In the Beginning . . . there was Conversation

Over the last few weeks here at Language Studies Indonesia, our Instructors have reported that a number of our beginner-level Bahasa Indonesia students have been requesting "additional reading materials."  


Apparently, it's the belief of some of our students that more reading will help them to develop their vocabulary and fluency at a faster rate.


In response to this, we'd like to tell our beginner-level students (and all prospective Bahasa Indonesia learners) that excessive "reading" does NOT lead to the rapid development of language skills in the early days of your education.


In the early stages of your Bahasa Indonesia training, the "secret" to picking up the language quickly is NOT to increase your reading.


The key is . . .

HOURS AND HOURS OF AWKWARD AND STRENUOUS CONVERSATION WITH PEOPLE BETTER THAN YOU IN THE LANGUAGE.


There are two important reasons for this:


1.  Language is something that needs to be processed, not memorized.

You don't need to be a language expert to figure out that staring and memorising a word or phrase in a book 100 times will never stick with you as well as being forced to use that word or phrase in conversation a mere two or three times.

Our minds place more priority on memories which involve actual human and social experiences - memories that have emotions tied to them.  For instance, if you look up the Indonesian verb “mengeluh" ("to complain”) and use it in a sentence with a new friend, chances are you'll always associate that word with that specific conversation you had with her.  Whereas, if you blow by that same word 20 times in a book and don't actually practice implementing the word, it will mean nothing to you, so it's less likely to stick with you.


2.  Expanding your vocabulary too quickly and too soon is a waste of time and effort.


After the first 100 words, you need to focus on becoming conversational (before anything else).


Not all vocabulary is created equal.  There are some words and phrases that give you a far better return on investment than others.


Studies have shown that the most common 100 words in any language account for 50% of all spoken communication.  The most common 1,000 words account for 80% of all spoken communication. And the most common 3,000 words account for 99% of communication.  


In short, there are some serious diminishing returns from learning more vocabulary.  We have students who probably only know 500 to 1,000 words in Bahasa Indonesia. Yet, in most conversations, they never need to stop and look up a word on their phone.


In LSI's beginner levels (Foundations I and II), we introduce our students to "basic grammar" which gets them forming fundamental sentences within a matter of days: “Where is the restaurant?”  “I want to meet your friend.”  “How old is your sister?” “Did you like the movie?”


The first few hundred words will get you pretty far.  Use them to get comfortable with Indonesian grammar and idioms, and, before long, you'll be constructing thoughts, expressing ideas and telling jokes on the fly.


Once you’re able to joke consistently in your new language, then and only then will it be time to expand your vocabulary (through reading or any other means).

Until you're comfortable with basic conversation, there's simply no point to grappling with heavy reading material in an attempt to pick up the higher-level vocabulary of, say, economics or medicine.  This makes absolutely no sense, and, in the end, will only confound and slow down your progress.


We do understand that the desire to jump ahead and get to your destination quickly can sometimes be hard to resist . . . but it's essential that you be patient with yourself and take things one step at a time.  Once you've developed the foundational language skills you need at the beginner levels (Foundations I and II), there will be plenty of time for complex reading and vocabulary development at the intermediate and advanced levels.


Selamat belajar, happy studying.

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