An In-depth Look at How You Aquire a New Language
I wanted to contribute to this community, and I made an unfathomable connection. Learning a language has a lot in common with game. I also searched for other threads about learning a language, and I found them a little underwhelming. They do not address the frustrating "why is this not coming to me!" portion, or pay it a mere sentence.
Well, what perspective am I coming from? I spent over 4 years in 3 different countries teaching English. When I was taking my TEFL certification course in Prague, Czech Republic, it was tough. I did not focus on all of the little gimicks, games and techniques which they taught us. Rather I was more interested in the theory behind it, which they elaborated on immensely. I did poorly on my TEFL exam, but still passed due to this. In the short term I found myself struggling to come up with material for my students, however that was easy to figure out. What helped me out-perform other foreign English teachers is I understood the "Why?" Why do we play this game? Why does the textbook have a writing section? Why do we learn grammar? And this is what I want to make everyone here aware of because of the following:
BENEFITS OF KNOWING WHAT IS HAPPENING IN YOUR HEAD
First: You will be able to take the things you are reading, speaking, listening and writing, and know how to activate the certain portions of your brain to REMEMBER what you learned.
Second: Learning a language (many ways like game) is a very intense undertaking, which can be made easier than most think.
Third: When you fail to remember something off the top of your head, whether it is a word or phrase, you will know what you have to do to remember it.
I will break this down into four categories: Learning Types, Conscious vs. Sub-Conscious, Parts of a language and finally The "How?"
Firstly, a learning type is simply how you pick-up things. Knowing your learning type gives you a huge advantage when learning anything whether it be math, a language or working on a car.
I was trained to boil it down to three:
Visual: You learn from seeing things, whether written on a board or seeing a picture
Auditory: You learn from hearing things, like a teacher telling you how to do something
Tactile: You learn from doing things. So a tactile learner will need to speak, write it down a combination of the two, if they want to learn something
A combination of the two is neither advantageous nor disadvantageous, it simply means you have to apply both to your learning regime.
Then there is the combination of all three (which is what I am when I took my test way back in junior high). Again neither bad nor good, you simply need to understand that you must do a little bit of everything if you want to learn something.
You can take a few free self quizzes online through a google search of "what learning style am I" and figure out which one you are. If you find you are scoring very close between 2 out of the 3 then you are probably both. This will tell you which programs out there will help you the most. I.E. Pimsleur is much more suited to auditory and tactile learners. Because you get to hear (auditory) and then repeat (tactile) the phrases. A textbook or flashcard system with a heavy emphasis on pictures will help visual learners more, because you get to visualize what a word means.
Conscious vs. Sub-Conscious
I will describe both in plain, and simple terms because you could write books about it.
Basically it works like this:
The conscious is what you are vividly thinking about right now. As you read this, your conscious is putting the words in your head actively. If you think about a river flowing in a warm valley with mountains far off in the clouds. Hold that image and that is your conscious working.
The Sub-Conscious is harder to explain. It acts as a holding device for what you are aware of, like a low-key data storage system. If your native language is English you probably pass by countless signs and billboards without paying a thought to it, because you don't care and you know what it means. Whereas if you pass a billboard with some out-of-this-world Cyrillic text, your sub-conscious will not register, and bring it into your conscious. This is when you go "Huh?"
Another way to understand the difference is when you are having a conversation. If you are worried about losing an argument or proving your point, your conscious is what thinks of ways to take the discussion. Whereas if your discussing Jack falling on face when he was piss-face drunk, and laughing about it with friends who saw it as well. Then you are not doing much thinking. This is just, for lack of a better term, jargon being thrown out by your sub-conscious.
This is going to be extremely important when we get to the "How?"
PARTS OF A LANGUAGE
A language is a way to communicate your thoughts so others can understand. While a written language has a written form (i.e. an Alphabet), for learning we care about the two primary parts.
Vocabulary and Grammar
Vocabulary simply comes down to words.
Grammar is a set of rules, which most native speakers of any language don't even know. Don't believe me? Ask a native Russian speaker what genitive case is, 19 times out 20 they will have no idea. Ask a native English speaker what future perfect simple is. You get my point.
From this, you can see why there are only two, I stress... TWO types of languages in the world.
Rule based languages and Word based languages.
Word based languages can have inflections (not common) and multiple cases (very common). With cases, instead of changing word orders and applying the same principle to a word like adding a "'s" to show possession, you have to change the nouns to show the meaning of a sentence. Simply stating a word incorrectly will not just be wrong, it will more often be misinterpreted. This makes word based languages very memorization oriented, and thus harder for most. Examples would be Chinese, Russian, Polish.
English is a rule based language. So is Spanish and Portuguese. If you learn half of the rules, and only 100 words, you can make upward of 400 phrases in that language, because they are rule driven. Plugging in words into a set of rules is easier than learning how to say one word 16 different ways.
This leads to our next point.
Learning a language is 60% Vocabulary and 40% Grammar
Example. You can learn a phrase, what it means and then go use it. You do not need to know the why. This simply means you can communicate simply by learning words. However, this example also shows that you will not be able to build your own phrases correctly until you develop some kind of understanding of why.
If your going to learn to communicate minimally on the street, learn words and skip the grammar. If you need to communicate for a much bigger purpose, i.e. writing or business, learn grammar with the vocabulary.
If you want to learn something and NOT forget it, be it a language or where the air filter is on your car, you need to use your subconscious. That is the key.
When I taught English, unlike the others, I emphasized speaking. I always strove to have students discuss, because if I could trigger one passionate discussion, I have already done the impossible.
If someone was to passionately discuss something with me in Spanish, understanding my basic Spanish skills, and get me completely interested and trying to participate in the discussion, I am no longer thinking primarily about "how do I say this? What does that mean? Will this person make fun of me?..." (this is so similar to game its kind of scary). Instead I am trying to argue with my broken Spanish and get across a point, and my sub-conscious is taking over, because my conscious is worried about ideas now.
To summarize, we learn when things get repeated in our sub-conscious. This can be done in the following ways:
1) Drilling. You can repeat things (like saying a word over and over again) in your conscious until your sub-conscious picks up on it. (not very effective for many people).
2) Role-playing. Closing your eyes and visualizing a time and place where you would use this phrase/grammar point/words you just learned, and then speak them. Act out the characters, and everything they would say to eachother. If the script is less than a minute, you act it out multiple times. (more effective than drilling)
3) Writing a story. If you are learning grammar, this is worth doing. The reason is it plays on the role-playing. However, I do not recommend doing this if you are absolute beginner, because you do not want to spend your time in a dictionary. That is counter-productive, you are wasting time looking for a word, which then becomes 2 words, 3 words, etc. This is my opinion based on hundreds of students I watched (effective).
4) Conversation. Conversation is by far the best method, and preferably conversation with someone who doesn't speak your language. This is very hard to come by, but there are plenty of threads on this forum that outline websites and apps for finding people online to speak with. Also you should consider meetup.com if you live in a decent size city and lookup the language you are learning. Speaking to those who both speak your language and your target language can be very frustrating. As an English teacher I never told my students I spoke Russian or Polish, and I never spoke a word of it inside the class room. It does not matter. It is better the other speaker to explain words, and try to get you to understand them, than it is to simply translate it. (By far the best method)
The key is to ingrain it into your subconscious. In order to do that, you simply need to put yourself in situations where you use the language, without thinking about it.