When I first start studying a language with a tutor, many of our first lessons are either scripted (I prepare a short script and practice it with the tutor) or guided (the tutor and I come up with a discussion topic and we work through it with a prepared list of words). After a few lessons like this, however, I like to break away from plans and scripts and try using the language without the help of a lesson plan or notes.
* Is this the first post in this series that you’re reading? Follow this link to learn more about my Hungarian language challenge.
The fifth milestone for my Hungarian language project was to have an unscripted conversation in Hungarian.
What does this mean?
This means my tutor and I either 1) pick a conversation topic and dive in or 2) role play.
You can see some examples of this in the video I shared in my last update here:
About a week and a half before our trip to Budapest, Hungary, I resumed my Hungarian studies and as a part of that, began studying with tutors daily. At first, my tutor or I would pick things to talk about. He would then send me word lists related to the topic, and we’d practice, using the words that he sent me.
For example, he’d send me a word list that included directions and types of buildings (though I had learned many of these in the Navigation and City topics in Drops). He’d then send me a photo of a map and ask me to give him directions to and from different places on the map. He would then give me directions and ask me where he told me to go--if I had followed the directions correctly, I would be able to tell him which building I was in front of.
When I was ready to begin unscripted conversations, however, I wouldn’t get the word list in advance. Instead, we’d dive into the topic and if I needed to know a word, or didn’t understand a word, I’d have to ask for help in Hungarian. Knowing how to say “What is … in Hungarian?” and “What does … mean in English?” quickly became my most valuable language assets.
Unscripted conversations are an effective way to simulate what may happen out in the real world when using your language. They’re useful for getting experience navigating conversations where you might not understand everything.
At this point, I had learned around 300 words in Drops, but I was learning how to put them into context through my lessons. The two combined really reinforced what I was learning--I get exposure and some study time with the words in Drops, and then they were put into action during my lessons. “Right” and “hospital” became “turn right at the hospital”. “Meeting” and “I have” because “I have a meeting.”
Hungarian has cases. This is a grammatical structure I hadn’t learned up until this point and because of this, I certainly make a lot of mistakes in this aspect of the language.
But does it matter?
Not for now.
When I start to get comfortable with the language and know enough vocabulary, I can then take a step back and work on grammar. For this trip, I was fine with only being able to say “I want coffee, please” instead of “I would like a coffee, please” and “meeting was interesting” in lieu of “I thought the meeting was interesting.”
As I continue studying Hungarian, these little mistakes are things I can work on rather than let them get in my way and slow down my progress now.
For Hungarian, I found three excellent tutors who met my criteria. In the two weeks leading up to the trip to Budapest, I had one to three lessons a day on italki to use Hungarian and create as much of an immersion environment as possible at home.
In between lessons, I’m studying vocabulary and going over the lesson material (when I’m not working, of course).
At this stage, I was only using two resources: Drops and italki lessons. It was more than enough. I could go to my tutors for explanations if I needed them and I was learning plenty between Drops and my lessons.
This last stage has shown me that language learning really needs to be counted in hours and not years or months or even weeks. Because I put in several hours a day, I learned more Hungarian the last week and half before our trip to Budapest than I did in any other time in that two month period.
Those hours could have been spread out over a longer time period. For example, if I had done one lesson a day, it would have taken me at least three times longer to accomplish what I did.
And that’s okay. What I did for this project was certainly out of the norm--even for me.
But the same results can be achieved in the same number of hours, even if those hours are spread out over a longer time period. It’s all about those hours adding up, whatever time that takes.
The one thing I find a lot of value in, however, is in consistency. Consistent study is one of the best things you can do for your language learning because by studying regularly, you do a few things:
When I started this project, I was mainly focused on learning vocabulary. I realized though, to succeed I’d need to switch my focus to using vocabulary.
How is this different?
Let’s take the Emotions category in Drops as an example.
When I studied these words in Drops, I was learning the words. But when I use those same words in a lesson, I give them life and create more connections so that I can remember them easier.
I can learn that the word boldog means happy, but if I tell my teacher about egy barát (“a friend”) who is always boldog, I’m transitioning those words from being these things that I’ve learned to them becoming my own.
So how do I do this in practice?
Again, using the Emotions topic as an example. First, I study the words in Drops until they are fully learned. I then let my teacher know that I would like to describe people using this type of vocabulary. Our discussion might go something like this (but in Hungarian of course!):
Teacher: Tell me about one of your friends.
Teacher: What is his/her name?
Teacher: Okay, what kind of person is Kenny?
Me: Well, Kenny is nice. He is often happy. In traffic, he is mad. He is adventurous. During meetings, he is nervous.
Teacher: What about your ideal partner. What is he/she like?
None of the people we discuss need to be “real” people. They can be made up just for the sake of discussion. You can also use real people. It doesn’t matter if the people are real or not real. What matters is that you put the words you’re learning into context.
And what if I get stuck?
Easy! I can simply use the Word List feature on Drops to quickly view all the words I learned for the topic at hand.
What about you? How do you practice new vocabulary? And how do you prepare for unscripted conversations in your new language? I’d love to hear about your processes in the comments below.
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