Looking for an opportunity to practice your French? Here’s an idea: talk to yourself.
Talking to yourself is taboo if you fear the slippery slope to insanity. But pluck up the courage, and you might just find you start enjoying it.
Why talk to yourself?
Much of what we learn is through experience solving problems. We do it all the time. Open a vacuum pack of coffee for the first time and the grains fall all over the kitchen work surface. Ten packs later, problem sorted.
In language learning, the equivalent of spilt coffee grains is not being able to say stuff. We may have the words, but not the grammar skills to put them in the right order, or the pronunciation skills to articulate them properly. Or we may simply not have the words.
All this is grist to the mill. And you don’t have to wait until you are with a native speaker to have these experiences. Just start talking to yourself and see how far you can get. Whatever you cannot say is your new language learning agenda.
The experiential learning model
David A. Kolb coined the term experiential learning to describe this approach to skill acquisition. He broke down the cycle of learning by experience into a four stage loop: Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualisation, Active Experimentation.
Here’s an example of how it might work in practice.
Experience. You are telling yourself about your day in the office when you discover that you find it very difficult to say the word « la réunion »
Reflective Observation. You may be surprised that you find it difficult to say this word, not least because it’s a word that you hear all the time and have no difficulty understanding. You feel the need to analyse the problem.
Abstract conceptualisation. The similarity with the English word reunion (which is pronounced very differently from the French word « la réunion ») may have created an erroneous reflex. English slides from one vowel to another whereas French has clear distinct syllables for the adjacent vowels é and u. (You can confirm this by consulting the International Phonetic Alphabet transcription of the two words. English: \riːˈjuːnɪən\ French: \ʁe.y.njɔ̃\ The single dots are syllable breaks, double dots are stretched syllables). It’s the juxtaposition of the vowels sounds which is causing the problem.
Active Experimentation. You glean some sample sentences from authentic French texts that contain the word « la réunion ». You ask your teacher to send you a recording of them so that you have a model to work from. You practice with this model and keep checking with a native speaker that you’re getting things right. You drill yourself under the shower, when you’re walking the dog or on whatever private occasion you get.
Experience (2). You are telling yourself about your day in the office and you discover the word « la réunion » trips off the tongue.
Am I really going to do this?
So much effort on just one word may sound disproportionate. But make progress on micro details and the benefits will spread to all your communication.
It is very difficult to learn by experience entirely on your own. You maybe unaware of your own shortcomings and so need them pointing out to you. And a good trained teacher can help you conceptualising problems and showing you solutions.
But that still leaves plenty of progress that you can make on your own. Make a start by putting the shower on and drilling with the word « la réunion » using this link to the Brainscape flashcard application.
(You will need to log in to Brainscape to download these flashcards. Brainscape has a premium Pro version, but you can use this deck with a free account).