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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?

What I’m doing to maintain my Vietnamese

As you may have guessed from the fact I left Vietnam a while ago combined with last week’s post, I’m currently brushing up on my French after seven(!) years of neglect.

What does this mean for my Vietnamese? Well, I’m taking a step back from active study and just maintaining my current Vietnamese level. I don’t want to lose any momentum during this study break, because it is just a break, so every day I’m practising some Vietnamese in some way, shape or form.

But what exactly does that look like?

Skyping with friends

On average 5-6 days a week (total 8-10 hours)

This is the best thing as it keeps me using Vietnamese. However, I’ve noticed I’m already slower at recalling vocab so I’ve had to boost my activity in other areas too. Eventually I want to find new people to practice with as I’m aware that my friends are used to the way I speak.

Revising vocab with Anki

On average 2-4 days a week (total 20 mins)

I’m not adding new cards but simply keeping up with the vocab I learnt in (2 of) my classes. I keep forgetting to review more often, but I’m mostly up-to-date so around 5 mins every few days is more than enough.

Reading short articles

On average 1-2 days a week (total 30-45 mins)

How much time I spend on this mostly depends on how often new articles appear on my favourite sites or if friends share something interesting on facebook. I usually try to read these intensively but less so now I’m reading a lot of French. Of course, I do read a few emails too.

Watching Quà Tặng Cuộc Sống

On average 1 day a week (total 15 mins)

I love these short animations and don’t watch them as often as I should! A lot of the time I can understand them fairly well, but sometimes they go over my head. I watch these for pleasure, without doing any language work.

Writing

On average 2-3 days a week (total 30mins-1 hour)

Again this includes emails, which I am trying to be less lazy with as I usually don’t write the tones and accents because it’s quicker that way. If I have something interesting to write about, or if I’m not writing loads in French, I’ll write something, get it corrected on lang-8 and go through the corrections.

What that looks like

Amazingly it seems that I practice all four skills most weeks! Admittedly sometimes I’ll go a couple of weeks without watching something or intensively reading something. I should probably spend more time on decent input, but at least I’m still getting practice.

In total I spend about 10 hours a week, on average, maintaining my Vietnamese. Mostly through Skype chats which are so easy to keep up with as they’re enjoyable! Even during my busiest weeks this summer, I managed at least 4 hours a week chatting on Skype.

How I maintain my Vietnamese level each week

Over to you: How do you maintain a language you’re not actively studying?