New blog, new classes, new languages, time management

Last fall I started a new project, along with my fellow language-learning enthusiast friend Deliah, called Say What! Language Studio (語言健身房).

The idea is to take all the stuff we’ve been learning about learning, and try to design the ideal class based on all these ideas. Hmm.

As I’ve complained about before, one of the hardest things about learning a new language is finding stuff that is both interesting enough and actually intuitively comprehensible to a beginner, at least to a certain degree.

Unfortunately, the interesting stuff is usually incomprehensible (podcasts, movies, TV shows, and other media designed for native speakers), and the comprehensible stuff (material designed specifically for language learners) is usually not very interesting (with a few exceptions).

The same has been true, in my experience, in real-life language classes. Classes intended to teach language are typically pretty boring (again, with notable exceptions!), while most other types of classes and activities (art, cooking, games, acting, sports, making things — everything, in other words) taught in the same language are too difficult for language beginners to follow.

This doesn’t have to be the case. So that’s our goal with Say What!: to make language classes that are so fun you forget you’re learning a language.

We also have a new blog, er… Facebook page, for sharing some of our material, thoughts about language learning, and videos from our classes. Posts are happening much more regularly there than they are here.

Personal language learning stuff

I’m still learning languages on my own of course, though it’s been six months since I’ve written anything about it.

Bullet Journal

With time management an even bigger problem than before, my most vital language learning tool has become my Bullet Journal. Seriously, I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t found the perfect way of keeping track of things yet. I’ve tried lots of apps, but inevitably gave them up when they couldn’t do everything I wanted them to do. I’ve been using the Bullet Journal for almost a year now. The genius of the Bullet Journal is that it’s just a loose system based on blank paper. You can change it however you want. You don’t have to download anything or buy anything special — if you have a blank notebook lying around, you have everything you need to start a Bullet Journal.

The most important part for me in terms of language learning is the “month tracker.” Every month I define a list of daily tasks, and every day I check off each thing as I do it. I usually don’t get anywhere close to finishing all the tasks in a day, but seeing at a glance which ones I’m consistently doing and which ones I’m not helps me decide which tasks are useful and which ones need some rethinking.

The fact that the month tracker lasts only a month gives me a natural point at which to reevaluate my language learning and try to set better goals for the next month, while also giving me permission to not endlessly second-guess the tasks I’ve set for the current month when it’s in progress.

It’s ugly, but it gets the job done.

Here’s my month tracker for this past month, February 2018. I’ve been pretty consistent with Glossika for German and Hokkien (台語), and Anki for German and Japanese (日本語). Since I started learning Vietnamese in the middle of the month, I’ve also been doing a good job with Anki for Vietnamese. Whether these things are actually helping is of course another question, but I think they are in this case. I’ll talk more about my recent thoughts about Glossika, and where the material for Anki comes from, another time.

I started the month using Mango Languages for Vietnamese, but for some reason gave it up half way through the month, around the same time I started using Anki for Vietnamese instead. I’ve also been listening more frequently to the amazing podcast Der Explikator. I have more to say about that some other time too.

I haven’t read a single page of Chinese or watched a single show in Hokkien, which tells me I probably don’t have anything interesting to read and don’t know what to watch. I should make it a goal in March to find interesting reading and watching material.

It’s too bad that I haven’t been speaking much this month. Last month I was more consistent in finding language exchanges for German and Hokkien, which is where I’ve been putting my focus.

It’s an interesting problem, because it seems like it should be easy. Earlier this month I downloaded a new conversation exchange app called Tandem, and I’ve started texting with tons of potential language exchange partners. So far none of them has resulted in an actual, live voice- or video-chat language exchange.

I think I have a tendency to send messages to too many potential conversation partners at once. When a good portion of them actually reply in the ensuing five or ten minutes, I then get overwhelmed, close the app, and avoid opening it for the next few days. Hmm…that might have something to do with it.

It’s also a challenge sometimes finding the time and space to chat during the day. It requires being somewhere with WiFi, and where it’s not too noisy, but where you can talk without disturbing other people. I find I also have to be in the right mindset. If I just finished teaching a class or ended a long meeting, then it can be hard to get psyched up about having an hour-long language exchange. Also, amazing recent technological advances notwithstanding, it’s still a bit more difficult and tiring to communicate via video chat over the internet than it is to communicate in person.

Thinking about what to change in March, I want to try building language exchange into a routine. I think maybe having a designated time and place might reduce the decision fatigue and make it become a more regular thing. If I just set aside an hour a day, then even if I don’t have anyone to chat with on a given day, I can spend that time scheduling chats at that same time on future days, and it won’t be the juggling act it usually is trying to fit language exchanges in between all my other activities throughout the day.