Learning it feels quite effortless so far. I guess it’s partly about having forgotten what it is like to start a new language from scratch – things are so simple in the beginning! – but mostly it is about the language being very, very familiar even though completely new to me.
On day 2, I was checking the grammar points – numbers and verb conjugations – of the first chapter in my textbook, and realised I already know them without learning.
Already around day 5, I found myself talking to myself in my head, building sentences from the little I had learnt from that one textbook chapter.
On day 7, a fellow Add1Challenger from Estonia started writing messages with me in Estonian, and I could understand every word (but I do need Google Translate to help me write back).
And on day 27, I had a very simple but rather effortless conversation for 30 minutes with her!
One of my values in life is to explore and experience.
For me, regularly trying out new things makes life worthwhile. It broadens my horizons, helps me better understand the world around me, other people, and myself. It helps me grow as a person.
Recently, I decided to start learning a new language: Estonian.
Why Estonian, and why now? To answer that, let’s play “Never have I ever”.
1. Never have I ever learnt a language from scratch on my own
I have been learning languages on my own for approximately two years. It is starting to feel quite natural. Even now, after having a three-month hibernation, it was quite easy to establish new routines and get back to learning languages.
But so far, all the languages I’ve been learning on my own have been ones that I started out and laid the basis for back in school. With Swedish, I started my self-learning from around strong B2, with French, from almost B1, and even for Russian, I got a rather solid A1 basic level to build on.
I still have a couple of languages sort of in the queue, that I learnt the very basics for in school: German and Japanese. I could have picked up one of them next; last summer, I was already contemplating on starting Japanese again.
But then that “never have I ever…” came to my head and got me thinking: how would I tackle the challenge of starting out from zero?
It’s happened in many areas of my life before: once I start thinking “wonder how I would manage that”, I’m already taking the first steps to trying it out.
2. Never have I ever learnt a language related to my native language
This was perhaps the most important reason for me to make up my mind.
Ever since I started reading language blogs and about the experiences of other language enthusiasts, I’ve run into many stories about how certain aspects of their native language helped them with some other aspects of their target language. The Italian polyglot Luca Lampariello learning Spanish and Portuguese. Different posts about the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. When learning French with Babbel (from English to French), there were tips about true friends and false friends in vocabulary.
Now of course, I already got many “Yay!” moments with noticing similarities between the languages I’ve learnt. One of the reasons I really started to get excited about language learning, was when I noticed how, e.g., knowing Swedish really helped me memorise German vocabulary. In school, I realised I’m kind of good at noticing even the slightest similarities in the logics of the different languages, and found it really interesting.
But I never experienced learning a language similar to my own language. Recently I realised can’t even imagine what it would be like.
Unlike for native speakers of Romance and Germanic languages, there aren’t too many relative languages for me to learn. Somehow I find that even a better reason to learn one that is related to Finnish. I think we Finns are secretly a bit proud about being the language weirdo we are. And I find it would certainly be fun to get to know another language in that secret language club of Fenno-Ugric languages.
3. Never have I ever participated in Add1Challenge!
This doesn’t have that much to do with why I chose Estonian, but more with why I decided to do it know. I’ve been intrigued to try the Add1Challenge ever since I heard about it for the first time.
Briefly, Add1 is a challenge and a community where people learn a language for 90 days and aim to be able to speak for 15 minutes with a native speaker by the end of the challenge.
Add1 is also much about experimenting with new methods and resources to find the ones that work best for you, and becoming a better language learner.
What would better fit this challenge that my Never have I ever -experience of learning Estonian? I had been thinking about starting Estonian for some time now, and when I was reflecting my goals for this year in languages would be, I was tempted again to start a new language. The fact that there was a new Add1Challenge opening up was the last little push I needed to go for it.
Bonus: It is the 100 year anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Estonia.
Last year, Finland celebrated it’s 100 years of independence. For me, that celebration felt very meaningful and important. Now, this year it is Estonia’s turn to celebrate.
Despite the geographic and linguistic closeness of Finland and Estonia, I think most Finns know very little about our neighbour, it’s language and culture. Me included.
It seems appropriate now, in the honour of the 100 years of independence of our little sister, to get to know her a bit better!
Now, it’s your turn! What is your language learning “Never have I ever…”?? Let me know in the comments!
PS. Here’s a glimpse to how my Estonian sounds on Day 0:
(True to my old CTL habits, I need to start with a weather report.)
Spring finally seemed to be here – March was colder than average, but the last few days, we finally got plus degrees during the day (and less than five minus degrees during the night, yay), and the patches where the snow has melted have been growing!
But today I woke up to the sound of snow ploughs driving up and down our street and new what to expect when I looked out the window. More snow! Yesterday I learned a new phrase in Russian, which already proved to be useful: снег уже надоел – I’m already tired of the snow.
In terms of language learning, March was a month of waking up again, and trying to figure out what I want to start working on now that I’m back on the game. I started with the bigger picture of my goals with Russian and Swedish, and now I feel ready to plan how I want to work towards them next month.
Speaking – I’ll try to find the time for a meeting with my tandem partner, we had a long break but we both agreed it would be great to meet up again. I’ll also finally check out HelloTalk and see what comes out of that, perhaps I’ll find someone to chat to.
Reading – I don’t know!! I want to improve my reading but can’t think of where to start and haven’t had the energy to look up resources. Ideas are welcome!
I determined my goal for this year to be finding a reason to need advanced level Swedish.
A reason to need Swedish in April turned up sooner than I expected: at work, we have a new project starting soon, and related to that, I was asked to participate in a seminar in Stockholm the 12th of April.
A seminar. In Swedish. About the environmental impacts of road pavements.
I’ll mainly need to be listening and understanding, which wouldn’t be a problem, if it weren’t about a topic that I’m not an expert on in my own language. And then there’s going to be coffee breaks when I guess I should be able to at least exchange a few words with someone.
I’m thrilled and terrified at the same time.
Preparing for the seminar will pretty much determine my goals for Swedish in April. Here’s what I’ll do for the very least:
Find some background reading about the topics of the seminar to help me familiarise with the special vocabulary, and the topic in itself.
Ask someone at work to help me practice eg. giving some basic information about our company’s work related to the topic of the seminar, if possible
I’ve been thinking of trying to find a tutor on italki again, so if I manage to find one soon enough, I might ask them help me prepare a bit, as well ask ask my tandem partner to help me if we manage to find some time to chat
At some point this year I think I’ll make an effort to revise a bit again, but for now, I’m taking a break from French.
I’m currently contemplating on the question, should I start learning a new language or not. A part of me is telling me I shouldn’t – I have my hands full with Russian and Swedish as it is – but another part of me has had this idea for such a long time, and so many little things have been telling me that now could be the right time (against all reasonable thinking).
And apparently there’s a new Add1Challenge enrolment opening next week…
What to do?
What about you? What are your April plans looking like?
A while ago I was skimming through a fitness magazine at the hairdressers while waiting for the dye to set, and an article about setting goals to keep motivated to exercise caught my eye.
One point in that article was, that you should consider your overall situation in life when setting your goals: if you’re a CEO and have to keep a family life rolling, don’t set an exercise goal that requires 7 hours of training a week.
Makes sense, right? Similarly, if you have a brand new full-time job plus a volunteering position that takes up to 10 hours a week, it can hardly be the right time to think you can dedicate one hour daily to language learning. (That was me last August–September–October.)
Somehow, I think my goals for learning Swedish last year were simultaneously too ambitious for the time and energy really available, and not ambitious enough, so that in the little study time I had, I wasn’t really challenging myself.
I did sort of make a plan in August to start working my way to eventually reach higher levels. I was inspired by the post by Katie Harris about aiming for fluency in French, and I thought I’d want to make my perhaps somewhat lighter version of aiming for fluency in Swedish from my living room.
What I did not realise was that somewhat less effort would mean way less progress.
I did listen to podcasts and audiobooks, read books and chat with a tandem partner in Swedish – quite regularly even – but I didn’t really challenge myself, I didn’t really do what was difficult. And I certainly didn’t put a lot of time into studying. And so I didn’t really make progress, and my motivation dropped (and then hibernation happened).
However, those perhaps a bit half-hearted attempts to improve my Swedish still taught me something important about my current level and what it will take to make progress. I realised the inevitable truth: I really am sitting firmly in the intermediate plateau, and the way I was practicing last year won’t be enough to get me out of there (within the next 20 years at least).
So now, thinking of what my goals for this year should be, I know I’m going to have to be more specific, more systematic, and more ambitious. And at the same time, more humble and realistic.
What should I work on?
Kerstin Cable from Fluent Languages talks in her recent Fluent Show podcast episode about intermediate plateau, and says some really wise things there. Two things especially caught my attention:
It doesn’t help to assume that your progress will be as fast as it has been.
You should think what is especially difficult, and work on that.
I won’t have too much time for learning Swedish (I can’t dedicate as much time to language learning as I’d like to, and I’ve decided to focus on Russian). But I still really want to work with improving my Swedish. So I’ll just have to accept that it will be slow. And I’ll have to identify some specific areas that I find difficult in Swedish, and set some goals related to improving those.
Now, following the advice of Kerstin, I tried to think what I’m most frustrated about in Swedish right now.
First of all, it’s clear that speaking is the area I want to improve the most. My reading and listening are pretty much somewhere in the C levels already. With listening, I’ve had problems mainly just when I’m with a group of natives and try to follow their conversation. My reading skills I even dare estimate to be on level C2. An “I can read and understand the main points of a text about sustainable public procurement in Danish because my Swedish is so good” kind of a level.
But speaking… That’s where the biggest frustration lies.
But what about it exactly? My tandem partner keeps asking me, what is it I want to improve, because he finds I speak well enough to get by anytime. But for some reason, I’m not happy.
The thing is, I’m not really able to discuss anything of particular interest to me. I can discuss general everyday matters with ease, but if I try to explain about my job, my volunteering, why I love learning languages, or anything like that, I find that I express myself very clumsily and lack the necessary vocabulary.
That is something I think I want to work on next.
Aiming for more sophisticated conversations (with whom, though?)
I can’t remember which of the “bigger names” of language learning and polyglotism it was, but I remember reading somewhere this approach of working towards fluency:
Choose a certain topic of personal relevance,
Concentrate on practicing discussing that topic, learning the vocabulary and expressions needed and using them as much as you can,
When it starts to feel easy, pick another topic and start specialising on that one.
That approach somehow resonated with me and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. It seems like exactly what I want to do with my Swedish right now.
I’ve tried to think of some topics I’m passionate about and would like to be able to discuss, here are a few:
Project management, time management and productivity
Language learning (of course!)
Nature and outdoors activities
That seems specific enough.
But there’s one problem: I don’t really know for what I would be learning all that!
The thing is, I am learning all my languages mainly out of linguistic fascination. So I have no practical reasons to learn to talk about scouting or language learning in Swedish. I only have a few Swedish friends, I don’t really get any chances to talk with them and they’re a bit too used to speaking English with me. And I really don’t know if I ever get the chance to spend time in Sweden again and to find Swedish friends who would be passionate about the same things as me and want to have sophisticated conversations about them with me. It sounds slightly far-fetched.
I guess somewhere deep inside I’m just thinking that perhaps, if I keep learning the language, someday I will get the chance to make friends I wouldn’t have otherwise, friends with whom I can discuss languages or scouting or what have you. That’s one of the reasons I’m into learning languages in general. You never know who you’ll meet!
However, another wise thing Kestin Cable said in her podcast was that if you don’t put yourself in a situation where you need C1 level of a language, you’ll never reach that level. So just hoping I’ll need it someday isn’t really going to help me get to that level.
And I really want to find a reason to need C1 level Swedish.
Which brings us to my goal for Swedish learning in 2018.
My goal: To find the reason to have a goal
The conclusion of this (once again, not very short and quick) post:
My goal for 2018 is to find a reason to need C1 Swedish.
That means I’ll actively look for as many different forums and situations as possible, related to the things I normally do, such as my job, scouting or language learning, in Swedish. So not just find a language exchange partner or a tutor, but to connect with Swedish-speakers with similar interests, people who might have some interest in speaking with me for other reasons than helping me learn the language.
Sounds simple, but I think it might be tricky to do in practice.
Have you been in a similar situation, where you have to actively create yourself the need to use a language on an advanced level? How did you manage? Let me know in the comments!
After reviving from hibernation, I already promised I’d write a Clear the list post for March. However, I didn’t manage to make one because I had no idea what my goals for March should be. I still hadn’t figured out what I even want to achieve this year. And before I could figure that out, I had to review what I actually did last year.
Now I’ve finally had time to process it, and figure out where I am and where I want to be going next.
I managed to identify three things I would like to work on this year:
Improve my Russian as much as I can
Identify a specific area in Swedish I most need to work on – and work on that
Dabble a bit in a new language – one I’ve had my eyes on for a while, and now the time feels right.
Now, actually a fourth thing is, I want to write this blog more often. I just have this bad habit of writing huge marathon posts that take three hours to finish. So, to start working towards making shorter posts more often, I’ll break this learning goals for 2018 into three parts.
Part one is about my main goal: to improve my Russian.
My Goals for Learning Russian in 2018
I feel most motivated about improving my Russian right now, so that’s what I mainly want to concentrate on.
I tried to identify my current level and would say I’m somewhere between A2 and B1. More B1 in listening and spoken interaction, but definitely more A2 in spoken production, writing and reading. It’s interesting – in other languages, reading has been the easiest part for me, but reading in Russian feels quite difficult. Probably due to the different script?
Anyhow, I think the place between A2 and B1 is the sweet spot of language learning, where you’ve started to get your head around the language but your progress still hasn’t slowed down too much. Perhaps that’s partly the reason for my motivation to keep learning Russian right now: I feel like there’s most to achieve there, with least effort. You should make hay while the sun shines!, right?
Where do I want to be with my Russian by the end of this year? I actually got inspired by looking at the different aspects used in CEFR to define being level B1, identifying things I still need to improve. So this year, I’ll systematically work towards being able to do the following by the end of the year:
Describing things I’ve done and experiences I had eg. in an ordinary week or on a holiday
Describing my plans and goals – on a more abstract level, related to job, personal projects and lifestyle
Present reasons for my opinions and choices – e.g., why I do or don’t like or want something
Describing the plot of a film or a book
Effortlessly writing diary entries about things I did and felt and thought
Writing a personal letter (perhaps not the most relevant skill, but the idea of writing letters and it would be a great way to practice… I’ll just need to find someone to write to!)
Understanding main points of speech about everyday topics (eg. in vlogs)
Understanding main points when watching news
Understanding main points of speech about some topics of particular interest to me: I picked nature and language learning as the topics I want to start with 🙂
Being able to read texts about topics of personal interest (nature, languages)
Being able to read personal letters
How do I get there?
I’ll try to set my monthly goals based on this bigger picture, focusing on one goal per core skill at a time. My main focus will be on speaking and I’ll pick one of the four speaking related goals as kind of a theme for my learning each month, and link the other three core skills to support my speaking practice.
For example: I think in April I’ll focus on practicing to describe my experiences and thins that happen in my everyday life. I’ll link that with writing diary entries and watch some vlogs to support that. Additionally, I’ll start working through my textbook to get some structure to my studies.
Now, I’ll REALLY try putting together a Clear the list post for April to break these goals down into more concrete steps and show you in more detail, what kind of learning methods I’m planning on using.
(Not exactly a short post either, this one. Oh well, I’ll learn I guess.)
At first glance, when looking back and comparing my language learning years 2016 and 2017, I kind of felt that 2017 became a real pannukakku – a Finnish expression that is used to say that something kind of failed (which is really super weird actually: pannukakku means pancake, and Finns love pancake).
In 2016, I started to learn languages again after several years’ break, developed really active routines and started setting goals and tracking my learning habits.
2017 started out nicely, but then life happened: thesis, a new job, a huge amount Scouts volunteering… And by November, my language routines and habits were almost gone.
This was my picture of how my 2017 in languages was, and at first I thought it’s not worth reviewing in more detail how I did with my goals for 2017. Not when it’s March already.
But then I decided to at least have a look at the post from January 2017 to remind me of what my thoughts had been in the beginning of the year.
And after having a look, I decided to share what I found. So here we go, a (rather long!) review of my 2017. I’ve included quotes from my different Clear the List posts throughout the year to show exactly what a pannukakku of a year it was..
January–April: Where can my get my Russian in four months? “I think I’ll keep my focus on Russian until the end of April. Perhaps even May, we’ll see. I should be able to make quite some progress in that time. I’m excited to see how much!”
March:“I wasn’t preparing enough for the meetings (like looking up vocabulary and sentences and structures that could be useful). I still struggle a lot in the conversations if I’m not prepared.”
April: “Watching the videos my tandem partner had found me to watch for the very first meetings, I was happy to notice I could understand them a lot better than I remember I could back then!”
As in the course of autumn I gradually dropped almost all Russian learning activities, I’d actually already forgotten about how much Russian I learned last year. Now that I look at my Clear the list posts from last spring, I’ve gotten an unbelievable amount of learning activities done each month.
Looking at my Instagram videos from January, the difference to later videos is huge. I spoke very slowly and very simple sentences in the beginning.
And if I look farther back, I can remember the feeling of starting out the tandem meetings (that was in late 2016), and how badly I struggled even with the simplest conversations. And then the feeling, some time in the early summer, when I had a meeting with my tandem partner, we’d go to a cafe at a beach, and sit in the sunny terrace sipping cold lemonade and chatting about my trip to Paris later that summer, about what I wanted to do there, and about what was best about travelling… in Russian, that is.
I’d say I moved at least from level A1 to A2 in half a year. Which, of course, is not very fast progress, but it’s definitely progress!
January–June: French – from understanding to speaking “Last year, I’ve taken a huge leap with my understanding of French, but I still don’t know how well I actually speak… I’ll come up with a way to practice speaking starting in February and gradually add the amount of practice towards the summer.”
February: “My university has an ‘Each One Teach One” Facebook group, where I found (or actually was found by) a French girl who studies in Helsinki and is learning Swedish! We had a coffee and spent an hour speaking French and Swedish. That was awesome.”
April:“I also keep getting amazed by what kind of topics I manage to keep up a conversation about with my French. This month I was explaning about the Finnish Defence Forces and voluntary military service – not exactly my everyday topic in any language.”
Finding a French tandem partner and having was definitely one of last year’s language learning victories. It didn’t even take that long to prove myself that I’m quite able to have a decent conversation in French! I did struggle a lot and often lacked the vocabulary but with a patient and helpful conversation partner, I dared to try and discuss even things I never would have imagined possible with my French level.
May–June: Swedish, how I’ve missed you, don’t go away again “I think I’ll dedicate a month or two for Swedish in May-June. It seems like it’s about time then; it’ll be a year since I left Sweden after my exchange. And for no reason, I just love Swedish. Lovelovelove. I’ll let the midsummer warmth melt the ice. And from then on, I’ll work harder to keep it away!”
June:“I had to finish my thesis, and even though in the end I guess I didn’t work any more hours on it than the months before, just the thought of finishing it was so huge that I had to empty my head of anything else. So decided not to even do Clear the list and language goal setting in June. “
July:“My goal was to just defrost my Swedish, which felt really rusty. That goal isn’t very well defined, but I could say I’ve reached it already. I’d say some defrosting has happened since January, just by reading some books in Swedish. Now, after just a few weeks of more active practice, I feel like I’m almost where I left when my Swedish was at it’s best.
However, now I find I’ve got mersmak – an excellent Swedish expression which means that after tasting some, you want more. I don’t want to leave it here, I want to take my Swedish to a new level…”
August:“…my goal was to aim for immersion, and read, write, speak or listen a little bit every day except weekends–. I basically had one week when I can say I did this. The other weeks I did a fair amount of listening, read a little, and that’s it.”
September:“I had a chat on Skype with my new tandem partner several times a week – just for ten to twenty minutes, but still, I already feel a lot more confident about speaking.”
Of my languages, Swedish is the one where I’ve most felt like I failed with my goals last year. May and June ended up being the most stressful time regarding finishing my thesis, so my Swedish summer didn’t really get going like I planned. In July, August and September, I tried to go for immersion at home (the kind that Katie Harris has so inspiringly written about!) but ended up having less and less time for language learning as the months passed, and losing my routines altogether.
However, if I look at my goal from January, it was to defrost my Swedish and get back to the level where I was after upper secondary school. And already in July I’ve written that I actually did do that! Then I ended up moving my goals forward. And the new goal just wasn’t really well in line with other stuff in life. And I hadn’t even really properly considered what reaching that goal would require. But setting that goal and trying it out actually showed me what it would take to “take my Swedish to a new level”. I’m now more aware of where I am and what are the areas I need to develop.
You wouldn’t call that a failure, would you?
Other Goals – These Didn’t Happen
July–September: New (old) language! “If I’m happy enough with my progress, perhaps I can give myself the permission to dig out another language I used to study ages ago. Japanese, or German? We’ll see!”
October–December: Fight the freeze “…right now I think I could try out some sort of a review cycle, changing which language I have my main focus on, brushing up my existing language skills (of course learning some new stuff too). How often should I give more practice to a language to prevent it from freezing? Or how much time is little enough continuously, to keep up a language or even make some slow progress? I’ll see if I can start finding the answers.”
As I’ve described, I ended up focusing on Swedish longer than I’d planned. The time wasn’t right for a new language. And then I ended up in my language learning hibernation and didn’t really put any effort at all into developing my revision routines.
So how was my 2017 in languages?
Well, if you’ve read this far, you probably noticed: It wasn’t that bad. And it was definitely worth reviewing.
I was reminded about how many little victories there actually were last year. I improved in all of the three languages I was learning, or at least brought them back to more active memory. And there was a lot of speaking in all three of them, perhaps more than ever before. That’s no small thing. In 2016 I struggled a lot with speaking any of them.
And another lesson I learned: Clear the List is so worth the time and the effort. Not just the goal setting part, but the monthly review as well. By looking back at the entire year, I was able to get the big picture of how much progress I’d made, which can be life-saving for motivation. I was also able to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This will help me improve as a language learner.
To be honest, I started writing this as a “goals for 2018” post at first, but then got carried away looking back and had to change the title. But I think I needed this. I hope it will help me set better goals this year!
I feel the need every year, it hits me around November. And I think year after year, it gets stronger. I want to drop all my projects and things that usually bring me joy – and just sleep. Last couple of years, it has been a bit easier to cope with it though, for one simple reason: I’ve given in to the need.
No, of course I didn’t really crawl under my blankets after eating my stomach full of pine needles like the Moomins, and then sleep until the first warming rays of late February sun.
I just took it a bit more easy; accepted the fact that I did not have the energy for everything I would have liked to do.
As I had to have energy for my job, some time with my family and friends and a fairly time-consuming volunteering position, I decided it was better to quietly give in to a language learning hibernation, than keep pushing it and go straight into a language learning burn-out.
It was kind of a deep hibernation – like a little hedgehog that wakes up every once in a while to keep alive, I would occasionally read something or listen to something in one of my languages, but I didn’t make an effort to set goals, really keep up proper habits, track my activities or really give it much thought at all. But now the sun rays have started to creep through into my nest and I feel like I might start to revive.
I think it wasn’t just the increasing light, though, that woke me up. It was also the Russian language. I found the habit of audiobooks again, and then some Russian music, and one day I was walking home and listening to a particularly beautiful song that was new to me… And I was struck by the feeling, that I need to learn more of this language, I want to speak it again.
So here I am, slightly late for the usual new year’s resolutions, but all the more ready to start planning another year in languages! More about that in a Clear the List post for March!