The Curse of a b2 Level AKA the Language Learning Plateau – What It Is and How to Get Unstuck

The curse of a B2 level might sound like a title of an F-rated horror movie but it’s a very real thing. In fact, it affects most language learners,

What is the curse of a b2 level (aka the language learning plateau)?

The language learning plateau is a phenomenon describing one’s inability to progress past the intermediate stages of language learning (i.e. a B1/B2 level). Typically, the main reasons are using inefficient learning strategies, or not using any learning system at all.

 

Let’s break down step-by-step why a B2 level is a final station for most language learners and what you can do to fix go beyond this mark. Time to break that curse.

 

What’s a B2 level is all about

 

What? You thought I would skip a dry, boring and theoretical part? No way! That’s where all the fun is!

Let’s take a look at requirements which one would have to meet in order to be classified at a B2 level. They are a part of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

 

Description of a B2 level (B2 INTERMEDIATE)

At this level, you can:

  • understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
  • interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

 

Brief explanation: this level can be depicted as a FULL conversational fluency. You can have real conversations with native speakers about a variety of subjects.

Expected conversational depth level: you can discuss things at quite a deep level.

Expected vocabulary depth: you can convey most of your thoughts but you still, for the most part, lack precision. Compared to a B1 level, you can discuss more topics with more precise vocabulary.

Still, any topic that differs from typical, conversational standards will probably throw you off.

 

How many people master a language at a C1 or C2 level

The curse of a b2 level - what it's all about and how to get unstuck

 

English proficiency in the world

 

Now that you know what a B2 level is all about, let’s take a look at the level of English proficiency in different countries around the world. It’s only natural since this language is still the most popular choice. Our starting point is the EF English Proficiency Index. For brevity’s sake, I will skip the part where I lambaste the reliability of those results.

 

Countries with the highest English proficiency

 

Here is a list of countries that were classified as the ones with “very high proficiency” i.e. a C1-C2 level. Pay very close attention to the top dogs. Almost every country in the top 12 has either English as an official language (e.g. Singapore) or it’s a Germanic-speaking country.

 

Very High Proficiency

 

Why is it important? If you’re learning a language which is similar to your native tongue, it will be CONSIDERABLY easier for you to master it. Since English is also a Germanic language, it’s not difficult to notice a pattern here.

Of course, there are other factors at play here but this is the most important one for me from the memory standpoint. The way information familiarity modulates your working memory and increases your learning capacity can’t be ignored.

A good example is my mission from a couple of years ago where I learned Czech from scratch to a B1/B2 level in about 1 month., even though my learning system at that time was far from perfect. Yes, I specialize in memory, so I knew what I was doing but I also already spoke Polish, Russian and German. Those languages helped me establish my initial familiarity with Czech vocabulary at about 80%.

 

Countries with moderate English proficiency

 

Now it’s time for countries whose English proficiency can be characterized as about B2 level.

 

The curse of a b2 level aka the language learning plateau

 

As you can see, once we drop outliers like the top 12, the level drops to a B2 level and below. But let’s not stop there.

Here is an excerpt from one of the official Polish reports about German Proficiency in Poland. Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about self-evaluation here of people who probably wouldn’t be able to describe language requirements for any level. The reality, in other words, is less rosy.

 

German proficiency at a B1+ level has been achieved by more than 53% of language learners., of which 22% mastered the language at a B2 level, 19% at a C1 level and 12.5% at a C2 level.

 

In other words, the amount of German learners who claim they have mastered this language amounts to about 16%.

 

The magical number 20

 

In different reports, the number 20 is the reoccurring theme. It seems that only less than 20% of learners of any language get past a B2 level. That is of course if you believe that these numbers are reliable.

Scientific studies are less forgiving in this department.

Long (2005, 2013) that the number of learners who achieve a C2 level is anywhere between 1-5%.

From that, we can only conclude that students who achieve a C1 are also relatively low (read more about in The Handbook of the Neuroscience of Multilingualism).

I rest my case. Let’s move on.

 

The curse of a B2 level – the two main reasons why you are stuck

1. No learning strategy and no system

 

One of the most surprising facts about how people learn is that most of them have no organized system of learning. You might think that’s an exaggeration but I assure you it’s not.

Here is an excerpt from a recent study (Schimanke, Mertens, Schmid 2019) about learning strategies at a German university.

 

To get a better insight on how students actually learn, we have conducted a survey among the students of our university (HSW – University of Applied Sciences) about their strategies and learning behaviors.

Overall, there were 135 students participating in this survey from all 6 semesters and between 18 and 31 years of age. 68.1% of the participants were male, 31.9% female.

Only very few of them deliberately make use of learning strategies, such as spaced repetition or the Leitner system. 94.8% of the participants just repeat the learning topics randomly to have them available during a test.

 

The terrifying thing is that we’re not talking about a bunch of clueless people without any education. We’re talking about bright individuals who will shape the future of their nation.

And yet, almost all of them rely on something I call a let’s-hope-it-sticks strategy. It’s nothing more than spitting on a wall and hoping that something will set. But it rarely does, right?

You can read, reread and cram all you want. Most of the knowledge you gather this way will be forgotten by the end of the next week.

 

There can be no effective learning if you’re not optimizing your repetitions.

 

2. Concentrating on passive learning

 

Passive learning can be a very effective learning tool provided that you’re already at an advanced level (especially a B2 level and higher). It can also be relatively useful if, for one reason or another, you are already familiar with a language you want to master (e.g. because it’s a part of the same language family). However, passive learning is a terrible tool for language rookies.

The body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times in order to put it into your long-term memory (i.e. be able to activate it without any conscious effort). Other studies quote numbers between 7-60.

I will let it sink in!

That’s a lot. Of course, the number varies because it all depends on your background knowledge, emotional saliency of words and so on but it’s still a very big number.

Let’s delve into its consequences.

 

Everything works if you have lots of time

We know that in most languages 5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)). Such a vocabulary size warrants also accurate contextual guessing (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997).

 

It means that as long as you are stubborn enough, eventually you will get to about a B2 level. It doesn’t matter how crappy your learning method is. As long as you soldier on, you will get to the finish line even if that takes you 10 years.

Why?

Because it’s almost guaranteed that you will amass a sufficient number of repetitions (7-60) of the words which occur in a language with a frequency of 98%! But what if you want to really master a language. Or two. Do you believe that you will be able to pull that number of repetitions for the words which occur with a frequency of about 2%? Of course not.

Think of any rare word from your native tongue like “cream puff” or “head physician”. How often do you hear them in your daily life? Not that often, right? And that’s the problem. C1-C2 levels consist of rare words like these. That’s why your chances of getting there if your default learning style is passive are very thin. Unless you have 20 years of spare time and are willing to spend most of your waking hours surrounding yourself with a language.

 

 

Real vocabulary gains from reading and listening at the early stages of language learning

 

 

 

Below you can find some findings which closely echo the results I have obtained from my experiments.

 

Vocabulary gains from reading

 

Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) specifically looked at the number of words acquired from a simplified version of a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which had 21000 running words. The novel was read in class during six class periods. It was found that the average vocabulary pick-up was five words.

 

Lahav (1996) carried out a study of vocabulary learning from simplified readers. She tested students who read 4 readers, each one of about 20 000 words, and found an average learning rate of 3–4 words per book.

 

The above survey indicates that reading is not likely to be the main source of L2 learners’ vocabulary acquisition. If most words were acquired from reading, learners would have to read about as much as native children do – that is, a million words of text a year. This would require reading one or two books per week. If, however, teachers can expect only small quantities of reading, then word-focused activities should be regarded as a way of vocabulary learning.

 

Vocabulary gains from listening

 

Vidal explored incidental vocabulary acquisition from L2 listening (2003), and compared gains from listening with reading (2011). These studies analyzed the effect of a large number of variables (e.g. frequency of occurrence, predictability from word form and parts) on learning. Knowledge gains of 36 target words were measured with a modified version of the Vocabulary Knowledge Scale, on which learners could effectively score 0 to 5.

 

 

Out of the maximum score of 180, readers scored 40.85 (22.7%) on the immediate post-test and 19.14 (10.6%) on the one-month delayed test. Listeners scored 27.86 (15.5%) immediately after listening and 14.05 (7.8%) one month later. The main finding is that both reading and listening lead to vocabulary knowledge gains, with gains from reading being much larger than from listening. An effect of frequency occurrence (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 occurrences) was found in both modes but this was considerably stronger in reading. More repetitions were needed in listening (5 to 6) than in reading (2 to 3) for it to have a positive effect on learning.

 

Some caveats

 

At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to stress one more time that your learning capacity is affected by your background knowledge. If you’re a Frenchman learning Spanish, the aforementioned numbers won’t apply to you.

At the same time, there are just a few studies around which test long-term retention of vocabulary for almost any method. That’s a pity because 3 months is a cut-off point proving that words have truly been stored in your long-term memory. The studies quoted above also share this problem. Retesting the students of the above experiments at a 3-month mark would surely yield much worse, and realistic, results.

Anyway, the point I would like to drive home is that passive learning is an ineffective language acquisition tool for beginners.

 

The curse of a b2 level – how to get unstuck

 

The curse of a b2 level aka the language learning plateau

Photo by Tomas Tuma on Unsplash

 

The most important element you should concentrate on is to develop some kind of learning system. Ideally, it should encompass the following strategies:

 

Summary

A B2 level is achievable to almost anyone as long as you pursue your learning goal with dogged persistence. However, moving past this level requires from you the use of systems that will allow you to focus heavily on rare words which make up about 2-3% of a language since it’s almost impossible to master them just by learning organically (i.e. reading, listening and talking).

If you stick to smart learning methods, you will surely overcome this hurdle.

 

Done reading? Time to learn!

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 30 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go.

Writing or Speaking – What Is Better Memory-Wise for Learning Languages?

What is better for learning new words — writing or speaking?. It is one of the questions that come up frequently in different language-related discussions.

I have seen many different answers to this question. Some were quite right, some plain wrong. That’s why I decided to show you a memory-based/science-based answer to this question.

Let’s dive right in!


Writing or Speaking — Why Both Are Great

 

I don’t want to be this terrible host who welcomes you with a creepy toothless smile and spits on your back as you walk in. I want you to feel comfy and cozy! That’s why I would like to begin on a positive note — both writing and speaking are great learning methods.

There are many reasons for that, but let’s start with the three, which can be deemed as the most important.


1. The Production effect


The “production effect” was initially reported by Hopkins and Edwards in 1972. Unfortunately, for many, many years, it has escaped the attention of the scientific world.

The production effect indicates the improved recall for any information which is produced actively compared to the one which is just heard or read silently.

For example, we tend to remember better words that are read aloud compared to words that are recited silently (MacLeod, 2011).

Simply put, learning actively helps you to remember better.


2. Deep processing (aka The levels-of-processing effect)


This phenomenon was identified by Fergus I. M. Craik and Robert S. Lockhart in 1972,

The levels-of-processing effect suggests that information is better recalled when it has been actively and effortfully processed.

In other words, deeper levels of analysis produce more elaborate, longer-lasting, and stronger memory traces than shallow levels of analysis. Depth of processing falls on a shallow to deep continuum. Shallow processing (e.g., processing based on phonemic and orthographic components) leads to a fragile memory trace that is susceptible to rapid decay. Conversely, deep processing (e.g., semantic processing) results in a more durable memory trace. — Source.

In the world of language learning, creating sentences is one of the most meaningful ways of achieving deep processing of words. That’s one of many reasons why I am against using mnemonics in language learning (in most cases).

 

Writing or speaking - what is better for learning languages?

 


3. The reticular activating system (RAS)


Another cool advantage of both writing and speaking is that they activate a part of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS).

Why is it important? Let me explain.

Even though the RAS is a small part of a brain, it plays a vital role — it’s the filter of information that is let into the conscious mind 

Every second of every day, it tirelessly scours through the tons of information provided by your sensory organs to choose the relevant one. Without the RAS, you would be continuously flooded with excessive amounts of information, which would virtually overload your brain and impede thinking.

Fortunately, that doesn’t happen as the reticular activating system helps your brain capture what matters most to you and what is relevant to you based on your values, needs, interests, and goals.

As you can see, both speaking and writing help put the words you use at the forefront of your mind.



Additional Benefit of Writing in Language Learning

 

The previously mentioned benefits are undoubtedly great. However, let’s dive into some other advantages which are more specific to writing.


Writing is a great learning method for advanced students


Many people, once they move past the B1 level, tend to get stuck at the so-called intermediate plateaus. They use the same old grammar constructions, the same trite expressions, and speech patterns.

 

It’s tough to get out of this rut unless
  • you consume the staggering amount of input
  •  start making an effort to use new grammar constructions/words

Can you do it just by speaking? Not really.

Speaking with others, more often than not, requires keeping a conversation alive. You have to think “on your feet” to express your thoughts as quickly and precisely as you only can — if you flounder or stall too long, you might be able to notice a silent agony on your interlocutor’s face.

Writing, however, gives you all the time in the world to jigger your words into something resembling an elegant thought as opposed to the typical intellectuals' slurry.

If you puke a little bit in your mouth every time you hear yourself saying, “The movie was nice because actors were nice and it’s good that it was nice,” you know what I mean.


Memory Benefits of Writing in Language Learning

 

memory benefits of writing in foreign languages

 

Some research suggests that writing seems to tickle the RAS, and memory centers in your brain a tad harder than speaking. Here are results of one of such studies

“The results show that on the immediate post-test, the Sentence-writing group performed the best, followed by Gap-fill, Comprehension-only, and Control. On the delayed post-test, the Sentence writing and Gap-fill groups equally outperformed the two other groups.” – ScienceDaily.

However, as you will soon discover, it’s only a half-truth.

As a side note, experiments that I have conducted regarding the efficiency of writing vs. speaking show almost no difference between those two.

Read more: Over 30 Things You Can Learn from All My Failed and Successful Memory Experiments

Longhand vs typing?


Interestingly, most findings of research papers concern longhand writing, not typing. That causes people to believe that the latter is an inferior method.

In the 2014 article published in Scientific American, we can read that:

“When participants were given an opportunity to study with their notes before the final assessment, once again those who took longhand notes outperformed laptop participants.  Because longhand notes contain students’ own words and handwriting, they may serve as more effective memory cues by recreating the context (e.g., thought processes, emotions, conclusions) as well as content (e.g., individual facts) from the original learning session.”

On the surface, it might seem true. After all, the cognitive and physical effort needed to write manually is bigger than the one required for typing.

Most of these studies, however, measure the effectiveness of writing/typing under pressure – the said study took place during lectures. It doesn’t have much to do with the organized process of composing an e-mail or an essay at home.

The extra time you have for deliberation and a coherent formulation of your thoughts should equalize (more or less) any potential difference between writing manually and typing.

That’s why you shouldn’t feel pressure to choose just one of them to reap memory benefits. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with.


Disadvantages of Writing in Language Learning

 

As with every method, there are some potential problems you might run into.


1. Not Everyone Needs to Write


I would dare say that the vast majority of the population of almost any country in the world doesn’t write that much.

Why would they?

If your job is not strictly connected with this skill, you might not find it useful.


2. You Need to Learn a New Writing System


If learning a new language system takes you half the time you needed to speak and understand your target language, it’s understandable that you might be reluctant to do so.


Writing — Recommendations for Language Learners

 

Best suited for
  • advanced learners (B1-C2) level
  • anyone who likes (or needs) to write

Other benefits of speaking

 


1. Speaking is repetitive


When you write, the fruits of your labor are limited only by your imagination. You can contemplate different word combinations, weave brilliant thoughts.

However, when you speak, you have to be quick. You have to rely mostly on the automated speech patterns and words which are already activated well in your brain.

That’s why most of the things we say every day, even in our native tongue, are very far from being full of imagination. The point isn’t to unleash your inner Shakespeare but to get the point across.

For the same reason, sentences produced by native speakers are also simpler!


2. Speaking is more natural than writing


The world in which people would use the sophisticated language, which previously could be only found in books, would be a hilarious place!

“Alas, the chains of palpitating agony fell on my little toe as I rammed it into the mighty oakiness of a cupboard!”.

Compared with, “I f*** hit my toe against a cupboard.”

The truth is that we usually speak in a much less formal, less structured way. We do not always use full sentences and correct grammar. The vocabulary that we use is more familiar and may include slang. We usually speak spontaneously, without preparation, so we have to make up what we say as we go.

That’s why if your goal is being able to communicate, speaking should be your default language learning strategy, at least until you get to a B2 level.


Memory Benefits of Speaking in Language Learning

 

 


1. It involves many sensory channels (i.e. it’s great for your memory)


Speaking is a vibrant, sensory experience. It activates almost all sensory organs and thus creates more stable memories.

In one of the studies about the production effect, we can read that:

Many varieties of production can enhance memory. There is a production advantage for handwriting, for typing, and even for spelling, although none of these is as large as for speaking (Forrin, MacLeod, & Ozubko, 2012).

 So what about some studies which say that writing is better for our memory than speaking? Well, they might be some truth in it:

The data suggest that immediate form recall is better when words are learned in the word writing condition than in the word voicing condition, though this advantage seems to disappear after one week – (sourceWord writing vs. word voicing : which is a better method for learning L2 vocabulary?)

As you can see, most of the benefits of writing usually disappear upon finishing this activity.


2. It is more time-efficient than writing


As I have mentioned earlier, even though some research suggests that writing gives your memory some boost, this fact loses its importance once we factor in how much output we can produce with writing compared with speaking.

Here are the results of one of the studies which considered this seemingly irrelevant fact.

The written group produced almost 75% less language than the spoken group did in the time available. This complements previous research discussed in section 3.6 which found more opportunities for language learning in the spoken mode compared to the written mode (e.g., Brown, Sagers, & Laporte, 1999).


Disadvantages of speaking in language learning

 


1. It Requires a Relatively Good Activation of Your Target Language


Even though I am a big proponent of learning a language via speaking, there is just one small hiccup. If you want to chat with foreigners, the command of your target language should already be good.

That means knowing at least a couple of thousand words and having a decent knowledge of grammar.

What would be the easiest way of circumventing this problem?

If you want to increase your oral output without having to speak with native speakers, you can start talking with yourself (learn more about here and here).

Read more: Why Speaking Can Be A Bad Language Learning Strategy.

2. The risk of fossilizing mistakes


If you don’t receive feedback regularly, consider yourself at the high risk of consolidating dozens of small and big language mistakes. You don’t need teachers or tutors for that. However, you do need to create feedback loops.


Speaking — Recommendations for Language Learners

 

Best suited for
  • anyone who learns to communicate
Relatively-well suited for
  • anyone who learns to consume media in his target language

Even if you only learn a language to watch media in your target language, you should still spend some time learning how to speak. It will help you to understand language much quicker due to your improved mastery of grammar and vocabulary and their interrelations, which will, in turn, increase your language comprehension.

It is one of the cases where you get two for the price of one.


Writing or Speaking — The winner is … 

 

Writing or speaking - what is better for learning languages?

 

All in all, my opinion is that for most people out there, speaking is the superior learning method as it allows you to practice what probably matters to you the most — being able to communicate.

What’s more, writing offers almost no benefits memory-wise compare to speaking.

Having that said, you should remember that the ultimate answer might be more complicated for you. Some learn a language to write, some to watch movies and some to talk. Choose your goal and choose your preferred learning method accordingly.

Question for you:

What is your preferred way of using a language — speaking or writing? And why?


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 21 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



Effective Listening Skills – A Weird Fact About How We Process Foreign Languages

How often have you wondered how the brain processes sound? After all, that is what contributes to effective listening skills. Not that often. I guess. Why would you?

I know I didn’t.

At least, until I have stumbled across the research of Dr. Emili Balaguer-Ballester and her colleague Andrew Rupp of Heidelberg from Bournemouth University’s (BU). Their goal was to answer the following question…

What Affects How We Hear?

 

Do we hear sounds as they are, or do our expectations about what we are going to hear instantaneously shape the way sound is processed?

Through the use of computational neuroscience models, Dr. Balaguer-Ballester and his team intend to map the way that the brain processes sound. Here is the most interesting conclusion they have come to:

“Almost 80% of connections between central and pre-cortical areas during sound processing seem to be top-down i.e. from the brain to the auditory peripheral system and not bottom-up, which is perhaps unexpected,” he explains. “As sound comes from an external stimulus, it would be fair to assume that most of our processing occurs from what we hear, but that is apparently not the case. What your brain expects to hear can be as important as the sound itself.” – Dr Balaguer-Ballester

This is backed up by the fact that it takes hundreds of milliseconds for sound to be processed along the neurons from the ear to the brain, which does not explain how we can immediately recognize the sex of a speaker or identifying a melody after just a few milliseconds

More information: “Understanding Pitch Perception as a Hierarchical Process with Top-Down Modulation.” PLoS Comput Biol 5(3): e1000301 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000301

Does Your Mind Play Tricks On You?

 

 

Actually, it’s quite likely that you have already fallen victim to this phenomenon! It has happened to me dozens of time. Especially after a longer session of speaking some foreign language. I’m sure you KNOW the feeling!

Your brain switches into the “X language” mode. Suddenly, you hear some voices outside the window. Why the hell are they speaking Swedish?!!! Especially in Poland?! And why can’t I understand what they are talking about? What kind of dialect is it?!

Oh, wait. It’s not Swedish. It’s Polish. Damn you brain! Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 60 times, I’m an idiot!

Possible Explanation Of This Phenomenon

 

It seems that the most plausible explanation is as follows – the brain is all about expectations and context. Have you ever noticed that when you learn something in one context, like the school, it becomes difficult to recall when that context shifts?

This is because learning depends heavily on how and where you do it: it depends on who is there, what is around you and how you learn.

It turns out that in the long-term people learn information best when they are exposed to it in different ways or different contexts. When learning is highly context-dependent, it doesn’t transfer well or stick as well over the years.

How Does It Affect Your Learning?

Effective Listening Skills

Picture by: Sanja Gjenero

Here are some methods I have come up with which might aid your listening: (and here are over 20 more)

1) Browse dictionary before listening

Just browse. You don’t have to learn any words nor do you have to memorize them.

If you know in the advance what the programme/audition/episode is about, pay special attention to the vocabulary which might appear there. That is pure logic – it’s unlikely that you’ll need to know the names of herbs if you intend to watch an action movie.

Of course, the best possible dictionary which you might use for this purpose is a pocket dictionary. It’s very handy and it contains the most frequently used words and sentences.

So far this technique has been working really great for me! If you test it, make sure to let me know about the results!

2) Read the transcription before listening

It’s not always possible to do so. But there are some listening materials which facilitate this approach. For example podcasts or language programmes for beginners.

You can also read lyrics of the song before listening to it. This method is much more effective than just trying to figure out what your favorite artist is singing about. It’s also so much better than the awkward muttering “mmmnaaaahh” when you forget the lyrics.

That’s also a guarantee that you won’t butcher the song with the stuff you THINK you hear (read more about effective listening here)

3) Read the general outline of the thing you’re going to listen to

Watching TV series in original? Read an episode description beforehand! This way, you will know (more or less) what to expect. And as you have learned so far – it’s all about what your brain expects to hear!

You can find them on IMDB.

Just a word of warning! I’m sure you have heard many times the following piece of advice – watch movies / TV series with subtitles. This is the utter BS.

The ROTI (return on time investment) from this method is incredibly low. You’ll better off just listening to a random radio audition.

Whether you like it or not, our brains are NOT able to simultaneously follow the images, subtitles, sounds and a plot.

What’s more, following this piece of advice gives you the illusory feeling of understanding.

You usually concentrate on reading subtitles and start feeling that you understand most of the things happening on the screen. The bitter disappointment comes later when you try to re-watch the same thing without subtitles.

You have no damn idea what these funny figures on the screen babble about!

Why do I sound so sure? Because I’ve been there! Luckily, I came to my senses pretty quickly and realized that this method is, let’s not be afraid to use this word, absolutely useless.

Summary

 

One thing you should remember after reading this article is this:

What your brain expects to hear can be as important as the sound itself

If you want to acquire listening skills and get the most out of every minute of listening, you should always try to get familiar with the material you are going to listen to.

Do you have any other ideas how this fact might help others to improve their listening skills? Let us all know!

Laying the Foundation for Learning a Language – How to Learn a Language on Your Own (Part 1)

learn a language on your own

You probably have felt this burning need inside to learn a new language once or twice in your life. But there's a good chance that you didn't know where to start.

It's like standing in front of the dark forest. You know that you have to get through it in order to get what you want.

But it's scary and lonely, and you're hungry, and... look! What a mess! I must clean my room and do some other ... stuff. The point is - not knowing the way is probably one of the biggest obstacles on the way to master the language.

And that's the ultimate goal of this series of articles - to show you where to start, what to do and what to avoid. Each part of the series is devoted to a different issue.

You will learn how to tackle every component of learning a language - including notoriously gruesome grammar and vocabulary.

I really do hope that it will help you get started.

I've learned 8 languages so far and I know one thing - if you can't create the system which emulated what you do, there is a good chance you have no idea what you're doing.

Without further ado:


0. Choose The Language


I assume that you already have a pretty good idea which language you would like to learn.

If you're still on the fence - check this article. it should help you make a right decision.


1. Motivation


This is where it all starts. Sure, other things are important as well. But ask yourself this - why do I want to learn this language?

There are no wrong answers. The reason should be valid for you, not for others.

Do you want to get a new job? Impress your wife? Visit some country? Be able to read Manga?

Remember - if your motivation is flimsy there's a good chance that you'll drop your project as soon as some obstacles get in your way. You definitely don't want that to happen! Can you imagine the surge of anger after you realize that you put hundreds of hours into the project which is a flop?!

You'll probably punch some nice, old lady to vent! That's why you should make sure that your motivation is strong enough to pull you through your darkest hours.

Your desire to learn is a foundation - cherish it.

Let it be a constant reminder of why you do what you do. Reinforce right motives as often as you can - they will be your shield against all the distractions and temptations


Learn a language on your own


Your initial momentum will help you break down all the barricades.

But can you increase your motivation or is it something constant? Well, great news everyone! You can. If there is something I've learned about learning, in general, it's that: the faster your progress is the more and harder you're willing to work to see even more impressive results.

So how can I increase my progress? Read on. We will get to that. My personal favorite to boost my motivation is betting.

How does it work?

Bet with someone that you'll learn, let's say, 300 words in 2 weeks (set a deadline). If you lose you have to suffer consequences - e.g. pay your friend 200$. If you win - great, you've achieved your goal. It's worked wonders for me!

What are other great ways to keep yourself motivated?

Read the Forbes article.

2. Change Attitude Or Die


Another pivotal part of laying the foundations is getting rid of the mental barriers you've been cherishing up to this day.

One of the most widespread (and harmful) beliefs concerning languages are:

I believe that they are terribly destructive (and obviously not true) and seriously impair your learning ability if you do not become aware of them.

That's why you need to become more mindful and

learn how to overpower your inner demons of procrastination and laziness.

So go ahead - slap yourself every time when you catch yourself having these thoughts. The words which you use to describe yourself shape your reality. That's why you should remove all the negative terms from your vocabulary, as well as the word "can't".

Way too many people are stifled by their own preconceived beliefs about what they can and can’t do. Don't be one of those people.


3. Set a Goal


But why? Do I have to? Nope, you don't have to do anything. But if you're vague about what you want to achieve, you 'll probably never do it.

You have to see the target to be able to shoot it! Remember, your goals should be SMART.

So what is a good goal?
  • I want to learn Spanish at a communicative level to be able to get by in Mexico in 2 months
  • I want to learn Russian only to read the works of Dostoevsky in original in 4 months
  • I want to speak German fluently to get the job in the company XYZ in 7 months

I believe that determining an initial level of language which you want to achieve is essential. It has a great impact on the learning methods you should choose and as well on the scope of material.

Be as specific as you only can. You can, of course, learn a given language without purpose if you're passionate about it but most people will simply give up after some time.


4. Get The Right Resources (and not too many of them)


Let's start with basics and explain why you shouldn't use too many learning materials. The reason is simple - having too many options paralyze our ability to make decisions.

That's why I typically provide myself with the three following things:


A pocket dictionary


Laying the Foundation for Learning a Language


Why is it indispensable? Think about it...that's right! The smaller the dictionary the more useful words are included there.

Don't waste your time and money on any big dictionary at the beginning (or at all). The good dictionary should include the most important meanings of a given word.

If you can see only one meaning for each word - skip this dictionary and look for another one. Another quality of the great dictionaries is that they always contain the most popular phrases including given words.

And finally! Pronunciation! Always check if a dictionary has a phonetic transcription of words. Don't worry if you don't know how to read these strangers symbols right now. It's not that difficult.


A good grammar book


Usually, any which is not dedicated to advanced learners is just fine.


A phrase book


It shows in a very neat way frequently used phrases and sentences.

That means you can memorize them and use them right away!


5. Set a Deadline


If you think you shouldn't set one then you're not serious about your project. Even if you don't achieve exactly what you wanted in the given period of time - that's ok. The world hasn't ended. Draw conclusions and move on.

Read Six things about deadlines by Seth Godin

GET TO WORK!


If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, or maybe some other burning problem, drop me a message. And don't forget to subscribe if you enjoyed reading this guide.



Read Other Parts of the Series "How to Learn a Language on Your Own"



The Impossible Tuesday – Your Day To Overcome All The Excuses and Prove How Tough You Are

The Impossible Tuesday

We are certainly walking paradoxes. We all want to do something big and be successful. Unfortunately, very often we get stuck in the rut or in the mode of learned helplessness.

We just lie there in a puddle of our tears and weakness. Every now and then when someone passes us by, we cast them a most imploring look with a silent request “help”. But the help never comes.

It’s time to change it. It’s time to act and kick yourself in a butt. And the Impossible Tuesday will show you how.

Two Typical Strategies To Make Progress

 

I believe that maybe 0,001 percent of all the people have this natural, inner motivation that allows them to always work at full capacity. No matter what they do, they always do their best.

But what about the rest of us, mere mortals?

We are royally screwed. Usually, we are doomed to use two compensatory strategies:

  1. building habits
  2. using external motivation (i.e. forcing ourselves to do something)

Building habits

Building habits is the best way to guarantee the long-term success. Having a habit means that your brain doesn’t have to spend much energy to perform a given activity. What’s more, the activity itself is usually the source of constant satisfaction. After all, you are doing something productive every day!

Normally, this is the best possible way to do something. You don’t huff and puff every day to achieve your goals. You are consistent and methodical. As great as this strategy is, it has one big disadvantage – it takes time. Not everyone has enough patience to do it. Not everyone wants to wait a couple of years to be great at something. That leads us to the second strategy.

Using external motivation

Even though the consistency is the key, a short sprint every now and then might help your progress skyrocket. This is what allows you to grow and develop fast – short spurts of concentrated focus.

Think about a physical development, for instance. If you do 20 push-ups per day, you will get bigger and fitter only for some time and then hit the wall. However, if you force yourself to put some more effort once per week, you will keep on growing and developing.

If you learn 5 words per day, then pushing yourself to do 50 words on just one day will more than double your learning pace. Will it frazzle you at the same time? Hell no. That’s just short sprint. You do it and then you’re back to your usual pace.
The thing is that usually it’s difficult to get a grip on yourself and actually do something.

That’s why you need a gentle reminder to get off your butt. A gentle kick, if you will. Actually, the truth is that you probably need a boot so far up your ass that it will act as a pacemaker.

And I am here to deliver this kick.

The Impossible Tuesday – What Is it All About?

 

The Impossible Tuesday
The idea for the Impossible Tuesdays came to me over two years ago. I knew that I was doing a lot but I felt that I could much more. I just needed some reason. Something to force myself. This is how the idea of the Impossible Tuesdays came to be.
I decided that on this very day, I will always try to push myself to do something impossible. Something I would never do normally because it’s too tiring and uncomfortable.
Here are some of the things I managed to pull off on this day:
  • learning 800 words during one day
  • talking to myself for 6 hours in Russian
  • doing 400 push-ups
Unfortunately, somewhere in the turmoil of life I neglected this idea and stopped celebrating this day. Recently, however, I decided to revive it and to share it with you. The Impossible Tuesdays are our chance to claw our way through all the bullshit excuses straight to the finish line. This is one day per week when we will prove that we are not a weak, disgusting, spongy blob and
we can do things we have never thought we could.
We are damn tough and we will prove it. It can be one day a week which makes all the difference.

Bets as the primary tools of The Impossible Tuesdays

 

If you decide that you’re in. You should know how to properly push yourself to do the impossible. Bets are the perfect tool for this purpose. It doesn’t matter how much you love doing something, there is always some border which you won’t cross. It’s uncomfortable, after all. I sure love learning new words but usually, after getting to one hundred I call it quits.

If, on the other hand, you dislike doing something, you need a whip over your head to make you act. In other words, you need to put something at stake.

Here is how bets work:

  1. Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
  2. Determine your TIME HORIZON (1 day in our case)
  3. BET with someone that you’ll achieve
  4. Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver (20$ for example)
  5. Send evidence to your bet buddy
Even though what you have just read is more than enough to act, you can read more about this method here – how to triple your productivity overnight.

Keep in mind that bets are fully flexible. You can mold them and twist them as much as you like to fit your goals.

Now that you know how to flail yourself properly, it’s good to familiarize yourself with a couple of extra guidelines.
They will allow you to maximize your effort.

How To Make Your Effort Count

The Impossible Tuesday - Your day to overcome all the excuses

If you already do something, do 4-5 times as much as you usually do

Remember that the Impossible Tuesdays are all about doing the impossible. Demand from yourself.
If you normally do 10 pushups, do 40.
If you noramlly read 20 pages of a book, read one hundred. Make yourself sweat and squeal.

If you want to take up a new activity – just do it

If you have always wanted to do something but have been delaying it indefinitely – this is your day.
It doesn’t have to be anything huge as long as you start. Always wanted to learn Chinese but life got in the way? Do as little as 1 unit from a textbook.

Break it down into many sessions

Doing a lot of repetitions of any activity is straining.
That’s why make sure you always break the entire process into many chunks.
Don’t even think about knocking out 200 flashcards in one sitting. Try to do it in at least a couple of sessions.

Identify “the dead time” and use it

Dead time is the time spent doing activities which don’t absorb all of our attention.
Think about sitting on the subway or standing in line. These seemingly useless moments can usually be used to do some more productive stuff. Plan ahead and consider how you can incorporate dead time into your Impossible Tuesday.

What can be your goal?

 

I can’t tell you what you should concentrate on. Only you know what’s important to you and what’s worth your blood and sweat and tears. I can tell you this – usually you should be doing the things you are actively avoiding. Brainstorm what that thing is for you.
Regardless of that, here are some proposals of the things you can bet on:

Working out:

  • running
  • push-ups
  • sit-ups
  • crunches

Learning:

Creativity

  • Brainstorm a problem you have
  • Come up with X ideas to improve some aspect of your life
  • Come up with a new product you can sell
  • Write X pages of something

Big projects

If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comment.

The Final Words + The Invitation

 

Every idea needs a critical mass to gain motion. I don’t know if this will work out or maybe I will have to bury the hatchet in this idea. It’s up to you. However, if you decide to take part in, post your goals in the comments together with your bet.

If you can’t think of anything right now, think about it and post it later. On Wednesday come back and post your result as a reply to your original comment.

Who knows? Maybe this is the sign you have been waiting for!

If, however, you decide to bury this idea, know that you will have dirt on your hands.  The dirt that is soaked in guilt and shame. The stains left by it will taint your soul permanently and they will never go away. They will keep growing until they spill onto your very existence polluting everyone you love. It will …

Ok, ok. No more guilt-tripping! Join me in the comments! We will see how it goes and hopefully, we will make it a permanent thing.

P.S. You can increase your chances of sticking to your plan even more by making yourself accountable. Tell somebody about the challenge or tweet #ImpossibleTuesday together with your goal!

How to Self-Assess Your Progress – a Short Guide for Independent Learners

How to self-asses your progress - a short guide for independent learners

Learning on your own can be quite an unsettling experience, especially initially. Instead of being guided by a helpful hand of a coach or trainer, you cling to a clammy hand of doubt and despair. Questions like "What if I am wrong?", "Am I consolidating all the wrong things right now" become your bread and butter. To minimize the amount of all those unpleasantries, you need to learn how to self-assess your progress.

Sadly, choosing the right method to do it can be also confusing. After all, there are lots of ways to do it! No strategy is universal enough as to work for everyone. That's why I suggest that you spend some time thinking about the right way to assess your progress. If you don't do this, it will be challenging to tell whether you're pushing forward at the optimal pace or just spinning your wheels.



How to Self-Assess Your Progress as an Independent Learner


1. Use SRS (Spaced Repetition Software)


A fantastic feature of every SRS program, including my all-time favorite ANKI, is that every flashcard is a form of self-quiz. It provides you with immediate feedback about your knowledge.

It's like a virtual friend that regularly hangs out with you to make sure you have mastered your area of choice. You can't lose long-term with buddies like that!


2. Assess Others' Performance


We're getting a little meta here, but trying to evaluate somebody's performance, for example via teaching, is an excellent gauge of your current progress.

You see, it's very difficult to be able to single out somebody's mistakes unless you're on the same or a higher level than this person. Thus, doing so is a meta confirmation that you've achieved a certain level.

Of course, you don't have to teach someone to be able to benefit from this strategy. It can be as easy as observing somebody's performance on video. Or you can simply try to criticize somebody's work "theoretically".

For example, let's say that your goal is to create amazing facial creams. In that case, you can pick up any cream of one of your potential competitors and try to find flaws in it. At the same time, you can also try to find positives to consolidate your knowledge further.


3. Take part in interviews


Comparing your performance against other learners can tell you volumes about your current skill set or expertise. There is nothing more telling than seeing where you fall within a given group.


Interviews are a great form of a comparison between you and, often, hundreds of other candidates. Even if you're not looking currently for a job, it's still worth applying for one to test yourself.

If you fail, you will still get feedback from a company, and thus you will learn where you fell short. Heck, failing in itself, is a form of feedback.

If you succeed, you can ask for detailed feedback concerning your performance. Even if you turn the job down, you will still learn a lot.


4. Take part in Competitions/Contests/Tournaments


Competing with others is probably almost as old as our entire civilization and is still as popular as ever. Find a relevant competition that involves your skillset and see how you fare against other candidates.

An important benefit of this assessment method is that you also test how well you cope with pressure. Of course, it doesn't make much sense if your skill is performed in isolation. However, in all other cases, it's necessary to get out of the comfort zone to get a realistic picture of our expertise.


5. Take Online tests


Online tests can provide you with relatively precise and, more importantly, almost immediate feedback. In the era of the internet, finding one that is relevant to your field shouldn't be too challenging.

The only thing you should keep in mind is choosing the test of high quality. You need a test that can provide you with meaningful information. Sometimes, it simply means paying a couple of bucks.


6. Get a certificate


Certificates are one of the best ways to get very detailed feedback about your performance. It's not only a benchmark to measure your knowledge against - it can actually be something you can strive for. A source of inspiration if you will. If you want a meaningful confirmation that you've learned the material or skill effectively, look no further.


7. Produce/create something


In some cases, your goal is to create some masterpiece. It can be a program, a flying machine, a flamethrower, and whatnot. Creating the said item will allow you to assess your expertise critically.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
  • Does it work?
  • Does it work well?
  • Is there any room for improvement?
  • What do others think about it?

My Example - Composing Music


a short guide for independent learners


It's important to ask yourself these questions because if you just mindlessly keep on producing these items, you won't be able to improve. At least not by a significant margin.

You can use my experience as a case study. I have been composing for lots of years now with a plan for publishing my work in the future. You can call it my long-term side project. Whenever I finish an outline of a song, I send it to a group of my friends, asking them for a review. 

The group is selected based on one criterion — they are honest. If something is shit, it's shit, and there are no two ways about it. This isn't where the process ends.

To further maximize the usefulness and truthfulness of this feedback, I ask my friends to share it with one or two other people. These may be family members or just close friends.

Some of them listen to other genres of music, and some don't listen to music at all. Once I get all the reviews and comments, I paste them into an Excel file and analyze them.

A bit unorthodox way of composing, but it certainly helps to yank me out of the echo chamber in which many creators live in. It's very sobering sometimes to hear, "man, just delete this song." 


8. Use checklists


Checklists have been widely popular for at least a couple of decades now. It's hard to find even an averagely organized company that doesn't use it to some degree. And there are good reasons for that - they make the overwhelming manageable.

Of course, checklists are amazing at all levels of advancement, but they are especially useful for beginners. First of all, they allow you to decrease your cognitive load drastically. They are the life-ring that stops you from drowning in the excessive amount of information. One look and you know what should be done.

However, the most important benefit for independent learners is that they enable you to efficiently self-assess your progress. Upon performing a given activity, you can quickly consult such a list to see what was done right and where you fell short.


9. Videotape or record yourself


Videotaping yourself is a form of formative assessment since it allows you to assess your performance during instruction (i.e., performance).

Recording yourself on video is an amazingly simple and effective way to identify areas that you need to improve. Of course, it's not for everyone, and it won't apply to some areas of knowledge. However, it's a perfect feedback mechanism for musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers. 

The research certainly supports this way of learning:


Developing musicians typically engage in self-regulated practicing during the time that passes between lessons with their teachers. An important aspect of self-regulated practice is the ability to identify and correct areas of development in performance in the absence of a teacher’s feedback, but the effort required to perform as well as monitor a performance represents a challenge for any learner. 
Videotaping the performance and watching it afterward to fully concentrate on each task could constitute a solution to this problem. In our study, we verified how video feedback could affect the self-evaluation of intermediate-advanced musicians while practicing a new piece of music. 
To attain this objective, we analyzed and coded the self-evaluative comments of 16 classical guitarists while practicing. We then compared the number of coding entries in each category of a group of participants who used video feedback (n = 8) on four occasions over a period of ten practice sessions with those of a group of musicians who did not use video feedback (n = 8).
Our results indicate that musicians who used video feedback modified the way they formulated their self-evaluative comments while practicing and that these changes were more marked with higher-performing musicians. [[source]]

How to Self-Assess Your Progress - Summary


Knowing how to self-assess your progress as an independent learner is one of the most important keys to your success. Without that skill, you are bound to forever stray in the cognitive darkness or worse, beg for crumbles of advice from others' mouths.


Keep in mind that your feedback mechanism will heavily depend on what resources you have and your area of choice. It's also one of those cases where more is better. It's certainly preferable, especially if you want to be independent, to rely on more than one of the strategies above. Even if you can't pick a perfect feedback mechanism, you can incorporate smaller feedback drills to ensure you're not entirely without feedback.

Here is how you can self-assess your progress:

  • 1. use SRS (Spaced Repetition Software)
  • 2. assess others' performance
  • 3. take part in interviews
  • 4. take part in competitions/contests/tournaments
  • 5. take online tests
  • 6. get a certificate
  • 7. create or produce something
  • 8. use checklists
  • 9. Videotape or record yourself

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 14 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Make Your ANKI Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels

Make Your Review Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels

It's generally true that we all learn effectively in a very similar. However, we certainly react differently to bigger workloads. Some find it motivating; some find it tedious and frustrating. This difference is obvious even among my students. 

Some write to me that they find flashcards so interesting that they can work for hours on end. Others start strong and find themselves more and more exhausted with every passing week. It's understandable - high learning pace always comes with the price. The prices, in this case, is increased effort.

You probably have noticed that regardless of your attitude to learning, you get really weary after some time. It might be 20 or 40 minutes, but it inevitably happens. One way to combat this, like I have suggested in one of the previous articles, is to break your learning into many sessions. However, there is one more strategy that will allow you to both increases the duration of your session and the joy you get out of it.

We can achieve all those things by manipulating your levels of dopamine. Let me explain step-by-step how it works.


What Is Dopamine?


In the brain, dopamine functions mainly as a neurotransmitter. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior

The anticipation of most types of rewards increases the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine release or block its reuptake into neurons following release. The dopamine release is also necessary for Initial memory consolidation.

The most important information for us is that it's the main driver of reward learning in the brain. It makes us focused and vigilant and craving for more of any dopamine-boosting stimulus.


How Can You Increase Dopamine Levels?


Now that you roughly know what dopamine is and how it can drive your learning, it's time to answer the following question:

What can you do to boost your dopamine levels? 

It's simple. Lots and lots of cocaine instead of sugar in your coffee! Lol 😄 Ok, not really. It's not a very sustainable approach. The answer is quite complex, and it envelopes many lifestyle-related things. 


1. Diet


For example, low-carb diets are naturally more dopamine-based as they revolve around lots of protein-heavy products. Those products, on the other hand, contain an amino acid called Tyrosine that is a precursor to dopamine (i.e. it gets converted into it).

Carbohydrate-heavy diets bring quite the opposite effect as such products are very Tryptophane-rich. Tryptophane is also an amino-acid but, contrary to Tyrosine, it gets converted into serotonin, which then, gets converted into melatonin. I am sure that you have already heard something about this hormone. Melatonin is one of the main hormones that signal that it's time to go to sleep and thus makes us drowsy and sleepy.

In other words, to simplify things:

Low-carb diets -> more dopamine -> you're more vigilant and focused

High-carb diets- > more serotonine -> more melatonin -> you become drowsy and sleepy 

There are also lots of herbs and plants that can further boost this effect, however, just temporarily. One of the best examples is coffee that releases dopamine in the prefrontal cortex.

Read more: What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently


2. Exercise


Make Your Review Sessions More Enjoyable


Any kind of exercise and especially high-intensity exercise will help you to achieve the same effect (Loprinzi, P. D. (2019)). It's a good idea to interrupt your learning sessions to do some push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, or whatever else that floats your boat. Not only will you look better, but you will also boost your concentration and tickle your reward centres the right way.


3. Novelty


All those basic tricks above will definitely help, don't get me wrong, especially if you haven't been eating well or exercising. Then the effects should be even more impressive. However, there is one more thing which I find even more useful if you have lots of reviews to do.

Tons of flashcards usually mean one thing for your brain: BORING! One thing you should know about the brain is that it's a disgusting junkie. It likes varied and exciting things. That's why social media are so addictive. One "ping" and your brain goes haywire. "Who could it be?! Have they written something nice about me?!: Hell, most of us can't even go to the toilet without a mobile phone anymore because there is nothing to do. And if that happens, we start reading product labels to keep ourselves entertained.

Now guess how exciting a 2-hour ANKI session is according to this sponge? Yep. You're right - not very. This is our bane, but interestingly, we can use this "property" of our brain to our advantage.

All we need to learn longer is to provide our brains with a little bit of Novelty. If all the flashcards look the same, even if they are pictures, our brain just shuts off after some time.

Here are some ways in which Novelty affects our brain:


How Novelty Affects Your Brain and How It Can Help You With Making Learning Sessions Longer


There is a ton of research on the role of dopamine and novelty in learning, but I will do my best to not go-over-the top. Here is a handful of studies you can read on that topic:


"Novelty directly activates the dopamine system, which is responsible for associative learning."
"The major "novelty center" of the brain--called the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA)--might be activated by the unexpectedness of a stimulus, the emotional arousal it causes, or the need to respond behaviorally."
"Researchers have long suspected that the human brain is particularly attracted to new information and that this might be important for learning. They are now a step closer to understanding why. A region in the midbrain (substantia nigra/ventral tegmental), which is responsible for regulating our motivation and reward-processing, responds better to Novelty than to the familiar. This system also regulates levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, and could aid learning."
"We find that familiarity increased retrieval of other unrelated memories but reduced the chances for memory formation. On the other hand, Novelty enhanced the later formation of distinct memories without worrying about previous experiences."

How To Use Novelty To Make Your Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable


I have been experimenting with a new approach to doing ANKI for quite some time, and I must say that even I am surprised by the results. It seems that incorporating this dopamine-centred approach can significantly boost your willingness to learn.

Doing it is very easy.

You need to interweave your "normal" flashcards with dopamine (i.e. novelty-related) flashcards. 

Those dopamine-boosting flashcards should be different from flashcards in order to keep the novelty factor at a high level.


Make Your Review Sessions Longer


Such cards can include the following things that have already been mentioned in other units or will be mentioned in the modules to come:

  • Jokes
  • Gifs
  • Funny pictures
  • Other kinds of pictures
  • Snapshots from movies/TV Series
  • Short videos
  • Anecdotes
  • Lines from movies
  • Fragments of lyrics
  • Proverbs
  • Excerpts from articles/books

Those elements, ideally, should be related to your target language. However, even if not all of them are, that's ok. They will still boost your dopamine levels.

If you take a cold, hard look at those elements, you will quickly notice that NONE of them forces you to retrieve anything. That's one of the reasons why they become such a welcome distraction. Ordinary flashcards demand effortful retrieval while those remaining flashcards provide you with distraction and additional passive exposure to your target language.

Feel free to experiment with this strategy and let me know about your results. 


Make Your Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels - Summary

Dopamine is the main driver of reward learning in the brain. Its release helps us stay motivated, interested and vigilant. 

The four simple ways to boost your dopamine levels are:

  1. low-carb diets
  2. exercise
  3. supplements (e.g. some herbs or caffeine)
  4. novelty

Out of all four of them, novelty can certainly give you the easiest boost. What's more, it doesn't take much to introduce this strategy into your learning plan. All you need is to interweave your normal flashcards with anything that you deem fun, funny or plain interesting.

Keep in mind that those dopamine flashcards shouldn't force you to retrieve any information effortfully. They are there as a welcome distraction. You can treat them like a friend, telling you a joke or showing some meme. 

I have never had big problems with doing my reviews. Still, with this strategy, I have noticed even more motivation to go through my flashcards.

Feel free to experiment with this strategy and let me know about your results!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 11 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



Forgetting as a Form of Feedback – How To Use It To Remember Better

Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - How To Use It To Remember Better


Forgetting is as integral to our lives as it is disliked. It takes many forms - from the nastiest ones, i.e. neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's), to relatively innocent ones (why am I standing in front of the open refrigerator again?!)

No wonder we treat this phenomenon as our worst enemy. After all, it robs you of the fruits of your work. You have put so much work into acquiring a given skill, and after a couple of months not much is left in your head. As depressing as it all might seem, I would like to show you a different perspective.

What if forgetting is not your opponent but your ally?

Your brain is actively working to make you forget most of the things you've come into contact with. It is the most sophisticated spam filter in the world. This process allows you to focus on the most important information. In other words,

forgetting is one of the best forms of feedback.

It took me many years to understand this simple truth. It was also a turning point for me, which completely changed the memory systems I created at that time. Since, as far as I know, this concept is not widely discussed, I hope this article will be a sort of "memory awakening" for you.


What Is the Purpose of Memory?


Many people believe that the purpose of memory is to store information as accurately as possible. I think this is an erroneous perspective.

Memory serves to guide and optimize decision-making by sticking only to meaningful and valuable information.

I could describe a lot of memory processes that take place during the stage of encoding or information retrieval. Still, I think it's better to focus on a very logical and practical example.


Optimization of decision-making processes as exemplified by crossing the street


Think for a moment how much information you need to safely walk from one side of the street to the other.

While performing this activity, do you analyze:
  • Wind speed?
  • Type of surface?
  • The number of people in front of you?
  • The number of people on your sides?
  • The distance you have to travel?
  • Air humidity?
  • Surface moisture?

Of course not.

Too much irrelevant information is detrimental to a given decision-making process.

If you really had to take into account all this information, it would take you forever to make any decision at all. In other words, the process would not be optimal, also energy-wise.


Thus, it is much easier to focus on activities such as:
  • checking if there are traffic lights at the crosswalk,
  • making sure the light is green,
  • looking to your left and right (and left again).

As you can see, a handful of relevant information can be more valuable to the brain than a ton of meaningless data. However, we shouldn't forget that it doesn't make sense to remember much—quite the contrary. The trick is to combine the memorized information into meaningful scripts that can be activated in a given situation.

In the example above, a type of surface is almost certainly a useless piece of information. Nevertheless, if our decision-making process required making sure that we can do a dangerous stunt on the said surface, it would be one of the first factors that should be taken into consideration.


What Kind of Information Is Meaningful To Your Brain?


Forgetting


Another question we have to answer is what information the brain perceives as valuable, and what information is the equivalent of food scraps at the bottom of the dishwasher.


In simple terms, information must meet two main criteria to be considered valuable:
  • frequently appear in your immediate environment,
  • it must be related to your life, i.e. be relevant to you.

I will discuss them in more detail later in this article. At the moment, it is worth looking at how slowly we forget information when the above two criteria are met.


Almost Complete Elimination of Forgetting



Problems with research on memory


One of the big problems that plague most of the memory studies is that they are often detached from reality. The overwhelming majority of them are carried out in laboratories. I know what you are thinking. Why would that be a disadvantage?

Laboratories are artificial creations which, according to the rules of the scientific method, try to limit the number of variables that affect the tested value as much as possible. It sounds nice until we realize that our memory does not work in a vacuum. Hundreds of stimuli and information constantly flood our minds. One should not try to artificially separate them from the process of memorizing and retrieving data.

The effect is that most such studies come to conclusions that are as out of touch with reality as a team of Marvel superheroes from a nearby asylum.

What's even worse is that there are quite a few people who accept this nonsense uncritically. I often hear some strange websites or YT channels saying that "in this or that study, scientists proved (sic!) that if you imagine that you have an orange on the top of your head, your ability to remember and concentrate will increase by 15%".

I wish it were an anecdote, but the video had over 100k views and lots of positive comments at the time. In my mind's eye, I could almost see 20,000 people sitting with their eyes rolled over and the face of a constipated walrus wondering why memorizing books didn't get any easier.


Forgetting names - Bahrick's and Wittlinger's research


Bahrick is one of my favorite memory researchers. He was one of the first scientists to insist that research of this kind be carried out outside the laboratory, despite the difficulties it poses.

One of his groundbreaking works, which he did in 1975 with Wittlinger, is about remembering the names and faces of high school friends over many years. The study lasted 50 years (!!!), and it showed for many years after graduating from high school, the process of forgetting this information occurred only slightly. Although, as always, the active recall was the first to go.



You can conduct this experiment virtually. Assuming a minimum of 10 years has passed since you have graduated from high school, check if you can still remember everyone in your class? I know I certainly didn't have almost any problems with it.


How to explain the almost complete absence of forgetting over a long period?


In one of my past articles, I mentioned the Ebbinghaus curve:


the Ebbinghaus curve - Forgetting as a Form of Feedback


Notice how huge the difference in retention (i.e., keeping the information in your head) is between Bahrick's and Ebbinghaus's experiment. Even after 7 years, the retention of names was higher than the retention of meaningless knowledge presented by the Ebbinghaus curve after 20 minutes.

The explanation for this phenomenon is based on many elements. 


1. High frequency of repetitions

Note that the contact with first and last names in high school is extremely common, be it during the roll call or the regular socialization with your peers. What's more, almost all children are forced continuously to retrieve this knowledge. It would be difficult to get through high school only by yelling, "Hey you!"



2. Relevance of the information

Ebbinghaus tested the information decay by memorizing nonsense letter clusters. Bahrick, on the other hand, demonstrated how we absorb vital information in the real world.

It is worth mentioning that the relevance of information automatically means one more thing - emotional load. It doesn't matter if it's positive or negative. It is an inherent factor modulating your ability to remember.

The meaningfulness of the information is a very personal and individual thing. Two different people may perceive the same facts as useless or vital. It is reflected in another one of Bahrick's (1984) studies, that showed that college professors have difficulties with remembering their students' name.

Can you see that contrast? Of course, one might argue that the frequency of information, in this case, is much lower. However, in my opinion, the decisive factor here is the indifference of lecturers. Most students are as important to them as half-dried pigeon carrion on the side of the road.

Of course, we could name more factors that contributed to the almost complete absence of forgetting in the first study. However, I think that the ones mentioned above are the most important.


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback, I.e. What Information Does It Provide You With?


The example above does not seem to be fully related to subjects such as physics, foreign languages or medicine. Regardless, I hope it convinced you of one thing - the frequency and relevance of information are among the most critical factors affecting your ability to remember information.

Thus, from now on, I would like you to change your mind about the phenomenon of forgetting. Don't see it as something negative.

Treat forgetting as the best possible form of feedback.

If you can't keep information in your head, your brain is trying to subtly say, "Hey buddy! Don't even try to make me remember this string of numbers. I don't know; I don't understand, I don't care. When are we going to do something exciting like tap dancing in banana peel shoes? 

Whenever you cannot recall information, you should ask yourself, "How can I modify it so that it makes more sense to my brain?"


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - Three Main Takeaways



1. Too little interaction with the information


Consider whether you should increase the frequency of a given element. If you use programs like ANKI, it happens organically to some degree.



2. No connection between the element and your background knowledge


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback

 

Your brain is a very practical sponge. If it finds no connection between an item and the rest of the information you have in mind, it considers that item to be irrelevant. Thus, this information is forgotten very quickly (see Ebbinghaus forgetting curve).

If you want to remember a given piece of information, there is nothing to prevent more than one flashcard from encoding a given word or concept.


3. Lack of the relevance of the information


The relevance of information always means one thing - emotional load. It is the basis of the so-called affective learning that is related to feelings and emotions.

If you are trying to learn information that has nothing to do with your life, it will not evoke any feelings in you either.

Think of it as a date, if your potential partner sparks as much passion in you as the thrilling acting of Kristen Stewart, will you remember it? I doubt it. You come home, douse yourself with bleach, you disinfect yourself from the inside and life goes on. For the same reason, we pay attention to items that stand out - they simply spur more emotions. 


You are the one who is supposed to find the reasons why the information is relevant and meaningful.


The enormous mistake people make while learning is waiting until this magical connection between some abstract concept and real life materializes itself out of thin air. Nothing could be more wrong.

If you want to learn quickly and effectively, you have to look for such connections yourself. Think about how many thousands of practical examples of different types of concepts were shown to you at school. They ranged from history, through physics to economics. Now think how much of it honestly is still kicking around in your brain.


Effective learning is measured by the amount of effort you put into the information encoding process, not by time.

If I chew an exquisite dish for you and spit this slimy mass onto a silver tray, you won't probably find it appetizing. Your brain reacts the same to the information that someone else has digested.

Of course, finding relevance can also be a natural process. Remembering all the symptoms of diabetes doesn't seem like a significant thing. You need more room in your head for more important things like memorizing all names of all the Pokemon.

However, do you think that something would change in your head if your spouse were diagnosed with this disease? Without a doubt. You would immediately begin to absorb this knowledge and remember it well for a long time. This is the power of the relevance of information.


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - Summary


Forgetting is stigmatized nowadays with a passion that characterizes naturopaths promoting coffee enemas. However, this is a short-sighted approach. 

The inability to recall the information in question is nothing more than your brain, saying that it doesn't care.

Although there are many forms of feedback, hardly any of them is as valuable to adults as forgetting. After all, it does require teachers or coaches. A program such as ANKI and a bit of introspection is enough.  

  • Forgetting is a natural spam filter that helps us separate relevant information from the noise.
  • What's more, the primary purpose of forgetting is to optimize decision-making processes.
  • Forgetting should be seen as feedback from your brain. If you can't remember a given piece of information:
    - it doesn't often occur enough in your direct learning environment
    - it is not relevant to you in any way
    - it probably does not evoke any emotions
  • Remember, it's your job to find the relevance of the information to your life. No one else can do it for you.

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 19 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



Grammar Cheat Sheet – 6 Reasons Why Every Language Learner MUST Have One

I love how language learners usually approach grammar. Or grammar books to be more precise! These vademecums seem to adapt the form of slimy, leprosy-ridden yet magical gnome. You know that if you rub its butt long enough, it will grant you your wish. You will be bestowed with the knowledge and wisdom of the language of your choice.

The ultimate prize sounds great. But somehow, it doesn't entice you to lay your hands on this filthy creature. Not too often anyway.

No wonder. One look at any enormous grammar book sends shivers down my spine.

Why?

Because opening a grammar book is like teleporting yourself into the middle of a language maze. It's hard to find your way out. Everything seems to be so random and chaotic.

Rules. Rules. More rules. You take a left turn, and you get punched in the stomach. You turn to your right, and you get kicked in the head. Only when you take a few steps back and leave the maze, you begin to see things differently. There are patterns. A lot of patterns. And there is one object, almost the artifact, that can grant you this kind of perspective.

The Grammar Cheat Sheet.


A Case For Grammar Cheat Sheet


It doesn't matter if you're a beginner in language learning or a mean linguistic son-of-a-gun. A grammar cheat sheet should be an indispensable part of your learning arsenal.

Before I dive into some of the main reasons why you should embrace grammar cheat sheets, I want to share with you a story about my youngest student.

I usually don't teach kids. It's a frustrating experience. I am sure that most parents can relate to! Anyway, Adrian is ten years old and a really bright kid. Although amazingly lazy.

Our first lesson revealed that his collective vocabulary amounted to about 40-70 words. After four damn years of his formal English education, he couldn't say, well, anything. Of course, he couldn't even use the words he knew in a sentence.

Not a very promising beginning, right?

However, after explaining the most basic English and writing them on his grammar cheat sheet, something seemingly impossible happened.

He got it, I didn't even expect it, but he got it!

Eleven hours into our English adventure, he is already able to build basic sentences in 4 tenses he knows. Sure, it takes him some time. The sentences are far from perfect. He still needs to resort to the grammar cheat sheet now and then. But again - 10 hours of dedicated learning beat four years of education.

I've had a chance to see more of such success stories with adults. But somehow, this story is the one that stuck with me.


6 Reasons To Create A Grammar Cheat Sheet

 


1) It Gives You Clarity


 Grammar doesn't look half as scary when it is on one piece of paper. Just take a look at the Japanese grammar cheat sheet (don't worry if you don't know Japanese - neither do I.)


Grammar Cheat Sheet 


Everything is presented in a clear and transparent form. One glance at this page makes us want to learn this language!

It also helps you to concentrate on all the most critical aspects of the language. It's much easier to notice different patterns. And pattern recognition is something of tremendous value in enhancing memory, mind you!


2) It Decreases the Activation Energy


 Activation energy is the initial energy needed to start acting. The more time and steps it takes to start doing something, the higher the chance you won't do it.

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

SourceThe Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

Guess what? It's much easier to look up a couple of grammar constructions if they are on one piece of paper than:

  • a) recall the location of one of x grammar books you have
  • b) thumb through it just to realize that it's not the right one
  • c) chew off a couple of pages in an outburst of rage
  • d) sit in the corner and cry deeply

3) It Changes Your Approach to Learning


Most language learners flinch at the mere thought of browsing a grammar book because it's dull. Oh, so stupefyingly dull.

The thing is that the more times you experience this unpleasantness, the more you condition yourself to dislike opening grammar books.

The peak-end rule says that:

People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (…), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the “set” being judged.

Repeat this ritual a sufficient number of times, and you end up with the full-blown I-f**ing-hate-grammar syndrome.


The cheat sheet is clear and straightforward and thus should encourage you to learn grammar.


4) It Promotes Learning Independence


Grammar Cheat Sheet


Having just one piece of paper that provides you with essential information about the languages can help you become a more effective independent learner.

Whenever one of my students doesn't know how to create some grammar construction, I always refer them to their cheat sheets. On the surface, it might seem bizarre.

"What the hell is this dude getting money for?"

But the thing is that building a sentence is like doing puzzles. Every piece of a puzzle is a word. Grammar tells us where the given piece should be placed. That's why, after taking a look at the cheat sheet a couple of times, every student becomes intimately familiar with it.

Using the language ceases to be some voodoo magic. It becomes a logical step-by-step process of putting puzzle pieces into their rightful place.

That's also the reason why it's much easier to convince my students to talk with themselves. They don't need me so desperately anymore.

The said piece of paper can substitute a teacher to some degree!


5) It Helps You Relearn Languages


A lot of knowledge we acquire throughout our lives gets forgotten. At least this is how we commonly refer to the phenomenon of not being able to recall information. However, perhaps the more accurate word, in this case, is "inaccessible".

The knowledge you have acquired probably remains in your long-term memory. Here is what the research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science in 2009 has to say about it:


As it turned out, even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.


Psychologists Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage from the University of Bristol found out in another research that:


(...) even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.


Maybe one day, you will be forced to take a break from language learning. Perhaps because of work, family, or general suckiness of life.

Either way, when all the bad things fade away, you will have your cheat sheet to refresh your memory quickly. It will give you an excellent general overview of the most critical parts of grammar. Psychologists Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage from the University of Bristol found out in another research that:


6) It Makes You More Fluent


Grammar Cheat Sheet


There is this great saying I love.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The same goes for grammar. We are cognitive misers. We don't want to use our deposits of cognitive energy if it's unnecessary. That's why we cling to the grammar constructions we feel warm and comfortable with.

Seeing all the other constructions, which you don't use at the moment, in one place can be thought-provoking. It acts as a reminder of different possible ways to express yourself and jars you out of grammar lethargy.

Because, all in all, this is what grammar is - the scaffolding which enables us to build proper sentences. And you can't make even a ramshackle hut if all you got are some measly sticks.


The Most Important Rule For Creating a Grammar Cheat Sheet


There is just one rule you should keep in mind if you decide to create your grammar cheat.


Make it clear and concise


Your cheat sheet shouldn't be bigger than one A4 page. It should only contain all the essential grammar rules. Resist the temptation to jot down all the grammar exceptions and constructions nobody even uses.

Blah, blah. It sounds obvious. But very often, once you start creating your cheat sheet, the urge to include as much information as it is only possible sprouts uncontrollably. All so well known voice whispers, "Dude, don't forget to increase THIS rule. And THAT one as well! Screw it! Rewrite the book! Muahahaha."

The next thing you see is a 40-page behemoth. If you need more information, you can always create a second grammar cheat sheet for more advanced concepts.

However, usually, it is unnecessary. All you need are the essential rules. You will pick up the rest once you start surrounding yourself with a language (and using it).


Grammar Cheat Sheet - Summary


For reasons I am yet to grasp, grammar cheat sheets are underappreciated and underutilized tools in language learning. While it may take some time to prepare one on your own, it is usually a much better choice than buying one.

Reason? Most of the paid ones suck big time. Don't be afraid to put some time upfront. You will reap the benefits of this investment for months (or years) to come.


Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice

I don't like waiting. It's not that I can't be patient - quite often, I don't see the point. Especially in the world of language learning, the typical response to any question seems to be, "it will come with time" or "you will learn it subconsciously."

It's especially true for grammar.

If we exclude just a handful of enthusiasts, we can say that learning is one of the least favorite activities of most language learners. It's a big, dark, and ugly maze. You have to learn how to handle it. Otherwise, it will chew you up and spit you out. And then crap on your face while you are sobbing pitifully.

The collective knowledge has it that you need plenty of time to learn your way around it. You have to fumble about in the dark until you finally crawl out of it. The whole process takes a heavy toll on the language learner's motivation.

But it doesn't have to be like that. The entire process can be accelerated at least several times, thanks to the deep learning (a.k.a. the deliberate practice).

It's the methodology that has been used by the world's top performers for over three decades. It can help you break grammar into easily digestible chunks. In other words, deep learning provides you with a step-by-step blueprint to master grammar of any language. It can replace any teacher if you know how to use it.

But let's start with the basics.


Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice



Problems With Typical Approach To Learning Grammar



1. Feedback Is Not (Always) Enough


Master Grammar Fast


Try to imagine your average lesson. Not even group lessons - those are ineffective (though enjoyable for some). I mean 1-1 lessons.

Have you ever noticed that even though you often get feedback from your teacher, you still keep on making the same mistakes?

Here is why.

Learning almost always takes place in a chaotic and cluttered environment. At any given moment, there are dozens of dozens of pieces of information fighting for your attention. During your typical lessons, your teacher might correct you dozens of times. "Wrong pronunciation, wrong conjugation, wrong (...)".

You are getting bitch slapped to a pulp by the feedback.

The problem is too much information. If you get too many pieces of information, it's challenging to choose the ones which you should concentrate on — the ones which you will try to act upon.

In other words, to geek it up a bit:

The information overload which may hinder the integration of the new information into long-term memory. - source

"Why not correct a student about just one aspect of the language?", you might think. This thought sounds tempting. And let's be honest - yes, if you correct just one or two things, students will start correcting those mistakes much quicker. But there is a massive downside to this. If you don't make a student aware of other mistakes he makes, he optimistically assumes that they are not there!

That's even worse! By the time you get through previous grammar aspects, your student will already have consolidated dozens of other mistakes!

It's like the grammar-hydra! Eliminate one mistake, and ten others take its place!


2. Passive Learning Is Not Efficient

Passive learning (i.e., reading and writing) won't help either unless you invest significant amounts of time. So yes, it is possible to acquire decent grammar this way. However, if you want to learn many languages, it gets harder and harder to keep up with this input-heavy schedule.

But most of the time, seeing or hearing correctly composed sentences won't make you utter the correct ones on your own. (read more about passive learning here)

Unless you think that reading about surgical procedures makes you a skilled surgeon. In that case - I rest my case. What you have to remember is that the deep understanding of most of the skills comes from using them. You won't just wake up one day and suddenly start spewing beautiful sentences left and right.


3. The difficulty of Acquiring Rare Grammar Constructions

While it might not be a big deal for some, it is annoying for me. Some grammar constructions occur very rarely. So rarely that learning them through context seems almost absurd.

How long would I have to read to learn some of them? How many hundreds (thousands) of sentences would I have to read to find one or two written in, say, past perfect continuous? Crapload. That's how many.

But if I can replace all these hours of reading and listening with just 2-3 hours of the deliberate practice, why wouldn't I?


What Is Deep Learning (a.k.a. Deliberate Practice)?


Master Grammar Of Any Language


Before I move on and show you how you can use it to improve your language learning skills, let's try to define what deep learning is:

Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. - source

Some common characteristics of deep learning include:

  • it gives you a specific goal
  • it requires your full attention
  • it's energy-devouring and exhausting but not time-consuming
  • it gives you feedback

Words, words, words! But what does it all REALLY mean?


1. You need a specific goal

Choose a grammar construction you have problems with, and which is useful at the same time.
For the sake of this article, I will use the declination of German definite articles. They are the stuff of nightmares for many and thus the perfect choice.


German declination


But that's not over. There is one more thing which you have to remember about this goal.

If you can't commit a given piece of grammar to your memory, it means that it's too big.

Why?

Because the availability of working memory is crucial for implementing expectancy-based strategic actions. 

If you fry your working memory, you can forget about effective learning. The most straightforward test possible you can run to check whether this condition is met is to try to reproduce the information you have just memorized. If you can do it without the excessive number of groans, then you are all set.

For the article, let's assume that I want to master the Akkusativ form for "der," "die," and "das." Let's leave plural for some other time.

A quick sanity check confirms that I can comfortably reproduce the declination of the said forms.


2. it requires your full attention

As my beloved Hungarian proverb puts it:

“If you have one ass you can’t sit on two horses” .

You can't do two things at once without sucking at both of them. If you think that you can, then you are delusional.

But what does devoting your full attention mean? It means just one thing.

You should only pay attention to the correct use of the given piece of grammar. If you make some other mistakes along the way - so be it.

"But doesn't it mean that I will start consolidating some other grammar mistakes?". That's a fair question, but no - you won't. The reason is painfully simple.

If you devote your full attention to using one grammar construction correctly, you won't even notice other mistakes. It is how our attention works.

Here is a great video that exemplifies this phenomenon.

Have you seen that one already? Watch that one know.

These videos have a very sobering effect on all the people who claim to possess superior concentration power. And they prove one thing - it's hard to consolidate something you don't see.


3. It's energy-devouring and exhausting but not time-consuming

I am not going to lie to you. Deliberate practice is tedious and tiring. And that's bad news because, in the era of modern technologies, everything must be fun and hip. However, if you want to achieve results quickly, I am sure that's a trade-off you are willing to make.

In a nutshell, you build awareness of a given grammar construction by creating dozens upon dozens of sentences with it. It is what Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, wrote in one of her articles:

"What I had done in learning Russian was to emphasize not just understanding of the language, but fluency. Fluency of something whole like a language requires a kind of familiarity that only repeated and varied interaction with the parts can develop.

Where my language classmates had often been content to concentrate on simply understanding Russian they heard or read, I instead tried to gain an internalized, deep-rooted fluency with the words and language structure. I wouldn’t just be satisfied to know that понимать meant “to understand.”

I’d practice with the verb—putting it through its paces by conjugating it repeatedly with all sorts of tenses, and then moving on to putting it into sentences, and then finally to understanding not only when to use this form of the verb, but also when not to use it. I practiced recalling all these aspects and variations quickly.

After all, through practice, you can understand and translate dozens—even thousands— of words in another language.

But if you aren’t fluent, when someone throws a bunch of words at you quickly, as with normal speaking (which always sounds horrifically fast when you’re learning a new language), you have no idea what they’re actually saying, even though technically you understand all the component words and structure. And you certainly can’t speak quickly enough yourself for native speakers to find it enjoyable to listen to you." - source

So how should you correctly practice deep learning?

What I usually recommend is to create at least 100 sentences with the given grammar construction within the next 5-7 days. But as always - the more, the better.

Make sure that every sentence is different from the previous one and that YOU are the one who comes up with these sentences.

Here are some examples:
  • Ich habe den grossen Hund gehabt.
  • Er hat mir das schöne Haus gekauft.
  • Wir stellen den Teller auf den Tisch.

And so on. Rinse and repeat.

You have to become a grim grammar executioner. You might not enjoy your job, but you know it has to be done. The great thing about this kind of practice is that you don't need any fancy tools. A piece of paper will do. 

Below you can find the worksheet I use to teach this concept to my students. It looks like this:

 

Deep learning Cheatsheet

 

If you want to master grammar of any language asap, it will help you get there,


4. It gives you feedback

In the perfect world, there is always someone who can provide you with feedback. However, if you stick to the rules mentioned above, you should be able to produce grammatically correct sentences without any, or with minimal, supervision.

It's only logical - if you try to do just one thing correctly, it won't take long before you are fully aware that the construction you are using is applied appropriately.

You are better at monitoring your progress than you think.

Research has showed that individuals are able to monitor, control and regulate their behaviors in learning contexts, but all depends on the resources and the pedagogical approach used by the educators (Agina et al., 2011)


How to Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice - a Quick Summary


  1. 1
    Choose a small chunk of grammar
  2. 2
    Create at least 100 sentences with it
  3. 3
    Make sure that you can use it well enough
  4. 4
    Move on to another grammar construction

Benefits of Deliberate Practice


Master The Grammar Of Any Language

 

I like to look at every field of knowledge, as one might look at the deep lake. It seems enigmatic and sinister. You want to cross it, but you don't know how. It's the same feeling most people get when they see monstrous grammar books. Helplessness, fear, and doubt peek at you from every page of the book.

"How dare you think that you might ever learn all of this?!", they seem to whisper.

And it's true. Without any specific plan, mastering grammar of any language to a decent level might take ages. Deep learning provides you with such a plan.

Here are some advantages of this kind of approach:


1. It concentrates your attention


Your attention is restless and gets bored quickly. Like a small child or a merry drunk. You need to learn to tame it. And it is precisely what deliberate practice does. It focuses your attention on one thing and one thing only. It is especially important because

"Attention constrains learning to relevant dimensions of the environment, while we learn what to attend to via trial and error." - source


2. It's Time-Efficient


Concentrating your efforts on just one thing means one more thing - you save a lot of time. Don't want to wait till your butt overgrows with moss, and you look like Keith Richards? Then the deliberate practice might be right up your alley.


Can I Use Deliberate Practice For Other Things Than Grammar?

 

Heck yeah! You can use it for almost anything - not only to master grammar of any language.


Trying to improve your pronunciation?

Learn how to produce two tricky sounds from your target language. - Once you learn how to pronounce them in isolation, try to pronounce them, say, 100 times in different words.

Done?

Start practicing these words in full sentences until the muscle memory is created.


Trying to improve your creativity?

Come up with 10-15 ideas (more about being creative here) for every problem you encounter. After 1-2 months, you will start noticing an enormous shift in your way of thinking. I know I did.

 


Master Grammar of Any Language with Deliberate Practice - Summary


Even if you wouldn't consider yourself a grammar-savvy person, the deliberate practice has the potential to accelerate your learning significantly.

It's not very complicated, but don't let the apparent simplicity of this method fool you. It's just one of the few techniques I have seen in my life, which has worked every time and with every student.

Why not try it yourself?

Question - Have you ever tried to master grammar of any language with deliberate practice? Let me know!


Why Adults Learn Languages Faster Than Children (A Data-Driven Post)

Why adults learn foreign languages faster than children

I like to collect all sorts of nonsensical sayings about language learning. There is an overabundance of them, but one of my favorites is: "children learn quickly."

"Nonsense?!" you might say with indignation. "Don't all children speak well at a young age?"

No.

I don't think we should be putting on a pedestal the mental achievements of a being for whom one of the more impressive skills is the ability to fart and sneeze simultaneously.

But let's not rely on guesses and assumptions. It's time to put on some "scientific" trunks and dive into the sea of scientific research to find out what the real pace of children's learning is


Why Adults Learn Languages Faster



SIZE OF VOCABULARY IN CHILDREN AGED 1-7 years


To be able to count anything, we need to start with basic data and look at the average vocabulary of children aged 12 months (when they start to say the first words) up to the age of 7.

Due to the availability of data on this subject, I will use the numbers given for an average American child. I think that these numbers will still be a decent reflection of the average child for other languages, especially considering that English is one of the most lexically developed languages in the world.



DEFINITION OF WORDS

Remember that in linguistics, there is no single and strict definition of a word. Depending on the data, one word is, well, just one word (a unique selection and order of letters). In other studies, the word and all its inflections are counted as one word. For example, according to this classification, the words "jump," "jumped," "jumping," etc. are treated as one word. If you see a particularly large number in this table, it means that each word is counted separately.

The other data pool describes the average expressive vocabulary of children as follows:

  • Children speak their first words around the 12th month. Some children need a little more time - about 16 months. However, it is believed that the later time horizon is still within the norm.
  • At 18 months, children usually use about 50 words (but we don't worry too much unless they have less than 10-20).
  • At 24 months, children usually have expressive vocabulary of 200-300 words (but we don't worry too much unless they have less than 50).
  • At the age of 3, children can have 500 to 1100 words in their vocabulary.
  • At 5-7 years, children have a vocabulary of 3000-5000 words.

SIZE OF VOCABULARY IN CHILDREN - EXCEPTIONS

Of course, it is worth remembering that this is average data. Depending on the child's intellectual predisposition and the upbringing, he or she may develop faster or slower.

For example, a child in the ninetieth percentile at 16 months knows the same number of words as a 26-month-old child in the tenth percentile.

Why this range?

There is at least one study (Hart and Risley, 2006), which suggests that the size of the vocabulary of a child aged three is closely related to the number of conversations that adults have with this child. Interestingly, the differences in language development and IQ in such children were still visible at the age of nine!

It is, of course, only a curiosity for anyone interested, especially current and future parents.

Let's return to our example. We already have the most important data; now, it is time for some calculations to prove that adults learn languages faster than children.


How Many Words a Day Does an Average Child Learn?


As an example, let's choose a 5-year-old child. And not just any child! Suppose he is little John von Neumannand he already knows 6,000 words - a number that is well above the average for this age.

Of course, let us assume that the child of this age also has decent grammar and can put these words together quite appropriately.

This extraordinarily well-developed child had about 1,825 days from birth, or 1,460 days since pronouncing the first word, to master 6,000 words.

His average learning pace is therefore:

  • 3.29 words per day (from birth)
  • 4.11 words per day (from 12 months)

How do these numbers make you feel?

I can only assume that "Well, four words a day. Respect. Hats off. How do they do it?!" is not the first thought to cross your mind. There is nothing impressive about these numbers. Instead, they show one thing: young children learn very slowly.

If you can stand the deadly pace of learning 5 words per day, you'll do better than our wise, exemplary child. It's heartwarming, eh?


The Pace of Learning in Older Children


It is worth remembering that for every person, also for a child, the so-called snowball effect applies.

The snowball effect states that the greater your knowledge (especially in a given field), the faster you can learn.

It means, more or less, that the older the child is, the more new words will be learned per day on average. Many sources say that later in adolescence, this number ranges between 10-14 words (Lipsett / Mehrabian and Owens numbers are from Language Development - An Introduction; Robert E. Owens, Jr .; Allyn and Bacon; 1996).

I will repeat my question: Is such a pace in any way crazy and exceeds the capabilities of an adult? Surely not.

Remember that the snowball effect also applies to you - the more words you know, the faster you will learn more. Besides, as an adult, you have a whole range of attributes and skills unavailable to children:

All these factors make you a real harvester of knowledge!


Adults Learn Languages Faster - Summary 


Let it be said again - adults learn languages faster than children!

I have witnessed incredible language acquisitions of people who thought that they could not learn quickly (or that it was impossible), and who within 10 months reached the level of B1 / B2 in the language of their choice (you can read more about it here).

Such a pace of learning exceeds the abilities of even the most gifted children. I think that if we would like to learn something from children, it would be to be persistent in pursuing a goal.

I hope that moving forward you will be more optimistic about your abilities!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 13 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language – Learn a Language On Your Own (Part 5)

How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language
Before I explain how to improve listening skills in a foreign language, I have one thing to confess.

You wouldn't believe how long I've ignored this skill! I was convinced that mastering grammar and vocabulary is, more or less, enough to have a decent conversation with foreigners. And that these competencies will take care of the rest.

Boy, oh boy, was I wrong! Of course, like all the theories, it all seemed rosy until it got confronted with reality.


How to Improve Listening Skills in a Foreign Language

 


My "Brilliant" Theory


Years ago, I was obsessing about German. I rolled up my sleeves, got down to work, learned about 8000 words, and got a pretty good grasp of grammar. I could say almost anything I wanted without being too vague. It felt great!

Not so long afterward, I got a chance to visit France. I met an elderly German couple there. "That's my chance to socialize! That's my chance to SHINE!", a naive thought crossed my mind. I approached them and asked them some questions. You know, just an ordinary small-talk.
What happened just a moment later left nasty scars on my linguistic self-esteem.

What came out of their mouths was absolute nonsense. They could have, as well, farted with their armpits. My face went red as I asked them, time and time again, to repeat what they had just said. Just one more time. But slower. DAMN YOU! Slower and clearer, I said! And there I stood with glassy eyes, staring at the debris of what was once my theory.


Listening as a Key Language Competence


I guess what I am trying to say is that listening is critical. Since the failure mentioned above, I've met many people who are fully functional in the language of their choice just because they understand what they hear.

It's not that surprising when you think about it. EVERY complex skill consists of several smaller elements. These elements, in turn, are composed of even tinier parts.

Roughly said, communication is nothing more than being able to understand what you hear and being able to express yourself. But as I so painfully learned, listening is much more critical. That's what makes any social interaction possible.

Since then, I established listening and speaking as a core of my language skills. These skills require an immediate response.


Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language


Listening provides you with more sensory channels, such as emotions, hearing visual stimuli (when you listen and watch something). That's why it's much easier for you to remember real-life conversations than excerpts from articles.

The final and essential reason to opt for listening is that nobody cares if you read or write slowly. While doing these things, you can typically take your time to double-check anything your heart desires.

"Smith is such a slow reader. I think I'll fire him.". Yep, I also have never heard of such a situation. However, it is essential to note that writing and reading are interconnected with speaking and listening. And the progress in any of these areas influences one another. 



Improve Listening Skills - Find the Right Resources


Do you have to go through the preparation before the listening practice? Of course not. But don't be too surprised if you end up getting frustrated quickly or bitterly realize that your progress is excruciatingly slow.

So, where should you start?


FIND THE RIGHT RESOURCES


You might wonder what "right resources" means. The answer is - it depends.


Beginners / Intermediate Learners

If you fall into this category, you should find some simplified materials where the speech is slower, clearer, and ideally - transcribed. 


Advanced Learners

If you're at least on a B2 level, it means that the only right solution for you is to lay your hands on original programs, talk shows, movies, etc. in your target language.


GET YOUR RESOURCES HANDY


Do you know this annoying feeling when you promise yourself something, and then you can't seem to force yourself to follow through?

Why is that?

Well, the research (and experience) has it that if you need to spend more than 20 seconds to start doing something, there is a big chance that you'll fail. The "activation time" should be as short as possible. Choose one or two programs to listen to and make sure that they are just a click away.


Improve Listening Skills - Pre-practice Tips

 


MENTAL PREPARATION


  • Come to terms with the fact that you are not going to understand everything for a long time.
  • Listen as often as it's only possible. Listen while doing household chores. Do it when you're at the gym. Listen when you're in a car. You get it. LISTEN!
  • Don't get annoyed when you don't understand something. Stress is your archenemy in learning. It's like with Tibetan throat singing. You won't be able to wrap your head around it at the beginning. Hmm, I need to work on my comparisons.
  • And no matter what, don't give up, you softie! Grin and bear it!

MATTER-OF-FACT PREPARATION

 

  • Do not translate into your native tongue. You should be entirely focused on a speaker, not the translation process.
  • Listen to something you enjoy.
  • Prepare before listening - quite often it's possible to check what the news or some program is about. Thanks to this knowledge, you can prepare vocabulary beforehand. If you're not sure about words that might be used, try to brainstorm them.
  • Remove distractions - you know why. Interestingly, they're a welcome addition when you already understand much as they make your listening practice more natural.
  • Set a goal. You can listen for meaning, for sounds, for tones, for a melody, or stress.
  • If you find listening incredibly dull, try to gamify your practice - e.g., give yourself 1 point each time when you hear a word starting with P. Or drink one shot of Tequila. Just make sure it's fun for you!
  • Build sound recognition. Do you know the most distinctive sounds of your target language? No? Then move to Part 3 of this series. Such knowledge can considerably accelerate your understanding capabilities!
  • Be aware of how the language changes when it's spoken. I can't stress this one enough. If you know how the sounds connect, when they are deleted or inserted, you'll need much less time to progress!
Example

Look at this example: What are you going to do - Whaddya gonna do?

Being aware of the fact that when a consonant of one word neighbors a vowel of another word, it makes you pronounce these two separate words as one, can help you tremendously with your listening practice.

That's why you pronounce - "it is" as one word - "itis." 

Another example from English is the transformation of [d] and [y]. When these sounds neighbor each other, they are transformed into [dʒ]

[d] + [y] = [dʒ]


Strategies To Follow During Listening Practice


How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language


Throughout the years, I've managed to come up with quite many solutions on how I can improve my listening capabilities. Digest them at your own pace, take what you need, and ignore the rest.

  1. 1
    Listen for the gist of the conversation. Once you understand it, move on to details
  2. 2
    When you watch materials in original, observe mouths of actors/hosts and read their lips
  3. 3
    Try to understand the non-verbal communication of your speaking partner (actors, etc.)
  4. 4
    Listen to the melody of the language
  5. 5
    Once you get accustomed to the melody of the language, try to separate the ongoing flow of words by (e.g.) pressing your fingers against a table whenever you hear that some word is accented. It's my favorite trick. Interestingly, sometimes, when I listen to French and perform the said activity, I can understand almost every word. Once I stop, my understanding goes down significantly.
  6. 6
    Concentrate on sounds that are foreign to you. This technique can also help you maintain your concentration
  7. 7
    Listen to the first and last letter of a word. It's especially helpful when you're just starting your listening practice. In this case, this technique will help separate different words. S ..sm...(smile?), smi...(smirk? smite?), smit... (smite?!), smith (I knew it!)
  8. 8
    Use logic to conclude what will follow (get in the habit of guessing)
  9. 9
    Listen to a recording more than once. At first, to understand the gist and then to get details
  10. 10
    Slow down the speed of recording. For this purpose, use Audacity, AllPlayer, or simply YouTube
  11. 11
    Speed up the speed of the recording to extend your comfort zone and then move back to an actual pace
  12. 12
    Remember that listening is an active process, note down any phrases or words which you find interesting or don't understand

Improve Listening Skills - Summary


Improving listening skills is one of the two most important language skills. Unfortunately, it's is also terribly time-consuming.

The strategies mentioned above will undoubtedly help you to get faster to the finish line, i.e., understand your target language. Still, you need to keep in mind that the secret sauce is patience.
Permanently banish any thoughts of giving up. It is the only way to become successful in language learning.

That's all, folks! Do you know other listening strategies to improve listening skills? I'd love to hear them! Let me know in the comments.


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 8 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Track Your Progress in Language Learning – 6 Easy Ways to Do It

Track Your Progress In Language Learning
I wonder if you're like me when it comes to tracking your progress?

I used to hate it passionately. I mean, how much geekier can you get? And all these vain people scrupulously jotting down their weight. Pathetic!

And then, one day, I decided to buy myself scales. I joyously stepped on them to see that I hit 100 kg mark. WHAT?! I came to my senses around that time and started tracking, not only my weight but my learning progress as well.

Can you imagine a runner who runs around and one day shouts out: "I'm gonna win a marathon"! And then an older man standing nearby strikes a conversation, something along these lines:
- "That's amazing! So what's your best time so far?"
+ "Best? Uhmm, dunno, really. I guess it's not that important to me."
- "Have you ever run a marathon before?!"
+ "I'm not sure. But once I ran so long that my feet hurt and I had an ouchie."

That would be weird, right? And yet, a lot of us do it. The question is: Why?


Why You Should Track Your Progress in Language Learning - Habituation


Not only is it a cool word, but also one of the most critical (and frequent) processes that occur in our lives!

Habituation is a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentations.[1] Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus that is no longer biologically relevant. For example, organisms may habituate to repeated sudden loud noises when they learn these have no consequence. The Almighty Wikipedia

And therein lies the rub. We get used to our current skills level. And that's why we NEED tracking. The best part is that it does not need to be sophisticated to be effective.

At the bare minimum, it should be able to show you if you're moving in the right direction or moving at all. The chance is that you're spinning your wheels knee-deep in a turd ocean of self-admiration!



6 Ways To Track Your Progress In Language Learning


My idea of tracking my progress is quite tightly connected to the core language competencies: reading, writing, listening, vocabulary, grammar, and speaking.

Of course, to start tracking anything, you need a place to note your progress. Remember, it doesn't have to be high-tech. You can use a notebook, Google spreadsheet, Excel, or Calc (Open Office).


TRACKING VOCABULARY


I assume that you already use Anki. If you don't, download it immediately (unless you use some other spatial repetition program). 

ANKI makes tracking your progress easy. The first important piece of information for us is the number of words you've covered so far.

 

Track Your Progress In Language Learning


If you see that within a month you've moved from 406 to 700, it's a clear sign that you're on the right path.

The second thing worth tracking is the recall rate (especially correct mature).

 

Track Your Progress In Language Learning

 

This piece of information tells us how well you remember the information you learn. If it's alarmingly low (below 40-50%), it's a signal that you should seriously consider improving your learning techniques.


TRACKING READING


Usually, we either read e-books (e-articles) or paper ones. In my opinion, you should track the medium which you use more frequently. When it comes to reading, a good tracking criterion is to note down the number of pages you've read.


TRACKING LISTENING


It doesn't matter whether you listen to podcasts, music, or watch TV-series. Tally it up and enter the data.


TRACKING WRITING


If you write mostly online, start counting how many words you have written (use Word Count Tool). Otherwise, start counting the number of pages you've written.


TRACKING SPEAKING


It's not the easiest thing to track. I've never done it as I prefer tracking words. But if you know that speaking is your absolute priority - go for it. Check when the Skype conversation or a meeting with your friend starts and when it finishes, and sum up the total number of hours.

If you put effort into your learning, I'm sure that after just a few weeks, you'll be amazed to see what you've accomplished so far!


TRACKING GRAMMAR


It sounds daunting, and I agree. But for me, it comes naturally. As I've written before, preparing the outline of grammar is something that should be done before you start learning a language on your own.

Once you have it, start crossing out the grammar topics which you've covered or just put a date next to them. It shows how much further grammatically you should get to achieve a certain level.


Benefits Of Tracking Your Progress

 


1) you never hit a plateau

You see and know that you're making progress.


2) increased motivation

You can admire your hard work at any time. Open Excel and take a look at yourself, you sexy, hard-working beast! And that helps you stay focused.


3) instant feedback

You see when you slack off or that your learning methods need a change. The data don't lie! Also, it helps you see patterns in your learning.


4) you don't focus on the negative

It's a sad fact, but we tend to focus on negative things in life. Your successes stop giving you joy after a couple of days. We lose sight of our achievements. Your language log will keep on reminding you about them!


Track Your Progress In Language Learning - Summary


Tracking is a powerful tool in language learning. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it. Of course, you don't have to go over the top. It's enough that you start tracking elements that are the most important to you.


So go ahead and let me know how it works for you!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


How To Prepare For a Foreign Language Interview And Ace It

You keep looking nervously at your phone. It'll be alright; you keep telling yourself. Still, your body doesn't seem very convinced. Your palms leave sticky stains of sweat on the tabletop in a final cry for help.

Just one more leap and your dream job will be yours. But what to do to make this leap count? Is it even worth making it?

Let's dig into numbers before I show you how to prepare for a foreign language interview.


How Much Is Knowing a Foreign Language Worth?


Learning languages has a lot of benefits. Among others, it can:

  • improve your memory
  • increase your attention span
  • increase your verbal and non-verbal intelligence
  • boost your problem-solving skills

The list goes on and on. What's more, it turns out that it is also a great decision money-wise!


Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview


" Assuming an average starting salary of almost $45,000, a 2% "language bonus" average over 40 years, and also a 1% raise annually, you'd have an extra $67,000 by the time you retire. Since you can learn a new language (or two) pretty quickly, that's a pretty good investment of time ".

 Source: The Economist

Of course, not all languages have the same value. German and French are worth $128,000 and $77,000, respectively, compared to $51,000 for Spanish.

Do you know Japanese or Russian? In that case, you can count on much more!

Now that we've established that knowing a language is worth something let's get down to the nuts and bolts of acing the foreign language interview.

The first station? Mindset.


How to Prepare for a Foreign Language Interview - the Right Mindset


I have never bought corny slogans like "be yourself." That's a lazy way of thinking. If I were a pimply, adolescent and were after a girl out of my league, such advice would be useless.

If the girl I like the counterpart of my dream company, then I don't want to be a pimply loser. Nor should you.

Be ready to step up your game. Trust me; I know a thing or two about language interviews. I've been on both sides of the table. I have interviewed and have been interviewed dozens of times in 5 languages.

The first thing you need to know is that the pre-interview preparation is what matters. No amount of luck will shelter you from the unwillingness to put in some hours beforehand.

All the tips are ordered chronologically for your convenience. From the ones, you should use days before the interview to the ones which will be useful hours before it starts.



How To Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview - Strategies



1) Learn Answers To The Most Common Interview Questions


It never ceases to amaze me. There is an infinite number of questions an interviewer might ask. Yet, these are the ones they tend to ask the most:

  1. 1
    Tell me about yourself
  2. 2
    What do you know about or company?
  3. 3
    What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  4. 4
    Why did you leave your last job?
  5. 5
    What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?
  6. 6
    What do you do in your current role?
  7. 7
    Why would you like to work for us?
  8. 8
    Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
  9. 9
    What kind of qualifications do you have?
  10. 10
    Why would you like to work for us? 

Yes, that's it. Preparing answers to just these ten questions should drastically boost your chance of getting your dream job.

Of course, the chance is that some companies have slightly different questions sets. If you don't want to leave anything to chance, visit:

The website gathers all kinds of information about different companies - interview questions, salaries, and so on.

Once you prepare the answers, rehearse them aloud. Do it as many times as necessary. 

How many times exactly?

It depends on your current language level, of course. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to recite these questions without any hesitation and unnecessary pauses. And there is a good reason for that. If you stutter in the stress-free conditions, at your home, imagine what will happen when the stress kicks in during the interview.

You will crash and burn.


2) Learn All the Basic Pleasantries


Imagine eating a delicious cake. Your palate experiences a surge of exquisite sensations. What bliss! But then the last bite turns out to be a lump of dung. How do you think you would recall this event?

Negatively doesn't even come close to describing this experience. But how does it relate to a language interview?

Many candidates are relatively well-prepared when it comes to answering the questions. Very often they don't know how to exchange everyday pleasantries. 

Why is this small element of an interview so important? Because it's the end of a particular experience.

The peak-end rule says that: If an interviewer sneezes, know how to say "bless you" in your target language. If he says, "thank you for your time and have a wonderful day," know how to say "likewise."

People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (...), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the "set" being judged.

If an interviewer sneezes, know how to say "bless you" in your target language. If he says, "thank you for your time and have a wonderful day," know how to say "likewise."


3) Prepare Difficult Phrases To Trick The Interviewer


Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview


This step requires greater sophistication, but it can be, without any doubt, called the secret sauce of acing the foreign language interviews.

I came up with this sneaky strategy years ago and had battle-tested it many times. Its implementation will immediately make you stand out from the crowd.

Prepare at least ten phrases/idioms which are quite sophisticated. Next, repeat them aloud in the sentences until they become your second nature.

For example, instead of saying:

"I also think that ...", try saying, "Having said that, I would also like to add that ... ".

Boring? Maybe. Does it sound more impressive? Hell yeah, it does!


The Purpose of Using Difficult Phrases

The purpose of this strategy is very simple. Such phrases are easily memorable. They distinguish you from others. They will help to artificially boost your potential language level, regardless of how high it is currently.

What's more, it doesn't matter if you talk with a native speaker or not. If the interviewer, who is a non-native speaker, doesn't understand some phrase you say, 99 out of 100, he won't ask you to explain it.

Why would he? That'd be humiliating! He's the guy who should know this stuff! If you heard a guy saying:

"I don't want to sound like a philodox* but I would dare to say that... "

Would you ask him what a philodox means? I guess not. If I didn't know what the word means, I would just start thinking about why someone would fill some poor dogs**.

And what if you talk to a native speaker?

Even better, in this case, they will know what you said and would probably be in awe because of your fantastic language skills.

* From the Greek philos, meaning love, and doxa, meaning glory, a philodox is a dogmatic person who is especially fond of his/her own opinions

** Phil dox? You know, it sounds like "fill dogs," right? Anyone...? (Walks away disappointed). It was funny in my head!

Bear in mind that the example mentioned above is a little bit over the top since it's a very rare word.


4) Prepare Difficult Grammar Constructions


Prepare a few sentences with more advanced grammar constructions that you don't use normally and rehearse the hell out of them.

Try to build sentences which are as universal as it gets. You have to make sure you can use them at (almost) any point during the interview.


5) Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses To Dominate The Interviewer


I admit. "Dominate" sounds somehow wrong. I don't suggest that you pee on your opponent to mark your territory and show who is the alpha wolf in this herd.

Every language learner has one language competence which prevails. Be it listening or speaking since these are the ones which count the most during the interview.

By knowing which of them is the strong suit, you can direct the interview into the direction desired by you.


Listening as the Main Strength

If you are a better listener, try to limit your speaking time by asking questions.

For example, the interviewer asks you, "Where do you see yourself in 3 years?". You give a short answer and then smoothly parry with, "Actually, I've been wondering... I would love to stay in this company as long as it's only possible but can you tell me what other employees think about it?".

You nod enthusiastically as you listen and then ask another question, "So what do they like the most about it?".

People love to talk about themselves so you can try to ask the interviewer about his personal experience in this company.

Just a word of warning. Don't be creepy and socially awkward. You should try to come across as an enthusiastic and inquisitive person. Not a nosy weirdo.


Speaking as the Main Strength

If you're more of the silver-tongued devil, you should minimize the speaking time of the interviewer. Try to give lengthy answers to every question.

And don't worry about talking too much. It's a verification of your language level, not an ordinary interview in your native tongue. Dazzle the poor bastard with your linguistic prowess!


Example

"Hi. It is X from the Y company. Am I speaking with Mr. X?"
"Yes, speaking"
"I am calling to verify your language level. Shall we start?"
"Of course. Let me introduce myself and say a few words about my previous job/life / other fillers."

You can't talk all the time. But at least try to minimize the chance of not understanding the interviewer.

And if you're feeling unsure about the question? Then you can always salvage yourself by posing a question back.

"So you would like to know……is that correct?"

Just ask the interview to reformulate the question, and you should be fine.


6) Immerse Yourself In A Language Prior To The Interview


Don't dive headfirst into the dark water. At least dip your fingers first! Warm up before the actual interview by surrounding yourself with your target language!


For example:
  • Listen to some music in the morning
  • Watch a movie or listen to the radio
  • Talk to yourself or some other person in your target language

I would suggest doing it for at least 1 hour. But obviously, everything depends on how much free time you have on your hands.


7) Bonus Advice: Apply For Other Positions With Your Target Language


If you've found your dream job at some company, it would be a shame if you failed you just because stress ate you up.

That's why you can put some extra effort and apply for other positions with your target language. Sure, you don't want to work in other companies but, at least, you'll get some extra practice!


How To Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview - Summary


As you can see, acing the foreign language interview is not about luck or simply having a perfect command of your target language.

It's more about having the right attitude, being prepared and using the right strategies. Once you understand it the world is your oyster!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 10 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


How to Deal With Overwhelm When Learning New Skills (i.e. What to Do When I Am Stuck)

HOW TO DEAL WITH OVERWHELM WHILE LEARNING (I.E., WHAT TO DO WHEN I AM STUCK)


I don't want to convince you that learning is easy. You know damn well that is complicated and full of challenges. Even when you master the process of effective knowledge acquisition, you might still run into different obstacles.

Knowing how to learn is one side of the equation. However, being able to sustain your progress over a long period is an entirely different beast. It's a mental war that you have to wage against your brain and the resistance this spongy thing will create,

This article is supposed to serve you as a life ring. Whenever you feel that you're drowning in the sea of overwhelm, revisit it to resurface. 

​​Feel free to use just one of these strategies or all of them. The most important thing is that you shake off any gloomy feelings and snap out of the state of inertia.


What You Need to Know About Overwhelm


The first you need to know about learning how to deal with overwhelm is that it leads to three results:

  • Avoidance
  • Passivity
  • Hectic behavior (e.g., switching from one task to another in a hasty manner)

They all have one thing in common - loss of control. If you ever notice any of these telltale signs, you should be alarmed. It means that you are losing the grip on your learning process. Instead of being organized and methodical, you start floundering.

Here are some of the strategies that may help you regain the feeling of control.


How To Deal With Overwhelm



1. Be primitive


First thing you need to be aware of is the concept of activation energy

Activation energy is the energy need to start performing an action. The higher it is, the less of a chance that you will start performing a given action.

That means that you should reduce any clutter that stands in your way and holds you back. It also concerns your general attitude. If you overthink everything, your activation energy will be high as well. You can't focus on the start of the action if dozens of thoughts and tasks are running through your head.

In other words, focus on primitive tasks.

Here is what I mean by that:
  • Too many resources? Reduce their number drastically!
  • Can't create a proper learning plan because it's getting too big? Screw it. Just grab the first book for beginners and start learning.
  • Too many reviews? Stop adding new flashcards temporarily or use Load Balancer plugin for ANKI
  • Can't maintain your current learning pace? Reduce it.
  • Too little time for learning today? Do 5 flashcards and call it a day.

Remember that ​ideally, you want to become a life-long learner. Any temporary setback is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The only thing you should care about is regularity.

Don't break the chain at all costs. Review even two flashcards if you're exhausted today or don't have time, but do something every day!


2. Identify the constraints


The theory of constraints states that in any system, there is one function, resource, process area, or process step that constrains the entire system's ability to deliver on its mission.

​​Sometimes it will mean that removing just one obstacle will unblock your potential. Other times, you will discover that after eliminating that one significant constraint, there will be another one looming underneath.

In any case, do your best to get rid of these obstacles. Once you do, your learning process should regain its previous smoothness.

Keep in mind that your constraints can be:

  • psychological (e.g., "I am too stupid to do it," passing away of your relative)
  • people (e.g., toxic persons in your life telling you that your project is silly or useless)
  • organizational (lousy time management skills, being unable to access some facilities)
  • health-related (too little sleep, bad diet, being sick)
  • material (not having appropriate tools)

Try to identify them on your own. If you can't figure it out, ask someone trust-worthy for helpSometimes it's easier to spot such problems when you're on the outside looking in.


3. Lower The Intensity


The intensity you can endure will always be a resultant of your:

  • character
  • motivation
  • health
  • frame of mind
  • habits
  • external conditions
  • and the current level of advancement in your field of expertise

It's impossible to tell anyone that they should learn X amount of hours per day or do Y flashcards per day. You can suggest a goal that will later be verified by reality.  In other words, good goals will be established only after some trial and error.

Regardless, if you notice that instead of jumping for joy at the thought of learning and discovering the unknown, you feel like somebody slapped you with a slimy mackerel, it's time to stop. It's time to rethink whether your learning pace is not too ambitious. 

Don't get me wrong - ambitions are great, but regularity always beats short-lived zeal. If your will to learn wanes, decrease your learning and practice intensity temporarily.

Try to find out what pace and effort level make you happy. And don't even try to think of it as a failure. You're making a wise and strategic decision that will guarantee your long-term success. 


4. Take more breaks


Very often, a simple solution to feeling overwhelmed is taking more breaks.


How to deal with overwhelm

How often should you do it? 

Once again, your endurance threshold will depend on all the variables mentioned in the previous point.

​​Sometimes you will discover that you can plug away for hours on end, and sometimes 20 minutes of tackling a complex topic will break you.

It's definitely true for me. I have noticed that my ability to write is very fragile. The slightest distractions will throw me off most of the time. What's more, very often, even 40 minutes of writing leaves me in tears. On the other hand, I can effortlessly pore over ANKI for hours and create hundreds of new flashcards. I am positive, you will observe such regularities in your daily routine as well.

The most important question is - when should you take a break?

The internet is full of different numbers. Some say 20 minutes while the other ones cite a 40-minute rule. None of these things is true. 

Your energy levels, and thus your concentration, constantly fluctuate throughout the day. They are also heavily influenced by the variables mentioned above. 

That's why the best predictor of the need to take a break is your mental fatigue.

Whenever you:

  • start daydreaming,
  • get distracted, i.e., you realize that almost anything is more interesting than what you're doing right now,
  • feel brain fog,
  • notice that your performance dropped drastically,

it's time to pause.


Keep in mind that your breaks should be meaningful. That means no electronics and no taxing activities. Go for a walk, meditate, or lie down.

Rest for as long as you need.

It's crucial for your full recovery. I know that 10-15 minutes of lying in my bed is usually all I need. Very often, that leads to micro-naps - I am okay with that. I know that once I get up, I am ready to rumble again.


​5. Take care of SPDSH (sleep, private life, diet, sports, health)


Damn, I really tried to find some cool acronym for these elements, but (HuSH PeDo!) is all I got. On the bright side, it is as memorable as it might be offensive to some.

The critical takeaway from this point is that your learning project is not placed in a magical void. Your life is a system of interconnected vessels. If you have problems in your private life or you are sick, learning will be the last thing on your mind. Don't neglect those things at the cost of education.

Trust me - I know how difficult it is. I learn so much that usually, my sleep suffers. It's not wise, and it's something I have been struggling with for a long time.


6. Organize your learning better


overwhelm while learning

The term Information Fatigue Syndrome has been coined recently to refer to stress coming from problems with managing overwhelming information. 

​​Some consequences of IFS listed by Dr David Lewis, a British psychologist, include: anxiety, tension, procrastination, time-wasting, loss of job satisfaction, self-doubt, psychosomatic stress, breakdown of relationships, reduced analytical capacity, etc. The information era tends to overwhelm us with the amount of information.

For example, you might feel stressed by dozens of tabs in your web browser or 20 studies you still have to go through

I get it because I struggled with it in the past. How have I solved it?

I have organized my learning better, i.e., I focused my full energy on learning in ANKI whenever it's possible.

​​If I run into some papers or articlesI paste them into ANKI. I know they are safe and sound there, and I can process them by breaking them down into flashcards later. ANKI is my command center, and this feeling helps me stove away any anxiety related to learning.

With this conviction, you can devote all your energy to comprehension, analysis, and retention of the learned material, instead of eating your heart out.


7. Make a shift


A plateau happens when your brain achieves a level of automaticity; in other words, when you can perform a skill on autopilot, without conscious thought. Our brains love autopilot because, in most situations, it's pretty handy. It lets us chew gum and walk and ride bikes without having to think about it, freeing our brains for more important tasks. When it comes to developing talent, however, autopilot is the enemy, because it creates plateaus. 


Research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, shows that the best way past a plateau is to jostle yourself beyond it; to change your practice method, so you disrupt your autopilot and rebuild a faster, better circuit. One way to do this is to speed things up—to force yourself to do the task faster than you usually would. Or you can slow things down—going so slowly that you highlight previously undetected mistakes. Or you can do the task in reverse order, turn it inside out or upside down. It doesn't matter which technique you use, as long as you find a way to knock yourself out of autopilot and into your sweet spot. - Daniel Coyle - The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills


Personally, making a shift means creating silly flashcards which are based on ridiculous associations or observations. It's refreshing enough that even when I start feeling a bit jaded, this procedure restores the proper frame of mind.


8. Break down your project into smaller chunks


This is a classic productivity strategy and for all the right reasons. Sometimes focusing on a big picture can be detrimental to your performance. The project seems so big and complicated that it robs you of the will to pursue it. 

You can overcome this obstacle by breaking your projects into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Take a piece of paper and write down a detailed plan of your undertaking. Number all the steps so you know how to prioritize them. Doing so will free your mental energy and allow you to concentrate on one task at a time.

Then getting "primitive," as suggested in the first point, becomes much more manageable.


EXAMPLE

Instead of creating your flashcards right away, you can spend two days just pasting learning material into ANKI - that would be your first stage. Next, you can process this material into flashcards in the next couple of days. Only then, after five days, can you buckle down and start reviewing them.


9. Go back to the roots - what's your motivation?


If none of the steps above seem to help, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Why did you want to achieve your goal? Has anything changed since then?

Revisiting the source of your motivation will allow you to accomplish two things:

  1. 1
    It will either pep you up and give you more power to carry on or
  2. 2
    you will give up.

The latter sounds ominous, but I assure you it's not.

Your life is dynamic and is in a constant state of motion. Thousands of elements enter and leave your life every week. They can all affect your initial motivation. If you decide, upon the close inspection, that you don't care anymore about your initial goal, I want you to know that it's okay. Ditch your project. Pour yourself a nice glass of whiskey or cocoa, sit in your armchair and think what you want to do next.

Your project is not a life sentence - you can quit anytime you feel that it's not right for you anymore.


10. Pep yourself up



Do you know what the worst part of every undertaking is? The middle.

Beginnings are usually exciting. It's like running into a magical maze. You have lots of energy and progress fast; everything is new and shiny. However, after a couple of weeks, you realize that you're running out of water, and your last meal was a dead squirrel. It's not good.

In other words, the middle of any project is the most monotonous. Your learning slows down. You don't get money out of this. No fans are showering you with their admiration. The only thing ahead of you is more work. It's not sexy, I know.

How to deal with this situation?

Pep yourself up!

It sounds cheesy, but sometimes cheese is all you need, as Paul McCartney used to sing.

Here are some things you might try:

  • Watch some motivational videos on YouTube.
  • Run around the room while drumming your chest and scream, "I am the king/queen of this jungle."
  • Watch Rocky for the 20th time.
  • Pump your ego by contemplating how amazing you are ("If I were an apple, I would be a really cute apple).
  • Reminisce on your past successes.
  • Take a step back and see how much you have learned so far.
  • Think about your future glory once you achieve your goal.
  • Gather all the empty whiskey bottles and spell "You're the winner!" 

There are no wrong answers here. See what works for you and stick to it in the moments of doubt.


How To Deal With Overwhelm When Learning New Skills - The main takeaway(s)


The moment at which you decide to start learning is usually a peak of your mental capacity and attitude. You feel awesome, and you want to do great things. The problem is that your energy and motivation to learn come and go. There will be plenty of days when you will feel bummed enough to start contemplating and romanticizing the life of a hobo just to run away from all your problems.

That's why it's always preferable to create learning systems instead of relying on flimsy companions like motivation. Here are some of the strategies that might help you:

To deal with overwhelm, try to:

  1. 1
    be primitive
  2. 2
    identify the constraints
  3. 3
    lower the intensity
  4. 4
    take more breaks
  5. 5
    take care of SPDSH (sleep, private life, diet, sports, health)
  6. 6
    organize your learning better
  7. 7
    make a shift
  8. 8
    break down your project into smaller chunks
  9. 9
    go back to the roots - what's your motivation?
  10. 10
    pep yourself up

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