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!

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

Talking about the weather is probably one of the most widespread small talk topic across different cultures, right? It may be an old stereotype that Finns don’t do small talk, but I’d say it is mainly false and it certainly doesn’t apply when it comes to chatting about the weather. Although, I don’t know if it always fits in the criteria of light small talk; you could also say we like to obsess about the weather, especially around holidays. Will there be snow on Christmas? Will it be cold and rainy on Midsummer? When will it finally get warmer? Will it snow on May Day? Having our four very distinct seasons and often rather passionate feelings about each of them, we can get very worked up over whether, for instance, the progress of spring is as fast as we would like to expect (usually it isn’t).

What does this have to do with my Clear the list -post? Well, I was trying to think of the first sentence of this post, and found myself writing “Wow, it’s May already”, and then something about the weather. I love each of the four seasons (although my love for summer doesn’t run out, like the love for winter does around March) and I definitely like to obsess about the weather and the progress of spring. So you’ll probably find me starting each of these monthly reviews with a weather report and some happy or less happy expectations about what the weather will be like by the end of the month.

So Tuesday this week started in Helsinki with a blizzard. Yes, a blizzard. No exaggeration there. Today we got a hail shower. Only a few until May Day, a holiday we like to celebrate by going out on picnics. It’s usually really cold anyway, though. Sometimes it snows.

Last time I wrote that I know April will bring spring with it. Well, even though the spring is still kind of cold and snow-showery, it is here: birds are chirping like crazy, tiny green things are pushing out of the ground everywhere if you look closely, and on sunny days, you cab go out in a lighter jacket (if you are brave, because sleet storm may appear when you least expect it).

And May is a month that will bring summer!

The seasons move so fast, and that just seems to highlight the how fast the time flies. It feels like I just wrote the previous learning goal post, and now it’s that time again.

This post is inspired by the Clear the list challenge hosted by Lindsy Williams from Lindsay does languages, Shannon of Eurolinguiste, Kris Broholm and Angel Pretot.

Clear The List

Review: April 2017

April was good. Rather busy and I worked hard to turn in a first draft of my Thesis before Easter, but I found that when I needed a break from working or wanted to do something relaxing after a long week, I was drawn to my language activities and didn’t suffer from language laziness at all.

I was using my tracker actively to plan activities for each week beforehand, here’s how it looks now (many of this week’s activities are still waiting to be done):

File 27.4.2017 21.37.16

Russian

Tandem: Meeting once a week – Done three weeks, one we had to skip because we were both so busy. But that week I managed to find a bit of time to review some of the early Tandem meetings. Watching the videos my partner had found me to watch for the very first meetings, I was happy to notice I could understand them a lot better than I remember I could back then! I also prepared better for the meetings this month. But still didn’t review enough afterwards…
Babbel Review once a week –
Done! I have a feeling I’ve pretty much learned all the vocab there is in my Babbel Review manager (it’s only around 300 phrases).
Translate two dialogues from my textbook – Almost done, I think I’ll finish the second one this weekend.
Reading Ася – Класс!ное чтение -reading practice book one chapter per week – Done, finished reading it!
Audiobook 2-3 times a week – Done!
Write one entry per week in my diary in Russian – Done, except this week, but I still have time. This was fun! I’ll never know if what I write is correct, but it gives me confidence to notice I can actually describe my day in Russian and manage to find an alternative way to express something I first felt like I can’t write.
One set of verb grammar exercises from the textbook each week
 – Done! And still enjoyed it 😀

French

Listening to an audiobook 2 times a week – Sometimes just once a week, but basically done.
Writing and reading something each week – I actually ended up just writing OR reading each week, taking turns on which skill I focused on. I read some science article on Le Monde and another time I read some travel site and looked for ideas of what to do in Paris, and I picked a random education video about sustainability, transcribed it and then tried to write my own sentences using some expressions from the video. This was quite fun!
Speaking French with a friend – Done, we met once. I’m so happy I’ve got this opportunity to practice speaking and especially that I’ve gotten to know her, she’s great! I also keep getting amazed by what kind of topics I manage to keep up a conversation about with my French. This month I was explaning about the Finnish Defence Forces and voluntary military service – not exactly my everyday topic in any language…

Swedish

Reading Vägen till Jerusalem – I managed to read a bit more this month because I took the book with me and read on the bus sometimes. Bedtime reading is not my thing, it seems. Now I’m about halfway through the book…

So still going strong all in all, and still quite happy with my routines!

2017-04-22 22.03.24

Learning Goals for May 2017

Last month I wrote I need to decide after April, if I’ll continue with Russian as my main learning project or if I’m ready to give it a rest. Well – definitely not ready! I feel like I’m only now getting the hang of it! So another month of Russian sprint, French and Swedish marathon (these two terms I’ve borrowed from Katie at Joy of Languages).

As for goals in each language, they haven’t changed much from last month. I want to push my Russian learning a bit further from the comfort zone, try to challenge myself and study slightly more deliberately. I’ll try to review what I learned a bit more often and try to apply what I learn to something new in my everyday life, and I’ll try to read and write more, to get more comfortable with it. This month I’m also adding a goal to acquire a lot more vocabulary!

Russian

Speaking: Tandem and Review

Tandem meetings once a week, prepare well and review afterwards. In addition to that, I’ll start doing review of my Russian notebook three times a week. The notebook is full and I’ll start a new one, and it seems like a great idea to go through the old notebook and pick the words and phrases I still haven’t learned and maybe move it to the new notebook. I’ll review by reading and writing but I’ll also add some speaking to the review sessions, for instance by doing Instagram videos.

Listening: Audiobook and Review

I’ll keep listening to audiobooks twice a week, and also review more of the old tandem practice videos.

Reading

I got a bit carried away in the library and borrowed a pile of Russian learning materials and children’s picture books (the library had a great many alternatives to choose from). I’ll try to read some of the “Болшой Атлас для самых маленьких” once a week and go through a few chapters of Book2 Russian-Finnish phrasebook twice a week.

2017-04-20 17.10.10

Writing

I’ll keep on writing my diary in Russian once a week and writing grammar exercises from my textbook once a week.

French and Swedish

Same goals as before: In French, I’ll try to practice each of the core skills, so write, read, listen and speak something every week or every other week. I’ll use the same techniques and activities as last month.

In Swedish, I really want to finish Vägen till Jerusalem, but that would mean reading about three times more than last month. We’ll see.

There we go! I hope by the end of May, it will be sunny and warm and you and I will be happy language learners with a lot of goals reached!

“Before vs. After” – My Personal Language Learning Victories

A beautiful day in Paris. I sit in a brasserie très chaleureux and order une assiette de charcuterie from the waiter, compliment the charming atmosphere and appearance of the place and throw in a small-talkey comment about the weather. They politely ask me something about my stay and if I like it here, I assure I do and ask for tips for something interesting to see in the neighbourhood. Everything in French, bien sûr.

That’s the dream. I don’t know any statistics, but I would guess it is the typical dream of  an average language learner: being able to travel and speak the language. The great moment of language success we aim for may be successfully making an order in a restaurant, or managing to hold up a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker, or even surviving the whole trip speaking the target language only.

At least I admit I have always been a travelling-oriented language learner (besides just being passionate about the languages). In upper secondary school, I was learning French and German, and had really high expectations about testing my skills in practice on an after-graduation interrail trip I was planning with a friend.

But language learning is a long process, and personally, I really don’t travel that often (wish I could, though). So when I do get to travel somewhere a target language of mine is spoken, I put a lot of expectations on the trip and on the upcoming language-speaking glory. Then I get disappointed, if I miss any chances to speak or if it just doesn’t go as smoothly as I’d imagined. On the interrail trip, after three years of studying French, I didn’t even manage to buy stamps at a post office without switching to English.

That was, of course, many years ago. I like to think I have matured as a language learner. I now realise I need other goals and milestones, too, and that language learning success comes in many forms. It is important for motivation to find moments when I can look back and say: “I’ve learned a lot. I’m better at this than before.”

But in everyday language learning, the moments of success are hard to catch, because the progress is often so subtle. For example, with my Russian tandem practice, it took three months before I could even notice I am getting better. And still I sometimes feel like I’m getting nowhere and I’m getting there too slowly. That is when I might start losing motivation if I wasn’t able to tell myself I can do it.

I’ve already learned a few languages, and they say you get more confident as a learner with each new language. The thing is, until last year, I’d basically only learned languages in school and at uni, and I hadn’t really thought that much about how I know if I’ve made progress. The courses I passed and the grades I got were my metrics for that. I was quite confident as a language learner, but after starting to learn on my own, I have struggled a little with being unable to measure my progress.

My personal language learning victories

I’ve been here before. “Here” is at the beginning of trying something new in a language, and finding it really difficult, but not impossible.

A while ago I had an experience, that made me think of how many personal victories I can actually find in my history of language learning.

This happened over a month ago, when I was sick for a few days and got really bored and totally ran out of stuff to do. Then I got the idea to try listening to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone in Russian, just to see how it would feel. (In case you didn’t read this post, I’ve previously listened to Harry Potter audiobooks in French). I didn’t expect to understand enough to be able to actually keep listening and enjoy it. I really didn’t consider my Russian to be on a level where I could listen to an audiobook, even a familiar one.

But when I started to listen, I instantly got a funny feeling. Like I’ve been here before.

“Here” is at the beginning of trying something new in a language, and finding it really difficult, but not impossible.

It felt exactly the same as when I first started to listen to the French version: At first, I could only pick a word here, another there, but could still follow the story. And I was only able to listen for a few minutes before getting overwhelmed and tired.

It was of course great that, unlike I had expected. I was able to listen and pick a few words here and there and follow the story. But what was really brilliant, was that with French, it only took me a couple of months that my ability to listen had improved what felt like ten-fold, so I got the feeling I’m not that far from my goals with Russian, either.

Inspired by this, I wanted to make a list of things that prove me I’ve made progress and improved in other languages before. So in the future, if I ever lose courage, feeling like I’ll never get anywhere, I can look at the list and see, that I’ve been there before and I’ve gotten far. It might also help me recognise new milestones I’ve reached.

This is my list of reference points of where I was before and where I am now:

  1. BEFORE: I can recall when I was around 16, and stayed in England with my aunt’s family for month in the summer and I really struggled to get a whole sentence of English out of my mouth trying to talk to my British uncle, even though in theory I was supposed to know a lot already. AFTER: I’ve spoken English quite confidently for at least seven years.
  2. BEFORE: I also remember the first times I tried reading a novel in English. It was so slow, I couldn’t concentrate, I had to stop and check words in a vocabulary frustratingly often. And I got tired after a few pages. AFTER: Now I read scientific articles for my thesis and wouldn’t think twice about should I read a book in its original English version or not.
  3. BEFORE: In 2009 I was on a week-long language scholarship trip in Sweden, and we went to the movies to see “Män som hatar kvinnor”. I felt like I didn’t understand a word. AFTER: Last year I watched a couple of Swedish films without subtitles, and struggled a bit, but not too much.
  4. BEFORE: Two years ago at my summer job I tried speaking French with a Brazilian guy who’d studied in France, but the conversation practically stopped before it started. And a year ago in Sweden I participated some language cafes to try and speak French, and I was able to say something, but probably sounded like a two-year-old. AFTER: this month, I was able to explain the topic of my Master’s thesis in French (it is rather complicated).
  5. BEFORE: In October I was in St. Petersburg in October, and I actually didn’t even dare to properly try speaking, unless you count reading out loud the Russian name of the food I ordered at a restaurant. AFTER? I’m not sure yet how much my speaking has improved during our tandem practice, but at least I most certainly do dare to open my mouth and try to say something!

Quite an amazing feeling, to realise all this. May the list get longer as I keep going!

Before and after… but after what?

Besides reminding me about the fact that I have succeeded before and I can do it again, there is another important purpose for the list above.

You know those “Before vs. After” pictures of people who lost half of their weight in no time with a super diet or training program? This Before and After list, I assure you, is not like that. What happened between Before and After here, was not a magical intense language course or program I paid a lot of money for. None of these happened overnight.

How did I make it? At least for numbers 1 and 2, it took years of practice and being forced to use English in my studies and immersing in it in my free time via films and music etc. For number 4, it took a lot of defrosting of what I’d learned in school, with a 1000 Goldlisted words, maybe 200 lessons (and reviewing them continuously) on Babbel and at least 60 hours of audiobooks.

So the list should remind me of not only where I’ve gotten so far, but also what it takes to get there: hard work, time, patience and persistence.

What is on your list? How do you know you’ve made progress? I recommend giving that some thought! Even if you are learning your first foreign language, pay attention to the small things that tell you you are moving forward. Start building your list of language victories. It will get longer and longer!

Language learning goals for December 2016

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

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

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

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

Clear The List

 

Learning multiple languages

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

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

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

Switching focus

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

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

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

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

Learning goals for December 2016

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

Russian

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

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

Tandem

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

Babbel

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

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

Translation

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

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

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

French

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

Goldlist, audiobooks and Babbel

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

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

TV and music

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

Swedish

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

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

Reading

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

Watching video blogs

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

Put myself to test

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

Instagram

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

 

Harry Potter et la magique des livres audios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I love the Goldlist Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goldlist method

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

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

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

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An opening of my French Goldlist

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

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

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

1) I love empty notebooks

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

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

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Me and my stash of spare notebooks

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

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

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

3) I enjoy words

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

Trial and error

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

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

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

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

2) Don’t try to sprint

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

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

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

3) Try to find everyday context

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

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

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

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!