Friday, January 29, 2010

Here is something that drives the Korean crazy:
Learning a language sometimes seems as difficult as dieting. The solution is to figure out how to stay interested after the novelty wears off.

To counter boredom, online language programs have introduced crossword puzzles, interactive videos and other games to reward users for making progress.
The Web Way to Learn a Language (New York Times) (emphasis is the Korean's.)

No, the solution is not crossword puzzles and interactive videos. The solution is discipline. The solution is the willingness to sacrifice the here and now for the future reward. Learning is not supposed to be fun all the time, you lazy spoiled brats!! For cryin' out loud.


  1. Bravo!

    I just wrote a post about a similar topic the other day on my language blog:

  2. I think those tips work more for learning a language purely for fun, like my attempt to learn Chinese, and even that's different because I've spent more than a month in China over the past year.

    If someone in Canada wakes up one day and decides to learn Korean, with no foreseeable reason for doing so, they'd need things to keep them interested, yes. For Koreans, even if they're never going to speak English, payoffs exist in the form of TOEIC scores and the job opportunities they open up.

  3. As a long-time learner and language lecturer, I can't agree with the idea that casual exploration of language without the ultimate goal of internalizing it is actually "learning". I'd say it's more a pass time, or perhaps even just a 'hobby'.

    With no intrinsic motivation, there is no success.

  4. It always kills me that so many Californians learn French and jump at any chance to speak it because it is relatively rare in these parts, when they could have learned Spanish and had a thousand chances a day to speak it in their hometown.

  5. My mom is a teacher in a weekend language school, and most of her students DON'T care- they're there because their parents made them go. The traditional method of teaching in her native country is the rote memorization of entire lessons. If she made her students do that, they wouldn't do it, she would be angry, they would be miserable, and very little would be accomplished. So of course she tries to make her lessons interesting and occasionally add creative elements to her classes.

    A lot of people buying this software are pretending they have more motivation to learn a language than they actually do. The software needs to trick these people into using it as a substitute for genuine motivation.

    These programs might be useful for genuinely motivated students as well. I've seen a little bit of RosettaStone, and at least the early parts of it are pretty drill-heavy. You might be able to get it to automate the drilling part of what you what to learn. In addition, these programs are useful if you have very little access to the language you want to learn. You learned English in the US and could pick up sentences to study literally anywhere. Someone who wants to learn Korean in the middle of Kansas is not going to have access to that kind of corpus, especially in the beginning when they don't know enough grammar to understand sentences from, say, online newspapers.

  6. I understand your insistence that language learning takes discipline, but I think you underestimate the value of "fun" activities like this.

    First of all, I have a very difficult time learning through rote memorization (i.e., flashcards, or memorizing articles word-for-word, etc.). I am too easily distracted and too easily bored by those things.

    Things like crosswords, matching activities (like Rosetta Stone), fill-in-the-blanks, and analyzing the language as a problem to solve (i.e., I know all of these individual parts, so what do they mean in this grammar construction?) - these things actually help me learn. They keep my attention. They keep me actively engaged rather than flipping through flashcards; even if I can memorize the flashcards, I'm much less likely to remember them the next day than if I had used them interactively in real contexts.

    I speak five foreign languages to varying levels of fluency. French is my best because of length of exposure. Japanese is my worst because the "memorization" method was employed in my school. I took two full years of Japanese, and I've been working on Korean for about four weeks now using Rosetta Stone, activity books, cute YouTube videos, learning song lyrics, etc. I would say that I'm about two weeks away from being better in Korean than Japanese.

    It may not make a difference to you, but it does to other people - everyone's brain works differently - so please don't be so quick to dismiss it. Just some food for thought! ^^

  7. I didn't see anyone advocating rote memorization. I didn't see anyone speak against studying in a novel way, either. What we're saying is that without discipline and intrinsic motivation, it's all moot.

    Learning a language is difficult. Once you come to terms with that, and you determine to get through the process (through various methods, including things like music videos, dramas, etc.) then you'll find the process enjoyable for a different reason - The process itself and the act of actually learning a new language will be what drives you.

    Various academic studies have shown that external motivation has a very limited time frame.

  8. We all require some motivation to learn. This motivation differs greatly from person to person (context to context). Just because you we thrown into the deep end and told to swim in your own language learning experience doesn't mean that (a) others have that same kind of motivation and (b) others can actually swim in that situation.

    Learning, regardless of the topic, is largely about desire. The real trick is igniting that fire and keeping it burning.

  9. Alex, to clarify, The Korean had put up an earlier post about how he learned English, which largely involved memorizing vocabulary as well as memorizing episodes of TV shows word-for-word.

    If I had to do that, I would give up after the first round. :P Then again, learning songs works really well for me.

    Dan...needless to say, I agree with you. :)

  10. Tiffani,

    Just imagine how good you would be in those languages if you were able to sit yourself down and memorize everything instead of relying on "exposure". The Korean already explained in the post you mentioned that second language never learn that language through osmosis; memorization is the only thing that works. Doing anything else only serves to distract from the only thing that works, and delays the achieve of language mastery.

  11. @ The Korean: I found that I am very good at memorizing but even better at forgetting. Information sticks better when it is integrated into a framework of previously learned knowledge. For example, when my mom teaches Chinese, she explains the origins of the written characters and relates them to words that the students have previously learned, and her students retain more of the knowledge. I guess with English and the Romance languages, you can relate words with the same roots to each other. The origin of idiomatic expressions should also definitely be explained, instead of just memorized. In general, though, the words that languages use for things are arbitrary, and the "rules" that languages have are riddled with exceptions. There is very little integration one can do.

    By the way, most of these "fun" types of activities don't really accomplish the integration of new with previously learned knowledge either- they're trying to accomplish rote memorization by sneaky means. I guess the logical conclusion that this comment is leading to is that languages are really difficult to learn and retain. The best way is probably performing rote memorization in an environment saturated with the language one is trying to learn- which is the way you learned English.

  12. @ The Korean -

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! Maybe you're right; maybe I would learn faster if I could memorize long lists of words, but it's kind of a moot point because memorization is a big weakness for me. I'm okay at the beginning: I got a B+ in Japanese 1. But by the next semester, it felt like my brain was "full". All we did was read lists of vocab and take tests on them. I used flashcards every day, and it would help for the test, but by the next week those words had been replaced by the new vocab list. I'm sure part of the problem was that there was little to no incentive to remember the previous list until the final exam, which by then was hopeless.

    Anyway, I certainly don't think I'm unskilled or inferior at language learning in general. I pick it up a lot faster than the average person. I have a very analytical brain, and grammar rules, conjugations, etc. come very easily for me. But I know what works for me with vocabulary - I need interactive activities, worksheets, pictures, colors, etc. I need to make a memory with that word so that when I need to remember the word 'mun', I can think: oh yes, 'Mund' is the German word for mouth, and a door is like the mouth of a house: 'mun'. I have a mental image of this little mouth-door that left an's not just words on the page. Similarly, I remember the pictures Rosetta Stone gave for 'uija' before I even need to translate it in my head. It makes it concrete. It makes it matter.

    I wonder...I kind of get the feeling that part of your ire for the "fun" language learning method is that you were not afforded that luxury and you were thrown into a very difficult situation where to prove your academic prowess and worth as a student you were forced to spend hours daily filling your time with study rather than other things. It is something I admire very greatly and I can see how much it has benefited you. But that's not a necessary or, frankly, desirable sacrifice for many people to make. Is there something inherently shameful about having fun while you're learning, or at least being curious and engaged? It works for me, it's worked for my students in the past, and on top of that, there was no need for excessive amounts of stress or misery. I can't see how that's a bad thing.

    I'm really sorry that this is so long, btw; I find both language and education to be fascinating topics and I like talking about them...too much maybe. ^^

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.


Comments are not available on posts older than 60 days.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...