I recently posted an article on my learners’ blog about learning vocabulary. It reminded me of how I learned vocabulary for a Spanish course at university. I thought it quite effective and I’ve got to say that as much as I enjoy the communicative approach, I certainly recognize the need for basic, almost ugly memorization when it comes to language learning and acquisition.
So what was I thinking and what was my motivation?
Yep... I wasn't a perfect student!
Well at the moment I’m in Argentina for a year. This is not the first time I’ve lived in a Spanish-speaking country as I was in Mexico back in 2007-08. Mexico really helped my communicative skills and finally put my vocabulary to good use. I failed one of the Spanish modules at university, I’m sorry to say, because I had it in my head that I could simply learn lists of vocabulary and in that way I would be learning Spanish. The results of my first exam soon set me straight there!
But now I’m in Argentina and I think my communicative skills have caught up and surpassed my vocabulary knowledge. So I want to return to a little bit of cold, hard vocabulary work.
Of course, now I think I understand the language learning process a lot better (well at least I should do, I’m a English language teacher!) but I was curious to see how effective such memorization really is and whether I should be encouraging it in my learners more than I do.
So what am I doing?
Well, I thought back to the “30 words a day” that were required of us by the Intensive Beginners Course I took. Could I do that again? I like lists, I like crossing things off lists and, as far as I remember, I enjoyed the process of vocabulary memorization (no pun intended).
Okay then, I’ll try it again.
Then I thought, should I keep it to myself? Obviously not, I’m a blogger, it’s simply not in my blood! I think my students would like to know that I am making an effort to improve in their native tongue. As far as they know, I have little to no Spanish. That approach works well if you don’t want them depending on your abilities in their language but after a while, I think a teacher who doesn’t start learning the native language runs the risk of losing their potential as a role model;
“Learning a language is really difficult – my teacher lives in this country and he’s learned almost nothing! What chance do I have?”
Okay then. So I’ll tell my students about it.
So what do I hope my students will get from this?
There is a rather long list of things here, the main one being inspiration. I hope that my efforts will show my students and really all the students in my school what is possible with a little bit of effort and hard work – this is an issue for these learners as they are mostly children and teenagers.
In the process of collecting 1000 words and phrases I am asking the students, whether they are in my classes or not, to help me. They can email me or they can leave a note with a piece of Spanish and its English translation. This way, I hope I am focussing a lot of the students on their own vocabulary.
I am asking for as many phrases as possible as I want the students to move away from a word-by-word translation which they might not yet realize doesn’t really work. So raising awareness of language chunks is another potential benefit.
A lot of the students I’ve talked to believe that I will need an hour or more every day to learn 1000 words in 30 days. I hope that my success (fingers crossed) will show them that less is more and that a little studying a few times a day will help them to improve enormously. They won’t need to study and study and study for dreaded tests and the lessons and even the exams will all be much easier and perhaps even more rewarding.
Okay, I know the last one there is dream… but I can still hope.
So how does this help charity?
I’m going to be sponsored by the students – at least I hope I am. The financial sponsoring of a person to do something for charity is a big thing in Britain (I’ve run races, worn silly clothes and had ponytails cut off to this end) but apparently it is not so much the culture down here in Argentina. I need to explain the concept to a lot of students who are suspicious of charity that involves money and not objects. Oh well, it’s just another aspect of their inter-cultural education.
Going on a per-correct-word basis we hope that we can raise money and awareness of a local branch of a national charity, Fundación Conin, that helps malnourished children and pregnant mothers in this area of Argentina. Never do something for free when you can do it for charity instead!
Anyway, wish me luck! It’s day five right now, 830 words to go. 😀
If you’ve read this far, please retweet or mention this in your blog or on Facebook. Maybe we can start a trend of sponsored language learning challenges! In fact I’ll go further than that, if anyone wants to join me in a similar endeavour you can comment on this blog or get the word out with the hashtag #ELLchar.
I’ll endeavour to keep you updated on how I do. See you on the other side,