[This is a continuation of Taylor's blog series where she details some of the week-in-week-out lessons that she learns through her Arabic studies and coaching work together with me. For other posts in the series, click here.]
I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a hard week for me. Our homework load is heavy at Qasid, and it means most days I go straight from class to work to homework. On a big picture level, I'm trying to keep my head above water by maintaining perspective that studying is a privilege and it's not every adult who has the flexibility (thanks to the nature of freelance journalism and independent contracting) to go back to school.
On a more detail-oriented level, a few strategies are making me feel more orderly about my studies. One of my recurring issues that that I often feel so deep into tedious grammar that getting homework done is less about comprehending the subject and more like squirming like sightless creepy-crawly that by trial and error finally happens upon ground level. That doesn't do me much good, so when I see that feeling coming on, I try to stop and find a resource, like my grammar book to remember some basics, like what's the actual meaning of the pronouns I'm using or what again are the meanings associated with each verb wazin. If I'm going to take an hour to write out verb charts, I can take an extra ten minutes to make sure I understand, even if it's a fleeting understanding, each line I'm writing.
Some of Alex's tips have helped me make more of the time I have in the classroom and independent study:
- Sped up my anki card-making by using the cloze template and by challenging myself to have fewer clues (i.e., not searching for pictures or a perfect simple sentence with a new word, but mostly using the Al Kitaab and Qasid's Ammiya course's sample sentences and audio). This has meant a lot -- it means I maintain a lot of my Al Kitaab and Ammiya vocabulary from my supplementary course in my day-to-day reviews. Also, I notice many of my classmates using Quizlet, and it is indeed tempting when we are short on time. Al-Kitaab vocabularly has already been uploaded many times over so I could download a premade deck, but usually it's just in translation (i.e., an Arabic-to-English flashcard with a single word on each side). Making my own Anki cards certainly takes time, but I get a lot of reading and listening done in the process.
- (A note on Al Kitaab: A high point for me is continually realizing that the textbook is well designed and routinely feeding back to me vocabulary I've already seen. I study each chapter's new vocabulary by looking through their sample sentences in the answer key / read aloud in the audio CD; even if I think I don't understand a sentence at first glance, about three-fourths of the time I am able to figure it out if I read it again or listen to their slow, deliberate pronunciations. Gabriel Wyner talks about the power of the "ah-ha!" moment in language learning, or, straining a bit without any outside help from a translator and finally being able to call up the meaning to a word to which you've been exposed. It may sound simple, but it means in practice: Don't run to a dictionary each time I don't understand a sentence. And it's been key to how I've been able to keep recognising a good bit of our new vocabulary which would otherwise be like pouring sand into a sieve, given the volume of work we do.)
- When I have trouble speaking in class, "plan spontaneity." My teacher starts each class by asking each individual student how their days have gone and what they have done; I'm using that as an opportunity to come up with any sentence slightly more interesting than, "I did homework" and try to put a new verb into practice. Also, when time permits, I glance ahead to the exercises on our syllabus for the next day so I can have an idea of what they are about as soon as we open the page to them.
- Setting a stopwatch to see how long my homework is taking me and tracking my time spend on various language learning activities each day (reading, writing, watching TV/videos...). This doesn't necessarily speed me up, but it does, if I'm pooped out by the end of the day, give me a sense of how I spent my time after class and work. As Alex predicted, I'm spending the vast majority of my time on reading and writing exercises, which is fine at this stage, though I want to change that in the future.
- I paid extra attention to the ten verb forms and the patterns used to derive other parts of speech (like the masdr, the ism fael, and the ism mafaul). My initial instinct had been that it was nice to appreciate these patterns but that it would certainly be a mental overhaul to try to systematically memorize them. Alex called the wazin the base of the Arabic language, and even if I don't have them memorized, I am seeing that recognizing some common patterns and being able to derive meaning from them is useful (like, "this is the masdr, it looks similar to a conjugated verb but it's a 'verbal noun' and is often coming where I expect a conjugated verb.")
- Plan language exchanges with topics and questions beforehand. I meet with a friend from my weekly running group for English-Ammiya exchanges, and we chat throughout the week on Facebook about what we'd like to talk about. It means everything to have a compass to guide us through what the other may be saying.
[If you're interested in coaching for your own language study, click here to find out more information.]