About the program

100 Dialogs Therapy: an approach to attain conversational fluency (April 10, 2009)
 
 
The approach was developed in an attempt to create a language immersion environment for people who otherwise are not exposed to a variety of native speakers in day-to-day situations, but who wish to improve their conversational fluency. It has been my observation that often times new immigrants come into the country already having some previous - sometimes substantial - exposure to the language - usually in the form of highschool and/or university language programs. However they often still experience significant difficulties speaking and understanding the language in regular day-to-day communications with native speakers despite the fact that they may already have some knowledge of grammar and often extensive vocabulary that would be otherwise sufficient to carry on a regular conversation. "So what's the problem?" - I asked myself.
 
I discovered that simply learning vocabulary may help us understand written materials but it does not automatically allow us to fluently converse in day-to-day life, contrary to a popular belief. Saturating your mind with foreign words and grammar rules somehow does not translate (no pun intended) into conversational fluency. Apparently our mind is set up in such a way that the vocabulary we learn through traditional learning methods (by memorizing words or using flashcards) gets stored in a long term memory (like a database) which is searched through whenever we run into a visual image of this word (printed in the newspaper, for example). We see the written word, then we recognize it and then our mind searches our "database" for the meaning until it finds the match - that's how visual recognition works. However, I have reasons to believe that this method becomes ineffective when it comes to real-time speaking and understanding. I think this is what happens:
 
Searching through the database in a manner described above takes time. Maybe a second or two to find the match. When we have some printed text in front of us 1-2 seconds is not that big a deal. It allows us to line up all the words we need and then understand the entire phrase. However, when we hear the same word in a conversation and our mind launches the same mechanism one second to find a word is just a bit too long. As a result we miss the train of thought, then quickly find that we lose the thread of the entire conversation and that often triggers fear of misunderstanding the other person which in turn often shuts the brain down completely.
 
Often we find that if we have a dialog before our eyes in a printed form we have no problem understanding it. However when we hear the same dialog in a conversation or on tape we often feel completely lost. Matching the visual image of the word with its meaning is what our mind is conditioned to do but it becomes extremely difficult when you can't actually see the word (or phrase). That's when I think our mind stumbles and that's why it takes longer for it to process it.
 
This time becomes critical when we have to respond immediately. How can we do it then? Here's what I think happens. I think there's something like a cache or RAM (using computer language) that our mind has where it stores operative data that are immediately available to us. Those are phrases and verbal consructs on the "tip of our tongue". In order to reach conversational fluency and be able to respond immediately in a direct day-to-day communication we have to have that cache filled with phrases and colloquial formulas readily available and in the amount sufficient to carry on the majority of our every day conversations.
 
I believe that in order to attain conversational fluency in foreign language we have to fill our mind's "cache" with words, phrases and idioms that account for the majority of our day-to-day conversations. They have to be literally on "the tip of our tongue". Plus we should be able to recognize each phrase in its entirety momentarily without digging into our long-term memory.
 
Note 1: It's important to remember that we are not talking about reaching deep and profound knowledge of the language in general. Our focus is mainly on discovering ways to improve our basic conversational fluency in a foreign language.
 
Note 2: I am not trying to pretend as if this idea is brand new. There are other programs that are built around the concept of speaking and listening versus memorizing dull academic texts. The focus is on building contextual dialogs that are relevant to a person's day-to-day life in the country they wish to immerse to.
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