Language Learning: Keep a little notebook

dscn4605I’ve been in Santiago, Chile for the last two weeks.  I’ll be spending the whole month of January here, teaching a course at the Universidad Católica.

As to language learning, this trip has reminded me of the importance of carrying a little notebook around with me, just in case I hear something interesting or cool, something that might jump out at me.  I’ve mentioned before that one of the secrets to learning a foreign language is to notice the little chunks, the small phrases that people say, trying to join a bunch of words together.  Usually these are phrases that I can say, but not the way that native speakers do.

I’ve been studying Spanish for 30 years, more really, but what amazes me is that I still need the notebook, I still hear new things everyday.  Chilean Spanish is especially interesting because I find their accent difficult to understand.  What the notebook does is it forces me to listen and it gets me to write things down the second that I hear them.  A few examples:

1.  ¿Usted va completo?  – a guy asked the driver of a van if he was already full.  I perked up on the word completo, such an interesting way of asking if the van was full.

2. Voy a marcar mi territorio.  – not that I didn’t understand it, but it cracked me up to hear a guy say that he was going to mark his territory (going to the bathroom).

3.  Esta palabra tiene tres acepciones – looks like “acepciones” means that this word has three meanings, like three acceptable meetings.

I also make annotations about vocabulary and cultural things that I observe.  For example I have learned on this trip that Chileans use the word “casino” to mean cafeteria.  How weird is that?    And if something is boring, they say that it “es fome.”  

Anyway, if you want to learn a foreign language, don’t forget to keep a notebook handy.



4 Responses to “Language Learning: Keep a little notebook”

  1. Tommy Says:

    I agree with the notebook idea and the larger writing down/memory relationship.

    The trick for me, though, is repitition and review, whether it is consistently reviewing a word I have written down in my notebook and can then link to a feeling/experience when I see that word, or even if it is a word I hear all the time but never write down , those “chunks” of speech that native speakers use regularly.

    For example, in Tae Kim’s Japanese blog, he points out that Japanese native speakers often say “あるある” (aru aru) when they want to say like “yeah that happens, sometimes that does happen”. This is a phrase I have heard so many times, I never even thought to analyze it, much less write it down.

  2. John Says:

    True, true.

    I used to have this habit, quit it for years, and then picked it back up again recently. Comes in very handy. Great examples! I’m gonna have to use “voy a marcar mi territorio.”

    Similar to what Tommy hints at, I’m wondering what comes after jotting things down in the notebook. Just an occasional perusal?

    On a related note, I’d love to hear how you feel about SRS.

  3. Orlando Says:

    Combining a little of both Tommy and John’s comments, I have a sense that one of the secrets to remembering vocabulary is to get the words multiple times in different contexts.

    For example, I once conducted a whole series of interviews with Japanese executives. Quite by chance almost every one began his comments with “Nihon dewa…” Even my daughter walks around the house repeating the phrase. We just happened to hear it enough times from enough people.

    The other version is to hear the same word in a variety of different situations (which btw I believe is one of the strengths of
    where they seem to always recycle the same words, phrases or parts of phrases in different lessons.)

    As to what happens after the words are jotted down, it then becomes my job to play around with them and try them out for real. For example, during this trip to Chile I’ve gotten a lot of milage out of repeating “al tiro” every chance I get, which is a Chilean way of saying “right away” kind of like “ahorita”.

    As to SRS, I kind of like the recycling of vocabulary in different contexts more than the rotation and reduction little by little. I guess part of my resistance to SRS is that it doesn’t take into account the frequency with which I need the word or the relevant importance that a given word has for me. At the same time, nobody has time to keep reviewing all the words all the time, so we automatically self select after a while.

  4. Tamara Says:

    I still have my notebooks from Venezuela and Brasil. I should pull those out again.

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