinking did not interfere with the learning process and actually was very helpful. I nearly did not need to learn at home at all. But different situation was with that English lessons. I had in my head two languages at the same time, fighting together, competing for resources. The results were corresponding. Gradually I become fed up with that „stupid English“ but my parents insisted – I had to continue. And when I think of it, I was not any exception or a bad student in our class, actually I was an average one.
So, I continued, hardly able to understand, hardly able to say something. With my reading and writing it was the same. I forgot most of the grammar from months and years before, I forgot most of vocabulary we crammed up … but I continued. I went for years this way. I was already in my high school and the lessons of English (in language school) were twice a week and 2 hours long each! It started to be a torture for me and I was looking for every opportunity to miss those lessons. Maybe because of it my results deteriorated and it lead to my further disappointment with language learning. I started to skip school. At that time I used to play chess and I was quite good at it actually. It was my hobby and instead of attending the language school I played chess with my friends from our chess-club. My parents, of course, received the news from the language teacher about my frequent absences and were furious. My father was very upset, I remember, he cried to me something about importance of language learning. I was hardly listening (being in puberty – accustomed to such situations) Suddenly my attention focused to one sentence he uttered. It was: „You must chose – you must chose between English or Chess! There is no doubt about it“ He probably did not expect any response from me, but it came to his amazement - I said at that moment: „I chose the CHESS“ And it was. It was a finish of my English education for few years to come and a total finish of my „classical“ English learning. At least such kind of language school organized education. I finished successfully the high school (learning there German and Russian) and went to university. I played chess and I was good at it and happy, I enjoyed it. And what about my English? It had a resting time.
To be continued ...
Protagonists: me (“a little me”) and ME (Jirka Slaba)
me: So, there is that promised “English story” today?
ME: I do not write the BLOG every day.
me: Why not?
ME: Because I am busy, sometimes.
ME: Hm, feel free to use it interchangeably.
me: I have some questions concerning a vocabulary.
me: You told that you do not learn single words. What do you do instead of it?
ME: I learn the language, no words. If you read my previous posts you know that “my” method (actually it is not my method at all, nothing is original, we create from existing building blocks...) but to the point – this approach, as you know, is based mainly on listening and listening of KNOWN content. So, you have a transcript and you can easily find the unknown words. At the beginning you will need probably “translate“ this way more or less a complete text, later on only some words. You do not need to create any list from these words – just have their meaning to look at them (in text) from time to time (if necessary).
me: It is much more difficult to understand and learn words in sentences than in separate list as you called it, isn't?
ME: Actually, it is not.
me: I do not understand. I have always had troubles to catch the meaning. It is too quick for me sometimes and on top of it those native speakers! Ach, they connect everything together! It is impossible to get it, it is not perhaps English at all.
ME: It is an English! It is the real English. Yes it differs from your school English. And by the way, for me it is much easier to understand the meaning of worlds in whole sentences – it gives me the context to grasp the meaning – sometimes I understand the particular word only partially (it is kind of game of probabilities) and just the rest of the sentence gives me the global picture which I need to get it. Sometimes I learn a new word without looking to the dictionary at all. Imagine that you have a sentence (or few sentences) and only ONE word is unknown. You can guess relatively well the meaning of it (the one of possible meanings). You are not 100% certain. Let's say only 60% (just for demonstration – actually you do not number any probabilities in you head) After some time you hear the same word in different context. And it either confirms your previous guess or you must to reassess it (or you can look it up in the dictionary (at last) – and it is out of your own natural curiosity – so, you can remember it now forever)
me: You told that some words are more important than others and that they create kind of matrix or mosaic to see the global picture or something like that. How do you distinguish them and do you learn them preferably?
ME: Yes, there are such parts of language which are more important. I learn them preferably although I do not need to distinguish them from the other parts.
me: I do not understand.
ME: Every language has one interesting feature – the most important parts are those parts that repeat itself most often, are more frequent. And those parts you listen naturally most often. You learn them better because of that repetition (and it is not mechanical repetition). It is the other advantage of this approach. In the classical traditional school approach you learn all words from your list and gives them the same priority (plus not taking into consideration the difference between passive and active vocabulary) and it is a big wastage of resources and your mental energy.
me: So, I see that you are so perfect not doing it!
ME: No, nobody is perfect. I do a lot of errors and I learn from them.
me: And you are “Nobody”?
me: And WHO AM I?
ME: A good question to the end of our dialog. Ask this question from time to time. Ask it yourself. Bye.
ME: Dear reader - next time the promised story :-)
We usually consider the speaking to be the most difficult part of our language learning process and actually, when I think of it now, it is the ultimate goal of all this “effort”. Language is about speaking, it is no doubt about it. The natural way for children to learn is to 1. listen and after some time (one, two or more years) they start with 2. speaking. And speaking very simply at the beginning. They IMITATE their parents and family members. It is natural way. No reading and no writing is involved, no lists of words to memorize, no grammar rules... and parents do not correct them every time when they make some mistake or when the pronunciation is not so perfect. They enjoy the process and go forward. Naturally.
So, from my personal perspective, the LISTENING and the SPEAKING are our natural, maybe genetically inherent abilities, which we, as human beings have inside of us for millions of years. We do not need any school education to attain them. Rather different situation is with reading and writing. These skills need the school or some teacher support (in most cases).
But why is the speaking for us learners with ESL (English as Second Language) so problematic? I think that the reason is that we approach it from the wrong direction. We start usually with learning lists of words (and it is a mix of our native language and target (learned) language, we learn a bunch of grammar rules (riddled by exceptions) and then we TRY to combine those words together, using those complex rules … Sometimes, we (as children) hardly know the meaning of the words (even in our native language, because we do not use them actively very much, or at all, or they are for us rather meaningless. The topic is irrelevant, but school book forces us to learn them anyway). We learn a lot ABOUT that language, about its structure, grammar... We learn a lot ABOUT it in our native language. A teacher is not, in many cases, a native speaker. We hardly know the correct pronunciation because of it, we hear more our own language during lessons of foreign language then foreign language itself. This MIX of languages creates its equivalent in our head.
Yes, it is as it is and we cannot do too much with it. We cannot change the school system immediately. I think that such learning about the language can be useful to some extend too. But it is not real language learning. It is learning ABOUT it. And it is a big difference. So, what we can do? We can return to the natural process – “listen and imitate” and the school let as kind of supplement only. About listening we were talking before. So, to the speaking - how to “imitate” the speaking? Simply: You can listen a speak together or slightly delayed as you are listening at the same time. Do it this way: You are listening native speaker (you already perfectly understand because of previous activities) and you imitate his (her) pronunciation (you are familiar with too). After while you can be even slightly beforehand. Advantage is that you can compare yourself with the “real” speaker, you do not need (at that phase) any partner and you are becoming familiar with yourself (with your voice) speaking in the foreign language.
The second way (or (sub)phase) could be similar to the writing exercises we did – after listening you can try to say it in your own way, preferably using same (or some) vocabulary from the material you have just heard. /Here I would like to make a little remark – chose the topic you are INTERESTED IN, which has some MENING for you!/ You can notice that some words are more difficult to remember and to be used for you – you can mark them somehow (color). You know (understand) them but you cannot use them in your speech. It is you passive vocabulary. And to activate it? It needs speaking, using it, be active … there is no other way! Repeat, practise.
What I found very useful, after years of listening and some reading (but being unable to speak well) and after some attempts to speak with my friend via Skype (which had some impact, but made me feel a bit frustrated) is the method called Brain Speak Activator – which is “easy” to use, it does not need any partner, you do not need to be under any pressure, to be self-conscious, shy... or to "suffer" anyhow. You can do it on you own, with your own pace. Originally it was not intended to be language learning tool. But It had enormous impact on me and my speaking! I will write about it next time (noticing that the post is rather long already) and I will reveal my “English story” to you.
To be continued …
Today a little detour around writing about English and learning process. I was slightly surprised that people (you) read my BLOG in such a big amount. At the same time I got some contradictory reactions which I must at least shortly comment.
Most of you supports me, the others say that my writings are full of mistakes, riddled by grammar errors… I am grateful to ALL of you. I was thinking about it and I must say (or better to say “write”) something explicitly about it: I AM NOT NATIVE SPEAKER and I LEARN AS I WRITE. English is my second language (ESL), I am one of you. I learn with you. The majority of us, speakers of English all over the World are non-native speakers of English. I am one of them, one of you. I write here my experiences, my points of view and my knowledge I gained during the process called the LIFE. Small part of this process was an acquiring the ability to use languages (my native Czech, and then Russian, English, German, Spanish, Esperanto - some of them only very VERY slightly!) And this ability as far as English is concerned is not perfect at all, actually it is rather average till low average. To improve I need to write (everybody needs to practise) and I do it. And I do my best (as Don Miguel Ruiz says: ”Always do your best” :-) which is, I think, “his” Fourth Agreement).
First group of you (who supports me and say that I am doing a good job) encourages me to continue and second group (those who do not like my mistakes) helps me to learn from them. But YOU, dear reader, learn English from somebody else, please, preferably from native speakers. From my writings get just the MESSAGE. Or maybe you can notice those mistakes and learn from them too with me. Maybe you can start writing too (comment my posts :-) ) We are in the same process. So, this is my DISCLAIMER. These texts are not proof-read or anyhow corrected by anybody competent. Be aware of it and read all these writings with this notion in your mind. Thank you very much! :-)
Next time it will be to the topic. I promise! ;-)
Last time we mastered the English (or it could be any other language) material the way that we are able to understand it perfectly, immediately, we are familiar with sounds of all words and their connections (sentences) It means that we understand well English spoken by native speaker. And it is not any kind of simplistic, excuse me, „idiotic“ type of language we used to learn at school. It is „full-blooded“ English. So, we could congratulate ourselves! But it is just a beginning. It is foundation for other skills. Maybe you could say, why not start and build these foundations from READING? I will tell you why: imagine yourself reading... If you read a normal way (we do not take into consideration speed-reading techniques and so on...) you can usually „hear in your head“ the voice that is talking what you are reading. In English and in other languages it could be quite different from what is written on the paper (pronunciation differs from spelling). It is not unusual. What does it mean? It goes without saying, you need to be familiar first with sound of the language – otherwise you would „create“ for yourself your own version of it and it would prevent you from proper understanding and of course to be understand by others too. Such repetition of bad pronunciation leads to habit which can be very hardly broken in the future (For example, it is similar with swimming after all. If you are a beginner, start with good form, do not rush, the speed, strength and fitness will come later. Maybe it is this way with everything :-) ) So, what is the next step? READ! You can read the material you have listened so far. Instead of reading the index text you can read now the foreign one. You can read it while listening native narrator or listening yourself without player on. You can compare. Now you can actually do it already. It is kind of self correction which has been created inside of your mind. I will talk about it in more details in some my later post on this BLOG. Read, listen at the same time, imagine what you are reading (engage your „right brain hemisphere“ and because of you have done a good preparation by previous phase, it is quite easy for you and enjoyable, so ENJOY! It will make you feel good and it supports you towards this activity again (it is in the direct contradiction with classical school approach which leads only to frustration, struggling, aversion and ultimately abandoning the learning process completely. Isn't it the reason why people stop learning language after some time, then „restart“ again and the circle repeats itself over and over? (the language schools like it of course ;-) ) And what about WRITING? In principle it is to some extent similar to reading, as far as necessity of proper pronunciation is concerned. In addition to it you need to know spelling. And how you can learn the spelling? Fist of all by reading! You can see it while reading, it becomes familiar to you and by writing you practise it. To imprint it into your mind (and "hand or fingers") How to do it? First you can use your material you have listened like a dictation. Listen and write, stop the player from time to time (to be able to keep with it) Second possibility is to listen (or read) part of that text and then you can write about it, say it the same or similar way, use vocabulary and expressions from that material – what you remember or just say it using your own words. Then return and compare with original text. Self-reflect. You will see that a lot of new vocabulary was somehow „stored“ inside of you without learning separate words explicitly. It is exciting again! The self-learning matrix, or MOSAIC, of language based on solid unforgettable foundations is being formed inside of you! Congratulation!
To be continued …
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