There is a time in learning a new language when everything “clicks” into place and makes sense.
If you’re using conventional methods, chances are that you’ll experience few comprehension breakthroughs and they’ll be rather short.
Comprehension breakthrough is a linguistic orgasm. There are ways of stretching them and making them more frequent.
Let me explain.
Surfing the edge
Comprehension breakthrough is a magical moment: incomprehensible text (or speech) suddenly becomes understandable, with a few unknown words.
You may have had one of them when you were learning a foreign language. One day a mess of words and grammar become an interesting story; or you understand what a newscast is about, instead of a bunch of sounds.
It’s neglected by conventional education, but at the same time it’s one of the most important stages in learning a new language. Why? It quadruples your motivation and desire to study. You suddenly notice that all those hours haven’t been wasted, and you’re halfway to fluency. It’s exhilarating.
Speed climbing the intermediate plateau
New words again! What do they mean?
Intermediate plateau is simply the level of comprehension when you understand unadapted, real-world material.
Before you reach intermediate plateau, it’s learning. After that, it’s actually using the language. It’s what you’ve learnt the language for.
Once you reach the intermediate plateau, forget about textbooks. Learn the language naturally by reading and listening to anything you like, just like natives do. That’s great!
I believe the goal of learning any language is to reach the intermediate plateau as fast as possible. To speed climb it.
Think of comprehension breakthroughs as of jet engines propelling you to the top of the intermediate plateau.
Stretching and making comprehension breakthroughs more frequent is basically picking proper material, which keeps new concepts (grammar and vocabulary) to a mere 10%.
How do you achieve it? Act like a child.
Children study the language naturally: starting with simple words, they slowly gain momentum and first speak little, ask questions, read simple stories, then start on more serious books and movies. They ask questions all the time to keep low per cent of unknown concepts, making their total input 90% comprehensible.
Conventional language education is different: it presents students with large indigestible blocks of material, raising the per cent of unknown concepts to a high level. When students finally cope with this new material, they are presented with a new, equally large topic. Comprehension breakthrough has no time to manifest itself: it’s drowned by new material.
Five steps to gain momentum
Minilex is a head start into a new language. It is a vocabulary of 300 to 400 most frequently used words and phrases.
Knowing these by heart, you will understand 60 to 80 percent of any text in your target language, and you’ll be able to talk to the locals about simple things. It’s worth learning!
2. Children’s stories
Children’s stories are a great way not only to study simple grammar and improve vocabulary, but also to immerse into the culture of the target language.
Speaking a language is not only vocabulary and grammar, it’s also culture: folk stories, classical books, movies, etc.
Watch cartoons to improve your pronunciation. Cartoons are for kids, so speech is slow, and vocabulary is simple. That’s the way to go for us!
If a particular cartoon is too hard, read a short summary of the story to learn vocabulary and have a background on all the characters.
You will experience a breakthrough next time you watch the cartoon, I promise.
4. Books on your favorite topic
Or books you have read in your native language as translations. You know what they are about, and after fighting several words you are reading the book like a native. That’s an exhilarating feeling.
5. Your favorite movies
Movies are a great source of new words and colloquial expressions, which you can also get from live speech — but movies win every time because you can rewind!
If the movie is too hard, watch first time with subtitles IN THE TARGET LANGUAGE (I can’t stress it enough). You won’t even listen to what the actors say if the subtitles are in your native language, believe me. So only target language. You will know how to pronounce words correctly and to really understand live speech, if you switch the subtitles off.
By following these simple steps you are stretching the precious moments of comprehension breakthroughs by carefully choosing your material.
You save a lot of time which would have been spent on forcing your way through lots of new words in a text that’s too hard for you.
Comprehension breakthroughs are great instruments to measure progress and speed up learning a new language.
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