Day 30 of learning Estonian in the #Add1Challenge (video)

Hi there!

As I wrote in my previous post, I started learning Estonian in the Add1Challenge. So far, I am really enjoying it!

Learning it feels quite effortless so far. I guess it’s partly about having forgotten what it is like to start a new language from scratch – things are so simple in the beginning! – but mostly it is about the language being very, very familiar even though completely new to me.

On day 2, I was checking the grammar points – numbers and verb conjugations – of the first chapter in my textbook, and realised I already know them without learning.

Already around day 5, I found myself talking to myself in my head, building sentences from the little I had learnt from that one textbook chapter.

On day 7, a fellow Add1Challenger from Estonia started writing messages with me in Estonian, and I could understand every word (but I do need Google Translate to help me write back).

And on day 27, I had a very simple but rather effortless conversation for 30 minutes with her!

It’s a fascinating feeling.

Wonder where I’ll be on Day 90??

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Never have I ever… (Why I decided to start learning Estonian)

One of my values in life is to explore and experience.

For me, regularly trying out new things makes life worthwhile. It broadens my horizons, helps me better understand the world around me, other people, and myself. It helps me grow as a person.

Recently, I decided to start learning a new language: Estonian.

Why Estonian, and why now? To answer that, let’s play “Never have I ever”.

1. Never have I ever learnt a language from scratch on my own

I have been learning languages on my own for approximately two years. It is starting to feel quite natural. Even now, after having a three-month hibernation, it was quite easy to establish new routines and get back to learning languages.

But so far, all the languages I’ve been learning on my own have been ones that I started out and laid the basis for back in school. With Swedish, I started my self-learning from around strong B2, with French, from almost B1, and even for Russian, I got a rather solid A1 basic level to build on.

I still have a couple of languages sort of in the queue, that I learnt the very basics for in school: German and Japanese. I could have picked up one of them next; last summer, I was already contemplating on starting Japanese again.

But then that “never have I ever…” came to my head and got me thinking: how would I tackle the challenge of starting out from zero?

It’s happened in many areas of my life before: once I start thinking “wonder how I would manage that”, I’m already taking the first steps to trying it out.

2. Never have I ever learnt a language related to my native language

This was perhaps the most important reason for me to make up my mind.

Ever since I started reading language blogs and about the experiences of other language enthusiasts, I’ve run into many stories about how certain aspects of their native language helped them with some other aspects of their target language. The Italian polyglot Luca Lampariello learning Spanish and Portuguese. Different posts about the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. When learning French with Babbel (from English to French), there were tips about true friends and false friends in vocabulary.

Now of course, I already got many “Yay!” moments with noticing similarities between the languages I’ve learnt. One of the reasons I really started to get excited about language learning, was when I noticed how, e.g., knowing Swedish really helped me memorise German vocabulary. In school, I realised I’m kind of good at noticing even the slightest similarities in the logics of the different languages, and found it really interesting.

But I never experienced learning a language similar to my own language. Recently I realised can’t even imagine what it would be like.

Unlike for native speakers of Romance and Germanic languages, there aren’t too many relative languages for me to learn. Somehow I find that even a better reason to learn one that is related to Finnish. I think we Finns are secretly a bit proud about being the language weirdo we are. And I find it would certainly be fun to get to know another language in that secret language club of Fenno-Ugric languages.

3. Never have I ever participated in Add1Challenge!

This doesn’t have that much to do with why I chose Estonian, but more with why I decided to do it know. I’ve been intrigued to try the Add1Challenge ever since I heard about it for the first time.

Briefly, Add1 is a challenge and a community where people learn a language for 90 days and aim to be able to speak for 15 minutes with a native speaker by the end of the challenge.

Add1 is also much about experimenting with new methods and resources to find the ones that work best for you, and becoming a better language learner.

What would better fit this challenge that my Never have I ever -experience of learning Estonian? I had been thinking about starting Estonian for some time now, and when I was reflecting my goals for this year in languages would be, I was tempted again to start a new language. The fact that there was a new Add1Challenge opening up was the last little push I needed to go for it.

Bonus: It is the 100 year anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Estonia.

Last year, Finland celebrated it’s 100 years of independence. For me, that celebration felt very meaningful and important. Now, this year it is Estonia’s turn to celebrate.

Despite the geographic and linguistic closeness of Finland and Estonia, I think most Finns know very little about our neighbour, it’s language and culture. Me included.

It seems appropriate now, in the honour of the 100 years of independence of our little sister, to get to know her a bit better!

Now, it’s your turn! What is your language learning “Never have I ever…”?? Let me know in the comments!

PS. Here’s a glimpse to how my Estonian sounds on Day 0:

Language Learning Goals for 2018 Part 2: Swedish

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 AugustSeptemberOctober.)

On the other hand, I’ve just recently read a couple of inspiring posts about the benefits of setting your goals higher than what seems realistic by Katie from Joy of Languages, and about how joining a language challenge can be a good idea even when your life is as stressful and busy as can be, by Elena from Hitoritabi.

All that rings true to me as well.

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:

  1. It doesn’t help to assume that your progress will be as fast as it has been.
  2. 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:

  1. Choose a certain topic of personal relevance,
  2. Concentrate on practicing discussing that topic, learning the vocabulary and expressions needed and using them as much as you can,
  3. 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:

  • Scouting, volunteering
  • 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.

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Even when I lived in Sweden for a while, I only made a couple of Swedish friends. One of them was a cat. We haven’t been in touch lately.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Language Learning Goals for 2018 Part 1: Russian

After reviving from hibernation, I already promised I’d write a Clear the list post for March. However, I didn’t manage to make one because I had no idea what my goals for March should be. I still hadn’t figured out what I even want to achieve this year. And before I could figure that out, I had to review what I actually did last year.

Now I’ve finally had time to process it, and figure out where I am and where I want to be going next.

I managed to identify three things I would like to work on this year:

  1. Improve my Russian as much as I can
  2. Identify a specific area in Swedish I most need to work on – and work on that
  3. Dabble a bit in a new language – one I’ve had my eyes on for a while, and now the time feels right.

Now, actually a fourth thing is, I want to write this blog more often. I just have this bad habit of writing huge marathon posts that take three hours to finish. So, to start working towards making shorter posts more often, I’ll break this learning goals for 2018 into three parts.

Part one is about my main goal: to improve my Russian.

My Goals for Learning Russian in 2018

I feel most motivated about improving my Russian right now, so that’s what I mainly want to concentrate on.

I tried to identify my current level and would say I’m somewhere between A2 and B1. More B1 in listening and spoken interaction, but definitely more A2 in spoken production, writing and reading. It’s interesting – in other languages, reading has been the easiest part for me, but reading in Russian feels quite difficult. Probably due to the different script?

Anyhow, I think the place between A2 and B1 is the sweet spot of language learning, where you’ve started to get your head around the language but your progress still hasn’t slowed down too much. Perhaps that’s partly the reason for my motivation to keep learning Russian right now: I feel like there’s most to achieve there, with least effort. You should make hay while the sun shines!, right?

Where do I want to be with my Russian by the end of this year? I actually got inspired by looking at the different aspects used in CEFR to define being level B1, identifying things I still need to improve. So this year, I’ll systematically work towards being able to do the following by the end of the year:

Speaking

  • Describing things I’ve done and experiences I had eg. in an ordinary week or on a holiday
  • Describing my plans and goals – on a more abstract level, related to job, personal projects and lifestyle
  • Present reasons for my opinions and choices – e.g., why I do or don’t like or want something
  • Describing the plot of a film or a book

Writing

  • Effortlessly writing diary entries about things I did and felt and thought
  • Writing a personal letter (perhaps not the most relevant skill, but the idea of writing letters and it would be a great way to practice… I’ll just need to find someone to write to!)

Listening

  • Understanding main points of speech about everyday topics (eg. in vlogs)
  • Understanding main points when watching news
  • Understanding main points of speech about some topics of particular interest to me: I picked nature and language learning as the topics I want to start with 🙂

Reading

  • Being able to read texts about topics of personal interest (nature, languages)
  • Being able to read personal letters

How do I get there?

I’ll try to set my monthly goals based on this bigger picture, focusing on one goal per core skill at a time. My main focus will be on speaking and I’ll pick one of the four speaking related goals as kind of a theme for my learning each month, and link the other three core skills to support my speaking practice.

For example: I think in April I’ll focus on practicing to describe my experiences and thins that happen in my everyday life. I’ll link that with writing diary entries and watch some vlogs to support that. Additionally, I’ll start working through my textbook to get some structure to my studies.

Now, I’ll REALLY try putting together a Clear the list post for April to break these goals down into more concrete steps and show you in more detail, what kind of learning methods I’m planning on using.

(Not exactly a short post either, this one. Oh well, I’ll learn I guess.)

 

Is it worth reviewing what happened in 2017 when it’s March already?

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..

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My Instagram #bestnine from 2017.

Russian

My Goals

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!”

What happened

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!

French

My Goals

 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.”

What happened

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.

Swedish

My Goals

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!”

What happened

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!

 

 

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!

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!