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… More
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!
Talking about the weather is probably one of the most widespread small talk topic across different cultures, right? It may be an old stereotype that Finns don’t do small talk, but I’d say it is mainly false and it certainly doesn’t apply when it comes to chatting about the weather. Although, I don’t know if it always fits in the criteria of light small talk; you could also say we like to obsess about the weather, especially around holidays. Will there be snow on Christmas? Will it be cold and rainy on Midsummer? When will it finally get warmer? Will it snow on May Day? Having our four very distinct seasons and often rather passionate feelings about each of them, we can get very worked up over whether, for instance, the progress of spring is as fast as we would like to expect (usually it isn’t).
What does this have to do with my Clear the list -post? Well, I was trying to think of the first sentence of this post, and found myself writing “Wow, it’s May already”, and then something about the weather. I love each of the four seasons (although my love for summer doesn’t run out, like the love for winter does around March) and I definitely like to obsess about the weather and the progress of spring. So you’ll probably find me starting each of these monthly reviews with a weather report and some happy or less happy expectations about what the weather will be like by the end of the month.
So Tuesday this week started in Helsinki with a blizzard. Yes, a blizzard. No exaggeration there. Today we got a hail shower. Only a few until May Day, a holiday we like to celebrate by going out on picnics. It’s usually really cold anyway, though. Sometimes it snows.
Last time I wrote that I know April will bring spring with it. Well, even though the spring is still kind of cold and snow-showery, it is here: birds are chirping like crazy, tiny green things are pushing out of the ground everywhere if you look closely, and on sunny days, you cab go out in a lighter jacket (if you are brave, because sleet storm may appear when you least expect it).
And May is a month that will bring summer!
The seasons move so fast, and that just seems to highlight the how fast the time flies. It feels like I just wrote the previous learning goal post, and now it’s that time again.
Review: April 2017
April was good. Rather busy and I worked hard to turn in a first draft of my Thesis before Easter, but I found that when I needed a break from working or wanted to do something relaxing after a long week, I was drawn to my language activities and didn’t suffer from language laziness at all.
I was using my tracker actively to plan activities for each week beforehand, here’s how it looks now (many of this week’s activities are still waiting to be done):
Tandem: Meeting once a week – Done three weeks, one we had to skip because we were both so busy. But that week I managed to find a bit of time to review some of the early Tandem meetings. Watching the videos my 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! I also prepared better for the meetings this month. But still didn’t review enough afterwards…
Babbel Review once a week – Done! I have a feeling I’ve pretty much learned all the vocab there is in my Babbel Review manager (it’s only around 300 phrases).
Translate two dialogues from my textbook – Almost done, I think I’ll finish the second one this weekend.
Reading Ася – Класс!ное чтение -reading practice book one chapter per week – Done, finished reading it!
Audiobook 2-3 times a week – Done!
Write one entry per week in my diary in Russian – Done, except this week, but I still have time. This was fun! I’ll never know if what I write is correct, but it gives me confidence to notice I can actually describe my day in Russian and manage to find an alternative way to express something I first felt like I can’t write.
One set of verb grammar exercises from the textbook each week – Done! And still enjoyed it 😀
Listening to an audiobook 2 times a week – Sometimes just once a week, but basically done.
Writing and reading something each week – I actually ended up just writing OR reading each week, taking turns on which skill I focused on. I read some science article on Le Monde and another time I read some travel site and looked for ideas of what to do in Paris, and I picked a random education video about sustainability, transcribed it and then tried to write my own sentences using some expressions from the video. This was quite fun!
Speaking French with a friend – Done, we met once. I’m so happy I’ve got this opportunity to practice speaking and especially that I’ve gotten to know her, she’s great! 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…
Reading Vägen till Jerusalem – I managed to read a bit more this month because I took the book with me and read on the bus sometimes. Bedtime reading is not my thing, it seems. Now I’m about halfway through the book…
So still going strong all in all, and still quite happy with my routines!
Learning Goals for May 2017
Last month I wrote I need to decide after April, if I’ll continue with Russian as my main learning project or if I’m ready to give it a rest. Well – definitely not ready! I feel like I’m only now getting the hang of it! So another month of Russian sprint, French and Swedish marathon (these two terms I’ve borrowed from Katie at Joy of Languages).
As for goals in each language, they haven’t changed much from last month. I want to push my Russian learning a bit further from the comfort zone, try to challenge myself and study slightly more deliberately. I’ll try to review what I learned a bit more often and try to apply what I learn to something new in my everyday life, and I’ll try to read and write more, to get more comfortable with it. This month I’m also adding a goal to acquire a lot more vocabulary!
Speaking: Tandem and Review
Tandem meetings once a week, prepare well and review afterwards. In addition to that, I’ll start doing review of my Russian notebook three times a week. The notebook is full and I’ll start a new one, and it seems like a great idea to go through the old notebook and pick the words and phrases I still haven’t learned and maybe move it to the new notebook. I’ll review by reading and writing but I’ll also add some speaking to the review sessions, for instance by doing Instagram videos.
Listening: Audiobook and Review
I’ll keep listening to audiobooks twice a week, and also review more of the old tandem practice videos.
I got a bit carried away in the library and borrowed a pile of Russian learning materials and children’s picture books (the library had a great many alternatives to choose from). I’ll try to read some of the “Болшой Атлас для самых маленьких” once a week and go through a few chapters of Book2 Russian-Finnish phrasebook twice a week.
I’ll keep on writing my diary in Russian once a week and writing grammar exercises from my textbook once a week.
French and Swedish
Same goals as before: In French, I’ll try to practice each of the core skills, so write, read, listen and speak something every week or every other week. I’ll use the same techniques and activities as last month.
In Swedish, I really want to finish Vägen till Jerusalem, but that would mean reading about three times more than last month. We’ll see.
There we go! I hope by the end of May, it will be sunny and warm and you and I will be happy language learners with a lot of goals reached!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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:
Meaning, when the road gets rough, just keep going. Therefore…
Language learning goals for March 2017
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!