Last call for language buddy sign-ups!

Just a quick reminder about signing up for language buddies! As I said previously, I’d like to start matching people up in August.

I should note that I’m currently traveling, and it’s been a bit more hectic and mentally draining than I thought — so I might not end up doing the matches until closer to mid-August. We have almost twenty people signed up already, though, which is super exciting! Please do fill out the form if you’re interested at all!

Conversation partners, shared experience, and a lessening of anxiety

Headspace, the meditation app I mentioned last time, has a sequence about anxiety. And one of the points that come up is that we should try to remember that many, many people throughout the world deal with anxiety, and we should try to feel that we aren’t alone in this and it’s a very common shared experience. Sometimes that’s cold comfort, of course; sometimes the weight of one’s own misery is such that it obscures any way to really feel connected to other people in any way it matters: sometimes, who the eff cares if other people are miserable, because we’re miserable, dammit, and that’s enough to deal with.

But once in a while, it does feel like such a relief to know that your problems aren’t unique, that others are fighting similar battles. A while ago, I wrote about how it was helpful to see myself as my conversation exchange partners do, in terms of imagining myself as more than just a bunch of symptoms of mental ill-health. Recently I experienced another moment where conversation exchange made me feel a little better and a little calmer (apart from how it’s generally something that leaves me feeling better at the end anyway).

One of the people I’ve started speaking with recently (for only a couple of months, I think) has been looking for a new job. A couple of weeks ago, she told me that she found one, except it’s in a different city and she’s starting on the 1st of August. So between the start of July and the start of August, she has to clean out her flat, pack everything up, and move to a new city (once she’s found a flat there, that is). And then start a new job.

Somehow it felt incredibly comforting to know that, while I’m flailing around trying to declutter my stuff and pack everything up and not panic, she’ll be doing the same. I’ve actually had a lot more notice than she did about moving (though she probably suspected she might have to move), and I’m only moving to the next neighborhood over, and I’m not starting a new job. So she’s going through a lot more than I am. And if she can make it, so can I, right?

But yeah: something about imagining her stressing out about the same things as me (do I have enough boxes, should I get rid of thing X, how many Freecyclers flaking on me will it take to get rid of this stuff? Though I’ve been told Germany doesn’t have Freecycle per se…) is really reassuring.

It’s comforting (to me, certainly!) to realize how many language learners struggle with the same things I do that are directly related to what I’m studying. But because language learning has so much to do with connecting with people across cultures, countries, and languages, I really appreciate that it can give me that sense of comfort through a more general shared experience.

(I should say I drafted this post a week or two ago, and now — phew — I’m installed in my new flat. Still getting used to my flatmate, and we’ll see if she ends up getting annoyed hearing me on Skype with my conversation partners frequently — anyone have any tips or funny/horrific stories on Language Learning with Roommates? — but a major hurdle overcome!)

PS. You can still sign up for language buddies!

Sign up for language buddies! And why things are a little hectic around here

This is rather a long, personal post (ha, haven’t had one of those in a while!) — the most important thing is in the first two paragraphs below, about language buddies. Props to anyone who makes it through all the rest of it!

I’m really excited that so many other people are interested in my language buddy idea! Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and linkdropping and retweeting. There’s a really great post with some more thoughts about this idea — do check it out!

I’ve put together a really basic Google Form. If you’re interested in getting a language buddy, please sign up! And please share the link! How about people can sign up through the end of July? This would give people time to think about it (and to even find out about it!), especially as this is a time of year when lots of people might be traveling. After that, people can keep signing up if they want, and I’ll match them as I can, but it would be much easier (for me/you) to sign up before August.

OK, here’s the personal bit. This is where I have to ask you for patience in getting this up and running. I’m moving house in a little over a week (oh the heaving of panic in my chest just writing that!), and then shortly after that I’m going on holiday (which should be relaxing but I suspect won’t be, partly because I’m going with some of my family…). I’d kind of hoped this wouldn’t matter, in terms of at least getting this started: how many spoons does it take to throw together a quick Google Form, post the link, and ask people to sign up, right? And then I could worry about matching people later…

My optimism also stems from the past few months, where I’ve had an uptick in mental health. There have been days (weeks, even) where I’ve been pretty excited to get up in the morning and see what the day brings. Seeing spring and now summer unfold over London has really lifted my spirits. The flowers, the trees blooming — magnolias especially — everything coming alive again, the farmer’s markets transforming from withered apples and the same root vegetables to green and fresh things, the days getting longer: I’m really loving it, this year. (Maybe because last year I genuinely didn’t think I’d see these seasons again?)

A few other things going on have also helped me move forward in terms of depression and anxiety. So this year has felt a lot brighter. I started dreaming again, you know? Things I wanted to do with this blog, places I wanted to travel, projects I wanted to start.

With this stronger mindset, I’ve been handling the stress of moving relatively well. But this morning I was sharply reminded that, yes, I’m still ill, yes, I still do have depression and anxiety and it can still fell me. As soon as I woke up, I was hit by a wave of fear and ache and sadness; I jolted awake super-early because that’s what my body does when I’m not doing well. And I knew I needed more sleep but I was too freaked out to relax enough to get it, and too freaked out to get up and do anything that might distract me enough to calm down a little. So I just huddled in bed, miserable, for a few hours.

Screw anybody who gets sniffy about people using their smartphones in bed, by the way: I broadcast my distress on social media (and got support from my friends), I looked at distracting photos on Instagram, and I did about three times as much meditation as I do daily, in an effort to chill even a little.

(I struggled with meditation for a long time, and I still do, I absolutely still do, but having the app Headspace to guide me once I’ve selected a specific program — for anxiety, creativity, stress, etc. — helps with the resistance and the paralysis induced by trying to decide what meditation to do. Headspace isn’t free, but you get a short free trial; I periodically get some vouchers too — some of them might be expired by now, but if someone wants one, let me know.

And for language-learning, I’ve recently been poking at the 7Mind German meditation app. I find the voice incredibly soothing even when I can’t understand every single word…)

Anyway: all that to say, hello, universe, I have received your message! I understand! I was foolish to imagine that I could move forward with a lot of stuff now when I’m moving house, which is incredibly stressful for people even without depression.

And I want to be clear: I’m not moving because I want to. I love my flat (despite a few quirks). I love how much light it gets, how I can hear foxes screaming in winter and often encounter them on walks back from the tube (London has tons of foxes! I’m worried that I won’t see any near my new flat though), the trees nearby, the location, how cozy and safe it often feels for me, how it’s enough space for me, how it’s sheltered me and helped keep me alive for the past few years.

So why am I moving, then? Because London rents are skyrocketing, and in my neighborhood in particular; it’s become incredibly trendy and gentrified. The estate agent is raising the rent £150 a month. That’s not something I can manage.

So yes, apart from the ordinary stress of finding someplace new to live and decluttering and packing and doing tons of change of address forms, there’s the plain fact that I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave this neighborhood and my flat. Eventually, sure, but I’ve long said that I didn’t want to move from this flat until I was ready to actually move out of London (which I’m not).

Anyway: blah blah sob story, I’m far from the only person this has happened to, poor me, tiny violins, whatever.

At the same time I guess it’s time to acknowledge to myself that, despite a lot of progress in stabilizing my mental health this year, I’m still pretty vulnerable at high-stress times like this. It’s humbling to be brought down so quickly from “stressed and anxious but functioning” to “why does it even matter anyway, if I make it through this, my stupid little life” and “I can’t bear this, I don’t want to be alive anymore.” It’s so tiresome and scarily familiar. I’m fighting, but, you know, I didn’t think I’d be here again so easily.

So: please please be patient with me. I do want to set up this language buddy thing! Please stand by, and I’ll do my best. But it might not be until late August or even later. I’m sorry for those of you waiting! Let’s hope that me saying things will be slow somehow miraculously results in the opposite happening…

And please wish me luck with my move!

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 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?

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?

Two weeks ago I was awesome.

Life felt very good for a while, but it’s getting more stressful lately (being forced to move house, having some health issues cropping up — as well as feeling at the mercy of the whims of the NHS, always fun). I wrote the below during my good few weeks, but never got around to posting it. I thought I’d put it up now as a reminder to myself of how it felt, and as a way to acknowledge my accomplishments.

Here we go, straight from the mouth of me a couple of weeks ago:

I’m feeling pretty confident about my German lately (… don’t ask me about my French, just don’t). Recently, I had an unexpected opportunity to use German for work purposes. I thought I’d probably just end up making small talk and introductions and then we’d all switch to English, but I ended up conducting business in German for hours! I felt like I was floating on air the rest of the day (and then I slept really well that night, because it was exhausting).

It was a good confidence boost in any case, but especially because one of my goals is to speak German well enough to work in a German-speaking office. Suddenly conversing auf Deutsch in an office (even if not in a daily sort of sense, but for a special purpose like a meeting) transformed me from someone who studies languages out of interest and curiosity to someone who might be able to make money from speaking languages.

Let me be clear: I’m not studying languages to earn money per se (except if one wants to live in Germany, it’s obviously an advantage to be able to speak German well enough to get along in an office). And I’ve seen many language learners who have no intention of using their languages in work contexts, but nevertheless speak very well. But for me, someone who has a habit of diving into new hobbies with vigor and then gradually abandoning them, being able to speak German for work, no matter in how limited a context, made me feel like maybe I could take myself more seriously.

It’s nice not to feel like a flake!

On another note, I’ve also been doing several yoga videos in German. This, too, is immensely satisfying. Let’s be frank: I’m probably unbearably smug after I finish each one, both from the physical deliciousness of yoga and from being able to do it in German. It helps that I’ve been practicing yoga for a while, so certain sequences are predictable; it’s easier to hear the German and understand quickly. I can feel roughly how long someone would expect you to stay in a certain position, and I can tell, from the cadence of the instructor’s voice, whether or not it’s along the lines of, “inhale, exhale, relax yourself into this position a little more,” or, “now stand up and go into a different position,” even if I can’t see the screen at the moment.

It’s reinforcing the body parts vocabulary that I’d already picked up, as well as giving me some new words. And while we know that we can’t really multitask, doing yoga while also getting some target language practice in actually works!

… and now back to me today, trying to batten down all the hatches, productivity- and self-care-wise, and telling myself sometimes life changes can be an adventure and maybe I’m up for them. Tomorrow I’m also starting the June italki Challenge! So, okay, self, this month you just have to be freakin’ awesome and kick some ass. Let’s do it.

Anyone else doing the italki Challenge? Anyone else need to psych themselves up to get through this month? Feel free to comment with your particular circumstances and I (and other readers, perhaps?) can cheer you on!

Gearing up for the June italki Challenge

So who’s doing the June italki Challenge? I’ve been meaning to do one of their challenges for almost a year, but they always happened when I knew I wouldn’t have the energy. I figured sooner or later one would happen at a better time for me (… I hope I didn’t just jinx myself by saying that). And as I’m prone to intermediate slump, I hope that a month of focused lessons will help push me past that.

I do like the idea of language-learning challenges — and there are so many to choose from! — but I also just don’t want to sign up for things and flake on them (like the music challenge. I love music. I generally go to at least two shows a month. I already use music for language-learning. And yet I crapped out on that almost immediately…).

I’m hoping this will be different: maybe because there’s some of my money on the line! And familiarity may help, as I’ve done numerous italki lessons before. Sometimes they’re really helpful, sometimes not, but that’s true with anything: conventional classes, conversation exchange, self-study sessions.

I find it both useful and unnerving to have the undivided attention of a teacher during these sessions. Ideally, it puts you, the learner, more in the driver’s seat. Often teachers are happy to suggest topics and come up with their own lesson plans, but sometimes not. For me, whether I have something specific to suggest can vary. I find it can be just good to put aside time for a tutoring session and trust that, no matter what the topic or lesson plan is, the teacher and I can find a way to make it useful for me. Especially with German last year, when I was at a much lower level, I figured that whatever suggestions teachers made would be things I needed to learn eventually anyway, so why not go with the flow?

This time around, as I book my sessions, I’m trying to suggest things in advance. It feels good to request specific tricky things for me to focus on, instead of just having them in the back of my head as things I should go review, but that somehow I never end up reviewing.

Still, I’m pretty worried that I will crap out during the challenge, or that I’ll burn myself out so that, while I might technically complete it, I’ll be unable to make good use of the sessions. Not only is that a waste of time and money, I also feel embarrassed if I don’t think I’m doing very well in a lesson. When it’s just you and the tutor, you can’t hide!

But we’ll see. Alongside my worry, I’m actually feeling mildly positive. And it helps that I’m starting off with a tutor with whom I’ve already done a whole set of lessons. (And, well, I managed to do two packages of italki lessons, in French and German, when I was so actively suicidal that I was ending each lesson wondering if I’d be around for the next one. So — and I’m not tempting fate here! — assuming things don’t get that bad or worse, I’m probably all right…)

Who else is doing the challenge? Have you done any of them before? What tactics are you using in order to fit in your hours? Do you suggest topics to your teachers? What are you anticipating will be the toughest thing for you?

Good luck to all the other participants!