Not optimal. Not optimal at all.

But there are times when you either just can’t find a TPRS teacher, or you can’t find any language teacher at all (for those of us who are drawn to the less commonly spoken languages), or the best materials you can get are one of those listen-and-repeat tapes. Note that this method assumes a highly motivated student (you’re spending a lot of time making the stuff, not to mention actually using it) and doesn’t pretend to do everything that full-on Optimized Immersion would do.

Audio flashcards are the closest thing I’ve been able to cobble together so far. It’s somewhat personalized (you make it yourself so you control what goes into it), it’s somewhat unexpected (the sentences don’t change but at least you don’t know which one comes next) and it’s repetitive (no caveat here, it really IS repetitive!)

To make audio flashcards for an iPod or iPhone:
Record or rip your items as individual mp3 files, adding a second of silence to the beginning and the end. Import them into an album on ITunes. If your materials come in a half-hour-long chunk, you’ll have to open the file in a program like Audacity (free for both Mac and Windoze) and manually cut it up. When you save the individual mp3 files, be sure to leave a second or more of silence at the beginning and the end of each one. (More on this later).

In iTunes, enter the lyrics for each one — the Chinese characters and/or pinyin at the top, then about seven or eight line returns, then the English meaning. Just Google “iTunes add lyrics” — how do you think I figured out how to do it in the first place, since I don’t have teenage children?  😉

Sync to your iPod or iPhone and set the playback to random items from the album, or make a playlist with the utterances you want to work with and play that back on random setting.

This way, you can hear the item in Chinese, and glance at the Chinese written form first for a little help, then, if needed, scroll down to see the English for more help (this is using an iPod Touch or iPhone that will display lyrics.)

Is it TPRS? Heck, no. But at least you’re getting comprehensible input (you can always look at the lyrics if you need to know what the sentence means), it’s being presented in random order, if not truly randomly, and if you take a good long walk with the dog each day, you’ll not only lose weight but acquire language. I’ve been doing this with Mohawk, a language for which there are not many good materials available for self-study, and it’s paying off slowly but surely. Of course, if anyone knows a good TPRS trained Mohawk teacher…