Reflective Learning: Learning Log

A common question is “how long will it take me to learn X”? ..The answer is always “as long as it takes”. Each and every learner is different depending on study time, efficiency of study, motivation, surrounding environment, prior learning of related languages, prior learning of any language, and a list of any other number of variables. The only way to know for sure is to keep a log and use it as a reflective tool. It’s not going to predict how long it will take you to learn, but it will show you how you have learned. But that’s not all it’s good for, it’s kind of a follow-up to the Power of the Schedule article that looks at how to make the most of your time, keeping  a log on the other hand, allows you to keep a history of how your learning techniques develop and adapt to situations. Teachers often use a similar idea when considering their professional practice and use it to refine and develop their lessons. So why shouldn’t learners make use of the same reflective principles to refine and develop their learning methods? A small invest of a few key points about what you did in your study time could save you hours down the line in language learning through just becoming a better learner. What to keep track of? Some people document actual study time and that’s all… others go a little deeper and cover time of day, surroundings,  what was studied (grammar, vocab, listening, reading, etc), materials used, feelings associated with studying for that session, things that worked or failed, things that you want to try next time…. and so on. As with all things, some follow the KISS notion, others go OTT. And that’s fine, because at the end of the day it’s just personal preference that will shape your log. As long as you can build a personal device that helps you learn, that’s all that matters. I have always kept a log… in my head! I didn’t keep a written log when I first started learning. I regret it. I struggled with bad learning  methods for a long time before something finally clicked and told me to look at how things were (or “were NOT”) developing. These days I keep track of time of day, time taken, what materials I cover and if I feel it was successful or not… and other devices such as Anki and LingQ help me keep track of motivational things like the number of words I read or apparently know, while my audio recordings can be added together to give an approximate figure for number of hours of speaking practice (of the speaking...

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Study Methods: Power of the Schedule

Planning your time and using it effectively, this is how we learn a language successfully. It’s not exactly that complicated but it is something that a lot of people neglect. To use the exercise analogy, it’s better to do a little a lot than a lot a little. Meaning… 15 mins a day for a total of 105 minutes per week is probably going to be a lot more effective than 105 minutes one day a week. Personally, I like 20-25 minute blocks of study as I find this optimal for me. My wife finds 40 minute blocks suit her learning a lot better. Each to their own… experiment with what works best for you and above all else, just be consistent. Even 5 minutes a day reviewing vocabulary is better than nothing! The main idea of this post isn’t just about consistency though, it’s about planning. The majority of people complain about not having enough time to study consistently and this is why they don’t succeed to their full potential. Your best bet for success is to make a plan and stick with. If you’re one of these people that struggle to study after work or at the end of the day because you’re exhausted, get up 30 minutes earlier and get out your learning material. Idealistically, I love studying in the morning because I can theoretically do nothing for the rest of the day and feel like I have accomplished something. Unfortunately, I learn more efficiently in the evening… so it takes more motivation on my part to stick with an evening schedule. Alas, poor me… If you are someone that honestly has no time for a schedule…. ahuh, right!! …then you should have a look at the Borrowing Time article. You’ll get some ideas of how to squeeze more out of your day. But above else… just make a plan and be consistent with your learning. A small commitment everyday will get you there in the end a la Tortoise and the...

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Using L2 for L3

Just some thoughts on learning a foreign language through another learned language. If English is your L1, many people only attempt to learn another language through English. And that’s fair enough, but it might not be the most practical if you have other tools at your disposal. Professor Arguelles strongly suggests people that dream of being a polyglot learn French and German. With English, French and German at your disposal there is a wealth of material available for the language learner. The same could also be true for Japanese and Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Korean. But this is the argument for using a L2 because of materials access and availability. How about using your L2 to learn L3… or L3 to learn L4 even? Sometimes it is just more practical and efficient. If you’re an English speaker that has studied Spanish to a high level for instance, would it make more sense to learn Portuguese or Italian through English, or to learn them through Spanish? My vote would be Spanish because of all of those similarities in grammar and vocabulary. My own personal example is for using Korean as  tool for studying Japanese, again, due to grammatical similarities and the large cross-over in vocabulary due to the Chinese influence. It’s not just a matter of making it easier for yourself though, there are other things to consider. Like what things? Well, in using your L2 to learn L3 you’re going to appreciate the finer details of your L2. You will effectively be learning your L2 in more depth by studying your L3. These are things I have found with my own studies. Through elementary level Japanese study I consolidated and clarified things in Korean I already knew but didn’t really know. You may learn things you never knew, you may have a few a-ha moments when you finally understand something that you have been using but didn’t really know the why behind it, or you may just find it more time-efficient because of the similarities. There are of course negatives that include misunderstandings of explanation and what-not, but you do always have the dictionary option to cross-check anything you’re not certain of. But basically, what I’m mainly talking about is using a language that is similar to one you are learning to lessen the burden. It doesn’t have to stop there though. Professor Arguelles’ suggestion of learning French or German first is a valid one. Even if these languages aren’t similar to the one you are studying, due to the quality of materials available they may still be the best option. I know a number of people that have learned English and now use it learn...

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Class Activities: Dictation with Speaking

Here’s an activity that incorporates three skills in one: listening, writing and speaking… with some reading thrown in if you twist it a little bit. The steps are pretty simple, it’s simple to incorporate and easy to control. use a recording of a conversation with the question parts removed… so basically you are playing one side of a conversation. students do a typical dictation exercise for the parts that are played. as a class you can correct the dictation so everyone has the right answers (or give the students the script to read so they can cross-check). work as a class to verify meanings. now the students create questions through speaking to suit the answers (or answers to suit questions if you’re doing the activity that way)… basically, they just complete the conversation. verify the completed conversation on the board so students can get the more suitable questions for the answers (or if having students answer questions, you can have them write on the board some of the possible solutions). As a final activity, play the complete conversation and have students practice speaking with or after the dialogue. Then working with the complete script so they can read and speak simultaneously. The final part of this activity exposes the students to shadowing, which is likely to be something they haven’t encountered all that much. But if given this activity they may come to see the benefits on their own rather than just listening to their teacher mindlessly preaching about the...

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Study Materials: LingQ

First in the series of looking at study materials is going to be LingQ. LingQ is the brainchild of Steve Kaufmann. Steve speaks a number of languages very well and the site is very much a mirror of his own preferred learning style, by self-admission. In short, if you can’t be bothered reading what I say about LingQ… visit, sign-up (it’s free), and try it out. It’s not going to be a waste of time… so enjoy the offerings in English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Swedish, Russian, Chinese and Japanese… and soon to come it looks like Korean. In long, I’ll say a bit more but I should start with a disclaimer saying that I don’t use LingQ to it’s full potential. I only use a few features of the site as I have my own learning style that works for me, and if it ain’t broke as they say. Anyway, I’m happy to use LingQ as a supplement to my own methods. Let’s start with the bad… I find LingQ a little slow at times; probably due to the high user number. I find LingQ a little cumbersome to navigate and use at times, but that’s probably due to my familiarity with the system. It’s online, so website downtime can mean learning downtime (although many things are available offline if you download them). Plus I’ve never seen LingQ down. A server crash could kill your learning database….. so could a harddrive crash at home…. or a small fire 😉 Now, let’s get on with the serious stuff. What is at LingQ… umm, what is at LingQ that I use: Texts, lots of multi-levelled, good quality texts. Audio, lots of multi-levelled, good quality audio. Confidence building graphs that tell you how much you have read, listened, etc. There are also a few other things at LingQ that I don’t make use of, such as: A form of flashcard system (the cards are called LingQs I believe… I could be wrong) – I prefer Anki as I can take it anywhere and it’s what I’m used to using. Tutoring service where you can speak with natives of your target language and receive a report detailing corrections – I use Skype conversations and if I want my speaking corrected I record the conversation to go over with a tutor or language exchange later. Have your writing corrected with a report – I use other sites such as Lang-8 for this. I’ve probably missed a few things, but like I say, I only use LingQ for a few features; it’s a supplement to my learning, not my entire learning. And as an added note, I...

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