"It's Hard Work But It's So Worth It": Everything You Need To Know For Raising Bilingual Children

Have you ever wondered how bilingual parents do it and what the life of a bilingual family looks like? Are you excited about passing on language skills to your kids, but not sure how?

In this episode of the Fluent Show, you'll get an incredible amount of support. 

Marianna du Bosq, bilingual mother in a bilingual family and host of the Bilingual Avenue podcast, talks about how to raise bilingual children. And she knows her stuff.

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5 Steps for Planning a Productive and Successful Language Learning Week

Many people plan ahead for business goals, upcoming deadlines, events, meetings at work, fitness or meals. But did you know that making a language learning plan can actually help you learn a language faster?

In this article, you'll learn 5 steps to help you get the ball rolling.

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How To Learn A New Language With Smart And Useful Goals

For a long time, I had a difficult relationship with goal-setting. As a fully-fledged questioner, I find it hard to take anything at face value, let alone the idea that I must have a goal to achieve anything.

When I was learning languages in full-time education environments like school and university, the goals weren't on my mind. My school sorted that out for me: turn up to classes, write essays, take exams. But since I've started working with independent language learners (and since I became one), goals have taken an entirely different role.

As an independent language learner, you need to know what to do. It's easy to think that you're already doing the work by stating what you want to achieve. But let me have an honest moment with you here:

Those goals don't help you do things.

smart useful goals

In this article, you'll learn about the two types of goals you need for language learning.

Goal Type 1: Vision Goals

Let's have a look at those language learning goals I see online again and again.

  • "I want to become fluent in Spanish"
  • "I want to have a 15-minute conversation in German" Or here is one that I set for myself last year:
  • "I want to speak Welsh at the Eisteddfod festival in August"

I am sure you have often heard about SMART goals. In many areas of life, our goals will only serve us if we make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

In my mind, these fail the SMART list on a bunch of counts:

None of this is a bad thing in itself. If you are motivated and driven by a vision of your future self speaking a foreign language without hesitating, then that is an amazing image to hold on to. It should be one of the many vague and inspiring concepts you hold dear, and in fact I would even advise you start visualizing your success.

But those visions aren't useful goals, because they just won't help you when it gets down to doing the language learning work. You need that vision.

And for times when you've carved out that half hour to get to business and really learn a language, you need goals.

Goal Type 2: Path Goals

In my Welsh studies, I've been completely independent from the start. I don't have that external structure of tutor, group class, exams, and it took a while before I found a way to use my time for language learning. At first, I tried ideas like "I want fluency" and even "I want to speak Welsh at the Eisteddfod in August". They worked as a motivator, but failed to give me a clear idea of the steps I wanted to take to learn a language.

My current path goals in Welsh

My current path goals in Welsh

I needed something that would help me know what to do when my study time comes. These goals are what I call path goals. They guide you when you're in study mode and mark the milestones on your path.

Here's what you need for making good path goals:

Structure

Structure is the thing that stops you from starting every study session wondering what you'll work on today. It's absolute gold for independent language learners, because you simply don't have the time to faff every single time. Decision fatigue is real, and it's going to paralyze you if you allow it.

  • Schedule the days when you're going to study your language, so you can treat them like any other appointment.
  • Use your path goals as simple "next steps" so you spend zero time deciding what matters.
  • Get some external structure. Follow an established course, work with a tutor, or use a textbook or online course. Even without that, you can be just as successful. Set your goals up to match the four core skills, and this should provide you with the sense of variety and progress you need.

Core Skills

The four core skills are the essential set of everything that makes language learning a success for you. You will want to focus on some more than others, but ultimately you need to put work into all four for becoming that inspiring future self.

The four core skills are listening, speaking, reading and writing. Structure your goals around improving in each one, and you're guaranteed to succeed.

There might be other areas you want to focus on too, such as improving your pronunciation and vocabulary. But if you've got the four core skills covered in your goals, I would advise you not to worry too much about any others. They will come naturally as you improve and respond to your needs in every situation.

Variety

Variety is a key component of the path goals you set for yourself. It's realistic to acknowledge that moods, motivation and focus can vary from day to day. So on one day you might be excited to crack open the textbook and work your phrases, but on another day all you want is speaking practice with a tutor.

Having varied goals (I recommend at least 4 to cover each core skill) allows you to pick from a short, focused list of tasks and make progress in every single study session.

Recap: The 2 Goal Types You Need for Learning a Language

So there you have it. Goal setting isn't the holy grail of productivity. But when you do it right and know your goal types, each step can give you the right support you need to progress today.

1. Set Vision Goals

You can call this an intention, a vision, a goal. This is the imagined, vivid image of your future self that will keep you going. Go deep with this, make moodboards (maybe on Pinterest?), be inspired. Blow that SMART stuff out of the water.

2. Set Path Goals

Path goals are not big visions, they are the structured next steps that will help you when it's time to work on studying. Your path goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. They should be anchored in what you can do now, and what you want to do next.

How to Structure Your Language Learning Routine

Do you want to follow the system I explained in this article and start to discover your ideal language learning routine? Then I recommend you check out the Language Habit Toolkit, my hands-on course to help you learn any language with personalized milestones.

--> Click here to learn more about the Language Habit Toolkit <--

The Book That Will Change How You See Language Learning (+ Clever Notes & Action Plan FREE)

One of the most common things I hear from language learners is

becoming fluent book

"what is the best way to do this?" You want to know how to learn a language, in as much detail as possible.

And it's hard to answer that question once and for all, for everyone. People are different, and no one's going to teach you good habits overnight. I know there are plenty of players out there telling you that their way of doing flash cards or listening to native content is the real answer.

But seriously, guys. What it really takes is that you learn to understand your own smart and capable self. That's where a book like Becoming Fluent comes in.

By the way, I've gone ahead and done a little bit of hard work for you guys. You can now click the button below and download my book notes for Becoming Fluent along with a fab little action plan template so you know what to do next.

What Is Becoming Fluent?

Becoming Fluent is an impressive book in the field of language acquisition. It's written with the scientific background expected from academics. But that doesn't mean that language learners cannot apply it to their lives: Throughout the book, the authors mix explanations and practical tips. The book is written for adult learners who want to conquer another language, and goes into the following topics:

  • What do you have to do to make sure you become a successful language learner?
  • How can you choose the right target language to study?
  • What are the best
  • How important is it to know the culture and norms of people who speak your target language every day?
  • How can you get better at memorising and remembering more?

Why It's Awesome

There are many language learning books out in the market that tell you all about how wonderful the author's methods are. Most successful polyglot-style books follow this system. The logic is that if following certain steps made the author fluent in another language, then you can do the same by copying the steps.

In Becoming Fluent, I detected none of this. The authors do work from their own experience in languages but never claim to know all the answers. Each chapter is based on a new aspect of language learning and gives a neutral summary of what the science says, followed by practical advice.

I've never used or endorsed the "copy a winner" approach, and I don't think it's quite how things work for language learners. Success in language learning is about more than just playing the game right. The more you learn and discover about yourself, your habits, your preferences and strengths in language learning, the more you will approach a real ability to learn any language quickly.

So for me, Becoming Fluent was an outstanding book about language learning because it doesn't tell you what exactly to do. This one is about empowering yourself to find your own perfect method.

What Wasn't So Great

Becoming Fluent is smart and thorough and scientific, which is a big rarity in language learning. It's great to read such a sensible voice in our field. The book comes at language learning from so many different angles that some great aspects get a little lost.

I would have liked the book's action-focused tips to be highlighted or separated from the main text, making it easier to find exactly how to put new insights into action. As it is, Becoming Fluent does require you to put in a few hours for reading, but this is time well spent.

My Favourite Parts

  • All of chapter 2, which addresses the many lies and misleading beliefs that we hold in our heads before we even start learning. If you can only listen to/read one part of the book, this chapter is going to make a massive difference. It's a small window into how your brain trips you up.
  • This sentence in Chapter 3:

"The REAL test of how well you speak a language is how easily you communicate when you are using that language, and the pleasure you derive from speaking it."

  • The ideas behind common ground and the zone of proximal development, which are all about how you think of how good you are, how good other people are in comparison, and how you can get better step-by-step.
  • The focus on learning and speaking a language like an adult, not a kid or teenager. This focus builds great insights, for example the understanding that it's more important to be yourself in another language than to sound "exactly like all the native speakers".
  • The image of tutors and helpers as a Sherpa, i.e. Someone who's climbing the mountain with you, showing you the way, teaching you about the process as you're doing it.
  • The concept of cognitive overload, which explains exactly why and how and when you get tired.

Overall, I am very happy that I read Becoming Fluent and recommend you check it out too. I ordered my copy from the local library and am very glad that it's in their catalogue now. You can get your own printed copy in the same way, or order it from Amazon (here's the US link and the UK link).

Don’t forget, you can grab my full book notes (9 pages!) by clicking the button below. They include your own action plan template and a checklist of books to check out, so next you can be prepared on your next visit to the library or to Amazon.

If you want to try a faster read gives instructions on what to do, try Fluency Made Achievable (which is written by me, so you will definitely enjoy it if you like this blog).

11 Short & Sweet Tips To Help You Learn a Language in 2016

Ahh, happy new year to all of you! Even though the last two weeks have been quite busy, I did take a few minutes to note down my resolutions for the next year.

One thing that struck me this year is something I had not realised before. There is this huge difference between goals and resolutions. A goal is something specific, concrete, something that you can achieve and then feel good about your success. A resolution is deeper and comes from your emotional centre. It's about what you really want to change in your life.

learn a language new year

Language Learning Resolutions vs Goals

Resolutions are often ambitious and come out of the desire to improve something and feel better as a result. Here are some great language learning resolutions:

  • To become fearless in the face of talking to strangers in a foreign language
  • To feel comfortable watching foreign TV without subtitles
  • To become less self-critical
  • To build a habit of reviewing vocabulary every single week 

Success comes from combining ambition and goal. So once your ambition is set, think about how to break it down into goals - how much can you do in 3 months, how much can you do in a week? Documenting all those goals will give you a clear roadmap, with the resolution as your fuel and the ambition as the destination.

How to Start Reaching That Language Learning Ambition

The following set of tips is a summary of the best advice that Lindsay and I discussed in Episode 30 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast. You can listen to the episode to find out how we go about learning our own target languages, Japanese and Welsh.

1. Work With a Diary or Calendar

Automating a new habit is such a fantastic way to stop negotiating with yourself. If your diary usually has things like doctor's appointments and meetings with your boss in it, how can you question its authority? So use that rock in your life and start adding little bits of language study time, for example coaching sessions or vocab reviews.

2. Don't Rely on Empty Time

Instead of hoping for that Duolingo-at-the-bus-stop moment, set some time aside as a regular appointment with yourself. Lindsay sets time aside from 7am to 8am so she can enjoy an hour of language learning where she can do what she wants to do. I'm less consistent but have a Sunday afternoon study hour where I work on learning my languages.

3. Don't Be Quiet About Your Resolution

It's too easy to commit to a big resolution without even telling people about it. But when it comes to actually doing stuff, it helps to look out for other people that want to do the same. As language learners, this is more true for us than any other people. You want to learn a language, so you want to talk to people. Get started with the "people" part of it now and find a language learning buddy or a tutor to support you.

4. Build on Existing Habits

If there is a slot in your day that you repeat regularly, you have found a great opportunity to learn your language. For example, I know that every morning I sit on the stairs in my house and drink a coffee. The coffee is already a fixed part of my day, so adding a daily Welsh practice or reviewing one page of my learning notebook won't take too much willpower. Instead of going on Facebook before you drop off to sleep, could you spend 10 minutes with the flashcards?

5. Make Your Chunks Big and Small Enough

When you are studying at beginner level, it's too difficult to aim for passing the big C2 immigration exam. When you are advanced but haven't got travel money for the next 6 months, it's too unrealistic to aim for that in-country conversation with a native speaker. These goals need to be broken down so that you can see the end in sight of your current project. What can you do today so that it's a bit easier for you to get to the vision tomorrow?

6. Be Super Precise

Precision is essential for setting a good language learning goal. You must define exactly what it is that you are aiming for. Fluency is a vague desire, but what you need is more than that. Your goals have to be measurable in precise terms, so try to zoom in on those step-by-step achievements. For example, I tend to avoid putting my goals in terms of "having a conversation". Instead, I may want to finish Lesson 8 in my textbook next week or say 15 new sentences based on what I already know. The key is to DO something that will make you feel good when you've done it. Imagining your success does not count.

7.Once the Course is Set, Do Not Question It

It can be so tempting to set a big ambitious goal and leave a little bit of wriggle-room open for yourself when things don't quite work out. When you are setting your New Year's Resolution, is it so ambitious that you already know you're going to fail? If yes, then revise it. Halve it. Make it achievable so that you know you'll be committed.

This is where writing a goal down and sharing it come in handy. Write it in the comments of this blog article as a first step! Set yourself a reminder to come back to it. Whatever you do, don't just go away and forget what excited you enough to get started.

8. Repeat Your Successes

Meeting a goal doesn't mean that you'll never have to do it again. It is the first step to building an awesome new habit. So once you've had your first Skype lesson, you're one step further along the way. But you're not there. You may never be there.

Last year, my New Year's Resolution was to become a more punctual person. But that is an ambition and not a goal. A goal would have been to say "I will turn up 10 minutes early for every appointment I have tomorrow". And for the first day, I did just that. I was super proud! Now imagine what would have happened if I'd just stopped caring after that goal. I'd be just as late as I always was. But if I met the goal every single day, I'd start building new pathways and habits and become a more punctual person.

9. Identify What's Driving You

Behind all our ambitions for becoming a polyglot, more fluent, a better student, a more productive person, there is an assumption that you have a problem right now. It's extremely important to work out what drives your ambition and to identify this personal issue, so that you can start observing the progress you are making. Even if you don't meet every single goal or milestone along the way, are you learning more about yourself? Are you making progress? Are you trying out a new way of thinking?

10. Observe the Progress

It's very common to feel like you are falling behind within the first few weeks of the new year energy. But could you critique yourself in a positive way instead of being self-critical? Don't forget that failing to meet a hard goal doesn't signal a major failure. I'm reminded of Ron Gullekson's recent blog post where he spoke about failing the German exam he had spent months preparing for. Does that mean Ron is a complete German failure? No! He went through intense preparation, so even he still benefited from a tight learning schedule and improved his written German.

Finally, here is a great tip if you feel like this time is not right for resolutions, but you still want to welcome 2016 in the right way:

11. Set a Theme, Not a Resolution

If you didn't have the energy or courage to set yourself a specific goal, the theme for your year, month, or week can act as a wonderful guide to take its place. It also helps you focus on appreciating what you have got right now without becoming too self-critical. As I am entering a new year in my language studies and my teaching business, my theme will be "Figure it out!", a message to myself that giving up isn't what I'm here for.

What Are Your New Year's Resolutions?

So now it's over to you:

  • What are your plans?

  • How are you going to make sure you stay committed?

  • Have you found a buddy yet?

No matter if you have a language learning resolution or something else, I'm looking forward to reading about what you're planning in the comments below.

For more tips about how to learn a language the right way, check out Lindsay's new course Successful Self Study or my popular books Fluency Made Achievable and The Vocab Cookbook.

How I Travel Europe: The Train from England to Germany

Have you ever stood in the security queue at your airport, realising with a bolt of anger that you're about to have to hand in your big bottle of expensive shampoo? Or been troubled by fear of flying, wishing for solid ground in the middle of turbulence? In today's article, I want to talk about train travel, an alternative way of getting around. My own journeys take place in Europe, and I have taken trains in more than 12 European countries. If you're interested in trying it out, here's how to make it as easy and affordable as you can.

The Place of Travel Talk in Language Learning

As a blog that is mostly dedicated to language learning, I usually stay away from outright travel tales. It's important to encourage language learners out there that you can totally do this without ever leaving your town. But at the same time, language and travel have the same goal. They're about opening doors and showing us what's out there in the world. Most of us language learners are motivated by the thought of going to new places and meeting new people. And as an experienced traveller, I've got a few stories I can share. Today I'm kicking off the travel tales with my tips on train travel across my continent.

Train Travel...

In the age of high-speed everything, you'll likely tell me that there's no reason to spend 20 hours on trains when you can just fly to the same place in half the time. Train travel is slower and more expensive than flying. I've heard all that. But every now and then when you take a sip of the tea you made at home (no liquids restrictions) and enjoy a view of a carnival parade or lovers' argument on a platform, you realise what makes the train so special.

Train travel can be romantic, relaxing and enjoyable. So today, I want to share some tips with you on how to get a good deal and make your journey in record time. My own trip from Lancaster to my German village was done in only 13 hours this year - counting door-to-door this rivals air travel quite closely. To get a great trip like that organised, here are the essentials:

How to Book a Train Across Europe

You can read about any country's detailed booking process on the amazing Seat 61 website. For this article, I will focus only on the countries regularly involved in my own journeys: UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France. All of these four countries except the UK have national rail companies, making it easier to get yourself booked onto their journeys. They are Belgian Rail, CF Luxembourg, Deutsche Bahn and SNCF. Within the UK, you will have to book a ticket with a local provider, but those are easily found through ticket vendor sites like National Rail.

Easiest Booking Process

Here is the booking process that I have established over the past years. It's pretty reliable and allows you to book from anywhere.

Step 1

Look up your best connection through Deutsche Bahn. Their trip planner won't sell foreign tickets, but the connections it brings up are really reliable and it's seemingly got access to all of Europe's connections.

Step 2

Get train prices. You book a large chunk of your journey as a connected ticket through Eurostar or the SNCF Rail Europe site. The site will want to sell you tickets in your own currency, which means you may miss out on better rates. Here's a link to its UK-focused site.

Step 3

To make sure you are getting the best rates, look up individual ticket prices with each provider separately. This means opening a few tabs in your browser and keeping an eye on the running total of your costs, but it can save hundreds. I use the following websites when I'm doing this:

If there is no significant advance booking discount to be had, I often buy my tickets on the counter just before I hop on the next train.

Step 4

Before you make your final purchase, look into getting discounts such as Interrail cards, the German Bahn Card or the British Young Person's Railcard. Each of these cards costs money at the start, but usually pays for itself within 1-2 journeys.

For Visitors to Belgium

If you're making a journey from the UK to or from Belgium, consider buying a ticket that includes same-day travel to "any Belgian station". These can be booked through the Eurostar website and might save you both money and hassle. The train conductors are surprisingly well informed when it comes to knowing where exactly the Belgian border ends and will happily sell you a supplementary ticket.

For example, travelling from Brussels to Luxembourg, this ticket will pay you up all the way to Arlon. When you travel from Brussels to Cologne, your border station is Aachen Süd.

Tips for Your Travel Day

Train travel can be a pain at times, so ensure that you are taking a few steps to make your journey as fun as possible.. If you are spending a full day on trains, make sure that you have allowed enough time to make your connections. Allow for at least 20 minutes of connection times, and take advantage of your train manager - if your train is running late and you're worried about missing a connection, they can often help out by notifying the train you are connecting to or giving you a "hop onto the next one" stamp.

Overall, it pays to be flexible. Trains will be late, missed, cancelled. No one really travels three or more countries by train for the sake of efficiency, so instead make sure you have allowed plenty of time and a bit of budget in case you have to stay over somewhere last minute.

Eating

It may also be worthwhile to plan to eat in the buffet car (I recommend the German ICE for this) or book first class travel, because when you are lucky, you only pay £20-£40 more. Half of this cost will pay for itself in all the free water, wifi and food that first class entitles you to (Virgin Trains are the best providers here). Without planning your food breaks, you may find that your 40 minute connection time has been shredded to bits by a late arrival, and run around scrambling to find a muesli bar.

And finally, a Note for Language Learners

A photo posted by Kerstin (@dartogreen) on

Train travel is an absolutely perfect opportunity for practicing your language skills and meeting new people, and this particular itinerary is a language lover's dream. Announcements on international trains are routinely made in at least two languages, for example on the Eurostar it's English, German, Flemish and French.

The languages spoken can vary within one country, so be respectful and remember that a rail employee is not your practice buddy. For example a Belgian person won't always appreciate being addressed in French by all tourists as much as you expect them to. For the sake of a smooth journey, service employees are at least bilingual. Some train stations will also have different names in the country's official languages, so watch out before you miss your stop. (That pesky Brusssels Midi station is called Brussel Zuid in Flemish, for example.)

I've actually got plenty more tips on train travel, some of which might be useful expansions into the next blog posts here on my travel writing corner. Hope you liked it!

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