Can you be in the driver’s seat when learning a new language?

I am a big believer in discovery-based learning and I just love the Montessori education system for that aspect alone. In the Montessori system, the child is at the driver’s seat and can often choose the next thing that interests him/her. Though there is a teacher in the background with a certain plan of action, the system gives a lot of independence to the child to determine what to learn next and how long to spend on the chosen activity. When I attend the presentations at my son’s Montessori school, I am often floored by Maria Montessori’s novel ideas.

I often wish that a similar approach is available for adults to pursue their education needs, be it learning a new language or something else. When I read the Language Hacking Guide by Benny Lewis, he strongly advocates taking control of your learning from Day 1. Though I agree with his idea in general, I felt that it would be overwhelming to take complete control from day 1. So, I have decided to do a few courses in French so that I can build up a certain language core first (I heard this term from Luca, who is an accomplished polyglot, in one his videos on youtube). After trying a few courses, I settled on Assimil French with ease course as the best way for me to build up a language core in French.

Now that I have done 100 lessons in Assimil French, I wanted to start a new habit to apply what I have learnt. I am not a fan of passive learning. I love active learning – I want to apply what I have learnt so that the ideas have a personal association in my mind. When I learnt English as a second language during my school days, I have found journaling to be an extremely effective way to apply what I have learnt. When I read my own diary after a few years, I could recognize many of the mistakes that I have made and how illiterate my language was, at times. So, I have started journaling in French a few days back as a new habit to apply what I have learnt so far using Assimil.

Here is what I did: I wrote in Evernote about my plan for the day, how the previous day went, my mood at the time of writing, etc. After finishing writing, I pasted what I wrote into Google translate and also ran a spell-checker on it. Whenever Google translate did not translate the French sentences into English correctly, I know that there is a mistake there. Also, I have found a very nice proofreading extension for Google Chrome called AtD which goes beyond simple spelling mistakes and does grammatical analysis. So, with the feedback from both Google translate and the proofreader, I started correcting the mistakes. This pointed out gaps in my knowledge. So, I have googled a bit to fill the gaps in the specific areas that I needed to know and to correct the mistakes. I have done it only for a few days now, but I can attest to its effectiveness. When I look back at my full-page of written text in French, I get such a satisfaction. Moreover, I have learnt from my own mistakes which is very powerful.

Today, I came across a blog post which talks about taking control of learning grammar and it had a ton of extremely useful suggestions. It does even mention journaling as a way to apply what we have learnt. It also suggests that the right time to start taking control is not your day 1 with a new language, but after having done an introductory course in your target language.

Yesterday, I have spent a few hours reading up a lot of blogs on language learning to find some new ideas to improve my learning approach. But, at the end, I was just exhausted as I did not find anything original or insightful. But I must admit this blog post today was very insightful and it has motivated me a lot.

This advice is exactly what I was looking for. Extremely relevant; beautifully written. If you are stuck in language learning after finishing your first course in your target language, not knowing how to proceed, here is the method to follow. After finishing Assimil, I was wondering what I would do next – now, empowered by the clear thought process laid out in this article, I am going to take control of my learning.

Check out the post here and let me know whether you liked it.

Thank you Aaron – Now, I will look forward to your first mail tomorrow on your 10-week journey newsletter. This is the first mail I got from you and I must say that I am very impressed. Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed post and to create an excellent video to explain the method even more.

4 thoughts on “Can you be in the driver’s seat when learning a new language?

  1. sukkurdots March 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm Reply

    A lot to learn from you anna. Keep blogging..

  2. Aaron March 7, 2012 at 8:51 pm Reply

    Siraj,
    Thanks so much for the nice mention in your post. Lots of great thoughts here and I think you have got a lot of great stuff going on here. Keep up the good work!

  3. Andrew (@MrScotchpie) March 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm Reply

    I do think Assimil is one of the few beginner courses, if not the only one, that help students become independent learners rather than learners who simply move on to the intermediate level textbooks.

    Assimil equips the student with the necessary tools to explore the language on their own terms, freeing them from the dependancy on textbooks that more traditional teaching techniques and courses develop at the hinderance of the student’s progress.

    In more traditional courses you move from book one to book two, from the introduction to the beginner level to the intermediate level, and only after several years when you have completed several of these texts and you are at a fairly advanced stage are you encouraged to become independent and approach content intended for the native speaker.

    Assimil is a European publisher and it’s interesting to note how the European standards for foriegn language proficiency do not use the term intermediate but instead refer to “independent user” right after the beginner levels.

    • Siraj March 12, 2012 at 4:44 am Reply

      Andrew,
      Interesting information on the approach of Assimil. I stumbled on to Assimil after I tried a few popular online courses, but I am very happy that I found Assimil.

      Also very interesting note on the usage of the term ‘independent user’ vs intermediate. Where did you find reference to this? I would like to read more about it, if possible.

      And how is your Dutch/Japanese going with Assimil?

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