There I was sitting in the Missionary Training Center learning Thai. It hadn’t been easy, but I was beginning to feel like this task of learning Thai might actually be possible. I should have knocked on wood or something, because a bomb was about to be dropped on me. One of my class mates inquired about what we will be doing to study Thai once we get to Thailand. I was expecting something like learn to read the Thai script or maybe go on English fasts where we don’t speak any English no matter what.
However, our teacher surprised us all. He casually explained,”The first thing all of you will be expected to do is memorize the discussions.” The discussions were what we called the lessons that the missionaries used to teach to those who were interested about our church. They were standard lesson points that all centered around a few related gospel principles that were designed to be taught in a discussion format(hence the name). Of course I reckoned that I was going to have to memorize them sooner or later, but why the first thing? I can barely put a complete Thai sentence together, shouldn’t I be doing other things to improve my Thai before I really try to teach the discussions?
The benefits of memorizing
I soon quickly found the benefits of memorizing the discussions. First of all it gives you a lot to say really quickly. How many of times do you get stuck trying to discuss a topic with someone only to realize you don’t have the words for it. All you end up doing is saying things like ‘I like politics’ or ‘soccer is great’ and then you feel like an idiot. So you go and you memorize a whole bunch of words on the subject and what happens next time? You still say ‘I like politics’ or ‘soccer is great’ and you wonder what happened. Memorizing the phrases helps you learn the words in context, which will stick with you longer.
Another benefit was that it helped internalize grammar structures and made them more natural. Applying new grammar can be hard. We may even know it in theory, but in practice it makes our speaking very slow. I am not a learning expert, but there is something about having several memorized lines that lets our brain speed up the process of internalizing the grammar.
The last is that it boosts your confidence. You can’t help, but feel good about yourself when you have a discussion with someone all in another language, using advanced words and grammar. Yes it was all preplanned and not off the cuff, but it was still done and no one can take that from you.
But I’m not a missionary
The principal still works even if you don’t have to teach lessons all the time. We all have topics that we like. I’m sure most of you have jobs. Memorizing several paragraphs about these things will build your vocabulary, phrases, and confidence to talk about many things.
Here is a step by step process to help you
- Pick a topic. I find the easiest is to start with your job and or family. Everyone will eventually ask you about those two things. If you don’t have either than talk about that.
- Write out several paragraphs in English about it. Use as much detail as you can. Write paragraphs for those who know nothing about your job and lif, but also write some paragraphs as if you were talking to a peer in your industry about what you do. Once again, the more the better.
- Translate it yourself as best you can. I would recommend translating everything you can with out the help of a dictionary. If you don’t know the word or phrase, write it in English and go on. Then go back and fill in the holes with help of a dictionary.
- Give it to a native to fix. A native will help you smooth out the wrinkles and make it much more real. Just like any language, there are things that might grammatically be correct, but still unnatural. Only a native speaker would be able to catch those subtle differences. Lang-8 is a great website where natives help correct the writing of others.
- Memorize it.
This tool is useful no matter what stage of language learner you are. In fact, it will benefit you in your native language as well. My confidence to speak about a subject as jumped several fold once I memorized a script to talk about. Try it once and see how much it can do for you.