For heaven’s sake – are you COMPLETELY crazy?!…

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.

In silence.

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.

Ahh, alcohol.

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 Cลตps 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… ๐Ÿ™‚

[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… ๐Ÿ™‚ ]

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5 responses to “For heaven’s sake – are you COMPLETELY crazy?!…

  1. I’d like to share a little story with you that I think adds credence to your methodology. I went to University in Japan after studying Japanese for only a year. I could ask the way to the train station but not much else. I noticed that when we were confronted with Japanese, my reaction (and that of the other Americans on the program) was to go home and study. We were students. Of course our reaction to not understanding was hitting the books.
    But my fellow Americans didn’t learn to speak Japanese like I did. I went home and sat at the kitchen table with my okaasan (home-stay mother). She spoke no English and I could say please and thank you and not much else in Japanese. But we wanted to talk to each other. So we did. We got out our dictionaries and I’d point to a word in Japanese that I couldn’t say, and she’d point to a word in English that she didn’t know how to say. After about three months, I had a real working vocabulary (although mostly having to do with food!).
    Your pub story made me think of it. We did the same thing you did. We struggled. We tried. We spoke because we wanted to communicate. And we didn’t need verb tenses and initial mutations to do it. We just pointed at words in a dictionary until we learned how to use them.
    I’m not of Japanese ancestry, but I used to get mistaken for a Japanese person on the phone because I learned how to speak from a real person in the kitchen from 3:30pm ’til dinnertime everyday.

    • That’s so interesting – thank you very much for sharing! I’m convinced that you’re describing exactly the same core procedure – that attempts to communicate in real situations force you to revisit apparently basic grammatical structures until you can produce them in far larger chunks than normal, which in turn gives you much more of a powerful framework to hang extra structure/vocab on it. The general pattern ‘I actually spent time trying to communicate with a real person in [x] language’ almost ALWAYS seems to be a precursor to fast and impressive acquisition… ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Exactly! My husband is one of these people who thinks he cannot learn another language. But you should hear him speaking Irish or Dutch in the Pub! I’m more bookish, but I admit that my best languages are the ones I learned talking to people, not spending time in class or studying.

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