Such questions can really make your brain sweat and question the effectiveness of strategies you’ve been using so far.
3) They make you use the strategies you have heard of but couldn’t be bothered to use
Be honest with yourself. How many articles about productivity and learning strategies have you read so far?
20, 50, 100?
And how many pieces of advice have you used practically? I guess that this ratio doesn’t look favorably, right? I know it all too well. I tend to hoard hundreds of articles about different learning strategies. And then I struggle to use even just a few of them.
Because why bother?
After all, we are all set in our ways.
That’s why the period of preparation for such tasks gives me the opportunity to dust off the long list of mental tools I have gathered throughout the years.
Tools which I haven’t had the motivation to use before or simply didn’t need at the time.
4) They push the borders of what you previously thought is possible
Challenge breeds inspiration.
If you force yourself to do things which are seemingly impossible or you have no skills for, you give yourself an opportunity to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
And more often than not, you will find the way to accomplish your goals
Choose one thing you´d like to try but are afraid to do wrong, and go for it!
5) They Boost Your General Life Satisfaction And Confidence
It’s time to be frank here. I didn’t enjoy these challenges. Want to know what was the result of learning over 850 during one day? A terrible headache. I have never had a migraine in my life but I assume that it’s exactly what it feels like.
Just the slightest sound at the end of this day was sending surges of pain throughout my head and made me feel as if my brain was screwed by a nail-pawed hedgehog.
Did I hate it? You betcha. Did I feel damn proud the next day? Hell yeah!
You see, normally I am very self-conscious and critical about myself.
But I doubt that I’ll ever forget the pride I felt the next day after “over-850- words-per-day challenge”. It was verging on unhealthy Johny Bravo-style self-love.
But I’ll be damned if I didn’t deserve it.
As weird as setting big goals in language learning might seem, I have found them time and time again to be one of the most reliable catalysts for self-improvement.
Sure, it´s comfy to do the same ol’, same ol’ day in and day out.
But if you don´t challenge yourself and try new things, how will you realize your true potential?
Now I would love to get to know your thought on this subject.
What do you think about using big goals as a way to optimize your learning strategies?
Is it a “hell yeah” or “a little bit over-the-top”?
“A type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed“
It’s very hard to generalize such results to other settings
What’s more, so-called low ecological validity comes into play.
The laboratory is clearly an artificial situation. People are directed by an ‘experimenter’ in a psychological experiment. They are removed from their usual social settings and asked to memorize different sets of data.
This is a very unusual experience which raises the question – how do this novel experience and settings really affect their behavior and memory?
Still, lab research is better than no research at all.
d) Time horizon
Most studies are conducted over a relatively short period of time. It’s rarely spread over more than 3-4 weeks. As you will soon read, this is why most studies prove the effectiveness of mnemonics.
e) Nature of the tasks
How would you feel about memorizing and recalling a list of unconnected words or digits? Seriously, be honest. How would you rate your willingness on the scale from “nope” to “never”?
The detachment of such tasks from everyday life, and their general lack of usefulness have led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.
Am I saying that mnemonics are useless then? Not at all. They can be insanely useful.
But you must understand what they are and what they aren’t. I quoted the excerpt from John Dunlosky’s report for two reasons:
1) It tested different learning strategies against one another.
2) More importantly, it tested effects of those strategies in LONG-TERM learning.
And this is what mnemonics are not.
They are not a suitable tool for long-term learning. At least not in the form they are usually presented.
If you are not pressed for time, you can get by without any problems without using mnemonics
They are also not a panacea for all your memory problems. This is just another tool in your learning arsenal.
If you have ever read anything by any author who promotes / sells anything mnemonics-related you might find it hard too believe.
Don’t worry, I also felt disillusioned. And I had good reasons.
Since that pivotal moment of my life, my obsession with mnemonics had been growing in strength with each passing day.
There was no stopping me. I was the mnemonics preacher. Everybody HAD to know about how mnemonics are great,
After I won local memory championship, it only got worse.
I experimented with the ardor of meth-addicted junkie.
I created memory palaces holding thousands of words.
I tried to learn entire books by heart just to test ethe ffectiveness of mnemonics.
I have memorized tables, law regulations and tested my recall at various intervals.
Effect was always the same.
Great recall rate at the beginning of my experiments. These early results were always accompanied by the feeling of overwhelming joy.
But it never lasted long.
My recall rate was still good after up to 2-4 weeks after creating mnemonic images and reviewing them. Although, I could notice some deterioration of my memories.
Inevitable drop in recall rate always came after more than 4 weeks.
And this is exactly why most scientific studies seemingly prove ethe ffectiveness of mnemonics. They test them in labs in short periods of time.
Once again, I would like to stress that mnemonics can be immensely useful.
Useful both for recalling random information as well as helping you achieve high levels of expert performance. Just not for long-term learning.
Read on and I will show how they can be utilized best.
But first, to have a full picture of what you’re dealing with, take a look at limitations of mnemonics.
Limitations And Disadvantages Of Mnemonics
Gruneberg (1998) argues that the keyword method, in general, is inferior to rote learning in the longer-term retention of vocabulary.
“Campos and Gonzalez (2003) attribute ineffectiveness of keyword method to participants’ ‘lack of training. They investigated in four experiments the effectiveness of the mnemonic keyword method using two groups of adults and adolescents. In all the experiments, the rote method was more effective than the keyword method for both adolescents and adults.”
Some people (especially adults) are reluctant to create vivid images and crazy stories.
Some people (especially adults) are unable and/or unwilling to resign from using previously learned strategies.
Using mnemonic devices for memorizing words is time-consuming (especially at the beginning).
Using mnemonics requires more effort (especially at the beginning) than rote-learning.
Mnemonics don’t guarantee understanding.
Learning with mnemonics lacks context.
So if mnemonics are not a great way for long-term learning, what are they good for?
How Mnemonics Affect Your Short-Term Memory
Short-term memory has three key aspects:
1. limited capacity (only about 7+-2 items can be stored at a time, or 3-4 chunks)
2. limited duration (storage is very fragile and information can be lost with distraction or passage of time)
3. encoding (primarily acoustic, even translating visual information into sounds).
And here is where the true power of mnemonics lies.
It might not seem like a big deal but it has tremendous implications for your (language) learning.
Because short-term memory is a necessary step toward the next stage of retention – long-term memory.
You can treat short-term memory as a bottleneck of your learning.
After all, if you can’t commit some information, even just for a few seconds, to your memory, how are you supposed to learn?
Some researchers claim that working-memory capacity reflects the efficiency of executive functions.
In other words, the ability to maintain and manipulate information in the face of distractions and other irrelevant information. ( Engle, R. W., September 1999).
That’s why the best way to think about mnemonics is to treat them as a relatively long-lived external memory with huge capacity.
I will get to the most effective use of mnemonics in a second.
First, I want to demonstrate you something. Let’s take a look at prodigies.
The Short-Term Memory Of Prodigies
Studies on the prodigies who reached professional-level performance in their domain (e.g., art, math, music) by the age of 10 show something very interesting.
When Psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz and violin virtuoso Jourdan Urbach administered an IQ test tonine prominent child prodigies (…) there were a wide range of IQ scores among the eight prodigies (from 108 to 147), and their cognitive profiles were uneven.
It turned out that the key to understanding their rapid learning in their domain was not their global intellectual functioning.
Most strikingly, every single prodigy in their sample scored off the charts (better than 99 percent of the general population) in working memory — the ability to simultaneously store incoming information while processing other information.
So how can you approach these levels of intellectual functioning?
Key Information Needed to Understand How To use Mnemonics Effectively
2) Calling information to mind strengthens it and helps in future retrieval
3) Understanding the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge.
According to Cohen and Squire (1980):
Procedural knowledge involves “knowing how” to do things. It includes skills, such as “knowing how” to play the piano, ride a bike; tie your shoes and other motor skills. It does not involve conscious thought (i.e. it’s unconscious – automatic). For example, we brush our teeth with little or no awareness of the skills involved.
Declarative knowledge involves “knowing that”. Knowing names of plants , dates, formulas – it’s all part of your declarative knowledge. Recalling information from declarative memory involves, so called, effortfull recall – i.e. information has to be consciously brought to mind and “declared”.
Knowing these things can help us stew perfect learning mix:
1) Gather information
It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn a language or how to master persuasion strategies. Gather the knowledge needed to achieve your goal.
2) Memorize it with mnemonics
As I have written before, mnemonics can be treated as an extension of your short-term memory. Place as much information as you can on this external “hard-drive”.
3) Start practising right away
Now that you know the theory of how to play piano or how to program, start putting your knowledge into practice.
Try to use as many pieces of information from your memory as you can.
Because every time you bring one of them to your mind, the magic happens. You start creating and strengthening neural networks responsible for the given action.
Repeat this action sufficient number of times and you will automate it. From that moment on, you will be able to perform it subconsciously and with minimal effort.
Let’s see how you can use it in language learning.
Since we have established that mnemonics can be treated as your external memory, take a look at other practical applications of mnemonics!
(Other) Practical Applications Of Mnemonics
Mnemonics are useful whenever you need to memorize a lot of information on the fly and remember them for at least a couple of hours.
That’s why you can use them (among others):
during parties and meetings to memorize names and information about other participants
during last-minute panic before the exam or company presentation to make sure that the information stays in your memory!
to impress your wife and show her that “you don’t need no damn shopping lists” to remember what you should buy
to memorize random information which emerges during conversations
And so on. I think you got it!
Are Mnemonics Effective?
Mnemonics have to be one of the most misunderstood learning tools of all times.
They are usually sold as the ultimate solution for all kinds of learning problems which is far from the truth. As you can see, they can be extremely useful but only provided that you exactly understand what they do. And what they do is “inflate” your short-term memory for some time.
Manage to review the knowledge you acquired with mnemonics by performing some actions specific to that knowledge.and you can rest assured that your progress will know no boundaries.
You will become that “robo-weirdo”. And this is what I sincerely wish you.
The list goes on and on. What’s more, it turns out that it is also a great decision money-wise!
” 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!
Not bad, right?
Now that we’ve established that knowing a language is actually worth something, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of acing the foreign language interview.
The first station?
Don’t Be Yourself, Be Your Better Self
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 is 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 at 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 really 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.
Prepare 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. Tell me about yourself
2. What do you know about or company?
3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
4. Why did you leave your last job?
5. What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?
6. What do you do in your current role?
7. Why would you like to work for us?
8. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
9. What kind of qualifications do you have?
10. Why would you like to work for us?
Yes, that’s really it. Preparing answers to just these 10 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:
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”.
Prepare Difficult Phrases To Trick The Interviewer
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 have battle tested it many times.
Its implementation will immediately make you stand out from the crowd.
Prepare at least 10 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 … “.
Does it sound more impressive? Hell yeah, it does!
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 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 amazing 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 aforementioned example is a little bit over the top since it’s a very rare word.
Prepare Difficult Grammar Constructions
Prepare a few sentences with more advanced grammar constructions which 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.
Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses To Dominate The Interviewer
Ok, I admit. “Dominate” sounds somehow wrong. I don’t suggest that you pee on your opponent to mark your territory and show dominance.
You see, 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 your strong suit you can direct the interview into the direction desired by you.
Listening as a 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 /or socially awkward.
You should try to come across as an enthusiastic and inquisitive person. Not a nosy weirdo.
Speaking as a 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!
“Hi. This 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.”
Obviously, 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 really unsure 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.
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.
Listen to some music in the morning
Watch a movie or listen to the radio
Talk to yourself or to 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.
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!
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!
There is one more thing to take care of. Eliminate the human factor.
The true work is always done in solitude.
Take it from Franz Kafka. As much as he loved his lovely fiancée, he couldn’t stand her presence while he was working.
You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind.… That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.
2. Allocation of attention
Blocking or at least limiting the number of distractions allows you to focus more deeply on your learning task. On just one task. Not four or two – one is the number.
“But why, what about multitasking. I am really good at it!”
First of all – no, you are not. Secondly, let me ask you a question.
Do you remember when you were little and you believed in Santa and elves?
Only when you grew up it turned out that your toys weren’t produced in a magic factory. It was a filthy sweathouse somewhere in Asia.
Being able to multitask is just another myth we like to believe in.
The Math Of Attention
Let’s say that your attention equals 1.
What if you divide it between two tasks? It seems reasonable to believe that each one of them would have an assigned value of 0,5, right?
It would be more like 0,3, at the very best.
We weren’t born to multitask. Especially when it comes to cognitively demanding tasks. The sooner you come to terms with it, the better.
3. Encoding strategies
The next step is to actually define your preferred encoding strategies.
If the only encoding strategy you have used so far is mindless cramming – please stop. A small panda dies somewhere in the world every time you do that.
The choice might be difficult. There are myriads of strategies to choose from.
Checking your e-mail doesn’t seem very harmful, right? Or any other site for that matter. I mean, it’s only like 2 minutes and you’re back in the saddle.
Ok, maybe after next 10 minutes you’ll check another website. Just one quick article and you get back to work.
After 4 hours it turns out that you haven’t done anything. You also don’t know how you ended up watching a YT on how to cook dinakdakan.
You don’t cook. And what the hell is dinakdakan?!
Take a look at this quote:
We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.
Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine
23 minutes and 15 seconds. That’s a scary number if you ask me. Of course, this is just one of the statistics. I have seen plenty of other research indicating different numbers. But usually, it takes between 5-25 minutes to regain your focus. Having that number in mind, interrupting your workflow check a website or to send a text message doesn’t seem so harmless anymore.
It’s not our fault though. I believe that the technology is the true culprit. We are almost conditioned to check our phones or e-mail every couple of minutes.
We do so because we can’t allow ourselves to miss out on…what?
That’s the question! What possibly could we miss that is so important?
Nothing. Nothing will happen if we don’t check this one website. There is a really easy solution to eliminate this kind of distractions – block the websites which steal your time and distract you!
Don’t Give Yourself a Chance To Fail
Before I move to the list of my recommendations, I would like to warn you about the crappy argument I have heard so many times.
“Yeah, theoretically it sounds good but I actually want to do it ON MY OWN, with help of my strong will. I don’t want to rely on any stupid software!” (read more about forcing yourself to learn).
Ugh, BS alert activated. I feel sick every time I hear it. How has it been working out for you so far? We can rationalize basically everything. However, most of the times this is not logic talking. It’s fear.
I am scared. It’s cold and lonely here without the cordial, digital touch of the internet. If you acknowledge this fear, your battle with distractions is already half-won.
You can also look at it from a different perspective.
If you wanted to lose weight, would you place candies and cookies all over your flat? Would you sniff them every now and then and lick the glazing to reassure yourself about how great your willpower is?
Hell, if you were a junkie would you put a syringe in front of your face and try to “wait it out”. Don’t think so. It’s pointless to rely on your strong will in this case.
Here is the list of the most popular apps you can use to block the websites. I have used all of them personally (maybe besides Mac ones!) and I can wholeheartedly recommend all of them.
They definitely stand out from the mass of other apps of this kind.
Freedomis one of the oldest apps of this kind. It’s currently used by more than 1 million users. Throughout the years it has gained the support of, among others, Nick Hornby and Seth Godin.
It works on: Macs, Windows, Android (beta), and iOS (beta), Iphone, Ipad
It allows you to:
Block distracting websites
Plan out sessions that recur at the same time every week
Go cold turkey and block the entire internet when you really need to get work done
Highlights: It’s worth mentioning that it is currently the only distraction management solution for iPad and iPhone. It’s also the only app which can cut off your internet access.
Cost: Basic version is free. The premium version (which allows you to cut off the entire internet is 10$). Well worth the price and my absolute favorite.
“LeechBlockis a simple free productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day.”
This is the add-on I use the most. It has saved me countless hours and helped me overcome my meme websites addiction.
It is also very easy to use – all you need to do is specify which sites to block and when to block them.
It works on: Mozilla Firefox
It allows you to:
specify up to six sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set.
block sites within fixed time periods (e.g., between 7 am and 2 pm), after a time limit (e.g., 14 minutes in every hour), or with a combination of time periods and time limit (e.g., 10 minutes in every hour between 9 am and 5 pm).
set a password for access to the extension options, just to slow you down in moments of weakness!
block entire sites
block specific subdomains / paths / pages
block websites using wildcards (e.g., *.somesite.com) and exceptions (e.g., +allowme.somesite.com).
track of the total amount of time you have spent browsing the sites in each block set.
My routine is to block the most distracting websites (in my case: YT, my own websites, FB, e-mail, Wikipedia, meme websites) from 8 am till 10 pm.
The only website I block only from time to time is my Gmail account. Sometimes I simply need to send an e-mail in the middle of the day.
RescueTime is a great app for everyone who is really serious about their productivity. It is definitely the most advanced of all the apps mentioned in this article. Especially tracking-wise.
The bad news is that most of the cool features are a part of Rescue Time Premium. However, it’s money well-spent if you ask me!
LiteVersion allows you to:
Track time in websites and applications
Get a weekly email report
3-month report history
With Rescue Time Premium you can:
Track time away from the computer (meetings, phone calls, etc…)
Get alerts when you achieve your daily goals
Block distracting websites to stay focused
Keep a log of your daily accomplishments
Get access to more detailed reports and filters and unlimited report history
Cost: Basic version is free. The premium version is $9 a month.
Self-Control is definitely not one of those flashy, packed with features apps. It only blocks distracting websites but it does it well and it’s reliable.
It works on: Mac
It allows you to:
block entire sites
block specific subdomains / paths / pages
specify a period of time to block for
Highlight: It works on Mac. That’s something, I guess!
StayFcsdshould be your no 1 choice if you are a Chrome user.
It works on: Chrome
It allows you to:
block entire sites
block specific subdomains / paths / pages
block specific in-page content (videos, games, images, forms, etc).
Highlights: The Nuclear Option. Probably the best feature of this add-on. It allows you to block all the websites on the internet for a given amount of time. Only for the desperate!
I hope these recommendations will help you save some time!
Yeah, you heard me right. It is cold stone dead. At least for me.
Its demise came absolutely unexpected. There were no tell tales. No gloomy music heralding this event.
Because it wasn’t a process. It was an instant. It was enough to read one of the articles of Maneesh Sethi. It gave me a blueprint to refurbish my learning routine and tripled my productivity.
But before I get to that let’s take a look at two kinds of motivation.
Two Kinds Of Motivation
If you are driven by extrinsic motivation you do things mainly to receive a reward. For example, you might decide to get a new job because it pays better.
If you are driven by intrinsic (internal) motivation, your need to do different thing stems from the meaningfulness of the work you do. You don’t need any reward or compensation.
I have always believed that it is enough to feel this internal fire in order to achieve big things. But I was wrong.
I am quite sure that we are not motivated by good things. At least not as much as we would like to believe it.
What makes me say it?
Well, most things in life are pretty simple.
If you want to lose weight, you work out and keep a diet.
If you want to learn a language, you learn every day.
If you want to get a better job, you acquire additional skills or improve the ones you already have.
The final result is always crystal clear – you become fitter, more intelligent or successful. And you really DO want these things, don’t you?
Then why is it so damn hard to start acting?
Because the potential benefits are deferred in time. The day-to-day results you experience when you do any of the activities above are barely noticeable. So if good things don’t motivate us effectively, what does?
The fear of loss.
How Betting Tripled My Productivity
The logic behind this strategy is really simple. You will do much more to avoid loss than to receive a reward. Given that the loss is almost immediate, it’s not that strange.
One look at the real-life castaways, or desperate mothers who lift cars, can tell us how the fear of loss (of life in this case) can motivate us.
But you don’t even have to look that far. Let’s say that you want to learn 60 new German words today. You can either try to do it on your own or bet with me.
In the second case, you know that if you lose, you have to give me your favorite watch. Do you think you would lose? No way! These are just 60 words!
The simplest form of this strategy looks as follows:
Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
BET with someone that you’ll achieve it in x hours or days
Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver
Of course, there are some things you should take into account if you choose to use this strategy (and you should!). But first…
Here are just some random results I got thanks to betting within last 18 months.
I created this very website (with over 2k subscribers) you’re reading right now
I have been interviewed a couple of times (which is a weird feeling)
What problem keeps you up at night? What bothers you?
Maybe you don’t learn regularly. Maybe you procrastinate too much. Maybe you are too fat.
Identify the most important things you would like to change and set a goal.
2) Is your goal achievable?
You can bet about anything you want but you have to be sure that the goal is within your reach.
It shouldn’t be too easy. Such goals will rob you of your satisfaction. But they shouldn’t be too hard either. Such goals may nip your enthusiasm in the bud. If you want to bet with your wife that you are going to run 5 km today, analyze how much free time you have on your hands today.
3 hours? Great, then it is certainly doable.
When was the last you actually ran more than 1 km? During your studies? Then I have bad news for you… I hope you see what I am getting at. Always make sure that you are able to deliver.
3) Can you prove that you did it?
This is the key issue. You probably like to think about yourself as a guy who is squeaky clean when it comes to morality.
I know, I do too.
But trust me when I tell you that all morality goes to hell when the deadline of your bet is breathing down your neck with a musty stench of failure.
If you decide to learn 100 words today, you can send screen-shots of your Anki interface. The list goes on and on.
Sometimes it’s worth altering your bet a little bit in order to make it measurable.
If you want to bet that you won’t eat sweets all day, it will be nearly impossible to prove it. However, if you bet that you will lose 1kg until the end of the week, there will be no doubt whether you failed or not.
4) Is your punishment motivating enough?
Listen, if you bet with your buddy that you will give him 10$ if you lose a bet and you know that you earn 30$/h then who are you fooling? When the push comes to shove, you will probably shrug your shoulders and pay.
The thing is that you should be REALLY afraid of losing. The perspective of the potential loss should infuse you with fear. Not the paralyzing kind of course. But the motivating one.
Bet 70$. Or lend your car to a cousin you hate.
Come up with something which really makes you uncomfortable.
5) Can you be a sure that the other person will execute?
As a rule, I don’t bet with people who are mushy softies. I don’t want to hear, “It’s ok, I don’t need your money because I know you tried’.
I want somebody who will take my money and laugh in my face while doing so! “Thanks for the easy cash sucker!”.
I have a small group of 3-4 people with who I bet and that’s more than enough.
You can actually convince your friend(s) to bet with you as well. This way you will be motivating each other!
And now time for the bitter truth. Probably 17 out of every 20 people who will read this article won’t do anything (and I am being an optimist here).
Why? Because of excuses.
Wading Through The Excuses
Who doesn’t love some good ol’ excuses from time to time?
I find it fascinating when people approach me and complain that they have so many plans but they can’t get anything done. When I suggest this strategy most of them freeze and mumble one of the following reasons why they can’t do it:
Yeah, I know it works, I will definitely try it in the future (code word for “I will never try it”)
It won’t work because money is not that important to me (then choose a different kind of punishment!)
I don’t want to be forced, I prefer to rely on my willpower (how has it worked for you so far?)
What’s going on?! Don’t they want to change?
They do. OR at least they think they do.
But the thing is that most of them are simply afraid. Because once you place your bet, there is no turning back. You either deliver or pay up.
If you decide to use this method to boost your motivation, I’d love to hear from you and talk about your results!
Oh, one more thing. Do you know why I have written this article? Yep, bet (thank you John!).
You can’t deny that every language has some funny or quirky words. Explaining them to your loved ones or friends might be a great way to strike up a conversation! And let’s be honest, when I say funny, I don’t mean just-spat-my-soda funny. The best you can get, in most of the situations is probably a faint smile.
And as with everything, you can definitely overdo it.
Among some of my friends, I am known as the “fun fact” guy. I try to throw in some fun facts, whenever I can. The problem is that they are rarely fun for others. Once, during a family dinner with my ex-girlfriend, her aunt asked me to “say something interesting since you learn so much”. I sat for a while before I said, “Well, there is this little-known fun fact that Hitler had only one testicle”.
The silence which ensued was deafening. The rest of the dinner was awkward, to say the least. So please do it at your own risk!
Here are three ways to entertain yourself and (hopefully) others while learning at the same time
1) Teach them some foul words
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us are attracted to anything labeled “taboo”. Use these websites tolearn some swear words which you can later pass on to others.
2) Teach them false friends in your target language
Not everybody likes swearing. It’s perfectly understandable. But you can’t deny that false friends are one of the most fun ways to learn vocabulary.
I’m sure you have your share of embarrassing stories involving such words. Saying “embarazada” (pregnant in Spanish) instead of “avergonzado” is definitely one of the things which come to my mind.
One of my favorite awkward situations ensued when I was visiting the Czech Republic about 3 years ago. I stopped a group of Czechs to ask them in Polish, “gdzie jest najbliższy sklep?” (where is the nearest shop). I figured out that Polish and Czech are so similar that it should be clear what I mean.
Little did I know! “Sklep” in Czech means “a basement”. Basically, I came across as a creep looking for a place to devote himself to God knows what. Fortunately, I didn’t have a mustache!
Here are some lists of false friends to get you started:
GENERAL LIST of false friends between English and other languages – Wiktionary
3. Teach them weird / funny-sounding words or phrases
My experience is that people love learning funny-words or peculiarities of different countries. Make a short list of them and start sharing it with your friends.
This is a good example of a quirky sound which falls into an “interesting” category.
Another good idea is to google “untranslatable (name of your target language) words”. Each language has a truckload of them.
They are not only fun to learn and memorable but also can expand your way of thinking.
What about different traditions or dishes typical of a given country?
For example, as the BBS explains, Kiviaq is a typical winter dish out of Greenland that is made from fermented seabirds
The delicacy is created by first preparing a seal skin: all the meat is removed and only a thick layer of fat remains. The skin is then sewn into a bag shape, which is stuffed with 300-500 little auk birds. Once full and airtight, the skin is sewn up and seal fat is smeared over all over the join, which acts as a repellent to flies. The seal skin is then left under a pile of rocks to ferment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months.
Let’s look at the automotive branch. Most of the companies in this sector have billion-dollar budgets. They have to make sure that every penny counts. In order to do so, they optimize the heck out of everything.
And I really do mean EVERYTHING. In the world, where one minute delay might be worth thousands of dollars, it is not that surprising.
And if multi-billion companies try to optimize everything, why wouldn’t you? After all, you have million dollars of ideas and knowledge in your head!
Let’s optimize the language learning with Lean Management!
Lean Management in Language Learning
Lean management is an approach to running an organization that supports the concept of continuous improvement, a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.
Essentially, lean is centered on making obvious what adds value by reducing everything else.
The clutter has one intrinsic quality – it creates the feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s like being immersed in the deep waters of learning and choking on knowledge.
And you certainly do not want that. You want to be as stingy with your time and resources as the soulless capitalists who run the huge companies.
In order to do that you must grasp The Lean Language Learning.
7 Types of Waste In Lean Language Learning (aka the Common Language Learning Mistakes)
Managers at Toyota have come up with the seven types of waste:
Transport(moving products that are not actually required to perform the processing)
Inventory(all components, work in process, and finished product not being processed)
Unnecessary traffic – connected with incorrect workflow in an organization.
Waiting(waiting for the next production step, interruptions of production during shift change)
Overproduction(production ahead of demand)
Over Processing (resulting from a poor tool or product design creating activity)
Defects(the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects)
Some experts tend to add an extra one:
Waste of unused human talent
Let’s look at how you can reduce the aforementioned types of waste in language learning. Grab the shovel and start digging!
Overproduction – learning too many things at once
It’s very easy to dive head-first into the ocean of grammar constructions and foreign words. It’s also understandable, especially at the beginning. You are driven by enthusiasm! You want to absorb everything with your whole body!
But everything has its limits. Your memory as well. If you surpass them, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the ever-growing amount of cards and grammar constructions in ANKI.
Of course, the more you know, the easier it is to learn. What seemed to be an ocean at the beginning is merely a puddle as you progress.
Remedy: Find the right amount of material you are able to learn every day. It might require some experimenting but it will allow you to find some balance in your learning. For example, you might choose to learn maximum 20 words and discard all the others.
Unnecessary traffic – incorrect learning plan or lack thereof
Most people who write to me regarding their problems with learning seem baffled when I ask them, “what is your learning routine/plan?”. The question seems like an assassination attempt on their freedom. “Dude! I’m a free spirit, you can’t tame me with plans!”
And that’s the problem. Without any plan, you stagger from one grammar topic to another. From one list of words to another. It’s hard to build anything permanent that way.
Usually, the most you can get is a hut made of bird crap and sticks.
Remedy: Create a learning plan. Any plan. You don’t have to write it down. I know I never do. It doesn’t even have to be good. Nor do you have to compose it yourself – you can always ask a tutor or more experienced learner for help.
But it will give you some guidance. You will stop wasting time by thinking, “what I should learn today”.
Of course, what you need to know changes with time. And so will your learning schedule.
Waiting – not learning every day
I know you know that you should learn languages every day. But do you? Many people fail to do it. In my opinion, it happens because they don’t make language learning part of their lives.
If you don’t learn regularly, you will start losing progress and forgetting things you have already learned. Imagine that you have spent 200 hours learning your target language and PUFF! After a few months, you barely remember how to introduce yourself.
200 hours down the drain! You could have spent more time with your spouse. Or you could have watched TV Series.
But you wasted it! Shame on you! If you don’t respect your time? Who will?
Remedy: Get into the habit of daily learning. Start with some minimum goal. Like, I don’t know, 5 minutes? It’s hard not to find 5 minutes to learn every day, right?
It’s crucial that you make it impossible for yourself to fail. Once you discover that learning your target language for X minutes is child’s play, increase the time. Try to always challenge yourself.
Transport and Inventory – getting too many language materials which you can’t even use
Technology can be your greatest ally if you use it wisely. But the second you stop paying attention it may turn into your biggest enemy. If your hands start shaking uncontrollably wherever you hear about a new app or program, you know what I mean.
Hoarding dozens of websites and/or books won’t help you with learning. The truth is that too big a choice can be paralyzing for your language learning productivity.
Remedy: Try not to use more than 3-4 language learning resources. The chance is that you will never use more of them anyway. The only result of trying to do so is the feeling of being overwhelmed.
And if at some point in time you realize that you don’t like one of them anymore, replace it with another resource.
Defects – trying to speak perfectly
Trying to get everything right from the very beginning of your language learning journey is the recipe for disaster.
Come to terms with the fact not very sentence which comes out of your mouth has to be perfect. Not every word has to be pronounced flawlessly.
I know it’s hard to ignore the voices in your head which infect your thoughts with the feeling of burning shame.
But know this – it’s more than enough if people understand you. You can work your way up from there.
Remedy: Always try to identify and concentrate on the most important things first.
At the beginning, the most important things are the ones which allow you to express yourself in a way that is understandable to a native speaker.
Over-processing in language learning means that you spend too much time processing a single piece of information. I’m probably the best example.
Years ago I used to underline every English which I wasn’t familiar with. Then I wrote down all the meanings of this word from a dictionary. ALL of them! And all the related words.
You think that’s all? Hell no. I also marked the most important sentences and idioms in colors. In short – I started rewriting a dictionary. If this isn’t madness, I don’t know what is. I wasted so much time that I would like to travel back in time and punch myself!
Make sure that whatever you do, you skip the unnecessary steps. Being busy is not the same as being efficient.
Waste of unused human talent
If you learn a language in total isolation, it’s time you rethought your learning strategy. There are literally thousands of websites and communities where you can meet native speakers of your target language. Why not become friends with some of them?
Remedy: Find somebody who you can talk to every day.
“…and that’s why, children, we use Past Simple to describe finished events in the past”
I started coming back from the mental vortex. I zoned out. Not that it was any surprise. It happened in almost every language lesson at school.
“Let’s take a look at the following example”, a cold, sharp voice cut through the air, “yesterday Johny went to the shop.”
I don’t know what she said next. I didn’t care. I preferred to concentrate on my physics homework.
“Why do these lessons have to be so boring”, I thought, as the frustration started growing inside of me.” And who the fu** is Johny?! He’s no friend of mine!”.
Maybe for you, it wasn’t English. Maybe it was German, French or Spanish. But you REMEMBER that soul-tearing boredom of language classes, don’t you?
Why Grammar Is So Boring
One of the problems with effective learning, be it languages or anything else, is that we try to learn new material in the exact form we get it. Teachers, authors of grammar books and course creators serve you some definition and expect you to understand it and (ideally) start using it right away.
But truth be told, it doesn’t happen often.
You can read a definition of the use of a given tense or grammar construction. But will it really mean anything to you? Will it appeal to you?
Courses and books are full of faceless and meaningless “Johnys'”. But you don’t care about them. But do you know who your brain cares about? You!
Anything which concerns you immediately becomes ten times more interesting! Why not use it to your advantage to become better at grammar (also check this article to memorize grammar faster)?!
1) Encoding – involves initial processing of information which leads to construction of its mental representation in memory
2) Storage – is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
3) Recall – is retrieval of stored information from memory
As you can see from the model above, in order to maximize your chances of storing and retrieving information, you have to encode it.
Ok, let’s try to encode some grammar construction by personalizing it. I can’t promise that my examples will appeal to you. But I hope they will give you some idea of how to do it.
Example no 1 – French verbs with “être”
In French, the auxiliary verb is either avoiror être. French verbs are classified by which auxiliary verb they take, and they use the same auxiliary verb in all compound tenses.
Most French verbs use avoir. However, there are 16 sneaky verbs which require être.
I will list only half of them.
The usual strategy is to repeat such list until you “get it”. Or until you lose the will to live. Whichever comes first.
But we will try to encode it with help of some nice and personalized story.
Let’s say that you’re an adventurer and together with your friend you’re hunting the mythical “Fluffy Monster”.
I have come there – to the cave of a fluffy monster (Je suis venu ici– à la grotte d’un monstre en peluche). I have wanted to do this since I was born (Je voulais faire cela depuis que je suis né). My friend has also arrived – he didn’t stay at home (Mon ami est aussi arrivé– il n’est pas restéà la maison).
We have climbed the stairs and entered the gate (nous avons monté les escaliers et sommes entrés par la porte). We have killed the monster, reentered the gate and returnedhome (Nous avons tué le monstre et nous sommes rerentrés par la porte et sommes retournés à la maison).
The story is definitely silly but I dare you to forget it!
Example no 2 – When to use the Present Continuous tense in English
English tenses are notoriously difficult for non-native speakers.
1) things that are happening at the moment of speaking
2) temporary situations, when we feel something won’t continue for a long time
3) annoying habits, when we want to show that something happens too often and we don’t like it. In this case, we usually use an adverb like ‘always’, ‘forever’ or ‘constantly’
4) definite future arrangements (with a future time word)
5) situations which are changing (i.e. is dynamic)
But if you have a spouse, maybe you will find the following monologue more appealing and memorable.
“Recently I’m working too much (2) . Am I turning into a workaholic (5)? Maybe. But I’m meeting my boss on Friday (4) and I have to have something to show for it. Now when I am thinking about it (1), it’s all because of my wife ! She is always nagging me (3) – “do this”, “do that” !
Example no 3 – When to use the subjunctive mood in Spanish
The subjunctive mood is used to express everything except certainty and objectivity: things like doubt, uncertainty, subjectivity, etc.
One of the best ways to get accustomed to using it is to learn a list of clauses commonly associated with the use of the subjunctive. It is quite long so I will take the liberty of using just three of them in my example.
en caso de que …
en cuanto …
es aconsejable que …
in case …
as soon as …
it’s advisable that …
To remember them, try to imagine that your friend turns to you with a problem – his feet hurt. He is in a lot of pain. Luckily, you know the remedy. You look him straight in the eye and say:
It’s advisable that you lick your toes as soon as you come home – in case you feel lonely (es aconsejable que lamas tus dedos del pie en cuanto lleges a casa – en caso de que te sientas solo)
Give It A Try
As with everything – you will never know if something works until you try it yourself. So go ahead! Infuse some life into your learning. Make it absurd, funny and personal,
Make it MEMORABLE!
Question for you: Is there any grammar construction you have trouble remembering? How can you personalize it?
I love words. They are like tiny, beautiful puzzle pieces. Choose the right ones and you can assemble beautiful and meaningful sentences. Sentences which convey your thoughts with surgical precision. Choose the wrong ones and you will get a stinky bag of confusion.
But there is a lot of confusion around how big your vocabulary should be for each level. I have heard dozens of different versions. That’s why I decided to come up with an easy rule on how to remember how many words you should know at every language level.
The Rule of 2 – How Many Words You Should Know For Every Language Level
Now back to the rule! It is as simple it gets. The number of words needed to advance to every level doubles.
Number of Base Words Needed
Add or deduct up to 20% of the given values. This way you will get the approximate range for each language level.
Why up to 20%? Because words you choose to learn matter that much! If you were to concentrate on words from frequency list, you would definitely have to deduct 20% on higher levels (B1-C2).
However, if you, for some reason, started learning names of trees or birds, you would have to add 20% to the said levels.
What Is A Word?
It definitely needs some clarification since this term has changed its meaning in Linguistics in the last few decades. In the past “a base word” was the base word itself and all its inflected forms. For example “tough”, “toughen” and “toughness” used to be treated as 3 words.
Nowadays “a base word” indicates “the word family” and consists of the base word and its inflected forms and derivations.
According to a renowned linguistic researcher Paul Nation, if you use the 1.6 factor to base words, you should get (more or less) the number of “separate” words (i.e. inflected words).
“But why do I need to know it?”
A fair question I guess. It’s not a fun fact which you can rub in somebody’s face. There are two good reasons:
Vocabulary size is a good indicator of your current level
The number of words you know is one of the most reliable indicators of your level. If you track the size of your vocabulary, you should be able to tell (more or less) what level you’re on.
Assuming of course that you learn the right words. Memorizing names of plants won’t get you far!
Vocabulary size can be your milestone
Not knowing where you are heading can be frightening. It’s like straying in the fog. You don’t know what lies around the corner. Knowing your goal can give you a sense of direction. Even if you fall, it will be on a pile of cushions, not the sharp rocks.
4 Most Important Vocabulary Milestones In Language Learning
Just in case you wonder – the following rules stand true for most of the languages. Be it Asian or European. But since languages tend to differ from each other quite a bit, please take it with a grain of salt and use these calculations only as a landmark.
1000 words allow you to understand about 80% of the language which surrounds you, as long as it is not too specialized (Hwang, 1989; Hirsh and Nation, 1992; Sutarsyah, Nation and Kennedy, 1994)
In theory, it sounds great. JUST 1000 words and you understand that much! Unfortunately, the remaining 20% is what really matters. Just look at this sentence:
“I went to the … to buy …. but they told me that they can’t … .’ Sure, you understand a lot of words. But does it really help?
3000 words allow you to understand about 95% of most ordinary texts (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996).
BUT…general comprehension is not the same as full comprehension, as it involves some guessing.
Still, there is no shortage of enthusiasts who claim that such level is high enough to start picking up new words from context. However, researchers tend to disagree and say that the “magical” number of words which allows learning from the context is….(drum roll)
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 you can function surrounded by this language without bigger problems. Sure, you will struggle if you want to formulate your thoughts really precisely, or when you encounter specialized vocabulary.
But other than that, you will be fine.
10000 words allow you to understand about 99% of most texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)). This is the pinnacle of language learning. A counterpart to having the vocabulary of a college graduate.
With that many words, you can express yourself with amazing precision and pass for a native speaker if your accent is good enough. This is the minimal goal for every language I learn. It makes me feel like a citizen of a given country.
If you want to download frequency lists for your target language, visit this website.
Knowing how many words you need to know to get to C1 level definitely gives you some perspective on how much effort it actually takes to achieve this monstrous goal.
I’m writing this because many of us get depressed after seeing dozens of videos on YT of people speaking or claiming to speak 10 or 20 languages.
But the truth is that there is clearly a yawning gap between being good and being great at a language (or anything else for that matter).
Any person who has truly mastered a language (i.e. achieved C1/ C2 level) could have learnt 2-4 languages to B2 level or 4-8 languages to A2 level in that time
Remember it the next time gloomy thoughts start creeping up on you, my friend.
Never enough time. There is never enough time to get in shape or learn a language. Or even when there is time, you don’t really seem to make much of the progress.
It doesn’t seem normal, right?
And it isn’t. There is a good chance you have contracted something I call “fluffoholism“. If you cringed, the reaction is fully justified.
That’s a terrible ailment.
Fluffoholicsare individuals who are very busy doing silly and insignificant activities. As a result, they either feel inadequate for not making progress or make some progress but can’t find time for anything else in their lives.
Of course, the truth is that we are all fluffoholicsto some degree. The person who would concentrate only on relevant tasks would seem like an absolute genius to us mere mortals.
Let’s get it over with. My name is Bartosz and I’m a recovering fluffoholic and this is what I have learned:
3 Categories Of Activities
I like to categorize activities in the following way:
1) Low-intensity activities
A counterpart of: lying in a cozy bed under a wool blanket with a mug of hot chocolate while your spouse scratches your head.
These are the tasks we tend to do the most. The “feel good” activities. The fluff which masks the real work. Usually, the things which have very little to do with making any progress.
Many industries prosper around these activities. It’s the obvious honey pot for the naive and lazy.
“Learn how to pick up a girl without washing yourself”
“Learn in your sleep”
“Lose weight by eating Tacos and marshmallows”.
In the world of language learning, it’s definitely Duolingo.
I get a lot of messages like this: “I have been using Duolingo for x months and I completed all the levels but when I talk to native speakers they don’t seem to understand me. Oh, also, when I read, I don’t understand most of the things.”
Sure, it’s motivating. And it’s a nice past-time to have. But it isn’t nearly as effective as a lot of other activities. Like speaking for instance. Other, almost evergreen and legendary language learning methods which allow an individual to achieve fluency include:
“Learning by listening”
“Learning by playing computer games”
“Learning by watching TV”
How to tell if I am doing these activities?
Typically, you can do them for hours. Without any particular signs of fatigue. That’s all you need to know. If you feel like “that was fun”, it’s not the real work. It also means that you spend 5-10 x more time than people who do activities from the third category and get comparable results.
2) Moderate-intensity activities
A counterpart of: getting out of bed and sitting down at the desk.
These activities definitely require some energy from you but they are not that tiring. It’s running 5 km when you already know that you can run 10 if you want to. You still need to put your shoes on. You still need to go out and sweat. But in the end, the overall progress is not so great
In the world of language learning, it’s a B2 level. You can talk and express yourself relatively fluently. You can read most of the articles you want. So you do. And you note down some words. But not too many because you’re already quite good.
How to tell if I am doing these activities? Usually, you feel that you have to push yourself a little bit in order to start. But once you do, it’s not that bad. Signs of fatigue tend to appear after 2 hours.
3) High-intensity activities (i.e. The Real Work.)
A counterpart of: being mauled by a bear and teabagged by the seven muses at the same time. It’s when you’d rather have a colonoscopy instead of carrying on with what you’re doing right now.
The absolute opposite of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach. It’s the “there is always something broken and I’ll find it” philosophy. It feels terrible. But it delivers amazing results.
How to tell if I am doing these activities? After you finish learning, you’re sobbing softly and want somebody to hug you. And you feel damn proud.
I like to think that it is our small Everest which we should climb daily.
It’s difficult to work hard and smart
I know that I should write every day in order to publish articles regularly. But I fail. Because they are never good enough. They are never inspiring enough.
I have read somewhere that an average time for writing an article is about 5 hours. It depresses me. It makes me feel like a failure. And I know I should come up with ideas daily. About 3 years ago I read on the blog of amazing James Altucher about the concept of becoming the idea machine.
The concept is simple – if you try to come up with 10 ideas per day, in 6 months your life should change significantly. 3 years down the road I’m still struggling to come up with 10 ideas once every 3-4 days.
It’s disheartening and it makes me feel like crap. But every now and then I manage to come up with great ideas. And my face lightens up when I send them to others. And I’m pretty sure their faces lighten up as well as these ideas change their lives. And that’s what it’s all about.
Remember – If you do not push, you are not practicing.
High-intensity Activities In Language Learning
One of the notoriously difficult activities in language learning is speaking.
On an A1-A2 level, stringing more than a few words feels like a crucifixion.
On a B1-B2 level, the challenge is to learn enough words (while improving your grammar) to be able to express yourself quite fluently.
On a C1-C2 level, the challenge is to constantly substitute the words you already know with dozens of other synonyms. It’s where you have to start saying “atrocity” instead of “that ugly thing”, or “marvelous” instead of “great”. (see The Word Substitution Technique)
It’s damn easy to play with Duolingo or Memrise for 1 hour. It’s much harder to actually open your mouth and start saying something.
I like to highlight my students as an example. If they want to learn with me , they have to accept one condition – they have to bet with me. Each day, from Monday to Friday, I have to get a 10 minute recording of them talking to themselves.
It’s only 10 minutes right? And yet, after 3 weeks their level changes drastically. It’s almost unbelievable. And magical! Ugh, I definitely overuse this word.
The side effect is that they probably hate me but, oh well – it works!
Learning vocabulary is the most important and time-consuming part of language learning. If you suck at it, you might be wasting dozens of hours each month due to the ineffective learning strategy.
Better make sure that your vocabulary learning strategy is not based on … (drum roll)
Passive Rehearsal Through Repetition
The typical vocabulary learning routine goes more or less like this – you encounter a word you don’t know, you translate it and place it in a notebook, or even better – in one of SR programmes like ANKI.
The deep processing is the level of activity devoted to processing new information. The more effort you put into processing new information, the better the chance to remember it. Each new association is a new “mental hook” which you can attach to a piece of information. Such associations create a rich web of connections which makes later retrieval much easier.
The associations are even more important as the length of the words increases. It’s pure logic, isn’t it? It’s easier to remember “schnell” in German than “die Urheberrechtsverletzung” (copyright violation).
This phenomenon is known as the wordlength effect. Longer words take longer to rehearse (duh).
The studies of phonological memory span conducted by Baddeley and colleagues estimated that the average person’s phonological loop can retain approximately 2 seconds’ worth of speech (Baddeley, Thomson, & Buchanan, 1975).
DIY – How To Deep-Process Your Vocabulary
With some practice and a little bit of imagination, it’s not that difficult to do. Let’s start with some basic facts – you have 5 basic representational systems.
Basic representational systems:
As you can see, you have a wide array of, let’s call them, “sensory” tools to deep-process the vocabulary you learn. Compared to that, passive rehearsal of words seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?
Treat these systems as your point of reference. Now, onward to the example!
Let’s assume that you want to memorize the Spanish word for “to joke”.
We have already established that saying the translation of this word in your mind is a waste of time.
Here is what you can do instead:
Say this word out loud!
It’s ridiculously easy but also quite effective. Uttering words out loud combines both auditory andkinesthetic stimuli.
Of course, you don’t have to stop here. Why not sing the word with the voice of Michael Jackson or Louis Armstrong?! Sure, maybe they will lock you up in an asylum. But at least you’ll be the only patient with such an impressive vocabulary!
Create a picture of the word
You can imagine it. Although it is much better to find some pictures on the Internet. Let’s say, that you google “to joke” and find the following picture which you really like:
Break down the word into smaller, familiar parts
Rarely will you find a word which doesn’t contain any familiar words or elements? You just have to concentrate a little bit to notice them! Let’s write down familiar parts of this word:
– BROmear (bro, you jokin’ or what?)
– broMEar – give me another joke!
– EAR – bro, you are always spitting into my ear when you tell jokes!
– bROMEar – they don’t like joking in Rome
These are just some of the possible suggestions! You can also associate it with:
If you want, you can always additionally associate a given word with a smell or taste. I rarely do it, since such associations are usually much weaker than the ones previously mentioned.
The Final Effect
This is how a card in ANKI looks like for this word. With the right associations, it’s incredibly hard to forget the vocabulary learned this way. Just remember not to overdo it! Try not to spend more than 5 minutes per word.
It seems like a lot of time, but considering the potential benefit of memorizing every word after the first try, I would say that it is well worth the time investment!
Question for you – have you ever deep-processed the vocabulary you learn?
Life is a long fall from the womb to the grave. On our way down we get our solid share of problems to solve. Some are petty. Some are not. But the latter will batter and bruise you if you don’t take care of them.
The funny thing is that solving problems is a problem itself. I mean, do you have any method to tackle them? Any tool, maybe? Do you just put on your helmet of optimism and hope and run head headfirst into the robust wall of problems?
I really hope you don’t. Like I did for a long time. I was like a retarded chimpanzee who tried to lick his finger and put it in a keyhole. But to no one’s surprise, that never worked.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Because that’s the thing about repeating some actions (no matter how stupid they are!) for the long period of time – it’s hard to break the vicious circle. I guess that the helmet crumbles away after 10th or 20th time. And then you just keep on hitting the same wall with your bare head.
Until you suffer head trauma. Serious enough to actually convince you that it DOES make sense. But it doesn’t.
REALLY effective problem solving should rely on some systems.
You need some tools. Not a finger. I am familiar with many methods and systems. But there is just ONE I use on the permanent basis.
It’s simple, elegant. And it has the power to transform you into the problem-solving beast.
But we will get to the specifics in a moment.
Fortune Favors The Prepared Mind
Do you know how penicillin was discovered?
In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish researcher was experimenting with the influenza virus in the Laboratory of the Inoculation Department at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He was also well-known for being as untidy as brilliant.
The long story short, Fleming returned from a two-week vacation to find that a mold had developed on an accidentally contaminated staphylococcus culture plate.
After examining of the mold, he noticed that the culture prevented the growth of staphylococci. And voilà! The discovery was made. Some years down the road the penicillin became the most widely used antibiotic in the world.
Treat these websites as your birdbrained buddy. He doesn’t know exactly what you want but he wants to help. So he feeds you some ideas to play with. Let’s take a look at the screen-shots to see what I mean.
It might look meaningless. But is it? Let’s move to some practical application.
Problem – You Want To Design An Extraordinary Lamp
Of course, you would like to come up with some (relatively) fresh design. But you just keep looking at the damn piece of paper with a blank expression on your face. Frustration sticks out its ugly head. Anger overcomes you. Damn you Muses! But before you break something, let’s use some of the words from the random word generator.
Words: ham, rib, gossip, sunburn, speaker, spotlight, boxing gloves, iceberg
Some potential ideas:
rib – I guess it would look cool if instead of a normal, boring lamp, you could have something skeleton-related. Maybe a skull impaled on a spike? Oh, and the switch button can be hidden inside an eye socket! Since we are at it, why not design the entire line of gruesome lamps?!
speaker – why not connect the speaker with a lamp? It might look cool! And will be useful as well!
iceberg and spotlight – I can’t help but combine them in my head. The result is a light house. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, the lighthouse as a lamp sounds quite interesting. Doesn’t it?
What comes after the ideas?
Another part of the effective problem solving is testing your assumptions. It’s great to have some hypotheses. But how can you be sure that your solution will work?
come up with hypotheses as quickly as possible. 2. set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea 3. test it 4. measure results at the end of the experiment 5. draw conclusions 6. rinse and repeat
No Shortcuts: Being Creative Is Ordinary Labor
You have to come to terms with a fact that your initial ideas might be terrible or average at best. If you have been neglecting your problem-solving skills for a long time, it might take some time before you get good at it.
Being truly creative requires showing up day by day. Yes, it will be frustrating. Yes, it will be messy. But however frustrated you might get, don’t forget that there is a pot of gold at the end of this story (you can read more about doing the work that matters here).
What Will You Do With This Knowledge?
What you know doesn’t mean a damn thing.
It’s the things you do consistently that really count!
I want you to think about just ONE PROBLEM which has been bugging you for a long time. Write it down and problem solve the heck out of it!
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
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.
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 abouteffective 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!
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.
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!
It would be beautiful if you could always just sit and learn, wouldn’t it be? Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t work this way. It seems as if the time is never right. And even when you sit down, you often don’t know where to start. Or what to start with.
If you find yourself in this description, why not give yourself a rule or two to make your life easier? And the process of learning more automatic! Having rules will get you learning and keep you learning. You won’t be doomed anymore to ask yourself the ultimate question, “What do I do now?”.
What Is A Rule?
Just to be sure that we get the foundations right, I would like to quote definitions of both “a goal” and “a rule”. I know it sounds silly but I have had my fair share of situations when someone tried to convince me that they are “basically the same”
Once again, the philosophy is simple and actionable. It can also be measured easily by comparing the number of projects which were successfully concluded when you used this rule.
Of course, you have to compare the number of successes within a given period of time with a number of successes within a comparable period of time when you didn’t use this rule.
It can be a strategy which helps you to deal with your finances
IFI want to spend some money thenI’ll make sure that it costs less than 15% of all my financial resources
This is a personal example. Whenever I make a financial decision, I double-check if I don’t spend more than 15% of the money I have. If the answer is positive, it simply means that I can’t afford it.
The rule is so deeply ingrained in my decision-making process, that very often I don’t even think about it! And I’m more than sure that these rules have saved me from dozens of stupid financial decisions.
Otherwise, I would be buying myself a vibrating rubber finger that massages your gums. Yep, this is a real thing.
What Rules Are The Best?
The best rules tend to meet the following three criteria. They are:
The acronym SAMcan help you to memorize these qualities.
Why this “trinity”?
Firstly, you have to be sure that the rules you have chosen can be easily implemented into your learning process. Complicate them too much and after a couple of attempts you’ll become bitterly discouraged and will drop them.
Secondly, if you don’t measure in some way how these rules affect your learning, how will you know if they are worth anything?
How To Use Rules In Your Learning?
Picture by: Allan Ajifo
To use the rules effectively, you have to know what problems you have.
Once you find it, you can come up with a specific rule to aid your learning.
2) Choose a rule
Let’s choose a quite common language learning problem, i.e. “I don’t know which resources to use”.
What kind of rules could you use to solve it?
My take on this would be to separate language learning competences. Then I would attribute a specific rule to each of the competences I care about.
a) IF I practise listening then I’ll use X radio station
b) IF I want to improve my vocabulary then I’ll write down the words from a dictionary and read something
c) IF I want to read something then I’ll read X newspaper
3) Track your results
As I have mentioned before, you have totrack your (potential) progressto know whether the rule is good enough to keep it. After checking data, there is just one more step to take.
4) Decide whether to stick to the rule or replace it
Not much more to add here. This is self-explanatory 🙂
Personal Example – How I Juggle 8 Languages Using Rules
Believe me, if I didn’t have rules to guide my studying process, learning languages would be a living hell. I would throw myself from one language into another. Without any clue what I’m actually doing. Luckily, I have experimented a little bit and discovered what works for me.
As a disclaimer, I must add that I use this rule for 4 languages. The other ones I either use regularly or teach.
a) One week – learn Russian and French
b) Every second week – learn Czech and Spanish
Of course, this is a simplified version but it helps me to go through the weeks hassle-free.
How Will Rules Change Your Life?
As you can see, using rules in your learning and life can be surprisingly easy! And extremely beneficial. However, beware of one weird misconception – some say that having rules makes your life miserable and strips it of spontaneity.
Of course, that’s a lie. Using rules doesn’t mean that you will become a soulless robot eating nothing but bolts and screws for breakfast. Treat them like walking with a compass and map. You wouldn’t say that these are stupid, right?
Now…think about the rules which you might use in your (language) learning or life. How can they improve your life?