When learning a language I usually spend a lot of time listening to and reading it, and as a result become at least reasonably proficient at understanding it in speech and writing. In most cases though, I don’t spend as much time speaking and writing it, so my speaking and writing abilities tend to lag behind my reading and listening skills.
For example, I can remember quite a few of the phrases and even whole chunks of dialogue from my language courses, and can recognise and understand them when I hear them or read them, and perhaps also use them in speech and writing, if the context permits. When I try to talk about things not covered by the courses though, I quickly find that my vocabulary runs out and I struggle to construct my own sentences.
Of course I can look up any words I don’t know in a dictionary, or ask a native speaker, if one is available, and this is fine for isolating languages like Mandarin as you can just stick the words in the appropriate place in your sentence, as long as you know that place. In synthetic languages like Czech and Russian though, you have to apply the appropriate inflections to the words, at least you do if you want to speak and write them correctly and to be understood, as I do.
So I think I need to do a lot more practise making my own sentences in the languages I’m working on – currently Czech and Breton. I could start with simple sentences from my language courses and other sources and change and/or add bits. For example, a simple sentence from my Czech course (Colloquial Czech) is Jsem student (I’m a student). I could change the person of the verb: Jsi student (You are a student), the number: Jsme studenti (We are students), or the tense: Byli jsme studenti (We were students). I could change the noun: Jsem lingvista (I’m a linguist), and add over words to the sentence: Jsem líný lingvista (I’m a lazy linguist), Jsem líný lingvista z Anglie (I’m a lazy linguist from England).
I can check these sentences by searching for them in Google to see if anyone else has used them, or something similar. That’s also a good way to find texts related to what you’re writing / talking about.
It’s probably best to start with simple sentences, and once I can construct them fairly well, I could try linking them together. Another exercise that might be useful is to take a paragraph in one of the languages I’m learning and to focus on one particularly type of word – nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. I could just try to identify each type, or change things – for example, the tense of the verbs.
Do you do anything similar when learning languages?
This post was inspired by a video on the FluentCzech channel on YouTube which discusses a similar way to learn languages – constructing simple sentences in your L2, translating them to your L1, then back to your L2.