March 25, 2019
Pablo Roman
Dreaming Spanish

As I mentioned in the previous posts about Crosstalk, drawing is a very important part of Crosstalk at the beginner level. However, not many people seem eager to start drawing away. There seems to be some kind of widespread plague that makes people embarrassed or self-conscious about their ability to draw.

I found that very often people feel embarrassed because they believe they’re not very good at it.  Other people may not be embarrassed, but they struggle with communicating a concept or an idea by drawing. In this post, I want to give you tips and techniques for being able to communicate more effectively by drawing and get rid of the notion that you need to be a good drawer.

Drawing is important at the beginner level because it allows you to communicate and have a conversation even in the case in which both speakers know nothing of each other’s language. Drawing allows you to have those initial conversations and start picking up words to get to the point in the language at which you don’t need to rely on drawing anymore.

The first general drawing tip, ironically, is to try to draw as little as possible. I know this may sound counterintuitive. It is true that when you start learning a language from zero you’re going to be doing quite a great deal of drawing and probably most of what you will be communicating will be by drawing. But still, drawing is something that takes time and effort. You want to use alternatives to drawing as often as possible.

If you can communicate a concept by gesturing, it’s usually simpler and faster to do so. Let’s say that you want to talk about fishing, or singing, or running. Those are concepts that you can show very easily with your hands and with your body, so there’s no need to draw them. Things like emotions can be shown easily just with facial expressions, and that’s also faster and simpler than trying to draw them. If your partner already knows some words in your language, then try to use those words, try to use circumlocution to explain things in a different way or in a simpler way. I believe it is a good idea to try to avoid drawing, especially when it’s not necessary or it’s not the most efficient way of communicating something.

The last way to avoid drawing is to use pictures. I use a set of laminated sheets with pictures every time I do Crosstalk. I have sheets with world map and regional maps, a calendar, fruits and vegetables, colors, and I also have one sheet that has the times of the day, the days of the week, and the four seasons. If there are certain topics that interest you and that you find yourself talking often about, you can print out and laminate sheets to help you discuss those topics. These can be sports, animals, parts of the car, or whatever your interests are. The benefit of having laminated sheets, besides durability, is that you can draw on them with dry-erase markers. However, if you plan beforehand what you are going to talk about during your Crosstalk sessions, you can also simply print out the pictures you will need that day or prepare them on your phone or your tablet. You can use these to show your partner some food from your country, or some beautiful places that you have visited.

All these techniques are good at reducing the amount of drawing you need to do, but in many situations drawing is inevitable. In other situations it’s simply the easiest way to communicate something. You could try to use gestures to explain the distribution of the different rooms in your house, showing with your hands where they are. But you can easily see that a drawing would do a much better job at letting your partner understand what your house looks like.

A second general tip about drawing is that you don’t need to be da Vinci or Van Gogh. The purpose of drawing in Crosstalk is communication, not making beautiful drawings. You just need to make sure that your drawings are simple and easy to understand. There’s no art involved here. If you want to draw a person, you can just draw a stick figure. The simplest way you can think of drawing something usually is going to be the most effective at communicating. 

This is the end of the general tips about drawing. Now we are going to dive into more specific tips about learning how to draw more effectively and communicate better by drawing.

The first thing that I recommend is watching other people do it. Get some experience watching other people do it either by attending workshops, classes and demonstrations of TPRS or other Comprehensible Input methods, or by watching some of the free online videos that show you how to do this. As I mentioned in a previous post, my videos are a good example of how to do this, since I’ve made videos for learners of every level. Another good example is Alice Ayel’s videos, that use the Storylistening method. These are two of the best examples I know of using drawing for communication.

Another way of getting ideas for how to make drawings that are simple and easy to understand is using a book that teaches how to make simple drawings. In the last post, I already recommended the book “How to Draw Almost Every Day” by Kamo. I recommend books like this one because the drawings are specifically for pen. That means that the drawings consist of simple outlines and you don’t need to fill in the color. That makes them easier to understand and also faster to draw.

Another good series of books that I recommend are the ICOON picture dictionaries. They are great to get ideas about how to draw specific things. They are meant for travelers, so they contain a lot of useful items. They have daily life objects, plants, fruits, animals, types of buildings and stores, and almost anything else you may think of. I use these books very often to get ideas about how to draw certain animals, certain flowers, etc.

The most common things that you will probably end up drawing are probably objects that can be easily recognized by their appearance. When talking about something that you cooked at home, you may draw your kitchen stove, the fire, the pan, and the food. It is also common to draw the people who form part of the story or the topic you’re talking about, and maps, by drawing the streets around where you grew up, or a map of your country to show where your hometown is located.

But drawing is not only limited to physical objects and locations. You may also draw relationships between people, like family trees, actions, or yourself, being at home and then drawing arrows to show movement to explain that you went to school or to work. 

Many actions have a distinctive look and are therefore quite easy to draw. You can draw people swimming, walking, or fighting.

In keeping in line with drawing as little as possible, it’s quite useful to use placeholders. If you are strict about speaking only the language that the other person is learning, sometimes it will take a minute or two to explain a concept. If, for example, you want to talk about democracy, you may have to draw people voting at the polls and maybe one person out of two being elected to become president. That may take quite a bit of time and you don’t want to have to explain that again all over every time you use the word “democracy.” What I do in this case is use a placeholder. After all that explanation of what “democracy” is, I will keep one drawing, for example a ballot box, and use it to represent the whole concept of “democracy.” So when I say the word “democracy” again, I can point back to the drawing of the ballot box. That’s what I call a placeholder. A drawing that wouldn’t be understood by itself, but that can be used to hold a concept that you define using other means and that you can point back to every time you need to.

One problem that I’ve had myself is that some objects don’t look distinctive enough. They don’t have a specific look to them, or they look similar to other things. For example, I tried drawing a washing machine just as a square with a circle in the middle and some buttons. Simple shapes like this may not be recognizable. It could easily be mistaken for a camera or something else. In this case, something that has helped me a lot is to add more information about how that item is used, or the context in which the item is used. One way of drawing a washing machine that works very well is to draw a shirt or a pair of pants and have an arrow showing that the clothes go into the washing machine. That makes it really easy to understand. This is a trick that can be used for anything that doesn’t have a very recognizable shape but is used in a very specific way or situation.

One final thing to consider is that drawings very often are a cultural thing. This is something that I honestly don’t know how to prepare for, or whether it’s really necessary to, but rather it’s something that I found quite interesting. When trying Crosstalk with people from many different cultures and backgrounds, I noticed that different cultures often draw the same things in different ways. I would normally draw a house as a rectangle with a triangle on top to represent the roof, while my teachers in Thailand would draw it as an elongated rectangle, with the triangular roof only on one side. Essentially they were showing the front and one of the sides of the house in the same drawing. If you stick with one Crosstalk partner for a while, you’ll get used to the way they draw certain concepts. The first time they draw a certain thing you may have to ask them to clarify, but you’ll get used to it very easily.

Next time you do Crosstalk with your partner, choose one or two of the tips that I mentioned and try applying them in your conversations. I’m sure this will help you be a bit less self-conscious about your drawing and become better at communicating. Everything that you practice during your Crosstalk sessions you can of course also use to provide listening practice to your students.

Posted By Pablo Roman | Dreaming Spanish

I fell in love with learning languages while living in Japan. After learning Japanese to proficiency without traditional studying, I decided that a better way of learning languages is possible and I wanted to look for it. After one year in Bangkok learning Thai and experiencing a much more natural input-based method to learn languages, I decided that I wanted to help popularize these kinds of methods. In 2017, I started producing my own content that people all over the world can enjoy while learning.

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