Dear Language Learner Who Cries At Night…

Dear Language Learner Who Cries At Night,

Sorry for not writing to you earlier. Life was busy, the Internet was full. All of us forget about that special, quiet person from time to time. But I know how you feel.

In weeks and months to come, you will sigh, cry, and dispair some more. You will hate your Anki deck, your might want to shred your notes to pieces, you will put your dictionaries up for sale or donate them to the closest library. There will be no job post for someone whose biggest achievement is mastering Wilamowicean, your better half will hate your Skype friends of opposite sex and KPop will have lost its appeal.

But let me tell you something. Those shreded notes? – they’ll become a colorful confetti over the most English breakfast and the most Japanese lunch you’ll ever eat. The dictionaries will be the beginning of a new polyglot study group at that local library of yours – maybe you should pay them a visit? And the job post you’ll create for yourself one day will earn you enough money that someday you will go teary at a karaoke bar somewhere in Asia, hearing the first song in Korean you mastered lyrics to.

There are many people out there, whom you meet online and share your passions with. They cry over their languages too, you know? Maybe they shall visit you one day? People who are like you have tired eyes sometimes, be there for them. Write e-mails like this and tell them how awesome they are. Be a good ambassador or a good host. Reach out. All the bloggers want is to hear from their readers, know they have an impact.

You’re having an impact too, Dear Language Learner Who Cries At Night, not only with every Anki deck you share and every language exchange over Skype you have and each piece at Lang-8 you checked – but also with every dictionary you sold, every notebook you tore and every break-up you lived through.

Please gather the confetti. And throw a party, alone, sobbing.

Then we need to know your name. Tweet it, blog it, vlog it, in any language you want – let us now. We’d be delighted to share our old textbooks with you and embark on much happier adventures ahead.

Yours,
Agnieszka “Mizuu” Gorońska
@kantanda
mizuuko(at)gmail.com

Advertisements

What Brides Can Teach You About Self-Directed Learning

(the following article is a crosspost between Kantan datta! and 1 Habit At a Time)

How many of you are married? Raise your hands! Good for you! But can you remember the rhyme passed on from mothers to daughters essentially pinpointing what items should the bride carry to become a happy wife? Yes, yes…

 

Something old
something new
something borrowed
something blue
and a sixpence in her shoe

Let’s break it down and see how this leads to a flawless victory in skill acquisition, taking learning new languages as an example.

bride

SOMETHING OLD

Originally it was a symbol of continuity, passing traditions on. In a good self-directed learning system the base is setting up a revision system within it. Each new material you begin to internalize should stem from already internalized knowledge and concepts. This is especially true for learning a foreign language – it’s useless to memorize names of geological layers and then jump to future tenses. The connection between those two is too weak and far-fetched. It’s better to couple words for groceries and the imperative form of verbs – you will be able to follow recipes! A simple and not time-consuming trick is to put a post-it note at the end of each lesson you finish, so that you can write down 5 concepts you have remembered at the beginning of the next lesson – be it 5 words, 5 dates, 5 key concepts, 5 formulas or 5 definitions. It helps you to anchor new things in your memory. If you cannot come up with five items, maybe it’s better to review the previous lesson instead of starting a new one.

SOMETHING NEW

Something new was to symbolise hope and optimism in the original rhyme. That always helps, but I want to stress something very important here. Building a lesson around solely new material is of no use. In language learning this was voiced in the 80s by Stephen Krashen and his set of hypotheses, especially the Input Hypothesis (if you are unfamiliar with the work of Stephen Krashen – here is a nice summary) which says we need so-called comprehensible input (n+1 where n is what we already know) to acquire language properly. It might be especially tricky if you learn something seemingly for scratch. Please be sure to center beginner lessons on your existing knowledge – like comparing sounds across languages you know or looking up a list of internationalisms (similar words in different languages – e.g. metro, computer, democracy, stop) and false friends. In disciplines like biology or geography it’s even easier to do as you can always compare across different organisms and countries.

SOMETHING BORROWED

Borrowing something means the bride can depend on others and their luck is carried over to her. It’s the same in learning new things. There were others on this road before you (even if you are a Thai person learning Wolof) and in the Internet era, finding them is easier than ever. Connect with people, find mentors, ask questions, consider setting up a study group (yes, online as well!), motivate each other, and above all – don’t forget to reach out to those who are following you! Other people will want to “borrow” something from you too!
What’s more, “something borrowed” connects to the preceding lines of the rhyme – you should rely on what you already know, like other foreign languages, but not too heavily. After all, it’s just one line among five of them.

SOMETHING BLUE

The meaning of the blue item is widely disputed, but it’s believed to be a symbol of modesty, fidelity as well as love. It’s good to be modest and love what you do, but let’s actually change the meaning here. You need other senses to learn the best. Even if you are not predominantly a visual learner, add color, diagrams, movies to what you learn. Engage other senses if possible. If you learn Japanese, take your textbook for a date to a sushi restaurant (or a cozy tea house if sushi is a luxury good where you live). Munch on some nuts on long study sessions, they allegedly improve you memory. Organise one study session of history in a room filled with faint incense stick aroma. Utilize your touch not only by fiddling with your pen and highlighters, but by handling the core of your study. Have you ever touched paper made in China, or made an origami crane out of it? Did you actually go outside to touch and smell the flowers when you were learning about pollination? Use your imagination to discover “something blue” in your area of study!

SIXPENCE IN THE SHOE

Although sixpence is not much, that was a minimal representation of future wealth and financial security for the newlyweds. For me it’s a small sum of money that allows you not to let a chance pass. Sometimes, out of the, er, blue, a chance to boost your learning appears:

  • bumping into a particularly open foreigner that speaks your L2 that you might invite for a drink
  • an indie movie being shown in 15 minutes in the cinema you’re passing on your way home
  • huge price cut in your local bookshop or in your favorite online store
  • a silly lottery with something useful to have (like a pretty notebook, a pocket dictionary or a fun cup covered with chemical formulas to look at while you drink tea)

Of course you want to save up for a new microscope, this very expensive Java textbook with over 1000 pages and a trip to Greece after you finish your modern Greek course, but jumping at a chance when it happens isn’t anything bad, especially when you are provided with so many free resources on the Internet. It’s worthy to have a few bucks at your disposal, anytime, anywhere.

OK, so now you became true to your learning goals in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health… what will you do right now?

Thinking In Another Language = Jobless, Boring Future

A lot of you are probably planning your New Year’s Resolutions. You know from many guides and life hacking sites that your goals should be actionable, doable and measurable etc. And some of you probably don’t strive for a high grade on your language certificate, but rather choose to wait for the day you dream and think in your target language. BUT WHYYY?!

whyyy

Let me tell you this:
IT MEASURES NOTHING.

Let me tell you one more thing:
IT LEAVES YOU JOBLESS.

OK, OK, some of you will argue that you don’t want a job in the language industry whatsoever. But one day you just might want it. And it will be too late! You cannot reverse the process of acquiring the language to think in it. And this is detrimentory to your skills.

They tell it’s the best way for you – make flashcards with pitures on one side instead of translations, because that lets you pass round the brain circuits responsible for your mother tongue; or watch movies without subtitles and totally immerse yourself within the language… that leaves you crippled mentally. What you should practice instead is dynamic switching between your languages. And let me tell you what you miss out when you aren’t a “language switcher”:

1. Language Tandems

Most of them are melting pots of languages. Language exhanges seldomly work like two halves of a soccer match where you score to a different goal each half. If you cannot recall how to say a word in the language your partner asks you about, you fail. You’re not helping anybody. It has to be a seamless communication act (even, or maybe especially, online) and looking stuff up in a dictionary every other second is not the way to achieve that. Some lnguage tandems use even 3 or more language (one of them being common for both speakers and the others are their targer langagues), in what language do you want to think then, huh?

2. Being a Teacher

In language exchanges you had to be a notorious switcher. Even more so if you stand in front of a class that bombards you with a cannonade on vocabulary questions. You are, after all, their main source of language, even more important and interesting than a dictionary. As this is a very common way to travel – to become a foreign language teacher or a teacher’s assistant – think about how quickly you are able to switch, not how well you think in their language.

3. Translation and Interpreting

This should be obvious. If your conciousness has no connection between “dog” and “Hund”, “lake” and “湖” or “to study” and “uczyć się” – you are no material for a translator nor interpreter. And that’s a good deal of money oftentimes. Why not use it for more classes, language materials or a trip? The sole act of translation is the firstmost classic and popular way of learning another language. Yes, it can be dull and boring, but that’s not the only option you have, right? But to be given cash for a part of your study – isn’t that alluring?

4. Linguistic Jokes

Polyglots (and less skilled non-monoglots) are among the most interesting and funny people you can get to know. But they have a peculiar sense of humour. Only if you can switch your monolingual (or rather: one-language-at-a-time) thinking off for a while, you can get a joke like that:

イヌはいくつまで数えられますか。 (Up to what number can a dog count?)
ワン! (Woof!)

The pun here is bilingual. “ワン” (Wan!) is the sound a dog makes in Japanese, but it’s also prounanced similarly to English “one”.

Another such a case:

Dlaczego w Watykanie nie grają w bilard? (Why they don’t play pool in Vatican?)
Bo papamobile. (‘Cause papamobile.)

“Papamobile” is the Italian name for “Popemobile”, the vehicle used by the Pope, but in sloppy Polish prounanciation is sounds like “papa mo bile” which roughly translates into “Pope has the (billiard) balls” – hence no one else can play.

To sum up, you’ve already missing out on cash, friendship and having a good laugh. And probably more! Do you still want to think in your target language 100% times you are speaking it?

Rotating – a quick and awesome life hack for language learners

Please, bear with me, there’s only 2 days left till the defence of my thesis! In the meantime, I’d like to share a quick language hack with you which I call “rotating“.

I bet most of you, especially those knowing multiple languages, have huge piles of language materials like magazines, textbooks, foreign literature, phrasebooks, grammar guides, various workbooks etc. Most of you already know, that working with just one of those is impossible and ineffective. Therefore each day you pick a book or two to gain some knowledge. You already know you must vary the books to make the process of learning more entertaining for your brain to stay awake. If you have more than one language you want to master, you also need to pay more or less equal attention to all of them.

But how do you know you use your language learning materials in a balanced manner? There’s this quick and easy life hack I came across lately. I call it rotating. Originally it’s used to keep eye on your wardrobe. At the beginning of a period (be it a season, a month or a year) you put all your hangers with hooks facing in one direction and if you wear something and put it back into your wardrobe, you hang it with the hook facing the opposite direction (visual explanation to that can be found, for example, in this short movie). In the end of given timeframe you know which clothes went untouched and therefore can be donated, sold, swapped or burnt ;D.

You can a similar thing with your materials (doesn’t work for digital resources, though). Put all your books and materials in a certain way – for example, face up with spines on the left. Then set a timeframe – a week or a month sounds sensible. Each time you use a book be sure to rotate it 90 degrees from the way it has been put before. If you make use of a certain publication very often, you can then turn it face down and make one more loop (let’s call this a long loop). On the other hand – if the timeframe is short you can just flip each book that was acted upon downwards or rotate it 180 degrees (let’s call it a short loop).

Being consistant with such a system will tell you at a glance which book have you touched and which you seem to be reluctant to study from. Reflect upon the reason – is it there just in case and it’s too hard for your level now? Put it elseware to get rid of guilt of not reading / doing it. Is it boring? Give it to someone who thinks he need it. Maybe you just overlooked it? Well, now you know!

Visual crib of how I see it.

Well, try it out! Any other brilliant life hacks for language learning? Let me know in the comments or via twitter!