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.

Persian, Assimil, and the Full Circle Method

I keep hearing from various polyglots that Assimil is a good way to learn languages, but until this month I hadn’t gotten around to trying it. For February I managed to get my hands on the French Assimil learning material for Persian, Le Persan sans Peine.

There’s a book, plus 86 audio tracks, each around two minutes long. Glancing through the French book and listening to the first few audio tracks, which are completely in Persian, didn’t give me any clues as to the intended use of the material, so I asked Uncle G.

Official Assimil method

According to languagegeek.net, the official Assimil steps are as follows:

  1. Listen to the sounds (passive).
  2. Listen again while looking at the French translation in the book (active).
  3. Read the Persian text aloud, following along with the French.
  4. Read the Persian text again, but don’t look at the French translation.
  5. Listen to the Persian sounds twice, once looking at the French text, once looking at the Persian text.
  6. Listen to the Persian without any text. It should be comprehensible at this point.
  7. Listen again and repeat each sentence (shadowing).
  8. Study the notes and sentence structure of the text.
Full Circle Method

Then there’s also Luca Lampariello’s Full Circle Method, summarized by frenchtogether.com as:

  1. Listen to the sounds (passive).
  2. Repeat the dialogues (shadowing).
  3. Read the dialogues while listening.
  4. Read the dialogues without listening.
  5. Translate the Persian dialogue into your native language.
  6. Translate your translation back into Persian.

I was confused about the purpose of the last two translation steps when I first saw this. I still haven’t found a thorough explanation of the theory behind them, but the “full circle” translation seems to be the cornerstone of Lampariello’s learning method. I can only surmise that translating from L2 into L1 forces your brain to engage with the material on a deeper level, and then translating back from L1 into L2 forces you to think about how to express the very things you’re learning in your own words in L2, which is probably good practice for output and maybe simultaneously strengthens the connections between those concepts in your brain.

Is there any downside that comes from making these connections between L2 and L1? If there were a version that involved doing something analogous but without using L1, would it be even better (like using pictures instead of L1 text)? Or maybe it doesn’t make a difference.

Common method

In any case, on a high level the two methods seem to share three main phases:

  1. Absorb – Passive listening and repeating.
  2. Understand – Use the text and repeat until you can understand the dialogue.
  3. Analyze – Either study the grammar notes or translate from one language to another. In both cases, the result is to get a deeper understanding of and connection to the material.

Starting Persian

Yesterday (day 1) I put the first ten Persian audio tracks on my phone and listened to them while walking and shadowing. Today I listened to them again while eating lunch.

Whichever method I choose to follow, my next task is to match up the text in the book with the audio I’ve been listening to, and then figure out what they’re actually saying.

Why Persian?

I don’t have a great answer to this question. Here are some un-great answers:

  • I have a good friend who is Persian.
  • For a while in college I entertained hopes to traveling to Iran, around the time of Rick Steves’ visit.
  • I’ve long wanted to learn the Arabic script, and as an Indo-European language Persian seems like a slightly easier way to get introduced to the script compared to learning Arabic
  • (Also, I’ve never been able to figure out which Arabic to learn. From what I’ve heard, every region has its own dialect that isn’t necessarily mutually intelligible. There’s a common version, but unlike with Chinese and Putonghua, not everyone speaks it.)
  • So far I’ve only learned European and Asian languages, and I would like to explore another part of the world. The Middle East is a fascinating place, and Iran seems to me like one of the most cosmopolitan and open-minded places in that part of the world. Granted, I’m still pretty ignorant.

Patience

Over the past couple weeks I found myself getting a little dispirited when I thought about Korean. Have I just not been trying hard enough? Is it a time management problem again? Why have I struggled to spend as much time studying Korean as I spent learning German, and felt like I’ve gotten less out of the time I have spent? Is Korean really harder than German?

I was given an important reminder in Thierry’s class last week. Language acquisition is like building a muscle, he said. You can’t just work out for a few hours and expect to get strong. It takes time, and while you’re working on it, for the most part, you won’t notice any improvement. It’s only looking back that you see the difference.

I knew this already, but I guess I’d forgotten. I was expecting my Korean to get noticeably better week by week. It didn’t of course, and I think this actually backfired: when I didn’t notice any improvement, I started losing my motivation.

Noticeable improvement isn’t the goal in the beginning of language acquisition. The purpose is the practice: giving my brain time to get used to the sounds of the language.

Why, then, did it seem like I could notice a week-by-week improvement when I was devoting four hours a day to German back in August? One possibility seems pretty obvious, at least as a partial explanation. German really is similar to English. It’s full of cognates, and the grammar isn’t all that alien to an English speaker, even if it’s different. This not only made it easier to start speaking German early, but it made it easier to soak up material. When I started in on that Anki deck with 10,000 simple sentences, I could do 60 cards a day without going insane; I have a similar deck in Korean, but it seems I can barely keep up with 10 new cards a day. OK, it’s partly the structure of the deck: the Korean sentences are all much more different from each other than the German sentences, so each Korean sentence is worth more “points” so to speak. But aside from that, it’s a lot easier for me to remember that gewartet means “waited” than it is to remember “gidalyeossda“, let alone 기다렸다, which also mean “waited” but don’t even have any familiar syllables, let alone a resemblance to the English word.

I think there was a feedback loop here. The easier I found it to understand new German sentences, the more motivated I got to seek out even more German. With Korean, the loop has been in the opposite direction. How do I break this? Again, part of it is remembering that rapid improvement isn’t the point. All I really need to do is find material that I believe in, that I can stand (or, better yet, enjoy), and that I can somehow make comprehensible.


In other news, I recently asked a Korean friend to record some simple phrases for me. Things like “Really?” “I didn’t know that” “Sorry I’m late” and “What a pain.” All told the recording is about a minute long, and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for 10 to 15 minutes at a time almost every day. Again, at first I was dismayed that even such simple phrases wouldn’t stick in my mind after a few days of repeated listening, but now I think this is once again beside the point. They’ll stick eventually, and when they do, I’m going to be a conversational powerhouse at the Korean table.


Oops, it’s December

Hey, isn’t it the start of a new month again already? Oh wait, it’s a third of the way through a new month! I was supposed to start another language this month. At least given the way I’ve been approaching language learning recently, that would have been crazy (there are such things as 12-hour or 7-day hackathon-like languages binges, and one of those every month is definitely doable. But that sounds more like cramming for a test, and I’m skeptical much of it would stick around for long).

I can see I’m still learning a lot about language learning from my experience with Korean. That, and I’m traveling back to the States this month for the holidays and a friend’s wedding, and the thought of starting another language at the same time stresses me out. So as a very wise man once said, Whatever!

Batman’s problem and a solution to quantum computers

How many times is it going to take for me to learn this lesson? In the previous post I was lamenting how I couldn’t find a German podcast featuring natural dialogue and a transcript, which I could use to make my newfangled DIY audio flashcards.

I’d tested the technique on an episode of Der Explikator about quantum computers. It worked pretty well: the portion of the podcast that I cut up and made into cards quickly turned comprehensible. But then I started complaining that the content was pretty irrelevant to my everyday German conversational needs.

Mr. Wunderlich, Der Explikator himself, pointed out to me recently that there’s a page on his site dedicated to short radio plays. They also include transcripts. Heilige Makrele, Batman!

(And don’t get me wrong, Mr. Wunderlich. I may have exaggerated a bit in that last post — I am interested in quantum computers. I wouldn’t have picked that episode to begin with if I weren’t. But yes, it was my mistake to try using it for my A1-level German studies. These radio plays with dialogue, on the other hand, seem like just the ticket. So, thank you!)

I just spent 20 minutes on a Batman and Robin story in which it seems like Batman is more interested in visiting bars than actually finding the Riddler. I only managed to make 20 cards in those 20 minutes. Actually, that’s not so bad. I had been thinking about this card creation as a waste of time, but I realize now that it has value. Those 20 minutes I spent creating the cards, listening to the audio in chunks, and copying the text into Google Translate, I was also understanding the content. This will help the reviews go more smoothly later. And I feel motivated to keep making more cards now, because I want to see how the story continues. Funny how stories work like that, isn’t it?

So what’s the lesson that I alluded to above? Don’t underestimate what you can find on the internet! In this case, if I’d only done a slightly more thorough job of checking every page on Der Explikator, I would have found these radio plays a long time ago.

Quantum computers, time management & Korean

In the last post I talked about making audio flashcards by chopping up a podcast episode from Der Explikator about… quantum computers. I’m happy to report that after only a few days of reviews, what was previously totally incomprehensible to me has become pretty comprehensible. It’s only the first few paragraphs — the card-making was time-consuming enough that I only got that far — but I think it’s enough to prove the concept.

The problem that’s hurting my motivation is the subject matter. I can barely talk about quantum computers in English. I don’t know when I’ll ever want or need to talk about them in German. In fact, if I go my whole life without ever talking about quantum computers in German, I won’t regret it. Yes, you can quote me on that.

So I think the next logical step is to find some audio material that’s closer to the German I actually want to learn to understand and speak. The catch is it has to have a transcript. Why? Why can’t I just make cards with pieces of audio and no transcript on the back? This might have its own benefits, but as far as I can tell it’s the transcript that allows me to decipher the audio in just a few repetitions so that it actually turns comprehensible.

Usually, it goes like this: I listen to the audio, uncomprehending. Then I stare blankly at the indecipherable German transcript. Then I read the French translation, and get a sense of the meaning of the sentence. Then I look at the German transcript again, and I can more or less figure out what the words mean. Then I listen to the audio again a few times, matching sounds to text, and by this point the sentence sort of makes sense when I hear it again.

I want to learn natural German dialogue, the kind of German people speak on the streets of Kreuzberg. So where am I likely to find natural dialogue with transcripts? I can think of two places: YouTube and movies. There’s actually also the Slow German dialogues, but there are still only six of those.

With YouTube, the tricky thing is that most videos don’t have captions, and the ones that do tend to be something other than what I want to learn. Maybe I’m being too picky. The other annoyance is that the captions are hardcoded into the video, not given as a text file, so that will add an extra step of typing them out when I create the cards. I’ve got to be pretty motivated to make making these cards worth it. Maybe it’s not bad to be picky about the material.

For movies, or TV shows for that matter, the trick is still going to be finding material I want to learn, that hopefully isn’t too much more dramatic than real life, and then finding a corresponding subtitle file that actually matches the audio closely. It sounds doable. It’s just a matter of spending the time to do it.


Speaking of time, recently I’ve noticed that I’ve been repurposing “language time” for other things. I marked out a three-hour language section on my calendar every day this month except Sundays. There are other sections too, like yoga and language cafe. Those are less negotiable, since they either happen when they’re supposed to happen, or they don’t happen at all. But with “language time” it’s too tempting to try to move it around, break it into pieces, fit it into a break or a subway ride, in order to make room for other things I want to do. The result is that “language time” often doesn’t happen, or else it gets seriously curtailed.

On top of this, I’m “supposed” to start learning a new language tomorrow. (Happy Halloween!) I’ve been thinking about Korean, since 1) I can theoretically do a working holiday in Korea while I’m still not quite 30, and 2) there’s a Korean table at the language cafe, so I’ll get conversation practice for free. Might as well take advantage of it. Also, 3) Korean has a different writing system and super different phonetics from other languages I’ve studied.

But how am I supposed to start Korean when I can barely keep up with German and French?

This gets to the other, deeper problem. When I conceived of this mad scheme a couple months ago, of starting a new “language acquisition practice” every month, I imagined that after spending several hours a day for one month, I would be off the hook. I would have a sturdy language acquisition machine that was all set up to carry me to fluency in six, nine, or twelve months. All I’d have to do is turn the crank for thirty minutes a day.

What I’m realizing is that it isn’t so simple. Maintenance isn’t something you just do once and then forget about. For one thing, I’ve been spending more time recently looking for new material and thinking about how to study it than I have on actual studying. Sure, I put on my podcasts or YouTube videos for ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day. I listen to an odd mp3 rip of a YouTube video on the subway. But this always seems inadequate.

Well, let me be more precise. In the case of French, where I already had some background, it may be enough. I believe that my French is slowly but surely improving just by browsing YouTube videos every day, and this is something I have been able to do almost every day. But with German it’s not so clear. I understand almost nothing of the realistic, everyday-style videos I’ve encountered. It’s not comprehensible input yet. Hence the vocabulary cards and hoops I’ve been jumping through to improve my comprehension using those cards.

OK, so what does this mean? This suggests to me that it takes more than a month to get to a point where the language “takes off” and you’re able to get better just by doing things that don’t resemble studying.

So then, what? Do I soldier on anyway, trying to start a new language every month until I collapse from exhaustion? Or do I modify my original goal yet again, maybe from 12 languages in a year to a more modest 4, 5, or 6 languages. Or, maybe I say to hell with fluency, I never said my goal was to get fluent anyway, and just cut back on French and German now to make room for Korean and whatever comes after.

The problem with the last option is that I still want to get better at French and German (and Japanese, for that matter). I’m getting a sense of achievement from this, and it would feel like a waste to stop now, so soon after having started.

On the other hand, I think it’s important for me to start a new language in November. This project was and is about starting new languages, and so far I’ve really only done that once, with German.

Here’s the most optimistic plan I can come up with: I put French with Japanese, on autopilot. I watch videos for fun, converse in it when I have the opportunity, but don’t spend any time making new study material. With German, I narrow down and focus on just vocabulary cards and audio cards, and shadowing (especially shadowing whatever I’m making the audio cards out of). With the rest of the (theoretical) time I get from removing my (theoretical) French obligations and paring down my German routine, I tackle Korean.

Hybrid flashcards and the YouTube spirit

Lately I’ve been putting my faith in YouTube. A language practice session has become a YouTube browsing session. The target is comprehensible input. The ideal video is one that is so interesting it makes me forget I’m watching it in a foreign language. This immediately rules out all educational material.

It’s a leap of faith because, I can’t tell if it’s working. When I make vocabulary flashcards or work through podcasts with transcripts, I can point at what I’ve learned each time. But with this method, where the goal isn’t “learning” per se but language acquisition, I can’t tell. I probably won’t know whether it’s effective for some time.

It’s been easier in French, where my comprehension is so-so and I can rely on the abundant cognates to give me clues. I’ve been watching TED talks and other motivational, edutainment style videos. I don’t think I catch more than 50%, but that’s usually been enough to keep me edutained.

With German it’s more difficult. My language comprehension has been closer to 0%. What I do understand of the content I get from the visual and tonal cues. Because of this, it’s been harder to find videos that hold my attention for more than ten seconds.

The good thing is that I see that if I can just get my German comprehension to the same level as my French, I’ll be able to start really watching. Now the trick is just how to get there.

Flashcards

I haven’t given up on flashcards completely yet. I’ve still been making vocabulary cards from frequency lists, using the Fluent Forever card template. I’ve done this more with German than French, since I can see my German vocabulary is seriously porous. I’m starting with these nouns, because they’re easy, and just because. I can make about two cards a minute, or 120 cards in an hour. It’s kind of fun putting these together, looking on Google Image Search for funny, artistic, or bizarre pictures representing this basic vocabulary. And again, I get the constant reassurance that I’m really learning useful things. Now I know how to say thought (der Gedanke), point (der Punkt), and death (der Tod) in Deutsch!

And I’ve had a few experiences recently that have made me more confident that these work. A few times at the Polyglot Cafe, I’ve been able to recall words from these cards immediately and use them with pretty much no hesitation. Say what you like about vocabulary lists, but building connections between images, sounds, and word concepts — with no English — seems effective.

I’ve also been doing a small deck I made of cloze deletions of sentences from one Slow German dialog. Again, it’s just a relatively painless way to learn the sentences in the dialog so that I can understand them when I’m shadowing them. Then I can more or less keep up with the dialog after, say, 10 repetitions instead of, say, 70. Is that cheating?

When I do this shadowing, however, I’ve noticed that there are a few sentences that I still have problems with. The way I read the sentence to myself when I do the flashcards (i.e., slowly) doesn’t quite correlate in my mind with the sentence I hear spoken when I do the shadowing (tends to be very fast).

New cards

What can I do? Finding how easy it was to drag and drop audio from Forvo into an Anki card gave me an idea. Why not add the audio from the shadowing material directly onto the flashcards? I can make a card where the front is a piece of audio, the back is the German text and, if needed, some translation.

Then I’ll get the shadowing practice and the transcript memorization at the same time. I won’t have to worry about not correlating the two, and it’s just more efficient.

The card creation process

I take an episode from Der Explikator, in this case one about quantum computers. I know, that’s sounds insane as a first choice. I load the mp3 into Audacity. Then I take a snippet of audio, export it, and drag it onto the front of a new card. Finally, I find the corresponding sentence in the transcript, paste it into Google Translate, and copy both the German and the French translation (why not get some French practice, right?) onto the back of the card.

It’s like a combination of the 10,000 sentences Anki deck — good for very basic listening comprehension, I’ve decided, but bad for anything else — and the erstwhile audio-less podcast-shadowing-cheating cards I’ve been making.

The downside is it just took me about 20 minutes to make 15 cards. It’s kind of tedious. If the cards ramp up my listening comprehension as much and as fast as I’m hoping, maybe it’s worth it. If not…

Actually, what I really wanted to do was use this technique to make cards based on a YouTube video. It would be just great if I could do this with some natural, everyday German dialog, since what I really want to get better at is conversation. But I so far haven’t found any such videos that also have (non-auto-generated) closed captions. Oh well. At least this way I get to learn about quantum computers.

Pronunciation check

I’ve been shadowing this French audio from IE languages for a couple days. I recorded myself this morning reading the text aloud so I can hear how different I sound from the native speaker. Hopefully in a few months I’ll be able to look back and cringe at my bad pronunciation.

Here’s the native speaker version:

And here’s my version (after two days of shadowing, ~10 minutes each time):

To my ear, I sound like an American trying to speak French. However, I can’t tell exactly what the differences are or where I’m making mistakes. In Fluent Forever, which I mentioned in the last post, Wyner introduces the idea of using minimal pair flash cards to learn pronunciation. The idea is to find words that differ in only one phoneme, and make flash cards where you hear the audio for one of these words and have to guess which of the two words is being spoken. This trains your ear to recognize the sounds of the language. For pronunciation, Wyner suggests using a phonetic alphabet, among other things.

These sound like good suggestions, but I’m not sure where to start. Again, I’m not pronouncing quinze like “quinzy” or anything so obvious. I know I have trouble with some vowels, though, like the ‘i’ in intérresant. Maybe I should consult with a native speaker at the next French conversation table I go to.

I also recorded a reading of the German dialogue from Slow German about the weather. It’s paid material, so I won’t post the original, but you can hear a slower version on the Slow German website.

This one I’ve been shadowing for about a week, around 15 minutes a day:

I haven’t mastered it (the end especially still trips me up), but I think a week is long enough that I ought to start shadowing a new dialogue. I’ll continue doing this one, but just once or twice a day.

Hey you, reading this! If you happen to be a native German or French speaker and can point out where my mistakes are, I will gladly trade you good karma points, redeemable from participating retailers while supplies last offer expires on the third harvest moon of the sixteenth year after the return of the true Quetzalcoatl.

What techniques have you found for improving your pronunciation?

Native speaker audio

Here’s one possible way to make good Anki cards with audio. Rhino Spike is a site where you can request native speaker recordings of particular sentences. It looks like it works on the Lang 8 model, where you’re more likely to get requests fulfilled if you help fulfill others’ requests yourself. This could also be a great way to make your own shadowing material.

Das Ende der deutschen

Last weekend I described my new German routine that I’ve honed from the original 240+ minutes down to 140 minutes or so. But you know what? That’s still a lot of minutes.

My goal from the beginning has not only been to experiment with learning languages fast, but also with how to learn a lot of them. At first I thought I was going to be spending each month diving into one language only, followed by a different language the next month, etc. Ever since I became convinced that this wasn’t going to work, the idea has been to spend each month setting up a language practice for a particular language, while continuing practice of the languages I set up in previous months.

Obviously, the number of languages I’ll be able to practice at once will depend on how much time I spend practicing each one. As I add languages, this will take up more and more time.

I don’t know what the right amount of time is to spend on each of these languages, or how long I should spend setting up a new language practice. One thing I am sure about is that 140 minutes is too long to spend on German if I’m also going to start setting up French. For September, then, I’m thinking about paring German practice down to just three items: Anki 10,000 sentences, Anki MCDs, and shadowing.

Based on what I’ve gathered from the most sources, shadowing is the key to getting fluent. Even 15 minutes a day is enough according to some people; 30 minutes a day should be plenty to keep me improving.

I’m less positive about the usefulness of Anki 10,000 sentences, but I find it interesting enough as an experiment that I want to keep trying it. I’ll lower the number of new cards per day from 60 to 30 or so to keep the time under 30 minutes per day.

Anki MCDs is just a relatively painless way for me to force myself to review and understand the transcripts of the material I’m shadowing in order to make it more comprehensible. I can probably keep this under 10 minutes a day if I don’t let it slip.

What about the other stuff?

Creating new Anki cards is something I don’t have to do every day. I can shadow the same audio for a week or more and still not have it mastered, so I really only have to add new material occasionally. NBD.

Warming up, watching Harry lost in time, etc., isn’t even really studying. It’s not that important. Better taken off the study list and put on the (sort of) fun list.

Semi-active listening and conversation are two things that I think it’s best to keep doing when I can, but not force it to be at a particular time, or a certain number of minutes per day. At least for the languages other than the one I’m actively setting up.


A note about Slow German

There are currently six dialogues on Slow German. I’ve been shadowing the first one, Im Café, which as I mentioned before is great, not least because it has a slow version of the dialogue followed by a natural speed version with convincingly natural intonation.

I was dismayed when I realized the other five dialogues didn’t have the natural speed version. Today I realized this is because these natural speed dialogues are part of the site’s premium content. I think it costs about a euro per audio, or 20 euros for a year subscription with a bunch of other content.

I don’t know if I’ll use the other content, but as a beneficiary of the high quality work the author of Slow German has created, I’ll probably subscribe.

Der Explikator

New podcast

I just found another German podcast that includes transcripts, helpfully linked from Slow German.

Der Explikator. What a cool name. If an English-language podcast tried to get away with using that ‘K’ it’d just look pretentious, but since it’s German, that’s just how it’s spelled.

The narrator enunciates clearly and speaks at a medium pace. There are more than 500 episodes, so there’s surely something for everybody. A few episodes I’m excited about:

I kind of wish this podcast was in English so I could listen to them without having to work so hard. Which is exactly the attitude I should have, since it means I’m using the German as a means to get to the message, rather than vice versa.

30 minutes

I had my third German conversation today.

When I started learning German this month, I was planning to have at least one real German conversation every day. It seemed like a logical way to improve. Benny the Polyglot says to do it.

But it didn’t work out that way. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe hearing Stephen Krashen say speaking isn’t important for acquisition took the wind out of my Skype sails. True, he didn’t exactly say that conversation isn’t important. He said talking to yourself doesn’t do anything, at least as far as acquisition goes.

Probably for both of these reasons, to date I’ve only attempted to have two conversations in German. Both times, I started choking before the first word had left my mouth.

Today was different in a few ways.

First, I decided not to use a dictionary or switch back to English. If I wanted to express something I didn’t know the word for, I used hand gestures and other words to talk my way around the meaning I wanted. It was like those games we played at the polyglot event the Friday before last.

Second, this was my first time having a conversation in person instead of on Skype. I think this made the non-verbal communication more immediate and important, which took some pressure away from verbal communication.

Third, I had words. Remembering the last time I tried speaking German a couple weeks ago when my mind was practically blank, today I felt like Neo. Except, you know, it was A1-level German instead of kung fu. That’ll show those agents.

To be fair, I was still more or less passive in the conversation, letting my partner ask most of the questions. And I have to thank her for her patience, that she was willing to watch me stare at the ceiling for ten seconds at a time while I tried to remember some word like after or tomorrow.

I also made little attempt to communicate in complete sentences, frequently using key words to get my meaning across, and just conjugating verbs occasionally.

But communication it was. We spoke for 30 minutes, covering a variety of topics mostly centered on hobbies, cooking, and language learning, without resorting to English once.

This feels like the first big milestone since I started learning German four weeks ago. Now does this prove that I’m actually acquiring the language? Or was it just a lucky combination of patient conversation partner + the similarities between German and English + the little basic German I’ve picked up in the last month making it seem like I’ve been acquiring it? Only time will tell.