Language Learning Goals for July 2017

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.

This post is inspired by the Clear the list challenge hosted by Lindsy Williams from Lindsay does languagesShannon of EurolinguisteKris Broholm and Angel Pretot.

Clear The List

 

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:

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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:

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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.

Swedish

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:

Listening

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.

Reading

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.

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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.

Writing

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.

Speaking

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! 😀

Russian

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.

French

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!

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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”.

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The Skill of Daring to Open Your Mouth And Speak

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!

Shared Joy is a Double Joy – Thoughts on Tandem Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been the best thing about tandem practice?

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

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

How come?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

Just Babbeling On

I mentioned in the previous post I’d write about the learning methods I’ve been using for French. So today’s post is about an online course at Babbel I’ve been following for half a year. I’ve had some weeks when I did not use it, but all in all I’ve managed to stick with it quite well. I’ll try to get to the bottom of why it’s worked for me.

I’m not an expert on different online courses or language apps. I actually only tried Duolingo before. I know a lot of people who use Duolingo and have managed to actually get to a decent conversational level by using it. I tried it twice for basics of German, and also took a level test in French and tried some of the bit more advanced stuff.

For some reason, Duolingo was not for me. I got bored with the exercises, first of all. Even more importantly, I was annoyed by the system they had to encourage you to revise – the level bars that keep going down when you don’t practice. I guess a perfectionist like me just had to keep the bars full, and I found myself having to repeat the basics over and over again, even though I already knew them by heart. Finally, I got tired of sentences like “My pretty duck drinks juice”. I swear I do have a sense of humour, and Sh*t Duolingo says on Twitter really is a good laugh. And I know it’s a bit like reading a children’s book first, and that can be a great way to learn. But I don’t know, maybe I’d rather actually read the children’s books then. I just like to learn useful stuff.

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Babbel I first found through their blog, where I really enjoyed reading some of the user portraits and “tips from polyglots how to learn any language” kind of stories. When I started to think following a course might really help me get some structure to my French learning, Babbel was the only one I had really read some experiences about, and I decided to test it. I liked the free trial – it’s free to test one lesson of each course, and there are several courses from beginners to intermediate, plus grammar, listening and speaking, and different themes, so you actually get to play around quite a bit before you need to make up your mind. To subscribe the courses, you have to pay a bit, but I think the price was very reasonable, you get access to all of the courses, and in the beginning, having paid money for it was a good motivator to really regularly use it.

The exercises themselves are quite simple and in a way quite similar to Duolingo: lot of repetition, exercises for writing, speaking and listening, and you just learn a few new phrases per lesson. Somehow I still find them a lot less boring than Duolingo. Maybe it’s because they are more coherent. Each lesson includes a dialogue in the end, with a couple of characters discussing some issue, creating a clever little story. I already start guessing from the sentences introduced in the lesson what the dialogue is going to be about, and that keeps me interested throughout the lesson. For an occasional laugh, instead of ridiculous sentences, the dialogues often have a funny twist in the end.

The topics and phrases are mostly very everyday, and I often think: “Hey, I could really use that sentence!”, and get encouraged to imagine myself in a situation where I use it, maybe even change the phrase a bit to better fit my needs. I think that is very fruitful, because textbook/course-form of language learning always has the risk that you only learn the textbook phrases by heart, and don’t learn to apply them in real life.

My favourite thing on Babbel, however, is  certainly the Review manager. The vocabulary you learn on the exercises appears there, and you can revise with flashcards or writing – I always use the flashcards. The clever thing is, they tell you how the revise manager works: each time you get the phrase right on first attempt, it is moved to the next level and the revision interval gets longer. If you get it right on the second try, the interval stays the same, and if it takes more tries, the interval gets shorter. You can see which level all your vocabulary is on.

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Review manager on Babbel

I find this very motivating. I can follow the progress of my vocabulary building up, and I know it makes sense how often I revise a phrase. The more difficult ones to learn will be revised more often, and the easy ones that already are in the long-term memory, will not cram the process and make me bored.

I often still spend a lot of time revising, and only take on a new lesson maybe once a week. However, I think this course has been very useful for my overall learning. It hasn’t perhaps taken my French to a new level, but it’s been great for defrosting what I already knew but had forgotten. I actually had already learned quite a lot of grammar, and building sentences and that kind of stuff, back in school. Babbel has also been a great basis for my other two learning media, audiobooks and Goldlisting, which both would be much less useful on their own.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences on different online courses and language apps!