At first glance, when looking back and comparing my language learning years 2016 and 2017, I kind of felt that 2017 became a real pannukakku – a Finnish expression that is used to say that something kind of failed (which is really super weird actually: pannukakku means pancake, and Finns love pancake).
In 2016, I started to learn languages again after several years’ break, developed really active routines and started setting goals and tracking my learning habits.
2017 started out nicely, but then life happened: thesis, a new job, a huge amount Scouts volunteering… And by November, my language routines and habits were almost gone.
This was my picture of how my 2017 in languages was, and at first I thought it’s not worth reviewing in more detail how I did with my goals for 2017. Not when it’s March already.
But then I decided to at least have a look at the post from January 2017 to remind me of what my thoughts had been in the beginning of the year.
And after having a look, I decided to share what I found. So here we go, a (rather long!) review of my 2017. I’ve included quotes from my different Clear the List posts throughout the year to show exactly what a pannukakku of a year it was..
January–April: Where can my get my Russian in four months?
“I think I’ll keep my focus on Russian until the end of April. Perhaps even May, we’ll see. I should be able to make quite some progress in that time. I’m excited to see how much!”
March: “I wasn’t preparing enough for the meetings (like looking up vocabulary and sentences and structures that could be useful). I still struggle a lot in the conversations if I’m not prepared.”
April: “Watching the videos my tandem partner had found me to watch for the very first meetings, I was happy to notice I could understand them a lot better than I remember I could back then!”
As in the course of autumn I gradually dropped almost all Russian learning activities, I’d actually already forgotten about how much Russian I learned last year. Now that I look at my Clear the list posts from last spring, I’ve gotten an unbelievable amount of learning activities done each month.
Looking at my Instagram videos from January, the difference to later videos is huge. I spoke very slowly and very simple sentences in the beginning.
And if I look farther back, I can remember the feeling of starting out the tandem meetings (that was in late 2016), and how badly I struggled even with the simplest conversations. And then the feeling, some time in the early summer, when I had a meeting with my tandem partner, we’d go to a cafe at a beach, and sit in the sunny terrace sipping cold lemonade and chatting about my trip to Paris later that summer, about what I wanted to do there, and about what was best about travelling… in Russian, that is.
I’d say I moved at least from level A1 to A2 in half a year. Which, of course, is not very fast progress, but it’s definitely progress!
January–June: French – from understanding to speaking
“Last year, I’ve taken a huge leap with my understanding of French, but I still don’t know how well I actually speak… I’ll come up with a way to practice speaking starting in February and gradually add the amount of practice towards the summer.”
February: “My university has an ‘Each One Teach One” Facebook group, where I found (or actually was found by) a French girl who studies in Helsinki and is learning Swedish! We had a coffee and spent an hour speaking French and Swedish. That was awesome.”
April: “I also keep getting amazed by what kind of topics I manage to keep up a conversation about with my French. This month I was explaning about the Finnish Defence Forces and voluntary military service – not exactly my everyday topic in any language.”
Finding a French tandem partner and having was definitely one of last year’s language learning victories. It didn’t even take that long to prove myself that I’m quite able to have a decent conversation in French! I did struggle a lot and often lacked the vocabulary but with a patient and helpful conversation partner, I dared to try and discuss even things I never would have imagined possible with my French level.
May–June: Swedish, how I’ve missed you, don’t go away again
“I think I’ll dedicate a month or two for Swedish in May-June. It seems like it’s about time then; it’ll be a year since I left Sweden after my exchange. And for no reason, I just love Swedish. Lovelovelove. I’ll let the midsummer warmth melt the ice. And from then on, I’ll work harder to keep it away!”
June: “I had to finish my thesis, and even though in the end I guess I didn’t work any more hours on it than the months before, just the thought of finishing it was so huge that I had to empty my head of anything else. So decided not to even do Clear the list and language goal setting in June. “
July: “My goal was to just defrost my Swedish, which felt really rusty. That goal isn’t very well defined, but I could say I’ve reached it already. I’d say some defrosting has happened since January, just by reading some books in Swedish. Now, after just a few weeks of more active practice, I feel like I’m almost where I left when my Swedish was at it’s best.
However, now I find I’ve got mersmak – an excellent Swedish expression which means that after tasting some, you want more. I don’t want to leave it here, I want to take my Swedish to a new level…”
August: “…my goal was to aim for immersion, and read, write, speak or listen a little bit every day except weekends–. I basically had one week when I can say I did this. The other weeks I did a fair amount of listening, read a little, and that’s it.”
September: “I had a chat on Skype with my new tandem partner several times a week – just for ten to twenty minutes, but still, I already feel a lot more confident about speaking.”
Of my languages, Swedish is the one where I’ve most felt like I failed with my goals last year. May and June ended up being the most stressful time regarding finishing my thesis, so my Swedish summer didn’t really get going like I planned. In July, August and September, I tried to go for immersion at home (the kind that Katie Harris has so inspiringly written about!) but ended up having less and less time for language learning as the months passed, and losing my routines altogether.
However, if I look at my goal from January, it was to defrost my Swedish and get back to the level where I was after upper secondary school. And already in July I’ve written that I actually did do that! Then I ended up moving my goals forward. And the new goal just wasn’t really well in line with other stuff in life. And I hadn’t even really properly considered what reaching that goal would require. But setting that goal and trying it out actually showed me what it would take to “take my Swedish to a new level”. I’m now more aware of where I am and what are the areas I need to develop.
You wouldn’t call that a failure, would you?
Other Goals – These Didn’t Happen
July–September: New (old) language!
“If I’m happy enough with my progress, perhaps I can give myself the permission to dig out another language I used to study ages ago. Japanese, or German? We’ll see!”
October–December: Fight the freeze
“…right now I think I could try out some sort of a review cycle, changing which language I have my main focus on, brushing up my existing language skills (of course learning some new stuff too). How often should I give more practice to a language to prevent it from freezing? Or how much time is little enough continuously, to keep up a language or even make some slow progress? I’ll see if I can start finding the answers.”
As I’ve described, I ended up focusing on Swedish longer than I’d planned. The time wasn’t right for a new language. And then I ended up in my language learning hibernation and didn’t really put any effort at all into developing my revision routines.
So how was my 2017 in languages?
Well, if you’ve read this far, you probably noticed: It wasn’t that bad. And it was definitely worth reviewing.
I was reminded about how many little victories there actually were last year. I improved in all of the three languages I was learning, or at least brought them back to more active memory. And there was a lot of speaking in all three of them, perhaps more than ever before. That’s no small thing. In 2016 I struggled a lot with speaking any of them.
And another lesson I learned: Clear the List is so worth the time and the effort. Not just the goal setting part, but the monthly review as well. By looking back at the entire year, I was able to get the big picture of how much progress I’d made, which can be life-saving for motivation. I was also able to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This will help me improve as a language learner.
To be honest, I started writing this as a “goals for 2018” post at first, but then got carried away looking back and had to change the title. But I think I needed this. I hope it will help me set better goals this year!