Initial speed of acquisition – a way to challenge perceptions and increase expectations?

There’s a very interesting comment from the misleadingly named DaiTwp on the previous post.  For those of you who are, like me, too lazy to go back to old posts, here it is in full:

The potential for this style of learning i.e. a massive kickstart at the beginning is huge for Welsh. If targeted courses like your Spanish in a Restaurant etc could be done for Welsh in the Workplace, or Parents who want their children to go to Welsh medium school (just to give two classic fields as an example) could be done in the same way whereby learners spend a whole day or two and then possibly meet up with tutors and or speakers to practice what they’ve learned who can lead them through the conversation as in your examples, it would give a massive boost to the language.

For me the biggest barrier to learning a new language (especially if your a monoglot) is the psychological one whereby you don’t believe it possible and simply cannot comprehend how it will be done. THis is compounded if you only attend a 2hour/week class as you never subject yourself to enough of the language to breakdown the barrier and see the clear path that lies ahead of you (and is why that drop of rates for night classes are so huge). In truth learners on these sorts of courses forget as much as they learn and so come to the end of the course if they last that long with little more than a couple of sentences.

The way you outline above breaks this barrier of believing language acquisition is impossible for anyone over 7 yrs old on the first day of learning. So not only do the have all the language skills they’ve newly acquired from their intensive day but also the motivation and belief to carry on and see the journey through.

I agree very strongly with what Dai’s written here, and it’s one of the most important things that we’ll be looking at in the next few months.

In fact, it’s one of those strange moments when what someone else has written is so close to what you think yourself, you have to go back and double-check that you haven’t been leaving comments on your own blog under a pseudonym…;-)

When you have an experience such as I had with Dutch, or Louis or Susanna with Spanish, it gives you a huge amount of confidence – and if that confidence boost comes on the first day you get to grips with a new language, perhaps even the first time you try to acquire a new language, it could make a radical change to your belief in your own ability.

This is why I’m currently working on two new things – a new Welsh course designed to work much more quickly from the very beginning, and a 5 session introduction designed for people who will be doing a two-day full immersion programme (the 5 sessions will lead into the full course, making it possible (I hope!) to run the entire weekend through the medium of Welsh).

The two-day SSi immersion test, which I hope we’ll be ready to start running in about a month or so, will be our first serious attempt to see if what Louis, Susanna and I did in one day could be maintained over the course of two extremely intense days (or, perhaps more conveniently for travel and so on, over the course of 48 hours from Friday midday to Sunday midday).

If it can, then I think the results will be eye-catching, and I’m looking forward enormously to finding out how it will work…:-)

8 responses to “Initial speed of acquisition – a way to challenge perceptions and increase expectations?

  1. I look forward to seeing the results of your immersion tests! Speaking from my own experience of learning Welsh the non SSI way (I very much struggled with the psychological barrier I mention) the only way I managed to succeed is that I was lucky/unlucky enough to have a period after returning home from travelling where I was unemployed, waiting for a knee op and had to move back in with my parents for the first time for around 15 yrs. This meant I had a lot of spare time to kill and was highly motivated to learn Welsh after my experiences travelling. As a result I would spend 7 – 8 hrs a day working through various courses at home and in a class, attending Welsh events/coffee morning arranged by the local Menter etc. This intense period only lasted a couple of months but it was enough to ensure that I not only started on the journey but would see it through. For the first time in my life I not only believed I would be able to learn Welsh but I could see the path that I needed to follow to do that. I was basically comfortable that all I needed to do was to put the time and effort in and the rest would look after itself. It sounds simple and obvious but before that barrier was broken down it was anything but and without that intense period a the beginning I’m sure that I would have lost heart/something would have come up for to put my Welsh learning on the back burner instead of prioritising it and I wouldn’t be a Welsh speaker today. I’m lucky enough to have an18month old son and I’ve only ever spoken Welsh to him which would have been inconceivable before that period of my life where I immersed myself in the language.

    A lot is talked about language immersion, usually in the context of a weekend course usually in an area where the target language is spoken and that is all fair enough. But what you seem to be hitting on here is a sort of ultra immersion which has the potential to rocket learners down the path of acquiring a new language and the effects of that can be exponential when the language enters the home, workplace etc. as a result – especially in the case of minority languages.

    Your course format is second to none (certainly that I’ve come across – from my experience of learning Welsh in the past and what I’ve gained from following your 20 Spanish lessons so far, they beat anything else I’ve come come across in either language by a long stretch) and combining this with an ultra immersion period at the beginning could just be the magic recipe!

  2. Thank you very much indeed for your kind comments – hugely appreciated. I’m hoping our new Spanish course will be several steps ahead – built on the same framework as the new-under-construction Welsh stuff, I think it’s fine-tuned some really important bits.

    I had a similar experience to yours with Welsh – I’d just come back here from the Middle East, and had the opportunity to do a four week intensive Wlpan course in Aberystwyth, which I then repeated the following year, and those two periods of immersion were key for me.

    I also had a lack of confidence based on failing to become conversationally confident in loads of other languages, and as you say the momentum and belief that a good fast start can give could be crucial.

    At the moment, I’m thinking that 20 sessions in 2 days is possible – maybe even a few more – and based on what we’ve seen of people at Bootcamp who’ve done 25 sessions, I think that will mean a surprisingly high level of functionality.

    As long as we can also show people how to revisit what they’ve done (the key seems to be NOT to overdo it!) so that we can get the short-terms wins turned into long-term ability, it could be really, really interesting.

  3. Totally agree that this has huge potential for spreading the learning and usage of Welsh.From my own experience with my Kung fu classes,we see 70% on average of language used in classes is Welsh.. This activity presented through Welsh means that Welsh is learned almost coincidently and further a “need to improve and increase the understanding is created.So we also recommend SSIW to all our students and offer other advice and help with the language.

    • I think activity-related learning is hugely important. We should sit down some time and have a chat about what would go into a collection of lessons specifically to get people ready for taking part in Kung fu classes…:-)

  4. I’m surprised you say in your reply to the post below that the take up of courses 2 and 3 are not what you would hope – I’ve been so impressed with the Spanish course I couldn’t imagine why people wouldn’t want to work their way through all of them. There are a number of factors to explain I imagine though. Such as, the course is still relatively new so there is always the time lag where people need to work their way through and, of course, you still face the problem we’ve been discussing i.e. if those who subscribe don’t get over that psychological barrier of them believing that they don’t have to have super human powers to learn a new language it is only a matter of time before life gets in the way and a multitude of excuses will present themselves for giving up. THat is why this further element of immersion your working on is key and I certainly wish you every success with it, I’ll definitely be following your progress with interest. YOu may well be hitting on a magic formula of language acquisition!

    Learning the Spanish for me has definitely been a different experience having learnt Welsh. Having gone through the process of learning a language once as an adult I’m now much more relaxed about it the 2nd time. If I go for a while with out doing any Spanish or am finding certain aspects difficult it doesn’t bother anymore as I now understand its just a chipping away process and as long as I keep at it, everything will eventually fall into place. I certainly didn’t have that belief / confidence the first time around, at least not until I’d gone through that intense period at the beginning. When people say its much easier to learn another language the 2nd time around, I think it is this that they are referring to. In real terms it isn’t any easier or more difficult but just as with anything in life because you have experience of doing it before your much more confident / relaxed the next time around and difficulties or challenges that may well have been enough to put you off the 1st time just don’t bother you the next time around.

    20 lessons in 2 days sounds possible (very intense but certainly possible) based on my experience of going through the first 20 Spanish lessons as an example. The way you’ve structured the lessons to feed into each other and constantly revise/refresh what has been covered would seem to lend itself to intense immersion. The process of short term wins into long term ability shouldn’t be too much of an issue if the intense period is viewed as part of a process whereby the learners carry on learning after the 2 day course (energised, motivated and with a massive amount learnt in their new language) as in that context the immersion is more of a kickstart to be continued with.

    • I agree that belief makes a huge difference. That and the sheer experience of having done it before, and starting to get a feel for what you need to do – that’s what happened with Spanish for me.

      We’re going to learn a lot more about how people do/don’t progress through Course 1 over the next few months – we can see much more now about which lessons people are accessing, and apart from when people download everything and then work through it locally, we can see patterns. I think that we will almost certainly see that our main fall-off is in the first few lessons – I think that most people who get through the first five to ten lessons end up going on to Course 2, but that’s just a gut feeling at the moment, and we need the better understanding of the patterns that the new site is going to give us…:-)

  5. For me the hurdle isn’t psychological so much as patience. The speaking aspect of learning comes so quickly (thanks to the lessons) that I expect the understanding aspect to happen just as quickly. It was a rude awakening…and a surprise…that it did not.

    I still wonder why this is the case…

    • I was chatting about this last night – realising that after a few weeks without speaking Spanish, I found listening to Dave much, much easier than expressing myself, and was just about to comment on how much easier understanding is than speaking when I realised that the opposite is true when you start with a language.

      I always encourage learners who are giving themselves a hard time about understanding to think about the complexity of what they’re trying to achieve – it’s code-breaking of the most complicated kind in realtime – more complex in many ways than all the code-breaking efforts in the Second World War!

      The real problem is that you can become a confident speaker comparatively quickly in subsets of the language, and if people speak to you using only those subsets, understanding will come more or less as soon as your ear is attuned – but it’s very rare for speakers to use subsets like that. They’re much more likely to use a wider range of the language, so you don’t have the material to understand them until you’ve gathered quite a few more subsets together.

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