Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Guinea Pig

by AJ

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I've read the research. I've seen countless students fail with traditional methods. I've seen others succeed wildly with an "effortless acquisition" approach. I can offer stories. I can offer examples. I can quote Krashen, Brown, McQuillan, Tse, Asher, Hastings, Murphy, Long, Kaufman, etc.

Only one things remains. One thing is lacking- direct personal experience.

I want to experience the power of effortless acquisition myself. I want to become fluent in a foreign language. After all, why should my students have all the fun :)

Three months ago, I began studying Spanish. When I started to design my learning plan, I drew on all of my past language learning failures, I drew on language acquisition research, I drew on my experiences as an English teacher, and I drew on the expertise of others who had already mastered one or more foreign languages. I put together a plan that emphasized comprehensible input (reading and listening), absolutely NO conscious grammar study, and the use of authentic materials.

Three months into the plan, things are going well. The most important success has been the change in my attitude. In the past, whenever I studied a language, I quickly became frustrated. I became confused, bored, and discouraged.

But this time, using effortless acquisition methods, I'm doing great. In fact, my motivation and enthusiasm just keep growing. I'm thoroughly enjoying my Spanish study. The only time I get frustrated is when I don't have time to study. I get REALLY annoyed when life gets busy and I have to miss a day or two of Spanish.

I feel no stress. I'm reading and listening to interesting content. Since I'm observing a 6 month "silent period", I feel no pressure to speak. I'm never tested or graded.

Week by week, I'm feeling more comfortable with Spanish. I'm recognizing more and more words. I'm able to understand more content and I can understand it at a faster speed. As a result, my confidence is growing. Of course I know I have a long way to go. And I certainly can't understand native speakers when they chat on the street. Spanish language TV is likewise far too difficult for me. But so what. No one is pressuring me or testing me, so I can be patient and enjoy the progress I'm making-- and can feel confident that progress will continue until I will indeed be able to chat fluently and understand Spanish language TV shows.

Even though I'm still in my "silent period", I've recently felt the urge to start working on pronunciation. I'm not concerned (yet) with rapid recall of vocabulary, or with being able to hold a conversation. But I feel that I'm now hearing the sounds of the language pretty well, and would enjoy trying to imitate them. Therefore, starting next week, I will begin devoting a little time each day to pronunciation practice.

This practice will take up 20% or less of my Spanish study time. The bulk of my time will still be spent listening and reading. In fact, I'll be using the same listening material for pronunciation practice- starting with Las Puertas Retorcidas-- a book/CD I finished about a month ago.

Since I'm just beginning, I thought it would be interesting to keep a record of my progress- in the form of recordings. Therefore, as part of this podcast, I'm including my very first speaking entry. Its a small passage from Las Puertas Retorcidas. In the months that follow, I'll occasionally post more recordings of myself speaking Spanish-- and let ELA listeners track my progress. Eventually, I hope to reach the point where I can record myself having short Skype conversations in Spanish-- at which point I'll switch my Spanish language chronicles to the currently hibernating "Espanol Natural" blog.

Here then is my first spoken Spanish:

You estoy nerviosa. Yo decido ser una nina valiente. Camino hacia la casa grande y misteriosa. Tengo mucho miedo.

In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote that the best path to wisdom is to experiment with one's own life. I completely agree. I look forward to sharing the results of this experiment with other teachers and learners!

San Francisco, CA