alternate learning activities

I just wanted to drop a note here about an experience I had today. I was scanning a chapter from a Swedish book, and then I ran it through to get a text version. It worked really well, and only had about two errors per page, mostly due to font weirdness for the letters “ft” and “fi”. The site is free, and it has the option for many different languages (which is exactly what I was looking for).

What I wanted to explain here is that this turned out to be a valuable language exercise for me. I put on my headphones and listened to the audiobook while I read my new digital copy of the text, and looked for errors. This way I had to inspect each word carefully as I listened, and I tried to match things up. It forced me to carefully read the text, and got me lots of exposure to new words.

Since I’ve been feeling a little burned out on such intensive study lately, it was refreshing to find out that I was able to really work hard on this alternate Swedish exercise. By doing something new, I was able to work longer and more intensely than I would have otherwise. It reminded me of the value of switching things up a bit and keeping some variety in your daily exercises.

Speaking of switching things up, I also want to reiterate the value of balancing your reading activities between “Intensive” and “Extensive” reading. Someone asked about this on HTLAL the other day and several people seemed to find my response useful, so I’ll repost it here.

I think you should try to do a little of both, but mainly go for whatever is more fun and keeps you moving. During my current Swedish studies, I divide my time about half and half between intensive and extensive reading. For the extensive portion, I like to listen to the corresponding audiobook if I have it available.

With a language like German, which is very similar to your native language (I’m assuming you speak English natively), then you’ll be able to get pretty quick benefits from extensive reading. It sounds like you already know all the really common words, so what I suggest is just keep on reading and skip over everything you don’t know. Just relax and try to sound out all the words to yourself, but just keep moving. You want to get yourself into a nice pattern of following along without thinking too much about each individual word.

If you see something really neat, then maybe highlight it for later. I try to keep my highlights down to maybe 1 or 2 per page, because too much highlighting interrupts the flow, and flow is important in this exercise. You want to be absorbed in the content of the book, not thinking too much about the theoretical details of the language too much. If you’re comfortably saying all the words to yourself, and occasionally making some realizations (“aha!”) about a small percentage of the words, then you’re doing well.

When I switch to intensive study, I tend to work mainly on vocab. I try to get every single vocab word in a certain page of a book, and then try to read over the sentences naturally while remembering the meaning of each word. I don’t really try to figure out the grammar too much, because if I know the meanings of the individual words then I can usually figure out the intended meaning from context. I use google translate a lot for this sort of exercise, as it saves me a lot of individual lookups and it comes up with half-decent translations usually. For Swedish and German it’s also quite forgiving of missing umlauts if you can’t type them on your keyboard.

After I’ve figured out all the words in a page, and figured out each sentence they’re in, then I turn on the audiobook version (if I have it) and listen to the whole thing again a few times just to try to catch each of the new vocab words in the text. If I don’t have an audiobook for it, then I just read it over fast myself and try not to stop on any words.

Doing some intensive work will give you more “aha”s when you switch to extensive, and doing more extensive will give you the exposure to many different forms and individual words so that when you see them in the intensive work they will “connect” easier. Memory is all about the different connections, so if you’ve already seen a word in context several times then it’ll stick much better when you look it up in your intensive work. More basic knowledge flavours your reading experience, and more reading experience makes basic knowledge easier to acquire. This is why both methods are complementary.


One Response to alternate learning activities

  1. Rebecka says:

    I really like this approach, it’s what I usually try to achieve, but I rarely succeed 😉

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