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3 lessons I learnt from missing my Summer Recording Challenge goal

I messed up. I knew I’d be busy teaching at a summer camp in July so I came up with the idea of a Summer Recording Challenge. I still maintain it’s a great idea, but I made a few mistakes in my approach. That’s ok, we’re all human and we can learn from our mistakes. Here are the lessons I learnt:

1. Test your equipment early and often.

Mic có nhiều gió lắm.

Mic của Thảo có nhiều gió lắm. Buồn quá!

I’d used my headset many times in Vietnam while skyping as well as to record on Rhinospike. I continued skyping when I returned home but little did I know, the headset had been damaged a little in my trip back to the UK and now features a heavy dose of static. It wasn’t until I attempted a trial run the day before I hoped to start the challenge that I found this static.

I tried to remove the buzzing noise with Audacity but it didn’t turn out right. I bought a new cheap headset when I had a day off and the chance to go to town, but I was already more than a week behind and had nothing but several static-filled recordings of the same text to show for it. I never caught up.

2. Get into a language routine before other big changes in your life.

If you know you’re going to have a busy month – an important project at work, moving house, a friend staying over – get your routine down before the busy period starts. It was a huge error to have the first day of the challenge coincide with the day that real work began at my summer gig. I wish I’d started a few days earlier, sorted out any problems before I got busy and built some momentum with the project, making it easier to stay committed.

3. Find it hard to stick to goals? Read this.

Last month I read an article which blew me away – finding it difficult to stick to rules or goals is a personality thing, which may have contributed to my lack of consistency with recordings. I don’t think this was the whole problem but given limited time and equipment problems as mentioned above, a so-called upholder or obliger probably would have made more effort to find a solution so they could keep up with the goal. Perhaps next time I should blackmail myself or just keep it a secret until it’s finished.

What now?

The summer isn’t over, I kept up with skyping every day so Vietnamese is still fresh in my mind. I have a new mic and some free time so I’m still going to try and complete the project, starting on Wednesday. It will be later than planned, but at least I learnt some valuable lessons along the way!

Over to you: How’s your summer language learning going?

Time for a new approach

Summer Recording Challenge 2013As you may have gathered, I stopped attending classes and have since left Vietnam. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop learning, it’s just that I need to adjust my old routine. To be upfront, I’m not sure exactly how this is going to work out. The last time I took a break from classes, I hit a plateau. Plus I’m teaching at an English camp next month and it’s difficult to predict what free time I’ll have. I ummed and ahhed about the next step and then suddenly it hit me…

A Summer Recording Challenge

Do you want to improve your pronunciation? Got 15 minutes to spare every day this summer? Join me on a 40 day challenge to improve your pronunciation by listening to a native speaker, copying them, practising and recording the result. Starting 1st July 2013.

Want to know more? Ready to sign up? Check out the challenge page and keep an eye out for some prepatory guides over the next two weeks, starting tomorrow.

How I pushed myself to learn more Vietnamese before leaving Vietnam

Pushing myself as time was running outAs my time in Vietnam started running out, I felt an urgency to learn as much Vietnamese as I could. I decided simply attending my regular classes wasn’t enough (especially as the pace was too slow) and I’d been letting myself get stuck in a routine that wasn’t helping me learn or practice beyond my comfort zone. It was time to shake things up.

1. Getting a motorbike licence

For quite some time I’d been toying with the idea of taking the full A1 motorbike test in Vietnam. Most expats get their home car licence translated which exempts them from taking the theory test, so only the practical test is needed to get a Vietnamese motorbike licence. However this kind of licence comes with an expiration date.

I saw it as an opportunity to set and achieve a goal: study for and pass the theory test.

I got a copy of the booklet of questions but left it on the shelf for a while. Sensing I needed a date to work towards to push me to study, I registered to take the test and started working through the booklet with a friend, picking out the vocab I needed to understand the questions. As I do in fact have a UK car licence, I found most of the questions quite straightforward once I understood them, then just memorised the rest.

Two days before the test itself, I went along to the second practice session (I missed the first the day before) which involved taking a practice test on paper then another on the computer. I scraped a pass both times. Confidence now high I was left to worry about the tricky “number 8” on the practical test.

To cut a long story short, I not only passed the theory test but I got 15/15. I’m not sure who was more amazed – myself or the guy who printed out my score sheet.

My Vietnamese motorbike licence

My licence which lasts forever

2. Attending a Korean class…in Vietnamese

Not content with one goal that took less than a week to accomplish, I also attended Korean classes for a month. I was the only non-Vietnamese person in the classroom, teacher included. I certainly didn’t understand everything and I took longer to pick up new structures, but with a bit of effort and preparing for class, I made enough progress.

While I didn’t have a SMART goal for this one, aside from learning some basic Korean the aim was mostly just to stretch myself. To put myself in a unfamiliar, challenging environment using Vietnamese and prove I could step up to it. I struggled, but it was an interesting experience.

3. Stop using ‘Vietglish’

This is embarrassing to admit, but with a couple of my closet friends we don’t actually speak proper Vietnamese. Nor could it be called English. We switch between the two, even in the middle of a sentence. Sometimes it is down to efficiency (even my friend will sometimes say ‘she’ as it’s quicker than choosing ‘cô ấy’, ‘bà ấy’). Often there is no real reason for it, it’s just become habit. But a lot of the time, it is because I don’t know (or don’t want to pause to remember) a word. Uh-oh.

Surprisingly, this has not become a problem when I’m talking to anyone else. Still, it’s a bad habit and I decided it was time to start kicking it.

So I armed myself with a notepad and wrote down every English word I used in a Vietnamese sentence. I went through my list with a friend, and got example sentences for each new word. I’ve put these new words in my Anki deck and I’m learning them. I’m trying not to speak Vietglish with my friends, but I’m aware it’s going to take time to totally stop.

Even after these three steps, I’ve still got quite a way to go to improve my Vietnamese but it was nice to leave on a high, with motivation to keep on learning. After all, I’ll have to come back to Vietnam to make use of that licence. 😉

Getting past the expat plateau: a personal story

I was stuck.

I was comfortable ordering food and giving directions to taxi drivers. I could manage my day to day interactions and for any bigger issues (like househunting) I had English-speaking Vietnamese friends.

For months I was content. I did a little happy dance when I could understand something small here or there. I liked being the ‘expert’ among my non-Vietnamese speaking Western friends. I thought I knew quite a lot.

But I started to feel malcontent. If I met someone once I’d be able to make small talk for a short time but if I met them again…I had nothing else to say.

I had ideas to improve my conversation skills. ‘I’ll learn a question a day.’ ‘I’ll start using one of those elementary books my friend gave me when she left.’ ‘I’ll go to the park to practice with the students there.’ But I didn’t.

I was stuck and I was scared. Scared of taking a written placement test for a language school (‘but I can’t remember the tones’, I wailed). Scared of being placed in a class that was too easy or too hard. Scared of the hard work and time it takes to learn. Scared of trying but failing to reach a good level.

Much as I wish it was a better reason, what finally pushed me out of the hole I’d dug myself was the chance to prove someone wrong.

The next step wasn’t revolutionary. It was simply signing up for classes. Paying someone money to make me sit down and learn. No more excuses of ‘tomorrow’. A teacher to ask questions of, a book with exercises, classmates from around the world to practice with and a slot in my day that actually makes me do it.

The icing on the cake came when, after three months of classes, one of my Vietnamese friends said something to someone else in Vietnamese…and I replied. The look of shock on her face was worth all that time studying!

In three months I’d gone from being able to order food to participating in a short but normal speed conversation with native speakers on familiar topics (daily routine, holiday plans). I’ve still got a long way to go but I’m determined not to get stuck again.

Game on!

Over to you: Have you been stuck before? How did you get out of it? Are you stuck now? If so, what are you going to do about it? Tell us in the comments.