In high school, I was in the shooting club. That’s right, people. I spout all this peacenik-sounding “why can’t we all just get along” nonsense, but…I used to like guns. Too bad they get used for so much bad stuff. Maybe one day we can load them with software so they can only be used to shoot…cans and Basques </running joke> or something…Might make good paperweights.
Anyway, I’ll never forget the words of the club master/coach/adult supervisor. Wait, back up, before I even get into that, it always struck me as kind of ironic how some of us kids in the shooting club had major beef with each other, but it never occurred to us to use the…OK, I won’t even go there. I promise. I’m through being controversial.
Where was I? Oh yes: I’ll never forget the words of the club master when he gave us advice on how to get good at shooting — i.e. increase our accuracy. Combined with all the (potentially very zen/yoga-sounding) advice on how to breathe, how much air to have in the lungs at the moment of firing, how to relax and focus and stuff, he told us this:
[The key with practice is to do it] little and often.
And, I’d like to think that this is what the overall AJATT practice philosophy is, at the level of execution: little and often. What is little? Lots of nice, small, manageable, winnable chunks. Why often? I don’t really know; neurologically speaking, Piotr Wozniak (creator of SuperMemo) suggests that the fundamental mechanisms underlying human memory are designed to prioritize frequently occurring natural phenomena. Fine muscular skills like shooting are probably no exception to this.
To go slightly deeper, what does “often” mean, really? Simply that the time between chunks should be as small as possible. OK, here comes the magic that is perhaps unique to the skill of language. Take those little chunks…and then decrease the time between them to 0 or near 0. At this point “often” becomes “all the time” and you have yourself and immersion program.
But now that “often” is 0, it can be easy to feel lost, like you’re swimming in a cesspool of your own ignorance. That’s where little games like timeboxing, SRSing and sentence-picking come in. Make yourself as many silly little games as you want…whatever entertains you and keeps you in the loop. Watching YouTube clips, watching short clips of several movies you like (this is the massive turnover idea — the turnover is massive but the pieces are small).
Most of us are adults, or at least pretend to be; almost all of us have some unavoidable exposure to languages other than the one we want to be learning. That’s fine. The key is to get back on the horse as soon as possible. Don’t let the water go cold, get the fire back burning hot and bright again the moment the wind dies down. We may not be able to erase the gaps, but we can minimize their length. Forget your guilt about whatever time you have let pass; it’s gone. All you need to do is focus on how you can get moving again, how you can get back on the right track (*Chris Farley arm movements*).
You don’t have to always be on the defensive: don’t stop at just trying to keep your little candle in the wind burning. Become a pyromaniac: set fire to the things around you. Go on the offensive — try interleaving your target language into your daily life even in situations that don’t welcome it with open arms; like weeds in concrete, let it come up through the cracks of even the toughest environments; let it soak in there like AIDS in a California bathhouse. Also…Basques <parsing error>?
I used to work cleaning buildings in college and walked to and from campus uphill both ways through 12-foot Rocky Mountain snow with the wind blowing in the opposite direction…we weren’t allowed headphones and it’s not like I could read on the side. But we were allowed overhead music. Guess who managed to get them to play Dragon Ash and other sterling Japanese bands?
I took a road trip with extended family; they don’t speak Japanese — yet; I can’t ignore them for the whole trip (actually, they were always really supportive about the Japanese thing and would have gladly let me ignore them, but I didn’t want to) — what do you do? What do you do? I played Japanese music in the car, and not just any Japanese music, but Japanese music that sounded just like their favorite English bands (they like folky 1960s stuff like The Carpenters and The Doors, so I played them ゆず/Yuzu).
There’s always a crack, there’s always something short and sweet you can do. Find your own piece of little and often.