I’ve spent some extra time lately speaking French in Second Life. Neither my vocabulary nor my grammar is all that great; about the best I can say is that my enthusiasm will usually overcome my self-consciousness. Today, for example, I got into a (voice) conversation with three or four French people about the U. S. presidential election.
Afterward, someone else talked to me (in text chat) about her desire to speak English as freely as I spoke French. I’m not really that skillful. In fact, we’ve each had about the same amount of formal education in the other’s language, though mine was much longer ago.
That did get me thinking about what I’ve done differently lately, and the results that have occurred.
Which in turn connected with a post I read later in the day at Brains on Purpose. Stephanie West Allen wrote last year about self-directed neuroplasticity: things people do on purpose to increase mental abilities. Her post’s title plays off this expert’s advice:
Pushing myself to speak out loud despite knowing my limits in pronunciation and grammar is an example. Not only do I start to overcome my fears of sounding dumb, but the effort to construct sentences on the fly, and to comprehend what others are saying, works to improve my ability to construct and comprehend.
Allen and her partner, Jeffrey Swartz, make interesting related points in this article (pdf) in Of Council magazine.
They talk about the moment of choice, when you deliberately go against your preference. I did, in a small way, by speaking when I didn’t feel like it. Lawyers, they suggest, can do that by listening when their preference is to speak (or pontificate).
If you experience the powerful urge to open your mouth and talk, you are going to need to begin to develop some new brain grooves, some new synapses. Not a easy as going with the old ruts and grooves, but it is doable and the good news is that it gets easier and easier. Each time you choose to listen instead of talk, you will be developing and strengthening new neuron connections, new listening synapses.
In my own case, I see the need to think about how I’ve been learning, and what I can do to improve that. One of my online French friends and I have agreed to take turns speaking a single language — French one time, English the next. Each of us gets to hear conversation in the language we want to learn, and each will have to respond in that language. So I see this as providing both frequency and focus.
On my own, I’m going to move my French Review and Practice workbook off the shelf and onto my desk, where I’ll see it each morning. Fifteen minutes or so of student and practice can’t hurt — and if I keep track of the things I’ve wanted to say but didn’t know how, then a little dictionary time should pay off as well.
It’s pretty self-evident, I suppose: figure out how you learn, and harness that.
I could plow through one of those Rosetta Stone courses, or sign up at the community college, or hook up with Alliance FranÃ§aise. Each could work, though I’d be hard pressed to get into the city for the AF classes. So I’ll have to go with what works for me.
This may mean, given those brain rules I read the other day, that I have to get the gym higher on my list of daily priorities as well.