Vision Quest, II

This humble language journal started exactly a year ago out of an experiment: I dropped everything I was doing, any projects that had any sense of obligation attached, anything I was used to doing to pass the time, and spent two weeks trying to answer a question: Without all these things, what would I spend my time on?

The silly idea of trying to learn a different language every month was the result of those two weeks. It was also during those two weeks that I found out about Polyglot Cafe, which has over the past year become an increasingly significant part of my life. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made and everything I’ve learned through the Cafe, and through the twelve languages project.

How did the project actually go? What did I do?

  • I learned basic German,
  • I learned about language acquisition theory,
  • I got a little better at French,
  • I learned basic (abysmal) Korean,
  • I tried to learn Persian (and failed),
  • I tried learning Indonesian in a day (and failed of course),
  • I tried out lots of language learning resources like Anki, DuoLingo, Mango Languages, Assimil, LanguagePod101, Glossika, Pimsleur, and Italki,
  • I learned basic Taiwanese Hokkien,
  • I started learning Thai with a “speak from day one” approach,
  • I got a little better at Japanese, and
  • I spent an unfathomable number of hours speculating almost aimlessly — here and elsewhere — about language learning.

No, I didn’t actually try learning twelve whole languages. But my language learning “career” is miles beyond where it was a year ago, when I could only make vague guesses about why my Chinese had gotten pretty good, and had no clue about why my Japanese was stalling out.

Language learning is one of those things where the phrase “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” is really apt. I’m not out of the woods yet. Still, I’ve narrowed down the search space, I’ve canceled a lot of things out, and I think I know what it feels like to be making progress.

These last two weeks of July, I’m taking some time off (reading this journal, I’m afraid it’s all too easy to get the impression that taking time off is all I ever do) to symbolically wrap up this year of language learning, and think about what I want to do in the year to come. I’ll keep playing with languages as much as that’s become a natural part of my life, but I’ll stop anything that’s become a regular habit, especially flashcards. I’ll also stop making journal entries or blog posts. This is the only one.

Thai in July

No new language

I’ve been fretting about this non-problem for many days now, and I’ve finally decided not to start a new language in July.

Having started Thai lessons on Skype only a week or so ago, I’m just beginning to get into the Thai language. I have a four-day trip to Thailand coming up in a week. At this point, the last thing I want to do is divert to starting a new project the time I could be spending preparing for the trip.

I would like to spend more time getting trying new things and finding more material for my German and Taiwanese Hokkien, and to a lesser extent Japanese. I feel like these languages could start to take off soon if I actually devote enough time to them.

As I mentioned last time, I didn’t really give Glossika a good try last month with Portuguese (or I didn’t give Portuguese a good try with Glossika?). It may be fun to continue, and maybe try the more intensive version of Glossika, combined with some conversation practice at a Portuguese group in Taipei. Speaking of which, according to a polyglot I talked to at the language cafe yesterday who speaks Portuguese, Glossika was never meant to be a standalone method. It’s supposed to supplement other language learning methods. It all makes a little more sense to me now.

For all these reasons I’ve managed to convince myself that not starting a new language this month is still in keeping with the spirit, if not the letter, of the challenge I set for myself when I started writing this blog. Sure, it’s not as cool as 12 languages in 12 months. But those other languages will still be there, at least until 2100.

Portugues em junho?!

You could be forgiven for not having realized that this past month was Portuguese Month. Yes, I have been furtively reciting Portuguese sentences under my breath while the rest of you were going about your lives, blithely unaware.

Trying to stick to my goal of starting not just a new language every month but also a different learning method, I decided to try out Glossika.

Glossika offers two methods: intensive and relaxed.

The intensive method involves, very roughly, listening to mixed recordings of English and Portuguese sentences, copying them down, and then recording yourself speaking them. It means devoting at least 30 minutes a day to listening, writing, reading, and speaking. I’m still not clear on the details.

The relaxed method just requires listening to English and Portuguese sentences and reciting after it. It only takes about ten minutes. You hear an English sentence like “these bags are heavy,” and then you hear the Portuguese version. Unlike, say, Pimsleur, you don’t get time to come up with the Portuguese translation by yourself first. The sentences repeat in an interleaved fashion, simulating a spaced repetition system.

Naturally I chose the relaxed method. I also waited until the month was halfway over to start. Unfortunately, two half-asses do not make a full ass. I can’t say I really gave Glossika a fair shake (har har). What I can say is that after two weeks of listening and repeating, I find some of the sentences still echoing in my head later in the day. Sometimes I can come up with the Portuguese translation right before I actually hear it.

The Glossika booklet doesn’t say what kind of result I should expect after finishing all 100 relaxed method recordings. I don’t feel like I’m learning to speak Portuguese, not least because I’m not doing any active sentence production. However, next time a Portuguese speaker asks me, nicely, whether my bags are heavy, or whether Lisa is from Toronto, I’ll be ready.

Meanwhile, I’ll consider trying the intensive method.