Thursday, 9 December 2010

Things that sucked (for learning another language)

I tried to learn to speak Portuguese once. So even though this is a blog about learning French, I'm going to be spending a bit of time looking back on my Portuguese-learning endeavours. You know, some of the things I spent my time doing sucked. And by "sucked" I mean: "didn't help me learn Portuguese"...

Going to Portuguese classes at a college
Apart from not having to worry about being wedgied and the teacher not constantly unleashing sarcastic put-downs *, this was just like GCSE French. A total waste of time. Horrific comedy-English 'Allo 'Allo-esque accents that made me not ever want to say the word "cerveja" again (sir-vay-ja? got any sir-vay-jas, mate? Lovely). Mind-numbing, blank-filling, paper-wasting conjugation "exercises". And students with the mentality that the teacher was somehow going to magically beam the language into their eager little minds whilst they sat there slack-jawed and dreaming of buying a muffin in the tea-break. Never again.

Michel Thomas Portuguese
Unlike most language learning books and CDs, these are recordings of real (supposedly) language lessons using the Michel Thomas method. His method is meant to be super-amazing and get you to ninja-level language skills in like, four hours. Unfortunately, the two students on the CD are some of the most punchable people ever recorded (him: smug and perky, her: producer of the most unbearably cat-on-heat-like nasal vowels hearable). I never got past the second CD. Amazingly, I actually got the Michel Thomas French course. I was that sucked in by the claims of insta-ninja megaskills. The French course features the real Michel Thomas. Unfortunately, it was even worse than the Portuguese one. You know... if I wanted to hear a grumpy old man shouting at idiots, I'd go and visit my Granddad.

Trying to learn individual words
Without context, words don't really get recognized by your brain (well, mine), as anything useful. And while you can jam them into your short-term memory like so many soggy Bermuda shorts in an overstuffed, sandy suitcase, as soon as you encounter them in the wild, you're just left with the uncomfortable haven't-we-met-somewhere-before-actually-maybe-not-sorry feeling of passive recognition without understanding. Luckily, things got better after reading some blog posts about learning languages through sentences...

OK, that's enough negativity for one post. In the next one, I'll bring the love and talk about what actually works when trying to learn a new language. And what I'm going to be doing to become fluent in French!

* "You know, you lot do sound a lot like real French kids. Shame it's the ones on the Special Needs bus." (and that's a real, genuine, secondary-school-in-Devon-in-the-early-90s-teacher quote, folks)

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