To be brutally honest, I was a little surprised that there was anyone out there foolish enough to *actively* encourage me to talk more about how I developed the SaySomethingin methodology.
It’s probably because you’ve never had the misfortune of being stuck in a pub with no way to stop me talking about methodology short of actual violence…:)
Too late now, anyway. Here we go!
So, my light switch moment was realising that I had a wider vocabulary in Arabic, but couldn’t hold a conversation – whereas in Welsh I could chat away cheerfully despite a much smaller vocabulary.
Maybe… traditional learning wasn’t getting it right?
Now, by this point in my life – early 30s – there wasn’t really a language learning method I hadn’t tried.
I’d used Pimsleur, Linguaphone, the Routledge ‘Colloquial’ series (my favourite up to that point), Michel Thomas, the ‘Teach Yourself’ series (apparently I’m just not good enough to do that!), pretty much anything that got published on the internet, insanely dry old books about grammar (Shona has TWENTY-ONE noun cases! and just finding that out was probably what stopped me from getting anywhere with Shona).
None of them had bloody worked.
On the other hand, none of them had been without little moments of success.
Maybe, I thought, I could get rid of the stuff that didn’t work, and collect the stuff that did, and end up with something that would (at least) work better for ME.
And then another important thing happened.
A friend of mine, Dave, suggested that he and I start a weekly language exchange – for him to practise his Welsh for an hour, and for me to practise my Spanish (he’s a retired Spanish teacher).
I’ll never forget that first session – in Tom Nefyn’s old house, Bodeilias, where Catrin and I were living in a converted pig-sty bedsit thanks to her sister Joy.
[Er: I mean, Joy and her husband had thrown us a rescue line when we had nowhere to live – they weren’t the ones who’d driven us into homelessness in the first place…;-)].
First, we did an hour of Welsh – and Dave had plenty of Welsh.
Then we agreed that it was time to switch to Spanish.
And sat there.
I’d ‘learnt’ plenty of Spanish by then. But using it? I’ve had less painful trips to the dentist.
But I pushed on through – and little bits started to happen here and there – and then, we made the all-important switch of meeting in the pub.
And its deeply, wonderfully positive impact on the language learning process.
Six months down the line, I could have a cheerful conversation with Dave in Spanish.
I mean, I wasn’t (and I’m not) ‘fluent’ – I’d probably get assessed as a kind of intermittently strong intermediate – but I could enjoy an evening chatting in Spanish, and very rarely needed to lapse back into Welsh to ask how to say something.
It was more than enough for me.
I would have LOVED to have spoken as much of any of the other languages I’d tried to learn.
That experience – broadly speaking, forget learning, just have a drink and force yourself to use what you’ve got – was transformational for me.
With hindsight, it was also a very large element of what I’d done on my intensive Welsh months – the real magic all happened in the Cŵps at the foot of Penglais Hill, later and later at night as the course went on…;-)
I finally felt certain that I could see how it all fitted together, and that I could write a really good language course.
Thank God I didn’t know then how many times I’d have to rewrite it! But more on that later on…
Things to do now – actual work, and stuff, the horror! – but with the scene set, I will actually go into a little more detail about the first stage of the methodology tomorrow.
And we’ll reach, I think, one more startling, gear-changing moment, which was also thanks to Dave… 🙂
[Oh, and if there are any bits of all this that I skate over, details you’d like to hear more about, do please ask in the comments… 🙂 ]