Thursday, March 26, 2009

what to do to stay focused

Thomas has asked a good question in the comment of the last post and I started replying to it there but my reply is so long I think it'd be better to make it a post.

Hello. I thought your TV method sounded pretty cool so I started it with Thai recently (well, yesterday). I'm not going as hardcore as you are, but I'm trying to watch at least one drama episode per day.

Naturally I understand almost zero of what is said in the Thai dramas. My ears are still getting used to the sound and rhythm of the language. I don't expect to pick up many words for a long while yet, so I'm not stressing it. I actually enjoy it. It's mysterious and musical.

Anyway, I have a question. When I watch, I find myself spacing out a lot from time to time. I try to concentrate and really listen the whole time, but it's my mind's tendency to wander away from the mystery talking and towards thinking about everyday things. Sometimes I'll snap back and realize I wasn't really listening to the drama for the past 5 minutes or so. When you watch your DVDs all in one go like you do, does this happen to you too? Any tips on how to counter this?

Hello Thomas! I'm excited to hear you are giving the TV method a go. Right now you are in an adjustment period. It will take some more time before the language becomes clearer and until then it easy for your mind to start wandering. You also will be getting used to this style. That is, instead of being occupied with a task like studying does for you, you will become an observer. You will adjust to this observer mode.

At this early stage, you will observe what is happening. To keep your attention on the story, you can use your imagination. If you see a man and woman arguing, you will just imagine what it is they are arguing about. You will guess what their relationship is and keep your eyes open for clues that will tell you whether you are right or wrong. By the end of the series, you will know more than you did about it when you started. When you watch it again, you'll understand better what is going on and try to look for things you missed the first time.

Another thing to do when you feel like it is to listen to all the different sounds the language has. When you do this, think about how in the world these people can make those sounds. How much air or friction do you hear in each sound? When you find a peculiar sound, listen for it again.

I have heard (or rather read) people say that they need a description of how sounds are made and that they would never be able to get the sounds correct even if they listened to the language for hundreds of hours. Of course, they never tried listening for hundreds of hours. They are the people who give up right away and cling to something which they can "do" in order to give them some sense of progression.

In my experiences, the sounds will sound differently after you have heard them long enough. The sound you may have first thought was just like an English "sh" sound will become distinctly different after you've listened to it long enough. Sounds that are similar to English become noticeably "not the same."

Another thing I did sometimes was to look at the decorations in the background of the scene. How are the houses or apartments furnished? Do dramas always revolve around wealthy people? I also looked at the people in the crowds or walking on the sidewalk in the background. Sometimes you can find editing inconsistencies. Such as, there was a scene where the character in the story was writing on a big piece of paper, and then the angle changed but the paper was small. Just funny things like that are mildly interesting. I was surprised at how many there actually are!

If you want to notice words, you should be able to recognize greetings. Do the people greet each other when they meet or leave? Is the greeting the same? Some languages have the same words for hello and good-bye. What do they say when they answer the phone? Greetings are really a prime example of where a translation is unnecessary clutter. As a beginner, all you need to do is to recognize the fact that it is a greeting. The actual meaning of the words doesn't matter.

In the beginning it is better to not know what each word means so that you don't start asking questions that don't have answers. For example, in English we say, "Good Morning." Now, a student from a language which doesn't talk like this might ask, "Why do you always say good morning? What if it's a bad morning, then what do you say? How come this other guy just says Morning? Why doesn't he say good? How am I supposed to know which one to use? Is one more polite than the other?"

One more thing I tried was to see how well and how long I could hear the language. If you can just hear each syllable and then let it go so that you hear the next syllable you'll find that what is required is an ability to not get caught up on some word. I don't know if this might be easy for you since you don't yet know words or if this will be challenging. The language is kind of a blur in the beginning. It's interesting to notice how the clarity of the language will change for you over time.

So those are some ideas for keeping your attention on the dramas when you don't understand much yet. This adaptation stage is letting your brain know that these foreign sounds are important. Your brain will do the work for you, so just let it happen. Remember, your brain is one smart cookie!

Let us know if you start a TV method blog! Yours would be the first to go from zero knowledge of a language using the TV method.


  1. Keith,

    I found your blog late last night and was so excited, I started watching Thai TV this morning. I tried to start a schedule with watching Thai TV before, but did not keep it up. Hopefully, reading your blog on a regular basis will keep me energized!

    And although I have no plans for a TV learning blog, but I am interested in interviewing you about the TV method.

    I tried contacting you via but my message did not go through so I'll try here instead.

    If you are interested, please contact me via my contact page...

  2. Catherine, view my complete profile. You can find an email address for me there.

  3. @Keith: Thanks for replying to my question. I've since found that my attention is strong for the first 30-40 minutes of a drama and then after that I start daydreaming. Maybe there is some connection between length of time exposed to non-comprehensible input and focus. I tried some of the tips you pointed out and it helped. I focused on listening to sounds rather than guessing meaning and I watched the background more and it helped keep me away from thinking about dinner (or whatever). Thanks!

    I do have a language blog ( and I think I will start documenting my Thai TV method stuff in addition to other posts. It's an exciting experiment for me.

    BTW, I had another question. When do you rewatch dramas? I thought that after I finish the one I am currently on I would move on to another rather than watch it again. But your reply seemed to imply that you rewatch your dramas. How long do you wait before watching a drama for a second time?

  4. Thomas, how long are your drama episodes? Mine are usually about 40 minutes long.

    I'm looking forward to your posts and reactions to the TV method for Thai.

    I have rewatched dramas mostly out of necessity since I had no new ones to move on to. If possible, I think it's best to have sufficient time pass before rewatching a drama. The first time I watched my first purchased drama it took me only a week. Then I started watching it again and it took 3 weeks for me to complete it. I suggest you just move onto another drama if you can. When you have no new ones, then watch an old one.

  5. The drama I'm watching now has 1.5 hour episodes. At first I thought it was a normal 45 minute drama, with a double-length season opener, but I'm on episode 4 now and there's no change, so I must have gotten lucky ;)

    I think I'm good as far as other dramas beyond this one. The youtube user who posted this drama up has several other dramas posted as well. youtube is a great place to go to watch dramas if you don't have any moral objections to watching them for free. The 10 minute video restriction is also good, as it gives you several stopping points if you need to take a breather in the middle of an episode (I do, or else I start daydreaming). My current drama is in nine 9-minute segements.

  6. I wrote my first post about the TV Method on my blog. I will update on my progress/observations/thoughts from time to time. Please check in on me!

  7. I've added it to my list of TV method blogs over on the right side there. Thanks for letting us know! The first post is very interesting! Keep it up!

  8. Hey! I'm working on Swedish with your method. Today will be my first day, and I'm hoping for a success. Anyway, I'll post a link so you can follow me, if you'd like.

    I'm impressed with the idea, and I hope it works as well as I think it will. I think it'll be difficult to try and not look things up. Just listening. ^_^


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