methods vs. activities

I find that people are quick to describe things as “methods” these days, as if the only way to learn a language is to follow a fully detailed algorithmic description of what to do. I just wanted to mention that my previous post about parallel texts does not describe such a “method”.

I prefer to have many different language activities that I can do. What you really need, when pursuing a language, is lots of different ways to gain exposure. You need them to be fun and interesting, so that you’ll pay attention while doing them and so that you’ll keep coming back for more. You probably also need multiple resources so that if you eventually get tired of one, then you can just switch to another one without hesitating.

If you like textbooks, then find more than one textbook…preferably at least 3. If you like watching TV in another language, then find more than one show. Same with novels. The idea here is that it’s usually unreasonable to expect that you’ll do the exact same thing over and over again until you’re fluent. You need something else beside you that you can pick up when you put the first one down, in order to continue your exposure.

This applies across activities too. You might have 1 TV show, 1 audio book, and 1 more difficult novel, or some other arrangement. You might also have more than one activity that you can do with the same resource, such as Intensive and Extensive reading. Having more activities is beneficial because each can seem like a break from the others. For instance, right now I have two easy Swedish audiobooks, several harder books with audiobooks, and some TV shows to watch. I try to use the harder books to figure out some vocabulary, but when I get tired then I just watch some TV to relax.

Be cautious of setting up anything too rigid, because then it might start to seem like “work”, and you may be demotivated because you feel like you have to do some boring activity over and over and over. Remember that different things can be “interesting” to different people at different times. Sometimes I really like to do some “dictionary surfing” where I look up successive words in the dictionary and write down a whole bunch of example phrases, but I wouldn’t want to make that my complete “method” for learning. It’s just one activity that I occasionally enjoy.

My hope here on this blog is to illustrate many different possible activities to people who might not have heard of them or thought them possible. Try them out, if you like, but they’re not the only way to do things.

5 Responses to methods vs. activities

  1. Hyewon says:

    I’m with you. That’s the exact thing that I’ve done for English. Before reading your post,I think I’m un-focused on English considering another diligent learners. This post helps me keep going my own way to dig various resources. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Amanda says:

    When you say “dictionary surfing” do you mean you look up a word then look up all the words in its definition?

    • doviende says:

      I’ll try to dig up my older post about it, but the basic idea was to look up words in a dictionary that had lots of example sentences, and then that would usually lead me to more words that I didn’t know and I’d look them up too.

      I typically wasn’t as thorough as what you suggest, but did it in more of a “follow-the-trail” sort of way, like web-surfing. Depth-first rather than Breadth-first, if you like. I found it quite fun for Chinese, especially for learning new characters.

  3. Andrew says:

    I definitely find that having multiple learning sources/methods helps enormously to keep you from getting too bored or fed up such that you quit, though I’ve also found that you do have to have a pretty high degree of self-discipline and motivation (see my recent post on the subject) to be able to do this (learn new languages). Make it as fun as you can, but you will inevitably at some point end up having to force yourself to do some work when you don’t feel like it.


  4. Aaron says:

    Great post. I think the idea of multi-entry into the language is an important one. The more touches your brain makes with the language (and from different angles) the better it will stick. And if we can tailor the majority of our activities to be floating around the same topics or grammar points, or what ever we happen to be focusing on at the time, the more review and reflection is built into the process making retention that much more of a reality. Keep up the great posts.

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