3.30.2013

Operation: Bilingual (for Real)

For my birthday I received an utterly amazing gift: my wife, parents, mother-in-law, and great-aunt all pitched in to get me 6 Language Coaching Sessions with EDLL's very own Aaron Myers!!!!! I know... Best. Present. Ever! Aaron's blog has been such a significant source of encouragement and information for me this past year. One of his major tenants is the importance of figuring out your own personal learning style rather than just doing what's most popular or advertised. I'm so excited to find my stride and direct my language learning energies to a concerted goal!

David's Horatii are VERY goal-oriented and organized!
I had my first session this last week via Skype. Even though I'm a raging polyglot-in-training, I decided that I wanted to talk with Aaron about ways to go deep into a single language (German) so that I have a method I can follow later with other languages (French, Russian, Spanish, Gàidhlig!). We talked about three areas to work on - things that simultaneously play to my strengths and challenge me to grow.

  1. People: People learn languages for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons require nothing more than a few books and some imagination, and I've spent my fair share of solitude reveling in the inherent beauties of language's sounds, structures, behaviors, and idiosyncrasies. But I've come to realize that language learning should not just be directed inward, but also outward - forging meaningful relationships with native speakers not only helps you learn better, but takes a step toward a world-wide community with potentially world-changing ramifications! My tiny step toward this exciting and terrifying goal involves taking the effort to try to contact German speakers. Aaron explained that it's important to cultivate friendships grounded in shared interests and not just in language acquisition: you just so happen to improve your German as you explicate   the radical position of Plato's Socratic dialogues when measured against the backdrop of Aristotelian tragedy and Athenian democracy. So, if you are a German speaker reading this and you want to toss around ideas about music, literature, and beyond: Magst du mein Freund sein?
  2. Writing: I've always been good at multiple-choice questions; recognition and recall are sort of my thing. That's why I've been so happy about progressing so far on German reading and listening. Writing and speaking is coming on a bit slower. Constructing meaningful, grammatically correct sentences out of nothing feels a bit like building a house out of mushy Graham crackers! Aaron told me to build and one of the safest places to start is by writing. Just like speaking, writing involves constructing sentences word by word, but unlike speaking you can do it anywhere and you don't have the pressure of a live audience. It's about putting it out there and then getting a bit of feedback: Lang-8 is a site where you can get your mini-essays corrected by native speakers or your new friend (see 1) can go over it with you over Skype. It's also important to get in plenty of listening (see 3), repeating the correct patterns of sounds that will eventually become speaking and writing second nature.
  3. Listening: As I see it, there are a few different ways to think about listening. Over the past year I've gotten more comfortable with the idea of inundating myself in the mere sounds of a foreign language, the music, knowing that things are being mysteriously processed in a way I can't totally understand. Another aspect of it combines the musical part with meaning, around 70–90% of the meaning to be exact. At this stage, since I can't get those sorts of numbers by watching Heute Journal Plus on ZDF, I need to find something that I'm already familiar with in English, so my memory of the story and the context can help me figure things out. I'm getting an audiobook of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a story I know very well through repeated readings, and looking forward to enjoying myself in a well-loved tale, while just so happening to learn German at the same time!

I'm so thankful to my family for this wonderful gift! I'll definitely give reports on my progress in these areas and hope this post can help inspire you to consider tiny steps towards big and exciting goals. Viel Spaß!


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