Reviving a Long-Forgotten Language: Slovak

August 20, 2016

There are special cases when I purposefully diverge from some of the Frictionless Mastery principles, such as a 3:1 ratio of practice to study.

One of those cases is my current attempt to resuscitate my long-forgotten Slovak, which I learned 21 years ago and have partially revived twice since then. Here's what I have done and am doing:
  1. I did nothing until finding a language exchange partner since I believe studying without near-term communication prospects is pointless. Before our first meeting, I listened to my old recordings of language notes and listened to a podcast or two in Slovak just to help my brain start using Slovak again.
  2. The first conversation was painful, and my intonation and speaking style was all messed up. However, with the prospect of speaking again soon, I now had motivation.
  3. I found a better podcast in Slovak and starting listening to it actively.
  4. The second conversation was better. During the conversation I started taking notes of all the corrections that made immediate sense. Things started coming back to me. This vocabulary was all vaguely familiar.
  5. I started actively using the dictionary while listening to the podcast. I made screenshots of the words I looked up which were familiar to me.
  6. At the third conversation I was already speaking at a B1 level. I got excited that I was improving so fast and that fluency was becoming a realistic possibility. During the conversation I continued writing down familiar corrections.
  7. Then I went on an impulsive Slovak language binge. I listened to several long podcasts and did a ton of dictionary screenshots. Then I transferred all the relevant ones to my vocabulary notebook (Step 5 of the Frictionless Mastery algorithm). That gave me 300 new words in a couple days.

Now, if this were a completely new language, I would be breaking my own rules here. Jotting down so many notes (especially from just hearing a recording rather than from a real-life conversation) goes against my method!

Because Slovak is already familiar to me, though, I am able to remember "new" old vocabulary in leaps and bounds. Because of this enormous head start, I can spend so much time listening to podcasts and using the dictionary relative to my speaking practice without going out of balance.

However, I wouldn't have undertaken any of this without regular conversation practice. And there will eventually come a point when I will have recovered most of my former active vocabulary and will naturally shift to a more typical distribution of efforts using the Frictionless Mastery algorithm.

UPDATE: NOV. 26, 2016

Haha, I have to laugh here. I was breaking my own rules and going too far out of my Circle of Command. Luckily, I caught myself in time and never transferred those 300 language notes from #7 above to my language notebook. In fact, I crossed out the entire previous batch of notes as well, as I had clearly gotten ahead of myself. This is a good illustration of what so often happens when people try to revive a language and find their Circle of Command to be far, far smaller than their Circle of Familiarity. It's key to focus on simply getting more language practice and limiting study activities (correcting and transferring notes, making an audio recording) to no more than 1/4 of your total language time.

After 4 lessons I lost momentum and have not spoken Slovak since. For me personally, having Skype conversations once a week with someone in another country is not a compelling enough "stage" (term from book) for serious language learning. So I'm back to looking for a local language exchange partner. The good news is that next year's Polyglot Gathering is in Bratislava, Slovakia, so Slovak practice is now an inevitability.

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