#clearthelist September 2019: The Eleven Languages I Spoke in One Month

Welcome to my language progress and goals update for the new month. My focus languages are Mandarin Chinese and Welsh.

You’ll read about the 11 languages I spoke in August 2019 and catch up with top episodes of the Fluent Show podcast.

Read More

#clearthelist May 2019: Learning 2 Languages at Once (Plus: Lots of Resources for Chinese and Welsh!)

clearthelist.png

Hello and welcome to Clear The List, the monthly language learning round-up about language learning goals and progress. This blog round-up is hosted by my friends Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy, and April marks a full year of my language goal-setting using this process.

Andiamo!

What Happened in April 2019?

The month of April started off very intense and ended a lot more relaxed. That’s how I like it!

In the first week, I was finally lifting the curtain on my new German course, German Uncovered. It’s an incredible feeling when that first student enrols and all the work translates into their language progress. I held a welcome call with co-creator Olly Richards for our first gang.

This month, I was also busy preparing for the next German retreat. These retreats are an amazing opportunity for intermediate and advanced students to visit another country, discover more about culture, and practice their language through immersion. The June edition is now fully booked for German, and you can get on that waiting list for the next event if you like.

Sign up here for news about the next German retreat.

The Fluent Show

What a month! I was so proud to release my interview with one of my favourite language authors, Dr Roger Kreuz who wrote Becoming Fluent. Roger is a psychology professor and associate dean at the University of Memphis, and our conversation about language learning was wonderful and inspiring.

If you follow the Fluent Show, you’ll know that I have a soft spot for the psychology of the language learner, so this interview was definitely a highlight of the year.

Listen to the podcast episode with Dr Roger Kreuz here

Language Goals and Progress

I’m currently working on two target languages as a learner: intermediate Welsh and very early beginner’s Chinese.

Welsh Progress

In the Welsh language, my level is now pretty functional as long as I maintain a lot of contact and produce a lot of my target language on a regular basis. And I do mean every day when possible.

In the month of April, I found it most difficult to get speaking opportunities. I didn’t arrange any meet-ups with my local conversation partner, my tutor was busy, and when I spoke to my friend Nicky it was in English because he was a guest on the Fluent Show.

Instagram yn y gymraeg

Instagram yn y gymraeg

In the first half of the month, I was also struggling to find time and mental energy to learn Welsh. But once Easter came around and my workload eased up with Fluent, I feel like everything got better! I started by switching on Radio Cymru for a few mornings, then added a bit of S4C.

But the best part was creating my new Instagram account, @kersydysgu. Inspired by some wonderful Fluent Show listeners who have done this, I decided to try out the idea of a fully separate, and ONLY IN WELSH insta account. And my daily contact is through the roof because I’m already spending way too much time on the app. What a fantastic way to get more contact and write in Welsh on a regular basis.

Chinese Progress

My other language is Mandarin Chinese. I had set myself structured goals for this language for the first time last month.

Listening

My goal was to watch a bit of Easy Mandarin on Youtube, but I did nothing. Listening fell flat in April. I don’t enjoy many language instruction podcasts and I’m too low level for any natural input that I know.

Speaking

My very tentative goal of an italki lesson was realised last week. Hooray! My first tutor listened to me counting to 10 and saying “living room” and “desk” at random, then declared my pronunciation very good and my learning “a mess”.

And fair point! I had not even noticed how little I had spoken apart from sounding out the words in my apps, and how little I could say in the way of dialogue. I was incredibly motivated after that and greeted her the next time with a full introduction, including where I live, my age, and my family. Take that, language mess!

I’m very pleased that I got my head around tones and basic pronunciation before the lesson, and I’m now hoping to take some regular classes. Good reminder: It isn’t really ever too early to work with a good tutor. They know what they’re doing!

Reading

Most of my learning is still reading-based, so I kinda met my goal by default.

Writing

I think I did quite well! My notebook is in regular use at the moment, and following up the lessons has made a big difference here.

At the moment my approach is to write in pinyin and also Chinese characters, but I’m not trying to memorize any of the characters. I’m thinking stuff like 我 and 你 will start sinking in automatically.

I’m using Google Translate and the Pleco app a lot for writing at the moment.

Daily Contact Goal

Every month, I log my “daily contact” with the Welsh language. In April, it was difficult to keep anything going during the launch of German Uncovered. But once Easter rolled around and I took some time to rest, Welsh returned to my life. In the last week, my Welsh instagram account made it easier than ever and I’m on a streak.

Total: 17 day out of 30.

I also track how many times I’ve spent 10+ minutes on Chinese, mostly for fun. In April, I checked this box 7 times. Often, this signals way over 10 minutes but it’s not about the minutes. It’s about the habit.

Goals for May 2019

This month is an unusual one. I’m travelling for the first 2 weeks, to Machynlleth in Wales and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve got a full-time responsibility away from Fluent, so I’ll have to see how work fits around it.

Welsh Language Goals

Again, I don’t feel I need to actively split my goals into listening, speaking, reading and writing at this intermediate stage. I just want to feel like I’m as good or better, and that will be about contact and speaking.

Spending the first few days of May in Machynlleth is a good start, and in the second half of the month I hope to get started on Say Something in Welsh Level 3 and get back into meeting my speaking partner.

Chinese Language Goals

In this language I’m a total beginner (很高兴认识你) and will benefit from the goal structure. So let’s go!

Listening

Ready to try again with YouTube for Chinese beginners. I’m looking for dialogue-based or story-based input here, rather than someone explaining greetings to me in detail.

If you want to recommend a channel or listening resource, leave me a comment below.

Reading

This is the easy one for any beginner, all my apps and my textbook are reading practice. No specific goals.

Speaking

I’ve already booked one Skype lesson and hope to complete 3 by the end of the month.

(By the way, this month on the blog I have a brand new italki review - check it out if you have not tried out italki before.)

Writing

Three goals:

  • to follow up each language lesson with a page or revision notes,
  • to write 4 notebook pages about myself or my family (these pages are full really quickly when I write in English + pinyin + characters),
  • and to figure out how to type pinyin.

That’s it! Plenty to be getting on with.

Resources

Many people have been asking me to list the resources I use for learning my languages this month. Here they are:

Chinese Resources

Welsh Resources

What are Your Language Goals for May 2019?

Have you ever studied Welsh? Are you a Chinese beginner? Juggling 2 languages like me?

Leave a comment below to tell me all about how you’re getting on, and what you are planning to study next.

Be sure to check out the Clear the List linkup full of inspiring language goals and reports, hosted by Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy.

#clearthelist July 2018: French, Welsh, And Why I Am Not Learning Chinese Yet

Clear The List is a monthly language goal report. This month, I’ve got news about three languages as a learner and one more as a teacher. I’m getting into a silly stumble with the Welsh language, and speaking lots of Welsh on podcast and travel.

Plus: Why am I not learning Chinese yet? Read on to find out.

Read More

How Sia Learnt Chinese By Saying No To Traditional Methods

Today's guest post comes from a writer whose story is both motivating and challenging. Sia Mohajer learnt more Chinese in 3 months than others learn in a year. Just like me, he's a teacher who says you shouldn't always listen to your teachers. I love how Sia has shared the most important language learning points: Independence and Autonomy! Enjoy this awesome guest post - Thank you, Sia!

sia mohajer

Kung Fu, Learning Mandarin and Not Listening To My Teachers

If you ask me where I’m from, I might give you a different answer every time. The truth is I don’t even like answering this question. My cultural and ethnic roots are so mixed up, I’d rather just avoid the question than give a mini-biography. I was born in Iran, during the height of the Iran-Iraq war, fled as a refugee where my single mother and I sought asylum in Germany, Sweden, France, California before finding our “home” in Canada. 

My house was a linguist’s classroom, at any point in the day you could find people arguing or talking politely in four different languages. Multicultural wasn’t something we thought about, it was just life. So when Jackie Chan came into my life at eleven years old, I was ready for him.  

Jackie Chan's movies were a Hollywood interpretation of Chinese culture. Through him, I discovered kung fu - a whole lot of it. My favorite. My love. My reason for existing as an eleven year old. I grew up on kung fu. 

My mom had been working at a computer company and one of her coworkers gave her some bootleg Jackie Chan VHS tapes. This was during Chan's prolific rise to fame; titles included “Rumble in the Bronx” and “Drunken Master”. I watched those videos probably fifteen times. Somewhere in all that martial arts awesomeness, through crowded-Asian streets and the hustle and bustle, something caught my imagination. I decided there and then that I’d “move to Asia one day”. 15 years later, here I am living in Asia; still somehow enchanted by the adventure of living fifty thousand miles from home despite the occasional turbulence of daily life.

But this story isn't about kung fu or Jackie Chan, but about learning Mandarin.

My Escape to Taiwan

My ambition to one day move to Asia did not include mastering Chinese. The thought had never come to mind. Perhaps, I had relegated it to the realm of impossibility. 

In the summer of 2008, two months after graduating from university in Canada, I moved to the hot-sweaty claustrophobic mess that is Taipei City in the summertime. I got a job at a cram school and embarked on the usual delights of exploring a new culture. I wasn't any good at learning Mandarin, mostly because I didn't care. Almost five months passed and I had only learned embarrassing essentials: "beer", "no spicy", "more beer", "you're pretty" and "I'm from Canada". Beyond that nothing, basically I was your typical ex-pat.

In April of that year, I decided to spend a generous 100 dollar birthday gift from my mother on 10 private Chinese classes. My teachers were terrible. One was an overly flirtatious middle-aged women who taught me absolutely nothing. The other was a wizened-looking older Chinese man with a long ponytail and an office filled with Buddhist ornaments. He insisted on lightly slapping my hand whenever I made a mistake. I, of course, obliged his request - half out of amusement and half out of bewilderment. Needless to say my Chinese learning efforts weren't very fruitful and I was ready to quit.

My Language Learning Paradigm Shift

Near the end of my tenth lesson where I had learned approximately 300 words, I overheard another student talking about a website - Chinesepod. I went home and checked it out. At that time, it was an independently run website that offered free signups for podcasts and Mandarin learning material. 

I signed up, and I was hooked.

I guess I've never been one for classroom learning. I was that student who would rather stare out the window than focus on the task at hand. Chinesepod opened my eyes. I realized that language learning wasn't restricted to a classroom, a teacher and weird light-hand slapping. I could learn where, when, and what I wanted. Most importantly, I was in charge of my own learning.

Chinesepod opened the door to a host of other online language learning programs: flashcard programs, writing apps, video websites and language exchange websites. Before I knew it, I had created an a highly diversified language learning schedule which I tailored to whatever I wanted to learn. If I had a problem explaining something I wanted, I'd look up that topic. If I just wanted to be lazy, I'd watch a Chinese movie.

If I had a language learning itch, I’d scratch it. It turned out that scratching those itches were the best things I could have possibly done. 

Why Working Better Beats Working More

When we approach a problem we generally follow the status quo.

Want to learn something? Study more.

Want more money? Work more.

What this approach lacks in precision, it makes up for in workload. Instead of just studying more and more, I used the most efficient multiple learning methods while avoiding methods that didn’t work. There’s science behind this. 

In 1896 Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, discovered a unique constant in economic calculations. Later known as the 80/20 principle or Pareto’s Principle, it stated that 80% of results come from 20% of the causes. The same holds true for language learning. Finding that 20% allowed me to learn much faster than others, who were forced into methods of language learning that were perhaps not suited to her interests or personality. My 20% were podcasts, writing down absolutely every word I encountered in the dirtiest-little notepad you have ever seen, and practicing with every person I met.

Finding your 20 % is a task you alone can accomplish, but I can guarantee you will start learning faster than you ever have. 

Once I found the method that worked for me, I was studying literally all day long in a virtual learning classroom. The results showed. I was fluent in a year. Even at the three month mark I was already using such complicated grammar and vocabulary that my roommate, a full time Chinese student enrolled in a prestigious intensive Mandarin course, couldn't understand me.

My roommate had bought into the hype of her school. She actually believed the promotional material that said “our course will teach you 5000 words in 10 weeks”. She studied everyday and went home to do the assigned character writing. She was told that students who emerge from the program will have superior Chinese as demonstrated by the institute's history. The problem was her Chinese was nowhere near superior. She lacked confidence, spoke too slowly, often confused words because she knew so many and was engaged in a constant battle not to forget her 15-plus stroke-order characters. Her issues were not a result of bad teaching or her being a poor student, but rather a consequence of classroom-based language learning in general.

What They Don’t Teach You in School

I’ve been a language learner and teacher for ten years and I can confidently assert that classroom-based language learning for adults should be a supplement to real-life learning. Your classroom setting should provide you with the tools and fundamentals to allow you to go out into the world, be curious, make mistakes and have fun. Otherwise, the routines, writing assignments and pressure to learn all the material will detract from your main purpose - to communicate effectively.

Effective communication is developed when you make mistakes that you can learn fromthrough effective mistake-making. The feedback loop of the classroom is an ineffectual one because it is an artificial environment. Artificial environments are great to start off with. All variables can be controlled and you can get exactly the results you want; however, these results often don’t apply in the real world. This isn’t a criticism of classroom learning in general, but as it applies to language learning in this context, I think that self-directed independent language learning in multiple contexts trumps classroom-based language acquisition. In other words: Go to class if you like, but never stay there full-time.

Getting all this done is not impossible. It’sIt’s just a matter of effective time management.  While my roommate was spending one hour continuously writing characters I could have reviewed flashcards, written down ten new words using Pinyin ( English transliteration of Chinese) and had a 45 minute skype conversation in Chinese. 

You Live in the Best Time to Learn Any Language

My new found Mandarin ability eventually found me a great job which I am still at today. I was able to explore new parts of the culture that I previously couldn't access or was simply too scared to. My virtual learning experience led to further professional education, where I completed several distance education qualifications.

My point is this - we live in the best time in human history to learn any language. You are no longer restricted to the classroom. Creating a virtual classroom where you decide what you want to learn and when you learn, infuses your language learning with meaning. 

I can only speak for myself when I say that mastering something that is seen as incredibly difficult is a life-changing experience. It might sound melodramatic, but learning a new language, not just Chinese, might be that spark you need to get yourself going. Your language learning doesn’t need to be defined by a course or a textbook. You can be in charge and create a world you want to study in.

In the end, staying curious is one of the best ways to stay motivated. 

I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried alternative methods of language learning and had success. Drop a comment below and let me know. I’ll respond to all the comments. 

If you're a Mandarin learner, you can also find me on www.learnmandarintoday.com