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
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?
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.
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!
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 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
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 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
That's why I typically provide myself with the three following things:
A pocket dictionary
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.
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"
- Do’s And Dont’s Of Learning Languages – How To Learn A Language On Your Own (Part 2)
Active And Passive Learning – How To Create The Winning Combination (Optimize Your Language Learning – Part 3)
- How To Learn Grammar Fast – How To Learn A Language On Your Own (Part 4)
- How To Improve Listening Skills In A Foreign Language – Learn A Language On Your Own (Part 5)
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
The Impossible Tuesday – What Is it All About?
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.
- learning 800 words during one day
- talking to myself for 6 hours in Russian
- doing 400 push-ups
we can do things we have never thought we could.
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.
Here is how bets work:
- Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
- Determine your TIME HORIZON (1 day in our case)
- BET with someone that you’ll achieve
- Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver (20$ for example)
- Send evidence to your bet buddy
Keep in mind that bets are fully flexible. You can mold them and twist them as much as you like to fit your goals.
How To Make Your Effort Count
If you already do something, do 4-5 times as much as you usually do
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
Break it down into many sessions
That’s why make sure you always break the entire process into many chunks.
Identify “the dead time” and use it
Dead time is the time spent doing activities which don’t absorb all of our attention.
What can be your goal?
- learning new words (e.g. in ANKI)
- creating new flashcards
- listening to something
- reading articles in a foreign language
- reading books
- 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
- starting a website
- setting up your own company
- writing a computer program
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.
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)
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:
My Example - Composing Music
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:
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.
The general sentiment towards learning these days never ceases to amaze me. Whenever I mention that I love to study or read research papers in my spare time, I often hear perplexed grunts or shy hollering "burn him!". It's perfectly normal to binge-watch three seasons of some TV series over the weekend. A five-hour session of board games is entirely acceptable. I have this vague feeling that even if I sprinkled my nipples with glitter and pretended to be a pigeon in front of the local police station, the reaction would be kinder.
Unfortunately, learning, instead of being associated with joy, sounds like a lifetime sentence, especially for adults. Of course, this progression does not occur immediately but almost imperceptibly, step by step. Just look at children. Their unrestrained joy of learning and discovering the world is nothing short of contagious. It usually lasts until they reach the school age.
Schools are like a grotesque B-rated horror infirmary where kids get their first doses of venom. It poisons their souls and actively discourages them from learning. It all starts innocently. First homework, the ubiquitous sense of compulsion, displeased stare of their teachers are enough to kill anyone's enthusiasm.
Each of them leaves little scars on their souls that eventually turn into an utter reluctance to learn. For adults, studying is usually the equivalent of working on a galley. You know you have to do it to get your pesos and an extra ration of bread but to enjoy it ?! Only deranged lunatics like learning.
In this article, I wanted to show you one of the possible ways to rediscover your passion for learning thanks to a simple concept I call Side Projects. I believe it has great potential to change anyone's view on learning, including children.
What Are Side Projects?
Side projects, as the name inconspicuously suggests, stand in opposition to your main projects. We can safely assume that your main goals are inevitable. They are necessary to secure your or your family's financial future and to guarantee a high standard of living.
Side projects have absolutely nothing to do with overwhelming pressure.
Here is what side projects all about.
1. Any field of knowledge
A side project of your choice can concern any field of knowledge. The only thing that matters is your willingness to pursue this goal. Forget about money, pragmatism, profitability, or utility.
Wanna learn the names of all the saints in Romania? Cool!
Do you want to explore the life of various species of ants in your home country? Great choice.
Are you dreaming of becoming a specialist in the field of toilet bowls? Brilliant!
The only condition is that it charges you with tons of positive energy.
2. No daily goals or deadlines
The only set-in-stone rule regarding side projects is this - abandon all that productivity jive that hunts our lives on a day-to-day basis. There are no daily goals or deadlines. Spend as much time as you like on your side projects.
If, after 10 minutes of reading about a given field, you have had enough, finish your studies for today. Kick up your legs and enjoy your whiskey or rotgut remorse-free.
3. There may be more than one of them
What if you're interested in more than one subject? Even better! I find that the best number of side projects is anything between 2-3. If there are more of them, you might use them as a welcome distraction while working on your main project.
4. A springboard from major projects (the perfect getaway from)
The side projects should be the equivalent of a Tequila shot at a boring party. If you have already worked a bit on your main project a day, and you feel your brain's convolutions are beginning to unfold, give yourself a jolt by enjoying your project, even for a little while.
The way you implement this strategy is quite simple. Start working on your project, and once you start feeling burned out, switch your gears and fool around for some time with your side project. Get that dopamine high to revive your focus and energy levels. Once you are done, go back to your primary focus.
They should be your stepping stone from the routine of everyday life and instill in you unfettered enthusiasm!
Benefits of Side Projects
Don't expect a balanced approach in this article. There are no cons of this strategy in my mind, just pros. How many? Plenty!
1. Rediscovering the joy of learning
Perhaps I am largely isolated in my opinion, but I believe that nothing kills the joy of learning like a compulsion. Schools, for most children, are places where enthusiasm comes to die. Kids sit there for long hours, shackled to their desks by obligations and expectations. It doesn't get better once they get back home. There is no mercy. "Do your homework, honey, or you will end up as a car mechanic (that earns twice as much as most white-collar workers)!"
What's especially sad for me is that institutions that are supposed to promote science really don't give a damn about it. For example, did you know that there is virtually no research of good quality that shows that homework is an effective tool in the learning system? The largest study to date on this issue was conducted in 2006.
It is a meta-analysis meaning it's a study that summarizes the conclusions of many other research papers. Here is its conclusion:
"No strong evidence was found for an association between the homework–achievement link and the outcome measure (grades as opposed to standardized tests) or the subject matter (reading as opposed to math).
In other words, all we have is a very weak correlation that homework is worth our while. Science would dictate that if we fail to find any strong evidence for a given hypothesis, we should abandon it. Of course, that's just a theory. The reality dictates that we should keep on spiraling into this madness and continue doing what we have done for over a century. Let's just ignore
Does this mean that children or students should not do anything when they come home? No. But there's a clear alternative to homework after all.
Freedom of choice means more fun from learning
The flip side of this tarnished coin is freedom of choice. The amount of research that shows the benefits of giving people the freedom to choose what they want to learn is quite overwhelming. It is, among others, correlated with:
Here is a handful of studies on that topic:
Even though all of these studies are mostly correlative, the question is, do we really have to scour through a pile of academic papers to understand how important choice is?
When I studied Computer Science and Econometrics, it turned out that my love for mathematics wrinkled and withered like a piss-watered rose. When I studied English Philology, I stopped learning this language at my own time. After one semester, studying it seemed as satisfying as chewing rubble. The same thing happened during my Postgraduate Studies for Sworn Translators and Interpreters. I was so disgusted with them that I quit my job as an interpreter and gave up on any translation-related career.
Funny enough, it did not prevent me from studying all these subjects on my own after graduation. It also didn't stop me from teaching subjects like statistics subjects and showing people how wonderful they are.
Freedom of choice is inseparable from the joy of learning and discovering the world.
Maybe this damned omnipresent feeling compulsion is why most people don't work in the profession upon graduation.
To sum up, telling someone that they have to do something reminds me of the growing agony on the face of a person who finds out that yes, they are going on a romantic getaway to Paris, but the one in Lamar County, Texas.
2. Developing the habit of learning
The freedom of choice and the joy resulting from it always result in one thing - everyday learning. I don't think anyone should be surprised. If we like to do something, we do it often. And the more we do something, the better we are at it. And the better we are, the more we want to demonstrate it to others. After some time, we reach the point where our newly acquired "specialization" becomes a part of our identity. You become "the car guy", or "the diet lady", etc.
It's worth remembering that side projects have the potential to change your attitude towards any kind of learning. One day you might wake up just to realize that studying every day is as natural to you as brushing your teeth.
3. Knowledge and development
I love the fact that all the benefits of side projects seem to overlap. Freedom of choice restores the joy of learning, which in turn leads to the habit of regular learning. The consequence, of course, is the accumulation of knowledge and continuous development.
Where will they all take you? Nobody knows, and that's their beauty. Good things, as well as bad things, have one thing in common - usually, they come in hordes. Perhaps the knowledge you have accumulated will help you get a raise or a new job. Or maybe you will infuse your children with this passion, giving their lives a wonderful trajectory. You may start waking up with joy, even looking forward to the new day, and your enthusiasm will begin to infect all those around you.
No one knows what will happen, but be sure of one thing - it will be something breathtakingly positive.
Examples of Side Projects of Mine
I have no idea what's in your head or what potentially interests you. All I can do is give you some examples of my current side projects. Note that they are quite bizarre, at least for most people. It doesn't matter. I enjoy them, and that's what counts.
As a kid, I was absolutely in love with the trilogy "
Now, I know a decent bit, as for an amateur, about this area, and I love it.
Fun fact #1: We can obtain strychnine from an ordinary houseplant called difenbachia. It is found in quite high concentration in the leaves.
Fun fact #2: Strychnine in doses less than 5 mg can be used as a stimulant.
Fun fact #3: Breathing is getting difficult, and I can't feel my fingernails.
Fun fact #4: Ignore fun fact #2 - stick with coffee.
For at least 20 years, in every conversation that touched upon trips, holidays, countries, etc., I felt like a geographic idiot. Heck, I even brought it up myself asking people over and over where a given city or sea is located. I brushed off my ignorance because I always felt that it's one of those things that I can easily google if need be, At the same time, it didn't diminish how silly I felt when it turned out that I don't know quite big towns located literally 50 km always from my hometown.
It's no surprise that geography became one of my side projects. And man, what a ride down the memory lane it is! I used to spend half of my childhood hiking in different mountain ranges in Poland. I never remembered their names - all I had were souvenirs in the form of pictures. Now I am rediscovering all of them in
Don't get me wrong - I still suck at it more than a 5000 W vacuum cleaner. However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. And for once, I don't think that's the end of the colon.
3. DDD (Disinfection, Deratization, Disinfestation)
Not that long ago, my close friend and I had a brilliant plan to take over his dad's business in that industry and try to expand it. Even though our project fell through for different reasons, the whole undertaking gave me a push to start studying this area. Frankly, I was almost sure that I would drop this field of study the moment I knew that our project would fail but surprisingly, I am still studying it even if just at a leisurely pace.
Funny enough, some of this knowledge turned out to be useful when pharaoh ants invaded our flat! I managed to quickly fight off this menace without resorting to chemicals. It's the little things that matter!
How Side Projects Turn Into Serious Ones
Unpredictability and randomness are inherent parts of life. You never know what a tiny rolling stone may turn into. My experience clearly shows that if you give it some time, it might be an avalanche of monumental proportions.
So many things that are my daily bread and butter nowadays were alien to me a couple of years ago. The mere suggestion that I could do live off them would be rewarded with a doubting and pitiful smile of mine. And yet, they are all a part of my reality. Isn't it easy to underestimate the smallest of things?
I started investing a couple of years ago after way too many conversations on that topic with one of my students. He often told me about his experiences with the Polish stock market in the 90s. I never thought of myself as someone who could do this. My primary association with investing were sad guys in three-piece suits and their fake bleached smiles.
After some cogitation, I began to timidly memorize everything I could on that topic on various websites. It took me about 18 months before I finally opened my brokerage account and started investing. Money aside, this project was and still is a lot of fun. That is if we forget about the market crash in March. That was anything but fun.
Still, in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions of my life and up to this day. Up to this day, investing is an integral part of my week.
My interest in trichology started very sneakily. My friend, who at the time wasn't even 30, started going bold. Knowing my obsession with medicine and especially endocrinology, he asked if I could help him with that. Even though I had some information on alopecia in my ANKI, and I knew the basic mechanisms behind this process, I felt it was not enough.
I started going through different books and research papers in my spare time, and before I knew it, I was head over heels in love with this topic. It got serious enough that I even did my certification as a trichologist, and now I consult clients a couple of times per month.
I could list many more examples like this, but I think you already know what I mean. You never know where your side projects will take you, but one thing is for sure - it will be a very positive place.
Side Projects - Summary
Whenever somebody asks me how to get good or excel in many areas, my answer is always the same. Learn how to learn effectively and then start with side projects.
Side projects have the potential to revive your joy of learning and make it an integral part of your life. The great thing about such an approach is that you don't need any sophisticated goals, detailed planning or tools.
Just think about the field that has always interested you, download ANKI and get down to work! Good luck!
Let me know if you have put some of your projects or interests on the back burner 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 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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
Such cards can include the following things that have already been mentioned in other units or will be mentioned in the modules to come:
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:
- low-carb diets
- supplements (e.g. some herbs or caffeine)
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 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:
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:
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
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?
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:
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,
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
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
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
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
Done reading? Time to learn!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Guess what? It's much easier to look up a couple of grammar constructions if they are on one piece of paper than:
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
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
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.
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
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)?
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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
- 1Choose a small chunk of grammar
- 2Create at least 100 sentences with it
- 3Make sure that you can use it well enough
- 4Move on to another grammar construction
Benefits of Deliberate Practice
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.
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.
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!
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?"
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:
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 Neumann, and 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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
- 1Listen for the gist of the conversation. Once you understand it, move on to details
- 2When you watch materials in original, observe mouths of actors/hosts and read their lips
- 3Try to understand the non-verbal communication of your speaking partner (actors, etc.)
- 4Listen to the melody of the language
- 5Once 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.
- 6Concentrate on sounds that are foreign to you. This technique can also help you maintain your concentration
- 7Listen 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!)
- 8Use logic to conclude what will follow (get in the habit of guessing)
- 9Listen to a recording more than once. At first, to understand the gist and then to get details
- 10Slow down the speed of recording. For this purpose, use Audacity, AllPlayer, or simply YouTube
- 11Speed up the speed of the recording to extend your comfort zone and then move back to an actual pace
- 12Remember 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!
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.
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. 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
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
It doesn't matter whether you listen to podcasts, music, or watch TV-series. Tally it up and enter the data.
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.
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!
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!
I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 9 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.
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:
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!
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:
- 1Tell me about yourself
- 2What do you know about or company?
- 3What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- 4Why did you leave your last job?
- 5What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?
- 6What do you do in your current role?
- 7Why would you like to work for us?
- 8Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
- 9What kind of qualifications do you have?
- 10Why 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
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!
"Hi. It is X from the Y company. Am I speaking with Mr. X?"
"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!
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!
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.
There is no better way to start a piece on the benefits of talking to yourself than to quote Mr. Jones.
"One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody's listening," Franklin P. Jones.
You must be thinking now - is there a BAD way to do it? Of course. Believe me, It's definitely an art. Just like basket weaving.
But seriously - we take our ability to talk to ourselves for granted. I tried to google "talking to yourself" in some languages. The result? Usually, people are trying to make sure that they don't have schizophrenia.
Taking to Yourself - Why so Many Bad Associations?
Every time, every damn time, when I mention to somebody that I love talking to myself out loud, they give me this weird look. They probably think that I put on my trench coat, get on the bus, sit near some nice old lady, and rub myself while blurting out some incomprehensible words.
That's a grave misunderstanding. If used the right way, "self-talk," as psychologists refer to it, can be a handy tool in your mental arsenal. It can, I kid you not, improve almost every area of your life.
No more shameful hiding in the shadows. Embrace your inner voices, and let me walk you through the benefits of talking to yourself!
Cognitive Benefits Of Talking To Yourself
What does the research say about the benefits of talking to yourself?
Research from the University of Michigan found that those who worked through their stress about giving a speech about their qualifications using "you" rather than "I" performed better and were less tormented by anxiety and self-doubt.
When people think of themselves as another person, "it allows them to give themselves objective, helpful feedback", says Ethan Kross, associate professor of psychology and director of the Self-Control and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Michigan
In another study, psychologists Gary Lupyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Daniel Swingley (University of Pennsylvania) conducted a series of experiments to discover whether talking to yourself can help you to locate lost objects.
Long story short - they established that speaking facilitated search, particularly when there was a strong association between the name and the visual target.
You see? Not only children can augment their thinking while doing some tasks!
Are there any other benefits other than being more likely to stay on task, staying focused better, and showing improved perception capabilities?
Sure! Better memory. Think about it - when you talk out loud, you stimulate more sensory channels than when you subvocalize. You hear the sounds. What's more, even though you may not realize it, your body feels sounds as they are conducted through your bones.
Fun fact: Bone conduction is one reason why a person's voice sounds different to him/her when it is recorded and played back.
Last but not least, whenever you say something out loud, you engage your emotions. One of the most potent ingredients to boost your memory.
Research is great. But experiencing something first hand is even better.
Choose some words you'd like to memorize and shout it out angrily or with joy and afterward start laughing like a madman. I'll be amazed if you can't recall it a few days later.
Here's a good example. I'm sure you remember this scene if you have seen the movie.
I hope that by this moment, you're at least muttering to yourself!
Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Overcoming Stage Fright
Everybody has his favorite tricks to deal with anxiety. But the one which I find the most effective is preparing yourself for what's about to come.
Have a presentation?
Stand in front of the mirror and go through your presentation as many times as it's necessary to turn it into a brilliant performance. Who knows? Maybe you will enjoy it that much that you will join Toastmasters.
Have an interview?
Collect the list of 20-30 most frequently asked questions and rehearse the crap out of them!
Want to confront your boss about the long-overdue raise?
List all the possible questions that may come up during such a conversation and prepare your answers. Doing so will put you in a much better position when push comes to shove.
And so on. You get the idea.
Proper preparation kills stress and anxiety.
Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Practicing Languages
What if I told you that you could learn a language without uttering a word to anyone else but yourself? You would probably think I'm crazy. And I certainly am. After all, I'm writing an article about talking to yourself.
But that doesn't change the fact that I learned Swedish (B2 level) to get the job in less than four months without talking to anyone in Swedish (but myself). And while working 50+ hours per week.
Talking to yourself is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to improve your language skills. Conversations with others always impose various limitations on you. It's entirely understandable - It's much more important to keep the talk alive than to experiment with different grammar constructions or new vocabulary.
Self-talk enables you to concentrate on your weaknesses. Such deliberate practice can significantly improve your language level.
How to Talk to Yourself?
All conversations are based on the "action-reaction" principle. Somebody asks you some questions - you answer. It goes on and on. That's why, if you want to prepare yourself for conversations with, say, friends from abroad, you should list potential questions that might come up, together with answers to them. Don't forget about taking into consideration the interests of potential conversation partners!
Of course, you don't have to come up with all the questions by yourself.
I want to recommend two fantastic websites which I have been using for many years:
They cover almost every socially acceptable topic which might crop up during your conversations. Together with some more "unusual" subjects, such as - eye contact or Jamaica.
If you discuss most of these subjects with yourself, I can guarantee you that you'll be able to talk with every native speaker about almost anything you want. Isn't it a definition of being fluent?
Overcome Weirdness of Talking to Yourself
It's only weird if you make it weird. You don't have to rush to your friends to brag about this, nor do you have to write an article about this (sic!). It's just a tool to make you a better person.
It's perfectly normal. Do you know that computer scientists do it as well (not that it means anything!)?
Rubber duck debugging is an informal term used in software engineering for a method of debugging code. The name is a reference to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer in which a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck. Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different inanimate objects.
So don't be a weirdo and don't feel ashamed to talk to yourself!
Other Benefits of Talking to Yourself
That's right. You might use the self-talk for various things, such as:
- 1Energizing and motivating yourself - you can psych yourself up with: "Come on!" "Let's go!" "You can do this!". Martial artists have been using screams for hundreds of years to give them some extra energy. I'm pretty sure there is a good reason for that.
- 2Playing devil's advocate - find the weaknesses in your argumentation. Try to debunk your theories. Saying your options out loud and elaborating on the pros and cons can help bring the right choice to light, and you might be surprised at the unexpected direction your thoughts take when they're audible.
- 3Blowing off steam - don't keep it all inside. If your colleague is a massive w*nker, say it out loud and scold him. Scientists found out that swearing can alleviate pain and decrease stress.
- 4Cheering yourself up - sometimes, it just happens that others don't appreciate you enough. So what? You can pat yourself on the back for being a great human being!
Benefits of Talking to Yourself - FAQ
My spouse/brother/friend is talking to himself/herself a bit too much? Should I be worried?
Generally, no, unless you notice any of the two following symptoms.
Remember, it's not weird until you make it weird!
Done reading? Time to learn!
I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 9 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.
Achieving full language fluency is certainly not easy. The internet is filled with all sorts of advice on how to do it. And that's on top of all those shiny lists of language learning tools. No wonder, after all, these are extremely important elements in the whole process. However, in a whirlwind of all kinds of language learning discussions, it's easy to lose sight of one thing - the criterion of utility.
The utility criterion tells us one very simple thing - we should preferentially use things that are directly applicable in our lives.
It doesn't matter how much time you spend going through your textbooks. If the language is not part of your life, the textbook will most often be thrown in the corner at the first sign of a life/time crisis.
It is not difficult to imagine that you are going on vacation for 2 weeks and completely neglect your studies because YOLO, and "let's party dude!". Or suddenly you get sick and you feel so weak that you lack the strength to lift a book.
Sure, you can blame this state of affairs on your lack of willpower or the adverse conjunction of the planets, but the fact is that your contact with language has been neglected because it is not a part of your life!
Full language fluency - languages as a versatile tool
Perhaps the entire system of education is to blame. We are used to thinking that language is yet another school subject. Or thinking that learning a language is drudgery and that "I will cram a couple more words and then I am finally free and will do something interesting."
We forget that language is a tool. And not just any! We're not talking about a rusty knife with a bent handle.
We're talking about a cool Swiss army knife!
There are many ways to integrate languages into your daily life to guarantee that you will achieve full fluency.
Remember that the deeper the integration, the greater the chance that you will learn the language not only fluently but also quickly.
Foreign languages as a tool for entertainment
Broadly understood entertainment is certainly one of the easiest changes you can make. There are so many ways to relax after all! What's more, nobody has to force us to do it. I am yet to hear a mom yelling at her son, "Stop learning, you dweeb. Watch something for once. Oh! I have failed as a parent!".
Here are a few "entertainment" categories that you should include in your daily plan:
Remember that no activity is a waste of time if it is done in a foreign language.
1) Full language fluency - Music
Music is not only a great tool to improve your listening comprehension, but it can also help you to remember words better.
If you don't know what to listen to in the language of your choice, I highly recommend the Music Map website. It allows you to quickly find a lot of exciting artists based on your current musical tastes.
In other words - enter the artist's name and enjoy the sweet view of dozens of other artists.
Here is an example for Rammstein:
2) Full language fluency - watching movies / series
Films, and in particular TV series, are one of the pleasures you don't need to convince anyone of. Often, no more than a few days is enough to get an incurable condition called "one more episode-itis".
Here is a list of some interesting sites where you can watch TV series or movies in the original language or dubbed. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section.
I recommend Netflix in particular. You can change a default language of TV series and movies there as well as enable subtitles.
And all this without worrying that the link on the page does not work or that you will see for the 10th time in one day "Do you want to meet singles in your area?". It is one of the best language investments I've made over many years.
3) Full language fluency - exploring interests
Like most people, you are probably quirky. You have your own world, and your own interests to which you can effortlessly devote lots of time. Why not use it to get one step close to achieving full language fluency?
It doesn't matter if you are interested in reading thyme dregs or a 50-meter chinchilla throw. I guarantee you that a little googling is enough to find forums or websites of people who share your passion.
Here are some examples of interesting sites:
4) Full language fluency - gossip magazines
I will say it again - nothing is a waste of time if it is done in foreign languages! The next time your husband catches you reading about Brad Pitt's iron buttocks, just shout shrilly "I'm learning! Do not disturb!" Or do it in German to fluster him. That works better than a pepper spray.
I feel dirty writing this, but here are some recommendations:
5) Full language fluency - Computer games
If you are hellbent on keeping the last link connecting your childhood with the cold and cruel world of adults alive, I recommend taking up computer games. Especially those that are rich in various dialogues.
The best site where you can find computer games in many languages is Steam.
Foreign language as a tool for professional development
The modern world is not a welcoming place. If you have any hopes of becoming a force to be reckoned with, you need to develop and sharpen your skills continually. Just a moment of inattention is enough to get mangled by the competition, who will then proceed to graciously stomp over your carcass. Terrible. I know.
I recommend finding your preferred sources of specialized information in languages of your choice. This is the easiest way always to be one step ahead of most people in your industry.
Warning - the initial shock
It is worth mentioning that deep integration of a foreign language into life is not all butterflies and rainbows. Initially, you may feel strong resistance from the brain. This pink, slimy bastard will try to talk you out of trying to surround yourself with a foreign language, "John, don't learn Korean! What will neighbors say?".
You should be ready for it. It will pass with time. However, it remains an open question how much time will be needed for this.
If you already have some experience with intensive language learning, you probably won't need much time to get used to new experiences. If you're inexperienced, accept that you'll need up to a few weeks.
Achieving Full language fluency - Summary
Often the main difference between a person who has mastered a language and the one who has given up is the extent to which they have made the language part of their lives.
Each additional activity performed in a given language anchors it even deeper.
Such integration will make your learning fully resistant to the turmoils of life. The border between "cramming" and normal life will begin to blur, and eventually it will disappear.
You will always know when this moment will come, as it is truly unforgettable. It reveals itself in the following question: "Did I read / hear it in a foreign language or in my native tongue?"
Done reading? Time to learn!
I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 12 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.