So, let’s recap:
Stage 1, you get yourself 5 questions and answers.
Stage 2, you start listening to recordings of conversations using what you’ve learnt.
Stage 3, you build one new domain-specific conversation.
Stage 4, you introduce a real, live person, and start talking to them for 5 minutes a week.
Stage 5, (once you’ve done 5 cycles through Stages 3 and 4) you start doing bulk, accelerated listening.
By this point, you’ll know that you’re really achieving something. You’ll be able to feel the increasing ease with which you use what you’ve learnt, and you’ll be testing your limits and finding new ideas for conversation models in your regular weekly conversations.
You don’t need to rush on to Stage 6 – you’ll find that as your weekly conversations become longer, they’ll generate more and more ideas that you’ll want to script into a new Stage 3 domain-specific conversation – so I’m going to recommend a slightly different tripwire for triggering Stage 6.
Here it is: move on to Stage 6 the first time you have a 30 minute conversation in which you don’t bother asking ‘How do you say [x] in [your target language]?’
So, as you cycle your way through Stages 3, 4 (and 5 again every time you have another 5 sets of model conversations), you gradually increase the amount of time you spend in your weekly conversation – from 5 minutes to 10, from 10 to 15, and so on – until you get to 30 minutes.
You can keep on increasing it – up to an hour or two – if you do that, your tripwire is based on any period of 30 minutes inside that conversation.
Each conversation with ‘How do you say?’ in it gives you new material to take back into Stage 3.
But when you realise that you’ve done 30 minutes of conversation without a ‘How do you say?’, that is your tripwire, and you are ready for Stage 6.
So what changes in Stage 6? You’ve already built the structure for learning a language quickly and efficiently, after all – you’re modelling conversations, learning them, using them, and getting used to understanding them – in many ways, that’s all there is.
But Stage 6 will be a gear change for you – because Stage 6 is about what I think of as ‘bulk input’.
There are two main ways this is going to work.
First up, you need to start the process of larger scale exposure to the language. Ideally, you’d have some interesting dialogue-driven story material that would work its way up through the most common words – but until we finish building that, you’ll need to do this old skool.
With exposure, that means radio and television. But the way in which you’re going to use them is a little different.
There’s no harm in doing what pretty much any language teacher would tell you – spend as much time on a daily basis listening to radio or watching TV – so if you want to add that to your daily pattern, and if you can stick to it, then by all means tick that box as well.
But Stage 6 asks for something different.
It asks you to spend an entire day listening to radio or watching TV (or swapping between the two!).
Yup, that’s right.
Get up, have breakfast (ooh, that reminds me, I haven’t had a cup of coffee yet, and I certainly deserve one). Back in a moment (well, make that a bit more than a moment, because of course there was no milk left, so I’ve been pouring hot water over a carton from the freezer and muttering under my breath). Er, where were we?
Yes, have breakfast, and then start listening to radio or watching TV, or both. Have a break for lunch, have a break for coffee (if you’ve got any milk) in the afternoon, maybe have a bite to eat in the evening, but keep on rolling, until it’s time for bed.
Well done – you’ve completed the first step of Stage 6.
Oh yes, there’s more.
Next stop, you’re going to spend an entire day talking (to one or more people) in your target language. The same deal – meet after breakfast, and keep going all day, apart from when your mouth’s full.
I know, I know – there’s nothing easy about arranging that. You need someone with the patience of a saint to spend all day with you – or you need to arrange a shift-based approach with several kind souls – and you’ll almost inevitably end up having to buy them lunch, dinner and significant amounts of coffee. Perhaps even alcohol, who knows.
But when you’ve taken these two steps and completed Stage 6, you’ll understand why it was important.
You’ll have a new sense of your ability with your new language – you’ll have seen that you can live, eat, drink and even occasionally laugh in your new language.
What’s more, the intensity of such a long haul will do some very interesting things to your brain. This is admittedly still at the fluffy stage – by which I mean there’s no research I’m aware of that shows exactly what happens when you spend an extended period of time operating in your target language – but from my own experiences and from the experiences of a large number of learners with whom I’ve worked, it is a consistently valuable gear-shift.
When you’ve done Stage 6, in fact, I’d be delighted if you’d come and leave a comment on here about your own experience – and you’ll be giving huge value to other people who are working their way up through these Stages…:-)
And then there was one…
So, just one final stage.
You might be thinking that you need more than one more stage to go from Stage 6 to ‘fluency’.
But you don’t. I’ll explain why next week.
Oh, and you won’t need another tripwire. As soon as you’ve done Stage 6, you’ll be ready immediately for Stage 7. That doesn’t mean you stop cycling through Stages 3, 4 and 5, of course – in fact, I’ll give you a tripwire next week for when you should drop the older stages, but there’s no great hurry.
So, I’ll see you next week…:-)
Do you think this extra clarity might be helpful for some learners you know who are stuck conjugating and learning lists and feeling that it all goes on for ever?
If so, do please share it with them…:-)
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The 7 Stages of Learning a Language: