I have mentioned this technique for advanced learners in earlier articles on Huliganov.TV, but today I wanted to make one article explaining who the Literature Drill is for and how exactly to do it, and incorporate it into a full learning programme stretching from complete beginner to near native.
Who should do the Advanced Drill?
In a sense this is about the most advanced drill that can be done, it is already intended for people who have completed all the grammar that is currently used and who know the top 5,000 frequency words – they have probably studied already exhaustively such excellent learners’ material as the “Using French” series from Cambridge University press, the Mot-a-Mot series or some similar, the Essential Grammars and the Frequency Dictionary series that are produced by Routledge. These in turn sit on top of having studied through a goof introductory course or two like the ones provided by Teach Yourself, Colloquial series and Living Language – some swear by Assimil and also there is a very good resource made by my friend Mike Campbell called the Glossika series. Each of these resources can be placed into your Goldlist. Prior to Goldlisting I tend to recommend front-loading audio only (though that’s not necessary with the Glossika method as there is audio for all of it and audio is part of the method intrinsic to Glossika) and so for most learners I would recommend going through whatever is available on Pimsleur before they even start the Goldlist phase and prior to Pimsleur for the few languages in which they are available, I recommend taking the very first steps using Michel Thomas method or Paul Noble for the three languages he does. Since all of these audio-only courses are not about writing this is all pre-goldlist stuff but helps to have an “inner voice” and a knowledge of how to pronounce the language which would be missing if we went straight into goldlisting a language form grammar books which we didn’t know how to pronounce. For classical languages that’s all there really is, I suppose – you can’t do audio only before Goldlisting Wright’s Gothic Grammar.
So I basically just went backwards along a list of things which a learner would be advise to do. If you don’t recognise the steps I just mentioned and can’t say that you know the sort of examples I gave for French in whichever language you are studying then probably the Advanced Learners’ Literature Drill I am going to talk about in a moment isn’t for you. Not yet, anyway. You’ll get there. Carry on doing the kind of steps for now that I’ve outlined in reverse order above.
However, if you are someone who has basically run out of learning material and you don’t know what to do next short of goldlisting a 20,000 word dictionary (which has its merits, too, quite a few people have done it to good effect but is a task not to be undertaken lightly). After all, most learning material is for beginners, there is some for intermediate learners and some for what they call advanced learners (usually the choice gets smaller the further you get) but for anything beyond the most popular languages you are going to encounter a dearth of learning material at the right level and instead you are going to have to “go live” with your languages, reading the same classics of the language which the natives did in school which will strengthen your cultural link with them and greatly enhance and deepen your feel of the language.The easy way in to using literature is graded readers. Olly Richards, a popular member of the online polyglot community, produced some very simple stories in Spanish which really help you get into reading Spanish for pleasure without needing to worry about literature proper, and also there are short stories available from several authors for learning which have build in notes and vocabulary lists. You can start with a few of these if they are available. But they might not be. For Polish there’s very little of that sort of thing, even though Polish is a top twenty-five language. For a handful of languages you’ll find them, and if you can find them, they will ease your way into literature.
But once you get into a point where you can do the Advanced Learners’ Literature drill, it will certainly be beneficial on a number of levels.
So how do you do the Advanced Drill?
This is how you do it, step by step.
- First, you choose a work of literature which is native to the language you are learning. On the one hand it will benefit you to choose something well-known among the speakers of the language which is regularly quoted as part of their culture. Of course the more you delve into the “classical” end, the less you are going to sound colloquial and modern. Choosing in English if you are a learner of English, of course something like Shakespeare’s Hamlet has produced more quotations and references in English speech around the world today than just about anything outside the Bible, but you don’t really want to model your English on 17th Century English or most people will find it less easy to understand you. I have a good friend who cannot get through a conversation of two minutes without dropping pearls from the Scottish play or King Lear, but these pearls are cast before the proverbials in the case of most of the people he gets to speak to.
- It helps if the piece of literature you are choosing is fairly modern therefore and also popular among the people you’ll be talking to. I have known a lot of people use the Harry Potter series in English to improve their English. This actually works as long as you don’t yell “Expecto Patronem” in the queue at the post office. The only deer you’ll get is the old “dear” in front of you turning to give you a funny look and muttering something about the youth of today.
- Make sure whatever piece you have chosen has an audiobook version of the original you can get hold of, and a good translation into your own language. Get someone who is a native speaker to check that the actor reading the piece in the audiobook version has an accent and diction worth copying (not all do) and it does help if men use for this purposes audiobooks read by men and women take audiobooks read by women. It enhances your ability to model on the actor’s voice mentally. Make absolutely certain you are buying the unabridged version of the audiobook and an unabridged translation, as well as having an unabridged text version of the original work in text form. You should also check before finally deciding on the work of literature to use for the drill that the translation into your language is an accurate one. Some are too “artistic” with the translator using their own creativity to maximise the art of the piece at the expense of literalism. I mean, this even happens with modern translations of the Holy Bible, so what chance has Sapkowski got?
- OK, so now, having made a considered choice, you have an unabridged audiobook read by an actor/actress of your own gender preferably with a voice you like and have checked is good for you to emulate of the work in hand. You have also got a text copy of the unabridged original work (maybe with notes and vocab, but not abridged) in the original language (preferable a book made out of real paper, unless you are a total Kindelite, the method will work in Kindle but you’ll need to improvise) and also a translation of the book into your own language or a language you know better than the language of the work which is the language you are learning. You also need a goldlist bronze book, which hopefully you already have. How Goldlist Method works is the subject of many articles and so I won’t talk about what that is here.
- You start by playing a chapter or part of a chapter if it is more than 15 minutes to yourself. If you have bought the audiobook on Audible you have the advantage of being able to make this initial reading at a lower speed, but really the very first hearing should be at natural speed, 1.0X times the recording speed, as Audible puts it. See what you can understand of the work taken first at natural speed. Don’t worry if you don’t understand most of it. You have the tools to work on this with you so relax and enjoy the sound of the language, and the actor’s rendition.
- If you understood most of the audio the first time around then there may be no need to slow it down, but if you are using Audible you can slow the audio down to 0.5X, which means half speed. It’s pretty self-explanatory in the Audible apps how to do it, it looks one way in the Android version and another way in the Apple version, but the same function is there in both. Give the portion of audio a listen in the slowed-down version. If the audio sounds grotty make sure your settings in Audible are to download in high quality rather than standard quality. You’ll see this option in the download settings under the settings button in the app.
- If you listen two or three times to a fifteen minute piece so that you have already started to understand some of the things you didn’t get on the first listen but are still puzzling other bits out, unsure if it’s a word or expression you don’t know or do know but just can’t recognise it from the reading, then it’s time to get the book out and read it. If you understood most of the audio you may be in a position that you can almost skim the reading part, just looking for the words you didn’t get, but I would advise that you don’t do so. Instead, you might like to read the text out loud shadowing the actor, that is read along out loud with the actor. This is a pronunciation drill without par, and now you see why I suggested taking care you have an actor whose voice is copiable for you, similar to your own, but recommended as a good diction in the language by a native speaker. Again you can do this more than once if you are not happy with the first time, but as with everything connected with my methods I don’t go in for endless repetitions, so make two runs your absolute upper limit. You will underline in the reading each bit you couldn’t get from the audio alone and the things you’ve underlined you can transfer to the headlist of your goldlist at the end of the session.
- There will be some of the things you underlined which you still don’t understand, or are not sure you have understood. Hopefully though you are not getting more than two or three of these per paragraph or it may be that you will find that the progress through the work will be too slow for you to enjoy the work for its own sake, which is what we hope to achieve also in this whole exercise. If you find that you are hopelessly lost, maybe you have chosen too “flowery”an author to start off with and need to make a new choice. To avoid this, it’s good to ask natives prior to settling on a piece if the language is too difficult or not. You ought to avoid as a learner works which even natives find hard, although that’s a general rule which can be broken by those who know what they are doing. One Russian lady I knew as a boy fell in love with James Joyce and translated Finnegan’s Wake into Portuguese. That’s not for everybody. But let’s imagine you had read lets say Ulysses by Joyce in your own language and were so fascinated that you had a burning ambition to read the original. Well that will work very well in this drill but progress will be slow as you will have numerous underlinings of the sort that the J.K. Rowlings fans have a much more manageable number. You deal of course with this issue by consulting the translation into your own language.
- When using the translation, which you should only do after the audio listening several times and the reading of the original unaided with a pencil in hand (or whatever Kindle users have for this purpose) you are well advised to read the whole portion and not just cut to the piece you didn’t understand. Why? Because sometimes you think you understood something but it actually means something else or has a depth of nuance which you will only really get when the translator brings it out for you. The problem is, that translators are quite capable of adding their own nuances. Today, for example, I placed in a polyglot group the request to translate into participants’ languages the phrase “Most of what we get to hear is lies. It is as if the whole world were nothing but a competition to see who can be the biggest liar” – most of the translations were faithful, and interesting nobody took issue with the sentiment at stake, it seemed to be nothing new to these wise people, but here and there some people played with nuances and produced something similar but slightly different. These translators “personalised” the text. I liked how they did it, don’t get me wrong, but as a learner you must be on the look out for this also when doing the advanced drill. So when you read the translation in your language and you notice a nuance or flavour you didn’t get when you read it in the original, ask yourself and analyse if the difference is because the target language really does have a layer of nuance you didn’t get, or if you misunderstood a word, or if the translator has simply used artistic licence. This also will enable you to become a better translator. This part of the Advanced Drill is very similar to the translation classes we did at Cambridge. We did them in a class and discussed them, there is nothing wrong with you trying to bring the Advanced Drill into a social setting also, but even if you have no language learning partner and it is all internal dialogue, the translator becomes your sparring partner and really helps you develop into the most advanced possible understanding of the language. This can take you to a level of education in the language beyond that of the typical native once you have done it for enough material. And of course the drill will get faster and faster as you keep going with it. If you really disagree with the translator, THEN resort to a dictionary, but use the translation first in order to keep up a good tempo and not become a “dictionary slave”, as we used to say.
- Of prime importance is to make sure than all the underlined pieces and the glosses from the translation are transferred over to your Headlist in your GoldList Bronze Book in the usual way. You may wish to wait until you have more than 25 so that you can transfer them across from your paper book or the original where you made the pencil notes 25 lines at a time, as you will be used to when making Headlists. You then distill them over the coming months in the usual way.
- It may be interesting when developing your “ear” for the language to listen to the original audio again after the elapsed distillation period, when you have already just done the distillation of that piece. This is a good time to use the speeded up verions if you are in Audible with the high quality downloads. You can choose 1.25Xor 1.5X – no point in going faster than that as it will not be natural. (the 2.0X and 3.0X is to help people find their place, even natives cannot listen comfortably at these speeds) This will challenge your brain to start expecting to receive this language at a faster rate of delivery. I would save that part for after the first and second distillations, though.
- Carry on through the whole book and enjoy it, then choose another title, maybe a more challenging one, and repeat the process. You will find that in the months ahead your accent will improve out of all recognition, your listening ability to the language will also improve and the effect of reading means that you not only read more fluently but you write more fluently. You will possibly find that if you do this enough it might even get you speaking without full immersion (if not then doing it will still help you get the most out of full immersion later). Learn also about the authors and their lives. You can of course use other things than novels and plays – you can do exactly the same with history books or books about business and personal development – I used Prof Robert Cialdini’s “Persuasion” in an English club once to good effect, as one example. Books like Cialdini’s have the advantage of being available in translations a lot, but the only audio I found on Audible was not the classic book. Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people”and many more are however available, and make a good alternative to belles lettres to people who want to use the drill but never liked artistic literature and don’t even use it in their own language.
Enjoy the drill and enjoy the ride!