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The Cheating & Consolidating Method

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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Serpent
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 Message 33 of 136
02 August 2014 at 4:41pm | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
As for how to practice, I don't believe that there exists a language teacher that doesn't tell their students to use native materials of some kind, e.g. DVDs with subtitles, listen to the radio.

A good teacher should also give decent advice on HOW to use them. Many of them, in fact, view extensive activities as cheating. No pain, no gain etc.

Also, one of my teachers at uni gave us some tips on watching stuff in English... at our final class, one week before the exam. With the implication that those who are done with formal learning are now allowed to have fun. She should've said this after the FIRST class, imo.

Edited by Serpent on 02 August 2014 at 4:45pm

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emk
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 Message 34 of 136
02 August 2014 at 7:43pm | IP Logged 
Bao wrote:
I can see some ways of 'cheating' with radio news even without transcripts:

* you already have a large vocabulary and know how to read, but your listening comprehension is low

* you already know the content of the day's news and can concentrate on how it is reported in the target language

Exactly. Excellent suggestions.

It's not that news radio is inherently bad or anything like that—if you can find a way to make it decipherable, it should work just like any other native material. But even then, I would be strongly tempted to look for television news, because it would also provide pictures, which can help a lot. I favor cheating as much as possible. :-)

Serpent wrote:
A good teacher should also give decent advice on HOW to use them. Many of them, in fact, view extensive activities as cheating. No pain, no gain etc.

Also, one of my teachers at uni gave us some tips on watching stuff in English... at our final class, one week before the exam. With the implication that those who are done with formal learning are now allowed to have fun. She should've said this after the FIRST class, imo.

Yeah, this kind of language class is still very common in the United States, too. If a teacher assigned comic books or couple seasons of an easy TV show, I think that would typically be treated as a special reward. Fun native media just isn't serious enough to be educational.

Let me see if I can use the cheating/consolidating model to explain what's going on. Here's how I see it:



But certain language classes seem to be built more around this model:



Here, I use "grinding" in the video game sense: doing a lot of tedious repetitive work to "level up." A little bit of grinding can be very useful to language learners. For example, Iversen uses word lists to memorize essential vocabulary at the beginning. But Iversen then combines that with lots of extensive reading, allowing him to fully consolidate that vocabulary and learn more from context.

But if your language-learning method consists of nothing but grinding, you run into two problems:

1. Pure grinding is less efficient than cheating. Sure, you could learn a lot of French by translating a 500-page book into English, carefully checking the vocabulary and grammar as you go. But if you can find a good way to cheat, you could also just read the book, look up some unknown words, and try to notice interesting details about how the language is used. Sure, you'll miss more details—but you'll also finish a lot sooner and you'll be able to move onto other books. Sometimes the easiest way to learn something is to see it in 50 different contexts, instead of analyzing one or two contexts to death.

2. For some strange reason, lots of language-learning plans are nearly 100% grinding, with no plans to actually use the language anytime soon. As in Serpent's example, students study for many years, and towards the very end of the program, they get a 10-minute talk on using native materials. (Yeah, I know that current educational theory agrees that this the wrong way to teach languages. But it's still pretty easy to find classes like this in the US.)

Now, once again, I'm not suggesting that all grinding is bad. In moderation, it can actually be a pretty useful tool. But whenever possible, I prefer to look for quick-and-dirty ways to produce "i+1 input", and then to go for lots and lots of volume so I can consolidate what I've learned.

Edited by emk on 02 August 2014 at 8:00pm

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vermillon
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 Message 35 of 136
02 August 2014 at 8:29pm | IP Logged 
Thank you, emk, for this post, and thanks to all the people who contributed to the conversation, this is really useful and - depending on how you currently study - either enlightening or comforting. HTLAL is full of advice on particular learning techniques but, to me, this is really this kind of success stories - analysed and explained - that gives me faith that it is possible to learn a language, despite my experience that would sometimes hint otherwise.

Reading iguanamon's and s_allard's posts #30 and #32 also rung a huge bell: I am completely guilty of over-use of SRS (in the last 43 months, 1010 hours!!), I have over-learnt some beginner courses in several languages (to the point I know most of the sentences by heart in Assimil Breton, German & Norwegian) and of course never engaged conversation with any native speaker, most probably out of fear as iguanamon points out (fear of not knowing what to say? to be answered in English and lose face? to make mistakes?). Not sure if this was really worth mentioning here, this was merely a way to say "thanks for your comments, they do resonate in at least one learner and will probably have a positive impact on him".

That said, in the only languages for which I've bothered tackling native material - Mandarin, Classical Chinese and German - I can definitely report similarly to emk: everything was opaque at first, but the interest I had in the material made me keep up with it, and with time things got easier. I unfortunately can't report having read 10000 pages as emk did, probably much closer to 2000 in Mandarin/German and 600 in Classical Chinese, but I actually feel "I can read" in those languages, confidently and in a way that I do not consider any more as "work": I do it for pure pleasure, and that seems to be the best way for me to progress: far too often I've tried to rush through a language (again, as iguanamon said) only to burn out after a short period of time. Having no expectations is the surest way to make sure those expectations are met, and often exceeded.

Voilà, that was some of my life. Not very useful as I was only confirming what everybody already said, but since it took me quite a long time to realise most of these things, I'm sure it's worth repeating for others who, like me before, haven't reached the point where they can relax and use their languages to make their lives more pleasant, rather than more painful.

edit:
Of course, I have forgotten almost the first thing I wanted to talk about before starting my post. Emk and several others have talked about e-books and the pop-up dictionaries one can use to "cheat" with unknown vocabulary. This is great, but I am unfortunately victim of the book-hoarding disease and like to read my books on paper (and looking at the last few books I've read, none of them exists in electronic format anyway). How do you replace pop-up dictionaries for paper books?
I have a tablet that I bought for a good part for the purpose of using dictionaries, and it has been my best companion for Classical Chinese, but for German I find the time it takes to look up words to be far too long and end up reading entire books without opening once the dictionary, hoping for the best: it works pretty well, but I think I could do better. In the days I've started reading Mandarin, I wrote a script to do this:
-extract the vocabulary of the chapter I'm going to read (in Mandarin you even need to tokenize the sentence, since there are initially no spaces between words)
-extract the vocabulary of my Anki decks
-subtract the two sets: I could learn in advance the unknown words, and reading them in the chapter would act as reinforcement.
This resulted in much higher comprehension, much faster vocabulary acquisition and much lower friction in dictionary research => more reading.
The thing is that about any popular novel sold in China can be found somewhere as plain text, making the process trivial. Now that I want to improve my German (and others), the books I'm reading are not to be found in such a format... so the best I could do would be to take a picture of every page, pass it through OCR and then process it, but that's quite a big overhead.
Any suggestion? How do you tackle paper reading without having to pause all the time?

Edited by vermillon on 02 August 2014 at 8:41pm

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rdearman
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 Message 36 of 136
02 August 2014 at 9:04pm | IP Logged 
vermillon wrote:

Of course, I have forgotten almost the first thing I wanted to talk about before starting my post. Emk and several others have talked about e-books and the pop-up dictionaries one can use to "cheat" with unknown vocabulary. This is great, but I am unfortunately victim of the book-hoarding disease and like to read my books on paper (and looking at the last few books I've read, none of them exists in electronic format anyway). How do you replace pop-up dictionaries for paper books?
I have a tablet that I bought for a good part for the purpose of using dictionaries, and it has been my best companion for Classical Chinese, but for German I find the time it takes to look up words to be far too long and end up reading entire books without opening once the dictionary, hoping for the best: it works pretty well, but I think I could do better. In the days I've started reading Mandarin, I wrote a script to do this:
-extract the vocabulary of the chapter I'm going to read (in Mandarin you even need to tokenize the sentence, since there are initially no spaces between words)
-extract the vocabulary of my Anki decks
-subtract the two sets: I could learn in advance the unknown words, and reading them in the chapter would act as reinforcement.
This resulted in much higher comprehension, much faster vocabulary acquisition and much lower friction in dictionary research => more reading.
The thing is that about any popular novel sold in China can be found somewhere as plain text, making the process trivial. Now that I want to improve my German (and others), the books I'm reading are not to be found in such a format... so the best I could do would be to take a picture of every page, pass it through OCR and then process it, but that's quite a big overhead.
Any suggestion? How do you tackle paper reading without having to pause all the time?


I read a lot of paper books and the way that I do it is fairly simple. I have an Android smart phone, so I have the Google Translate App installed. I read my paperback with pencil in hand and underline any word I don't know. When I get to the end of the page (or when I feel like it) I open up the translate app, click on the "take picture" icon, and then take a picture of the page.

The app scans all the words, then you press on the words with your finger and it translates them. Because I have already underlined the words it is easy for me to find the ones I want to look up. You can also highlight entire sentences and it will translate them.

I find this just as quick as pop-up dictionaries (I use them on the same smartphone) and it doesn't really interrupt my reading. Also if you are mid page and want to look up a single word you can just type it into the App.

Hope that helps, works for me, your mileage may vary.

:)
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Kerrie
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 Message 37 of 136
02 August 2014 at 9:18pm | IP Logged 
rdearman wrote:
I open up the translate app, click on the "take picture" icon, and then take a picture of the page.

The app scans all the words, then you press on the words with your finger and it translates them. Because I have already underlined the words it is easy for me to find the ones I want to look up. You can also highlight entire sentences and it will translate them.


Oh. My. Wow. That is so cool.

You just made my whole day. LOL

I have had that app on my phone for years, and I never realized it could do that.   :D
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rdearman
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 Message 38 of 136
02 August 2014 at 9:46pm | IP Logged 
Kerrie wrote:

Oh. My. Wow. That is so cool.

You just made my whole day. LOL

I have had that app on my phone for years, and I never realized it could do that.   :D


Guess that makes me a bigger cheat than EMK. LOL
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Serpent
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 Message 39 of 136
02 August 2014 at 9:56pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
For some strange reason, lots of language-learning plans are nearly 100% grinding, with no plans to actually use the language anytime soon. As in Serpent's example, students study for many years, and towards the very end of the program, they get a 10-minute talk on using native materials. (Yeah, I know that current educational theory agrees that this the wrong way to teach languages. But it's still pretty easy to find classes like this in the US.)

At least in Russia it's common to use native materials mostly for (detailed) reading, and also listen to a 5-minute recording here and there, and maybe watch one film per term in class, and then be expected to speak about it or write a composition etc.* As if extensive activities are a waste of native materials.

The worst is that since all the "modern" textbooks contain carefully chosen authentic texts, teachers fail to emphasize or even understand that learners need a lot more than that. Often their logic is that if your grammar is bad, you need to grind more.

*A bit offtopic, but I was almost shocked when I realized how much I can enjoy analyzing literature. I thought I hated it, but I just hated having to focus on pre-chosen aspects, having to make my thoughts coherent for others before they were clear even to myself, and keeping it all "class-friendly". It got much more enjoyable when I started reading meta on tumblr and other similar sites :)

Edited by Serpent on 02 August 2014 at 9:58pm

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Bao
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 Message 40 of 136
02 August 2014 at 10:07pm | IP Logged 
emk wrote:
It's not that news radio is inherently bad or anything like that—if you can find a way to make it decipherable, it should work just like any other native material. But even then, I would be strongly tempted to look for television news, because it would also provide pictures, which can help a lot. I favor cheating as much as possible. :-)

I think it depends on the language and the program. And on the learner. As far as I can tell German radio programs (apart from Deutsche Welle) are aimed at people who are doing other things while listening to the radio. A lot of elderly listeners, too, and the programs reflect that.

But what I meant to express is that whether something can be accessible or not isn't set in stone, and I think it's a good idea to automatize a reaction like: I don't really understand this. Why? Not paying enough attention, tired? Don't know anything about the topic? Don't have the vocabulary? Speakers talking too fast? Don't understand the conventions of the format? Don't understand the accent? Audio quality is bad? etc and if one or two things stick out that can be made easier, try to do so.

s_allard might think this is obvious but I know that many people around me don't do it, so I think it is something that can be learned.



Side note, one of the reasons I rarely watch Japanese TV shows anymore is because I feel guilty that I can automatically understand most of what is said and think I should somehow memorize the phrases so that I can actually say those things myself. ><;



ETA: My language classes were similar to Serpent's description, with the addition that teachers did try to encourage their students to do outside reading and other activities. I've had language teachers who would lend books to their students, for example. Also, in the last two years of English we were supposed to do most of the assigned reading at home, including written activities on the text, and in class we would discuss the text and the assignment as well as current affairs.

Edited by Bao on 02 August 2014 at 10:21pm



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