I spent 13 days in Japan sight-seeing, learning and studying the culture and language. In the days I was in Tokyo to Hiroshima, I learned fluently ten words that after a month I still can say and recognize. The sounds of these words in another language have become synonyms…I hear it and I know.
One of my goals in traveling to Japan was to experience the “fear” and “timidness” my student feel when they are learning Spanish. I put myself in their shoes. I was heavily relying on my cheat sheet to remember what words I needed but after a while I throw it aside and just focused on the words I was hearing the most. After all, I was committed to what was commonly said and not what I believed I should know. I decided on 10 words that I just kept hearing and like magic, they transformed into extended vocabulary. The following words were excuse me, delicious, good morning, hello, good evening, where is?, please, good bye, 1,6, yes, no and thank you very much. I was speaking to natives…slowly and not perfectly. However, they responded. They understood me and they understood that I was a novice. I wanted my students to know that anyone they speak to will understand them and know they are a novice.
Being a beginner is the scariest part of learning a language. I was going to battle the intimidation with an attitude of goal-setting. Each day, I added on a new word so the amount of practice was limited to one new word and very successful. I knew the word from the day before and I piled on the new word. This system of “sheltered” vocabulary which I have done with my students for over 25 years, really worked. My goal was to move as many words to my long-term memory so that I would be fluent in those words. If I heard them, I understood them. I could say them because I knew them. The best part of this experiment was when I returned home and when a friend of mine asked me in English a question, I replied, “Hai.” Yes to me came in more than one form. Real language learning is about using small amounts of language repetitively in different circumstances in order to recall without hesitation.