I cannot help myself – it is too tempting to use a moment from my favourite ever (comic) movie as a Post title.
With all due respect to the late great Marty Feldman, not only have I found my hump, I am embracing it.
What I mean here by the “hump” is that moment where you feel as if you belong in the new language. As I am an overly optimistic learner, this may not be at the same point where you might experience the hump. But whenever it comes, it is a great feeling.
I used to talk about three levels of competence:
- “Yes”, “No” and look interested in whatever the other person is saying.
- Order a beer or a glass of wine
- Survive half a day in the target language without getting a headache.
Where does the hump sit in this scale? Somewhere about 2.5. Realistically I should say about 2.3, but the feeling – that sense that the language is achievable, that you can start to truly communicate and to understand other people – this makes it feel more like a 2.9.
Suddenly, I have reached (if not yet gotten over) the hump in four of my five languages (and I have been inspired to take the extra step in the fifth.)
In Chinese, we are nearing the end of Level 3, which has largely been revision of Levels 1+2, with a little new vocabulary thrown in. But I am starting to be able to respond smoothly and appropriately. The nicest sign is the surprise of my teacher when I can answer a question (or translate a word.)
Hindi (after tweaking my program to allow for the purchase of a book+CD-Rom combo) has finally started to produce some written conversation with my colleagues in India. Real communication – that’s the name of the game.
Polish has been a steady progression – I am now at Lesson 67, and have had the occasional (imperfect) conversation at my Polish deli.
Arabic lessons are now onto the third textbook. After learning the written alphabet and working on basic introductions and grammar, the new vocabulary is starting to accelerate. With a solid foundation in place, the opportunities for expansion seem real and right in front of my nose.
Korean? Well my study-buddy has passed his English test to be able to apply for Permanent Residence status. This has been a pretty strong focus of our sessions. Admittedly, I have been lax in trying to practice any Korean language with him. But now I am seriously considering following the Hindi model, buying a book+CD-Rom and using this to kick-start some real conversations.
OK, that’s a nice little shopping list of “Where are we at?” But more importantly, how does it feel?
It feels amazing. After several months of sporadic slog, three weeks of hiatus (see previous post) and then about three more weeks of effort, I can suddenly feel it beginning to work.
What was just a collection of words, letters, grammatical concepts and cultural notes, is coming together to become a conversation, a mindset and a sense of flow. When I want to “switch on” a language, there is something there. Obviously not very comprehensive, but a starting place; introductions, queries, requests. The building blocks of communication.
This is why it feels like 2.9 on the levels of learning. I feel (delusional optimism, I know) that if I were now dropped into the relevant linguistic environment, I would have a strong enough foundation to be able to start absorbing. If I am not at Level 3, I can see the way there.
The goal now? Use this sensation to work more, get more practice and begin the accumulation phase – more vocabulary, more structures and more ways of learning and understanding the new language.
Once you are over the hump, you begin to pick up speed.