In school, I always had a hard time paying attention in class. The teacher would lecture away and we were suppose to be taking notes, but to be honest I could never proper filter out what was important and what wasn’t. Half the time I left the class knowing that I had listened to something interesting, but not having any clue as to what the main points were.
And there are a lot of classes out there that are just teacher lectures, students take notes, read the required material, and there are periodic tests or papers to check everyone has a pulse. It is the same rhythm. A lot of English classes are set up like this. There are certain steps that I go through every class.
They tend to be boring for me and boring for my students. And it seems like a students aren’t retaining the material as well as they should be. So, why do we do it? Because it is easy to organize, it is measurable (with tests), and we can clearly ‘see’ students ‘learning’. But, are they really learning?
Mmm, maybe. The good and focused students are. But, that isn’t your average student. In our effort to make everything streamlined and measurable, we seemed to have forgotten how to learn.
Doing it the Hard Way
Last month, I talked about moving away from digital and being slightly more analog in my study approaches. I’ve been trying to do a lot more unplugged as well as make things just a little more interesting for myself.
Part of that has been working on an improved vocabulary notebook system. I’ve been so willy nilly about keeping a vocabulary notebook in the past. I’ll start off taking good notes and with good intentions only to abandon it a few weeks later, so I want to build something that is easy to stick to, but hard to do. Let me explain.
Memrise and Anki, they are my best friends. They have seen me through some tough spots and have accelerated my vocabulary learning immensely. I don’t think I could have gotten through all the vocabulary words you need for N2 and N1 without their assistance. But, there comes a point where this regular pattern of learning just causes your brain to shut off.
Much like my classes back in high school and college that followed the same formula day in and day out. Show up, take notes, go home, go over notes, take quiz/test, rinse wash and repeat. Without variation or any surprises, my brain just kept going to sleep.
On the other hand, if you give me a piece of software to learn or a computer to fix, I can get it done in a day or two. Part of that is because learning software or fixing things is a lot more interactive, giving you feedback on whether you are doing the right thing or not. And that definitely plays a huge role in learning a language. You really need to have interaction with someone so that you can get that instant feedback.
But, another part of it is that every time I went to fix a computer it was just a little different. There was always something a little different about what was wrong. The same with learning a new piece of software, it was something new for me, so my brain could soak it up. So the more new something or how different it is to what you are used to, the easier it will be to remember it. Your brain tends to take note of things out of the ordinary. If you do the same hum-drum every day, it isn’t going to pick up on anything.
I also failed a lot and made (sometimes expensive) mistakes. When the stakes are higher, you also tend to pay more attention as well. That’s why it is kind of a good thing that the JLPT costs ~$50, because you are going to study a little harder knowing that if you fail, you have just lost $50 (kind of, I mean you do get feedback on how your studies are progressing).
All of this reasoning is driving my design behind trying to put together a good, maintainable vocabulary notebook. It is a bit hard work to keep notes and look up extra words and definitions, but I’m already starting feel a difference. It’s still not really ready yet though, so stay tuned.
A couple of month’s ago, one of my readers suggested that I start studying with FluentU, a new website for learning languages. At the time, I kind of just thought of it as yet another ‘learn languages with our patented, proven, super-duper system’ kind of site. The internet seems to be packed with these.
But, FluentU is a bit different. They take YouTube videos and help you along with the script as well as the translation. They then slice up the vocabulary for you to practice with. They also build out handy flashcards (complete with pictures). What I like about their system is that they give you scrambled sentences to help you practice word order. This is great practice for the JLPT.
Right now, I’m testing out their iPhone app, which is due out at the end of May. It’s pretty handy to have and gives me a good counterweight to the Memrise app. The FluentU system isn’t focused on a particular list of vocabulary, which is handy if you are going for a good background of vocabulary. Instead, they dissect one video, which typically has around 100 words or so, and give you context for each word.
This scatter-shot approach is great to be honest. I think if you stick to the lists, which aren’t technically accurate anymore, you are selling yourself short, and probably boring yourself to death in the process.
They are still in their infancy, but they have around 300+ videos for Japanese so far, and it takes a surprisingly long time to get through one video. I’ve yet to feel the need for more material, even at the more upper intermediate/advanced level. Definitely worth the few minutes to check it out.
How are your Studies going?
Have you tried studying the ‘hard way’? What do you do? Have you tried FluentU yet? Let me know in the comments below.
Photo by Tambako the Jaguar