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Thai (lack of) progress

Okay, so we are now two months into 2012, and my Thai study is going nowhere very slowly.

This has been a very interesting exercise for me, both from a learning point of view, and as a way to test out my theories regarding how best to study a language. Now, it has been very clear to me from observing my students that learning preferences and habits are extremely personal and vary widely among individuals. Some of my students take to internet drills, some like reading, some spend hours writing journals, and some, despite my best efforts, do nothing.

I am definitely not a self-directed learner. I like the idea of input, but at the end of the day I need the structure and encouragement provided by a teacher, a class, or by actually living in a foreign language environment.

Come to think of it, I have done all my language learning under one or more of those conditions. This is the first time for me to try to learn a language on my own, outside of a place where it is spoken. It is not going well.

There are many examples of successful language learners who have succeeded under similar conditions. Khatsumoto for Japanese, or Steve Kaufmann for all sorts of languages. They rely on masses of input, supplemented with judicious use of SRS (spaced repetition system online flashcard applications). I completely agree with the approach, and see great results from those of my students that follow my advice. So what’s my problem?

I have been listening to the Learn Thai Podcast materials, which are pretty good, but in all fairness are nowhere near adequate to take me to Thai language mastery. I need a foundation of basic phrases to provide a base, then a huge amount of input supplemented by the ‘teaching’ in the podcasts, as well as conversation practice/tutoring once I get a bit better.

I have three fairly serious issues I need to overcome first:

1. I can’t read Thai yet. This is a huge hurdle because it is preventing me from getting input through reading (probably the best way to get lots of input fast)
2. I haven’t found good sources for input (radio, videos, music)
3. I haven’t found anyone to help me with Thai or hold me accountable for (not) studying

It’s fairly clear what I need to do.  I need to learn Thai phonics and the alphabet. I need to find videos, TV, and music that I like and make sure I spend a chunk of time each day with it. And I am going to need a teacher or class to keep me focused. That last point is particular to me. I tend to get distracted and lose interest in things, so I need an external motivator to help me.

Okay, round two. I’ll keep you posted.


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David Lisgo’s new card games

I am a big fan of David Lisgo‘s work, especially the Switchit card game.

Recently he has made a new set of card games based on verbs. Unlike Switchit, which is similar to UNO, these are more like a combination of Go Fish and Happy Families or Rummy.

There are nine sets of cards:
-three sets of irregular past simple verbs
-three sets of regular past simple verbs
-three sets of present continuous verb

Play is simple: players are dealt a number of cards and they try to collect sets of four by asking other players: if the other player has the cards, they hand them over; if not, the asking player takes a card from the middle (like Go Fish). Play continues until all the cards are gone or the time is up.

One caveat is that the game if played in full can take a long time: I have found setting a time limit or removing cards or sets from the deck helps speed things up.

Our students enjoyed the new game and I liked it very much as well. Students are talking a lot more, using full sentences, and getting a lot of practice with verb forms. These cards are a great addition to a teacher’s toolbox.

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Are we stealing dreams?

Seth Godin, who is an internet/new media/publishing/idea guru, just published a manifesto aimed at starting (or continuing) a conversation about the future of education. Very much in the same vein as Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk on the same subject, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?) is a 30,000 word ebook that is currently available for free. Based on his previous work, it’s probably worth your time.