Month: June 2015

Do you have a blog I should be reading? Do you want to be my language buddy?

In which I’m looking for more blogs to read

Can anyone recommend blogs by people learning languages, perhaps who’ve never learned any to fluency (however you want to define it) previously? Maybe they’ve dabbled in languages, even learned some to various levels of proficiency, but they wouldn’t say they’re fluent or call themselves a polyglot. I guess I just want a community of people who are fumbling along as I am. I value the advice from polyglot blogs, but sometimes I just want to talk about all this with people who aren’t completely sure about what they’re doing, not people who seem so confident that they have the answer for whatever stumbling block I’m working on. Lately it feels like every polyglot blog is trying to sell me something: their ebook! Their magic method! Something else they’re convinced I need to pay for in order to succeed! It’s really tiring.

I do talk about language-learning with my friends who are doing it as well, sporadically, but I want to fill my feed reader (I like Feedly, by the way) with the thoughts of other language learners on a more regular basis. Does anyone have any recommendations?

In which I want a language buddy or three; do you?

Another idea I had was finding some language-learning buddies. It’s relatively easy to find tutors or even coaches (for example, Fluentli is now doing language coaching). But what I’m looking for right now, what feels missing to me, is an arrangement with someone where we could both check in daily on how we’re doing on our languages. I do check in on coach.me daily with a brief note on what I’m doing, but most people there that I connect with aren’t studying languages, or perhaps the platform just isn’t built for the kind of more detailed, one-on-one checkins I’d like to have.

Especially with someone else who’s learning a language: someone who’ll understand how frustrating it feels to yet again have a day slide by without so much as opening up Anki, or someone who conversely can be excited for you when you want to gush about the great conversation exchange you just had. Do other people routinely have that kind of interaction?

I know there are tons of language-learning fora online, but to be honest, I haven’t clicked with any of the ones I’ve seen: they seem too impersonal, too large, too competitive or snide or just plain rude. And even if I did find a home forum, per se, it still might feel nice to have a language-learning buddy and get that mutual support and encouragement.

s having a language buddy something people would find useful? Is there an untapped need for this kind of thing? Should I start some kind of language buddy matchmaking service?! I thought of this randomly last night, after reading Chris Winfield‘s thoughts on why it’s worthwhile to come up with ten ideas every day. And lo, suddenly I had this idea! I realize by posting it here, someone more motivated than I may come along and steal it. To be honest, I’d be pretty okay with that, because it’d mean I could get a buddy without having to set up a system to find one!

But I’m serious, if people think that would be something they’d like to do, please comment or get in touch some other way! Because if there’s a bit of interest, maybe I could just do an informal, small kind of matching: get people to fill out a Google Doc and then pair them up manually. What kind of criteria would be useful in pairing people together? I don’t think people need to match on languages that they’re studying, but it’d probably be good to match vaguely on what kind of support or interaction they’re looking for.

For me, I’d like someone to email daily (maybe using a set list of prompts, at least to start with?), to say, hey, this is how my day felt for French, and German, this is what I did, this is what I struggled with, this is what I’m hoping to do tomorrow, and what do you think about all this? And how was your language day? And we could both encourage each other or possibly offer suggestions or blahblahblah. That sounds really comforting and useful and cozy to me.

… of course, I am pretty good at coming up with ideas sometimes and then just letting them… drop. But we’ll see. Do tell me if you think this is something you’d like to try though!

Edit: I should note that I do NOT think that people need to be studying the same language for them to be good language buddies! After all, we’re still doing the same process: trying to learn a language, and the encouragement and listening is more important — at least the way I’m envisioning it — than being able to offer specific tips related to a language. Someone who uses Anki, but for a different language, can still talk to me about ways to get over slacking off with my flashcards, you know?

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italki June Challenge update — halfway through!

So we’re about halfway through the June italki Challenge! Mine is going pretty well so far (knock on wood). I thought I’d note a few things, for my own reference and in case it helps others in thinking about what use they might make of online tutoring sessions.

One: at the risk of sounding super obvious, I really need to be careful about how much sleep I get. I’m generally pretty good about this — it’s a habit I’ve developed over the last few years, to go to bed at the same time during the week (unless I’m at a gig or something), and which has served me well (no longer nodding off at my desk at work, hooray!).

But I’ve been unusually busy lately, what with trying to find a new place to live and all the decluttering that entails, as well as keeping up with my usual socializing and studying and oh yes, the italki Challenge. I found myself spacing out and on the verge of nodding off during an italki lesson on Friday! That happened to me last year, during a high-stress time when I had a lot of insomnia but was also trying to book myself a lot of activities — including italki lessons — as distraction. It’s disconcerting that it happened to me now, and a good sign that I need to step up the self-care and get my sleep schedule back in order. Not only is it embarrassing if the other person notices that I’m dropping off (I don’t think this has happened to me yet…), I’m not learning most effectively if I’m that tired!

Two: there really is a limit to how much studying I can do in a day, certainly in terms of interaction-intensive stuff like italki sessions and conversation exchange, and while it was an interesting exercise in trying to find my limits, I think I’ve found them!

My challenge month has so far been structured with a heavy first two weeks. I wanted to rack up time while I could, in case I needed to reschedule things later in the month. I had a really important medical appointment last week, and if it didn’t go well, I anticipated a catastrophic effect on my mental health and potentially cancelling not only lessons but basically everything (spoiler: the appointment went well, phew!). So I wanted to make the start of June italki-heavy. I did also just want to experiment and see how much was too much.

This philosophy meant that last Sunday I had three italki lessons and three Skype conversation exchanges scheduled. The last appointment of the day, the final conversation exchange, ended up being cancelled by the other person. Which was a relief! Because by then, yes… my brain was a little tired. I started off really strong — I was lucky and had two good, engaging, interesting teachers to work with. And the conversation exchanges were with two people I really like speaking with. But during the second lesson, I had a few moments where what the teacher was saying just didn’t sink in — I just couldn’t focus immediately. That was all right, and I still think that lesson was helpful.

However, with the final lesson, I found myself in trouble. The teacher just didn’t seem to know how to get a student talking. Usually language teachers will coax a shy student, or an uncertain one, to speak, and will work to keep the conversation flowing. I’m neither shy nor uncertain, but even I was struggling to keep us talking, because the teacher would give really brief answers to anything I asked and then wouldn’t ask me anything. Bad enough on its own, but at the end of my long day of talking seemingly to the whole world in German, it was exhausting and felt like the longest hour of the entire day (in fact, I’m sure it actually lasted three or four hours instead!).

That kind of intense schedule last Sunday was actually kind of fun, but I wouldn’t want to do that every weekend! Now and again, though, why not?

One last point: it really has been useful to write down all my current problems with German and assign each one to a different teacher. I did a whole package of sessions with one particular teacher last year, and I’ve got a few lessons booked with her again, but I’m also using this challenge as a way to find new teachers that I click with.

I’m less interested in a long-term commitment; what’s helpful right now is dedicating an hour here and there to specific questions I have. That works well as a supplement to my weekly German class here, my own study, and my conversation exchanges. It also helps me maximize the benefit of these hours on italki, since these things are clearly not points I’ve been able to get a handle on otherwise! And of course giving a steer to the teachers helps them prepare more effectively: a kindness to them, yes, but obviously also of benefit to me.

Anyway — I’m looking forward to completing the challenge! I should be on track to do just that (I scheduled a couple of sessions that will be over the 12-hour requirement, for insurance but also because I’m having fun — and I’m sure italki has counted on other people doing the same). I know we’re all winners as long as we feel like we’ve improved our languages over the month, which I definitely have, but c’mon, I’m looking forward to an official win and some credits towards more italki sessions.

Are you doing the challenge? How’s it going? If you’re not doing the challenge, does it sound like something you might be interested in at some point? Or does it not appeal?