(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!
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!
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.
April was good. Rather busy and I worked hard to turn in a first draft of my Thesis before Easter, but I found that when I needed a break from working or wanted to do something relaxing after a long week, I was drawn to my language activities and didn’t suffer from language laziness at all.
I was using my tracker actively to plan activities for each week beforehand, here’s how it looks now (many of this week’s activities are still waiting to be done):
Tandem: Meeting once a week – Done three weeks, one we had to skip because we were both so busy. But that week I managed to find a bit of time to review some of the early Tandem meetings. Watching the videos my partner had found me to watch for the very first meetings, I was happy to notice I could understand them a lot better than I remember I could back then! I also prepared better for the meetings this month. But still didn’t review enough afterwards…
Babbel Review once a week – Done! I have a feeling I’ve pretty much learned all the vocab there is in my Babbel Review manager (it’s only around 300 phrases). Translate two dialogues from my textbook – Almost done, I think I’ll finish the second one this weekend. Reading Ася – Класс!ное чтение -reading practice book one chapter per week – Done, finished reading it! Audiobook 2-3 times a week – Done! Write one entry per week in my diary in Russian – Done, except this week, but I still have time. This was fun! I’ll never know if what I write is correct, but it gives me confidence to notice I can actually describe my day in Russian and manage to find an alternative way to express something I first felt like I can’t write.
One set of verb grammar exercises from the textbook each week – Done! And still enjoyed it 😀
Listening to an audiobook 2 times a week – Sometimes just once a week, but basically done. Writing and reading something each week – I actually ended up just writing OR reading each week, taking turns on which skill I focused on. I read some science article on Le Monde and another time I read some travel site and looked for ideas of what to do in Paris, and I picked a random education video about sustainability, transcribed it and then tried to write my own sentences using some expressions from the video. This was quite fun! Speaking French with a friend – Done, we met once. I’m so happy I’ve got this opportunity to practice speaking and especially that I’ve gotten to know her, she’s great! I also keep getting amazed by what kind of topics I manage to keep up a conversation about with my French. This month I was explaning about the Finnish Defence Forces and voluntary military service – not exactly my everyday topic in any language…
Reading Vägen till Jerusalem – I managed to read a bit more this month because I took the book with me and read on the bus sometimes. Bedtime reading is not my thing, it seems. Now I’m about halfway through the book…
So still going strong all in all, and still quite happy with my routines!
Learning Goals for May 2017
Last month I wrote I need to decide after April, if I’ll continue with Russian as my main learning project or if I’m ready to give it a rest. Well – definitely not ready! I feel like I’m only now getting the hang of it! So another month of Russian sprint, French and Swedish marathon (these two terms I’ve borrowed from Katie at Joy of Languages).
As for goals in each language, they haven’t changed much from last month. I want to push my Russian learning a bit further from the comfort zone, try to challenge myself and study slightly more deliberately. I’ll try to review what I learned a bit more often and try to apply what I learn to something new in my everyday life, and I’ll try to read and write more, to get more comfortable with it. This month I’m also adding a goal to acquire a lot more vocabulary!
Speaking: Tandem and Review
Tandem meetings once a week, prepare well and review afterwards. In addition to that, I’ll start doing review of my Russian notebook three times a week. The notebook is full and I’ll start a new one, and it seems like a great idea to go through the old notebook and pick the words and phrases I still haven’t learned and maybe move it to the new notebook. I’ll review by reading and writing but I’ll also add some speaking to the review sessions, for instance by doing Instagram videos.
Listening: Audiobook and Review
I’ll keep listening to audiobooks twice a week, and also review more of the old tandem practice videos.
I got a bit carried away in the library and borrowed a pile of Russian learning materials and children’s picture books (the library had a great many alternatives to choose from). I’ll try to read some of the “Болшой Атлас для самых маленьких” once a week and go through a few chapters of Book2 Russian-Finnish phrasebook twice a week.
I’ll keep on writing my diary in Russian once a week and writing grammar exercises from my textbook once a week.
French and Swedish
Same goals as before: In French, I’ll try to practice each of the core skills, so write, read, listen and speak something every week or every other week. I’ll use the same techniques and activities as last month.
In Swedish, I really want to finish Vägen till Jerusalem, but that would mean reading about three times more than last month. We’ll see.
There we go! I hope by the end of May, it will be sunny and warm and you and I will be happy language learners with a lot of goals reached!