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16 February 2018

Intensive Language Learning Day

I was listening to some of the materials produced by the Say Something in Welsh people, about how to break a language plateau. One of the suggestions they made was to have an intensive Welsh learning day, modeled after the things they do in their 5 day intensive courses. Which got me thinking: I wonder what that would do if we did it in school with Japanese?

Really, truly, I would love to spend 7 to 9 hours just studying Japanese and doing nothing else with my day. Oh my goodness, the progress I could make! But this is not a season where I can do that kind of thing, not really. But I can do something smaller: an intensive Japanese day with the kids. So I made up a plan and I put it on my whiteboard. I gathered up all our Japanese activities, and figured we'd do them all, all day long.

And that's what we did.

I started with making sure that my favorite YouTube channel was playing while I did yoga and we ate breakfast. It's nothing fancy: it's Minecraft. But when there's Japanese in the atmosphere, we all try harder. I'm convinced that finding ways to incorporate the new language into the regular day and especially into leisure activities that we do for fun is a key to avoiding the student trap: I took 4 years of German, but I can barely say hello. I never integrated it into my day in any way. On the other hand, I had only 3 semesters of Japanese, but my comprehension is growing every day, and I have a fighting chance of being able to have a conversation about the weather. The difference is integration into the day: I create a Japanese language bubble in my home.

So I got Minecraft playing. And pretty soon Miss Kitty was watching. It's really pretty remarkable the amount the kids have learned from just watching different Minecraft channels. And they can use what they learn relatively fluently, too.

I also visited HiNative and got some verbs for using with Simon Says. I'm glad that I went and asked, because every one of the words that I'd guessed was wrong. We giggled a lot when we did this -- keeping all the different things straight was surprisingly tough! I think we need to revisit this one, and practice things some more.

two card war in our intensive Japanese learning day in our homeschoolWe got out our math cards and played war. The boys played two-card war using the math facts they're working on: Draon's doing addition; Hero is working on multiplication. Miss Kitty is still learning to count. And all of them managed to do it in Japanese. That was good for me, too: getting comfortable with numbers in the new language takes time, and Japanese organizes numbers slightly differently from the way that English does it: they put the commas in ever four zeros, rather than every three. Seems like a little thing, but it can really mess with my head when working with larger numbers -- and the way that they do their money gets into bigger numbers pretty quickly, so I need to get there. Eventually. Today multiplication facts were as big as we got, and that was ok.

two card war in our intensive Japanese learning day in our homeschool

I read the kids several of our picture books. Literacy follows books, so you do the same things in your new language that you do in your native language to encourage literacy. Own books. Read them. Reading is a big deal. But reading is challenging, and it takes a long time for us to get to the point where we can read a book reasonably fluently, and get through the whole story. Repetition is fantastic: we all tend to grasp just a little bit more each time we read it. And we have slowly built up to where we have a small collection of the books that we own that I can read reasonably well, and that the kids understand enough to enjoy listening to. I read several of them yesterday. And, even reading familiar books, the kids found words to ask about the meanings.

using picture books encourages literacy in our second language

Hero is doing lessons with Mango Languages, through our library, and he did a good-size chunk of that, too. The best part of that, to me, was when he commented that doing the Mango is helping him to start to catch more of what's going on in the Minecraft videos that we watch. That's pretty exciting -- and making that connection between the lesson and the payoff means that he's more likely to do well at the Mango.

Then, at the end of the day, I connected my computer to the television and we spent some time watching another Minecraft playlist. This one is my favorite one for learning, because they write some of what they're saying on the screen. They also speak relatively clearly, which is important: if I can catch what they say, I can repeat it to the Google Translate app, which does relatively well on 2-3 word phrases. In this way, we can follow what's going on, and we all grow our vocabulary. It was especially fun when the video used one of the words that we'd noticed in the book about the bear.

At the end of the day, I think that it was a pretty successful change of pace. We're all starting to get some pretty bad Spring Fever, but it's not really spring yet, and it's not really time for a real break from school. They say that a change is a good as a rest, and this will hopefully be true for us. Additionally, doing a big day like this helps to underscore the importance learning our language has, and pushes our goals forward at least a little bit. I have these dreams of being able to converse -for real- in our adoptive language. For right now, we're limited to discussing if it's ok to have a glass of milk or not... but that's more than we could do a year ago. Steady work makes for steady progress, and if it feels slow, that has more to do with the magnitude of the project than with the actual pace of learning, I think: there is a daunting amount of vocabulary necessary to be able to say what's on your mind.

We'll get there.

I'm thinking that we may make Intensive Language Learning Days a monthly thing. It was a fun day.

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