Being a Language Learner Again

As some of you may know, I had my first Chinese lesson on Monday. I am learning in a small group of 4-5 students. Our teacher is my tai-chi teacher, who comes from China. I’m really excited about being a language learner again. It is not my intention to comment on the way the classes are structured. Rather, I would like to write a short post about my perception of learning a language again and how it might impact on my teaching.

I am a beginner and I had never studied Chinese before. Before starting, I learnt about thirty phrases on Memrise but that is all. So here are some ideas:

  1. Focusing on receptive tasks is great for a beginner class. I mean the phonetic system, distinguishing between various sounds or even words. Give simple instructions such as: “point to the sound I say.” Do more of it than you think is necessary. Only after that move on to production.
  2. More revision. What might seem tedious to a teacher is actually great for the student. I was not bored when going over and over the basic sounds and words. We did plenty but I felt it still wasn’t enough. And I know I probably don’t do it enough in my lessons.
  3. Be lean. Tech isn’t needed. We had a worsksheet each with the sound system and new words. All the tasks were pretty basic: repeat, read aloud, teacher points and students say the words, each student reads aloud, etc.
  4. Be very specific about pronunciation. Demonstrate. Show how and where the sound is produced. Show correct position of lips, tongue, etc. Draw a sagittal diagram if possible. Sounds are weird. I needed to hear the new word three or four times before I could even attempt to pronounce it, so model many many many more times than I do now.
  5. It didn’t matter what we learnt. This might sound curious, but as a beginner, I really didn’t care in what order we would learn the new words. We learnt basic words like friend, teacher, and verbs: speak, read, etc. Also numbers. I don’t teach these in my first lessons, but it didn’t matter. Also I am not very concerned about the book we’re using or the fact we are using a book. The teacher gave it to us, it may not be a perfect book to use but I feel it’s completely ok to use it.
  6. Memory. We studied an hour. I didn’t remember much the next day when I tried to recall the new words (shengci). I wrote them down in a Quizlet folder, studied a hundred times today and still make mistakes! Also, it helps to have a wordlist so that you can make a set on Quizlet. I might actually take time to create a specific wordlist after each class to make life easier for the students. By the way, Quizlet is great. Thoroughly recommend.
  7. The guilt. My next lesson is today. I haven’t had much time to study. I still haven’t read the rules in the book. It isn’t a nice feeling, so I’ll do my best to catch up (on the tram to pick up children from school etc.) I wish I had more time to write things down in my beautiful red book, which is still empty. My Czech student does this and his book is a wonder! Hopefully, mine will be too, one day, and I will be able to show it to you.

That’s it for now. Are you learning a foreign language and how does it feel?

10 thoughts on “Being a Language Learner Again

  1. The guilt about time. Oh my word. I’m doing better than I have done but not as good as I want. Thanks. Also, repetition. Very useful for lower proficiency students. Nice reminder!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jane

    I’m the quintessential lazy learner doing some Swedish on Duolingo when I have time or am depressed. I find that it cheers me up to see how much I’ve remembered between “lessons.”
    Good luck with the Chinese! I hope you’ll ask her how to say beers!
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Considering the Swedish crime story, I wonder how it can cheer you up. You realize if we walk around Prague ordering beers in Swedish and Chinese, we’ll get into serious trouble?

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  3. It’s amazing how inquisitive you are to find your way into such a difficult language. But anyway, your language is difficult too ! I”ve been learning a little bit more everyday. My teacher is my three-year-old daighter, but I guess that doesn’t make her less important.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Alexandre, thanks so much for your heart-warming comment. Children are always great teachers, and especially if they come from such a lovely family like yours is. Regards to all of you 🙂

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  4. Hey there,
    Learning a new language and such a different one at that definitely sounds exciting. I’m glad you’re blogging about it. I was just talking to a colleague at work today, and she is about to start learning Swedish – I’m happy because I helped a little bit when she was looking for a teacher – and she is looking forward to it immensely. You guys are making me want to take up a new language too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Vedrana,
      Swedish, too? About two years ago I bought Teach Yourself Swedish but didn’t get past unit one. I was, of course, heavily influenced by The Broen. I wonder whether learning a language for the sake of learning it is strong enough motivation.
      Thanks for reading and the comment. Let me know what language you choose, if you do – and good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes I’ve started learning Vietnamese again and can empathise.

    It’s really made me realise how essential access to comprehensible input is, and how demoralising trying to deal with incomprehensible input is. Especially when hungover.

    Not surprising, like you mention, but Repetition, re-encounters and reproduction are so crucial it cannot be overstated imo. I’m re-writing constantly the same stuff in a diary and using Memrise and, like you say, it still doesn’t become automatic at all. For some reason, occasionally, some words / phrases will just stick though and it seems hard to explain why.

    thanks for posting

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for a great comment, Jamie. I’ve taught Vietnamese students Czech and I could not even pronounce their names. Hopefully it will get better now I have at least some idea of the tones. Otherwise I agree with everything you say and am glad I am not alone. It really has been affecting my teaching, which I guess is a good thing. Cheers!

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