Hi there! As I wrote in my previous post, I started learning Estonian in the Add1Challenge. So far, I am really enjoying it! Learning it feels quite effortless so far. I guess it’s partly about… More
A while ago I was skimming through a fitness magazine at the hairdressers while waiting for the dye to set, and an article about setting goals to keep motivated to exercise caught my eye.
One point in that article was, that you should consider your overall situation in life when setting your goals: if you’re a CEO and have to keep a family life rolling, don’t set an exercise goal that requires 7 hours of training a week.
Makes sense, right? Similarly, if you have a brand new full-time job plus a volunteering position that takes up to 10 hours a week, it can hardly be the right time to think you can dedicate one hour daily to language learning. (That was me last August–September–October.)
On the other hand, I’ve just recently read a couple of inspiring posts about the benefits of setting your goals higher than what seems realistic by Katie from Joy of Languages, and about how joining a language challenge can be a good idea even when your life is as stressful and busy as can be, by Elena from Hitoritabi.
All that rings true to me as well.
Somehow, I think my goals for learning Swedish last year were simultaneously too ambitious for the time and energy really available, and not ambitious enough, so that in the little study time I had, I wasn’t really challenging myself.
I did sort of make a plan in August to start working my way to eventually reach higher levels. I was inspired by the post by Katie Harris about aiming for fluency in French, and I thought I’d want to make my perhaps somewhat lighter version of aiming for fluency in Swedish from my living room.
What I did not realise was that somewhat less effort would mean way less progress.
I did listen to podcasts and audiobooks, read books and chat with a tandem partner in Swedish – quite regularly even – but I didn’t really challenge myself, I didn’t really do what was difficult. And I certainly didn’t put a lot of time into studying. And so I didn’t really make progress, and my motivation dropped (and then hibernation happened).
However, those perhaps a bit half-hearted attempts to improve my Swedish still taught me something important about my current level and what it will take to make progress. I realised the inevitable truth: I really am sitting firmly in the intermediate plateau, and the way I was practicing last year won’t be enough to get me out of there (within the next 20 years at least).
So now, thinking of what my goals for this year should be, I know I’m going to have to be more specific, more systematic, and more ambitious. And at the same time, more humble and realistic.
What should I work on?
Kerstin Cable from Fluent Languages talks in her recent Fluent Show podcast episode about intermediate plateau, and says some really wise things there. Two things especially caught my attention:
- It doesn’t help to assume that your progress will be as fast as it has been.
- You should think what is especially difficult, and work on that.
I won’t have too much time for learning Swedish (I can’t dedicate as much time to language learning as I’d like to, and I’ve decided to focus on Russian). But I still really want to work with improving my Swedish. So I’ll just have to accept that it will be slow. And I’ll have to identify some specific areas that I find difficult in Swedish, and set some goals related to improving those.
Now, following the advice of Kerstin, I tried to think what I’m most frustrated about in Swedish right now.
First of all, it’s clear that speaking is the area I want to improve the most. My reading and listening are pretty much somewhere in the C levels already. With listening, I’ve had problems mainly just when I’m with a group of natives and try to follow their conversation. My reading skills I even dare estimate to be on level C2. An “I can read and understand the main points of a text about sustainable public procurement in Danish because my Swedish is so good” kind of a level.
But speaking… That’s where the biggest frustration lies.
But what about it exactly? My tandem partner keeps asking me, what is it I want to improve, because he finds I speak well enough to get by anytime. But for some reason, I’m not happy.
The thing is, I’m not really able to discuss anything of particular interest to me. I can discuss general everyday matters with ease, but if I try to explain about my job, my volunteering, why I love learning languages, or anything like that, I find that I express myself very clumsily and lack the necessary vocabulary.
That is something I think I want to work on next.
Aiming for more sophisticated conversations (with whom, though?)
I can’t remember which of the “bigger names” of language learning and polyglotism it was, but I remember reading somewhere this approach of working towards fluency:
- Choose a certain topic of personal relevance,
- Concentrate on practicing discussing that topic, learning the vocabulary and expressions needed and using them as much as you can,
- When it starts to feel easy, pick another topic and start specialising on that one.
That approach somehow resonated with me and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. It seems like exactly what I want to do with my Swedish right now.
I’ve tried to think of some topics I’m passionate about and would like to be able to discuss, here are a few:
- Scouting, volunteering
- Project management, time management and productivity
- Language learning (of course!)
- Nature and outdoors activities
That seems specific enough.
But there’s one problem: I don’t really know for what I would be learning all that!
The thing is, I am learning all my languages mainly out of linguistic fascination. So I have no practical reasons to learn to talk about scouting or language learning in Swedish. I only have a few Swedish friends, I don’t really get any chances to talk with them and they’re a bit too used to speaking English with me. And I really don’t know if I ever get the chance to spend time in Sweden again and to find Swedish friends who would be passionate about the same things as me and want to have sophisticated conversations about them with me. It sounds slightly far-fetched.
I guess somewhere deep inside I’m just thinking that perhaps, if I keep learning the language, someday I will get the chance to make friends I wouldn’t have otherwise, friends with whom I can discuss languages or scouting or what have you. That’s one of the reasons I’m into learning languages in general. You never know who you’ll meet!
However, another wise thing Kestin Cable said in her podcast was that if you don’t put yourself in a situation where you need C1 level of a language, you’ll never reach that level. So just hoping I’ll need it someday isn’t really going to help me get to that level.
And I really want to find a reason to need C1 level Swedish.
Which brings us to my goal for Swedish learning in 2018.
My goal: To find the reason to have a goal
The conclusion of this (once again, not very short and quick) post:
My goal for 2018 is to find a reason to need C1 Swedish.
That means I’ll actively look for as many different forums and situations as possible, related to the things I normally do, such as my job, scouting or language learning, in Swedish. So not just find a language exchange partner or a tutor, but to connect with Swedish-speakers with similar interests, people who might have some interest in speaking with me for other reasons than helping me learn the language.
Sounds simple, but I think it might be tricky to do in practice.
Have you been in a similar situation, where you have to actively create yourself the need to use a language on an advanced level? How did you manage? Let me know in the comments!
After reviving from hibernation, I already promised I’d write a Clear the list post for March. However, I didn’t manage to make one because I had no idea what my goals for March should be. I still hadn’t figured out what I even want to achieve this year. And before I could figure that out, I had to review what I actually did last year.
Now I’ve finally had time to process it, and figure out where I am and where I want to be going next.
I managed to identify three things I would like to work on this year:
- Improve my Russian as much as I can
- Identify a specific area in Swedish I most need to work on – and work on that
- Dabble a bit in a new language – one I’ve had my eyes on for a while, and now the time feels right.
Now, actually a fourth thing is, I want to write this blog more often. I just have this bad habit of writing huge marathon posts that take three hours to finish. So, to start working towards making shorter posts more often, I’ll break this learning goals for 2018 into three parts.
Part one is about my main goal: to improve my Russian.
My Goals for Learning Russian in 2018
I feel most motivated about improving my Russian right now, so that’s what I mainly want to concentrate on.
I tried to identify my current level and would say I’m somewhere between A2 and B1. More B1 in listening and spoken interaction, but definitely more A2 in spoken production, writing and reading. It’s interesting – in other languages, reading has been the easiest part for me, but reading in Russian feels quite difficult. Probably due to the different script?
Anyhow, I think the place between A2 and B1 is the sweet spot of language learning, where you’ve started to get your head around the language but your progress still hasn’t slowed down too much. Perhaps that’s partly the reason for my motivation to keep learning Russian right now: I feel like there’s most to achieve there, with least effort. You should make hay while the sun shines!, right?
Where do I want to be with my Russian by the end of this year? I actually got inspired by looking at the different aspects used in CEFR to define being level B1, identifying things I still need to improve. So this year, I’ll systematically work towards being able to do the following by the end of the year:
- Describing things I’ve done and experiences I had eg. in an ordinary week or on a holiday
- Describing my plans and goals – on a more abstract level, related to job, personal projects and lifestyle
- Present reasons for my opinions and choices – e.g., why I do or don’t like or want something
- Describing the plot of a film or a book
- Effortlessly writing diary entries about things I did and felt and thought
- Writing a personal letter (perhaps not the most relevant skill, but the idea of writing letters and it would be a great way to practice… I’ll just need to find someone to write to!)
- Understanding main points of speech about everyday topics (eg. in vlogs)
- Understanding main points when watching news
- Understanding main points of speech about some topics of particular interest to me: I picked nature and language learning as the topics I want to start with 🙂
- Being able to read texts about topics of personal interest (nature, languages)
- Being able to read personal letters
How do I get there?
I’ll try to set my monthly goals based on this bigger picture, focusing on one goal per core skill at a time. My main focus will be on speaking and I’ll pick one of the four speaking related goals as kind of a theme for my learning each month, and link the other three core skills to support my speaking practice.
For example: I think in April I’ll focus on practicing to describe my experiences and thins that happen in my everyday life. I’ll link that with writing diary entries and watch some vlogs to support that. Additionally, I’ll start working through my textbook to get some structure to my studies.
Now, I’ll REALLY try putting together a Clear the list post for April to break these goals down into more concrete steps and show you in more detail, what kind of learning methods I’m planning on using.
(Not exactly a short post either, this one. Oh well, I’ll learn I guess.)
At first glance, when looking back and comparing my language learning years 2016 and 2017, I kind of felt that 2017 became a real pannukakku – a Finnish expression that is used to say that something kind of failed (which is really super weird actually: pannukakku means pancake, and Finns love pancake).
In 2016, I started to learn languages again after several years’ break, developed really active routines and started setting goals and tracking my learning habits.
2017 started out nicely, but then life happened: thesis, a new job, a huge amount Scouts volunteering… And by November, my language routines and habits were almost gone.
This was my picture of how my 2017 in languages was, and at first I thought it’s not worth reviewing in more detail how I did with my goals for 2017. Not when it’s March already.
But then I decided to at least have a look at the post from January 2017 to remind me of what my thoughts had been in the beginning of the year.
And after having a look, I decided to share what I found. So here we go, a (rather long!) review of my 2017. I’ve included quotes from my different Clear the List posts throughout the year to show exactly what a pannukakku of a year it was..
January–April: Where can my get my Russian in four months?
“I think I’ll keep my focus on Russian until the end of April. Perhaps even May, we’ll see. I should be able to make quite some progress in that time. I’m excited to see how much!”
March: “I wasn’t preparing enough for the meetings (like looking up vocabulary and sentences and structures that could be useful). I still struggle a lot in the conversations if I’m not prepared.”
April: “Watching the videos my tandem partner had found me to watch for the very first meetings, I was happy to notice I could understand them a lot better than I remember I could back then!”
As in the course of autumn I gradually dropped almost all Russian learning activities, I’d actually already forgotten about how much Russian I learned last year. Now that I look at my Clear the list posts from last spring, I’ve gotten an unbelievable amount of learning activities done each month.
Looking at my Instagram videos from January, the difference to later videos is huge. I spoke very slowly and very simple sentences in the beginning.
And if I look farther back, I can remember the feeling of starting out the tandem meetings (that was in late 2016), and how badly I struggled even with the simplest conversations. And then the feeling, some time in the early summer, when I had a meeting with my tandem partner, we’d go to a cafe at a beach, and sit in the sunny terrace sipping cold lemonade and chatting about my trip to Paris later that summer, about what I wanted to do there, and about what was best about travelling… in Russian, that is.
I’d say I moved at least from level A1 to A2 in half a year. Which, of course, is not very fast progress, but it’s definitely progress!
January–June: French – from understanding to speaking
“Last year, I’ve taken a huge leap with my understanding of French, but I still don’t know how well I actually speak… I’ll come up with a way to practice speaking starting in February and gradually add the amount of practice towards the summer.”
February: “My university has an ‘Each One Teach One” Facebook group, where I found (or actually was found by) a French girl who studies in Helsinki and is learning Swedish! We had a coffee and spent an hour speaking French and Swedish. That was awesome.”
April: “I also keep getting amazed by what kind of topics I manage to keep up a conversation about with my French. This month I was explaning about the Finnish Defence Forces and voluntary military service – not exactly my everyday topic in any language.”
Finding a French tandem partner and having was definitely one of last year’s language learning victories. It didn’t even take that long to prove myself that I’m quite able to have a decent conversation in French! I did struggle a lot and often lacked the vocabulary but with a patient and helpful conversation partner, I dared to try and discuss even things I never would have imagined possible with my French level.
May–June: Swedish, how I’ve missed you, don’t go away again
“I think I’ll dedicate a month or two for Swedish in May-June. It seems like it’s about time then; it’ll be a year since I left Sweden after my exchange. And for no reason, I just love Swedish. Lovelovelove. I’ll let the midsummer warmth melt the ice. And from then on, I’ll work harder to keep it away!”
June: “I had to finish my thesis, and even though in the end I guess I didn’t work any more hours on it than the months before, just the thought of finishing it was so huge that I had to empty my head of anything else. So decided not to even do Clear the list and language goal setting in June. “
July: “My goal was to just defrost my Swedish, which felt really rusty. That goal isn’t very well defined, but I could say I’ve reached it already. I’d say some defrosting has happened since January, just by reading some books in Swedish. Now, after just a few weeks of more active practice, I feel like I’m almost where I left when my Swedish was at it’s best.
However, now I find I’ve got mersmak – an excellent Swedish expression which means that after tasting some, you want more. I don’t want to leave it here, I want to take my Swedish to a new level…”
August: “…my goal was to aim for immersion, and read, write, speak or listen a little bit every day except weekends–. I basically had one week when I can say I did this. The other weeks I did a fair amount of listening, read a little, and that’s it.”
September: “I had a chat on Skype with my new tandem partner several times a week – just for ten to twenty minutes, but still, I already feel a lot more confident about speaking.”
Of my languages, Swedish is the one where I’ve most felt like I failed with my goals last year. May and June ended up being the most stressful time regarding finishing my thesis, so my Swedish summer didn’t really get going like I planned. In July, August and September, I tried to go for immersion at home (the kind that Katie Harris has so inspiringly written about!) but ended up having less and less time for language learning as the months passed, and losing my routines altogether.
However, if I look at my goal from January, it was to defrost my Swedish and get back to the level where I was after upper secondary school. And already in July I’ve written that I actually did do that! Then I ended up moving my goals forward. And the new goal just wasn’t really well in line with other stuff in life. And I hadn’t even really properly considered what reaching that goal would require. But setting that goal and trying it out actually showed me what it would take to “take my Swedish to a new level”. I’m now more aware of where I am and what are the areas I need to develop.
You wouldn’t call that a failure, would you?
Other Goals – These Didn’t Happen
July–September: New (old) language!
“If I’m happy enough with my progress, perhaps I can give myself the permission to dig out another language I used to study ages ago. Japanese, or German? We’ll see!”
October–December: Fight the freeze
“…right now I think I could try out some sort of a review cycle, changing which language I have my main focus on, brushing up my existing language skills (of course learning some new stuff too). How often should I give more practice to a language to prevent it from freezing? Or how much time is little enough continuously, to keep up a language or even make some slow progress? I’ll see if I can start finding the answers.”
As I’ve described, I ended up focusing on Swedish longer than I’d planned. The time wasn’t right for a new language. And then I ended up in my language learning hibernation and didn’t really put any effort at all into developing my revision routines.
So how was my 2017 in languages?
Well, if you’ve read this far, you probably noticed: It wasn’t that bad. And it was definitely worth reviewing.
I was reminded about how many little victories there actually were last year. I improved in all of the three languages I was learning, or at least brought them back to more active memory. And there was a lot of speaking in all three of them, perhaps more than ever before. That’s no small thing. In 2016 I struggled a lot with speaking any of them.
And another lesson I learned: Clear the List is so worth the time and the effort. Not just the goal setting part, but the monthly review as well. By looking back at the entire year, I was able to get the big picture of how much progress I’d made, which can be life-saving for motivation. I was also able to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This will help me improve as a language learner.
To be honest, I started writing this as a “goals for 2018” post at first, but then got carried away looking back and had to change the title. But I think I needed this. I hope it will help me set better goals this year!
Did you ever feel like you need to hibernate?
I feel the need every year, it hits me around November. And I think year after year, it gets stronger. I want to drop all my projects and things that usually bring me joy – and just sleep. Last couple of years, it has been a bit easier to cope with it though, for one simple reason: I’ve given in to the need.
No, of course I didn’t really crawl under my blankets after eating my stomach full of pine needles like the Moomins, and then sleep until the first warming rays of late February sun.
I just took it a bit more easy; accepted the fact that I did not have the energy for everything I would have liked to do.
As I had to have energy for my job, some time with my family and friends and a fairly time-consuming volunteering position, I decided it was better to quietly give in to a language learning hibernation, than keep pushing it and go straight into a language learning burn-out.
It was kind of a deep hibernation – like a little hedgehog that wakes up every once in a while to keep alive, I would occasionally read something or listen to something in one of my languages, but I didn’t make an effort to set goals, really keep up proper habits, track my activities or really give it much thought at all. But now the sun rays have started to creep through into my nest and I feel like I might start to revive.
I think it wasn’t just the increasing light, though, that woke me up. It was also the Russian language. I found the habit of audiobooks again, and then some Russian music, and one day I was walking home and listening to a particularly beautiful song that was new to me… And I was struck by the feeling, that I need to learn more of this language, I want to speak it again.
So here I am, slightly late for the usual new year’s resolutions, but all the more ready to start planning another year in languages! More about that in a Clear the List post for March!
This year, it was still snowing at the and of April and now the dark, rainy part of autumn rushed in the moment October began, and I found myself feeling as tired as I usually would in the darkest days of November. Oh well, to even that out, the autumn colours couldn’t be more beautiful than they are this year. Always look on the bright side.
(By the way, I spent a while looking for a word there, and finally accepted that it doesn’t seem to exist in English – the changing of colours of tree leaves in autumn is called “ruska” in Finnish. Is there a word for that in some other languages?)
Review: September 2017
As I predicted, September wasn’t the best in terms of routines – quite understandably, as life was on the doorstep of a new phase. I graduated and didn’t yet know what would happen next. And there was the week-long trip to Iceland, which was obviously a break from all the routines.
My main goal for September was to learn some Swedish every day (except while in Iceland), and I pretty much managed that, until… The week after Iceland I got a job (!!!) and that started the last week of September. Well, you can guess – starting a new job means a lot of learning and new information. There wasn’t much energy left for anything else.
So all in all, there was only two weeks of efficient Swedish learning in September – but those weeks I’m quite happy with, mainly because there was more speaking involved than ever. I had a chat on Skype with my new tandem partner several times a week – just for ten to twenty minutes, but still, I already feel a lot more confident about speaking.
As for listening, which is usually the easy part – that has been suffering from the fact that I have too many alternatives and can’t seem to decide so I end up doing nothing. I’ve been listening to several podcasts, and choosing which podcast and which episode to listen to hasn’t worked out for me.
Writing I’d decided not to worry too much about – and I basically didn’t do any writing at all.
For reading, I had two books, a novel called Där vi en gång gått by Kjell Westö and the behavioural science (or “science”) book Omgiven av idioter by Thomas Eriksson. I actually put the former on a break and only read the latter. I didn’t get through the whole book, though. To be honest, the book was a disappointment, I didn’t find it interesting at all. It was full of annoying and stupid oversimplifications and generalisations. I had to return it to the library before I managed to get half-way through it and I couldn’t loan it again right away because there is such a long queue of reservations to the book… But I say good riddance. Boo.
For Russian, my goal was to have two tandem meetings, which I did, and start listening to audiobooks again, which I didn’t. And for French, I just said I’d keep reading my light airport novel – and I read just a bit, maybe once or twice.
I also sort of had the goal to write something on the blog between these Clear the list posts. And I did! I wrote about my impressions of the Icelandic language during my visit to Iceland.
So, not a month of amazing accomplishments, but it was ok. Now, as you could perhaps already tell, there are a few things I’ll do a bit differently this month.
Learning Goals for October 2017
Because my new job is still new and a bit overwhelming, and I have a whole new routine to create as my weeks have now become a lot more regular that they have been during my student days, I’ll take it easy this month. I still aim for a bit of Swedish every day, but really just a little will do. I aim for 5-15 minutes every day.
I’ll focus on building habits, such as:
- Listening during bus trips and when I go for a walk or jogging (another habit I’ll try to re-establish), and maybe sometimes when I tidy up or cook at home. I’ll go for an audiobook when I go jogging, and podcasts on the bus and at home. Produktivitetsbloggens podcast whenever there’s a new episode, and Respodden otherwise. There, now I won’t need to make the choice later.
- Writing my diary. I have a five year diary and at times I’ve been writing in it every day, but this whole year I’ve struggled with that habit. Now, one more attempt.
- Having a Skype with my tandem partner after work – we’ll see how often we manage to schedule this, but I’m hoping for a couple of times per week.
- Reading… Hmm. I’ll go back to reading Där vi en gång gått, but I don’t know where and when I could stick to the habit of reading a bit. Reading just before bedtime doesn’t work for me, I’m always too tired in the evening. But I guess I’ll start carrying the book around with me and trying to find a place and time for that habit.
What’s really exciting is, I might also actually need my Swedish at work! I actually already had a task that involved reading some documents in Swedish. And Danish, mind you! Haha. Seriously, though. Apparently I can read Danish quite decently (as long as you don’t ask me to read it out loud!).
With Russian, I’ll try to have two tandem meetings again. And listen to some audiobooks the weeks I don’t have a meeting.
Aaaand I’ll read my novel in French if I feel like it.
And I’ll try to write at least one blog post before November’s clear the list.
There. My plans for October – slightly less ambitious but still moving forward. We’ll see, where these little steps will take me this month! I’m also preparing to take it even easier if I need to, as it gets darker and colder and I get more tired towards November… I’ve realised the secret of surviving the dark time of the year is to accept that I can’t manage the same amount of stuff, as less daylight means less energy.
And whenever there’s a ray of sunshine, one must truly enjoy it:
This post is a bit different to usual – it’s not about the languages I am currently learning. It’s almost a sidetrack to travel blogging, but not quite. I’m going to write about my impressions of the Icelandic language, without having actively learned any of it, but after having experienced it as a part of my trip there.
Sidenote: I was pondering during my trip, whether I should evolve my blog into a language AND travel blog – many bloggers I like do that in their blogs. However, I decided I don’t travel enough to make it balanced in that sense, and also I’m more interested in writing about languages. But this point of view still gives me a great excuse to flood you with my travel photos, ha 😉
Before my trip, I made the decision not to make any efforts to learn Icelandic beforehand. The decision about the trip was quick and quite last minute so I wouldn’t have had time to learn much anyway, and I don’t feel like dabbling into languages right now. I did, however, kind of check the language out as a part of pre-travel hype by watching a few videos of basic phrases and by listening to a couple of Disney songs (that was bizarre! :-D), but my aim wasn’t really to memorise anything. Just to get the feeling of it.
And when in Iceland, of course I didn’t want to close my ears and eyes and mind from the language. I didn’t ignore it. I was very much observing it, every time I had the chance.
The thing is, even if you don’t actively want to learn the language before your trip, travelling is still always an interesting opportunity to explore a new language. It’s a chance learn understand some things about the language even if you don’t learn to understand it.
You’ll learn, that it is possible to appreciate and enjoy a language completely strange to you, one the you don’t speak a word of and perhaps even have no intention of learning (at least at the moment).
All you need to do is keep your ears open and mind tuned to a language learners’ mindset.
That’s what I did in Iceland, and I wanted to share some thoughts about it: four ways I was exposed to Icelandic while traveling, and five things I learned about Icelandic just like that.
4 ways I was exposed to Icelandic while in Iceland
1. Listen to the radio
We rented a car for three days and one of the first things I noticed when we hit the road wasn’t any breathtaking view through the window, but the language that was flooding our ears from the radio.
It was a wonderful combination – listening to the language, the radio host chatting, the advertisements, occasional Icelandic song even, and simultaneously watching the views change as we drove on. Experiencing Iceland with our eyes and our ears.
2. Reading the street signs
One thing I slightly tried to learn beforehand, or at least on the flight to Reykjavik, was how to pronounce Icelandic. They have some letters of their own, and some vowel combinations are pronounced differently. There was a small introduction to these in my guidebook. It felt rather difficult.
However, once we got to Iceland, we kept trying to read the road signs and place names out loud, and kept re-checking from our guidebook for the right pronunciation, and soon I started to remember that “au” is actually “öi” and à is au.
3. Learning about Icelandic nomenclature from a riding tour guide
We had two awesome days riding the Icelandic horses, and the riding guides told us a lot about the area and also explained the meanings of the place names (and the names of the horses, too!). This was a way more interesting guided tour experience than any Hop on-Hop off -bus tour ever!
4. Eavesdropping in a hot tub 🙂
This sounds worse than it is. Of course I could not understand what the people were saying, so I have no reason to feel guilty!
One fun way to explore a language is to listen to the locals, of course. In Iceland, there is one especially great place for this: the public swimming pools and hot tubs. We bathed somewhere almost every day, and while some places were more tourist-filled, we also visited a couple of places where the locals gathered to relax for their day off or after work.
Even though you’d think peace and quiet is what you appreciate in a place like that, the calm and steady chatter of Icelandic was actually a very pleasant background sound. Just relaxing in the hot water while wondering this amazing, special element of the Icelandic culture – again, hearing the language made me feel more connected to the culture; the experience feel more real.
5 things I learned about Icelandic
1. It sounds strangely familiar
While listening to the radio, I soon noticed that if I didn’t pay attention, I could imagine it was Finnish on the background! Amazing. It felt also a bit the same as listening to Estonian, which really is related to Finnish: I don’t understand a word but the melody is similar. Icelandic and Finnish are not related at all, but still, there is something very familiar to the sound of Icelandic.
This is due to the way the words are stressed in both languages: the stress is on the first syllable. Like Finnish, Icelandic rolls on in a steady way, without a sing-song variation to it. Also, I guess there are some similar weird combinations of vowels (which can make a native Romance language speaker quite uncomfortable? :D).
2. The similarity to Swedish is sometimes hard to see, but it is there
Sometimes, I could clearly connect an Icelandic expression I read somewhere, to its Swedish counterpart. Often however, it took a few times of reading or hearing before I could make the connection. Sometimes I couldn’t figure it out at all. Icelandic is too different from Swedish that knowing the other would really help understand the first.
Often for instance the place names seemed incomprehensible when you first saw them, but after getting the pronunciation part right, they suddenly made more sense for a Swedish speaker: for instance, once I realised ‘Rauðá’ is pronounced ‘Röid au’, and it means Red river – which would be Röd å in Swedish.
For me, Swedish has always had “a language of campfires and storytelling days” feeling to it, but in comparison, Icelandic is like the language of heroes and ancient legends version of it. When I tried to look for the connections to the related language I know, I could kind imagine to feel the “Vikingness” of Icelandic.
3. The Icelandic people have a very straightforward approach to naming things
Reykjavik = steamy bay, Reykjadalur = steamy valley. Both are areas with hot springs. Hveragerði = Gardens of the hot springs. There are a lot of hot springs and a lot of greenhouses. You get the idea.
Even the horses where named things like Hvita = white (a white horse), Stjarna = star (a horse with a white star on the head), Eldur = fire (a chestnut red horse).
So things are basically called exactly what they are, and just buy learning Icelandic place names (or horse names!) you can learn a whole lot of vocabulary. Awesome!
Somehow also I think this reflects in a beautiful way the straightforward, uncomplicated relationship the Icelanders have with the nature.
It simply means ‘yes’ (it’s pronounced /jauː/), but by the end of the trip, hearing this word really made me smile. I heard it a lot, and I can’t really explain why, but it sounded really heartwarming. Somehow happy and positive. Once I started paying attention to it, I heard it all the time.
These were my scattered, very un-linguistic impressions of the Icelandic language. Even though I didn’t really learn any of it, I gave it a lot of thought during the trip, and together with the interactions with the locals, the beautiful landscapes, the food we tasted and the freshness of the air we breathed – it was an important part of making memories of Iceland for all senses. I really think that even just observing, if not learning, the languages of the countries we travel in, really give an extra dimension to the travel experience.
Have you ever done similar ‘language observing’ while traveling? How do you observe and explore a language while traveling? Or do you always try to learn some basics of the language before you go? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
(Ps. I don’t really know how to make a short post. This was supposed to be one. Oops.)
Ah, September – one of my favourites! The feeling of freshness both out in the nature and in life in general. Right now there is even more anticipation than usual, as I’m turning a whole new leaf in life: I graduated! It’s time to say goodbye to student life and welcome something new. What exactly, I don’t know yet, as I’m currently searching for a job… But I feel positive and excited.
As I wrote last month, August attacked me kind of suddenly – and it didn’t give me an easy time the whole month, really. I caught a cold and was sick for a week, and even without that, I had a lot more eon my plate than I’d expected and it ended up being like a marathon of months. Everything I had to do was really motivating and exciting though! However, it meant that my language plans had been slightly too ambitious, as I’d overestimated the time I could spare for language learning.
So it was the third month in a row of doing less than I planned, but I’m not too disappointed. I’m still sort of experimenting with what kind of routine I could have for Swedish, and each of these three months I’ve still studied more than the previous month, and managed to make it a little more consistent. I’ll have to tune down my goals from last month a bit, but I’ll still try to study a bit more than last month!
Review: August 2017
For Swedish, my goal was to aim for immersion, and read, write, speak or listen a little bit every day except weekends, so I’d do all of them a few time every week. I basically had one week when I can say I did this. The other weeks I did a fair amount of listening, read a little, and that’s it.
Listening – I listened to a lot of music and quite a few podcast episodes.
Reading – I read some 50 pages of Där vi en gong gått, and once I read some articles about circular economy and wrote down useful words.
Writing – I only wrote maybe two entries in my diary. I don’t know why this is so hard to get going.
Speaking – Meh… I had one Skype with my new Tandem partner. I spoke a few times on my own while driving somewhere. And did two short videos on Instagram.
I don’t mind too much doing less than planned for the other parts, but I really want to improve my speaking, and at this rate, much progress isn’t going to happen!
As for Russian, I met with my tandem partner twice and that’s all. This is ok, but the tandem meetings were more enjoyable when I was being more consistent with other Russian practice, too. Using my Russian now feels a bit like I’m taking it out of the fridge each time; it’s all stiff and sticky and needs to be warmed up before it starts to flow like it should. Oh well, I guess it’s good practice anyway!
For French I didn’t even have any specific goals, I only read some more of the book I bought from Paris airport.
Here’s how my monthly tracker looks like his time:
Learning Goals for September 2017
I don’t really know in detail what I’ll be up to this September. For now, it’s job search and hopefully some chill.
All I know for sure is I’m off to Iceland for a week (woop!!), a rather spontaneous trip with a friend of mine. So not too much time for language studies that week. It would have been a chance for a little side track language adventure – Icelandic sure is an interesting one – but well, I’m not really into language dabbling right now, and anyway I only decided to book the trip two weeks ago… I think just góðan daginn and takk fyrir will have to do this time!
After my trip, I guess I’ll also review my goals for the rest of the month a little bit, when I know more about my situation and plans. I’ve teamed up with Elena as language buddies for Swedish – which I’m really glad about! I’m quite sure chatting with her will help me get back on track after my trip.
I’ll still stick to the attempt of some every day Swedish. But whereas last month I was trying to fit an hour of studying to my days, now I’ll settle for just doing something every day, and try to practice each of the four skills once at least once a week.
I’ll keep reading Där vi en gång gått, but as it’s a bit of a heavy read, I also got another book alternative: Omgiven av idioter by Thomas Erikson. It describes a personality analysis system where all people can be sorted to four categories, and how this can help you understand people better, even the ones that are very different than you. I’m not sure if it’s very well based on scientific facts, but it’s a popular book, and should be an interesting read.
I’ll keep listening to music and podcasts, for now I’m happy with the ones I mentioned in last month’s post.
I don’t really lack alternatives for speaking practice, I just didn’t utilize them last month: italki tutors, my new tandem partner, some friends I could Skype with… This month I just need to book these well in advance and stick to them. At least one real speaking practice session per week is my most important goal this month.
I don’t know how I could motivate myself to write more often… but after all, it’s not the most important skill for me for now, so I won’t worry too much about it. I’ll write something if I feel like it.
Russian & French
For Russian, I’ll try to manage having two Tandem meetings, and I’ll try to start listening to audiobooks again.
For French, I’ll keep reading my airport novel.
Blog and Instagram
What actually kind of bothers me is I haven’t managed to find the time to write anything here on the blog except these Clear the list posts! I have a long list of topics I wanted to write about but they just aren’t happening. And last month I didn’t even manage to answer any of the comments I got on my previous post – so sorry about that! I’ll try to do better this month. I wonder if I should book a specific time for blog-writing each week…
Well, maybe it already helps if I hereby promise to write at least one post before the end of this month!
Besides that, I’ll try to get back to the habit of posting on Instagram. The language society there is one of the best things for motivation. (If you want to find loads of language learning friends on Instagram, a good place to start is to look up @joyoflanguages and #languagediarychallenge, and join the challenge!)
So – nothing too new and exciting for my language plans this month, but I guess is good to have something familiar in this new situation I’m in! 🙂 Maybe when other things in life start to find their course again, I can shake things up a little and think of something new. We’ll see!
August attacked me today. I’m pretty sure the shift from July is usually more smooth and friendly. In August, things that have been on summer break tend to get going slowly throughout the month, gently waking you up to everyday routines. But August this year seems somehow more aggresive. Maybe it got up on the wrong side of the bed?
I’m not sure if our vacation in Paris was too short, if I’m just tired because we returned from there late last night or if it’s because I was avoiding some of the stuff I should have done before our vacation, but today I felt like hiding under a blanket and throwing my phone and calendar out of the window because I got overwhelmed by all the stuff there was suddenly to be done.
Luckily I’d done something before our trip: drafted this post. So now I can publish it and feel like I’ve gotten something started this month already, and maybe other things will seem less stressful tomorrow!
Review: July 2017
I only got back on track and set my goals in mid-July, so there’s less to review, just two weeks, the second of which was largely defined by our trip to Paris. So my main goal was actually to just get going again, re-establish my routines and start developing a new study plan, because I switched my main focus from Russian to Swedish.
With Swedish, I am now aiming for immersion, that is, surrounding myself with as much Swedish as possible every day, in order to brush up my skills. The goals I set myself were not very exact: just to do some writing, reading, speaking or listening – at least one of them, but preferably all of them – every day. I had some ideas of resources for each of the core skills, and my plan was to try them out and see which suit me best so I can be more accurate with my goals next month.
This went quite well. Before Paris, I did something almost every day, I only missed two days. Most days I practiced two or three of the core skills. I also have a better idea of how I want to study Swedish now. I’m not sure if the immersion thing is really happening, though. I still need to look for more opportunities to add Swedish to my everyday life.
For Russian, I had the relaxed goal of having some study time once a week. What I did was have one tandem meeting.
Even though Swedish was my main focus, these two weeks were actually quite intense also for French, because the first week and a half I tried my best to review some phrases and prep myself mentally to make the most of the chance to speak for real, and last week was all about the rare occasion of actually speaking French in France!
I didn’t manage to practice every day or quite even every two days, but I did prepare a little bit, and I do think it helped a little. It was mainly about really deciding to speak as much as possible instead of actual review or learning something new. And during our trip I did speak some French every day, and managed to find several occasions for chatting some extra. I still wish I’d spoken more, I still was caught by the traveler’s speech block, where you find yourself not saying something because you’re unsure of the correct way to say it. Well, C’est a vie! I still spoke a thousand times more French than last time I was in Paris (erm, 7 years ago??).
So July was interesting and all in all quite successful! Here’s how my tracker looks:
Learning Goals for August 2017
In January, when I was thinking about what I want to achieve in my language studies this year, I though I’d just have a “Swedish Summer”, and then perhaps get back to Russian or even start a new language for a change. My goal was to just defrost my Swedish, which felt really rusty.
That goal isn’t very well defined, but I could say I’ve reached it already. I’d say some defrosting has happened since January, just by reading some books in Swedish. Now, after just a few weeks of more active practice, I feel like I’m almost where I left when my Swedish was at it’s best, after upper secondary school. Of course there’s a lot of vocabulary I know I have once learned but is still not in my active memory. Anyway, it seems the frost isn’t as thick as I’d thought.
However, now I find I’ve got mersmak – an excellent Swedish expression which means that after tasting some, you want more. I don’t want to leave it here, I want to take my Swedish to a new level – haven’t yet decided which level. But for now, my main focus will stay on Swedish.
Besides that, in August I think I’ll set French to standby, and try to keep up a little bit of Russian.
The core of my Swedish routine will stay the same as in July: aim for immersion; read, speak, listen and/or write something every day. But I’ve defined my goals a bit more specifically. I’ll try to study 1-2 hours a day, five days a week.
I’ll keep reading Där vi en gång gått. I’ll also try and find some articles related to my professional interests, in order to build even work-related vocabulary. I’ll try to read a bit at least four times a week, with one more active learning session: writing down useful expressions and making up example sentences where I use them.
I’ll try to listen something, even if just Swedish music, every day. I’ve found three podcasts that I enjoy:
- Produktivitetsbloggens podcast: short episodes with talk about productivity and how to improve it.
- Hållbarhetspodden: Interviews about sustainability perspectives with Swedish business people. This is quite challenging, but challenge is good!
- Respodden: A travel podcast. Partially in English, but there’s enough Swedish and I’ve found it very enjoyable to listen while eg. jogging, it let’s me dream of traveling to faraway places like Costa Rica and Cuba…
I’m also considering finding some Swedish TV programs to watch. In July I watched a film, Stockholm Östra, from SVT play. The thing is, I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, so it’s not the best resource for me! Although it would be most useful.
I’ve now joined italki and found a few nice community tutors – and possibly a language exchange partner too. I also have a few friends to practice with, and I’ll try to have a Skype or meet up with them in August. So I think I should manage to have two actual conversations per week.
I’m planning to practice writing at least three times a week. I’ll either write an entry in my diary or just write about whatever is on my mind. I’ve practiced free writing quite a lot while writing my thesis, so I’ve gotten pretty good at just writing what comes in my mind, and now I could try that for practicing Swedish. For more active practice once a week, I’ll write a text and then look up any grammar points or words I’m unsure of.
I decided also to do some grammar exercises once a week, from a grammar book we used in school. I think it’ll be useful to review some word order rules and prepositions…
I’m also thinking of setting up a Swedish Goldlist to ensure I really capture some of the new vocabulary I’ll run into. I bought a pile of new Moleskines from Paris and I can’t wait to use them! ❤
For Russian, I’ll have the same goal as last month: Some study time once a week. Tandem meetings, reviewing my notes, audiobook, writing my diary. Perhaps some YouTube videos and music. I’m not putting too much pressure into this for now.
For standby mode, I’ll first do some reading. I bought a novel from the airport in Paris, something very light and silly, but the story is catchy enough and the book is surprisingly easy to read. I actually haven’t read a single novel in French before.
After finishing that, I figured I could find an audiobook to listen. Any tips on audiobooks for lower intermediate level?
I have a feeling that despite the rough start today, August will be great. Even though it caught me by surprise, in terms of language learning I’m actually quite well prepared, and very motivated.
Really looking forward to read about the goals of others on #clearthelist, too!
Oh my. Mid July.
Half of the summer is still left, but it’s not too early to say that, like all the summers, this one is too short. I haven’t even been to a terrace on a hot day for a cold beer yet. I’ve hardly had time to sit on the balcony and enjoy a warm summer evening. I haven’t even bought any flowers to put on the balcony yet. I only spent two weekends on a summer cottage. And I hardly even started my Swedish summer!
Well, half of the summer is still left. And at least the last problem is going to be fixed right now.
Review: June and May 2017
In June, I knew I was going to have so much work to do, I shouldn’t even try to fit too much language learning in. I had to finish my thesis, and even though in the end I guess I didn’t work any more hours on it than the months before, just the thought of finishing it was so huge that I had to empty my head of anything else.
So I’d decided not to even do Clear the list and language goal setting in June. But actually, when I started to get all the email notifications from the blogs I follow and see the Instagram posts about CTL posts made by my fellow language learners, I nearly changed my mind — I determined some goals, I made a monthly tracker and I started to draft a CTL post. I got so inspired by everyone else setting their goals. That is what Clear the list truly is about!
In the end, I didn’t write the post, but I think that having set my (non-ambitious) goals resulted in that I didn’t stop all language learning completely in June. Here’s how my tracker in June looks like:
Haha, it’s so empty. But it is better than nothing! Even though my goals for Swedish were more about trying out different things and finding the best resources for when I could get back on track in July, it did help me to do at least some listening and either reading or writing in Swedish each week. Besides that, I had one tandem meeting in Russian and two occasions of speaking French (the second of which was a totally unplanned one — I’ll share some thoughts on it another time!).
Since I skipped June’s Clear the List I didn’t review May’s goals, either. Here’s a quick look to how I did:
Did almost everything I’d planned: especially worth mentioning are loads of reviewing my old notes in Russian, my most active Instagram Language Challenge month so far, and finally finishing Vägen till Jerusalem.
I’m not going into more detail about what I did in May or June for now. I’m more eager to get to the goals part, and back on the language learning track!
Learning Goals for July 2017
I decided already in January, that in June and July it would be time for Svensk sommar — Swedish summer. So after six months of focus on Russian, I’m switching Swedish as my main learning project for a while! (I’ve written in this post about how I’ve come to study Swedish and what is my history with it)
This means switching from my weakest foreign language to my second strongest one, making the study routines I need to develop very different from what my Russian routines have been. And actually, to a great extent, my Swedish Summer is at first going to be about defrosting more than making progress.
Besides that, I’ll just try and keep up my current level of French and Russian.
I guess you could say that under the frost somewhere, Swedish is my “stuck in the intermediate plateau” language. (If you’re not familiar with the concept, google that phrase and you’ll find TONS of polyglots writing about it). I’m pretty good but not fluent. I estimate my reading is definitely C1, my listening almost there as well, and my writing and speaking somewhere on the long way from B to C. (In terms of CEFR)
With this background, I’ve been wondering for a few months already, what could be the best approach for me to take on Swedish learning. I’ve decided I need to try and create an immersion environment for myself. That means surrounding myself with the language as much as possible. That forms the backbone of my goal for July: listen, read, speak or write something every day.
Like I said, this is very different from what I’ve been doing for the last half a year, and I’m actually quite inexperienced about immersion learning. I’m not sure how to structure my goals in terms of different activities, either. And I’m slightly lost about which resources I even want to use… But I decided to write this post even if I can’t really formulate my goals that well this time, because just writing my ideas down might clarify them a bit. Of course, any tips and suggestions are very welcome!
One thing about immersion is, I should aim to switch to Swedish in not just some of the stuff I normally do in Finnish but especially the stuff I do in English. Normally, I read news, listen to music, google things etc. a lot in English without even thinking about it. During my toughest thesis writing stress weeks, I occasionally felt the need for some relaxing meditation, and automatically searched for a podcast in English — until I realised I could find one in Swedish. This is something I need to pay attention to, to find opportunities to practice Swedish every day.
Here are some thought on the resources I’m planning to use:
I’ve found some really nice podcasts – something I haven’t utilised in language learning so far – and SVT, the Swedish National Television has a lot of programs online. I’ll start with those. I also made a Swedish playlist on Spotify. It’d be fun to find some Swedish vloggers on YouTube but so far I haven’t found ones that would really interest me.
Because I started to get a bit bored with Vägen till Jerusalem — not because it wasn’t interesting, but because it took me ages to finish it — I decided not to read the sequel at least right away.
I stumbled upon another book when visiting a friend of mine, who was moving home. She was getting rid of some books, and told me I could take anything if I wanted.
So I decided to read Där vi en gång gått by Kjell Westö. The author is from Finland and the book is about Helsinki in the early 20th century. It has received the Finlandia price, the most appreciated literary award in Finland, in 2006. Reading the first few chapters of the book have already made me rethink my relationship to the Swedish language… I think I’ll write another post about that.
I’ve been kind of lacking ideas for what and where to write in Swedish. I usually write quite a lot of stuff by hand, I make notes and lists and everything, in Finnish of course, and last month, I made a few of my to do -lists in Swedish. This is something I could do more of, but I’m not sure if it’s very efficient, since it’s not about writing complete sentences. I could also write my diary in Swedish.
As always, this is the trickiest part… I’ve been thinking about booking a few lessons on italki just to get started. Maybe I should also find a language buddy or ask if any of my Swedish friends from would like to have a Skype or something. I’m a bit nervous about that though, as I’m used to speaking English with them, and I haven’t been in touch with them for a while, anyway.
Today I actually spontaneously started speaking to myself in Swedish when driving the car. I’m not good at speaking to myself even though it would be a great way to practice… but I managed to go on for quite a few minutes. This spontaneous moment of talkativeness was triggered by Google Maps navigator which I had set into giving me instructions in Swedish! 😀
I’ll keep it relaxed, I think some study time once a week is enough this month. Depending on what I feel like doing, I’ll continue reviewing my notes, listening to an audiobook, or writing my diary. I’ll also try to arrange one meeting with my tandem partner, we’ve had too long of a break.
Actually, this month will be exciting in terms of French, since we’re traveling to Paris in the end of July! We’ll stay five days. I know it’s the classic situation where you build a lot of expectations on a short stay in the country of your target language, and then often get disappointed by how little you managed to speak. I’m travelling with my boyfriend who only speaks a few basic phrases so I don’t even want to spend the whole holiday finding people to get into lengthy conversations with. BUT I will definitely speak some French. Every day. That’s decided. That’s my main goal in French for this month.
So in this two weeks (wait, what!?) time that remains before our trip, I’ll try and prepare for speaking in Paris. That means I need to refresh my traveler’s phrases and prepare for some small talk… How do you prepare for trips to where your target language is spoken? I’d love to hear some ideas!
So yes, in general, my goals are slightly less organised and concrete than usually. It’s partially because of losing my routine during last months break, which I’ll try and get back this month. But some of it is just about summer, I’m sure. Overwhelming, green and warm and light and beautiful summer. I don’t want to stress.
May this be a relaxed and happy month of languages!
PS. I added some categories for all my posts so you can find more easily what the kind of articles you are interested to read. You can see the categories on the right hand side of the front page, below the “Recent posts”.
Language learning can be divided to four core skills you need to develop to make progress in language learning: speaking, writing, listening, and reading. These skills are of course not separate, practicing one always develops the others, but they are quite different in nature and each needs deliberate practice. Perfecting all four of them will give you a comprehensive ability to deal with any kind of situation with the language.
Except. Lately I’ve been thinking that there is a fifth skill that needs to be practiced separately: daring to open your mouth. Yes, it is related to speaking. We might argue it is just a part of the core skill of speaking, because without daring to open your mouth, you can’t really make progress in speaking. However, I kind of like to think that it is a separate skill. I’ll tell you why.
First, I’ll share with you an experience that made me really thoroughly think about this.
A while ago, I was at a graduation party of a friend. She’s a so called Swedish Finn, Swedish is her first language. I’ve always spoken Finnish with her, though. But at the party, basically all the other guests were Swedish speakers. Knowing that my Swedish is pretty good – supposedly – and that I like learning languages, my friend introduced me to everyone in Swedish, and told them I like to practice, so no need to switch language.
There I was, sitting at the party, everyone around me speaking Swedish, which I could totally understand. But my brain was just a bit too slow to really take part in the conversation. I would start t think of a comment on something someone said, and while I was forming the sentence in my head, the conversation had moved on.
I suppose you might be familiar with the situation, if you’re an intermediate learner of a language. It is always harder to participate in a conversation of native speakers, compared to speaking one on one with someone. I think that is when the skill of daring to open your mouth is more necessary than ever.
The difference between “I know how to speak” and “I can speak”
I think you could say that the “daring skill” is what makes the difference between “I know how to speak” and “I can speak”.
The thing is, I really KNOW HOW TO speak Swedish. So well that I actually believed for some years that I am nearly fluent. By the end of upper secondary school, I could read fluently and write excellent essays, and survived effortlessly the classroom speaking situations.
I think the truth was only revealed to me last spring, during my exchange semester in Gothenburg. I was very quickly shocked by my own insecurity to speak. I really tried to keep to Swedish with the locals but I always ended up being a quiet listener, because I just felt so clumsy and inadequate when speaking. Clearly it had been many years since I last used my Swedish, and I thought that after a while it would get easier. But I never dared to open my mouth often enough to really start to defrost my Swedish.
This is why I view daring to speak as a skill of its own, even if it truly is a part of the speaking skill. Because you can first learn to dare, and then learn to speak – as has been the case for me with Russian. I think I dare quite well already, but there’s still a long way to learn to speak really well. And then again, you actually can first learn quite a lot of the language, and then learn to dare to speak, as has been the case with French for me. I only recently started to practice speaking, and once I got past the inability to open my mouth, I’ve been surprised at how well I’m able to speak already.
Basically, you can learn how to speak by reading, writing and listening. But you can only learn to speak by speaking. And for that, you need to dare to speak. So perhaps we could say, that Speaking skill = Knowing-how-to skill + Daring skill!
Speaking skill = Knowing-how-to skill + Daring skill.
Is daring just a matter of personality?
I’ve noticed that some people are much better at daring than me. I’m quite an articulate person and careful speaker even in Finnish, meaning that I often tend to pause a lot, look for the right words and accurate expressions all the time while speaking. This seems to reflect to my language learning – I find myself less able to speak than someone else at my general level in a language. For example in Sweden I had a friend who had also learned French and I don’t think she was much more advanced than me – but she really didn’t hesitate speaking and could just chat happily, make mistakes and find ways around things she couldn’t say – while I struggled to find the right words and form correct sentences with them.
Is it a question of personality then? Someone I spoke with about language learning, a Finnish guy, told me that during their exchange studies in Germany, he had felt that the Spanish and Italian exchange students struggled much less to speak even though many of them seemed to know less German than he did. Is it a question of culture?
I think yes, partially both – but it is also something you can learn. To some extent, you can learn it in general, and being better at daring to speak one language means you’ll be better at daring to speak any language you are learning. But in some ways, you need to learn it for each language separately.
Why is it sometimes more difficult to dare?
There are a few things that make daring to open your mouth more difficult.
1. If you try to participate in a conversation of a group of native speakers
Well, clearly. Like the situation I experienced at the party. Even if the people are very patient and know you are still a learner, it takes a lot of effort to keep the conversation slower and simpler than how they would naturally speak. So if you don’t dare to open your mouth before having thought through what you want to say, you can’t keep up. And you might be more nervous anyway to open your mouth in front of more listeners.
2. If there is another language you both speak much better than the one you want to practice.
When learning Swedish, this is pretty much always the case, because Swedes are in general so fluent in English. So it can feel a bit silly to try and blunder on in Swedish when the conversation could be much more intelligent in English.
With the Swedish speakers in Finland, it feels even more awkward for me to speak Swedish, because most of them are practically bilingual, their Finnish as strong as their Swedish, and they are extremely used to speaking Finnish all the time in their studies, at work, and while shopping or running any errands – they are supposed to have the right to get service everywhere in Swedish if they want to, but the sad truth is, many Finnish speakers are so bad at speaking Swedish, they often find it less of a trouble to just speak Finnish (the areas where Swedish speakers are a majority, are an exception).
At the party I mentioned, I also wasn’t able to start a conversation with anyone, because I got stuck at trying to decide, should I dare to speak Swedish, or should I just go for Finnish. With Finnish as my native language and as good as their native language, speaking Swedish would just feel stupid and awkward. It really shouldn’t, but it does. And this is because I haven’t learned to DARE to speak Swedish!
3. If you learned the language for quite a long time before really starting to practice speaking.
Language learning gurus often say you should practice speaking from the beginning. I always thought it is important, but never really thought about why. Sometimes people like to think they want to first learn a bit more than the basics and only then get out there and speak with people. But at least for me, this seems to actually be a counterproductive approach.
The thing is, learned Swedish in school for six years without really practicing to speak. Sure, we did speak in the classes, but small dialogues from textbooks are just not the same as really producing speech and having a natural conversation.
So, like I said, I was pretty good at Swedish when I finished school, and I thought I was nearly as fluent as with English (which I could already speak quite effortlessly back then). But now that I think about it, before last spring in Gothenburg, I never really even tried to have a longer discussion in Swedish. So now that I try to speak, I know how to speak correctly. I can think through a conversation in Swedish. But when I really should speak, I realise all the grammar points I’m unsure of and get stuck with trying to figure them out, and I get anxious about each mistake. I get frustrated that my speech doesn’t match my perceived level.
Another example I can give you is my experience with speaking French and German. I learned both in upper secondary school – French for three years, eight courses, and German for half a year, two courses. I should have been around CEFR B1 at French and A1 at German. At level B1, you should be able to survive most traveling situations. After our final exams I did an Interrail trip around Europe with a friend. I found myself quite unable to speak any French at all but could comfortably get by at cafes and buying train tickets with my few sentences of German.
I’ve thought this was because French was just harder for me. But now I’ve started to realise it must have been A) because my German teacher made us practice speaking a bit more, and B) because I was more advanced in French but had practiced speaking as little, so I expected to speak better than I was able to, and my expectations and the experiences of unsuccessful speaking situations made me unable to DARE to speak.
How can I learn to dare?
Now, all of this leads down to the question: is it possible to learn to dare? Like I said in the beginning, I like to think that daring to open your mouth and speak is a skill among other skills. I like to think about it this way, because if it is a skill, it can be practised.
I described things that make daring more difficult, and based on that, I also recognise some ways to make it easier at first, how to start practising. Here are my ideas:
- Practice one-on-one first. Don’t be discouraged if participating a group conversation is more difficult. It might take a lot of practice before you can rock that.
- Practice with someone you know. Especially if you are shy, it may be easier to first practise with a friend.
- Practise with someone you don’t know at all. Sometimes it can be even better this way. It is really difficult to switch languages, if you are used to speaking a certain language with someone. I think our personalities change a bit when speaking a different language, which can feel weird with people you know well. And of course, if you are used to having very deep conversations with someone, in a language your fluent in, switching to simpler things can feel silly.
- Practise with someone who is also learning the language. They’ll certainly understand why you want to speak this language and not a language you both are more fluent at. You can overcome the fear of mistakes together.
- Practise with someone native, who is learning your language (tandem). It really helps to hear someone speak your own language imperfectly, like I’ve written earlier. You’ll realise mistakes aren’t dangerous, and that getting your message through is more important than correct grammar.
I’ll put these ideas to test next month, when I’m planning to try and finally defrost my Swedish and learn to dare to speak it!
What do you think? What are the best ways to overcome nervousness to speak? Is there a way to move from one-on-one practice to being able to participate in a quick-paced conversation of a group of native speakers? I’d be really happy to hear your thoughts!