Creating new sentences aloud, part one

This approach saved my Japanese and Korean

Creating new sentences aloud is my main approach to learning languages as a beginner. 

 

It prepares me for conversation (because when you speak, you’re always creating unique sentences–and if you can’t speak, it’s probably because you haven’t mastered that skill yet in the language you’re learning). It teaches me grammar without drills or exercises. It teaches me vocabulary with less memorization and less reliance on memory techniques such as mnemonics, memory palaces, or spaced repetition. It helps me to review and remember what my courses teach me, and makes the courses themselves less tedious and boring. It allows me to practice my languages anywhere, even in bed with the lights out or while taking walks. And it boosts my confidence and my motivation. For me, it makes learning more fun. 

 

There are other polyglots that use this technique regularly: Jan van der Aa and Lucas Bighetti. They created a business that sells a course series called Boostcamp which follows this approach. I’m taking their German and Russian courses now. Their company is called Language Boost. I’ve heard of other language learners creating written sentences to practice new grammar, but I rarely hear of this technique being done with spoken sentences. 

 

There are several ways I go about this. First, if a course of this sort has already been created, I’ll use it. The ones I know about so far are Michel Thomas, Language Transfer, and Boostcamp. (I don’t count Pimsleur and Paul Noble because they tend to review the same sentences over and over again. I need to create as many new sentences as I can in order for this method to work.) These three courses all teach one word or a very small grammar point at a time, and then give sentences in English for learners to translate into the target language. After pausing the recording and translating the sentence aloud, I resume the recording, hear the correct answer, and then repeat that. By the end of each hour of the course, I’ve created many new sentences in the target language and immediately had my errors corrected. 

 

If a course doesn’t exist, one thing I often do is find a course that has a lot of example sentences or dialogs in audio recordings, such as Glossika, Book2, or an Audiolingual Method course. I generate new sentences based on the sentences in the audio. But my method in this case will require a little time to explain (I think), so I’ll save that explanation for the second part of this blog post. 

 

Another option is to find a list of high frequency words that are often used in conversation and add some words I look up in a dictionary (because there are words which I use frequently but other people don’t, such as hobby jargon). Currently, I’m using the Vocabooster Indonesian course (also by Language Boost) which is a list of 500 words and expressions used frequently in conversation along with an example sentence for each and a casual language variant of the example sentence. I use whatever tools I can to help me with that list, such as Forvo (for pronunciation). If example sentences aren’t provided with the list, Tatoeba or Reverso Context are good tools to provide example sentences showing how those words are used in sentences–however, I haven’t used those websites much yet, though I feel that I should. 

 

The last option is to create my own materials by skimming through a grammar reference book or textbook for grammatical constructions that I want to use in conversation, writing brief notes and/or example sentences in a pocket notebook, and then using the notebook to practice creating my own sentences while I go hiking or take walks (somewhere where not many people can see me). I often have a second notebook for vocabulary I want to learn, or I use a pocket-sized topical vocabulary book (such as the series by Barron’s). 

 

The human mind seems to be inefficient when it comes to memorization. When we try to memorize grammar or vocabulary, we often end up with huge lists of words to review (even with the help of spaced repetition software) and then we still forget the words when we want to use them. I believe that using vocabulary is the best approach to remembering it–and the same goes for grammar. If we want to read well, we need to encounter the grammar and vocabulary a lot in our reading. If we want to speak well, we need to use the grammar and vocabulary a lot in our speaking (in context–that is, in sentences, monologs, or conversations). But as you can imagine, there are weaknesses to this approach, and those will be the topic of the third part of this blog article. 

 

What I can say is that this approach saved my Japanese and Korean. I couldn’t find courses I liked for Korean. Even the courses I liked for other languages weren’t as good in Korean. With this approach, I created my own study materials and kept learning the language. As for Japanese, I had studied it for years but still had no ability to converse in it, and this approach prepared me for conversation by helping me to learn a lot of grammar so that I could express a wide variety of thoughts and ideas when I speak. You can see the results in my Instagram account ( https://www.instagram.com/and_e_r/ ). I achieved B1 conversational skill a year or two ago (but only practiced reading since then, so now I’m working my way back to conversational B1 and beyond). 

 

(to be continued) 

A verb drill method to die for

With practice, you’ll remember verb forms quickly.

One challenge many people have in learning to speak a language fluently is having to pause and remember the correct verb forms. Beginners following the “speak from day one” approach can avoid the problem temporarily by talking like Tarzan (as suggested by Benny Lewis). But most people (myself included) prefer to delay speaking practice–and, in any case, we would like to be good at grammar eventually so we can speak at a high proficiency. Furthermore, many people are in classroom settings and have to take tests which emphasize grammar. 

There are many solutions: lots of writing practice (for example, a daily journal written in your target language), the sentence-forming-aloud method that I use (similar to Michel Thomas’ method), grammar exercises, Audiolingual drills (sometimes masked as communicative activities), sentence copying, memorizing by rote or with flashcards, and probably others that I’ve never heard of. 

One that intrigues me is verb drills. French Today publishes audio verb drills for French that interest me. After I improve my French pronunciation, I’d like to buy them and give them a try–though I’m strong in French grammar already and probably don’t need them. But I’d like to duplicate the same approach in other languages. This gave me a dilemma: What can replace audio verb drills?

Dice came to the rescue. Many board games come with 6-sided dice. There are 6 forms in a typical verb table. Perfect! 

For example, the Spanish verb “ser” (to be) in the present tense has these six forms (though not all forms are used in all Spanish-speaking countries): soy (I am), eres (you are–singular), él/ella es (he/she/it is), somos (we are), sois (you are–plural), son (they are). This is almost always the order you see them in tables (if all six forms are included): I, you–singular, he/she/it, we, you–plural, they. In Spanish, the “es” and “son” forms can also be used for “you are,” but that’s not true for most languages. 

Do you see where I’m going with this? On a die (singular: die; plural: dice–like mouse and mice), the number 1 can represent I, 2 you–singular, 3 he/she/it, 4 we, 5 you–plural, 6–they. Try it out for yourself. If you don’t have a 6-sided die handy, you can use a dice app instead, or use Uno cards or something. Feel free to be creative. 

Pick a language you’re studying that has these forms (Japanese doesn’t), then choose a tense you’re struggling with, and finally select a verb to practice. Look up its verb table online. For example, you can do a web search for Spanish verbs. Or, just to try out the method, use the example above: “ser” (to be) in Spanish. You might want to do the drill with just pronouns the first few times: 

1 – I 

2 – you–singular 

3 – he/she/it 

4 – we 

5 – you–plural 

6 – they 

(I can even do this while I work. I roll a die a few times, go back to work, roll the die a few times a little while later, etc.) 

See if your verbs get easier. 

And if you have to memorize case tables (for a language like Russian or Ancient Greek), there are 8-sided, 10-sided, and 12-sided dice you can use. They are sold in board game/roll playing game stores and online–and are probably in dice apps, too. 

This kind of drill is hard work mentally (which is why it can only be done for a few minutes at a time), but it might remind you of a game more than other kinds of grammar drills. And with practice, you’ll recall the verb forms quickly. Are you struggling with verbs in any of your languages? Give the method a try.