Assimil’s second, active wave

I posted the instructions found at the beginning of the Assimil Dutch course some time ago. I’ve found that the Assimil instructions are often rather lacking, and plenty of people post on forums asking: how exactly am I supposed to use this course? How should I go about doing the active phase?

After seeing an excellent response to a question about the active wave, I took a look in my Dutch book to see what it had to say:

Use the following procedure in the second wave of your study:

1. Read the lesson, repeating each sentence once. If you have the recordings, listen to them carefully.
2. Cover the Dutch text and try to reconstruct it, looking only at the English sentences. Make an effort to do this both out loud and in writing. This is the most important part of the second wave!
3. After you are finished, uncover the Dutch text and carefully correct any errors you have made.

After each new lesson, you will be told which earlier lesson you are to review in this precise way. This second wave of your study will lead to an active and, in a very short time, spontaneous knowledge of Dutch.

This is a bit clearer than some Assimil courses, but it still has nothing on this wonderful response provided by lingoleng at the HTLAL forums (reposted with his consent):

I can only give some hints, but what you do should really depend on your own needs, not on anything else.

Second wave wants two things, both are very easy to understand:

– repetition

After two or three months, however long it took you to get to lesson 50, you have forgotten many words and phrases of the previous lessons. So you have to refresh them by going through the old lessons again. Very simple, no problem here.

– activation
After the reading and listening of the first wave you start producing sentences, speaking and probably writing. Again, very simple concept. How to do it? Everything is allowed and possible, it depends entirely on you and your needs.

Look at the English text of the first lesson. Try to translate it without looking at the German text. A piece of cake? Not as easy as you expected? Oh man, I don’t remember anything at all? Well, whatever, no problem at all. Of course you use the written text in the book as a tool for correcting your translation, what else? You can use the audio just as well, but this is not as easy, and not necessary. (Just listen to the audio on another day, never a bad idea.) But you have to check if your sentences are right. That’s the most important thing, of course. What if you’ve made a mistake, or two, or it is all nonsense? No problem again, that’s why you do the repetition, look at what is wrong, say the correct version several times, and go on.

Next sentence a complete failure? Well, who cares, you are learning the language, that’s why you do it. If you write your first try and make a mistake, or several, no problem, but in this case you write the correct version twice, or three times, now you’ll know it. For a while 🙂
Assimil says you can listen to the audio before starting your active work, so you can do this. Or you try to get it right without a previous short time reactivation, but as repetition is one of your primary goals it is not so important whether you get it right without listening before, these are all minor details.
. . .
You see, what I propose is a little bit different than only remembering the phrase by heart. Learning by heart is not a bad thing, really not, but only if you understand what you remember. So if you have the automatic reaction: Oh, I remember very well what was written on this page, it was the strange and very queer expression “Haben Sie Hunger”, no idea why and how, but this is it,- you get a point in a multiple choice test but not as many language points, I guess.

To make a long post short: You want repetition, and you get it. You want active skills, and you have to work for them. And the exact procedure is not a law, do what you want to do, or have to do. A third wave, or even a forth one, may be what makes the difference between a successful language learner and a less successful one, but I would never confess that I ever needed a fifth wave, not me.

I really liked his answer, as it shines a bright light on an issue I think some people might run into with Assimil courses: they see the active phase as a “test” rather than a process. They go to their active lesson, read the English, and if they don’t come up with the perfect foreign language equivalent right away – panic! There’s no need to be so harsh on yourself. With the active wave, unless you have a photographic memory, you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s fine; the whole point is to see the material again, and to start playing with it in your mind. If you’re moving bits of the language around in your mind, trying to produce something, it’s worthwhile, even if many of your attempts have errors.

By |2011-03-14T18:32:43+00:00March 14th, 2011|All Entries|2 Comments


  1. Julie August 8, 2012 at 12:54 am - Reply

    I have been working through Assimil’s II Latino course this summer, after failing at it last year while trying to keep up with a group. Looking back, I did not have any guidance to transfer my knowledge from the passive to active phase. The post above does a great job of detailing what I did this summer that has made it a success for me. I want to be able to think in Latin, to produce Latin, not just be able to recognize it.

    Because I struggle without structure and only have time during the summer to study intensely, I created a schedule for myself wherein I introduced two new lessons every three days until the lessons became longer, I now schedule a new lesson every other day with a review day every seventh lesson. I have all the recordings on my iPod and listen to the six or seven most recent lessons at least once a day, repeating the lines as often as possible, and repeat the most recent three lessons several times a day. If I cannot visualize the spelling of each word, I pick up the text and verify it; if I am not sure about the meaning, I pick up the English translation. Usually by the third day of this I never have to refer to the text unless it is to verify an inflected ending.

    On a seven-lesson lag, I schedule a lesson to write from audio dictation. I have been making very few mistakes because in my listening and repeating phase I am ensuring I am getting the lesson so that I can reproduce it this way, but I mark all errors, and reschedule the lesson for a rewrite in a couple weeks. On a 12 to 14-lesson lag, I am writing out the lessons from the English. I also pay my younger daughter a dollar a lesson to listen to me say the lesson orally, paying particular attention to the inflected Latin word endings. I also “recycle” old lessons on review days, and if I can write them out (or recite them if my daughter is available) without errors, I won’t revisit them for a month or so, if I do make errors, I reschedule them for the next review day.

    In order to gain full mastery of the Latin grammar I have also been completing a grammar course which helps me understand the grammar notes in the text. I am finally gaining command of Latin after several years of trying various ways to master it.

    I will need to slow the pace down once the school year begins, but I have enough momentum to be able to keep it up, now I have learned how to use the course.

    • Josh August 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm - Reply


      It sounds like you’ve worked out quite a nice system for yourself. I’ve used similar setups in the past; I tend to waffle between a strict course, and a haphazard learning style. Both have their perks.

      As an aside, what do you think of the Assimil Latin course? Which version are you using? I know one of them was slammed pretty hard by many users, saying that it was practically useless. Have they released a new one?

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