Have you ever been in a restaurant wanting some nasi goreng, but been unable to remember the Indonesian phrase for “I want to order . . .”?
Have you ever wanted to tell a taxi driver to turn left or turn right but been unable to come up with “belok kiri” or “belok kanan”?
If you’re like most language learners, you’ve found yourself in frustrating situations where a word or phrase is “right on the tip of your tongue,” but you can’t produce it when you need it in a real-life situation.
What’s happening here?
It’s quite simple. While the words you’re groping for may have been “introduced to you,” you’ve obviously never had any meaningful interactions involving those words . . . so the words did not “stick in your mind” – they never got “fully entrenched” in your brain.
To illustrate the point:
Imagine that you’re at a dinner party. The host introduces you to many people – Petra, Julie, Paola, Greta, Symon, Samuel and many more. Now, you strike up a conversation with Symon and spend most of the evening speaking with him. When the party ends and you’re saying your goodbyes, you’ll obviously have no problem remember Symon’s name – you had meaningful interactions with Symon and used his name many times - but, chances are, you’ll have some difficulty remembering the names of the other party guests with whom you had no meaningful interaction.
As language learners, we too often think that simply “memorizing” words and phrases will take us where we want to go . . . but it just doesn’t work that way. For language to actually “stick,” we must use the new language we learn . . . in real-life contexts. That’s the only way that the language will become thoroughly entrenched in our minds.
The key to “hanging on” to language learned?
MAKE A CONSCIOUS PLAN AS TO HOW YOU WILL USE ALL NEW LANGUAGE INTRODUCED TO YOU.
For example, if you learn belok kiri (turn left) and belok kanan (turn right) today, you might make a conscious plan to use those terms over and over again, with every taxi driver you encounter, until the two terms begin rolling off your tongue naturally, without any translation process whatsoever! If you learn pesan (to order) today, you might make a conscious plan to use the word each and every time you’re in a restaurant.
Once you’ve used newly-learned words and phrases repeatedly in a given context, they’ll become permanently engrained, and you’ll find that it’s quite easy to begin using them in other contexts.
THE PRINCIPLE IS A SIMPLE ONE:
Nobody ever learned to communicate in a language by memorizing words from the dictionary or phrases from a language teacher.
The only path to fluency is to use all language learned in the real-life contexts in your life. If you make a CONSCIOUS PLAN as to how you’ll use all new vocabulary
in authentic and meaningful ways, your journey to fluency will be a lot more rapid and much more enjoyable as well.