Language learning: a jigsaw puzzle
By Kip Cates
How do you visualize learning a language? What image do you use to think about English? In my experience, many students see English as a mountain — a mountain of vocabulary and grammar that have to be memorized in order to speak English well. If you compare English to Mount Everest, it certainly makes the task sound long, hard and dangerous. There's always the possibility you'll freeze on the way up, run out of oxygen or fall and break a leg. Not a very positive image!
For me, learning a language is more like doing a jigsaw puzzle. When you buy a jigsaw puzzle, you begin with a sense of excitement. You look forward to getting to work on it, you put aside time, and you anticipate the fun and challenge of the task.
Before you start, you check the picture on the box to visualize your goal. Next, you take out the pieces and examine them. They come in different colors and shapes. One by one, you put them in place, checking each time with the picture on the box. Some pieces fit together and you start to see connections. As you progress, your excitement builds as the picture slowly comes into view. When you finish, you have the satisfaction of enjoying a beautiful image that you created yourself.
Learning English should involve the same excitement, challenge and satisfaction. The English jigsaw puzzle consists of five types of pieces: grammar, situations, functions, topics and styles.
1) The grammar pieces form your foundation. Each piece represents one grammar point: past tense, present tense, pronouns, adverbs... One by one, you pick these up, study them, then place them on the table.
2) The situation pieces show key situations you need to master: in a store, in a restaurant, in the hospital. Each has its own vocabulary and expressions. One by one, you study them — hotel English, airport English, telephone English — and put them in place.
3) The function pieces deal with speech acts: how to greet, how to invite, how to agree, how to complain... One by one, you study these and add them to the puzzle.
4) The topic pieces deal with common themes that people talk about: the weather, sports, hobbies, movies, family, news... One by one, you study each topic, practice, and place it on the table.
5) The style pieces deal with English varieties: formal, informal, British, American... One by one, you study and add these as well.
A As you complete more of this English puzzle, the excitement builds, the pieces connect and a beautiful picture starts to emerge. Piece by piece, your English improves and you feel a sense of satisfaction. Of course, it's OK to work on your own. But, like a real jigsaw puzzle, it's often more fun to work with family and friends!
Shukan ST: June 10, 2011
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