Learning languages is hard work, and often feels like we have to do something difficult when we are least ready for it. But is there a way of tricking your mind and fitting in a little more study success without trying so damn hard?Read more
Waw, mae'r amser yn rhedeg...time flies (or runs, as my dodgy translation implies).
I have been learning this new language for about 13 months now...so let's have a look what the middle ground looks like!
Before you read the post, download your copy of the free "Teach Yourself Toolkit" in the Fluent Cool Kids Club. It's got links to all the resources I use.
I Spoke Lots of Welsh in Wales!
Back in August, I fulfilled one of this year's language goals and spoke Welsh at the Eisteddfod, the National Festival of Wales. The festival was one week long, with a big site located in Abergavenny, South Wales.
I pitched up my tent for 4 days at one of the official campsites. What a total delight! Immediately, I was hearing people of all ages speak Welsh around me and everyone addressed me in Welsh. In fact, I was surprised, because turns out..
Welsh is real, mae'r Gymraeg yn go iawn!
It's not a postcard language, and it's not even a dying language. Not when you hear and see it all around you, witnessing thousands of people as they celebrate their art, music and identity. Even though I had been learning the language for a year, this was my first experience of feeling how truly alive Welsh is in this world.
In terms of culture and enjoyment, the Welsh festival was amazing. Wales is such a small country that you can make friends with everyone in just a week. From meeting the bands I love (Plu, Candelas) to hanging out with the creators and learners of Say Something in Welsh, every conversation evolved naturally. I often found myself invited to film screenings and discussions (lots of gwin am ddim - free wine!), quickly forgetting I was attending the festival on my own.
Language Immersion is Easy
The Eisteddfod visit showed me that it doesn't take much to create an environment where you learn this new language. Simply go where people speak it. Hearing the language spoken around me was a boost even before I opened my mouth. Yet I also worked on creating speaking opportunities from the start by volunteering as a steward so I was forced to get involved and talk to people from the minute I arrived. It was the perfect Welsh immersion environment.
I liked having English as a backup. It was very reassuring to know that I can stop or ask for a word when I need to... I would have never remembered the word for "self-employed" (hynan cyflogedig) if it hadn't been for so many reminders from my conversation partners.
The Fight For Welsh Language Rights
One of the groups I want to highlight is Cymdeithas yr Iaith, an advocacy group for Welsh language rights.
Cymdeithas is an activist group founded in 1962, promoting the right of Welsh citizens to live their lives in two languages. Without them, there would be no bilingual road signs. Old Welsh people may not understand official letters sent in English only. And there would be no education in Welsh. In other words, the language would be dying a lot faster.
If you want to join me at the next Eisteddfod, here's a helpful guide for English speakers.
Speaking and Understanding Welsh After 14 Months
The benefits of visiting Wales and speaking and hearing my target language took hold right away. I was myself having a 15 minute Welsh conversation with an old man in a tiny village, just one week after.
Since returning from Wales, it's been tough to maintain this immersion but I continued to practice. Back in October, I booked a tutoring session with Mererid and my range of conversation was HUGELY improved. It's really great to know that you're impressing your tutor!
I continue to work through the Say Something in Welsh lessons and switched from the old to the new course system back in September. Yes, so I started at the beginning again but that doesn't feel like a setback at all. I loved the opportunity to consolidate my language skills so far. In fact, I got through the first 8 lessons at 1.5 speed, and am now halfway through the course. Say Something in Welsh is intense at times, and it's making me feel like a very confident speaker. I'm also reading a lot of Welsh as I subscribed to the learner magazine Lingo Newydd.
Grammar and Vocab in Welsh
My system is to practice WLCR (Write, Look, Cover, Repeat) using my own notebook. I also maintain a personal Memrise course with the 30% of words that are the hardest to remember. So overall, my vocabulary in Welsh has now grown to about 500-700 solid words - maybe 1000? Who's counting! Studying vocabulary is never going to be a walk in the park when you don't have classes or conversations every day.
--> Learn more about WLCR techniques in my Vocab Cookbook
I'm very happy with my grammar progress, finding that I'm able to say and describe more patterns (he says mae o'n dweud...he said naeth o'n dweud...he was saying oedd o'n dweud ...and so on). Everything still seems to have lots of extra rules and dialects, but I've not had to study many tables at all.
Being an experienced language learner is a big advantage for me here. I find myself seeing patterns and recognising the rules a lot more quickly, and I am confident when I make new sentences out of these structures. I always loved how language can be so playful when you get a pattern.
My Welsh Language Level After 13 Months?
I'm not performing to a set standard, however I've recently downloaded the Mynediad (Beginners) exam guidelines. I'm planning to work through these materials with a tutor. I am pretty much there, meaning I've reached the end of level A1 by studying "little and often" for a little bit more than a year.
Is this impressive? No idea. I don't feel that I would be able to share this on YouTube as a major polyglot win, but at the same time this is something I know I've learnt for life.
The thing about studying for 13 months is this: My time is not wasted just because I've not learnt everything yet. It is time well spent, moving forward, step by step to conversation levels. When you think about how quickly you can learn a language, it's easy to consider any slow periods as "wasted time", but I believe that the long-term commitment is what counts when you want to progress and grow your mind.
In terms of listening, I wish that I had more opportunities to hear real people instead of TV or radio characters. I feel ready to graduate from TV subtitles, but the radio and TV are still too fast for me. What to do?
As a podcast junkie, I would love a slow Welsh news podcast like News in Slow French, or perhaps a learner's story show. I have heard that there's some useful stuff on YouTube, but it's not enough. Give me more Welsh!
My biggest goal is to speak and eavesdrop more. I want to be able to witness conversations in Welsh easily, so that means the following practical goals for December:
- Book another tutoring session
- Speak Welsh at Polyglot Pub on 6 December
- Spend an hour every week listening to the language, ideally spoken by real people around me (failing that, BBC Cymru and S4C will do)
I'm also planning a social media project based on my friend Lindsay's new Social Media Course. More about that in the next blog update!
How Are You Getting On In Your Language?
Are you learning lots, or struggling to find time? Let me know in the comments below!
Let me tell you about a demon. It keeps you safe and small, makes sure you’re in your place. It stops you from leaning out too far, leaning in to new adventures, and saying yes to any kind of change or risk. It’s kind of like a helicopter parent, and lives right in your head. That demon is called self-doubt.
Scenario 1: Self-Doubt
If you’ve been on a roll, spending the last few weeks listening to target language podcasts and seeing your tutor on a regular basis, then you’re expecting progress. You’re expecting a measurable, tangible feeling that this is worth the effort. And when that feeling doesn’t arrive, you start wondering why you bother.
Scenario 2: Self-Doubt Again
And here is the other side: You may have been feeling stuck during the past weeks. The language YouTube videos didn’t make you feel like you understand very much at all. You tried a language exchange and still couldn’t tell them about your week fluently. You’re starting to…guess what?…doubt yourself and second guess if language learning is even the right project for you.
Do You Recognise These Signs?
There are so many ways that self-doubt starts manifesting itself when you are a self-directed language learner. I bet you have experienced some of these before. I know that I do, and it takes one to know one:
- Putting half an hour into study time, feeling no smarter than before, wondering if you’re using the wrong method
- Spending five hours online researching study techniques, and zero hours doing any study
- Accumulating 10,000 points on Duolingo, then getting bored with it and thinking you picked the wrong language
- Buying every new resource out there, and using none of them
If you are finding yourself stuck in one of those ruts, you need to take action as soon as possible. Shifting your mindset towards becoming the kind of person that allows success to be a natural consequence of what they do is the key to moving forward. In all my conversation with language learners and polyglots and people who are happy about learning and people who are not, there’s always one clear definition: Everyone who is a great language learner believes in themselves. This is not an optional part of studying. You can say yes or no to flashcards, textbooks and italki. But you must never say no to your own learning capacity.
Using Affirmations to Get Unstuck
In today’s article, I want you to think about building affirmations into your learning practice. Shifting the idea about what kind of person you are from “Someone who struggles to learn Italian/German/French etc.” to “A committed lover of Italian/German/French etc” will make a huge difference. J from the Compassionate Language Learner blog wrote about this very topic recently in a post declaring how they use a careful approach to identity to make sure they stay on top of language learning. If you have never tried the same thing but have ever heard that annoying voice in your head asking you if you can really become fluent in this language, then this is something you have got to read. Building that fabulous positive image of yourself as someone who learns languages and enjoys regular successes.
Stop listening to voices in your head that say you’re not smart enough. Stop wondering about age, forgetfulness or which dictionary is the best. Just enjoy the ride.
Okay, so let’s get back to the affirmations. Like Wikipedia says, an affirmation is a statement saying that something is true. The concept of using statements like this to help your personal growth might feel a bit new-agey to you, but bear with this because positive thinking and affirmations are often linked to happiness and increased performance in studies. Beware though: Your affirmations must be credible to you and at least somewhat realistic, otherwise they won’t work. The idea is not to convince yourself, but to remember what you are good at.
Let me share my own affirmation, written right onto the board that I keep behind my computer screen. It says “(Pretend) You’re Awesome”. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering that I am awesome, but I can always pretend. This reminds me to take 10 seconds to close my eyes and imagine all of the awesome things that I do. It works because I am pretending, but at the same time concentrating on a positive image of myself.
Three Affirmations To Work With
Of course you can create any affirmation or positive image at all, but maybe you need a suggestion to get you started. The following three ideas might just work wonders and get you back to your book, your tutor or your homework.
If your inner voice says: "I’m never going to be great at this"
If your inner voice says: "I am struggling with my language"
If your inner voice says: "I keep making mistakes"
How To Use These Graphics
These graphics are designed to keep you remembering that you've totally got this. Pin them to your Pinterest. Print them out, post them where you can see them every day or write them down every single day. You’ll only be investing seconds of your time, but who knows, it might boost your success by 500%!
Good luck and let me know how it goes!
Hi everyone, I just have a quick announcement about my blog today. But first, let me tell you what I did this morning! I took part in the Lancaster University Charity Abseil from the highest building on campus, 13 storey Bowland Tower. I saw the advert for this a few weeks ago and got excited right away. Abseiling is cool, right? Before I knew it, I'd asked my other half to sign me up and done that before I could even think about what this really means. Well, today was the day and I can't even express what it does mean.
We got kitted out with a safety harness and helmet at the bottom, took the lift up and ascended the roof. The views are amazing up on the tower, all over the green fields around Lancaster. But I had no eyes for that, I was too busy shaking and looking for something to hold on to. You see, I'm not absolutely terrified of heights, but I'm not really comfortable either. And to hang from the side of a building by a rope, lowering myself down? No thank you! As the group of brave volunteers before me took their turns, I couldn't believe how happy they all looked. By the time the kind safety guide attached my carabiner, I was in tears. I could not believe why on earth I had ever thought this was a good idea.
Eventually You Have to Commit
They were patient and kind to me up there, they let me take my time and watch other people lean over the edge and slowly descend. My guide's words were the perfect help: "You can take a minute to gather your courage. You can take a breath. But eventually, you have to stand over the edge and lean back and just do it. It gets easier after you've committed to the drop." I can't believe how true his words were. It does get easier once you commit! I did do this somehow, by the way. There are photos of me dangling - the following one is just for you, with photo credits to Catherine Pacey.
I really did hate this adventure as much as I loved it, and I was so emotional. At the bottom I fell to the floor, shook and cried. Maybe not elegant, but hey - I overcame a fear today and I did it!
What is the scariest thing you've done recently? I'd love to hear your answers in the comments below. Was it worthwhile? Would you do it again?
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Ahh, procrastination. It's a beautiful thing to be doing. On my lazy Sunday morning journey through the wilderness of Pinterest, I discovered a powerful thought and wanted to share it with you language learners. The quote is from John Green, author of The Fault In Our Stars and various other novels.
To me, the most important part that Mr Green points out in this quote is
Hard is often seen as the opposite of fun.
All the successful language learners I know have done one major thing at a point in their journey, and that's been to change their attitude and let in fun and curiosity. Sometimes you do go about a project thinking it's going to be easy, and language learning is no different from anything else. But when reality hits and you encounter something that is difficult, hard, complicated or a hassle, it's the real test of a great learner.
Remember my great student I told you about a few weeks ago, who said "For some reason I've got it in my head that there is nothing I can't learn"? If you want to become fluent in another language, then that's an attitude you can adopt for yourself, because it really is true. There is definitely nothing in this language that you can't learn. Like a videogame, you'll get better at it the more you do it - whether you want to or not.
You also would never expect yourself to finish every Angry Birds level the first time. In a videogame, you will expect to work harder as you move into the higher levels. The harder it gets, the better you are. Ever considered how this applies to your learning process?
Motivation In A Nutshell
The main messages that I take from this beautiful quote are these:
- You've already got all you need for language learning. You've got time, you need commitment.
- Failing and trying again is what we do all the time, and if there's no shame in it with Angry Birds then there's no shame in it with irregular verbs either.
- Hard can be really fun. The two are not opposites.
For me, it's Threes by the way. It's bloody hard, yet I still play it and keep trying.
Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!
You know, sometimes it is extremely hard to stop being a super-person and remember, admit and accept that we are just human. For me, this is an ongoing struggle. I am a positive person with a lot of energy and vision, in fact so much that I get carried away sometimes. This morning, I listed the projects and items I am working on (in my mind) - there were 25! Too many projects, too little time - a classic problem affecting “starters” like me and something that really needed addressing.
In case you’re not aware, here are just some of the risks of overloading yourself:
Physical symptoms: Stress is not always a positive thing, and it is unsafe to think that this is great because it aids our performance. When stress takes hold and persists, the physical results that I experience are an inability to sleep well, to relax and more pains in head and body. How can anyone perform well when feeling that way?
A true drop in the quality of your work. When I’ve had no breaks and worked 11 hour days, I rush to meetings and drop prep time for presentations. This won’t do - in fact, have you ever experienced the same? It runs a real risk of affecting your confidence if you take pride in your work. Don’t let it in.
My body and mind want me to take stress signals seriously and cut back. So here’s what I’m trying to do:
1) Cut projects
Saying no to things might be the hardest. ever. thing. on. Earth. If you thought you couldn’t learn French irregular verbs, try saying no to something you really want to do. That French is jolly easy now, right?
For deciding what to cut, I looked for a little bit of help and worked through a brainstorming technique (very fancy, I made it up, I wrote things on a piece of paper) and a handy worksheet for Grid Analysis from Mindtools.
A few of the factors I put down as important were "Am I good at this?", "Is it fun to learn about this?" and "Does it contribute to making a living?".
As a result:
- I decided to can the podcast for now - it was a young project and fun to record the audio interviews, but I cannot commit to making these regular and have too little experience in audio production for it. It's one for another day.
- Then, I dropped out of a language course I had been looking forward to - I don’t think I would have been able to do my best.
- Among other things, I committed to cutting my promotional activities for the great FlashSticks too...another thing I want to get into, but am tearing myself apart for.
2) Learn from the cutting pains
Cutting down on something that you love is awful! The projects above were exciting and promising, and saying no to them has been a shame, but overall we're after the best product Kerstin can make, not the most scattered.
Next time, I will know better that I need to take some significant time and truly plan what I am taking on. I’ll consider how many hours the new project will need, and which goals will make sense.
The question that remains is not why I cut these particular ones, but what it allows me to focus on.
3) Address the internal voice that wants me to do everything
I thought I’ll share these considerations with you because, well, working throughout isn’t what helps anybody. More people should also experience just how good it feels to focus on something and make that one thing rather excellent. No matter if you were a fan of the podcast which I’ve just cut, or not, you will most definitely be a fan of the thing I create that is the best thing I could possibly make.
Am I alone in this?
4) Make the few things awesome
As my next steps, I think I will have a wander around the excellent website MindTools, which provides an amazing array of resources, help and advice about motivating oneself, getting organised, leading others and making decisions.
I've picked my project and my focus, so the next steps will be to set goals, put a timeline to them and really commit. I'll let you know how I get on.
Maybe leave a comment to let me know if you feel the same pressures sometimes? How do you make time for language learning? For me, it's currently the case that I teach a lot and have little time to learn - but that's a balance I am happier with.