My System….so far…..(Part 1)

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Since I started this blog, I have often spoke about my system.  I have written many posts about it and tweaked it over the few months.  Some have wondered, don’t you already know Thai?  Shouldn’t you already know how to learn a language?  Why don’t’ you do what you did then?  That’s fair enough question.

When I learned Thai, I was 19 years old, single and a missionary for my church.  My church had a book and a system that they used and I was living in Thailand as well.  I lived language learning.  This isn’t the same with Spanish.  Up until a few weeks ago, I was in a country that doesn’t have a large Spanish-speaking community.   I am(have) 30 years  with 4 kids and I work full-time.  The strategies that I used and the overall system can’t be applied in the same way that I learned Thai.

So a big part of this blog is helping me create the pattern and system for a busy working family person.  Once I created a useful pattern for learning a language, I could turn around and apply it to another.  If somehow this helps anyone else learn a language, all the better.  That said, I have acknowledged a long time ago that I blog mostly for myself(it’s not as selfish as that sounds)

Since not all of you have been with me since day one and because I like to finally consolidate my learning system in a new updated format, I decided to dedicate a post directly to how I am learning Spanish as well as any other future languages.  (For a summary of this you can click on my system page.)

Opposites attract

Languages are like some large four-faced monster.  Languages can basically be divided into four separate skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.  Proficiency in one skill does not mean you are as proficient in another.  In other words, just because you can understand Shakespeare, doesn’t mean you can write like Shakespeare.  Nor can you speak like Shakespeare just because you can understand it. Does one skill help another, yes of course it does.  Think of it this way, does doing sit ups help your ability to do push ups?  Yes, but maybe not as much as bench pressing would. What I am trying to say is that one needs to have a plan of attack so that you build all of your skills and not just one.

The first thing I did was I divided this four-faced monster into two.  I separated them into Input(listening and reading) and Output (Speaking and Writing).  The reason is that the two input skills are more similar to each other than they are to the two output skills.  Skills used for listening would probably benefit my skills for reading most (though it goes without saying that they will benefit the other two skills as well, just not as much)

Now there is this so called great debate about which to do first, Input or Output.  It really isn’t a big deal, because everyone agrees that the Output is important too.  No one wants to learn a language to only be able to read and hear, but never speak or write.  That’s silly.  The debate is about some who emphasize input only AT FIRST.  Some feel you should only do input based learning and they recommend that you NEVER speak for the first X amount of hours.  Then you can start speaking.

The theory is that like babies don’t learn to speak until they had a large amount of listening first.  That and you can get “fossilized” errors in your language.  All of that is rubbish in my mind.  Babies do speak from day one, their ability to make sounds is limited to cries and grunts and coo’s.  Plus, it’s been along time since I needed my diaper changed so learning like a baby isn’t how I should go.  As for “fossilized” errors, that is bogus too.  My daughter calls petting animals, softing them.  She also often says brava for brother.  Is she stuck speaking like that? No.  Even as adults we change.  I had a friend who was from the south, but had lost his southern accent while living in Utah.  As soon as he met other people form the south, though, his accent came right back again.

Divide and conquer

Now that I have separated the skills, I spend one week doing only Input based activities and the next Output.  When I began Spanish, I divided it even more and only emphasized the Oral based skills.  So I basically spent my time only listening one week and only speaking another.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t speak on input weeks, it just meant that my emphasis and priorities were on input only for that week.  Now that my skills are getting better I have now incorporated reading and writing into the mix as well.

Why? I thought you said to learn all the skills?  Yes, but here is the issue for me.  As a busy father who works full-time, I don’t always know when I will be available to learn.  I find opportunities in the few mins in between things.  By dividing it this way I don’t waste time an energy trying to decided what I should do.  I can also make those small moments in time build upon each other so I can get exponential growth in that skill.  Then by switching the next week I make sure I don’t over emphasis just one skill.

There you go.  That is not all of it, but it is enough for now.  What do you think?  Agree disagree?  I would love to hear your opinions.  Anything I can do to improve is helpful.

Related articles on My System


Filed under How to learn, spanish, Thai

2 responses to “My System….so far…..(Part 1)

  1. Hi Justin! I recently found your Thai language site (Nice site, btw!). I just finished a Thai resources section of my language learning website, and thought your readers might be interested in the learning methods I talk about. If you like them, I’d love to spread them to a wider audience (on other blogs, resource lists, etc)!

    Thai resources:
    Language learning methods:

    Best regards,
    -Gabe Wyner

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