Use your Strengths for your Weaknesses
Learning a language is not easy. For those of us whose parents took us to a new country when we were young enough to pick it up at school, perhaps it was a bit easier! But for those of us who are learning at school, at university, or as adults, it can be hard-work, time-consuming, expensive and at times, disheartening.
However! There is so much value to be gained from learning another language! If you've grown up bilingual, then you certainly have the obvious advantages that speaking two languages can give your brain and your job prospects! Conversely, since you didn't necessarily have to struggle with grammar books and vocabulary memorisation as activities in themselves, you may also have missed out on some treasures. There's a lot to be learned in terms of personal skills such as logical thinking (getting your head around a new grammar system), perseverance (when it all seems too hard), determination (because it's an extemely long process), dealing with embarrassment (when you make a language stuff up) and much more.
In this post, I examine a strategy I employed when learning Mandarin and Spanish that I hope will be of some use to my readers: using your strengths to help you with your weaknesses.
Step One: STRENGTHS
Let's start by thinking about our strengths. I think we can all agree that (no matter how insignificant they may seem,) we ALL have strengths. I want to make it clear from the get go that these strengths can be ANYTHING. They do NOT have to be related to language, or studying, or even the 'academic' part of life.
So let's brainstorm. Take a look at the beginnings of a brainstorm below about what I consider to be a few of my personal strengths...
You can arrange this is in any way you like, and here I've gone mostly for abstract ideas, but you need to extend this as much as you can. The idea is to make this as detailed as possible. Don't censor any ideas - you don't have to share this with anybody! Just think of as many ways as you can in which you feel you have strength, confidence, ability or passion. What are you really good at? What comes easily to you? What do people compliment you on? What do your friends recommend you for?
Remember... it can be ANYTHING! You could be superior at picking hats to go with wedding outfits! You could be good at solving anagrams! You could be very knowledgable about flowers! You could be an excellent swimmer. (Notice I put down that I'm good at making cups of tea!)
Step Two: WEAKNESSES
The next step is to nail down a few things that you are struggling with that you want to improve. From there, we'll pick just one to work with this time around. You can always come back to the other issues later on. (Most people find this list a lot easier to compile than the brainstorm in step one!) In this post we'll look at a language-related issue, but actually this technique is extremely versatile, so take advantage of it for as many things as you want!
My Current Problems with English:
grammar mistakes (minor, but a lot of them!)
limited vocabulary (I've got a good base, but want to learn words for special circumstances)
accent (there are a few sounds I still struggle with ['th'], ['ed'])
Step Three: UNUSUAL CONNECTIONS
Now for the fun part 🤩! It's time to look back at your brainstorm and see what unusual and wacky ideas you can come up with. Be as creative, as ridiculous, as crazy as you like. Take one of the ideas from your brainstorm, and think about how you could connect it to your problem.
Problem: limited vocabulary
Strength 1: Outdoor classes.
Ideas: Record vocabulary I want to learn using VoiceMemos on my phone and then go for my usual daily walk and listen to it on a loop.
Strength 2: Helping out friends.
Ideas: Next time I help my friends out with something, see if I could discuss the subject with them in a Spanish context (I don't literally have to speak to them in Spanish - I can do this in my head). E.g. I'm helping them paint their living room. Could I say, 'Where's the paint brush?' 'Do you want me to use a brush or a roller?' 'Anybody for a coffee break?' in Spanish? If not, make a note on my phone to look up these words or phrases when I get home.
Strength 3: Making up silly songs while doing the dishes.
Ideas: Write a list of 5 Spanish words I want to learn. Next time I'm doing the dishes, go ahead with making up my silly songs (in English) as usual, but try and pop the Spanish words into the song whenever I can. This one is bound to create lots of laughs! All the better for remembering!
For more examples, here's how I have used this technique in the past.
Example 1: 汉字
Drinking coffee when I should be working.
Don't know how to write enough Chinese characters.
Everyday after Chinese class, head to Starbucks, order a humungous coffee and spend an hour doodling characters with the purpose of making up silly stories for each one to help me remember how to write them.
Success rate ⭐️⭐️⭐️:
10/10. You'd be astonished to find out how much easier and more fun it was to remember my Chinese characters when I followed this process. I actually began to LOOK FORWARD to learning characters at my morning coffee date with Starbucks ☕️.
Example #2: el subjuntivo
Scrapbooking and other art projects.
The Spanish Subjunctive. (Those of you who speak #Spanish will know why I have capitalised this one 🤣)
Instead of completing boring exercise after boring exercise from a boring-looking textbook, I bought several cheap textbooks on the #subjunctive, and made a scrapbook by sticking pieces of used paper together to create pages, and proceeding to rip out pieces of the grammar explanations and stick them in. I used felt tips and hundreds of irrelevant and completely unecessary (think polar bears and Minions) stickers to decorate my explanation and practise of the Spanish subjunctive.
9/10. It took longer (arguably) to create the scrapbook than it may have done to simply sit and do exercises or memorise Spanish rules, but I have a feeling I am going to remember it for a lot longer, and through my visual exploration I think I have a deeper understanding of the concept and usage than I otherwise would have.
Let me know your innovative solutions to language-learning problems in the comments or on my Facebook page. I'd love to hear from you 🤜🤛