Language learning goals for December 2016

Lately, two language blogs have really inspired me to try new methods and keep up my learning: Lindsay Does Languages and Joy of Languages. They gave me the idea to start using Instagram for practicing my French, and also made me think it is possible to keep learning multiple languages at the same time – something I gave up on earlier this year because I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere.

The most important thing these blogs have given me, though, has been ideas on how to set myself some proper goals. They both do a monthly goal-setting post where they specifically describe what they want to accomplish with each language they are learning.

Based on their example and my own learning methods, I set myself some weekly goals already this month. I managed to stick to them perfectly with French, but I did a bit less than planned with Russian and Swedish.

Next month I want to give it a go and officially join the Clear the list challenge! It’s a goal-setting challenge hosted by Lindsay Does Languages and Eurolinguiste.

Clear The List

 

Learning multiple languages

Katie Harris of Joy of Languages has an approach for learning multiple languages that I really love. She uses the terms sprint language and marathon languages. It’s intuitive: The sprint language is her main focus, she learns it daily and immerses herself in it with activities like TV, reading and radio, to make some serious progress. Marathon languages are the ones with more relaxed goals. They are being kept up so the stuff you already learned doesn’t get forgotten.

I find the division very helpful. The two concepts describe really well the amount of focus you should give to one language and the pace you can expect to keep up with the others, if you want to keep learning several languages AND actually make progress in one of them. Otherwise you will only keep treading water with all of the languages and learning nothing new.

I’m working on applying this in my own language learning right now.

Switching focus

I’ve been mainly learning French for more than half a year now. And I’m happy to say it’s been very fruitful! My understanding has improved and my vocabulary broadened. Just on the course of this month, after writing small things every day on Instagram, I’ve noticed it has gotten easier to form sentences and express my thoughts. The words come more easy to me now. I still haven’t practiced speaking enough, but at least I feel that an ordinary, not-so-simple conversation in French would not be impossible (like it used to be). And confidence is an important factor in speaking, so it is something!

I’ve found a really nice flow with French right now; I really enjoy everything I do with it. In that sense, it feels a bit difficult to take it down to less. But I also feel like I’ve reached a certain level where it is safe to concentrate on something else for a while.

I have a strong reason to dedicate more time for Russian right now. I joined a program at my university called “Each One Teach One”, and found a Russian student who wants to learn Finnish. We have already met a couple of times and practiced a bit, and I feel like it’s going to be great fun. But it is really difficult for me right now. My ability to speak Russian is far from impressive.

In order to make the most of the tandem learning, I have to support it with other things. That’s why I feel like I need to make Russian my main focus (or sprint language) now.

Learning goals for December 2016

The languages I’m learning right now are French, Russian and Swedish.

Russian

Because my Russian learning has been very unorganized so far, it will probably take some time to find the best methods. And the tandem learning thing is totally new for me. Trial and error it may be, but hopefully learning will happen.

My goal is to be able to keep up a very basic conversation (which also includes widening my vocabulary a bit, because I really do suck at surviving with a tiny vocabulary). I also wish to finally get some basic grammar in my head, so the cases wouldn’t be such a nightmare (yes, being said by a native Finnish speaker – the irony, I know…)

Tandem

We’ve made a great plan with Natalia, my tandem partner, and I’m super excited to get going! We’ll meet twice a week to discuss half an hour in both languages, on a chosen topic. We’ll also find for each other some pre-tasks, such as videos to watch, to support learning some words and phrases related to the topic.

Babbel

I checked what Babbel has to offer for Russian and unfortunately it’s rather basic stuff only. However, even my basics of Russian seem very rusty so perhaps it’s exactly what I’ll need to brush it up. I’m sure it’ll help with the grammar at least.

So I’ll try completing the Beginner’s course number three (1 and 2 seem too simple) which has 25 lessons. I’ll also do at least 20 grammar lessons in addition to that.

Translation

Because my tandem project will include both listening and speaking activities, and the Babbel courses will support grammar and speaking, what is left to be covered is reading and writing.

I think I’ll try the translation method: translating short dialogues first from Russian to Finnish, then back to Russian. I’ll use my course book from the courses I took at uni because I feel like I never really properly did my homework on those courses…

My goal is to do two dialogues per week. No idea if it’s too much or too little. Trial and error!

French

In order to make space for Russian, I should take French down a bit. How? I want to keep doing my Goldlist. And no way I’m going to leave out the Harry Potter audiobooks. I had actually wanted to check some French tv series and music, too… My goal next month is to keep up the great feeling of learning French, and enjoy all the things I can do with it – while doing much less.

Goldlist, audiobooks and Babbel

I guess the solution is cutting down how many days of the week I use for learning French. I’m thinking three days. Don’t know if it’s too much, but less feels like too little. So I’ll do three rounds of Goldlist a week, and listen to the audiobooks maximum three times a week.

Also, my current Babbel subscription of French ends around Christmas. I’m almost done with the last In-depth course they have, and lately I’ve noticed the other courses on grammar, vocabulary and words and sentences feel a bit too easy. So I think I will just keep using the review manager and reviewing what I learned so far, until my subscription ends.

TV and music

Because I got some great tips last month for both music and tv series and I really want to try them out, I’ll try to find the time to watch a series or listen to French music at least once a week. My goal is to at least check the recommendations and find out which series and artists I like.

Swedish

My “de-frost” project. Some time early 2017 I think I’ll take it as a sprint language to actually improve (or de-frost) it… Now my goal is to at least keep using my Swedish, and try and stop more frost from forming.

Lately I’ve been doing two things and I think I’ll just attempt to keep those up:

Reading

I still need to finish “Sommarboken” by Tove Jansson, that was my goal for this month. Then I’ll find another book and keep reading, just more regularly than this month.

Watching video blogs

I’ve found vlogs by Clara Henry amusing, and great practice for listening, so I’ll keep watching those every week.

Put myself to test

I’ll test my understanding of Swedish at the end of the month by watching a film without subtitles.

Instagram

I’ll keep using Instagram for practicing, but haven’t quite decided yet what to do with it. I should focus on Russian there, too, but I still want to keep writing some posts/making small videos in French, because it’s so much fun. Perhaps I’ll go for whichever language I feel like every day, but at least three days of the week must be Russian!

 

Harry Potter et la magique des livres audios

Final part of my very effective French-learning combo of last few months is listening to audiobooks. Not just any audiobooks, though, as the title of this post implies.

Why Harry Potter in French? In general, books are at their best in the original language, so why not find something originally French to listen to?

Starting to listen to audiobooks in a new language is tricky. I have tried listening to a couple of originally French children’s books before, with bad results. Although they probably were simple enough language, my brain just was not adjusted to understanding French at that speed. The normal speed French is spoken at, that is. The French narrators (at least in children’s books!) seem to always read in a very lively manner, changing their voice a lot – muttering, growling, whispering, reading even faster when depicting anger or excitement – making it totally incomprehensible for a beginner.

The magic of Harry Potter books as a perfect language learning tool for me is that I have read them a ridiculous amount of times, both in Finnish and in English. So many times that I practically know them by heart.

When I first started to listen to the first one, “Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers”, at first I did struggle. It sounded pretty much like “Aprés blahblahblah Harry blahblahblah baguette magique et blahblahblah, dit-il.” But even though I could only catch a word here and another there, I could still follow the story, as my memory was filling in the missing parts. At first I got tired soon and could only listen to it for five minutes at a time.

Pretty soon it got better. I started to pick up words I’d just written in my Goldlist or structures I’d run into in Babbel, catch whole sentences and even figure out the meaning of words that I heard repeatedly I didn’t know before.

Now, three and a half books and 45 hours later, my listening has improved dramatically, and I’m really looking forward to the audiobook moments. Any bus ride, waiting time or longer walk passes happily with ‘Arry Potter et ses amis.

My vocabulary sure has grown. Of course, some of the words are not the most useful ones for everyday life: baguette magique, balai, moldu, cape d’invisibilité… But many times an actually useful word or a whole phrase gets stuck in my head after hearing it in the book, and I keep repeating it in my head and trying to think of situations where I could use it.

I can recommend to anyone who tends to read their favourite books again and again, to try out how they sound in another language. You know you’re going to enjoy the story, and it’s really amusing and interesting to hear how the familiar characters sound like in another language.

If I manage to find the rest of the audiobooks somewhere, I think I’m going to listen through the whole series. That would mean almost a hundred hours of listening. I think after that much practice I should be able to follow a book I haven’t read before!

Why I love the Goldlist Method

I’m a huge believer in the power of vocabulary. That’s why even my blog is named ‘Twenty thousand words”. I kind of view my goals of language learning through the idea of knowing enough words to be able to express myself and understand.

I know, I know – on the one hand, every language learner needs to learn vocabulary, and on the other hand, it takes more than knowing the words. Of course I don’t try to learn languages by only cramming vocabulary in my memory.

But it’s a question of focus. I know people who like to pay as little attention to vocabulary as possible. I like to actively, constantly and consciously build my vocabulary all the time, in addition to other learning methods.

This stems from two things: Firstly, previous experience. When I learned Swedish, it was after my teacher started to give lists of words to learn and have vocabulary tests every week, that my ability to speak and write just rocketed. It resulted in me finding the words more easily in every situation and that gave me more confidence.

Secondly, I’m the kind of person that even in my own native language I select my words very carefully and take time to find the most exact expression possible. So it’s quite hard for me to start speaking a new language (sure it’s hard for everyone but I guess I struggle more than average). Of course, it’s something I just need to practice – trying to make myself understood with the words I do know. In any case, because I really can’t change the way I am, it makes things easier for me to keep broadening my selection of words every day.

Ok, I guess, there’s a third point: I just like learning vocabulary. I enjoy words. Just marveling how they sound and look like. Seeing the connections to other languages I know. Sometimes suddenly even realizing what could be their etymology.

I suppose that’s why I’m really in love with the Goldlist method.

The Goldlist method

There are many different methods out there for learning vocabulary. Flashcards and spaced repetition is popular, for example – and as I mentioned in my previous post, I like that techinque in Babbel review manager. I never felt like making my own flashcards, though.

My current method of learning vocabulary is the Goldlist, and it is the best thing ever. For me, that is.

It was developed by “Uncle Davey”, David. J. James, and it is described in full detail here. Very brief explanation: you write down words in sets of 25, go through the list after 2-8 weeks and leave out one third of the words, the ones you remember the best; you write the rest of them again, and after 2-8 weeks you go through them again and leave out one third, and so on.

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An opening of my French Goldlist

The theory behind it is, that you’re not cramming your short term memory with words, but putting them straight to your long-term memory. You end up repeating only the words that are tougher to memorize. And you simply learn by writing the words. I love that. “From the pen to the hand, and from the hand to the brain”, said my German teacher. At least for me, that actually works.

Goldlist is not a fast-forward button of vocabulary study, using it takes quite a lot of time (like any other method, I think). And it is certainly not for everyone, I can imagine.

Here are some reasons why I think it suits me so well:

1) I love empty notebooks

Ever bought a notebook just because you couldn’t resist the empty pages? I do that every know and then, buy new notebooks even when I have no idea what I could use them for. I pass by the shelf with notebooks every time I go to a bookstore. I take pleasure in writing on an empty page of a brand-new Moleskine. Most of the time, I carry around at least three different journals.

I don’t know if I’m just strange in that way – but I think at least the an behind the Goldlist method shares that strangeness. You get a reason to buy those notebooks and enjoy filling them up page by page!

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Me and my stash of spare notebooks

2) I’m busy but like to take a few breaks throughout the day

I don’t really have a fixed day or hour for my language learning, I just take a break here and there, whenever I have time. Goldlist is excellent for that kind of schedule. I can always find a moment even in a busy day to write one set of words. One Goldlist session takes about 20 minutes for me. In between working on two projects, for example, I may use the Goldlist session as a way to clear my head from the previous task, so it’s easier to take on the next one.

I actually find my Goldlist learning sessions a relaxing moment. The whole process of taking out the notebook, writing down the numbers, carefully writing each word and enjoying how they look like on the paper, and then reading through the whole list is somehow soothing to me.

3) I enjoy words

Yeah, like I said, I just like to pay attention to words. That’s what you do with Goldlist – take one word at a time, and just let it sink in.

Trial and error

I have had some trial and error experiences with the method. Three things I have noticed are important to remember:

1) Use it parallel to other learning methods, especially reading or listening

A year ago, I did try to use goldlisting for “defrosting” the little skills I had, meaning that I didn’t use any other methods. The problem is, I don’t know if it worked or not, because that way I had no point of reference, no way to prove I was learning (except for the fact that I did remember the 30 % of words of each set of words even after a month or two).

The best thing about Goldlist is when I listen to my audiobooks and recognize a word I have written a while ago. And that’s the thing those people who go “never only learn vocabulary” mean: you need to meet the words you have learnt in contexts they can be used in, so you actually learn to recognize and use them.

2) Don’t try to sprint

Sometimes I had weeks when I had a lot of time and got very excited about my Goldlist and wrote 5 to 10 sets of words a day. Usually that phase was followed by weeks of not using my Goldlist at all. That is not very good.

It doesn’t matter really, if I sometimes have even longer breaks from goldlisting – I actually dug my list up after a break of over half a year, and because the whole point is you learn words straight into your long-term memory, I could actually remember approximately one third of the words and was thus able to continue from where I had left it.

However, I still think a better way is just to constantly do one to three sets of words a day. That way, my vocabulary keeps growing slowly and steadily. When I have more time for language learning, I can just use more time on my other study methods, and experience the results of my widening vocabulary when it gets easier and easier to read, listen and speak.

3) Try to find everyday context

I think this is something I still need to work on: Actually using the words I learn for producing text or speech. The set of methods I now use mainly improve understanding speech or written texts.

My vocabulary book has an example of each word used in a sentence, and I always read those, but even more motivating is when I can think of a situation or a sentence where I could use the word in my own life. Sometimes, especially when I do the distillations, meaning that I leave out the words I think I have best memorized, I scribble down small sentences below the list of words, using the word in a sentence I think I could actually use somewhere.

But in general, I do need to find ways to more actively use my French every day. Now I’ve found the Instagram Language Challenge quite helpful for that!