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by Phil Bartle, PhD

Have you been assigned to a community where you do not speak the language?

1. Decide to Learn:

The first thing to do is to decide that you want to use this method, and then follow through with the techniques for three months. The method is not difficult; in fact it is surprisingly easy, but it does require consistent persistence and a decision to stick to it to the end.

Read over the following notes, and then decide if you wish to use it. The decision is yours. Make your choice.

2. Set Aside Three Months:

The optimum period is ninety continuous days. You need only spend five to fifteen minutes a day, preferably broken into two or three sessions a day for only two to four minutes each. Using this method will not take much time from your other duties or relaxation time.

3. The Goal is Fluency:

This method will help you to become fluent in the language. "Fluency" means that you will be able to think and to operate in the language. It does not mean that you will have a very big vocabulary, at first, but it will give you the tools to build your vocabulary from within the language, as you did (and still do) in your first language.

4. Use Learning Paths Already Established in Your Brain:

Although you are no longer an infant (the age you were when you learned how to talk), you can take advantage of the ways of learning that worked when you learned your first language, using some psychological tricks and imagination now to your advantage. The underlying psychological trick to this method is to "learn like a baby learns to talk."

5. Recall Your First Language:

How can you take advantage now of the way you learned how to talk when you were a baby?

The way you learned how to talk was different in many respects from the way you learned a second language, especially if you learned a second language in school. Yet our brain and nervous system are designed well to learning our first language a certain way. It seems odd that we would learn a second language without taking advantage of the learning paths that were set up inside us when we first learned how to talk.

Examine each element of how you learned your second language in school. How well does each take advantage of how you learned how to talk? Did you learn how to write before you learned how to say words? Did you learn a large vocabulary at first? Did you worry about how well you pronounced each word before you used it to get something you wanted? Did you memorize the meanings of words that you would not immediately need or use? Did you learn the formal rules of grammar before using those rules? No.

How painful and boring was the way you learned a second language in school? Would you like to learn a second language without: books, reading, writing, grammar rules, memorizing long lists, and tests? This method may be an answer to your desires.

6. Imitation of the First:

You cannot go back in time, and you will never be one or two years old again, so you cannot precisely duplicate the way you learned how to talk. While you cannot duplicate, however, you can imitate. This method allows you to take advantage of psychological evidence that indicates every experience you have in your life is stored unconsciously somewhere in your brain. Sometimes it can be recalled only by hypnosis. What you want to recall are the internal learning methods you used when you first learned to talk.

7. A Psychological Method:

This method uses the learning pathways that were set up in your brain as you learned how to talk and calls them back into use to help you learn another language. This learning capacity has a physiological basis in our genetic make-up that has developed over millions of years of selection leading to a primate animal having the capacity to develop a language.

8. You Have Something to Unlearn:

It might surprise you to discover that when you learned how to talk you were learning what not to say as much as what to say. When people around you responded positively to some sounds you made and not to others, the acceptable sounds were reinforced in your mind. You were learning what not to say. Out of all the random or experimental noises you made as a baby, you learned that some sounds were not acceptable, or perhaps not useful. Now that you are about to learn another language, you will be learning to say things, or to make noises that you had learned not to say or not to make before.

To begin with, it will help you if you recognize that you will have to unlearn some of the taboos (against certain sounds) that you have learned before. This is something like the ridges and grooves on a record. They are the reverse image of each other, and the movement of the record player needle moves up and down in response to the up and down variations of the ridges and grooves. Since you learned what sounds not to say when you learned to talk, for you to learn another language now, you will have to learn to make sounds that you had learned earlier that you should not make.

9. Pronunciation; Start As a Baby:

To begin learning how to unlearn the sounds not to say, start by making all kinds of random noises with your mouth. Let all those sounds include those that you might think as rude, vulgar, queer, or unpleasant. (Include burps, pops, fizzes, squeaks and grunts).

10. Use Your Shower:

When you begin this exercise, you may feel embarrassed. This is not surprising because you will be engaging in behaviour that you learned (unconsciously and intuitively as a child) was unacceptable behaviour. The solution to this problem is, at the beginning, to practice alone (eg in the shower or on a solitary trek), until you can allow yourself to make such sounds within the hearing of other persons.

11. The Sociolinguistic Function of Laughter:

When you make some of these sounds, you may wish to giggle or laugh. That is an important indicator. Sociologists have found that laughter is a social tension reducing behaviour. Your laughter or giggling is a means to reduce the embarrassment. It is also a sociological indicator that reveals your embarrassment.

12. Become Indifferent to Making Weird Noises:

So, keep practising alone until you no longer feel a need to laugh. Then practice with a close and trusted friend, continuing until again you have no need to giggle. Finally, you can try doing it with an acquaintance or colleague that is not quite so close and trusted friend. You may wish to explain why you are making those noises, as your friend might be surprised that what is coming out of your mouth are not sounds that make sense. Your objective is to be able to make strange sounds without feeling embarrassed.

It may come as a surprise to learn that if you are physically able to speak in any one human language, then you are physically capable of making all the sounds in any language.

Any barrier to pronunciation that you may think you have is psychological rather than physiological. Thus you should pay attention to the psychology of learning a language, as in this method.

13. Do Not Aim for a Large Vocabulary:

Remember that fluency does not imply a level of comprehension and skill equivalent to what you have now with your first language. Fluency means an ability to operate, communicate, or socially interact in a language. Your goal should be by the end of three months a vocabulary of only three hundred words, but words that you can use in every day context to get whet you want and make yourself understood. You want operational fluency, not a large but awkward vocabulary.

14. Maximum Five, Minimum One Word Daily:

Set yourself a goal of learning at least one word a day for ninety days. You must not miss a single day. Since you must have minimum of five minutes every day for your new language, this does not sound very difficult. The important hurdle is to beware of forgetting your goal and letting a day pass without learning a new word.

The upper limit of words to learn any day is five. You may be tempted at first to learn longer lists of vocabulary, but take it easy. As the three months continue, you might not feel so eager; those are the times when you have to be sure to learn at least one word each day.

15. Choose Vocabulary You Can Immediately Use:

When you first learned how to talk, the words you learned were existential; you learned them to use them, not to memorize them.

Each day choose a word to learn according to what you are doing at the time. For example, you may be thirsty; your goal then is to learn the words, "I want water." That is three words. You can bring it up to the daily maximum of five words by also finding out how to say "Give me water." The following day, you may be at the table and feel a need for salt. Good! You already know five words: "give, me, want, I, water." Use the ones you already know, and learn how to say, "I want salt," and "Give me salt."

Remember that, on the second day, you have learned only one word, but you have learned it in the context of using it with the words that you already know.

Practice words and phrases you have already learned on previous days. Do not forget them. Keep the goal of fluency always in mind when you select each new word; learn how to use it and operate with it.

16. The Basic Daily Vocabulary:

What is sometimes miss-called a "kitchen vocabulary," is a list of two to three hundred words that are used for eighty to ninety per cent of our daily conversation, and excluding all professional and specialist words that are not used by everybody in the society. If you keep choosing your words this way each day (existentially), then by the end of three months your vocabulary will be very close to the "kitchen vocabulary" for that language.

17. Maximum 15, Minimum 5 Minutes Daily:

In any hour of intense learning on a subject, ninety per cent of your concentration energy is crammed into the first five minutes. If you want to make the most efficient use of your time and of your learning capacity, spend only that first five minutes in learning your language for that day.

You can do this a second and occasionally a third time later the same day, if you feel like it. You do not have to have more than one session every day, although you must do it at least once for at least five minutes every day.

18. Don't Use a Book to Read or to Record:

Keep in mind how you learned how to talk. You did not start with a book. You did not know how to read or to write, so you did not use those skills to learn how to talk. You don't need them if you want to be fluent in a second language. For the first three months, reading and recording will be a hindrance to learning fluency.

Do not write down the new words you learn. You have to concentrate in storing them in your head, not on paper. It is something like learning how to divide and multiply before becoming dependent upon a calculator as a crutch. Writing down the words you learn, in this method, reduces the strength with which you know them and can use them.

The best strategy is to wait until after after your first three months before doing any reading or writing in the new language. At that time, you may find a few delightful and amusing facts, as in English when you learned how to write and discovered that what you thought was, "A napple," turned out to be, "An apple." Those things will not detract from your reaching fluency within the first three months.

19. Don't Learn Grammar Rules; Feel Them:

When you learned how to talk (at age 1-2), you learned that it was correct to say, "I go," and to say, "he goes." By trial and error (being corrected by your elders), you learned that it was not correct to say, "he go." You were not formally learning grammar rules, but you were being corrected until you practised them.

Many years later you learned the formal grammar rules about how to decline the verb "to go." Before you learned the grammar, it felt wrong to say, "he go." In this method, the goal is to remember that feeling, and use it positively in learning another language.

As you learn each word, each day, you must immediately use the word in as many contexts as you can. By doing so, you will start to learn the grammar unconsciously. As described below, you do this by setting up role playing sessions in which you can imagine yourself being "corrected by your elders."

Your goal, therefore, is to learn what sounds right. What "sounds right" will be good grammar.

20. Remember That Tones Have Meanings Too:

In European languages, the phrase, "Where are YOU going?" has a different meaning than, "WHERE are you going?" (I use upper case letters here to indicate high tone emphasis). In European languages we use tones to vary the implications of our words.

In Akan, in contrast, the vocabulary can change by a change in tones. "WO ko," means "you go," while "wo KO," means "he goes." Tone in Akan changes vocabulary. Whatever the language you choose to learn by this method, be sensitive to the use of tones, and be prepared to find them used differently than in the language you first learned.

21. Use Your Limited Vocabulary in Many Ways:

Although you are not going to consciously learn the rules of grammar, try to see how a word varies in different contexts, as, eg, in English, "go" changes to "goes" when it is used with "he." Your aim is to use grammar; learn what feels right; not learn its rules.

22. Find Three to Five Informant / Teachers:

In your day-to-day rounds, you will meet with some people almost every day, or every few days. They may be at home, at school, at work, or where you play. As you get to know them and make friends, ask if one would be willing to be your teacher in the local language. You will find that most people would be pleased to be asked, especially when they discover that it does not take very much of their time.

23. Train Your Informant / Teachers:

Remember that those who would be willing to help you will most likely be your social equals or subordinates (a steward or cook would be an excellent choice, if the language is the first one they learned). They will find it difficult to treat you as a baby, so do not let them think that they are doing so.You do not have to tell them what you are thinking; you must give them very simple instructions of how you want to be helped.

Tell your informant/teacher that you want her or him to teach you only one word a day. You must insist on this at first with some who will want to teach you a long list the first day.

24. Let Them Have the Last Word:

The key to the method is to train your informant/teachers to have the last word. They must repeat each new word you learn. Giving them the last word requires discipline.

When you learn a word, you may be disposed to repeat the word after your informant. Discipline yourself to avoid that, and train your informants to always say the word (or sentence when it gets to that) after you say it. It may take some time for each informant to start practising the ground rules that you need.

25. You Having the Last Word is Too Comfortable:

There is something disturbing about having your informant say the word after you. It might not be obvious at first, but you will have a strong desire to say the word after your informant. If you say the word last, your mind will feel comfortable, and there will be a sense of closure and completion.

This feeling of satisfaction is a hindrance to you deeply learning the word; avoid it. This method actually takes advantage of the discomfort you may feel when not having the last word.

26. Ensure Your Informant is Socially Comfortable:

Make sure your informant does not suspect it, but imagine when the word or sentence is repeated after you that you are a baby being corrected by your elder (parent, sister, neighbour, whoever was around when you were learning how to talk). You are being corrected, but you do not want an informant to feel embarrassed by correcting you, as she or he would not want to contribute to you "losing face" by correcting you.

All your informant/teacher needs to know is that you want the word or sentence repeated after you say it. What goes on in your mind is not their problem or concern. This is a psychological method of learning a language, so what goes on in your head is an integral part of that method.

27. Use Laughter to Encourage Yourself:

Another item that you may first find as a problem, but can turn around to help you, is laughter. Many times people will laugh when you begin to talk in their language. You have been brought up to fear that laughter is a sign of scorn, and that you do not want to be the object of their jokes. You are not forced or obliged to have those thoughts.

When you were a baby, people who loved you laughed because they were happy with whatever you attempted to do. In many cultures, the laughter you hear when you try to talk is based on joy, not scorn.

28. You Can Interpret Laughter As You Wish:

Since you are not obliged to believe that people laugh at you when you speak, tell your self (as a positive affirmation improves self esteem) that the laugh you heard was someone who loves you and is happy you are making an attempt to learn this language.

At first you may not believe it when you tell yourself the laughter is encouragement. No matter; keep saying it; it will become true to you as you repeat it.

29. When You Forget to Learn a Word a Day:

What do you do if one day you look back and discover that yesterday went by and you had not learned even one new word?

This method causes a minor emotional depression. It is difficult when you are now an adult to be corrected every day, even though those who help you do not know you feel you are being corrected.

As in AA, remember: "One Day at a time." You can not return to yesterday. Agree with yourself that you are living in today, and can learn one word, just for today.

30. Your Emotional State is a Part of this Method:

In the normal course of a day, your emotions go up and down. While you are learning by this method, your average may be slightly below a comfortable line. Remember that you have set up a situation of being continuously corrected; your unconscious may become depressed by that process. Forgetting to learn a word once a day is a way your unconscious mind tries to cope with that minor depression which is an integral part of the method.

When you discover that you forgot to learn a word yesterday, then you know the method is working. Take a tip from those who are recovering in Alcoholics Anonymous: you cannot go back and change yesterday, just start with today, learn a new word today.

31. What Do You Do After the Three Months?

The three months that you set yourself to try this method will go past faster than you expected. At the end of it, you will have fluency, and you will have learned a method by which you can build on that fluency, and an ability to ask how to increase your vocabulary by speaking in the language itself. You may even find that some of your dreams will be in the new language.

What do you do after the three months? You may want to continue in the same manner, to slowly build up your working vocabulary. Or you may now be ready to try reading and writing the words you already know.

It's up to you.

Tuum est.


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2011.05.28

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