A while back I wrote about how I was inspired to learn Welsh and set a reasonable goal for myself: 10 new words a day.
It's been going well. I do study vocabulary for 30-45 minutes every night before going to bed, using a spaced repetition system to ensure that the words are actually memorized and not just skimming the surface of my brain.
The reason I am learning a new language is to have conversations. Drilling vocabulary doesn't do much to move me toward that goal. Yes, the vocabulary will be fantastic to know when I understand how the language works, but it doesn't actually help me much in learning the stuff that will lead to conversation skills.
So I went searching the web for another way to learn that would help me with hearing and speaking. I found a site called SaySomethingInWelsh.com. Unbelievably, it's free to download mp3 files of every lesson. I've put them all on my iPod so I can study while I walk.
This course takes a totally different approach than others I've seen. They start out with very little vocabulary, just enough to teach the workings of the language itself. And then, I am required to practice using the language. A lot. Each lesson teaches a new aspect of the language using the very few words that I know. It requires me to speak out loud to practice creating dozens of useful sentences. This ensures that I know how to apply each concept before moving on to the next one.
So far, I've covered:
- speaking about my actions (I am doing)
- talking about ideas (I like, I want, I can, I try)
- verb combinations (I like trying, I want to try)
- speaking about another's actions (you are doing, you want to like doing)
- asking a question (are you doing?, do you like doing?)
- answering a question, positive and negative (Yes, I am doing, No, I am not doing)
- some helper words and how to use them (how, what, something, nothing, it)
- simple future tense (I will do, you will do)
- simple past tense (I have done, you have done)
- mutations, specific to Welsh, but very important to listening. Some words are pronounced differently after other words.
- just about every combination of these ideas (will you try liking to speak?, I have enjoyed trying to do, etc.)
And I've learned all of this in spare time over about five days. Every time a new concept or vocabulary word is covered, I am drilled on ways to combine it with the ideas I've already learned. It reinforces the old ideas while teaching the new ones, just like using spaced repetition for vocabulary.
There is one big trick to using this course, and it's the pause button. The way it's structured, they describe a new concept and then help you to understand it by asking you to create new sentences in Welsh. They say a phrase in English and give you time to say it in Welsh before you hear it spoken correctly by two different speakers.
I learn very slowly through listening, so when I tried to create and say the phrase in the time they allow, I felt like I was running a marathon. At the end of 15 minutes, my brain hurt and I just wanted to give up. And then I discovered that I could pause the recording and give myself time to think. Now, a 30 minute lesson takes an hour or more while I walk in the woods. I do that same lesson two or three times before moving on to the next. And each time, I use the pause button less and move on when I grasp it "well enough." I know the new ideas will be reinforced during the next lesson.
This course is changing the way I think of Welsh and building my confidence in my ability to learn it at all. It really looks to be the missing key to becoming conversational very quickly and giving me the framework that will make my vocabulary useful.
If you're learning a new language, I highly recommend a system that teaches speaking and concepts first with vocabulary later. It works!