I had a comment on the blog the other day from an unfortunately anonymous guest (I always think it’s so much more interesting and friendly when people use their real names) which was something I’ve heard quite a few other people say. Here it is in full:
Often find that having a mix of learning tools helps the memory, coming away from SSiW audio lessons, the sounds fade from memory but supporting written matter can more readily recalled.
In one guise or another, I’ve heard this a fair bit – people either say that they’re ‘visual learners‘ and need to see the words, or that they can learn faster from a grammar book, or that they just can’t understand the words being spoken because they’re too fast or not clear enough. In fact, the comment above is one of the milder ones, because he or she is suggesting a mix of tools, rather than throwing the SSiW baby out with the bathwater.
So I should shut up and accept people’s individual preferences, shouldn’t I?!
That’s exactly what I used to do, in the early days of SSiW.
If someone said the lessons didn’t work and that they were going to pack it in, I might humbly suggest that they give it a little more time, or use the pause button a bit more, but I never really pushed any harder than that. I know that in general education, learning styles are extremely important – I have a cousin who specialises in the differences between how boys and girls learn, and a properly adapted scheme of work can make the world of difference. Knowing this, I suppose I just accepted that some people wouldn’t like the lessons I’d written, and that was okay.
My attitude started to change as we began to hear more people on the forum talking about how they’d always been ‘visual’ learners, and always enjoyed studying grammar, and found the SSi method very unconvincing – but that they’d stuck at it, and had unquestionably learnt more, faster with us than they’d ever done with a grammar book.
Gradually, I become convinced that there are some important neurological differences to learning to speak a language by producing it and hearing it, and learning the component bits of a language by looking at them on a page.
I strongly suspect that the moment when you have an English phrase in your head, and have to produce the equivalent of that phrase in Welsh or Spanish or whatever, is a process which matches the neurological process of a conversation as closely as is possible for a learner.
I suspect that it triggers real, measurable neurological growth of a kind which is immediately usable in conversation – unlike the neurological growth that happens when you learn grammar or word lists, which then still requires the gear-shift to actual speech.
So these days, when someone says they’re a ‘visual’ learner, I’m much more likely to say that, simply put, I think they’re wrong.
I think they may well be a ‘visual’ learner for every single other aspect of knowledge, but I believe that languages function differently (and perhaps uniquely, with the possible exception of music). I believe that languages are such a fundamental part of what we are as human beings, and that the process of speaking is so central to our experience of them, that no-one can learn a language faster or better from the written page than from the spoken word.
I believe that language is speech, and that speaking gives us language.
If I’m right, that means that time spent on ‘a mix of learning tools’ is time wasted. If that time were spent on speaking and listening, I am convinced the learning process would be accelerated.
Even just a few months ago, I would have tempered that by commenting that of course, any extra practice is all grist to the mill – but what I’m seeing in the haphazard trials of accelerated learning we’ve been doing is that repeating learnt material more often than we actually need to is almost certainly unnecessary.
It can be a huge effort not to over-revise. As I look ahead to visiting Holland with Louis in August, I’m suffering the agonies of the damned in resisting the temptation to start listing to his tourist lessons for Dutch several times a week.
I’m not going to do it, though. I’m going to run through them briefly before we get to Amsterdam – maybe even on the plane! – because I know that will be enough.
So, if you’re convinced you’re a ‘visual’ learner, or that you need a ‘mix’ of tools to remember newly learnt material, how about suspending your disbelief for a couple of weeks, having a couple of ‘intense’ days with some SSi material, and then revisit it only occasionally, and see if that ends up feeling like a more enjoyable, and easier, and faster-moving experience?…:-)