Every month, I share my personal language goals and progress here on the blog. Right now, I’m learning Welsh and Mandarin Chinese. This post is a motivating glimpse into “polyglot life”, which is far from perfect...but it does involve wine.Read More
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.
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.
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.
Language Goals and Progress
I’m currently working on two target languages as a learner: intermediate Welsh and very early beginner’s Chinese.
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.
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.
My other language is Mandarin Chinese. I had set myself structured goals for this language for the first time last month.
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.
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!
Most of my learning is still reading-based, so I kinda met my goal by default.
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!
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.
This is the easy one for any beginner, all my apps and my textbook are reading practice. No specific goals.
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.)
- 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.
Many people have been asking me to list the resources I use for learning my languages this month. Here they are:
- S4C on player
- Radio Cymru on BBC radio playerapp
- Say Something in Welsh app
- Ap Geiriaduron, the magnificent dictionary app
- a printed dictionary and Modern Welsh Grammar (link goes to a stupidly expensive version but I got mine from someone else who found it in a charity shop, so don’t forget your local 2nd hand resources!!)
- A local language partner and lovely people who speak Welsh with me. You can find these by asking around!
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.
In this post, I’m sharing my language learning goals and strategies used in January 2019. And I’m starting to learn my 9th foreign language!Read More
Catch up with my monthly language learning progress for intermediate Welsh and a few other languages and projects, plus September’s top Fluent Show episodeRead More
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
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!
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
Eyes to the East, everyone, today's blog post is all about Chinese learning! I'm not yet trying my hand (and brain) with this approach, so to help you guys if you're interested in Chinese, I brought in an expert in the form of language blogger Teddy Nee. You might remember him from his previous article on Fluent, comparing English to Chinese on the world stage.
Today Teddy will be sharing his top 5 Resources for Learning Chinese. Enjoy his recommendations:
“China” is a word that we frequently see or hear, for example in newspaper, TV, books, etc. There might be Chinese people living in your neighborhood, your country, or doing business with you. I am also certain that you can see Chinese people almost everywhere you go, from Africa to Europe, America to Australia.
And of course, chances are you're using “Made in China” product today. China’s economic growth is massive. It is huge and powerful, so much so it cannot be ignored. China can lay claim to being world’s fastest growing major economy, a global hub for manufacturing, and the largest exporter of goods in the world.
These facts motivate many learners to learn the official language of China, which is Chinese Mandarin, or simply called Chinese. Keep in mind that there are also many dialects spoken throughout China, and spoken by Chinese descents around the world, such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, etc.
5 Top Resources I Used For Learning Chinese
Chinese was a mandatory course in the school I attended. It is my second foreign language and to be honest, I found it challenging to learn. I have spent many years learning it and I am staying in Taiwan at the moment, so Chinese is my daily language now. Here I want to share with you five Chinese learning resources that have helped me so much in the progress.
1. Peggy Teaches Chinese
Peggy Lee, an experienced Chinese instructor, has so many things about Chinese language and culture to share with you in her blog “Peggy Teaches Chinese”, and her YouTube channel. She offers free online video lessons and also private tutoring.
She began her teaching career in 2008. Today, Peggy Lee’s YouTube channel has gained over 13,000 subscribers, and she has taught students from all over the world. She received Fulbright Fellowship scholarships to teach Chinese at the University of Arkansas and she is pursuing her graduate studies in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language graduate program in National Taiwan Normal University.
Her teaching style professional and interactive, so Peggy (my old university buddy, by the way) and her channel are guaranteed to bring you up to date quickly.
2. Practical Audio-Visual Chinese
Taiwan is one of many popular places to learn Mandarin. I had a chance to be part of a big student community in Mandarin Training Center (MTC) of National Taiwan Normal University in Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei city.
We used Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, which is available from level 1 – 5. This learning material covers daily conversations followed by grammar notes. Students don’t only learn about the language, but also the culture.
Many learning centers in Taiwan use Practical Audio-Visual Chinese series as teaching material. You can also purchase them at Amazon.
I like reading very much, it is one of my methods to learn languages. As for Chinese, it may be troublesome and time-consuming to draw characters stroke by stroke, and it can be more difficult if you don’t know the stroke order. Writing Chinese character strokes starts from left to right, top to bottom, and inside out.
In order to save time checking words in the dictionary, I installed a plugin in Google Chrome called Zhongwen: A Chinese-English Popup Dictionary. It works just like the name suggests: An explanation box will pop up whenever you highlight the Chinese characters you want to understand. Zhongwen also detects whether more than one characters form a word. I am very satisfied with the service. I still use it until today, so you should definitely grab this plugin if you are a Google Chrome user.
If you want to learn by having language exchange, you can find your language partners in italki, a language learning website based in Shanghai. By having headquarters in China, italki is accessible by China’s huge population. Founded by American and Chinese entrepreneurs in 2007, italki is officially registered in Hong Kong.
Besides finding language partner, you also can take classes and read articles about Chinese language. There are 85 Professional Teachers and 188 Community Tutors at the time I'm writing this.
I like italki because it offers hassle-free payment process and I like the way the information is arranged on its website. Everything can be done with several clicks on your mouse. I also like its Language Challenge program, where participants learn any languages within the given period of time.
5. Hacking Chinese
Hacking Chinese is a blog run by Olle Linge from Sweden, offering language coaching, lecturing and teaching, as well as consulting and analyzing to students.
Olle covers everything about Chinese language and culture in his posts. Despite knowing Chinese as a foreign language, he is currently enrolled in a master’s degree program in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language in a university in Taipei.
Besides Olle’s articles, you can also find abundant resources about learning Chinese, such as reviews on some Chinese learning platforms, podcasts, and many more. There are also Hacking Chinese Challenges to help you learn by building language skills through daily practice and friendly competition.
Have You Tried These Chinese Resources Yet?
You may remember that back in July, Fluent hosted a rather sensational giveaway featuring prizes from Italki, Rosetta Stone and more friends of the Fluent blog. The giveaway was amazing, with more than 500 of you entering to win a prize! What you might not remember is that during the entry form I also asked you about your favourite language learning blogs. These blogs have now been counted and used to create the first ever Fluent list of awesome blogs to learn languages.
Altogether, we counted over 250 votes so check out this great list of blogs and let me know which one is your favourite in the comments. I had a lot of fun checking out all these blogs and hope you'll discover some amazing new ones. Do share and bookmark this article and make it a resource for when you need motivation, or a laugh, or just a new place to find inspiration online!
The categories included are any language, German, French, English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Russian, and Norwegian.
Blogs for Learning Any Language
Benny Lewis remains the heavyweight in language learning blogs, with his established and award-winning platform right at the top at 58 votes. Congrats, Benny!
Okay, this could have been totally biased but I'm proud anyway because 47 of you love the Fluent blog! My dedication to helping you learn any language with my articles and books is unwaivering. You can find all my articles with a quick search in the archive.
Surprise entry! The italki blog came in at number three, scooping up 30 votes. The site is huge and offers something for any learner, so go check it out.
Italian Luca Lampariello lives by the belief that you cannot be taught a language, you have to learn it. His blog bagged a respectable 10 votes.
Reddit! How can I describe it? The internet's busiest message board? An amazing online community? Whatever it is, once you join Reddit you'll be amazed at how much knowledge and discussion there is about any topic under the sun. The Language Learning subreddit is a place to give and find advice with a global community.
You will? Bring it! Olly Richards is behind this fabulous promise and shares his own language learning journey as well as all he learns along the way.
Gabriel Wyner (an interviewee in Fluency Made Achievable) speaks five languages, sings arias and has a book published. Phew!
This website is another big polyglot name's blog. Richard Simcott makes videos in all kinds of languages, co-organises the annual Polyglot Gathering and learns, and learns, and learns.
The Mezzofanti Guild is a group blog full of motivation, interesting observations and posts from some truly smart people. This blog's been around a while and I recommend you check out their considerable archive!
Look out for Episode 8 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast to get to know more about Lindsay, a total Youtube and blogging and online POWERHOUSE of the languages.
And here is the rest of the chart for learning and thinking about any language:
11) Rawlangs by Alex Rawlings
12) Words and Worlds of New York by Ellen Jovin
13) About.com for pretty much any language
14) Actual Fluency by Chris Broholm
15) Interpals, the international pen pal exchange
19) How To Languages
20) Language Surfer
21) Lingholic by Sam Gendreau
The Best German Learning Blogs
This amazingly approachable and detailed grammar blog bagged a whole five votes from the Fluent German learning gang and I can completely see why. It's einfach super.
Get news, courses, podcasts, anything from Germany's biggest international broadcaster. Not a blog, but just an AMAZING resource.
And with one vote each:
4) Deutsch für Euch on Youtube
5) Get Germanized on Youtube
6) Mr Antrim -- You guessed it, on Youtube!
7) Aprender Alemão for Portuguese speakers
The Best French Learning Blogs
All of these came in at an equal amount of votes, so I'm going straight to the list:
2) Le Point du FLE - a great resource for teachers
The Best English Learning Blogs
Equal votes for each.
1) Cork English Teacher on Facebook
2) English Baby, not just for babies
3) ESL Teaching tales, a really interesting teacher's perspective
The Best Chinese Learning Blogs
Equal votes for each.
1) Chinesisch Trainer, a blog for Germans wanting to learn Chinese.
5) Yoyo Chinese
6) Dig Mandarin
The Best Japanese Learning Blogs
With four votes, this Japanese blog was the most popular among the blogs for learning a single language. I love the tagline: "You don't learn a language. You get used to it."
The Best Korean Learning Blogs
A runaway winner with five votes! This site is SERIOUS about Korean.
The Best Arabic Learning Blogs
Again, equal votes for each.
2) Learn Arabic with Maha on Youtube
The Best Dutch Learning Blog
Uncontested, tee hee!
The Best Italian Learning Blog
The Best Spanish Learning Blogs
This Mexican blog for Spanish learners got the most votes, and it's all in Spanish and full of interesting facts so you can really immerse yourself.
And the Runners-Up, with one vote each:
The Best Irish Learning Blog
The Best Russian Learning Blog
The Best Norwegian Life Blog
Wow, thank you all so much for entering the giveaway and voting for your favourite blogs. The list above is amazing, such a great resource for learners of any language. What's your favourite? Have you found something new in this list? Anything to add? Don't forget to comment and tell me what you think.
PS: The next giveaway is coming up in time for Christmas, so make sure you don't miss out by signing up to the Fluent Newsletter today.