Language learning laid bare – what happens when life gets in the way?

Our more regular readers might have noticed we’ve been a bit quiet recently, but don’t worry, we haven’t given up on our language learning challenges! As with so many hobby projects, the twists and turns of life have got in the way so we’ve slowed down our learning pace a bit and I wanted to share our

Learning a language can feel like a roller coaster of highs and lows, jump on and enjoy the ride!

experience with you of approaching language learning as more of a marathon than a sprint. There are lots of bloggers and language learning gurus guiding people on how to speed up the learning process and achieve fluency in just a few months, which is refreshingly daring but not always realistic for people working full time and can leave learners feeling a sense of failure when three months is up and they’re still working on conjugating the past tense!

After reading Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 Months last year, I was inspired to launch my own crusade for fluency in Portuguese in 3 months back in September 2017. Shortly afterwards Iain and I got engaged (cheesy photo featured) I started a new, busy full time job and then in early in 2018 bought and moved into our first home together, which needed some renovation work doing. Needless to say, alongside a full time job and trying to maintain friendships, hobbies, housework, wedding planning and sleep, my Portuguese quest has definitely suffered!

However, I want to say that THIS IS OKAY. Most of us will pick up a language at a much more leisurely pace over time through classes, meet up groups and holidays that fit in around their other commitments, in fact, that’s how I learnt French and Russian. Rather than the route towards fluency feeling like a swirling, gushing waterfall, I prefer a more meandering, smooth pace. I believe that as language learners, we should focus on the journey towards fluency and how it enriches our lives and experience of the world, other cultures and throws open new aspects of ourselves that we had never before been able to express. So, I’m here to say that whether you learn over three months or three years, the learning journey never ends and we should be more focused on communicating successfully than the time it takes to do so.

Portuguese map puzzle
Portuguese is an official language in 10 countries

I have now picked up my Portuguese studies again and am giving myself until the end of the summer 2018 to feel confident communicating in Portuguese and holding a basic conversation. I have recently bought a new grammar book and have picked up daily Duolingo sessions for fun and to maintain momentum. Duolingo has recently introduced the new club feature and levels to keep it interesting. Clubs allows you to chat with other learners, take part in mini challenges and use the language in a fun way. Opening up levels keeps

the variety interesting and also allows me to focus on particular aspects that I want to work on. Watch this space!Duolingo logo

Tell us – have you had a similar experience with language learning? Do you prefer a sprint or a marathon pace of learning? As always, share your story below and join the conversation on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages

 

Vocabulary learning made easy

A polyglot friend (7 languages and counting) once told me that there is no point knowing the rules of Russian grammar inside out and theoretically how to ask for a loaf of bread if you don’t know the word for bread (хлеб). I found this reassuring as personally I don’t find grammar rules absorb as naturally for me as vocabulary!

If, like me, you are a fan of vocab lists and learning quirky new words and phrases in the language you’re learning then read on as I share some other learning approaches that, if applied appropriately, can really accelerate your learning and speed up your journey towards fluency.

Chunking & Collocations

This might sound like an anti-diet regime, but it actually makes language learning a lot lighter! The idea is that words rarely exist in isolation but co-exist in quite predictable patterns alongside other words, so if you learn the ‘chunks’ of words, you will sound much more fluent. Equally, it can be useful to learn a phrase such as ‘where are the toilets’ without knowing much of the grammar of the sentence, because certain elements of language are made up of fixed chunks.  Similarly to chunking, collocations are words that frequently appear next to each other and there is usually a fixed expression such as ‘a round of applause’ or ‘nooks and crannies’ or ‘to err on the side of caution’ where if one word were changed it might sound odd to a native speaker such as ‘to err on the side of care.’ You can see some good examples of collocations here: https://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/collocations.htm

Cognates

As words that share a root or similar construction to lexical items in your first language. This makes them much easier to remember as they are so similar! This can be a good place to start when you are trying to get to grips with a new language and you will find some cognates cross many languages, such as ‘taxi.’

Frequency Dictionaries 

Sometimes the colossal task of learning all the vocabulary in one language can seem a bit like trying to gather all the grains of sand on a beach into your hands; the more you try to cram in the less likely it is to stay. And where do you start? I find using a trusted and reliable frequency dictionary is a good place to start, especially when you have mastered some of the basics as it gives you focus and you can rest assured in the knowledge that you are learning useful words you are likely to encounter in everyday situations because they are based on frequency in live usage across a range of settings. 

Iain and I use the Routledge frequency dictionary series for French, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese and would highly recommend them as they are clearly laid out and very accessible for all levels of language learners from beginners to advanced. If you want a real challenge, you could even take a word a day from the book to learn to build up your vocabulary more consistently. We have teamed up with Routledge to offer Lingua Centra readers and subscribers a 20% discount on all frequency dictionaries in any language you might be learning – great for your language learning kit or to give as a gift for the language lovers in your life!

 

Post it notes

I’m a self confessed sucker for colourful things and am a visual, kinaesthetic learner, so find post it notes a great way of incorporating colour into my language learning! Think of ways you can use the colours to your advantage such as different colours for singular and plural versions or genders of nouns or topics. It is worth placing them strategically where you know you spend a bit of time each day in your home – for me this is the bathroom mirror so I can read them all through as I brush my teeth! 

Write, cover, repeat 

Probably the oldest method in the book and sometimes this works well for people. I find it useful to have a list of up to 20 words a week and read them through each day originally from the target language to English and then in reverse as I become more confident. At the end of the week make sure you test yourself or get others to test you.

Learning synonyms and gradations.

Sometimes we assume we have a concept or word all sussed out and so our learning slows and our language progress plateaus. Learning synonyms is an easy way to combat this and expand your vocabulary beyond your usual ‘safe phrases.’ Looking for alternative ways to express familiar concepts keeps your learning and speech in the language fresh and flexible. For example ‘good’ could instead be: great, wonderful, excellent, brilliant, fantastic, amazing. Or ‘hot’ might become: boiling, piping, scalding, roasting.

Hobby related jargon.

Being able to associate a word with an experience has been for me the most effective way at memorising a word or phrase. One of my hobbies is dining out and I once confused the French for pineapple with ‘pamplemousse’ (grapefruit) when ordering in a café on the Champs Elysée in Paris and I can’t stand the bitter taste of grapefruit so will never make that mistake again! Equally, if you have a hobby or a passion, why not watch tutorials on YouTube on your favourite subject as you will have something to relate it to and will be able to discuss your passions with native speakers much more easily.

Mnemonics.

This is when you associate a story with the word you want to learn to conjure up the word if you are finding it tricky to remember or recall. I was, until recently, very cynical about mnemonics as an effective way of memorising a word. That was until I created a mnemonic to remember the Portuguese word for ‘boyfriend’ (namorado) by thinking of Iain rescuing me from doing difficult sums on a computer, hence ‘no-more-add-o’ making it much easier to remember ‘namorado!’ 

Duolingo.

This is a free app that uses gamification as a language learning tool through repeated interval exposure to words and phrases so that you gradually come to recognise the word and internalise it. There is both written and spoken content so you have a chance to learn the sounds of words as well as the written form.

Using the vocabulary (writing and speaking).

For most of us, the main aim of learning a language is to communicate, so make sure you are using all the words you learn either by writing a letter, journal / diary or shopping list or slipping them into conversations you’re having with native speakers.

Good luck with your vocabulary acquisition – let us know how you get on in the comments below and keep us posted on your vocabulary successes on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter too!

Portuguese Fluent in 3 months – 1 month progress report

I feel like I’ve covered a lot of ground in the last five weeks and have had a couple of opportunities to put my Portuguese to the test in conversations as well, which has been entertaining..!

This month I have added to my vocabulary by learning:

  • Time phrases
  • Numbers
  • More present tense verbs
  • Colours
  • Animals
  • Food
  • furniture
  • Introducing people
  • Basic phrases about my life such as where I live and work

I took a 30 minute italki lesion with a Portuguese teacher to try to practise a few phrases, ask about vocabulary and pick up some basic grammar. I had by ‘language stabilisers’ on by having tabs for wordreference and Google translate open. This really assisted with speedy translations to keep conversation flowing in Portuguese! We spoke probably 75% in English, but the teacher was great at correcting my pronunciation as I still have quite a way to go with some aspects such as vowel sounds and pronunciation of the consonant ‘s’.

Portuguese map puzzle
Portuguese is an official language in 10 countries

I was also chuffed to be able to have a short conversation with a colleague in the facilities cleaning team at work mostly in Portuguese as she is also in the early stages of learning English. We spoke about 80% in Portuguese and I managed to explain in very basic terms that I had just got engaged, which I was very happy with having been learning for such a short length of time!

My main reflections from the last month are:

  • Thank goodness I’m learning a romance language! So much of the vocabulary resembles French, which I speak fluently, and the grammar and syntax is typical of a romance language such as French with subject-verb-object word order it has made it much easier to pick up
  • Duolingo is great for vocabulary. Duolingo has without a doubt been my best tool in picking up Portuguese vocabulary so far as the mini modules are broken down into manageable chunks with frequent repetition and a range of tasks, so I am able to retain much more of the vocabulary than by using a simple list-based approach.
  • Italki is fantastic for time with teachers if you have specific questions. The 30 minute session I had with a teacher on italki was great and very focused. Before the lesson I specified that I wanted to focus on a few specific verbs and also pronunciation and the teacher was great at keeping us on track. She was also very patient and suggested some great resources for me a this A1 level I am currently speaking at.
  • Speaking is quite intimidating, but finding a patient native speaker to listen and iron out any errors in a positive way is essential. This is something I am now doing with a colleague at work who is in the facilities team and is not much further ahead in speaking English as it’s great to get to know her and also motivates me to keep on learning. I would definitely recommend finding a tandem language partner at a similar level to yourself as you can really empathise with where each other is at in the language learning journey.
  • Finding time for structured study is a bit more challenging. I work full time, so am struggling to squeeze more study time into each day. At the moment I am doing one Duolingo module on the way home from work and listening to one or two sections of the Teach Yourself Portuguese lessons. Occasionally in the evenings I am also writing key vocabulary on post-it notes and putting it round the flat so that I can see them while brushing my teeth or preparing dinner. 

I was on holiday last week, so my routine has slipped a bit, but to get on track my main targets for the month two are:

  1. Take another italki lesson
  2. Focus a bit more on understanding grammar
  3. Purchase an A1 – A2 study guide to support with grammar
  4. Try Memrise as another free platform for vocabulary learning
  5. Try to hold two more conversations predominantly in Portuguese at work and at Mundo Lingo
  6. Learn conjunctions and linking phrases to keep a conversation flowing
  7. Learn how to ask questions
  8. Practise my pronunciation through free online drills
  9. Learn vocabulary for countries, languages and nationalities
  10. Consolidate grammar in particular articles and gender agreements

Wish me luck for the next month..!

Are you learning a language or taking a fluent in three months challenge? Let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below or on our social media channels Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Learning Spanish – 2 weeks in

It’s been 9 years since I last attempted to start a new language; it was Russian and I had just started studying it at university. Only now, I have decided to pick up another language – Spanish.

When people ask me, “why Russian?”, I can never really answer. I think there was a little intrigue involved, but mostly I just revelled in choosing a slightly obscure and more-difficult-than-average language. This time, at least I can say “because Spanish is the 2nd most (natively) spoken language in the world”!

Spanish graffiti

The plan

So far, I have started myself off easily by choosing Duolingo as my main source of linguistic learning. I say easy because it’s fairly simple to fit 15 minutes’ worth of language into the working (and non-working) day.

However, I know, as a seasoned language-learner, that I’m going to have to ramp things up a bit a lot, if I want to progress at any real rate. Especially as I, like Clare, am going to try to keep to the “fluent in 3 months” challenge. No pressure!

So, progress so far…

2 weeks in

Duolingo logoWell, Duolingo tells me that I’m 32% fluent. Result! … Erm … not quite. I see what they mean, in that I’ve so far learnt basic grammar and vocabulary that may well recur 32% of the time in spoken and written Spanish, but I think I’ll take it with a pinch of salt!

My thoughts so far on learning Spanish in this way are:

  1. It’s handy to know French, as there are often comparable (and therefore memorable) similarities between words and sentence structure;
  2. Duolingo is awesome for working language-learning easily into your day;
  3. But it has quite a heavy focus (at least at this stage) on receptive language and multiple-choice questions – this means that I feel that I can often deduce the answer, rather than having to produce it;
  4. Having already learnt how to learn languages, I feel a real desire to do certain things, such as:
  • Learn pronouns (subject and object) and possessive pronouns
  • Learn verb conjugation in a more systematic way
  • Flash cards!! Both for grammar and for vocab. Clare, as always, is already ahead of me with this! 😉

This fortnight

I’ll be acting upon my urges by covering those 3 things. I’m really enjoying Duolingo, so I will continue with that, but it’s time to diversify…

Fluent in 3 months challenge – week 1 Portuguese progress report

The last time I picked up a new language was over 8 years ago so understandably it was a bit of a shock to the system after taking a degree in French and Russian and speaking them fluently, to find myself back to square one with Portuguese this week!

Read on for my highs, lows, and reflections for the week and let me know your thoughts in the comments if you have been down this road recently or have any general tips on Portuguese to share. Portuguese map puzzle

Portuguese is an official language in 10 countries

Why Portuguese? 

I visited Portugal quite a few times on holiday when I was younger and tried to learn a few key phrases such as ‘my name is…’ and ‘thank you’ but didn’t progress any further. I would also love to visit Brazil at some point in future, so I’m getting myself language ready for Carnival!

At my current place of work there is a Portuguese cleaner who I often speak with, but English isn’t her first language (and gesticulating can only get us so far) so I’m on a mission to be able to have an basic chat in Portuguese with her before the end of the first month.

What I’ve covered this week:

  • Basic vocabulary on people, food and animals using the Duolinguo app during my commute to work.
  • Introductions, asking questions and responding to questions, including learning more varied responses to ‘how are you? (tudo bem?)’, using the Rocket Languages website
  • Bedroom furniture vocabulary using Post-it notes around the room.
  • Subject pronouns (the person doing the verb) and differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese.  

    My learning resources from week 1

Highs:

  • Noticing the similarities between French and Portuguese vocabulary. Speaking another romance language has definitely helped me along with recognising vocabulary (even if pronouncing it is a bit trickier!)
  • Having a fresh start with a language as an adult learner. I’ve always had a passion for languages but when learning French and Russian as academic subjects a lot of my motivation became wrapped up in passing exams. As an independent hobbyist adult learner, I can really set the pace for my learning and focus on what I feel is most useful for me in my everyday life, which has been really refreshing.
  • Starting Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 months book and gaining lots of invaluable tips and approaches for purposeful and successful language learning.

Lows:

  • Feeling like I’m back at the bottom of the mountain with a long climb ahead to get to conversational level – although I’m very determined!
  • Finding time to focus on Portuguese as my ‘sprint language’, with Russian being my ‘marathon language’ of focus for this week.
  • Discovering the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese and being torn between which one to focus on speaking and writing. I have decided to focus on European Portuguese because I’m based in Europe, but am using a Teach Yourself Portuguese book, which features both alongside each other, so I aim to recognise both.

    Learning a language can feel like a roller coaster of highs and lows, jump on and enjoy the ride!

Mini Missions for weeks 2-4.

  • Find out what direct object pronouns and indirect object pronouns are
  • Mastering conjugations of key verbs in present tense such as: to live, to work, to go, to have, to be, to like, to want, to do.
  • Learn numbers.
  • Learn time referents.
  • Continue with vocabulary learning of important everyday topics such as: the weather, clothes, shopping, cooking, hobbies.
  • Have conversation with the cleaner at my place of work in Portuguese.
  • Take a class on italki with a Portuguese tutor.

Keep an eye out for videos of me speaking my pidgin Portuguese coming soon to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram ..! Follow us to keep up with my language learning challenge and let me know how your learning is going in the comments below.