Weather Forecast for May 2017 (And My Language Learning Goals)

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.

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: 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):

File 27.4.2017 21.37.16

Russian

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 😀

French

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…

Swedish

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!

2017-04-22 22.03.24

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!

Russian

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.

Reading

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.

2017-04-20 17.10.10

Writing

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!

“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!