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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Speaking a foreign language.

One of the major obstacles for many beginning and intermediate language learners is conversing.

Basically, there is only so much conversation that one can muster around the very basic vocabulary and questionable grammar that a beginner has to work with.

In addition, the foreign speaker in most cases, while impressed that you want to learn their language, is not inclined to become your teacher. They, too, have lives and they really don't want to listen to your broken sentences on asking how they are doing, where do they live, and so on.

In addition, what happens after they have answered your basic questions?

They are not going to create a conversation for you.

That is your job.

And if you lack confidence, feel ashamed that your foreign language capacity is not better than it is, that will become a two ton elephant in the room that everyone is aware of but refuses to acknowledge.

It is not enough to say, " I am a beginner. I don't speak Chinese too well."

Everyone can see that. It is not exactly a secret.

So what do you do?

My Russian language teacher, Boris Shekhtman, has a very nice approach to this.

His announced intention with his students is to get them up to near fluency in Russian ( or, for Russian native-speakers, English).

How does he do it?

In a previous post I mentioned that concept of islands.

He helps the student create islands, lots of islands.

These are simply little monologues, written in very simple but accurate Russian, in this case, which discuss a commonly discussed topic.

My family, my education, my work, my musical interests, what kinds of food I like.

Stuff that you can easily work into a conversation with a native-speaker.

We all have prepared islands.

However, most of us don't think of them in this way.

Someone asks you, Why are you studying Russian?

You have a prepared answer of sorts. You haven't deliberately sat down and written it out and memorized it but you could have.

Well, I am learning Russian because I ......

You go on for a few sentences or paragraphs.

As you go on you may ask the questioner about their own experiences.

A conversation, that is mutually interesting, results.

Hence, an island.

The more islands you know, in fluent Russian, the easier the conversation goes.

And, without too much thinking, you are having a conversation in the language.

(to be continued)

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