What gets retained

After my long learning episode on Friday, I didn’t manage to do any yesterday, but I thought about stuff. What I could remember and what I couldn’t. And I can totally remember phuying (apart from all the diacritics) and dekphuying – woman and girl (google translate tells me that dek means child – so girl is child-woman). I can remember reux for boat. I am much shakier on man, boy and bicycle, and I wonder whether it’s because I didn’t write about learning them – I didn’t reflect on my learning. I also didn’t seek out their transliterations – and seeing the words written down in a familiar alphabet has helped enormously.

I am making connections with other sounds, other languages in which I have dabbled. I know (explicitly, not implictly) that man and boy sounds a little bit like ‘slušaj’, pronounced ‘shloosh-eye’, which is Serbo-Croat for listen, in the command form, I think. And bicycle sounds a bit like what I remember being Arabic for thank you – shukraan.

There’s a theory which says that the more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn new ones. I wonder whether my experience with listen / man and bicycle / thank you is tapping into this. I have already met, and internalised, sound-letter combinations with which the typical monolingual English speaker would not be familar. Weirdly, too, both ‘slušaj’ and ‘shukraan’ had been well and truly dormant until those new words woke them up.

As for those verbs, though – they’re totally gone. I know I did six verbs – sit, stand, walk, run, lie… I can’t even remember what the last one was. I still remember that lie is palindromic – has a ‘n’ I think, and sit ends in a ng. So again – I remember the things I wrote here.

I did some Memrise on the alphabet again this morning, and was rubbish again. But now I’m thinking: ‘man’ and ‘bike’ might both start with the same letter in Thai if I’m lucky. And I’ve done one of the ‘s’ sounds in Memrise. I think it looks like this:ช (an aside – these letters are so bloody small! The twiddly bits are minute! What on earth were they thinking when they invented this alphabet?).

So I’m developing a strategy. I am going to cross-reference llingo, with the new letters I learn in Memrise, helped by Google Translate (even though I don’t quite trust it), and do some writing down. I am going to note the letters I think I might have learned, and when I learn a word which has those letters in it, I am going to write it down. This is all very explicit though, and not very automatic. Is this explicit, methodical approach to learning the basics going to set me on an explicit, methodical path to learning more generally, or is it going to faciliate a more automatic, implicit learning, once the foundations are laid? Because I’m an experienced language learner, and I’m floundering, and feel like I need more structure.


Image result for thai ruins

Natural and man-made. And Thai right in the middle. Can this grammar-translation fan get herself learning implictly? Is it even possible to deliberately learn implicitly?


Author: Kedi Simpson

I'm a teacher of modern foreign languages in a UK school and have nearly finished my Master's in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition at Oxford University. Former journalist, doula and childbirth educator.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s