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When learning Arabic, I decided to record my entire day of learning the language on camera. I was going to make it one video, but by the time I reached 9AM, I already have enough to make an important point! (Part 2 will come later – stay tuned).
The first minute is prepared script, and then I'm all on my own in front of a native, unprepared and spontaneous, via Skype.
Sound like an idiot – it's the smartest thing you can possibly do.
One thing that separates the men from the boys in language learning is: Can you let go of your ego?
I learned a long time ago that speaking like “Tarzan” is an absolutely necessary stage to go through, so you get used to using the language in SOME way. You learn to get used to the embarrassment and get on with learning quicker.
In this video, you see me desperately trying to explain the simple sentence “I'm recording this Skype call” at first, and then later find a way to work around not knowing how to say “go out”, by saying “in the street”, rather than give up and say it in English.
I've seen other language learners NOT do this. They “save time” and just say what they want to say in English when they get stuck. They talk about people like me making mistakes early having to worry about “fossilization” of those mistakes – well I say right back at you. If you learn that you can always switch back to English whenever the going gets tough, then you'll fossilize this mentality and never learn to live or think entirely through the language.
If you have a teacher, then they need to earn their money and really help you
It's VERY slow, but since I'm paying this teacher for a private lesson, he is damn well going to earn his money and have to “put up” with me in this stage. The easiest thing by far a teacher can do is go into autopilot and follow a generic course, and talk at you. Teachers should be language facilitators – if I want to hear a monologue I'll go to the talking-head videos all over Youtube.
(More on where I'm getting these private teachers, and how I'm not actually spending that much money, coming in a post soon enough)
I've tested out a few teachers, and if some are not patient and butt in after a few seconds of hesitation with “just say what you what to say in English”, then after that class I dump them unceremoniously. The rules are different when you are socialising in the language, but any moment I speak English with a teacher is a complete and utter waste of my language learning time.
In my view, they are simply a BAD TEACHER if they don't encourage exclusive use of the target language. (When I was an English teacher, even when I was in Spain sitting my C2 diploma in Spanish, I didn't speak anything but English with my students).
Now, I absolutely refuse to speak English when I'm getting a language lesson, because I am learning how to find a way to get my point across in Arabic, so that later I can handle situations where the other person does not speak any English, which is the point of this exercise in the first place: To use the language with non-teachers, actually within Egypt, asap.
How I made the transition to using 100% target language in my spoken sessions
But it's HARD to start this. NOT because of all the academic reasons of lack of vocabulary and grammar, but because you need to be cool with the fact that you are not going to know the simplest of words.
My first two weeks were less than efficient with regards speaking goals, because I was reading some Arabic in my classes or even let some of my test teachers just talk at me about how Arabic works (again – waste of money; if the teacher is doing all the talking, then save some money and listen to a podcast; you don't even need to be present and pay by the hour).
It's not like I passed some threshold of having enough words to get started speaking (I'm still referring frantically to a puny dictionary in my phrasebook (in French) a lot of the time). What happened was that one day I just decided that I was going to stop with the bullshit excuses and quit using so much goddamn English in my lessons. It was a transition of using 90% Arabic one day, and then 100% the next.
I now literally say nothing in English any more. The teacher still says some (to clarify what I mean, or explain themselves), but I hope to make both ends of the conversation just in Arabic within a few weeks.
It's like pulling teeth sometimes, but it works. I'm exhausted after the hour long sessions, and my ego is shot (definitely not a great start to the day, but no pain no gain), but in the last week I'm making much greater progress! I'm ultimately hoping to record my one month video entirely spontaneously with a native, which is why this 3 week video was transitioning out of using scripts.
To give you a better look at how this mentality works, here is what I was thinking after each session. I write regularly about this on my Facebook page, so don't forget to like it to see such regular updates not on the blog! The following are copies from those status updates.
Just had my first Skype call where 90% of the call was in Arabic.
I was only being asked basic questions, like where I'm from, and “what's this number?” but I was thinking so hard that I'm exhausted now after the session!
That one hour of forced use of the language was a very uncomfortable and quite an unpleasant experience, but if you put your ego aside for a little and are willing to feel stupid and say silly things (I kept calling my female teacher a man and used understandable but really wrong sentences like “I am Brazil now”) then you can make huge strides in progress.
No pain, no gain.
I'm only 16 days into learning this language, but I've made the important transition that I speak NO ENGLISH AT ALL during my Skype sessions in Arabic.
My teachers are still using some English for clarification for what I mean, or when I say I don't understand what they are saying, and I have to flick through my pathetic tiny and pretty useless dictionary a LOT, but so far I've had 3 sessions where I have kept this up!
Hopefully in a few weeks they won't need to use English at all, and can explain what I don't understand using other words I know in Arabic.
And if you say this is because I'm talented, I'll have to punch you in the eyebrow. I'm working my ass off, and feel depleted, stupid and exhausted. HARD WORK and willingness to not float through a lesson on a lazy cloud with your teacher doing all the work, are what makes this possible.
When you speak in English (or your mother tongue), you are wasting your time in a language lesson as far as I'm concerned. Grow a pair, swallow your pride and sound like an idiot – it's the smartest thing you can possibly do.
Currently rendering my 3-week point video. 21 days into learning the language, and you continue to see my incremental changes…
At the request of many people, you will continue to see me sweat and struggle, but this time… trying to communicate with a human being over Skype!!
Apparently a “smart language learner” can't come across as looking dumb. As I've said before, sounding stupid is the SMARTEST thing you can possibly do in language learning, and clutching on to your ego for fear of people thinking you sound foolish, is in itself incredibly foolish.
If I can put a humiliating video of myself online at my three week point for the world to see and make fun of… then surely you can go up to ONE PERSON and be embarrassed at your weaknesses in the language, work around not knowing the word rather than giving up and saying it in English, and having a slow conversation at first? Come on! 🙂
Struggle, sweat and sound like Tarzan. It's only temporary, and if you go through this rough stage intensively, you'll get out to the other side in no time 😉