In today’s episode of Language Diary, let’s imagine that we’re planning to live in a foreign country for a period of time (maybe a year or so) – what’s the first thing that comes to mind if you’re planning to learn the language as well? Situational phrases! (Well, for me that’s what comes up at least.) Today, I want to share a story of me using Korean in real life (which brought about this episode), some difficulties we often encounter learning situational phrases and expressions, and how to overcome them.
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How to Survive in a Foreign Language
Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of Language Diary. Today we’re going to be talking about something a little more useful / applicable, instantly usable when using languages. As the title suggests, we’re going to talk a little bit about the difficulties of moving to a foreign country, what you can do to survive if you’re going to be moving to a foreign country.
If you have the opportunity, if you have a bit of a window of time before you move to a different country – what’s the first thing you’ll do when you attempt to learn a language? (Assuming you have some fundamentals down.) The first thing you’ll prepare yourself to do is to handle various situations, for example, the common ones would be going to a restaurant, shopping at the groceries store, buying a train ticket, something like that. We need to have enough vocabulary to survive. Those boring phrases, phrasebooks, situational dialogue materials finally get to be used / be useful to us as learners!
So today, that’s what I want to focus this presentation today, which is how to survive and how to learn situational phrases and vocab and dialogues. Just to kind of share with you guys where this came about, I was actually at the Korean grocery’s store [maybe you guys have different terms for it…?], they sell all kinds of things. So I was there, and I was thinking to myself, “well, I’ve learned Korean, but I don’t really get a chance to use it, use Korean in real life, so this is the perfect opportunity to use it!” So I got the stuff I wanted to buy, I got 김밥 (kim-pab), which is the Korean seaweed rolls, and I think that’s all I got.
So after I did that, I lined up, and it was my turn to pay. And I was saying, “안녕하세요” (an-nyeong-ha-se-yo), and then the clerk [again, you guys might call them differently!], the person behind the counter was speaking in very rapid Korean, all the phrases were very short, and I found myself cringing at the thought that I’ve learned Korean for such a long time, and I still couldn’t hear what they said. And it was this huge revelation / wake up call for me and I thought to myself, “there needs to be something a little more, on our part [as learners], and perhaps on the part of people creating materials to learn languages to help us get through these situations because it’s really hard”.
I mean, there’s only a couple of possibilities in terms of what they’re going to say. For example, behind the counter, I think she was asking, “do you have a points card, do you need a bag, how are you going to pay?” That’s it. So I actually had the vocabulary to answer, but I just couldn’t hear, it was just so fast. So that was what triggered this presentation and I want to share with you guys why I think learning these situational phrases is a hard thing, and a couple of things we can try to get over these challenges (not that I’m saying I’m very good at them, I’m horrible at them, this is possibly my worst area in language learning, hands on, so this was another reason I wanted to do this presentation and share it with you guys).
So, why learning situational phrases is hard. First off, like my experience at the Korean groceries, they’re usually very fast. Imagine – you’re in a queue, you’re in a restaurant, someone’s taking your order, or you’re buying a train ticket, there are lots of people lining up behind you, they have to be fast. So you can’t expect people to speak in a standard way, speak slowly, and be patient with you – it’s just not going to happen. So the first reason.
Second of all, there are usually fixed expressions. And these expressions are usually never, ever covered in books, unless you [‘re lucky enough to] find a really, really practical handbook that gives you these up-to-date phrases that are used in today, in this day and age. Usually doesn’t happen, as you guys probably know.
Third of all, we can’t really practise them. I mean, who are we going to practise them with? You can’t just run down every time to a local Chinese restaurant [for example, if you’re learning Cantonese], just to practise your Cantonese – it’s not going to happen!
Maybe you’re learning a language and there’s no restaurants or establishments in the area that speak that language.
Reason #4, phrasebooks are very, very generic – they give you a bunch of vocabulary, and phrases – AND they’re fairly standardized, when in reality, the phrases people use behind the counter are going to be completely different to what we see in phrasebooks.
And of course, last but not least, these situational dialogues, courses, they never cover cover everything.
So these are some of the challenges. In response to that, how can we get over these situations?
What can help us is that is usually, because these exchanges are so rapid, or maybe not because, but these changes are usually rapid, but the good news for us is that the good things that usually come up are usually short questions, and they’re usually questions that are within an expected area. For example, “what movies do you want to see”, “how many tickets do you want”, “are you buying for adults, or children” – it’s all very standard. So you can probably guess, with some context and maybe some body language, and all that. And if you don’t know, if you couldn’t hear the first time, you can always say, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that again?” in the language you’re learning. So we’ve got that going for us.
But there are a couple of things that I would recommend trying to prepare yourself before you go to these situations. I know this sounds really [corny], but I feel that in situations like these, for example, when I was using a dialogue course back in the day when I was studying French, I would try to imagine that situation in my mind while reading the dialogue out loud, while following the audio, if I had audio. Having that visualization really enables these phrases and vocabulary to really sink in, as opposed to us just reading them and glossing over these new phrases and forgetting about them later on. Putting a little bit of effort to imagining the situation or ourselves in the situation, can really increase the stickiness of these phrases.
I would recommend against breaking down the phrases in terms of syntax, grammar, structures and all that. Just remember them as is. Come with a list of things you need, ask someone how to say them, and memorize them and just use them, because a lot of the times, you’re going to have a lot of these fixed expressions that aren’t going to fit neatly into these rules you’ve learned about the language.
This one I feel is really important, if you have audio available with these dialogue courses to listen and repeat, listen and repeat, until you have them, you know them like the back of your hand. Strange as that expression may be, “the back of your hand”. How many of us actually know what the back of our hands look like? Anyway, I digress. So there’s that.
Number 4, don’t try to remember all the specialized terms, for example, when it comes to food, there are so many dishes, so many variations, and some people like to give them [dishes] artistic names – how are you going to remember everything? You can’t, right? But what you can do is to remember atomic words, for example, ways of cooking, like stir fry, fry, pan fry, deep fry [why am I just thinking about frying], steaming, boiling – these terms you can learn about them. You can learn spicy, bitter, sweet, sour, savoury. Terms like these, you can learn – they’re going to be the same everywhere.
Finally, I know this is fairly obvious, but if you do have the opportunity to use them, as I did with Korean at the Korean groceries store, by all means, use them, this is what you’re doing all this for. And this is good practice, even if you stutter, and you get into a bit of an awkward situation where you don’t understand each other. And you can always revert back to English or your native language, if you want to, and if they speak it.
So those would be a few tips I’d share. That’s about all I wanted to share content-wise.
The language challenge for today is very very close[ly related] to this. This is just a random scenario I picked. Imagine you’re going to the cinema, with friends, or by yourself, if you like watching movies alone, that’s cool as well, imagine you’re going to the cinema, and you’re at the ticket booth, and visualize what happens when you usually go to the cinema to buy tickets. Come up with five questions and answers you might use when you’re buying a ticket, translate them, or ask someone else how to say them, and practise them, visualize that scenario and practise using these phrases and hearing these questions until they become second nature.
So that would be my challenge to you for today.
Okay, thank you so much for tuning in and as usual, if you haven’t already done so, I would really appreciate it if you could subscribe to the channel, if you’re watching this on YouTube, just click on the red button below, and the bell button after you click on the red button, to receive updates. As usual, if you have any questions, comments, thoughts or you just want to drop by and say hi, I welcome you to do so by leaving a comment below in the comments area if you’re on YouTube.
Thanks so much once again, and I’ll see you guys next time. Alright, take care guys, cheers.
Imagine yourself going to the cinema, and you’re at the booth. Visualize what usually happens when you buy a movie ticket, and come up with five questions / answers you might use. Translate them, then practise them out loud until they become second nature.