Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hammer Time

by AJ

As I study Spanish each day, I find that I prefer depth to breadth at this point. In other words, I prefer to focus on a very limited amount of content and repeat it many times.

I took this approach with "Las Puertas Retorcidas". Ive listened to each chapter at least 30 times now. Most days, I repeat several chapters yet again. The idea is to hammer these phrases and words into my brain. Listening a few times simply is not enough, at least at my (very low) level. I need a tremendous amount of repetition.

Its not just a matter of "knowing" the words and phrases. If I look at a word list, I can give the meanings for most of the words used in the book. The problem is, I havent totally "acquired" these words. I recognize them in an analytical way. But when listening to the audio, its still difficult to actually hear and understand many of them... much less use them quickly and naturally. Thus, I continue to repeat the same content again and again.

While I continue a bit of light review of "Las Puertas Retorcidas" each day, Im now focused on a book called "Teach Yourself: Improve Your Spanish". Im now on Chapter two and am taking the same Hammer approach. I listen repeatedly to the dialogues. I also try to read & listen to each of them at least once a day. Slowly but surely, the audio is becoming more comprehensible.

This approach is working well for me. I imagine it would work well for many students, especially beginners.

But as an English teacher, I know there is NO WAY I could get away with this. The traditional school system has brainwashed students to believe that SPEED and QUANTITY are THE ANSWERS. Most students want as much vocab and grammar crammed into a semester as possible. Textbooks are designed with this approach in mind.

Thus we have the ridiculous phenomenon of covering the present tense in two weeks, the past tense in a few weeks, the past progressive in a week, etc.. Apart from the dubious benefit of breaking the language into isolated parts like this... its insane to expect students to "learn", much less "acquire" these language points in that amount of time.

Similarly, schools, administrators, and students alike have a VERY low tolerance for review and repetition. I do it more than most, but not nearly enough.

With all this emphasis on quantity, what usually happens is that the students build a giant notebook of vocab and grammar notes... which they remember for a week, or possibly until they pass a test. Then 80-90% of it vanishes... purged from short/mid term memory. Or, just as bad, the student remembers the grammar rules but absolutely cannot apply them. I encounter this all the time in my advanced class. Several students can lecture me with detailed explanations of grammar points. Then, after an exhaustive discussion of the minute particulars, they'll then make mistake after mistake when actually using the language. I cant help but wonder, would they have gotten better results by focusing on structured comprehensible input with a great deal of repetition... rather than memorizing grammar tomes?

San Francisco, CA