Wednesday, May 28, 2008, Assimil and real life resources

The other day, I stumbled upon, a website with books and music in Breton. Two weeks later, I got Spot's Bedtime Stories in Breton. It's a simple book, but fun, with pictures that make it clear what's being talked about. And what I found is that while children's books in Chinese, Arabic and Kazakh (among other languages over the years) have utterly stymied me, I had very little trouble making out enough Breton to learn of how Spot lost his kite in a tree and Mr. Kangaroo helped him get it back.

Stories about Spot are an easy read, of course. But I think there's another factor in play: Every morning, every evening and many noon-times as well, I've been reading Breton with Assimil. And while it's taught me a lot about Breton, taught me a lot of vocabulary, etc., it's taught me something else: how to read without perfect comprehension. When I finished my first Spot story, I realized that there were all sorts of grammar structures I recognized but didn't know cold, and lots of turns of phrase that were familiar but that might not have been completely mastered. But it didn't matter. And then I thought back on children's books past, and my efforts to understand every word, and to be sure I knew how every sentence went together.

What I'm offering here isn't particularly new or novel. It's something I've known for years. But as I've written many times before, language isn't about knowledge - it's about habit. And when you're coming from a structured textbook where everything reinforces, rather than contradicting, what you've learned so far, there's a tendency to be used to having everything make sense in the context of what you've learned - which makes it hard to let go of that even if you know you should.

My Assimil Breton is full of "this means this, we'll learn why later" comments. It tells you about watching for certain types of mutations, but doesn't push you to learn them up front. And so, when I started reading about Spot, I was in the habit of getting the gist, not perfect mastery of the material I'd learned to date. And so, even though I'm at a lower level, I was reading Breton with the same comfort level as I read Spanish or Italian.

So, two parting thoughts: 1) At some point, if you're learning a language, you're going to want to confront it on its own terms. So look for resources (like for Breton) that will expose you early to the language as used. 2) When you're learning a language, supplement with a resource like Assimil if you can find one, that way you'll have a sort of set of training wheels for moving from the structured presentation of textbooks to real-life material.


Blogger Kate said...

I lived in China for a while, and my Chinese, while pretty good for a 10th grader, is not fantastic. There was a lot of 'I'm pretty sure you meanx. But maybe not. But let's just assume I'm right.'

When I first got back, I was hanging out with a group of friends, two of which were Russian. At one point, he asked her (in Russian) where the toilet was, and she replied (in Russian) that she thought they were over there? and pointed. I don't speak a lick of Russian, but chipped in with, yeah, I think they're there, around the corner.

They were astounded. But an important part of assimilation learning is context. We'd been out for a while, he was looking around, she wasn't sure. All members of the group were there. What else would they be looking for? OK, so there was room for error. But not much.

The trouble is, most of the time, our conscious brain wants to take over. Myself, I learnt two valuable lessons about language from my time in China. 1) my chinese is much better than I think. 2) I am a better Chinese speaker when I'm drunk. Conclusion? Relax! Go with it! Most of your errors will be small and unavoidable anyway. People expect a second-language speaker to have a few hiccups now and then.

This has been your five minute pep-talk with Kate. :)

11:11 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home