“You learn languages in 3 places: the crib, the bed, and the street.”
“El pollo, not el polla! One minute of massage! La polla means something else by the way”1. It was my 3rd mistake in the last 10 minutes and now I owed my girlfriend a total of 10 minutes of massage. Time to switch back to English and get some massage time for myself.
For the last month we’ve been playing a game which has improved my Spanish speaking skills ten fold. The rules of the game are simple. Every time you are caught making an agreed upon mistake, you owe your partner 1 minute of massage. For example, my current challenge is about matching the gender of the article to the gender of the noun. If I say “una ejemplo” (instead of “un ejemplo”) then I owe my girlfriend a minute of massage. Her challenge is to make sure the grammatical number of the noun matches that of the article. So when she says “you owe me one minutes of massage!”, I smugly say, “don’t you mean one minute?”
This game works directly by making you more aware of your mistakes. But it is the way in which this game indirectly affects your life that gives the most benefit. And don’t think that just because you’re not learning a language, or that you and your significant other only speak the one language, that you can’t play the game. These principles can be applied to any behaviour and I’ll talk about this later.
The obvious benefit of playing this game is that you’ll probably get more massages. But if you go ahead and give away massages for free, you devalue your massage and you devalue the game. This would be the equivalent to printing loads of your own money and feeding it into your economy, reducing the value of the money that is already there.
The other benefit is that you have someone to help you notice your mistakes. Normally people don’t correct you in general conversation, even if you ask them to, which is why learning a language alone is so difficult.
To me, the best thing about playing this game has been that it has increased my time speaking Spanish. Once I cashed in my first 10 minutes, my girlfriend was all of a sudden quite happy to speak Spanish with me for more than 30 seconds. This regular practice was what really caused my language skills to improve.
Sometime it can be difficult to know how much to penalise your partner when they make mistakes. If you don’t catch their mistakes enough you will forget you’re playing and you won’t see any of the benefits. If you catch too many, the game isn’t fun anymore.
You can also use the one minute of massage game to change other undesirable behaviours. Recently I have been getting penalised when I say that I don’t remember something without actually trying to remember. I didn’t realise how often I did this until now. You can also use it for complaining, bad posture, or any other self destructive behaviour.
If you don’t have a partner, instead of owing someone massage time, you can donate $1 to the nearest person as Neil Strauss suggests in the post that inspired this game. Tell your speaking partners about the game and they will probably be more than happy to play. Teaching a language is draining. Give them something in return for their efforts.
If you want to see improvements in your life, this is the way to do it – little by little.