Learn­ing by Prac­tice用以促学

Special Focus - - Contents - Cai Zhizhong 蔡志忠

To bet­ter adapt to im­mi­grant life, the first prob­lem one may en­counter is the lan­guage bar­rier. Many peo­ple have bought into the same fal­lacy, namely that, af­ter more than ten years of learn­ing English, when it comes time to en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion with the non-Chi­nese speak­ing world they will stam­mer and stut­ter out of fear of mak­ing mis­takes, be­ing ridiculed and los­ing face.

If a for­eign ex­pat liv­ing in China asks for direc­tions in bro­ken Man­darin on the streets of Beijing, the na­tive speak­ers will just en­cour­age him to say a few cor­rect words so that they can un­der­stand what he means and help him. Who would laugh at his kinder­garten Man­darin?

Like­wise, it is just nor­mal for a Chi­nese per­son to speak barely pass­able English when they go abroad. Who would ever make fun of them for it?

I am good at self-study. When I was in school, my teach­ers wanted us to “learn to prac­tice.” But I’ve al­ways ex­tolled an ethic that I be­lieve is more ef­fec­tive, which is to “learn by prac­tice.” No one would ever for­get an ex­pres­sion they have used be­fore. The same prin­ci­ple that ap­plies to learn­ing math also ap­plies to learn­ing a lan­guage— if you’ve used it you will never for­get it.

Be­fore I em­i­grated to Van­cou­ver, the only English phrases I could say were “thank you” and “bye bye.” But I firmly be­lieved in the method of “learn­ing by prac­tice.” If you want to learn a lan­guage, you’d bet­ter move to the place where that lan­guage is spo­ken, as it is more ef­fec­tive to learn lan­guage through daily use.

New im­mi­grants who have just moved into a com­mu­nity had bet­ter not wan­der around alone; oth­er­wise neigh­bors may mis­take them for il­le­gal im­mi­grants and call the po­lice.

So walk a dog around the


When you see a Cana­dian neigh­bor next door, say hi to her.

She may re­ply back, “Good morn­ing.”

Then go to the next house and say hi again.

Your sec­ond neigh­bor may also re­ply, “Good morn­ing.”

Prac­tice “Good morn­ing” two or three times and make sure your pro­nun­ci­a­tion is cor­rect. Then walk to the third door and say “Good morn­ing.”

Your third neigh­bor may re­ply, “Beau­ti­ful day isn’t it?”

Walk to the fourth door and say “Good morn­ing” again.

Your fourth neigh­bor may also re­ply, “Beau­ti­ful day, isn’t it?”

Prac­tice the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of “beau­ti­ful day, isn’t it?” a few times, and when you meet the next neigh­bor, say: “Beau­ti­ful day, isn’t it?” “Where are you from?”

“I am from China.” “Where do you live?”

“I live there,” you an­swer, point­ing to your home.

Your neigh­bor might take an in­ter­est in you and want to make friends, but due to your limited vo­cab­u­lary, you will have to say “Sorry, bye bye,” and go back home. You walk your dog ev­ery day, all the while learn­ing English in the process. Grad­u­ally, your ability in the lan­guage will de­velop.

If you want to learn any lan­guage, of course you need to master a very large vo­cab­u­lary. But be­fore learn­ing that vo­cab­u­lary, you should un­der­stand the truth of mem­ory: You don’t just store away what you mem­o­rize into your brain for safe­keep­ing; you should be able to re­trieve it when nec­es­sary.

The hu­man brain is like a locked drawer— it takes time to lo­cate the key and in­sert it into the drawer be­fore you can take out what you need. The real prob­lem comes that there are one mil­lion keys to the drawer, so the real pain in the neck is find­ing the one you want.

The right mem­o­riza­tion tech­nique is to re­mem­ber how to take what you need out, rather than how to put it in.

As you can imag­ine, if there are one mil­lion keys to the drawer, the big­ger the key is, the eas­ier it is to find. Sim­i­larly, a string of words is eas­ier to mem­o­rize than a sin­gle word. There­fore, con­nect­ing words and mean­ing­ful phrases to im­agery is an ex­cel­lent way to learn vo­cab­u­lary.

I read an ar­ti­cle about vis­ual mem­ory when I was young that said mem­o­riz­ing five nouns that are un­re­lated to one an­other is very dif­fi­cult, e.g., soy sauce, salt, wa­ter­melon, shirt and bath­tub. But they are much eas­ier to mem­o­rize if we com­bine them into a sin­gle ridicu­lous im­age—a per­son wear­ing a shirt is bathing in a bath­tub filled with soy sauce. This is the ef­fec­tive method of im­age mem­ory.

Us­ing this tech­nique it only took me three months to learn Ja­panese. To learn English, you don’t need to mem­o­rize words by rote. Just cre­ate im­ages in your brain and mem­o­rize them, this way it will only take a few min­utes to learn a long string of English words. (From TheGe­niu­sand

theMaster , China CITIC Press. Trans­la­tion: Chen Jiani)

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