German Day 5

Today is the first day I’ll actually spend four solid hours learning German. In the last few days I’ve collected some resources:

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1. Free audio / podcasts

     Slow German by Annik Rubens (http://slowgerman.com/)

     Text read in a slow, precise accent. Transcripts available on the website.

     Radio D / Goethe Institute (http://www.goethe.de/lrn/prj/rod/enindex.htm)

     Ten- to 15-minute audio lessons. The first two lessons focus on inferring meaning without actually knowing the vocabulary.

– The content so far has very little dialogue and is a little boring (not surprising given the simplicity constraint), but the British narrator has an amusing sarcasm that makes it more bearable.

– In lesson 3 they actually go back and explain the dialogue from lessons 1 and 2.

     Learn German by Podcast / Plus Publications (http://www.learngermanbypodcast.com/)

     Five to 15-minute audio lessons with lots of repetition and explanation of the dialogue.

– In lesson 3 there was one chance to practice production, of the form “How would you say …?”

– I was glad to find that I got the verb conjugation of “heißen” right based on memory of sentences I’d heard before, without actually having learned how to conjugate the verb.

     Video: Yabla

     I think this is video content of German classes, with subtitles in German and English.

Two lessons were about grammar, so they’re a bit dry and not my favored style right now.

One was a person introducing a city. Also not very gripping.

To keep in mind: if content would be boring in English, it’s probably not going to be better in another language.

2. Flashcards / Anki

     Common words taken from movie subtitles. My main criticism is that they are out of context, which makes them harder to learn — especially the abstract ones. The audio quality isn’t great.

     Huge trove of sentences, fair audio quality. Lots of repetition of very similar sentences. Ideally this will help me infer the grammatical nuances more quickly.

– Another benefit of having so much repetition: it’s harder to guess the meaning of a sentence based on memory since it could be one of many similar sentences, so it really forces me to pay attention to the entire content of each sentence.

– The massive repetition also makes it easier to infer grammar rules.

     DIY

     I’ve started making a deck using sentences from the Slow German podcast transcript (I barely understand the podcast otherwise, since it doesn’t contain explanations). I’m using the MCD style, turning words I want to learn into cloze deletions.

     DuoLingo

     Pros: Gamified and therefore addictive, easy to do. Easy to learn new vocab.

     Cons: Groups by concept instead of clustering, so, e.g. you learn all the animals at the same time. The questions are mostly presented like a multiple choice test, which makes it easy to guess the right answer and feel like you’re making progress, but makes retention and recall much harder.

– I’ll try to make up for the topic clustering a little by only doing one lesson per topic each time.

3. Conversation

     Conversation Exchange (http://www.conversationexchange.com/)

     Find a conversation exchange partner. I’m still struggling with this. I’ve added a couple potential conversation partners on Skype, but haven’t set up any sessions with them yet.

     Italki (https://www.italki.com/)

     I’m looking for someone who is open to informal conversation practice and isn’t too expensive. So far the cheapest native fluency German teachers I’ve found are around $15 an hour or more.

4. Writing

     Lang8 (http://lang-8.com/)

     Get writing practice, get corrections, and meet people. I’ve actually met a few conversation exchange partners on this site when I was studying Japanese before.

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Today I think I am prepared for a decent audio practice and flashcard practice. Both of these things strengthen comprehension and vocab. But I don’t have any resources set up for conversation (spoken production) yet. I’ll spend the time I would have spent on practicing conversation on finding a way to practice conversation.

German Day 3

#reality

Maybe it was silly to think that I could hit the ground running on the first day of a new language while traveling in China. Being in an elaborately traditional Chinese wedding ceremony the few days before the start date — when I should have been collecting study material and arranging Skype sessions — didn’t make it any easier.

#paltry

Now it’s the third day after I was ostensibly going to start studying German for four hours a day, but the only studying I’ve managed to accomplish so far is an hour of DuoLingo on the bus ride back from Kaiyuan to Kunming. And that was only possible because I’d installed it on my phone last year on a whim.

#itried

I did contact a few potential conversation partners on conversationexchange.com, but haven’t arranged any sessions yet. I also found a few potential Anki decks of common German words and phrases, but gave up on downloading them after the internet connection in Kaiyuan proved too slow.

#noexcuses #staypositive

This isn’t an excuse or a complaint. Neither of those attitudes would be productive. This is just a description of the current situation of this experiment. Now I can decide how to continue.

#premise #stayfocused

To reiterate, the premise of this experiment isn’t to become especially good at German, or to spend a month studying as effectively as possible. Considering my minimal experience, that would be presumptuous. The goals of this exercise are simply to discover what techniques work best and what challenges I haven’t anticipated, and to uncover what questions I haven’t thought to ask yet. In other words, I hope to get better at starting a new language effectively.

#perfectionism

I liked the idea of starting on the first of the month, but clearly that’s arbitrary. Since it’s already the third and I haven’t really started, I could decide to make the month of studying start tomorrow or the next day, once I’m back in Taiwan, and just go into September. Or I could be even less of a perfectionist, and just chalk up these days of not studying as part of the learning process. It actually doesn’t matter right now which one I choose. These are just the neuroses of someone who is too obsessed with doing things the “right way” — when in fact there is no right way. All that really matters is that I start studying as soon as I can.

I was thinking of using the last week in July to prepare all my studying material beforehand, and then start full steam ahead on August 1st. But now I think it’s more realistic to just start as best I can with what I have, and continue to look for more resources as I go. The only constant is that once I get back to Taiwan, I will spend four hours a day working on this. As much as possible, these will be the same four hours, from 10am to 12pm, and from 1pm to 3pm.

I have an outline for an ideal day of studying. I doubt I’ll be able to conform to this perfectly from the get-go, but it’s something to aim for over time. I can periodically refer to it as a reminder of how else I can improve my studying regimen:

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10:00 – 11:00

Active listening & watching practice: Pre-made lessons, podcasts, educational videos, simple entertainment videos, Pimsleur and other audio.

11:00 – 12:00

Flashcard reviews. Anki. DuoLingo.

12:00 – 1:00

Lunch. Rest or passive listening (news, podcasts, TV shows & movies without English subtitles)

1:00 – 1:30

Writing (Lang8). Prepare questions and topics for conversation practice.

1:30 – 2:30

Conversation practice / Skype (clearly this might be hard to schedule at the same time every day)

2:30 – 3:00

Create new flashcards from conversation topics and other items that came up earlier.

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If I don’t have enough good material for any of these sections, I can spend part of that time looking for material instead of studying.