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Learning a New Language with the Clicker

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A young student, who has requested anonymity due to her youth, wrote us recently about a major school problem she solved with the clicker. She is in an international business program and was having trouble, in her first year, with a required course in French. She found the language difficult, and in addition she had missed quite a lot of school due to illness. "The more lessons I missed, the more I hated French; I couldn´t imagine how I could learn all that stuff." Soon she was actually finding ways to skip school on days when she had French.

Luckily she had an understanding teacher who forgave her absences; but when final exam time came, she had to take the test to get a passing grade. She found herself, two days before the important French test, confronted with 20 pages of words and phrases she had never seen before (plus a lot of grammar.) "My classmates had about 45 lessons and I had had only seven all semester."

Here is how she solved the problem with the clicker

She used the rules for behavior chains. Each behavior chain consisted of about 10 words; she started with the last word on a page and worked her way up the page. (She never practiced the words jumbled up but says that didn't seem to matter).

"I looked at a word and wrote it two or three times. When I did it right I clicked and reinforced myself, mostly with praise. If I had made a mistake I simply wrote the word again, and clicked at the instant I correctly wrote the part of the word I'd had problems with. Then I worked on writing that word faster. As soon as I had learned a new word, I reviewed the old ones in that chain, starting with the new word and ending up with the words I knew pretty well. The cues were of course the words in my own language on the opposite page of my book.

"As soon as I was able to write about ten words (my behavior chain) to my satisfaction I started to add distractions. For example: I turned the radio on and reviewed the words I had already learned. Then I got up and wrote them on my bulletin board under a time limit. This caused a little bit of stress, preparing me for the experience of taking the test at school. I continued the procedure with all twenty pages of words.

"To do all this looks like a lot of effort and waste of time," our clickerwise student writes. "But it really wasn´t. Crazy as it may sound, it was fun! I passed the test successfully. I made some grammatical mistakes but I could remember all words I had taught myself with the clicker perfectly!"

Permanent changes in the learner

The student noticed some dramatic changes in herself.
She is no longer nervous before or during a test, if she has prepared herself with the clicker.
She looks forward to getting her tests back, something she always dreaded in every subject although she usually gets good marks.
She likes French better now and hasn't missed a French class since the test.
"Yes," the student commented at the end of her account, "clicker training is enormously powerful, if not magic, indeed!" name withheld by request

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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