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5.1. Going on once you're a basic speaker


You'll have many months of language learning yet ahead of you. During those subsequent months, you will use the techniques described here less and less. More and more you will be learning the language through informal conversation. You may be able to be in an immersion situation, perhaps living with a family. You can probably become a basic speaker and learn more language with less trauma if you do not attempt your immersion experience until you have developed a bit of communication ability in your secure nest. At that point it will be ideal if you can spend several months in an immersion situation. You may have heard that it is better if you begin living in an immersion situation even before you have learned very much of the language. Actually, that may slow down your initial learning, and it will add unnecessary stress to your life. Once you're a basic speaker, living in an immersion situation will be a blast. When you don't know very much of the language at all you'll get far less benefit out of it. There will be exceptions. For example, if the entire group is monolingual in its own language, and confined to its own communities, then you may need to begin your language learning immersed in one of those communities. I would still attempt to make a lot of tapes, possibly even video tapes, of easy to understand language, well scaffolded by pictures, objects, and activities.

Once you are a basic speaker, a fair bit of your ongoing language learning will happen as a result of informal exposure to the language. You will want to use all the means at your disposal, including print media and electronic media, if such media are used for the language you are learning. But you will also want to continue regular sessions with one or more LRP s. During these sessions you may engage in a wide variety of activities. Here are some examples:

  1. If print media and electronic media are used for the language you are learning, you can go over these with your LRP, discussing parts you have difficulty understanding. Or you can give oral summaries which the LRP can correct or confirm. For example, you might read from the newspaper, or have the LRP read to you out loud from it. Or you might make tapes from TV or radio and go over them in your language sessions.
  2. You can go over other tape-recorded materials you have collected. These may be discussions of various aspects of the local culture, accounts of recent events, speeches, sermons, stories, etc. You can listen to these together with your LRP, stopping the tape whenever there is something you do not understand, identifying what you don't understand and why. Needless to say, at this point all of your discussion is in the language you are learning. It is probably best if you do this with an LRP who cannot speak English or any other language that you know well.
  3. You can continue to record your own free speech, either in monologue (for example, you may tape-record yourself telling your LRP a story) or dialogue (for example, you may tape-record yourself and your LRP having a conversation regarding a topic of importance to you), and then you and your LRP can go through the tape-recording together. The LRP can point out your mistakes. When you were first trying to loosen up your tongue, I recommended that the LRP not correct your countless mistakes, as that would throw a monkey wrench into the communication process. Now, however, you are interested in identifying the types of mistakes that you make while speaking.
  4. You can write original compositions in the language on any topic you wish, and the LRP can help you correct and improve what you have written.

During this period of ongoing language learning, it is good if you can devote from twenty-five to forty hours per week to language learning. This may be divided roughly into thirds. One third can be time spent with your LRPs. One third can be time spent in informal visiting (your sessions with your LRPs can be designed to feed into your informal social visiting), and one third can be time you spend working on your own, listening to tapes, reading, planning, reviewing, etc.

See Thomson (1993b) for an in-depth discussion of language learning for non-beginners.

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