High Intensity Language Training – Forced Production


The last three posts (1, 2, 3) have suggested that you:

a) make mistakes, and celebrate making mistakes,

b) push on with new material, instead of repeating sessions, and

c) test yourself to see if you can get used to not using the pause button.

Today, I’d like to jump ahead a little bit, and imagine that you’ve successfully finished a block of learning – that you’ve done five sessions in a day, or twenty sessions in two days (if you really get the hang of not using the pause button!), or even five sessions over a period of five weeks, whatever the journey’s been – and look at the last magic ingredient.

How does High Intensity make you feel?

Acquiring a new language in this way isn’t for the faint-hearted.  In fact, until you’ve proven the method for yourself, you’ll probably find it a little daunting.  If you do an intense day or two, by the time you’ve finished you’ll be likely to feel slightly overwhelmed, possibly a little lost, and perhaps even as though you’ve got the beginnings of a headache.

At this point, it’s quite common to feel as though you can’t remember anything you’ve learnt – and that, of course, can be a huge blow to your motivation.

I’ve had that feeling myself – after I did an intense day with the SSiDutch materials Louis and Eline produced, I felt punch-drunk, more than a little stupid, and more or less like a Dutch-free zone.  But then I did one thing that changed it all.

So, be of good heart, if you’ve done an intense day and feel like giving it up as a bad idea.  Feeling like that is so normal that it is a recognised, researched part of interleaving in learning.  Interleaving is a hugely important part of what we’re doing with High Intensity materials – see Dr Robert Bjork here to help understand why – and an excellent article on Salon.com here comments on the fascinating way in which we automatically perceive interleaving learning as less effective:

The learning from interleaved practice feels slower than learning from massed practice. Teachers and students sense the difference. They can see that their grasp of each element is coming more slowly, and the compensating long-term advantage is not apparent to them. As a result, interleaving is unpopular and seldom used. Teachers dislike it because it feels sluggish. Students find it confusing: they’re just starting to get a handle on new material and don’t feel on top of it yet when they are forced to switch.

This perception, however, is fundamentally incorrect.  Here’s the end of the above quote:

But the research shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention are much better if you interleave practice than if you mass it.

What’s the magic ingredient, then?

That single step I took which saved my Dutch learning day was simple, and easy for you to recreate.

All I did was put myself in a situation in which I had no choice – I had to use my Dutch.

For me, that situation was a recorded Skype call with Louis, which was going to be the final part of the video I’d made that day.  Even then, having agreed that purpose in advance with Louis, I was very tempted to use lots of English (or Welsh!) with him, instead of the Dutch – and it took a last minute realisation that I needed to prevent myself from using any other language to get the conversation flowing.  You can hear the moment I realised it, about 35 minutes into the video, when I say ‘We’ve got to be strict now – when I finish saying this in English, we’ve got to just – talk – Dutch.’

When I listen to it now, I can hear that moment of fear and despair very clearly – and it reminds me that banning yourself from using one of your confident languages is a challenging step.

It doesn’t have to be that dramatic, though.

It doesn’t have to be on a recorded Skype call to put on YouTube, in the first place!  It doesn’t even have to be a conversation with someone else.  It can be as simple as telling yourself that you will speak out loud only using the language you’ve been learning for the next 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

It’s all about the silence

The key to this is the silence – those moments of silence when you can’t think of what you want to say.  Those are the moments when you’re tempted to fall back on a familiar language (or on mime, if you’re on one of our Bootcamps and you don’t want to pay a forfeit!).

But if you give yourself time to be silent, you will discover that even if you don’t know how to say exactly what you want, you’ll be able to find some words in your new language – and the more often you take that tiny step of ‘saying some words’, the more of what you’ve learnt will come spilling out of your mouth.

I’ve seen people who’ve done as little as five sessions of High Intensity be faced with a 10 minute ‘No English’ rule, and discover that they are producing sentence after sentence, building into the beginnings of a genuine exchange of information – and it’s a magical moment, because it’s when you realise that even though you don’t have conscious control of what you’ve learnt, and you can’t list it all in a nice, traditional school sort of way, you really genuinely have actually learnt it – and you can use it.


Make mistakes.

Push on with new material.

See if you can free yourself from the pause button.

And then give yourself a 15 minute private Bootcamp, and see how many different things you can say.

Oh, and it’s worth making your private Bootcamp a regular thing – although most of my suggestions about High Intensity focus on doing intense days now and again, five or ten minutes a day using your new language aloud (even on your own) will be very valuable for you as a stepping stone until you can find someone to have a conversation with (once a week, once a month, whatever’s possible for you).

 Your First High Intensity Day


2 responses to “High Intensity Language Training – Forced Production

  1. Aran, I just tried talking to myself in Welsh for 10 minutes. I found it a great experience. A couple of questions: Is it better to struggle to get out a fully formed sentence, or better just go with stream of consciousness, just words or phrases? I tried saying a few things that I just didn’t have the vocabulary for, so wasted a bit of time thinking “I must look that up later.”
    I found myself telling white lies because I didn’t know how to say the truth – Is that a bad habit to get into?
    I have decided to do this three times a day for 10 minutes each. I have a good feeling about this.

    • I’d go with stream of consciousness – you’ll find that the more well-established formulaic blocks will come out neatly on their own, and the more you do it the easier it should be to keep them under some kind of sentence-like control…:-)

      If you run out of vocab, don’t worry – say anything to fill the space, because if you’re only talking to yourself, you know what you’re talking about – or use something like ‘y peth ‘na’ (that thing)…:-)

      I think wild and generous lies are a very productive part of the language learning experience!

      Three times a day would be great – but maybe worth bearing in mind that it’s always psychologically more encouraging to increase your time rather than have to cut it down – so maybe seeing if you can make a 10 minute slot a regular part of your timetable and then adding one more, and then one more would be a good way to test the water?

      Great to hear that you gave it a shot and had such a great first experience with it :seren:

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