My language learning in 2018

We’re in 2019 already, and Tet has long since passed but I’m going to sneak in with an annual review of my language learning in 2018. In this post I’ll be reflecting, updating 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.


Kind of maintaining

Each year my time living in Vietnam grows a little more distant. Nowadays I only read things on Instagram and very occasionally message a friend in Vietnamese. I don’t speak to anyone in Vietnamese, though I still think or speak Vietnamese to myself sometimes!

When learning other languages, I sometimes write ‘translations’ of vocabulary in Vietnamese, where a word matches up better than one in English. So I’m confident that my Vietnamese is still there, though it’s growing rustier.

Other languages

Russian: New language

As usual, my choice of language was influenced by work. I started a new job in February so Russian became my focus for pretty much the whole of 2018.

Spanish: Kind of maintaining

I learned some Spanish at the end of 2017, getting to the level A2 where I can hold conversations (albeit with some problems). In early 2018 I was still using Spanish on instagram and following some Spanish accounts.

I listen to Spanish music weekly if not daily, but this does not do much to maintain my language. I attended some language exchange events in 2018 and sometimes used Spanish. I still understand okay, but my speaking is struggling due to my focus on Russian. When I try to speak Spanish, I end up speaking a strange mixture of Spanish and Russian.

Dropped/Not maintaining:

  • Bulgarian (from 2016 and 2017) – Russian messes with this so much I don’t think I’d be able to speak purely Bulgarian now. I’d still say my Bulgarian is better than my Russian, and I borrow from it when learning and speaking Russian.
  • Korean – nothing at all.
  • Esperanto – I very very occasionally message a friend or two in Esperanto. Again, I can understand their messages, but I have to keep looking up words in the dictionary in order to reply.

So, onto my year of language learning…


Maintaining Spanish

I kept up with Anki, and listened to a couple of podcasts but I missed having a 25 minute walk to class that was perfect for podcasts. I assessed how my listening was doing by transcribing some audio and went to one language exchange while visiting a friend.

February to June

Starting Russian – beginner level

It was quite strange starting Russian after being about A2 level in Bulgarian, as some words are very similar. I found I could understand a surprising amount, particularly once I got used to Russian ways of pronunciation.

By learning a few basic Russian words and mixing them with Bulgarian, I managed to complete some transactions in my first few weeks like buying (and negotiating the price of) a winter coat and having a guy in the phone shop get an app working on my phone.

After a few weeks at work, I started beginner level Russian lessons once a week. Most of the time I was the only student attending the lessons, which helped me to make faster progress. A few months later I joined the elementary level group.

Anki SRS
  • I started Duolingo but did not do it for long.
  • I managed a few pictures/captions a month for Instagram Language Diary Challenge, #iglc.
  • I went to some language exchange events with a friend, but spent more time listening than talking.
  • I used Anki a lot, as usual.

June to December

Studying Russian – elementary level

I levelled up in my classes at work, and for a couple of months it was me and a guy who’d studied some Russian at university. More people joined the group later (and he levelled up).

In the autumn I started 1-2-1 language exchanges, after having success with these in Spain the previous year. This only lasted a few weeks, but I still have a couple of people I’m in touch with and plan to do more of this in 2019.

  • I continued #IGLC. Sometimes I wrote longer pieces of text which led to starting a blog in Russian about my travels and adventures that occur when living abroad: More Russian.
  • I tried to find an online speaking tutor but ended up finding teachers, which is not quite the same thing.

2018 was focused on one language – Russian. I’ve made great progress in many ways. Anyone who finds out I’ve only been learning it for a year is impressed by my progress. I’m able to hold conversations and my fluency is okay, but there’s still a lot I can’t say or talk around. I also have a long way to go before being fully comfortable in my daily life and interactions.

The grammar is frustrating. After 9-10 months of learning a language with cases, I’m starting to get a feeling when writing (and occasionally when speaking) that I need a case… But usually I don’t know which one and end up guessing. Sometimes I’m right, but often I’m wrong. I’m sure this ability will continue to develop in 2019! I wish there was a Lexical Approach textbook for Russian, as I have much more success noticing patterns than learning rules.

Over to you: How was your language learning in 2018? How’s it going in 2019?


How I learnt Vietnamese – Part 2

Seven years ago I started learning Vietnamese. Wow! It’s been a bumpy ride at times. I’ve worked hard but also taken long breaks. I reached an intermediate level, what I’d call conversationally fluent some years ago and have been learning other languages since then.

However, Vietnamese remains my best language. How did I get there?

3 years ago I arrived in Vietnam and went here
Cruising the river at Tam Cốc in March 2011

Part 1 recap

March 2011 – August 2012

I talked about phases 1-3 in my Part 1 blog post. In summary:

I taught myself some words and phrases, practiced them in my daily life, took a course and nailed the basics. I then hit an expat plateau where I was able to deal with daily situations and introduce myself but I wasn’t making much progress.

Part 2

Phase 4 – the intensive study

September 2012 – May 2013

I took a placement test at two language schools but neither one had a course available at the right level for me. I waited for a new class to open but eventually I bit the bullet and signed up to intensive, daily Vietnamese classes at the largest course provider in Saigon – the University of Social Sciences & Humanities.

It was the best thing I ever did. (In terms of learning Vietnamese at least. :P)

In September I joined Elementary 3 (though they offered me the option of Elementary 4). It was a turning point. I learnt so much in that first course and plugged so many gaps in my knowledge. My comprehension and ability to have conversations shot right up, although only one of my teachers actually provided speaking practice in class…

I still hung out with friends and practiced Vietnamese outside of class. I’ll never forget when a couple of months later I shocked one of my friends. She was talking to someone in Vietnamese and I chimed in with the conversation. She was so surprised!

I took a second course and after completing it I took the proficiency test Chứng Chỉ A (Vietnamese Level A) in spring 2013. It’s not necessary to take it, but I was curious to see how I’d do.

Phase 4b – the immersion attempt

It was then Tết 2013 and I spent a few weeks in central Vietnam. I started in the South Central region (Nam Trung Bộ) and travelled as far as Huế.

It was awful.

The trip was good, it was the language side of things that was awful

I had been excited about the immersion experience but here I was and I couldn’t understand people! Although I’d been cushioned in a classroom environment, I had also interacted with people in Saigon. While not fluent, I could hold conversations. But there in the countryside, while people could understand my Saigon accent (when I didn’t mess up my tones), I couldn’t understand them. My confidence took a real hit and I just clammed up.

After a few days, we met up with other young people who were back home for Tết. People who grew up in the south central countryside but now live in Saigon. I could understand and chat to people again! Maybe my Vietnamese level wasn’t so awful after all…

Phase 4c – one more intensive course

After the trip I chose to extend my time in Saigon and take another intensive course, Intermediate 1. Before leaving Vietnam that summer, I wanted to really push myself to learn more Vietnamese by taking my driving test and a Korean class taught in Vietnamese.

At this point I became fed up with my classes (like I had done with French years earlier) and decided enough was enough. Of course I still loved the Vietnamese language and planned to continue with it (that’s when I started this blog!).

Phase 5 – maintaining Vietnamese while living in Europe

June 2013 – August 2014

I went back to the UK for the first time in 2.5 years!

I was making a lot of changes in my life, so learning more Vietnamese wasn’t going to be a priority. However, this was not going to be permanent to I had to keep practising and maintaining my level.

How I maintain my Vietnamese level each week

Throughout this period I actively maintained my Vietnamese, mostly through Skype conversations and keeping up with friends on facebook. I occasionally did some self-study by reading articles or watching episodes of Qua Tang Cuoc Song but there was no structure to my learning.

Phase 6 – back to Vietnam

September 2014

I realised that two things were holding me back – 1) a lack of structure and 2) not getting enough input. For several reasons, I moved back to Vietnam.

It was hard for me to write sections of this article. Hard to admit I’ve struggled and experienced plateaus. When learning other languages now, I sometimes get frustrated as Vietnamese seems so much easier. But it wasn’t easy. There were times when my confidence was low. There were lots of times when I didn’t learn much, I just kept maintaining what I had.

3 years learning Vietnamese. It's been a bumpy ride.
My first 3 years learning Vietnamese. It was a bumpy ride!

Learning a language will involve ups and downs. The same can be said of anything – from learning to play the guitar to riding a bike. You will go through rough patches. You might think about giving up. What’s key is what you do about it.

What can help when the going gets tough?

Sometimes simply stepping back and realising what you’ve learned is enough of a boost and you can gain new momentum.

At other times you just need to ease off the accelerator, stop learning new things and just maintain your current level. There’s nothing wrong with this!

Finally, preparing for slumps before they happen and not comparing yourself to others is excellent advice. That way, when the going gets tough, you’re able to take it in your stride.

Over to you: How has your language journey progressed? Have you gone through similar stages or had a smoother ride?


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.



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)


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.


  • 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.


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.


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?