Language Update: Speaking Welsh After 8 Months (+ Free Toolkit)

Welcome to my third update on how I'm getting on with the Welsh language! I can't believe how much time has passed, and I'm excited to share what I've learnt in 2016 so far.

Before you read the post, make sure you have downloaded your copy of the free "Teach Yourself Toolkit" with all my resources in a handy format.

8 Month Progress

First of all, let's accept it's always tough to assess your own progress. I have a bit of a self-critical streak, and like every other language learner I remember the failures more than the successes.

But there are successes to report. I've closed some basic vocabulary gaps like numbers, days of the week and all that. I added around 150-200 new words in the last months (that's around 7-9 each week, if you've got to count).

I'm halfway through the first Say Something in Welsh course - not bad!

Check out this video to see how I'm speaking Welsh at this stage.

What I've Been Doing

1) Following Say Something in Welsh and the BBC Big Welsh Challenge, and Creating Vocab Lists and Memrise Courses

My core routine has not changed. I add new words to a hand-written list. When I'm not near my notebook, they go straight into Memrise. You can read more about the exact process I use here.

2) Writing Practice Typed and Hand-Written

The great thing about writing is that you really have nowhere to hide. No matter if I'm on Hello Talk or writing by hand, it's obvious where my mistakes are. I share my writing and get corrections online, which helps immensely. Applying the corrections and reading the improved text creates an extremely effective learning process.

3) Finding The Community

It's been tough to attend my Welsh class on a regular basis, but I got involved in an online community. The Dw i'n dysgu Cymraeg group on Facebook is a cool place to find more learners and get help with questions.

Understanding Welsh

Back in February I started watching a Welsh TV drama called Byw Celwydd. After this finished, the next show for me was Ffasiwn Bildar, a reality TV show.

Each source of natural language is a bit different

Going from scripted drama to a reality TV show means that I get to hear more “real language”. But the spontaneous talk is harder to understand, so I still use subtitles. And when I listen to music (indie band Candelas are great), I can repeat, listen again and translate the lyrics. But of course they're more poetic and make less sense!

All in all, having Welsh language channel S4C and Spotify as language resources is a great help. My next TV show will be "Y Gwyll", which you can watch in English as Hinterland. Who doesn't love a bit of Celtic Noir!

Speaking Welsh

I'm now expecting more from myself when I speak Welsh. My pronunciation is fine, and my spelling has improved in line with it. It's still difficult to have an all-Welsh conversation. I'm lucky that all Welsh speakers are bilingual and speak English too.

Welsh is a tease. It lures you in with simple structures! At the start, I was cheerfully ignoring one of the key aspects of Welsh grammar: the mutations! A mutation is when words change their first letter because of the previous word...or their gender...or some other reason. They're not exactly transparent, and it's impossible to hide your bad mutations.

Speaking Welsh In The Real World

People I talk to have to be patient! A lot of the Welsh speakers I have met have been language lovers who know exactly how I'm feeling. The patience of Simon Ager, Richard Simcott, Mererid Williams and Gareth Popkins has been pretty legendary. At the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin for example, I ran into Richard and was encouraged to speak to him in Welsh -- but I'd just come out of my first ever Indonesian class! That sense of embarrassment when you don't rise up to the occasion was painfully real.

Another cool result: I've found out that some of my Facebook friends speak Welsh. It's amazing how people come out of the woodwork when you are learning their language. And how cool that I can talk to them in Welsh now! I'm so grateful for these connections.

Great Plans For The Summer

It's time to make the 3-hour trip to deepest, darkest Wales and start speaking, don't you think? I'm very excited about a few upcoming things.

1) Eisteddfod

The Eisteddfod is an annual festival of all things cultural in Wales. It takes place in the summer over several days - a must for any Welsh learner! I was particularly excited to find out that there's a gig with several Welsh bands and radio star Huw Stephens. Just the right motivation to go!

2) Welsh WJEC Mynediad exam

Having looked at the requirements for passing an A1 exam in Welsh, I think that I could be able to pass the beginner's WJEC exam by the end of the summer. Exams are a fab way to focus when you're learning a language. So I will take the opportunity and prep for this one.

I'm looking forward to visiting Wales again, and can't wait to document all the language I hear and see.

How Are You Getting On In Your Language?

Are you feeling the progress, or feeling stuck? Let me know in the comments below!

If you're in the UK, are you going to the Eisteddfod? I'd love to see you there!

The Miraculous Benefits of Keeping a Language Notebook

Are you an electric language fiend, armed with Flashcard apps and podcasts? Or going it old-school with pen and paper?

In today’s article, I want to introduce you to some of the tricks I use to get the most out of my language learning routine without adding to my screen time.

language notebook

My absolute language learning essential is a notebook. Flashcards are great for vocabulary lists, but notebooks are for everything. The first thing I do with a new word is write it down in a notebook, maybe with an example and pronunciation note.

Why write on paper?

Working with a paper notebook can bring many excellent benefits to your language learning routine. It provides a refreshing break if you spend most of your time chained to a computer screen or mobile phone. Here are a few reasons that writing on paper can help you add vocabulary, improve your memory and create a better learning experience:

  • Filling a book is visible progress, a huge psychological benefit which is going to keep you motivated and coming back to your language time and time again.

  • As you add notes, you are filling pages of paper with clear signs of your work. It is unmistakably yours as it’s written in your personal style and handwriting. No matter if you are 5 or 50 pages into the adventure, there is nothing like the proud feeling of looking back over what you have already done. Popular apps take the same approach of course by adding skill trees and points scores, so the core message here is to work in a way that shows your progress.

  • Your thoughts become clearer in your own mind. The UK Handwriting Association features this great quote from a 17-year-old student on its website, illustrating the way in which a screen can actually make it harder to focus on what you are learning. He says:

The process of handwriting promotes clear thought and natural structure. Being so close to the page means that translation of thought has less opportunity for deviation.

When typing I find I compulsively re-read my work on the screen and the ability to edit is sometimes paralysing, Although computer work can allow for more complex structure, it is often too complex and has many complications for timed conditions.

  • The act of writing notes down by hand has been scientifically proven to aid memory many times over. When you write your notes by hand, you become better at remembering them. The conclusion of this study was that typing can help you score highly on tests very early (just think Duolingo), but hand writing retains the upper hand when it comes to adding new items to your long-term memory.
  • You are in charge of your learning experience. Writing allows you to start from zero and design your page in the way that aligns best with how your mind works.

Some note takers prefer mind maps and doodles, while others jot down information in a linear way. The pages you create will reflect your state of mind, and allow you to make your motions through the learning progress visible.

How to work with the notebook?

When you start learning languages, the notebook becomes more than just the place to note down the bare facts. You can use it for two core purposes:

1. Language Learning

Noting new vocabulary as and when you hear it, drawing memory aids, mapping out your memory palace even. Notebooks are also the right space to write down grammar rules and example sentences. On the pages of my own notebook, I see pronunciation notes and alphabet practice. Basically, anything.

For reviewing and testing yourself, there can be pages dedicated to vocabulary learning. My technique for such pages is the classic language learning approach of writing two vocabulary columns with a line down the middle. As I review the new words, I cover up one column and work through the list.

Here is an example of what this looks like in my current book:

The fabulous "draw a line in the middle" technique in action.

The fabulous "draw a line in the middle" technique in action.

It is easy to highlight words that I tend to forget, and even easier to add them to another list at a later stage so that my revision materials always stay fresh.

At the start of every new session, try looking through previous pages to review what you have learnt before. There is no need to memorize it word for word, but it will jog your memory and set up the ground today’s session can grow from.

2. Goal Setting and Productivity

Language learning is a big journey. For some learners it’s about growth and development, for others it’s a hobby or an aspiration. No matter what your goals and motivations are, you can gain a lot from journaling and noting them down in the notebook.

Consider adding interesting facts about places, drawing maps or pasting in tickets and mementos from your trips.

Again, writing by hand and focusing on the book in front of you aids clarity and minimises distraction. In a busy world full of overachievers, this is more important than ever.

How can you navigate the notebook?

One of the downsides of paper is that it doesn't have a search bar.

To aid yourself with a bookmark system, consider colour-coding areas like "grammar", "vocab" or "situations". Again, the beauty of your notebook is that this is your personal space. You’re no language learning robot, so work with what feels good to you.

The great thing about building your personal language learning system is that these categories can be unique to you and help you build the exact language course that you need (remember that this is one of the core principles in independent language learning).

My favourite bookmarks are sticky notes such as this very cute set from Busy B, but this isn't the only way. You can experiment with a notebook in sections, with highlighter pens or beautiful bookmarks.

Good Notebook Options

You can get paper from anywhere of course, but the best language learning notebooks are durable and built to handle a bit of use.

You will leaf through the pages a lot, so forget about spine or refill pads straight away. Go for a notebook that is bound like a real book and lasts you all year. Next, discard any paper that is too thin or delicate to take scribbles, highlighters and different kinds of pen. You never know when you'll want to write something down and all you'll have to reach for is your auntie's fountain pen.

The style of paper does not matter - go for squared, lined or blank and pick a paper size that gives you a little space to work with. The language learning notebook works best it doesn't fill up too quickly. My favourite options are the Moleskine A5 Lined Notebooks and the custom booklets from Bound.

##Love the Freedom

The key to using notebooks in your language learning is that they allow for an amazing range of creative activities. In paper choice, organisation and pens, and even the content: This is YOUR space. I cannot tell you what to do, but only tell you what works for me.

If you want to become more effective and enjoy vocabulary learning, check out my book The Vocab Cookbook. This book will guide you through the process in detail and give you a step-by-step approach to learning vocab in an organised way.

Do you use a paper notebook? Is it part of your regular learning activities?

If yes, then I would be very interested to hear more about it (maybe even with a photo?) in the comments or over on Facebook.

There's Nothing You Cannot Learn

Hello everyone, much love from the other side of the world where I am experiencing a bit of Californian sunshine. Yesterday I got to visit the absolutely stunning Montaña de Oro State Park - do not miss this if you are ever here. I texted everyone I know saying that this is the most beautiful place on earth. Just look! I can't even tell you...ich bin verliebt!

Montaña de Oro, near Morro Bay in California

Montaña de Oro, near Morro Bay in California

You Can Do It!

But there is something else I want to share with you. It's something that one of my longest standing, most impressive students said last week in a lesson. I've not been able to hide how happy it made me to hear this from one of my students.

All he says is this:

For some reason I've got it in my head that there is nothing I can't learn.

That's the attitude I love. There is nothing you cannot learn. We are all beginners at something, and if you are reading this right now while wondering if you'll ever be really fluent in German, or French, or whatever, then take heart.

There is nothing you cannot learn. You can do things now, and some things are not possible. But learning, that's different. Learning is open to you and you must only take heart and discipline. Fluent Language is here to help you on the journey - no matter how you do your thing, just learn something.

I would love to read your comments! What did you learn today?

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!

Michel Thomas in Fluent Review

If you have ever browsed the shelves of a book shop dreaming of that date or trip where you speak fluent French, you have probably come across old Michel T. His language learning tapes were a huge success from the 70s and are still popular today. I'm currently using the Michel Thomas tapes myself for my study of Russian. The method is reportedly the same as on the original tapes with the man himself, although here it is a Russian instructor teaching the class.

What I like and adopt about the Michel Thomas method

My own basis for teaching is similar to his - here's a communication-focused approach, in a relaxed environment. Throughout the class, he'll feature learners who are real. They hesitate and make mistakes like everyone else, but the message is: You can do this! Language learning is not some elitist skill for the most intelligent people only - it's for everyone. As such, we language tutors owe a lot to pioneers like Michel. He knew what it meant to take the mystery out of language learning and open them up for everyone through encouragement rather than strict punishments.

I'm a big fan of this message. In fact, it's the first reason I started this blog. I wanted new and experienced learners to find language easy, accessible and fun. This world will hand you the key to many closed doors once you embark on the journey of language learning. My mission is to encourage learners and make things interesting and inverting, much like Michel did.

A review of the Michel Thomas product

The method is based on recordings that the learner is supposed to listen to. There is no book, and no one makes you take notes during the class. Obviously, this simplicity is one of the big attractions about the method: You can download the MP3s on Amazon or Audible, put them on your ipod and listen to them anywhere. I find that this Russian course  teaches vocabulary and speaking/listening, but personally I do not believe that this method is "complete". I miss the written aspects, grammar and seeing the language in real-life use. 

This is of course a commercial product, so they couldn't resist a bit of marketing at the start of the lesson. Here's what I made of it: 

 

Conclusion

You should get yourself a Michel Thomas as a supplement to other language learning or for a quick boost before your next trip abroad. I don't believe that it compares to language tuition with a real person, which should be like meeting the friendly and encouraging tutor, but getting three times as much out of it, but the method is friendly, open, encouraging and won't tire your brain out.

If you are expecting fluency and linguistic expertise out of Michel Thomas products alone, you will be disappointed but at the price point they are a decent start. Just supplement them with some notes and some reading. Please?

Availability 5/5  (you can get Michel Thomas on Amazon, Audible and in most book shops)

Free Michel Thomas for Audible folks

Value for Money 4/5  (I got mine on Audible for just 1 credit worth less than £15/$20)

Audible also lets you download the first book for free if you're a new customer, just click this link for free Michel Thomas method goodness: 

 Results 3/5  (This is always related to what you expect of course - expect to say a few sentences, not to become a confident conversationalist or able to read much of anything at all. You should use the method together with something else, ideally a tutor.)

PS: This post is not sponsored by Audible, I just think that what they offer is great. The links I provided tell the vendors that you came from Fluent, so you're supporting the blog and getting a good deal. Thanks!

 

 

 

Can you use a language without talking to people?

Last week, I had a little reminder how language learning is viewed by non-nerds. I was sitting with a few friends in their beautiful garden and trying to talk them all into joining my next German course (Lancaster library, 27 August, 6pm, it'll be awesome, sign up here). One friend admitted he was tempted, but told me "But you're the only person I could talk to in German."

 

What can we do if not talk?

Now, I know that communicating with real people in a foreign language is one of the most rewarding benefits of the whole undertaking. On the other end of the spectrum, I suppose, I am content to learn a language just for the pleasure of pronouncing the new vowels, writing the words and understanding new people. But that brief conversation made me think. Between full-on linguistics and the most practical "speaking" application, what are the other great things that language learners get to do? 

The trick is to focus back on the core skills: speaking, writing, reading and listening. That's right, speaking is actually only 25% out of everything that you can do, so here are some ideas for things that the other 75% give you, and which make language learning extremely worthwhile for anyone.

Discover new musical worlds

Sigur Rós - not just for Icelandic learners Photo from  scurrvy  on Flickr

Sigur Rós - not just for Icelandic learners
Photo from scurrvy on Flickr

While the English speaking music industry is probably the largest one on the whole planet, looking into another country's musical history will take you on a journey that is nothing but amazing - honest. Music is this magical thing that doesn't even require you to understand any lyrics in other to connect. Take for example Sigur Rós who have made a career singing in a minority language and on occasion gone for half an album in words that they completely invented. But I believe that becoming aware of the lyrics of that song that you really love or learning more about a place through the words to a specific song is what makes music into that extremely powerful and moving thing. 

For me, listening to pop songs was one of the first ways in which I applied my language skills, way before I knew a lot of native speakers or spent more time travelling to a country. It's brilliant because you can repeat the recording as many times as you like, pore over new words in the lyrics and imagine what the world was like for the person who wrote it. One example of a great musician that has kept on giving since I moved to the UK is the music of Billy Bragg.

Dive into that internet 

Here's a good number from Wikipedia: 45.1% of content on the internet is not written in English. Let's start with Wikipedia itself, a website which all of you are guaranteed to have used at least once in the last month. It is famously created by its own users, and switching any article into a different language version can really make a difference to the amount of information on offer - or how about switching the whole thing into your target language and discovering the Article of the Day? There are currently 285 language editions of this site, so no more excuses.

Write, draw and illustrate

Writing has always been a good way for me to focus my mind and make sure I remember things, and the kinetic learning advantages of really putting those words into practice and reproducing sentences are absolutely excellent. So use your new language as an output of your own creativity and connect what's in your mind with real images and words. The application of your writing skill could start off really simple, for example by making notes of words that start with a new letter or drawing a picture along with a sentence. Moving on, how about chatrooms or online forums? And in time you may even want to build up a blog, diary or your own fiction and poetry.

Here's an example of how to get started (this one done on 53 Paper) . Hope you draw better than I do.

petit-dej.jpg

These ideas are obviously only a small start and there is SO much more out there that you can do when you learn a new language? I can think of foreign cooking or news podcasts.

 What do you think - are there better ways of using your language without speaking? What's your favourite thing to listen to?

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Spanish Taster Course

Great news, Fluent Language Tuition is now offering a new language.

Are you ready for Spanish? ¡Oh sí! We are kicking off with the four week Spanish Taster Course in Lancaster City Centre. Hope you can make it!

The course will be delivered by experienced language teacher Flora Lopez-Bray. Flora has been teaching for over 20 years and is currently doing her PhD in Spanish. So you are in extremely good hands.

You can register by email or on the Facebook Event page.

£20 for the course includes 10% discount on language learning materials at Waterstones.

Spanish taster course v2.jpg

Effortless Tips for Getting Started With a New Language

When you are choosing to learn a language for the love of learning (and to join Camp Acquisition), there are many decisions to be made. From language choice to learning materials, it's all up to you! How do you feel about that - liberated to be free from school classes and teachers, or wary of riding without stabilizers?

My friend Ruth has recently gone through this process and documented it quite impressively on her new blog. I'm really excited that she's giving readers a close-up of getting to know the new language, right from the start. I have drawn some effective tips for all new language learners from Ruth's experience to make sure you hit the ground running.

Image credit: ruth allen

Image credit: ruth allen

Document the Motivation

Motivation is at the heart of your new adventure. Write down three things that you  feel you get out of being a person who speaks a foreign language, and imagine the kinds of situations in which you'd use it. You should use positive thinking techniques here and really picture yourself being the speaker you want to be. If you're hiring a tutor, tell them about your goals too.

Once your list is complete, print it out or type it up so you have a copy. Paste it into your textbook or dictionary. Refer back to it in three months.

Create a Shortlist

Ruth found that one of the hardest decisions about language learning was the question "Which language is right for me?" She says:

After my initial fancy, I tend to think pragmatically. So for example, I have a curiosity about Chinese, but having done Japanese for a while I know that it takes a long time to progress in a language which is so different, and I have to be realistic with myself which is to say I do tend to lose interest when I don’t see any progress. So it then becomes a case of what do I want to do in my heart for the genuine motivations and then what will I realistically stay tuned in to, and I think Russian is more likely than Chinese in that respect. So I think I would like to stick with the Russian plan.

It's really important to think about the following questions to make sure your language learning plan is realistic as well as pie-in-the-sky ambitious:

  • How much do I already know about the structure of my own native language?
  • Am I fired up for this challenge, or a little apprehensive and tempted to keep it safe? (Consider this for guidance.)
  • How much time can I dedicate to the learning project?
  • Which language matches up with my motivation?

Challenge Yourself

You have put all this thought into the project, now you have GOT to get started. Exactly how that looks is up to you alone. Some people want to really throw themselves into the adventure and "Speak from Day 1". Others prefer the scenic route: take some pressure off, perhaps listen and repeat the BBC Language Tasters.

It's important to make the pace something you are comfortable with, but also to put yourself to the test. Ruth did this very admirably when she got straight in front of the camera to practice her pronunciation and speaking habits. You could also use a proofreader from (for example) People per Hour or Gumtree, or upload your audio to Soundcloud.

You Have Now Lift Off

However little your first step may have been, it doesn't matter. Welcome! It was that easy. You have started learning a new language!