“Before vs. After” – My Personal Language Learning Victories

A beautiful day in Paris. I sit in a brasserie très chaleureux and order une assiette de charcuterie from the waiter, compliment the charming atmosphere and appearance of the place and throw in a small-talkey comment about the weather. They politely ask me something about my stay and if I like it here, I assure I do and ask for tips for something interesting to see in the neighbourhood. Everything in French, bien sûr.

That’s the dream. I don’t know any statistics, but I would guess it is the typical dream of  an average language learner: being able to travel and speak the language. The great moment of language success we aim for may be successfully making an order in a restaurant, or managing to hold up a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker, or even surviving the whole trip speaking the target language only.

At least I admit I have always been a travelling-oriented language learner (besides just being passionate about the languages). In upper secondary school, I was learning French and German, and had really high expectations about testing my skills in practice on an after-graduation interrail trip I was planning with a friend.

But language learning is a long process, and personally, I really don’t travel that often (wish I could, though). So when I do get to travel somewhere a target language of mine is spoken, I put a lot of expectations on the trip and on the upcoming language-speaking glory. Then I get disappointed, if I miss any chances to speak or if it just doesn’t go as smoothly as I’d imagined. On the interrail trip, after three years of studying French, I didn’t even manage to buy stamps at a post office without switching to English.

That was, of course, many years ago. I like to think I have matured as a language learner. I now realise I need other goals and milestones, too, and that language learning success comes in many forms. It is important for motivation to find moments when I can look back and say: “I’ve learned a lot. I’m better at this than before.”

But in everyday language learning, the moments of success are hard to catch, because the progress is often so subtle. For example, with my Russian tandem practice, it took three months before I could even notice I am getting better. And still I sometimes feel like I’m getting nowhere and I’m getting there too slowly. That is when I might start losing motivation if I wasn’t able to tell myself I can do it.

I’ve already learned a few languages, and they say you get more confident as a learner with each new language. The thing is, until last year, I’d basically only learned languages in school and at uni, and I hadn’t really thought that much about how I know if I’ve made progress. The courses I passed and the grades I got were my metrics for that. I was quite confident as a language learner, but after starting to learn on my own, I have struggled a little with being unable to measure my progress.

My personal language learning victories

I’ve been here before. “Here” is at the beginning of trying something new in a language, and finding it really difficult, but not impossible.

A while ago I had an experience, that made me think of how many personal victories I can actually find in my history of language learning.

This happened over a month ago, when I was sick for a few days and got really bored and totally ran out of stuff to do. Then I got the idea to try listening to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone in Russian, just to see how it would feel. (In case you didn’t read this post, I’ve previously listened to Harry Potter audiobooks in French). I didn’t expect to understand enough to be able to actually keep listening and enjoy it. I really didn’t consider my Russian to be on a level where I could listen to an audiobook, even a familiar one.

But when I started to listen, I instantly got a funny feeling. Like I’ve been here before.

“Here” is at the beginning of trying something new in a language, and finding it really difficult, but not impossible.

It felt exactly the same as when I first started to listen to the French version: At first, I could only pick a word here, another there, but could still follow the story. And I was only able to listen for a few minutes before getting overwhelmed and tired.

It was of course great that, unlike I had expected. I was able to listen and pick a few words here and there and follow the story. But what was really brilliant, was that with French, it only took me a couple of months that my ability to listen had improved what felt like ten-fold, so I got the feeling I’m not that far from my goals with Russian, either.

Inspired by this, I wanted to make a list of things that prove me I’ve made progress and improved in other languages before. So in the future, if I ever lose courage, feeling like I’ll never get anywhere, I can look at the list and see, that I’ve been there before and I’ve gotten far. It might also help me recognise new milestones I’ve reached.

This is my list of reference points of where I was before and where I am now:

  1. BEFORE: I can recall when I was around 16, and stayed in England with my aunt’s family for month in the summer and I really struggled to get a whole sentence of English out of my mouth trying to talk to my British uncle, even though in theory I was supposed to know a lot already. AFTER: I’ve spoken English quite confidently for at least seven years.
  2. BEFORE: I also remember the first times I tried reading a novel in English. It was so slow, I couldn’t concentrate, I had to stop and check words in a vocabulary frustratingly often. And I got tired after a few pages. AFTER: Now I read scientific articles for my thesis and wouldn’t think twice about should I read a book in its original English version or not.
  3. BEFORE: In 2009 I was on a week-long language scholarship trip in Sweden, and we went to the movies to see “Män som hatar kvinnor”. I felt like I didn’t understand a word. AFTER: Last year I watched a couple of Swedish films without subtitles, and struggled a bit, but not too much.
  4. BEFORE: Two years ago at my summer job I tried speaking French with a Brazilian guy who’d studied in France, but the conversation practically stopped before it started. And a year ago in Sweden I participated some language cafes to try and speak French, and I was able to say something, but probably sounded like a two-year-old. AFTER: this month, I was able to explain the topic of my Master’s thesis in French (it is rather complicated).
  5. BEFORE: In October I was in St. Petersburg in October, and I actually didn’t even dare to properly try speaking, unless you count reading out loud the Russian name of the food I ordered at a restaurant. AFTER? I’m not sure yet how much my speaking has improved during our tandem practice, but at least I most certainly do dare to open my mouth and try to say something!

Quite an amazing feeling, to realise all this. May the list get longer as I keep going!

Before and after… but after what?

Besides reminding me about the fact that I have succeeded before and I can do it again, there is another important purpose for the list above.

You know those “Before vs. After” pictures of people who lost half of their weight in no time with a super diet or training program? This Before and After list, I assure you, is not like that. What happened between Before and After here, was not a magical intense language course or program I paid a lot of money for. None of these happened overnight.

How did I make it? At least for numbers 1 and 2, it took years of practice and being forced to use English in my studies and immersing in it in my free time via films and music etc. For number 4, it took a lot of defrosting of what I’d learned in school, with a 1000 Goldlisted words, maybe 200 lessons (and reviewing them continuously) on Babbel and at least 60 hours of audiobooks.

So the list should remind me of not only where I’ve gotten so far, but also what it takes to get there: hard work, time, patience and persistence.

What is on your list? How do you know you’ve made progress? I recommend giving that some thought! Even if you are learning your first foreign language, pay attention to the small things that tell you you are moving forward. Start building your list of language victories. It will get longer and longer!

Language Learning Goals for April 2017

Hello, April! Here in Helsinki, you started out a bit too snowy and cold to my liking, but I know you will bring spring with you. And the light and longer days are already making me feel a lot more energetic and productive. This month in languages will be good, I feel it!

This post is inspired by the Clear the list challenge hosted by Lindsy Williams from Lindsay does languages, Shannon of Eurolinguiste, Kris Broholm and Angel Pretot.

Clear The List

Review: March 2017

I’m happy to say, after a less organized February, I got back on track. For March I did tune down some of my goals and left out some activities to keep it lighter, just enough to make getting everything done more achievable. This worked nicely, I felt like I had a very suitable pace. And I managed to plan ahead each week, which was once again an excellent way to keep me focused and really do stuff.

My tracker from March shows what I planned to do and what I actually did:

File 2.4.2017 14.12.32

Russian

Tandem: Meeting once a week – Done! Although a problem that started towards the end of February kind of continued: 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.
Translate two dialogues from my textbook –
Done! This was a better goal than one dialogue per week, which I had earlier, which just wasn’t doable for me right now.
One set of case exercises from the textbook each week – Done! I noticed I actually enjoy these grammar exercises. Weird? 😀
Babbel Review twice a week – Done! I find this really useful. Sure, it’s about memorizing certain phrases, which is kind of passive learning, but I find it slowly helps me get better at building sentences of my own, too, and to apply grammar rules for example. When I for example memorize examples of which case is used in a certain context, it is then easier to pick the correct case in other situations too.
Audiobook three times a week – Done, well twice a week, but basically I was listening to an audiobook, either in French or in Russian, whenever I had the chance. I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks, I listen to them on the bus, while I’m cooking or cleaning, when I’m waiting, when I’m relaxing, when I go jogging… Love it.
Watching news at least once a week – Nope. I watched them once. It’s just an activity that only takes a few minutes and I still can’t bring myself to do it… The YLE Novosti (Finnish National TV has daily news in Russian) are too boring, it’s always too much about the defence forces. Im not sure what to think about that; the news are for Russian speakers who live in Finland, and there are fewer topics than in the main news, so I suppose they should pick the stuff that they think is most interesting for the Russians in Finland… Anyway, therefore I tried Euronews, but in the end, couldn’t bother to search interesting pieces of news from there to watch.
Reading Ася – Класс!ное чтение -reading practice book one chapter per week – Done. The book is slightly over my level – which is good I guess, that’s what they say you’re supposed to do: Read something you can just about follow the main point of, while running into a lot of new vocabulary. It was a bit tiresome, but I managed to keep picking the book up once a week.

French

Listen to an audiobook for half an hour per week or so – Done! Like I said, I’m always listening to audiobooks now.
Song text exercise once a week – Did this twice. It wasn’t so much fun I’d have wanted to do it each week. But fun enough to do every other week! (So the idea is, I pick a song, try to figure out and write down the lyrics, then check.) I’m not sure if this counts as writing practice? Great for listening practice, surely.

Swedish

Vägen till Jerusalem: Read 30 pages (or so) each week – Ahem… maybe 3 pages per week 😀 I try to read in the evenings when I go to bed. That doesn’t work, because I’m always extremely tired at that point and usually I’m going to bed later than I’d like to anyway.

Extra (French and Swedish): I met again with my new French friend who is learning Swedish. We had great conversations, mainly in French but a bit of Swedsih too 🙂 I’m really happy about this chance to prove myself that yes, I can speak French!

All in all: Well done, me! The goals were realistic and the pace very suitable to fit in my current daily routines.But you may notice there were a few points I need to refine a bit about my study plan. And refine them is what I’ll do. That’s why this Clear the list challenge is so great, it helps you regularly review and refine what your doing.

Language learning goals for April 2017

This is an important month, because the second quarter of the year begins. It is time to look at the big picture a bit. Back in January, I made some rough plans for the whole year in languages – which languages I’n focus on, on a quarter of the year level. Here’s a quick recap for the wirst half of the year:

  • January-March: Intensive Russian, bit of more speaking in French, reading in Swedish
  • April-June: 1 or 2 more months of Russian, then one or 2 months for Swedish!

There are two points that matter now: First of all, I’ve done pretty much what I planend for the first quarter, except that I feel like my Russian studies could have been a bit more intensive. Secondly, after April, I should decide if I’ll do one more month with Russian as my main language, or is it time for Swedish already. (I need to underline, that I’m not too serious about these year-level plans, I might change them according to how I feel – but they do give me a sense of direction!)

As it may be my last month of Russian as a main language, perhaps it is time for a slight boost! As I just said the pace I had last month was really doable, I hope adding a few things won’t be pushing it too far. But then again, perhaps I won’t try to do more stuff, I’ll just try to make a bit more out of what I’m doing.

Something I’ll pay more attention to this month is practicing each main area of language: reading, writing, listening ans speaking. I’ve been following Kerstin Cable of Fluent Language, and one of the important rules in her language learning methods is paying attention to developing each of these core skills. This has inspired me to be more aware about that, too.

Russian

Speaking: Tandem and Babbel

Yes, these are both also about listening, but they are my main activities that develop speaking skills. We’ll probably keep meeting once a week with my Tandem partner. Babbel Review I’ll drop down to once a week (as I’m not adding new vocabulary anymore, there will be less and less to review when I move up in the spaced repetition levels).

In Tandem, I’ll put a little more effort into really picking all the new words and structures I learn, and reviewing them afterwards.

Listening: Audiobook

Keep listening 2-3 times per week. I think I’ll also try and write down some useful structure or two I pick up, while listening.

Reading my practice book and new textbook dialogues

The same as before, reading one chapter per week. I’ll also make this reading practice more deliberate: I’ll either write a few sentences about what I read, or try doing the exercises behind the book.

I’ll also translate two dialogues from the textbook. This, of course, combines reading and writing.

Writing: Grammar exercises and diary!

Same as before: one set of grammar exercises per week. I’ll pick ones about verbs, this time, because I’ve already done all of the case exercises. This I count as writing practice, because most of the exercises include writing sentences.

Besides that, I’ll be brave and try to write each week one entry to my diary in Russian! I have a 5-year diary with just a few lines for each day, so it should be excellent for writing a few sentences in Russian. I’m excited about trying this. 🙂

In addition, of course, I’m in on the Instagram Language Challenge again!

French and Swedish

In French, I’ll also try to find some time for each of the core skills each week:

I’ll keep listening to the French audiobook. For writing, I think I’ll keep a few open alternatives – either more song text exercises, or perhaps writing a diary entry also in French from time to time, or just writing something about topics that interest me.

I think I’ll find some news articles or scientific texts to read, because I actually aim to get my French to a level where I could use it at work, and reading is the easiest area for me to start this more advanced practice. And for speaking, I think we’ll meet up with my friend again, at least once. Other than that, I could do one French video on IGLC each week!

In Swedish, just reading, still Vägen till Jerusalem. This month, I’ll try to keep the book with me and read at lunch breaks, on the bus etc. (When not listening to audiobooks ;))

Important piece of news: My journal got full and I have a new one and it is so pretty! Did I mention I love journals and notebooks? My tracker will look a bit different this month because the new journal is smaller. You’ll see in the next Clear the list post!

File 2.4.2017 14.12.57

So this is my plan for April and I think it is again better than last month! Can’t wait to put it into action!

Language Learning Goals for March 2017

A week late again, oops. Seems this is becoming a habit. Same explanation as last month: I did set up my goals by the end of February, but couldn’t find the energy to type them into a blog post until now – really getting my daily dose of typing and screen-staring at work!

This post is inspired by the Clear the list challenge hosted by Lindsy Williams from Lindsay does languages, Shannon of Eurolinguiste, Kris Broholm and Angel Pretot.

Clear The List

Review: February 2017

Well, let’s say I didn’t expect to have two months in a row like January was… First week was just fine. The second week I caught a cold and lied four days at home, with nothing else to do except my languages, so I guess I overdid it.

After that, I got kind of stressed out about not having done any of my Thesis while being sick, and besides, I was slowly getting into a more stressful stage of the project anyway. So the second half of  February, I let the habit of planning my week in languages slip, and so I didn’t get half of my weekly exercises done.

So here’s how I did:

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Russian

Tandem: Three meetings – Done! But the quality seemed to go down for me towards the end of the month: First an excellent job interview practice meeting, then one pretty basic, and the last one where I came really unprepared and felt like I couldn’t speak at all. 😀
Translate one dialogue per week
– I did two dialogues, couldn’t bother at all in the last week of the month…
Case exercises from two textbook chapters each week – I did four chapters in total, so one per week on average.
Six lessons per week on Babbel – Did 4-6 lessons per week.
One episode of Бедная Настя per week – I think I watched almost ten while I being forced to stay in bed in fever. The next week the site where I was watching them stopped working, boo! So no Nastya for the last two weeks.
Watching news at least once a week – Done for three weeks, then dropped it.
Vocabulary – I did this laid-back picking interesting words from a vocabulary thing twice a week until mid-February, then dropped it.

French

Goldlist: three sets per week – Done for two weeks, then dropped it. 😦 This I am a bit sad about.
Listen to an audiobook for half an hour or so – Done! I went for another book I’ve read in English: Twilight, which I of course loved as a teenager. The story is a bit silly, but I needed something easy for now, and it’s still fun to listen to a familiar story in a new language.

Swedish

Watch weekly vlog from Clara Henry – Skipped one week.
Vägen till Jerusalem: Read 30 pages (or so) each week – Very little reading done… I’m too tired in the evenings and the book is slightly heavy to read. But little is better than nothing.

Extra (French and Swedish): I met once with my new French friend to practice French and Swedish. I was really happy about being able to almost explain in French what my Thesis is about! (As I’m an engineering student, that’s not the most simple thing to explain even in Finnish).

So practically, I had one (and a half, perhaps) very unproductive week, otherwise I did alright! It’s just that I don’t think my goals were that ambitious, or rather, they were at a minimum level of languages that I’d like to be able to fit in my weeks. But as we Finns say:

Näyttökuva 2017-03-08 kello 20.07.51

Meaning, when the road gets rough, just keep going. Therefore…

Language learning goals for March 2017

Russian

Still my main learning project. I feel like I should do a bit more. I got some moments of success and now I’m hungry for more of the feeling of making progress… but I’m afraid I won’t have time for more. I’ve made some small changes though:

Same same but different: Tandem, Textbook, Babbel

In tandem, we’ll keep meeting once a week if we can find the time.

With the textbook, I’m letting myself ease it down with the translation practice, to two dialogues this month, and one set of grammar exercise per week.

And with Babbel, I unsubscribed the Russian courses, but the Review Manager is still available for me so I’ll review twice a week the stuff I’ve learned.

Reading

I thought last month I should find something to read in Russian in March. Then I remembered I got a  Класс!ное чтение -reading practice book from my tandem partner as a new year’s present! It’s a story called Ася, from a 19th century Russian author, Turgenev, with some kind of exercises attached.

That seems the perfect way to start practicing to read something more textbook chapters. I’m quite excited to try something new now!

I’ll try reading one chapter per week.

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Listening

When I was sick, I actually got very bored and ended up trying out something I didn’t think I could do: listening to an audiobook. It was better than expected. I’ll write about this experience in more detail later, but I’ll reveal, it’s my friend Harry Potter again. 😀

So I’ll do some audiobook listening three times a week and also try to squeeze in some news at least once a week, too.

In addition, I’ll keep doing the Instagram Language Challenge, hopefully more actively than last month.

French and Swedish

Unfortunately I do feel like I have to give up French Goldlist for now. It works better when I can do it nearly every day and am learning a lot of French with other methods at the same time. Now the three times a week combined with the audiobook only didn’t really feel motivating. So I’ll give it a break and get back to it in a month or two. Luckily, it shouldwork fine even after a break, since the words I learned are supposed to be in my long-term memory now 🙂

I’ll keep listening to the French audiobook two or three times a week. I also want to do a bit of writing. I thought I’d try out a song text exercise: I’ll pick a song, try to figure out and write down the lyrics, then check. I’ll do this once a week.

In Swedish, I’ll keep trying to read Vägendro till Jerusalem. Slowly but surely…

And, hopefully, another Swedish-French-meeting this month, too!

Shared Joy is a Double Joy – Thoughts on Tandem Learning

My university organizes a program called “Each One Teach One”, which is meant to encourage students to learn and teach languages in tandem. I don’t know why I only found the program last October – how many times before did I wish there was more language exchange culture at my university?

Through the program, I found a tandem buddy, Natalia, and since November, we’ve met regularly (twice a week before Christmas, and once a week this year) to practice Russian and Finnish – first half of the meeting we speak one language, second half the other.

I had mixed expectations about tandem learning. Often people think it is the best solution to learning a language, and language learner communities across the Internet are flooded with messages from people in search of a tandem partner. On the other hand, I’ve heard many bloggers and experienced language learners warn that tandem learning can turn out to be more difficult than you think, and it can even be a frustrating or disappointing experience, if it doesn’t work out.

Above all, there is a problem if one of the partners is more dedicated to teach and the other one mainly expects to learn for free. I thought, however, that even if you both have the best intentions, it probably isn’t the easiest form of teaching and learning.

I thought that surely when you already have a decent knowledge and speaking skills of the language, tandem works as great speaking practice. But is it only suitable for more advanced practice? That’s what I slightly feared before we got started. I wasn’t a total beginner, perhaps level B1, but I had never really had a lot of practice of speaking Russian before.

Right from the first messages we exchanged to agree our first meeting, I got the feeling that Natalia spoke a lot more Finnish than I did Russian, and this was confirmed in the first meetings. I got slight inferiority issues in the beginning, and felt the need to apologize that my Russian wasn’t quite conversational enough. After some of the first conversations, I’d feel exhausted and not too happy, after having just been stammering and stuttering and hardly able to put two words together for half an hour.

However, I was quite determined to make it work. And it has been getting better and better, and has turned out to be not only useful, but also a lot of fun.

Here’s what I think have been the main reasons our tandem has worked:

Patience, patience, patience. Tandem requires bucketloads of this attitude from both of the participants. When I’ve tried to start a sentence five times again to think my way around the missing words, or just gone “erm… erm… erm..” for two minutes, or make a mistake and be embarassed, Natalia would just patiently wait, or keep telling me “it’s ok, it’s all good, don’t worry”, urging me to go on.

It may feel difficult, when you’re not able to even get a complete sentence out of your mouth, to practice with a person who thinks and lives and breathes in the language. And chatting with a complete beginner can be demanding for a native speaker, too. It’s not easy to slow down from your natural speed of speech and think of simpler ways to say things. So you both need to be really patient.

Encouragement. Every time I manage to say something correctly, I would get an impressed “Mолодец! Oтлично!” And we’d both be equally happy about each and every small success.

Sure, it takes some bravery, to just open your mouth and get talking. But more courage and confidence can be created by getting prepared. We agreed on the topic of the meetings beforehand. So if the topic was traveling, I’d spend some time at home thinking of sentences and looking up words, so I had at least something prepared I could say about the topic. Even writing down what you could say in the conversation is not cheating, it’s all part of the learning process. You don’t need to be able to speak spontaneously in the tandem discussions; especially not in the beginning. Little by little, you’ll get there.

What has been the best thing about tandem practice?

I think the main benefit is not even in practicing the language, it’s about speaking with someone who is learning your own language, in your own language (or a language you’re much more advanced in, than them).

I think the main benefit is not even in practicing the language, it’s about speaking with someone who is learning your own language.

How come?

Because speaking another language is so much about courage, overcoming the fear of making mistakes. Speaking with someone who learns Finnish, has a foreign accent and makes mistakes, has given me a lot of courage. It’s proved me, that making mistakes or not pronouncing perfectly is not dangerous at all.

Russian, like Finnish, has several cases, and like probably in Finnish for many, that is one of the most difficult aspects of the language for me. I was unable to say anything at all in the beginning, because every time I had no idea which case to use, I got stuck. But the thing is, when I speak Finnish Natalia, and of course she makes mistakes, for example with the cases (she speaks Finnish really well, but it takes ages to get all the cases right in every situation!) – I hardly pay any attention! I have to make an effort to remember to correct her sometimes (because, of course we want each other to correct some mistakes every now and then in order to learn from them).

Finally, I have to say, that with languages, no single type of practice makes you perfect on it’s own. Neither does tandem practice. You need to combine it with other stuff. Some other forms of practice has been included in our tandem: preparing for the topics by writing down some phrases, watching Youtube videos we’ve found each other and then discussed at the meeting, etc. But I’ve also done Babbel lessons, grammar exercises and dialogue translations on my own, watched the news and tv series and made videos on Instagram to practice more speaking.

A couple of weeks ago, at our tandem meeting, we were practicing job interviews – a crazy thing to do in a foreign language your hardly B2 level on, and I dreaded it beforehand. But in the end, Natalia said she’d been surprised at how well it went. She said she can see I’ve made progress from since we started. I agree, I feel like I have.

The progress I’ve made is not only thanks to our tandem practice. It’s made speaking easier, for sure, but the progress is thanks to all the stuff I’ve done, altogether, during the last couple of months. However, it is thanks to the tandem, that I’m able to notice that progress. And thanks to the tandem, I was able to share that great language learning success moment with someone who was equally pleased about it!

 

The Best Reason to Learn Languages

I just got this moment, when I remembered why I’m actually learning languages. I needed to share it. I wonder if there’s someone else out there, who sometimes gets a feeling like this?

A moment when I was just struck by the breathtaking beauty of a language.

Today, I was watching Бедная Настя and it got me by surprise. It was this song:

 

I think there would be a lot less problems in the world, if everyone could, when hearing a foreign language, just stop, and listen, and hear the beauty of it. In stead of being afraid or suspicious about something we cannot understand, we could be fascinated and awed by it.

I am so overwhelmed that such a variety of languages exist. Different languages that people around the world strive to express their thoughts and feelings in.

It’s universal. It is so beautiful. I cannot even describe it.

I have no idea why, but I needed to share it.

Language learning goals for February 2017

We’re one week into February already, eek!

For some reason, February always seems to pass quicker than other months. It is only a couple of days shorter than the others so that can’t really be true. Perhaps it’s because in February, you’ve already gotten all the new things of the year going so things are just kind of rolling. Also, there’s a lot more light, the days are getting longer up here in the dark winter of Finland. Maybe that also has to do with it.

Although this post is a bit late, I planned my February’s goals really early, two weeks ago. I’m currently writing my Master’s Thesis, so in my free time, sitting down in front of the computer to write has not been the first thing on my mind…But I do want to share my review and goals, so here we go!

This post is inspired by the Clear the list challenge hosted by Lindsy Williams from Lindsay does languages, Shannon of Eurolinguiste, Kris Broholm and Angel Pretot.

Clear The List

Review: January 2017

On January, I was on fire. Well done me.

Remember my tracker I mentioned in the previous post? I got the idea from the Bullet Journal blog. Many BuJo people seem to use that kind of a thing for tracking their habits, especially exercise. The minute I saw it, I thought, “this could work for language learning”.

Turns out, it was the best thing ever.

My main problem with language learning is that my leisure time activities are very irregular. It’s not like yoga on Mondays, tennis on Tueasdays for me, but a different schedule each week. (I don’t play tennis and rarely do yoga but you get the point.) So I can’t just decide I’ll do French on Friday and Swedish on Sunday, either. Sometimes I have a lot of time in the weekend, sometimes more during the week.

I set weekly goals before, but couldn’t really decide which weekdays are for which languages, and especially, I didn’t plan which specific activities to do each day. This lead to a problem that when I had time for language learning, I couldn’t decide which activities to start with, and this got me overwhelmed and I wasted time trying to make up my mind.

So I tried using my tracker to plan ahead one week at a time. I did this usually on Sunday, when I pretty much knew already what the next week was going to be like. I had most of my goals for the month in a  “I’ll do this x times a week” form, so I could just divide the activities throughout the week on the days I thought I’d have time for them. For example, if I knew I had a busy day coming on Tuesday but would spend a lot of time on the public transport, I allocated some sitting-on-a-bus activities, such as listening or Babbel, for those days.

Something I also struggled with last month was that I found it hard to optimize the amount of time spent on each language. My tracker-planner also helped with this – it was easier when I could the variation between different languages visualized. It helped me check that I stick to my priorities throughout the week.

The tracker-planner worked wonders, because even if I didn’t have time when I’d planned, the empty box of the activity reminded me of what I’d not done yet that week, and I usually ended up doing it a day or two later than planned.

So this is how I did with my goals:

Russian

Tandem: One meeting per week – Done, starting from week two, so three meetings in total. In the beginning, the effects of a Christmas break could be seen, and speaking didn’t come easy… but we got going again!
Translate one dialogue per week
– I translated three in total.
Case exercises from two textbook chapters each week – Done!
Six lessons per week on Babbel – Done!
One episode of Бедная Настя per week – Done! And actually it was impossible to just watch one episode at a time, so I watched ten episodes in total. 😀
Watching news at least once a week – Done, sometimes even three times a week.

French

Goldlist: three sets per week – Done!
Listen to an audiobook for half an hour or so – Done!
I listened through “Le Petit Prince”. I’ve tried it before and couldn’t really follow back then, but now I almost understood everything, yay!
(Can’t find Harry Potter 5-7 as French audiobooks anywhere. That’s a shame!

Swedish

Watch weekly vlog from Clara Henry – Done!
Vägen till Jerusalem: Read 30 pages (or so) each week – I read a hundred pages in total.

Extra: 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. I got proof that I’m actually quite able to have a discussion in French.

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My language tracker by the end of January!

Language learning goals for February 2017

I feel really good about what I was doing in January, and will therefore stick to pretty similar activities, but I dare to add a few new ones, because I think my schedule should be slightly less occupied with everything else in February.

Russian

Russian is still my main learning project and after February, it will have been so for three months. For some reason, this feels important. Somehow less time than that feels like just dabbling, but when you get past that, it’s kind of serious. This isn’t based on any statistics, just my gut feeling. But for me, three months with a language is a special occasion. I need to think of something – a special challenge, and a special treat, I think – for myself for the end of this month!

But first I need to get there and keep learning. My plans for February:

Tandem

I’ll keep meeting with my tandem partner. We’re almost through with our list of planned topics, probably we’ll complete them this month. I think we’ll try to find the time for three meetings.

Textbooks

I still felt a bit bored by the dialogue translations in the beginning of January, but started to get the hang of it towards the end of the month, so I’ll keep it up another month.

I’ve refined my method a bit: The basic thing is, I write the dialogue from my textbook in Russian and translate it to Finnish. Then I read the text through it a few times during the week, and finally translate it back to Russian and review my mistakes. This is what I added: with the first read-through, I pick the words that feel difficult and write them down as a list. The second time I underline all the difficult parts in the Russian version AND the parts where the word order or transcript is very different in the Finnish version. This helps me to pay attention to the differences.

Babbel

My subscription expires in February and I know now I won’t continue it because the level of the courses is two elementary for me. But I’ll keep doing some vocabulary lessons until the subscription expires; six lessons a week or so.

Series and news

I’ll keep watching at least 5 episodes of Nastya and the news at least once a week.

Vocabulary

Be it speaking in the tandem meetings and or understanding when I watch Youtube videos, I really feel that my biggest obstacle right now is the lack of vocabulary. The situation calls for a vocab boost method.

Like I’ve said, I love Goldlist method, and when I was taking my Russian courses at uni I was doing a Russian Goldlist. But it didn’t work as well as with French. For French I have an excellent vocabulary book that has a selection of most central words, and I’ve been Goldlisting that. In Russian, I used the vocabulary of my textbook chapters, but that wasn’t too motivating, because it’s a very random selection of words, not always the most relevant, I feel, and every now and then, the words reappear on the vocabulary.

So I’ll need something else. I’ll try something new. The sister of my boyfriend recently borrowed me a Russian dictionary, and since then, I’ve had a strange urge to carry it around everywhere I go and just skim through it all the time. I’ll try to utilize the strange appeal of the dictionary, and try to evolve some kind of a modification of the Goldlist method. We’ll see what it turns out to be like.

French and Swedish

Same goals as last month:
Goldlist three sets a week and half an hour of an audiobook (I need to pick a new one). Reading Vägen till Jerusalem and watching Clara Henry vlogs.
In addition, I hope to find the time for at least two more French-Swedish meetings with my new friend.

Not much new, only small changes this month, but why change something that works?

However, next month I’ll probably have to think of ways to add some new challenge, in order not to get bored, or stop making progress. I’m thinking I should perhaps try to write a bit more. Also, I could find something to read in Russian. But that can wait until March!

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The Language of Pickled Cucumber and Honey

I’ve shared you earlier my story with English, Swedish and French. As Russian is my main learning language right now, I thought I could reflect a bit about why I started to learn it and how has it been for me so far.

Why Russian?

For some reason, as long as I’ve known I want to learn a lot of languages, Russian has been on my list. I’m not entirely sure how it found it’s way there. I recognize, in general, at least 5 different reasons to want to learn a language: exposure, need, practicality, social or cultural interest (I could write another blog post about my thoughts on this!).

To some extent, it’s probably the exposure: the more I listen to a language, the more intrigued I get. In Finland, there are 70 000 people whose first language is Russian, and in 2015 we had 53 000 Russian tourists visiting overnight. So it is likely to hear a bit of Russian in Finland.

In elementary school, I had some friends on my class whose mother tongue was Russian, and sometimes I’d secretly listen to them speaking on the phone with their parents and be intrigued about how the same person sounds so different when speaking another language. I can’t really remember what Russian sounded to me like back then.

In high school a classmate of mine, a girl originally from Russia, taught me some Russian. I learned the letters, and some numbers and colours and simple phrases. I guess after that I had the feeling I always get after learning a bit of a language: I wanted to learn more.

Partly, I guess, it’s also practical: I found it possibly useful for future career opportunities. Many Finnish companies do business with Russia, and Russian isn’t a language everybody learns, so it can help you stand out as a job applicant.

I definitely have a cultural interest for Russian. There are many similarities – generous hospitality, a certain kind of stubborn pride, and, I guess, liking vodka. But the differences often feel more distinct. Russian people are said to be more temperamental, living in the moment and open in their expression of feelings. Russian has an imperial history. When I think of Russian cuisine, I think of pickled cucumber and honey (I’m not sure if Russian people actually eat this or if it’s a Finnish misconception), which somehow sums up how I feel about the whole culture: surprising, perhaps even somewhat strange at first glance, but in fact extremely likeable and brilliantly original.

But there is, I think, a sixth reason to feel drawn to a language. It’s the mysterious appeal you sometimes feel about a language, alluring interest. I think it may be born from a combination of all the other reasons I mentioned, but you may feel it without really being able to recognize any logical reasons behind it.

There are two foreign languages that have this special appeal for me: Swedish and Russian. I could call it infatuation, because it feel a bit the same as thinking about that someone special you like! Haha. I’m just mysteriously drawn to these two languages, they are beautiful and intriguing to me. They are the two neighboring languages to Finnish, yet not related to it at all and not really closely to each other either. Two very different cultures surrounding us, having their own influence on the Finnish culture, and still feel like different worlds.

I can’t explain it any better. Have you ever had that kind of feeling about another language?

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In St. Petersburgh in 2016

A patchy history of Russian courses

I finally got the chance to actually study Russian in university. There were a lot of languages to choose from, but for some reason I jumped straight on a Russian course without a second thought.

However, university studies were much more demanding than upper secondary school, where I had thrived learning four languages at the same time. I really didn’t usually do my Russian homework and because of that, the classes weren’t too useful, either. Every semester I couldn’t even fit the courses in my schedule. I also had a year off from university at one point.

So my Russian studies were really scattered: Course 1A in spring 2011, 1B in fall 2012, 2A and 2B in fall 2014(!) and 3A and 3B in fall 2015. Everytime I just stubbornly moved on to the next level even though I felt like I’d forgotten half of the previous courses (and maybe never learned the other half because I hadn’t really been concentrating on the courses).

So Russian was, after French, the language I most felt like I should have already learned more than I had. That’s why I’ve picked it up now again as my second project after having decided to really start learning languages again last year.

What’s difficult and what’s easy

I’d say Russian has been the most difficult for me to learn of all the languages I’ve studied.

Usually I learn really well by listening and back in school I could, for example, memorise entire course book chapters of French or Swedish just by listening to the recordings. Of course, I only recently started to feel like I can understand French speech at normal speed – the course book chapter recordings were simple and slow. But with Russian, even the simplest chapters just sounded like “lksdjladghksdlsdfhgsuadslkj” in the beginning, even after I had read and translated the text and learned the vocabulary. It took me ages to get the hang of how to listen to the language. There’s something entirely different about the rhythm, structure and sounds of it.

Reading Russian is also kind of difficult for me. No, I actually had no trouble learning the alphabet, when it comes to recognizing the individual letters, but somehow I still read very slowly. Normally I’d say you read by just looking at a word or even the entire sentence, but I still read Russian kind of letter by letter. It’s all about lack of practice, of course.

Another problem with reading is, I can’t tell where the stress on longer words is. If there’s a new word I read and haven’t heard, it’s very difficult to imagine what the word is supposed to sound like, because the placement of the stress makes a huge difference. I’m not entirely sure if there are any rules for this or if you learn to place the stress only word by word.

The cases are so confusing. Yes, Finnish is notorious for them. I don’t know if being naturally familiar with the concept makes it easier or not. I suppose I learn the declension rules easily enough, they are logical enough. The biggest problem is when to use which case! That’s where having cases in my own language is mostly just a stumbling block. The genitive in Russian is used to state ownership, just like in Finnish, but it’s also used with amounts such as a lot or a little, which, in Finnish, is expressed with partitive, also the case used for partial objects, which are, then again expressed in accusative in Russian. Confused yet? I am. Argh!

What’s easy: Verb tenses!
But wait –

That reminds me of yet another difficult thing: verb aspects. They only came in on my last two courses of Russian and I certainly haven’t gotten my head around them yet.
And all the little movement verbs with their prefixes:

входить / войтиto go in, to enter
выходить / выйтиto go out, to leave, to exit
всходить / взoйтиto go up, to ascend
доходить / дойтиto get to, to get as far as, to reach
заходить / зайтиto drop in, to stop by
обходить / обойтиto walk around, to bypass
отходить / отойтиto walk away
переходить / перейтиto go across, to turn
подходить / подойтиto approach
приходить / прийтиto arrive, to come
проходить / пройтиto go by, to go past
сходить / сойтиto go down, decend
уходить / уйтиto go from, to leave, depart

Gahh… Send help.

So, not so many things I’d find easy in Russian, but I guess I enjoy the challenge! And all the more rewarding it will be when I make progress.

I’m still kind of searching my favourite methods to learn Russian. Any ideas are welcomed!

And I’d be happy to hear  about your experiences. Have you learned Russian? Why did you choose to learn it? What do you find difficult or easy? Or did you relate to any of these thoughts with another language you’re learning?

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Kremlin of Nizhny Novgorod