Welcome to Fool for Language

Welcome to Fool for Language, the site for people who are crazy about learning languages - like me! If you are new to this blog, I recommend you read the articles in order. The information will make better sense.

This is my first blog and writing each essay has been much more enjoyable than I expected. I have spent most of my life teaching and, more importantly, learning languages. I have “survived” a wide range of teaching techniques, materials and teachers. The result is that I have a pretty clear idea of what has and has NOT worked for me. Yes, I am opinionated, but even if you don’t agree with me, I hope you will enjoy the stories and think about what gets you “wired” when you dive into the wonderful world of learning another language.

I want to thank some people who have helped me maintain momentum with this blog. To give you, the reader, a break, every 10th essay is written by a guest blogger, all close friends with their own special take on language learning. As for the uploading process, Kurt meticulously proofreads and makes insightful comments on each essay; while Yoh patiently provides technical support, including selection of the vibrant visuals. Thank you!


8. Copy Correcting (or the case for karaoke)

By high school, I was flirting with French, German and Spanish and had managed to visit a few corners of the world using my own resources. Not bad for a kid from the foothills of Alberta who had only seen the ocean once in the first 15 years of his life. And I was observing how my attempts to communicate could succeed or fail miserably. These observations began to gel into concrete learning strategies that I would apply and hone then later teach to my own students.

Perhaps from the earliest days of my attempts to speak, I had noticed that people were truly trying to understand and willing to help with the communication process. If I made an effort, they would, too, rephrasing my words in a more natural order (think grammar) or micro-correcting my pronunciation to make it sound more native. Sometimes they would take my verbal contortions and physical gestures then turn them into simple sentences that didn’t feel so intimidating. It was up to me to seize the new language and imitate it. I called this self-correcting process copy correcting. Even today, I find this strategy incredibly useful since it can be applied to all languages, no matter what the level. This stragegy lets me modify the way I speak without a textbook, teacher or classroom. In other words, it gives me independence.

There are clear stages involved with copy correcting. First, you have to say something – anything – in an attempt to communicate. This would seem an obvious step, yet it is surprising how many non-native speakers will wait for the world to come to them and it often doesn’t. In this case, silence is definitely not golden!

Once your words are out there, the listener becomes part of the strategy. In other words, the process is interactive. If your information is more or less intelligible, the other person will probably let things continue as they are. But if the words are a little too garbled or your pronunciation leaves something to be desired, the local will most likely clarify and/or repeat what you have just said in a more native-like fashion. Your job is to be an active listener in order to catch those changes.

In fact, studies have been around for a long time which show that non-natives recognize correct language even though they may have trouble producing it. Logically, our listening skills are usually higher than our speaking skills (you need a lot of input before you get output), and non-natives know when what they wanted to say has been repaired and repeated by a native or higher level speaker. The problem is that that’s not enough. Most learners nod and say, “Yes, yes!” when they hear the corrected language. A good learner does more.

There is one final step if you really want to take advantage of the context and improve the way you speak: copy what you have just heard. Your imitation of the corrected language may not be exactly the same, but slight variations on a corrected version make a lot more sense than your original, sometimes garbled utterance.

Good learners automatically copy correct without thinking about it. The strategy is part of their unconscious behavior when they use another language. Perhaps the most startling example of copy correcting in action that I have ever seen was in a karaoke bar in Japan. It was the end of an intensive English course for a group of Japanese businessmen and their teachers. Everyone was out celebrating over drinks with the braver ones singing karaoke songs for their captive audience.

A song came on that all of the foreign teachers loved but didn’t understand. (恋人よ, or Koibito yo, by Itsuwa Mayumi. Google it if you’re curious.) It had a lovely melody but complicated lyrics that none of us could figure out. Suddenly, a new teacher, Elizabeth, grabbed the arm of the lowest student in the group and demanded, “I LOVE this song. Translate it for me, PLEASE!” The student looked mortified. He then reluctantly began to explain the meaning as each line dashed across the TV screen.

Terrified student: “Lover... near here be...”
Sincerely interested Elizabeth: “Stay with me?”
Student:“Yes. Stay with me!” “Cold me... beside stay.”
Elizabeth: “Stay beside me. I’m cold?”
Student: “Yes! Beside me. I’m cold.”

This struggle continued for the entire song, line by line painstakingly produced and repaired. But what struck me the most was that, by the end of the song, the student’s rendition of the chorus was almost perfect. He had literally corrected his language production in one song by copy correcting!

That’s it. Don’t worry so much about mistakes and try to speak; listen and catch any changes; then do your best to copy the improved version. Sounds easy, but for the less confident this process can be a challenge, especially the last step of copying. Also, for higher level learners there is the danger of coming across like a parrot. You definitely do not want your sincere attempt to improve your phrasing or overall intonation to sound like youre mocking the other speaker!

Still, the results are worth the risk. And you can use this strategy in any language with anyone. The world becomes your classroom and every person you talk with is a potential teacher.

(If you are really fool for languages, check out my language learning website, http://en.sulantra.com/, with courses from and to EnglishSpanishChineseJapaneseTurkishBulgarianThaiGerman , Korean and Italian!)

1 comment:

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