The New Curriculum
I think now is a good time to lay out a new study curriculum. It’s halfway through the month, a lot of my thinking has changed in the past several days, and my studying has become a little disorganized.
First, here are my thoughts now about each method I’ve tried or come across:
Educational videos & podcasts narrated in English (e.g. Harry gefangen in der Zeit, Radio D, Mission Berlin)
Fun, easy to stay motivated, but sparse material. Not an efficient use of time, but better than nothing and maybe worthwhile if it also helps to keep morale high.
Podcasts in German with available transcripts (e.g. Slow German)
Very useful if done right. I went through episode 8 about Biergarten using Google Translate and making Anki cards, then I listened to it several more times on repeat one day. Now I find some of the sentences and words pop spontaneously into my mind even when I’m not thinking about it. The sentences seem to be the ones that I did a few Anki repetitions on, even though I haven’t kept up this deck with any regularity.
Dialogues in German or podcasts without transcripts (e.g. Sesamstrasse, German Plus, Culinarcast)
Good for passive listening or slightly uninteresting (because not very comprehensible) active listening, depending on difficulty. If I can increase my comprehension, either by watching the video first or by asking a German speaker to help me decipher it, this could get even more useful.
Anki 10,000 sentences deck
I’ve done about 70 new cards per day on average over the last week, and I think I’m learning quite a bit. I’ve found myself understanding more and more of the sentences that I haven’t even heard before, and I think my ear is getting a little better at telling the difference between, noch and nicht or ich and dich, which can sound really similar when spoken quickly.
Anki – DIY cards
Good if used with discretion. This is a memorization tool, not a language learning tool. I’ve always taken a scattershot approach to Anki, adding anything I think would be interesting or potentially useful, but now I see this has led to a lot of wasted effort. Instead, why not make the deck serve memorization target specifically at transcripts of audio material?
Skype / conversation exchange
Hard to schedule. I haven’t had much luck so far finding willing conversation partners. I sort of dread the idea of trying to have another conversation in German. I like Krashen’s idea that production isn’t necessary at first because it lets me off the hook, but I’m not totally convinced that it’s true. Still, next time I’d like to think of ways to get my partner to do more of the talking. Maybe I can just think of some more interesting questions to ask them.
If I can find a way to record these sessions, they might get even more useful.
Written exchange / texting (e.g. on HelloTalk)
Even though it doesn’t have any listening practice, this has been a great way to learn new, commonly used vocabulary in a meaningful context. It also has the addictiveness of texting going for it. I should build this into my studying, or just keep logging onto HelloTalk.
Reading w/ Ilya Frank method
Potentially useful, but it depends on the contents. The book I’ve been reading, Immensee, seems pretty advanced and full of words I’ll never, ever use. I’m sure if I kept reading I would eventually get the hang of it and be able to read other, similar books, but is that really what I want to learn?
Favorite movies dubbed in German
Good, if I can find them.
So here’s a new study plan for the rest of the month:
10:00 – 10:30 Fun & easy
Start easy. Watch/listen to educational podcasts narrated in English.
10:30 – 11:00 Comprehensible input review
Listen to or review podcasts or videos that I’ve studied before. Slow German, Sesamstraße. Again, the key is comprehensible input.
11:30 – 12:00 Shadowing
Listen to and shadow (see below) a 2- to 4-minute comprehensible monologue or dialogue. Do this for about 15 minutes, and then maybe listen to some new material for 15 minutes.
1:00 – 1:30 Anki listening 1
Anki 10,000 sentences.
1:30 – 2:00 Make more comprehensible input
Decipher and make Anki cards from the transcript of some podcast like Slow German (this doesn’t have to be every day). Do reviews of said cards (every day).
2:00 – 2:30 Anki listening 2
Anki 10,000 sentences
3:00 – 4:00 Conversation
Talking (e.g. Skype) or texting (e.g. HelloTalk)
Later in the day / any time:
- Find more conversation partners
- Scour the internet for German movies or movies dubbed in German
- Watch movies
- Repeat shadowing exercise
- Text with people in German
- Passive listening
This is still four hours total of structured study time, with more breaks built in to reflect the reality that I don’t sit still for that long, and I need to do things like cooking and showering and throwing cockroaches out the window that it’s hard to do while studying.
The Walking Shadow
Shadowing is a language-learning method pioneered and explained by this fellow, Alexander Arguelles:
Basically, from what I can tell, the idea is to learn to speak the sounds of the language while also thoroughly imprinting the contents onto your brain.
He claims that this is most effective if done while briskly walking. It may sound strange, but I liked this idea as soon as I heard it. One key to building strong memories is to connect them to different senses. One way to get lots of multi-sensory input, and wake up your brain and tell it to remember something is to go for a walk.
I had this point illustrated for me just yesterday when I was listening to a podcast (in English) for a second time. The first time I’d listened to it, a week ago, I’d been walking around. Numerous times, during this second listen, the host would say something and then a memory of exactly where I’d been and what I’d been thinking or feeling when I first heard it would pop vividly and involuntarily into my mind.
I’m not sure what part the shadowing itself plays, but I’m willing to give it a try. Also I don’t know why Arguelles suggests the studying material he does, with the facing translations, except that it’s a convenient way to get comprehensible input.