Warming up

It’s generally a good idea to do a bit of warming up before physical activity, especially sport. It also helps to do some warm up exercises before playing a musical instrument – I usually play a few scales before launching into other pieces on the guitar and piano, for example – and vocal and physical warms up are a good idea before singing.

I wonder if there are equivalent exercises you could do before using a language you’re learning. Speaking is a physical, as well as mental, activity, so some warming up might be useful. Maybe this could involve practising the sounds of the language at different pitches and speeds, putting them together in various combinations and just playing about with them a bit. You could focus on particular sounds or combinations that you find challenging. It could also involve going over very familiar phrases and having mini conversations with yourself. Maybe it could also involve playing with inflections, playing with verb tenses, noun cases and so.

When I was learning the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), I found it helped me to sing the different vowel sounds at different pitches. I haven’t tried this with particularly languages yet, but might give it a go.

Do you do anything like this? Do you think it is / would be helpful?

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6 Responses to Warming up

  1. Adrienne says:

    The idea makes me think of shape note singing, where musical notes each have a shape; it’s supposed to facilitate learning to read music. You could fairly easily make a system where sounds or tenses or what-have-you correspond to certain notes… I think if you have any musical background in addition to language learning this might be especially appealing.

    I’ve been learning some Portuguese using Mango; I usually go very quickly through the previous lesson that I’ve already done as a sort of warm up & memory refresher.

  2. andreb says:

    Interesting question and a great idea – I wonder if there are a set of mental exercises which are particularly helpful, I’m quite sure there would be but I have never heard of any research on it or anything. Learning IPA (and basic linguistics) is immensely helpful to language learners for practical reasons, though.

  3. David Eger says:

    I quite often talk to myself in Welsh whilst walking to my weekly Welsh class. I don’t suppose that’s quite what we’re getting at.

  4. Simon says:

    David – that is the kind of thing I mean. I do the same – talking to myself in a language if I know I’m going to be speaking it.

  5. Mig says:

    Our German teacher at university would have us warm up before oral classes by wobbling our cheeks and lips about and saying exaggerated German vowels. It was a bit of a laugh but some miserable souls hated it with a passion.

  6. David Eger says:

    That’s the trouble with cheek-wobbling exercises and the like – some people hate them with a passion, and being made to do something you hate with a passion doesn’t really help you learn.

    There may be something to be said for practising exaggerated vowels though. I have noticed in language classes that some people seem not to hear the difference between the sounds in the language they are learning and the closest approximations in their own language or, at least, seem unable to replicate what they hear. This can sometimes be despite having a good grasp of the grammar and voabulary, and even a high degree of fluency. In my experience, language teachers do not often spend much time on the finer points of pronunciation.