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My language learning in 2017

How is it the end of 2017 already? Here’s a now annual tradition to reflect on my language learning over the past year, update you on what study habits I’ve kept up with and what I’ve changed about my language learning routine. I’ve started with a general overview, then moved into a month-by-month breakdown of how I was studying.

Vietnamese

Maintaining

My Vietnamese is not being maintained in the way I did in 2013. I read things on facebook and occasionally interact with friends there or on Instagram. I don’t get to speak Vietnamese these days but I do speak to myself (or think to myself) in Vietnamese sometimes. For some reason this often happens in the supermarket!

When writing I struggle to remember tones, but I don’t struggle much with vocabulary. I am slower to remember words but I don’t feel like I’ve forgotten them. If I were to have a conversation I think I would be quite a lot less fluent than I was. Several months ago I did have a conversation in Vietnamese, without problems overall. I do worry that this will change in the future. I think I need to do a bit more to maintain my Vietnamese.

Other languages

Bulgarian: Maintaining

2016 was mostly about Bulgarian and 2017 started off this way too. However, I was taking a teaching course online so mostly I just maintained my current level of Bulgarian which you can read about below.

Spanish: New language

In the summer I started learning Spanish from scratch as I was going to be spending the autumn in Spain. My background with French and Esperanto helps a lot with the Spanish. I find this strange after so much time with Vietnamese where there is very little similar vocabulary with languages I already know!

Korean: Nothing

I didn’t do anything on Korean in 2017. I do get some Korean in my instagram feed but I have definitely forgotten a lot.

So, onto my year of language learning… (split into learning and maintaining)

January

Learning Bulgarian (classes)

I continued and concluded my second Bulgarian course. As well as classes twice a week, I did my homework and used Anki to help me learn the new vocabulary from class.

February to May

Maintaining Bulgarian

Almost no progress. I was so busy with work and without language classes I often struggle to make the time to learn. I do usually manage to fit in some maintenance.

  • Did some Anki but I’m not sure how regularly.
  • Went to a couple of language exchange events and had some conversations with a friend who doesn’t speak much English.
  • A bit of reading on facebook and instagram.
  • Some partial attempts at Language Diary Challenge on Instagram.

Spanish

  • I started some Duolingo Spanish in February or March but didn’t keep it up for long.

June and July

Starting Spanish (self-study)

The summer means less work for someone people, but it’s usually more work for me. I realised that I needed to start working on my Spanish but I wasn’t very motivated because September still seemed far away.

  • Re-started Duolingo Spanish (with a complimentary Memrise course).
  • Had a disappointing look in the library for materials.
  • Started writing answers to common questions like “Where are you from?” and “What do you do in your free time?”, looking up vocabulary that is personal to me, like hiking.

I don’t feel like I made much progress during this time.

August

Learning Spanish (self-study)

I had a couple of weeks off in August so I put in more effort with Spanish.

I used some of my old favourite resources like Lang-8 and instagram, some apps I’ve tried before like HelloTalk and some new apps like HiNative.

  • I never manage to post daily, but I did start writing meaningful captions in the instagram language diary challenge.
  • Continued with daily Duolingo/Memrise (and managed my first 30 day streak on Duolingo!)
  • Continued writing answers to common questions and posted them on Lang-8 for corrections. I had a couple of them recorded on RhinoSpike.
  • Decided to take an italki lesson to practice speaking, but it did not go well. I didn’t click with the tutor and I felt less confident after the lesson rather than more confident. This put me off trying again.
  • Tried HelloTalk again for language exchange but only had a few random chats.
  • Used HiNative for the first time. This app provides a quick way to ask questions like “How do you say ___ in Vietnamese?” or to check whether something is correct or natural.

Maintaining Bulgarian by speaking to myself in Bulgarian and reading the occasional thing on facebook.

September to November

Maintaining Spanish and filling some gaps (self-study)

When I arrived in Spain I realised just how unprepared I was. I found my first week very frustrating – despite the self-study above I couldn’t order my lunch and could barely introduce myself. That said, I had learned quite a bit of vocabulary already which made it a bit easier to pick up the language I needed over the next week or two.

Unfortunately my course was very, very intensive and there was no time for Spanish study. I did however keep up with Duolingo and finished the whole Spanish tree in October! I did some Memrise to keep the vocabulary fresh too and I borrowed a beginners textbook and did a tiny little bit of study here and there.

November and December

Learning Spanish (classes)

My course hours reduced, I finished Unit 8 of the beginners textbook and I started doing face-to-face language exchanges. It was hard to start speaking, but I was glad of all the time I’d spent on vocabulary and I found I could understand quite a lot.

Then my course actually finished and I just had to revise for my exam. So I signed up for a month of Spanish lessons. 1.5 hours a day, every day. I managed to get myself into a A2 level group. Already within a week I felt like I made a lot of progress. My language exchanges seemed easier too! I do still find I mix words up with Bulgarian though!

2017 has been a varied year in language learning for me.

It’s interesting starting a new language again and while I got off to a slow start, I’m happy with how my Spanish progressed in December in particular. I’m now able to hold conversations in Spanish but my fluency isn’t very high yet. This is unusual for me! I usually get to a level of fluency that makes people think my overall level is higher than it is. I need to work on Spanish fluency in 2018 so I reach a comfortable level. Once I’ve figured it out, stay tuned for some speaking fluency tips here on More Vietnamese.

Coming soon: 10 thoughts on Duolingo based on my language learning this year.

Over to you: How was your language learning in 2017?

One year on: What language learning am I doing?

Chúc mừng năm mới, các bạn!

Happy new lunar year of the rooster. I hope it’s a great one for you personally, professionally and in your language learning life too.

Speaking of, I’m well overdue an update here, aren’t I?

Read on for a recap of my language learning in 2016, what study habits and techniques I’m still using and what’s new as I’ve been maintaining my Vietnamese and learning a new language in the past 12 months.

In other news, I’ve started a teaching blog where I reflect and share about teaching English. If you’re a teacher, it might be your cup of tea.

Without further ado, let’s get down to my review of 2016 in language learning.

Maintaining my Vietnamese

I have not been actively learning Vietnamese in 2016. I have been maintaining with less time and enthusiasm than in 2013 but still, Vietnamese will always be part of my life in some way.

I’ve maintained contact with friends on facebook and instagram and well as read things that appear in my news feed in those two places. I also still have V-Pop on my playlist.

In real life I’ve only had one full conversation in Vietnamese since leaving Vietnam. 🙁 But on the plus side I was still able to speak it easily and with most of the fluency I used to have.

Learning a new language

In January I started learning my new language ahead of my move to the Balkans. I started with free videos on Youtube and learning simple words and phrases. I had a few lessons on italki* both before and after I arrived to help me get to grips with the basics.

However I was sorely missing the structure a course provides. Since April I’ve been taking language classes again – two lessons a week of 90 minutes. This has been crucial to my learning.

Of course you know that while I love classes, you can’t expect to magically learn a language without any effort. As well as doing any homework I was set, I have again been using Anki to learn the vocabulary and some phrases we studied in lessons. 10 months and two courses later, I have well over 1000 cards and no backlog!

That all just covers ‘input’ though. What have I been doing to actually practice and work on my speaking and writing?

Living in the country where you speak the language lets you practice the basics for survival like food and transport phrases quite easily. In the city it can be hard to get much speaking practice beyond that as many people speak or are learning English and want to practice on you!

IGLC – chó (dog)

Unsurprisingly I’ve been using Instagram to practice. I participated in Instagram Language Challenge (IGLC) once or twice but the themes don’t always fit in with my learning. I’ve just discovered Instagram Language Diary Challenge which suits me far better. You might remember I used to keep a sentence-long diary in Korean. Now I’m doing the same thing on instagram instead of on paper. I’ve had a few corrections, but not as many as I’d like. However, I’ve been able to read some of my old posts and correct them myself!

Besides that, I have one friend I speak to and message in the language, but other than that I’ve turned to HelloTalk to get more practice. I tried it before when learning Korean but never really got into it.

Although that sounds like a lot, in reality I average about 10-15 minutes a day on private study. Some days that’s 3 minutes reviewing flashcards in Anki. Other times it’s 30 minutes creating flashcards and adding audio, or messaging a friend while watching TV.

I still have a long way to go and I’m starting to feel like my routine isn’t getting me where I want to be fast enough. I went to a language exchange event for the first time last week and I think that’s something I’m going to be pursuing in 2017.

Over to you: How was your language learning in the year of the monkey? What are your plans for the year of the rooster?

Have you been doing something?

The last thing I posted is that you should do something, no matter how big or small, to get your learning back on track.

Somehow that was 2 months ago. So I thought I’d check in and ask how you’re doing, did you manage to do something? I did. Not quite as much as I’d hoped, but more than I did in March…

If you remember, I set two goals:

  • Writing a sentence a day in Korean, 5 days a week
  • Posting 3 words per week in the Instagram language challenge (IGLC)

Daily sentences

I wrote something 13 times in April. Many of these sentences were 2, 3 or even 4 sentences (so over the month I still totalled 30 ;)).

Korean daily sentences, early April

Half of my sentences were about food or being hungry, but not these ones.
(3/4: There’s no spring in southern Vietnam. April is really hot.
4/4: I really like Saturdays.)

As you can see, your sentences don’t have to be long, which makes this goal very achievable.

I felt like I was learning a lot, but in a manageable way. I had to look up the occasional new word, but not so many that it’s frustrating and you want to give up. Success!

Then I sort of stopped. I wasn’t carrying my notebook around with me much, or I did but just left it in my bag when I got home. Looking through my Kakaotalk, I still wrote Korean a few times in May. Semi-success? I’m not sure.

IGLC


I posted to Instagram 5 times in April and 4 in May. Not great. I found the theme in April difficult as it was spring-related during the hottest month of the year in Saigon! In May, I forgot to save the prompts infographic to my phone so I didn’t keep track of the daily theme. I’ve already put the June prompts on my phone, so hopefully I can meet to my aim next month!

Other things

I’m still looking for a decent Vietnamese drama series that I can get subtitled. I don’t really read fast enough to watch Korean dramas with Vietnamese subtitles. However I recently watched an American film that had Vietnamese subtitles, so I was able to glance at the subtitles to see how certain words and expressions had been translated. Interesting, but not a great study method.

Next month

Summer means extra work for me, so I don’t have time to do the italki lessons challenge* (one day I will!) or anything else particularly intensive. So I’m going to set similar goals:

  • Write a sentence a day in Korean (minimum 15 days).
  • Post 3 words per week in the Instagram language challenge (aim 10 words).
  • Keep reviewing vocabulary with Anki and Memrise every day.

Over to you: What have you been doing to boost your learning recently? What’s your aim for the next month?

Stopped learning? Just do something. Anything.

Pretty notepad. Too pretty.

Pretty notepad. Too pretty.

Do you like my notepad? It’s pretty. So nice that I haven’t used it yet, even though I bought it months ago. Mostly because I don’t know what to write on the first page. It should be special for a special notepad, right…

Wait, what has this got to do with language learning?

Well, the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten out of the habit of daily learning. I’m still doing flashcards (almost) every day but that’s only going to help my maintain my level. I haven’t been learning anything new, even with a pretty notebook by my side.

A new start

So I bought a new one.

Cute notepad

It’s also fairly cute, but it only cost 3000 VND (about $0.14). So cheap that I can use it as a rough notebook. A place to jot down vocab I’ve just learnt or words I want to look up later. Or to draft some writing before putting it online to get corrected. Notes and scribbles are OK because it’s only a rough book.

Still, I didn’t know what to write on the first page. So I started on the last page.

What to write

While I’ve given you suggestions for writing topics before, I find that once I get started writing in Vietnamese one paragraph usually turns into a page. Who has time for that? On the other hand, my Korean level is so low that it would take ages to sit down and write any of those things.

So keeping it simple, I’m trying to write one sentence a day in Korean and get back to posting a new Vietnamese word to Instagram. But to keep it realistic, I’m aiming for 5 sentences per week and 3 vocabulary photos. If I aim for 7 I will most likely fail, and I don’t want to fail.

A little secret…I started the Korean sentences already. I’ve managed 8 out of 12 days so far and for many of those I actually wrote more than one line.

Daily writing

Except I have another secret. Even with my ‘rough’ notepad I’ve been… Scrap …writing on scrap paper first. I do this all the time. I have notebooks and textbooks stuffed with scrap paper. Yay for the environment (recycling), not so yay for being organised.

But who cares? I’m doing something again. It might be small, it might be a bit silly to write things out multiple times but it’s something. And it’s re-creating a habit.

And Vietnamese?

Tomorrow is also a new month, so a chance to get back on track with the Instagram Language Challenge too. Maybe I’ll post a picture tomorrow, maybe I’ll start on Thursday. But I’ll do something.

Thảo ơi, I don’t want to write or share new words. What other easy things can I do?

Underline new words

  • Follow me on Instagram and learn my words (some are also cross-posted on Facebook).
  • Practice an answer to a simple question (like Anh/Em/Chị là người nước nào?) over and over again. Repeat your answer 10 or 20 times until you can do it without thinking. Then try again later. And again tomorrow.
  • Grab a book or online article and simply highlight the words you don’t know. You can look them up now. Or later. Or tomorrow. Or next week. But highlight them now.
  • Make an outline for something you want to write. Choose a topic and think about your key points. Even if you have to use English to take notes. Again you can look words up later. Just jot down a plan now.

If even the smallest task is a struggle, look here for advice on taking tiny baby steps towards building a habit.

Over to you: Have you stopped learning? What do you do to get yourself out of a rut?

PS. I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. Or post one of the countless other articles I need to finish editing first. So I’m breaking the habit – I’m posting. Doing something. (Notice a pattern?)

How I learnt Vietnamese – Part 1

Back in March I passed the 3-year mark since I started learning Vietnamese. In this time I’ve worked hard but also taken some breaks where I’ve done little but maintain my level.

Recently I realised that even though I started this blog over year ago, I haven’t told you much about how I actually learnt Vietnamese.

So here’s the first part of my story.

Before heading to Vietnam, I spent 4 months travelling round South East Asia. I had with me a mini-phrasebook from the back of a Lonely Planet and as I arrived in each country I learnt a few words like numbers, basic food items and some other simple phrases.

All along my plan was to take a teaching course in Vietnam and, if all went well, to work there too but because I visited other countries I didn’t have much time to focus on Vietnamese.

Phase 1 – A phrasebook and learning to read

March 2011
I began learning Vietnamese on the bus from Laos to Vietnam.

Those first few words were really hard to learn. It all sounds so different that it’s hard to make things stick. On the day-long bus journey, I literally just learnt the numbers 1-3, chục (a unit with the value of 10, useful for money), cơm (rice) and cảm ớn (thank you).

Over the next few days I slowly added new words and mini-phrases to my repertoire. Literally just a handful of words each day until I had a rudimentary vocabulary.

Learning Vietnamese from a phrasebook

Learning Vietnamese from a phrasebook

In Hanoi I quickly made Vietnamese friends. In particular, I made friends with a Vietnamese woman who taught English. She gave me a list of basic phrases and when she was busy, her receptionist (who spoke no English) prompted me to read them, correcting me on my pronunciation.

Up to this point I’d used the pronunciation guide in my phrasebook to get a general idea of how letters sounded but I was probably still relying on the Anglicization in my phrasebook more than I should. Now I was more confident using the Vietnamese words themselves.

Phase 2 – My first course

July – October 2011

Having arrived in Saigon, I kept practising what I’d learnt so far. Soon after I had started work, my employer provided a free short Vietnamese course. I was a quick learner and picked up enough to manage daily life in Vietnam. The weekly classes lasted a few months and by the end I could easily order food, haggle and give directions to a xe ôm.

Phase 3 – The expat plateau

November 2011 – August 2012

I continued using Vietnamese every day to eat and get around town.

At this point I had great intentions – I practised with friends and I started speaking more Vietnamese by dropping Vietnamese words into English sentences. Through this I learnt some new words here and there. But although I had a couple of elementary textbooks, I never quite got round to using them.

While I say I plateaued, it’s not strictly true as I did pick up enough in this time that I was able to write short texts about a holiday or restaurant visit – albeit with a lot of spelling problems including missing most tones.

To be continued…

What surprises me is that I mostly learnt through self-study and practice, with just a little bit of classroom instruction. I wonder how Part 2 will compare!

Over to you: How did you start learning Vietnamese?