Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One bite at a time

I'm teaching a crash course---one year of Spanish in two weeks for a homeschool student. I encouraged him to study a few minutes at a time, several times per day. "Just ten minutes!" I said. "In your car, before you go into work. Then review a vocab list as you eat lunch." Learning language in small bursts works better than trying to do marathon study sessions when you're already tired. Many times, students think it takes a four hour chunk to get any work done.

When I was writing my dissertation, which ended up being 300 pages long, a friend told me two things that helped me get a handle on the project. She said: "eat the elephant one bite at a time;" and she also said something about "mommy sized chunks." These two mantras got me through a difficult application process for an organization that I wanted to serve; and they got me through a doctoral dissertation that seemed like a monumental task. Marla Cilley, the author of the book Sink Reflections, encourages people with messy houses in a similar way: "baby steps". Whatever your slogan, it helps to be reminded that learning language happens one word at a time.

I have noticed I absorb more when I digest small chunks of information. Try learning 20 new words by reading through the list several times a day for 3 days. Cramming is torture, but creating routines helps us feel organized and in control. The progress is measurable and steady.

I encourage students to consider their day and find a few wasted moments where they can practice language. A list of phrases, a verb conjugation, or a short reading assignment wrapped around your cell phone in your pocket can make learning Spanish a priority in your life. You'll never feel bored if you take advantage of those windows of free time. Don't grind your teeth while waiting in line. Smile and study! You'll be amazed how much you can get done.

No comments: