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?

6 replies on “My language learning in 2017”

I enjoy your articles even if you’re not working much on Vietnamese anymore. I made a lot of progress with reading Vietnamese newspapers this year. I just read through an article this morning where I could understand almost everything in the first 4-5 paragraphs. Last year that would’ve not been the case. If only my listening were as good; I spend most of my time working on listening but it still lags behind my reading.

Thanks for the comment!

That’s great to hear how much progress you’ve made on your reading. Do you mind me asking what you currently do to work on your listening? I’ve been working on this as a teacher so I have a few ideas. I’ll drop you an email. 🙂

Listening has always been the most difficult aspect in my language learning career. Any tips you have would be great.
For listening I have a routine where I practice listening to dialogues (like the podcasts from Learn Vietnamese With Annie) or recordings of newspaper articles that I have my italki teachers make. I keep listening many times trying to understand as much as I can without reading. After a while I consult the vocabulary list (if one is available) and listen again trying to understand. I can usually understand more after this. Then I look at the transcript and after this listen again.
I would say that vocabulary is definitely a reason that I have trouble with listening although there are certain sounds and tones I have trouble distinguishing, too. There are almost always things I don’t understand until I look at the transcript despite the fact that I know the words. I’ve definitely gotten better. Of the dialogues from Annie’s podcasts I can usually master the lower level ones fairly quickly and sometimes understand most of the dialogues the first time I hear them for many of the lower level ones although Annie’s upper intermediate dialogues require more work.

Thanks for your reply. I’ve just published a post about listening problems and I’ve got one coming next week about a technique for diagnosing your problems.

“I keep listening many times trying to understand as much as I can without reading.”
This is testing your listening ability. It’s fine to listen a few times but there comes a point where there will be diminishing returns.

The work you do with the transcript is one area where improvements to listening can really be made.

Not being able to recognise words you are familiar with indicates that it is listening you need to improve (and not that you are listening to materials that are too challenging for your level). For purely improving your listening ability, I recommend using materials that are not challenging for your level (ie. there are little to no new words – when you read the transcript you understand). Annie’s videos are a good choice especially for her accent.

I haven’t had much problem with listening in Vietnamese (in Saigon) so I’m drawing on my experience teaching English and learning Spanish. In those languages, words can sound very different when spoken in fast, natural speech to how they sound in isolation (think: how they sound in an audio/online dictionary, we can call this “dictionary pronunciation”). Not being aware of this and how words can change their “sound shape” in fast speech causes many problems for learners of English. I’m sure there will be some element of this in Vietnamese but I’m not sure what.

A few examples in English are:
isn’t it (innit – London, ‘intit’ – Yorkshire)
come on (c’mon)
probably (in conversation it might sound more like ‘probli’ or even ‘prolli’)
pick up (can sound like ‘pi cup’)

After you look at the vocabulary list or transcript, it might be helpful to compare how the words sound in the audio with how you expect them to sound (dictionary pronunciation). What differences are there? Can you notice any patterns? Whether that’s pronunciation patterns or just patterns in what you’re struggling with.

Some other questions I’m curious about are:
– Are you missing the occasional word or is it more like phrases/sentences that you’re not getting?
– When you consult the vocabulary list, do you find the words are usually familiar ones?
– Why do the upper intermediate dialogues require more work? Is she speaking faster or you’re less familiar with the vocab? Or there is vocab that is completely new to you?

Goodness, quite the eclectic (and ambitious) array of languages there, my dear!

Me? It’s been 4 years now since I moved here to Ecuador, and… while I would have thought I’d be fluent by now (far from it!), nonetheless I can now hold my own in most any conversation, even if my grammar remains a bit ragged.

I’ve tried Duolingo, Quizlet flash cards, Assimil, and a private tutor, along with a few classes (the latter, I found utterly useless). But mostly I find that I learn quickest and best – simply by chatting with my Ecuadorian neighbors on a daily basis.

Indeed, I’ve pretty much given up on any sort of Spanish “study”, and instead have decided that – given that I’m here to stay in Ecuador, I’ll just let my progress come naturally by speaking/listening to my Ecuadorian friends and neighbors.

P.S. Though… (in anticipation of my trip to Japan come April) I did get my hands on a full copy of Rosetta Stone: Japanese and… oh my! Spanish is a BREEZE compared to Japanese!

That sounds pretty fluent to me! It can help to be specific in your goal. Do you want to reach native speaker level? Do you want to read novels in Spanish, or write articles? Or do you want to be able to be able to freely talk about (almost) anything?

My aim is always the latter. I have no desire to fully master Vietnamese or Spanish, I just want to be able to (fully) express myself and talk to locals (I don’t mind talking around words I don’t know, that is a element of conversational fluency in itself). I was quite close to that in Vietnamese, although I had a few things to improve to really get to a decent B2 level which some regard as “conversationally fluent”.

Japanese has similar grammar features to Korean I believe, like verbs at the end of the sentence. A goal could be to reach “survival” level where you can read hiragana, buy tickets, ask someone if you can take a photo of them… I didn’t set goals for learning Spanish before going to Spain which I’m now realising was a flaw. I should have specifically learnt how to order food at least, rather than just learning food vocabulary!

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