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Book Larnin’

November 8, 2013

I started learning (formally) my first foreign language at five, when I started Hebrew School.  (I obviously knew some liturgical Hebrew before that point, because what JCC Nursery School child doesn’t know Hamotzi by age 4?)  I had to take FLEX – Foreign Language Experience – when I was in seventh grade, to help with deciding if I wanted to take a language starting in eighth grade, and which language – French or Spanish – to take.

And granted, I took five years of Spanish from eighth through twelfth grades.  I also took a year of Latin (God, was that a mistake!) and half a year of Russian (all of which I have since forgotten).

And what I’ve learned from all that… is that the way many schools teach language, formally, doesn’t work for me.

Sometime during my sojourn in San Antonio, Texas, I picked up a “Teach Yourself Esperanto” book.  At the time, I got about half-decent at reading the language, but really didn’t have any practice speaking it.  (Of course, somewhere along the line after that, I got “Teach Yourself”‘s Afrikaans book as well for some reason…)  Maybe it’s the nature of the career I’m in – I tend to learn most things for my job via either online tutorials or through technical books rather than formal education courses – but I find that self-learning seems to do at least decently for me.

And I’ve bounced around a lot between various systems.  I’ve tried “Teach Yourself”‘s more recent books for starting some momentum with my Hebrew, but will admit that I’m not a huge fan, even though I thought they were the bomb back when I started with the Esperanto book.  I’ve done Pimsleur tapes/CDs, but they don’t really sink in without my having something to read to go along with it.  I found “Beginner’s Ladino” from Hippocrene Books when I was looking for something in that language, and I’ve toyed with a few different Hebrew text books.

As you’ve all noticed lately in my updates about the #add1challenge… I then discovered Assimil.

The original, real, motivation for my learning French was fairly simple – I liked the theory of how Assimil works, but the majority of the languages they teach use French as a base.   I didn’t speak any French at all, when I stumbled across them… and so there seemed to be an easy, simple way to prove whether or not they “worked” for me – I could use Assimil to learn French, and if I succeeded (ie: felt comfortable communicating in the language), I could then use the French-based books to try to learn another language.

(For those who have not heard of Assimil – the basic gist is this. You get the books and you get the CDs/MP3s.  For fifty lessons (passive phase), you repeat the audio while following the text, and do the best you can on the written exercises.  After that, while you’re continuing forward in the same manner in new material, you’re also going back and repeating the prior lessons, though you’re expected more to reproduce the language from the translation…)

And so far, I think it suits me.  I’m not going to say that I think I could manage to meander around Marseille, but… I’m certainly feeling like it’s getting me somewhere.

It just goes to show that, for some of us, book learning works better…

  1. Classrooms. Having to read aloud in front of people. *shudder*

  2. My own first serious stage of learning hebrew was repeating phrases I’d re-recorded from a 5-record set onto cassetes, Played them and ‘sang along’ while hiding out in a 1967 VW van in the woods there was an attached book with the course, luckily.. Since then,…, having to be understood day-by-day ; full immersion, as you know, is the best method, although I share your need to see it in a book, confirm the spelling. One of the best gifts I ever got was from my mother-in-law, a thick collection of a thousand historical phrases and expressions and background on when the became a part of the hebrew language and culture. Opened up that secret world when you’re sure the locals know something about an expression that they don’t have time to explain.
    I could go on: Russian (flash cards I made), German (forcing myself to read entire novels, most of which I had luckily already read in English or Hebrew translation.
    I like your point here in this post, and very much agree with you.

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