Years ago, I wrote this article about how students could get the best results in my class. Teachers and students (of languages even other than Hungarian) found it helpful at the time. I hope you will, too.
In a Hungarian TPRS® class, the teacher does everything (ie, gives you lots of Comprehensible Input) for you to attain fluency in Hungarian as quickly and efficiently as possible.
But what are YOU expected to do in class? What strategies should you pursue to be the most efficient student possible in a class where you are learning the language through stories?
I urge you to observe…
The Four Golden Rules of Hungarian Class
- Speak Little
- Be Wacky
Now let’s look at them one by one.
RULE #1: LISTEN
Listen, listen, listen. Listen all the time.
The goal is for you to become fluent in Hungarian.
To achieve this you’ll have to listen a hundred times more than you speak. (Like young kids learning their first language.)
Speaking is always a derivative of hearing.
Try not to take notes.
Let the teacher do the writing.
You just focus on the spoken word. The finer the ear you develop for the language, the better the speaker you’ll be.
Of course you will have to see what you hear.
The teacher will write down every word and phrase used in the story. Notes and story text will be available online. You can also take snapshots of the teacher’s notes in class. (The ‘no note-taking’ rule may be more relaxed with advanced students.)
RULE #2: UNDERSTAND
Make sure you understand everything you hear.
Language you don’t understand is nothing but noise.
Listening to understand is the most important thing you should do in order to develop 1) an ear for the language, and 2) the ability to speak it.
Your brain needs time to process and understand what you hear.
I’ll do my best to ensure you understand everything I say in Hungarian. I will try and speak slowly and clearly because it is my job to be clear enough for you to understand everything I say in Hungarian. I’ll write up and translate the new vocabulary for you and show how it’s used in context. I may ask the class to think of gestures which might in a way express the meaning. The class may spend a few minutes playing with gestures. (This fun activity is called TPR.) I’ll do such things establish meaning before starting on the story or while we are creating it.
But what should you do if you don’t understand and get confused? Should you wait and try to figure it out on your own?
When something is unclear and you are losing track, stop me. Right away. Ask me to clarify. Ask me to speak more slowly.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, teachers always tend to go too fast—with the result that students lose track. I may also use a word you’ve never heard and this, again, may confuse you. Stop me every single time this happens. Stop me whenever I go too fast. Stop me whenever I use a word you don’t understand. Do this for your own sake and for your classmates’ sake.
You may think you do a disservice to your fellow students by slowing the class down but in fact you are doing a great service to everyone when you stop the teacher: the other students, even if they seem to be at a more advanced level, need more processing time just as well, and they’ll be happy to have a tiny little break. Clarifying the issue won’t last longer than a fraction of a minute!
RULE #3: SPEAK LITTLE
Speak as little as you can get away with.
Take your time. Never for a moment struggle to speak. Don’t force it. Your brain needs time to process all the language you hear in class. Focus on listening. The time will come when words fall out of your mouth without you thinking.
If you can answer a question with one word, don’t use two.
Short answers are used a lot in natural conversation and the art of using them is easy to master.
When I ask a question and you know the answer, the challenge for you is to answer as fast and succinctly as possible.
I want you to use the minimum possible number of words.
I want a visceral answer, a gut answer, whenever possible—one that is felt, not premeditated.
Please forget any ‘full sentence’ rule you may have heard in other courses.
A single word to the point (or even just a gesture) is the best answer.
Less is more…
And what’s even less than one word?
Nod your head to say yes. Shake your head to say no. Use your finger to point, gesture like mad, whatever it takes to convey what you think without words.
However paradoxical it sounds,
the less you speak now, the sooner you’ll become a fluent speaker. And, by the way, the more you’ll sound like a native.
Your brain needs time to process what you hear. Focusing instead on what to say interferes with this and can be detrimental in language acquisition just as much as it is in a conversation.
Want to be a great conversationalist? Learn to listen well. Want to be a fluent speaker of Hungarian? Learn the language by listening well.
Speaking little helps you achieve your goal of fluency in Hungarian. Speaking little or, in other words, increasing the amount of speech you produce only as you naturally become ready to speak more, has a number of benefits:
- It requires less effort (if any). Less effort = lower stress. Lower stress = more efficient learning.
- It makes you a better communicator. This is the way to go to communicate fast and smoothly.
- This way you also sound more natural, more like a native.
- Using just the one word needed (= the right word at the right time) helps you acquire a feel for stress—not the wrong kind of stress that makes you suffer but emphasis, the most important ingredient to comprehensible speech.
RULE #4: BE WACKY
Contribute surprising details to the story.
We either go to sleep or have a fun time in class. The last thing we want is a story that bores you. If everything is normal, nothing deserves attention. Feel free to be wacky when the teacher asks for a detail.
If someone wants a pet, why shouldn’t it be a huge purple ant with green sunglasses and a red Ferrari or anything? Wackiness attracts attention. You’ll find it easier to retell the story with surprising detail.
Contribute fun names to the story.
When asked for a name, throw in the name of a famous person or someone you know. Names that are easy to understand will help make the story more comprehensible.
All in all, we want a story that we all find compelling. A memorable story. A story that’s fun and easy for you to recall.
If the story sticks, the language will, too.
How about learning Hungarian through stories? You’ll never complain about the grammar.