How to choose the best learning methods (and avoid the bad ones)

Scouring the internet to find the ultimate language learning method is no mean feat.

Around every corner, there is something new trying to seduce you. And most of the time you give in. “Why not”, you might think, “It sounds reasonable”.

You don’t even notice when this search turns into a bizarre blind-folded tasting.
One time it’s an acorn. Other time it is a piece of crap.

What’s even worse, almost every person swears by his own method. “Listen, I learned Japanese by yodeling. I am telling ya this is the way to go!”

It is all confusing and disheartening.

That’s why I want to show you how to evaluate learning methods.

Hopefully, upon reading this article you will learn how to navigate those murky waters and make more educated decisions about your learning.

But let’s start with a question I have heard many times.

Why bother with choosing the right method?

1) It saves time

 

choose the best learning methods

 

Nothing is our in this world but time – Seneca

You should treat the choice of a potential learning method as an investment.

Would you ever open a newspaper, close your eyes and just pick some stocks randomly?
I don’t think so.

That’s why I would suggest that you approach choosing a language learning strategy the same way.

Don’t behave like a happy-go-lucky hippie.
Spend an hour or two to think it through.

It will pay off, I promise.
It really makes a difference.

Very often 10 minutes of a good learning method might be worth an hour (or even more) of a crappy method. (* cough* Duolingo *cough*).

Imagine what you could do with all that saved time!

Of course, pondering over this decision for too long is no good either.
Don’t think too long.

Simply evaluate a couple of methods against the guidelines found in this article, choose the right one and move on.

2) It boosts motivation

I don’t believe in motivation. I believe in habits and systems.

But there is no denying that motivation is a force to be reckoned with.
Especially when you take up a new learning project.

However, there is one big problem. Motivation is a capricious mistress.

One day she is lovely and charming, while the other day she goes berserk and kicks you right in the nuts. That’s why relying on motivation is not a good long-term strategy.

Nevertheless, choosing a right strategy will help you notice results of your learning much quicker.
And in my experience, there is nothing better to fuel your motivation.

3) It solves most of other learning problems

Probably you already know it but just in case – most of your learning-related problems stem from the wrong choice of learning methods

Can’t keep more than two languages in your head at the same time?
Wrong learning methods.

Keep on forgetting words?
Wrong learning methods.

I hope that by now, I have convinced you that choosing the right learning method is not a waste of time.

The next thing on the agenda – learning fallacies.

The Most Widespread Learning Fallacies

 

There are a lot of people who offer you their advice in good faith, even though they themselves are ill-informed.

It’s equally important to know, not only what works, but also what doesn’t work and why. At least if you want to be a good “b*shit” detector learning-wise!

Here is the list of the most important learning fallacies you may fall subject to.

Fallacy #1 – My method works

 

how to choose the best learning methods

 

There are not many people strolling around and saying, “My method sucks and guarantees no results whatsoever. Use it!”.

Everybody is convinced that their learning method is great and that the other guys suck (confirmation bias, anyone?). Here is a corker – they are all right.

Absolutely all learning methods work.

It comes as a shock, right?

Pick any method you want. If you stick to it long enough, you will see some effects.
If you just keep plugging away, eventually you will learn what you have set out to do.

Even the worst of the worst methods work.

I am the best possible example of this. My default method of learning English years ago was to

  • a) write down every word I didn’t know
  • b) rewrite it from a dictionary
  • c) read it 

In other words, I was rewriting a dictionary.

I really do hope that I was fed with a lead spoon as a child.
At least I would be able to justify myself just a little bit.

I have managed to write away 12 A4 notebooks this way. Pure madness and the hands down the crappiest method I have ever heard of.

Yet, I managed to learn English fluently and get all the Cambridge Certificates.
The miracle?

No.

I just kept plugging away at it. Many hours per day. Until I succeeded.

You can see learning as rolling a big ball from point A to point B.

Your learning methods decide how heavy the ball is and thus how much time it will take to get it to the finish line.

The heaviness of the ball doesn’t make it impossible for you to achieve your goal. It just takes longer to do it and it is more difficult.

Main takeaway just because a method works doesn’t really prove anything unless you measure the average results which it gves you.

Fallacy # 2 – I like it (aka personal preferences or learning styles)

 

how to choose the best learning methods

 

Months ago I wrote in one of the articles that learning styles don’t exist. The hell ensued.

I got plenty of angry e-mails. Some people started behaving like an upset stereotypical Brit, “Iconoclastic heresies, my good chum!”. Others would gladly spit into my cereal if they got a chance.

No wonder. I have found a lot of statistics saying that over 80 or even 90% of teachers believe it to be true. Thor only knows how many students have been infected with this idea.

And this is why so many people have a very strong opinion about it.

However, let me repeat for dramatic effect.

Learning styles don’t exist*

* You can read more about it here. It’s not perfect but it should dispel most of your doubts.

Most of the time when people use this term, they mean “personal preferences“.

They prefer to see information visually, orally or in some other way.

PREFER is the key word here.

It doesn’t mean that learning this way is more effective. It means you like it more.

An author who enjoys music the most will think that the music is the best way to learn.
Another one will try to convince you that spending more time outside is the ultimate solution.

But there is some silver lining here.

Liking a given method makes it more sustainable. You can use it longer than some other methods without feeling fatigued.

It certainly counts for something and you should always have such enjoyable learning methods in your arsenal.

Main takeawayjust because you like a method doesn’t make it effective memory- and time-wise. It does, however, make it more sustainable.

Fallacy #3 – Everybody learns differently

 

how to choose the right learning methods

 

Everybody learns differently is just a special case of the snowflake syndrome.

I get it, you are without the slightest doubt special in your own way. However, don’t make a mistake of thinking that

learning differently =/ learning effectively.

Let me explain why we are not so special and so different when it comes to learning.

We are the product of the evolution. Our brains are in many ways very similar.

  • Your working memory capacity is probably the same as mine. Surpass it and you can say goodbye to remembering things.
  • You learn most of the things better by doing.
  • Your attention is very limited. 
  • Your brain needs regular breaks during learning.
  • You learn better when you space your learning.

The list goes on and on.

So yes, you are special in many ways. But not in the ways your brain acquires knowledge.

Main takeawayour brains absorb information in a very similar way. 

Fallacy #4 – It’s based on science

I know what you are thinking. How the hell is this a learning fallacy?
Is it not important for a method to be based on science?

Yes, it is crucial.

However, there is one problem with that.
People love numbers, statistics and quoting research papers.

It makes everything more believable. You can come up with any crappy theory and method, back it up with some research paper and people will buy it.

There are a lot of companies which do exactly that.
They apply flaky results of some fishy research paper(s) to their learning method and sell it for big bucks.

At least twice per month, I get requests to write a review of some “revolutionary” software.
Most of the time the only revolutionary thing about it is spaced repetition.

Obviously, spaced repetition algorithms are amazing. But it doesn’t justify paying for it 20-50$ per month (you know who you are!). You can go ahead and just download ANKI for free.

That’s why this is the trickiest fallacy of them all. Don’t buy into some method just because it sounds sciency. I can guarantee you that almost every method is based on some research paper. Whether its creator knows it or not.

Main takeaway – just because a method is based on a research paper it doesn’t make it effective.

Fallacy #5 – There is one method

 

choose the best learning methods

There is no perfect learning method. 

You can’t build a house with only a hammer. You need other tools as well.

Learning is too complicated to approach it from only one side. It doesn’t matter how good this method seems, be it mnemonics or anything else.

That’s why you should always aim at creating your own personal toolbox.

Main takeaway – there is no perfect method. You should always have at least a couple of them in order to learn effectively.

Important factors in choosing right learning methods

 

Although I would love to give you a perfect recipe for success in learning, I don’t think it is possible. What’s more, I will restrain myself from suggesting the methods I use personally or teach my clients.

Instead, I will show you which criteria you can use to evaluate the general effectiveness of different methods.

A good method should

a) be based on science

“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learn how your memory operates. Once you master this basic information it will be much easier for you to assess different learning methods. (read more about it here and here).

As Aristotle once said

“The fact is our starting point.” 

The more “science boxes” your learning method checks, the better.

b) sustainable (easy to use)

Although not every learning method has to be sustainable, it is good when at least one of them is something that you can do for a long time and you find it pleasant.

But remember – first, do the real work and then have fun.

c) be engaging

The Marines have a great motto

Learn how you fight

Make sure that your learning method resembles real-life situations as much as it is only possible.

d) be tested

Whenever it is possible you should test a strategy you are planning to use long term. Don’t trust somebody just because he says that his method works.

Most people don’t challenge their assumptions.

I get requests to consult or collaborate on some language course all the time. The email exchanges usually end when I ask

“So how exactly have you tested your learning system/method and what is it based on?”.

And then crickets. There has been just one exception to this day.

That’s why design your own experiment to prove a method right or wrong.

Want to switch to another method? Test them against each other.

e) give you feedback

You don’t want to do something without knowing whether it is right or not. A good method should always provide you with some amount of feedback.

Final Words

Choosing the best learning methods is definitely not easy. It might take some time and experience in order to tell the chaff from the wheat.

Nevertheless, it is always worth the effort. The amount of time and frustration you can potentially save is really gigantic.

Good luck!

Question for you – are there any methods you are currently using that you would like me to analyze? Let me know in the comments. Feel free to include your own analysis.

How Much Time It Takes To Maintain (And Improve) Many Languages

Being a polyglot sounds like such an amazing thing, doesn’t it? Admiration, fame, money, women throwing themselves at your feet.

All these things are not only great but also completely imaginary.

Ok, just a bad joke. It is pretty great.

But plenty of people notoriously underestimates how much time it takes to maintain and learn languages. I am sure you know the type.

They love to assume that the only prerequisite to master many languages is some unspecified talent.

I get it. If you say, “I envy you, I wish I could speak so many languages but I just don’t have a knack for it”, you don’t have to feel guilty.

That’s why they keep sucking the rationalization’s tit until they get all warm and blissful.

And who knows? Maybe they are right to some degree. We are all born different. Wiring in our little brains differs from one another.

Some people might actually have some head-start. But one thing is sure – no magical combinations of neural networks will ever make you a polyglot if you don’t put in the long hours.

How many?

It’s time to unveil the mystery.

For the past four weeks, I have been trying to track down how much time I devote to learning and maintaining my languages each week.

But before we get to that, let’s start with the baseline,

My Current Language Levels

Here are my current levels:

  • English: C2+ (C2 level + a couple of specializations)
  • Swedish: C1/C2
  • German: C1/C2
  • Russian: C1
  • Esperanto: C1
  • Czech: B2/C1
  • Spanish: B2
  • French: A2/B1

As a side note, I can’t understand why some people say that they know a language when they can barely string a sentence together. Your language is not dormant – it is mostly forgotten. Deal with it,

No one would go to an interview claiming that they know JavaScript but “not right now”.
Somehow, this practice seems to be quite widespread in the language learning world.

C1 level

You might notice that I learn my languages to at least C1 level. There is a very good reason for that – language attrition happens muuuch slower on this level than on the lower ones.

Once you get there, you can start taking breaks from that language to entertain yourself with other projects.

Time Breakdown

 

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

WORK

Let’s start with my unfair advantage – I teach / train people for a living. It allows me to spend considerable amounts of time while being surrounded by many languages.

Currently, I teach/coach 30+ people per week.

Main languages I teach are:

  • Swedish – 8-10 hours
  • German – 8-10 hours
  • English – 8-10 hours

These are not your usual conversations. I work almost exclusively with professionals. Each hour I spent with them is designed to jog their memory and bring them to the point of exhaustion.

That requires from me quite a considerable vocabulary which is awesome.

 

If we add to this mix a couple hours of consultations each week, we get a pretty decent number.

Total time: 24-35 hours

SPARE TIME – LEARNING PART

I am not sure whether it’s sad or not but I spend most of my waking hours learning and/or experimenting with memory systems. None of these activities are carried out in my mother tongue.

I figured out that since I know it pretty well it would be a waste of time.

Basically, it means, as absurd as it sounds, that Polish (my native tongue) and French are the least frequently used languages by me.

It leads to some bizarre and funny situations. Sometimes my brain plays with me and prompts me to conjugate Polish verbs in a really weird way – I have created monsters like “wypróbowywałem” instead of “wypróbowałem” more times than I would like to admit.

Quite a side-effect, huh?

Another interesting side-effect is dreaming in foreign languages. I have actually had dreams where people were speaking one foreign language and my brain was displaying subtitles in another.

Yep. Who needs drugs when you have languages.

Anyway, reading, talking, noting, writing are all done in various languages.

The rough breakdown looks more less like this. Mind you that these numbers reflect only a couple of last weeks and they are bound to change. They have to adjust to my needs, after all.

English – 15-hours. As much as I would like to suppress the use of this language throughout the week, it is impossible.

About 80% of e-mails I get are in English. 98% of all scientific papers I read are in English, no other language comes even close when it comes to their quality. I would say that I read at least 300+ pages per week in that language.

And let’s not forget about writing articles. Once again English prevails.

Czech – 5 hours per week. Mostly reading (10-15 articles per week) and learning/revising vocabulary.

Russian – 3-7 hours per week. Mostly revising and learning vocabulary. I read maybe 1-2 articles per week. Oh, and let’s throw about 2-4 episodes of TV series to this mix!

Esperanto – 1-2 hours per week Mostly revising and learning vocabulary. Unfortunately, there are not many websites in Esperanto which overlap with my interests. It means that I read maybe 0-2 pages in Esperanto per week.

Swedish – 4-6 hours. I need to maintain my Swedish skills at a high level because of my job. I tend to read 10-20 articles per week and tend to watch a fair share of YT in Swedish (I highly recommend I Just Want To Be Cool channel, if you are learning Swedish).

French – 0-1 hours per week. Currently, I am busy with many projects and the sole victim of this state of affairs is French. As a not so surprising result, my French is deteriorating rather fast.

German – 3-5 hours per week. Besides learning new words and revising old ones, I read about 5-10 articles per week and watch a bit of YT.

Spanish – 3-4 hours per week. Mostly revising and learning vocabulary with some articles here and there.

And just for the clarity’s sake – I learn and revise my vocabulary by talking in order to keep it active.

Total time: 34-40 hours per week.

SPARE TIME – ENTERTAINMENT

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

 

Now it really gets weird!

I tend to watch a lot of TV series with my girlfriend – about 15 hours per week. It’s great fun. However, it has bothered me for a long time that everything we watch is in English.

That’s a wrinkle I couldn’t iron out.

And then it dawned on me – why not turn this ordinary activity into another language learning exercise?
Why not translate everything actors say into one of the languages I am trying to improve?

As I thought so I did. I have been doing it for about 4 months now and it has really helped me improve my fluency in a couple of languages.

“What about words or phrases you don’t know?”, you might ask.

I have an easy but effective system which takes care of that problem. I memorize them with mnemonics on the fly and quickly note them down after each episode.

Next day I look them up and encode them. Quite an elegant solution, isn’t it?

Of course, it doesn’t work each time. Sometimes I am just too tired and I let myself get sucked into a TV whirlwind.

Total time: 5-15 hours

The Final Result

The results were beyond interesting. It was no secret to me that I learn a lot but I didn’t think that it’s that much!

Not even once did I sink below the level of 70 hours per week, although I am sure that it might happen in the future.

Thank God I am not a crack addict. Otherwise, I would be this guy who crawls through broken glass to lick other junkies’ nostrils to get his daily high.

Total time: 63-90 hours per week

Want to increase your weekly learning time? Read on. There is some food for thought for you there.

ACTIVE vs. PASSIVE LEARNING

Active use: 35-50 hours per week (talking to others or myself)
Semi-active use: about 15 hours per week (translating TV series in my mind)
Passive: 15-35 hours per week (reading + listening/watching)

CHALLENGES

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

 

Over 70 hours per week is certainly a lot of time. That’s why there is one important question which begs to be asked.

Does it all come easy? Or does it require some tremendous amount of will power? At the risk of rubbing some people the wrong way the answer is – It does come easy.

At this point of time in my life, I do most of those things without giving them much thought. But I had to work my way up to get there.

And believe me – it was a long walk and the slope was slippery.

There is definitely a number of challenges you need to face if you want to pump up your total learning time. Here are some of them.

CREATING HABITS

Definitely one of the most important things to master, if not the most important one. If you want to make sure that you will learn day in, day out, you need to build within yourself the urge to do it.

The urge that can only be built and fueled by habits.

Forget about the motivation. Motivation is for suckers. You have to show up every day until the habit of learning becomes the extension of yourself.

Only then will you be able to not only learn a lot without much effort but also crave it.

Read more about creating durable habits here.

ALTERNATING LANGUAGES

You can’t just choose one or two and toss the rest into some musty pit. They would rust away in the blink of an eye.

You need to introduce and invite every language you’re learning to your life. You have to make conscious effort to use them all constantly.

Beginnings are ugly and weird. It seems your guest is hammered and shits on your carpet and you don’t know what to do with him.

But once the dust settles, using a given language should become your second nature.

Here are more tips about juggling many languages.

SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH LANGUAGES

Use every possible moment you get to learn a word or two. The chances to do it are everywhere around you:

And so on. Every little bit counts

AUTOMATING INPUT

The general of productivity is that the fewer decisions you have to make, the better your general efficiency is. It’s hard to argue with that.

Let’s say that you want to read something, How much time do you usually spend before you pick up an article? 5 minutes? 10 minutes?

It might not seem like a lot. However, it adds up very quickly.
Soon it may turn out that at least a dozen of hours per week is trickling between your fingers.

The same goes for choosing movies or YT videos.

Me?

I am hell-bent on not letting that happen.
I would rather spend this time weaving wicker baskets than losing it due to my indecision.

That’s why my input-gathering process is almost fully automated.

In the morning, when I arrive at my desk with a steamy mug of coffee, everything I need is already in my e-mail box. Scientific papers, videos, articles. Everything.

I don’t need to spend even one minute more than I should trying to find the necessary information.

And yet, as you can clearly seem  I still spend a lot of time learning and maitaning my languages which leads me to the last point.

WHY I WON’T LEARN NEW LANGUAGES ANYTIME SOON

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

People learn languages for different reasons.
Mine has always struck people as eccentric.

I haven’t learned languages because of my deep love for them.

No doubt I have fallen in love with them during the process of learning (except for French – f*** you French!) but my affection hasn’t been the main factor.

The main reason was always the pursuit of better memory.

And even though I know that I still have a lot to learn memory-wise, I know that learning languages won’t get me much further.

I don’t find languages challenging anymore. Sure, I haven’t learned Basque or even one of Asian languages. But I don’t need to.

The general principles of learning and memory improvement won’t change just because I switched to a new language.

And to be honest, what’s the difference between knowing 8 and 9 languages?
Or 10-12? Not that big, in my opinion.

However, the time you need to maintain them grows significantly with every new addition. Of course, some learners trade quality for quantity but I personally prefer to truly master the languages I know.

Languages vs other branches of knowledge

I have read in some scientific paper that learning a language to C1 level is tantamount to graduating from studies.

How come?

Both activities require thorough knowledge and understanding of about 10000 words/concepts.

But I don’t believe it to be true. I don’t know many college graduates who can use their knowledge as fluently and practically as C1 language learners can use their vocabulary.

And that is what bugs me. Why would I learn another language when there are so many other mysteries just waiting to be solved (I guess it’s the FOMO syndrome?

So many branches of knowledge which seem to lure me. Every day, I seem to find yet another thing which I don’t know much about.

The choice is simple – I can either excel at many other things or simply learn another language or 5.

The latter is infinitely less exciting and practical.

So what’s next?

Years ago I promised myself that I would master 10 languages till I turn 40.
Right now I am 31 and I still have plenty of time to achieve my goal.

But I think that this time I will take my time.and stick to learning some other things and hopefully running this blog full-time.

CONCLUSION

Not everyone needs to be a polyglot but if this is a path you decide to tread, you should be fully aware that it requires much time and effort.

The path is fraught with various obstacles. Get rid of one of them and soon you will realize that another one took its place.

But if there was just one thing, I would like you to take away from this article, it would be this one:

You have to make the languages you learn a central part of your life, only then will you be able to truly master them.

Question for you:

What stops you from learning your target language(s) more often?”

I would love to hear your opinion.

 

Active and Passive Learning – How To Create The Winning Combination (Optimize Your Language Learning – Part 3)

I zealously advocate active language learning. This is definitely the most-effective and easily available remedy for frustratingly slow learning progress (read more about active learning here).

But advising you to only learn actively, or claiming that I do so, would be nothing more than denying our human nature.

Sometimes you are sick. Sometimes you feel down for no particular reason.
Sometimes, you would rather get wasted than learn.

That’s why you should accept that you won’t be able to learn actively all the time.
Not that you shouldn’t try, of course! It’s simply not sustainable for longer periods of time.

The perfect solution is to combine active and passive learning. But first things first.

The (Only) Problem With Active Learning

 

We like to believe that the time we spend doing something is the main indicator of our progress.
It’s not. It’s the intensity of your training.

The more hard work you are able to condense into one hour of learning, the better.

That’s what makes active learning so highly efficient.

But there is just one problem.

The deep, active learning is tiring as hell.

Not time-consuming, mind you. Just energy-devouring. That’s why we love to avoid it.
We don’t want anyone meddling with our energy deposits.

“F*ck off brain, will ya?! I need my glucose to come up with sarcastic retorts to situations that will never happen”.

Active and passive learningOnce you realize it, it should be easier to incorporate active learning into your daily learning schedule.
Simply find the time of the day when you are still energetic enough to do the hard work.

Always tired after work?
Wake up earlier and do the work.

Too sleepy in the morning?
Come back from, take a nap and do the work.

You get it. Just do the damn work.

Ok, so that one is clear.

So how does the passive learning fit into the “big picture?”

The Role Of Passive Learning

 

I will stress it one more time – active learning should be the foundation of your learning.

But the thing is that this foundation is never perfect.
It is scarred by cracks and blemishes.

But you can still smuggle quite a bit of sand between the cracks.

Active and passive learning

This is the role of passive learning – it should fill all the voids throughout your day and complete your learning.

After all, each day consists of a considerable amount of “dead-time”.
Like standing in a line or going for a walk.

Why not listen to some podcasts or music in your target language?

Of course, I am not suggesting that you go mental.
Don’t try to fill every moment of your day with some learning (unless you really want to!).

Remember that we all need some downtime to remember information better.

Optimize Your Day For Passive Learning

 

There are four categories of things you can optimize for language learning

  1. People
  2. Surroundings
  3. Tools
  4. Things you do

1) People

“Optimizing” people sounds more than bad. I know.
But you talk to people anyway.

Why not find some language partners to talk to throughout the day?

After all, they are only a click away from you in this wireless era.

Here are some places to get you started:

– Facebook groups
meetup.com
Craig’s List
Italki. com
Hello Talk

2) Surroundings

Any place where you spend quite some time can be optimized for language learning.

Simple stick-it notes can transform any dusty desk into a learning battle station.

But don’t make them boring!. You know what I mean.

Don’t just write “desk = der Tisch” and stick it in its respective place.
Make it memorable. Make it fun!

Write “Ich lecke meinen Tisch, wenn ich blau bin” (I lick my desk when I am sloshed).
That’s something to remember!

Or even better – make yourself a poster while we’re at it.
Here is a quick example:

Active and passive learning

3) Tools

Even though you might not fully realize it, you use at least dozens of tools every day.
A fair share of them is electronic – search engines,  mobile phones, browsers, Windows, Excel, etc. – you name it.

But why on Earth would you want to use them in your native tongue?!

Make a list of all the most important software / websites / etc. you use and change the language to your target language!

4) Things you do

Our days are marked by myriads of repetitive activities – commuting, cleaning a flat, going to a gym.
Once again, this is something you might use to your advantage.

You can prepare a playlist beforehand and listen to your favorite bands / podcasts / videos during that time.

I hope that these ideas will set you on the right path.

Now, let’s take a look at how the hypothetical “optimized” day might look like!

How Active and Passive Learning Fit Together – The Perfect Learning Day

Ordinary Morning

You wake up at 7 am sharp.

Your alarm clock starts blaring.
Beep, beEP, BEEP!!!

“It’s another shitty today”, you think to yourself as you step into the bathroom.

You look at your comatose self in the mirror, sigh heavily, brush your teeth and try to shape yourself into something which resembles the human form.

Then breakfast, dull as Kristen Stewart’s acting, and you kiss your wife. Your eyes utter mute “help me” as you pass her by and leave.

Ugh! Boring!
But it could look like this:

Morning On Language Learning Steroids

Your alarm clock gently jars you out of sleep.
You open your eyes and light an entire room with your beaming smile.

No wonder.
This time you haven’t been ear-raped by some mechanical rattle.

No. This time you wake up to the sounds of your favorite song in your target language.
You graciously jump out of bed and leap towards the bathroom.

You look at yourself and think, “Gee, I really do look amazing today!”, as the next song in your target language starts playing.

You dig into your breakfast.

It tastes like a nectar made by Zeus himself.

What to do:

Prepare in advance the playlist of songs in your target language.
Delete all the other songs in your mother tongue.

Leave yourself no other choice but to listen to the language you want to improve.

Of course, if a part of your morning routine is to listen to the news or the radio, you don’t have to change it.
Find radio stations in your target language on my other website and simply listen to them instead.

Ordinary Commute

You slowly drag your feet toward the train station. “It’s funny”, you notice. The pavement tiles strangely resemble your life. They are gray and shattered.

 

Active and passive learning

 

Once you take a sit, you try to pass the time by rating the miserableness of your co-passengers. But there are no winners in this game.

Pretty bad, right? But it could look like this:

Commute On Language Learning Steroids

You maniacally run towards your train station. You can’t wait to hop on the train! This is one of your favorite parts of the day.

You take a seat and fire off your favorite YT channel. The fascinating interview about … completely pulls you in. “Already my station?”, you think to yourself. “I completely lost track of time!”.

What to do:

Always have some resources handy on your mobile/tablet/notebook. Not too many of them – it leads to decision fatigue. Ideally, it should be something that really interests you.

You should aim at energizing yourself before you start work. If you wear yourself off mentally, you will send a signal to your brain to actually start avoiding this activity in the future.

Aim at interviews or some funny, easily digestible shows. Unless you are really into politics or some “heavier” topics – then go ahead and listen to them as well.

Ordinary Day At The Office

You enter the office and gaze absently at your coworkers.
Then you head toward the kitchen to fix yourself a cup of instant enthusiasm.
Not that it helps. It’s just a thing you do to pull yourself faster through the day.

All the breaks and conversations turn into one big blur.
Even some breaks in-between don’t deliver any relief.

Nightmare, ain’t it? But what about this:

Day At The Office On Language Learning Steroids

You rush into a kitchen and pour yourself a delicious cup of caffeine goodness.
You sit comfortably in your cubicle.

Not an ordinary cubicle mind you but a language optimized cubicle.
All around you, there are stick-it notes with interesting quotes or jokes in your target language.

After you dig yourself up out of the weekend’s backlog, you start reading newspapers in your target language.

What to do:
It’s a very good habit to change the interface of every possible app or website you use to your target language. However don’t feel pressured to do so right away, If you are a beginner.

You might dip your toes first.

Write down where to change language settings and then switch interface to your target language.

Start translating any useful words you might need and switch the language back on.
After a couple of such sessions, you should be able to comfortably navigate through any website/app.

What’s more, you can always put some stick-it knows with useful phrases or quotes around you.

Why phrases or quotes?

Because learning is always more efficient when there is context.

Why only put a note on your plant called “plant”, when you can write “a green and beautiful plant!”.
Or “watering plants causes diarrhea”.

I know, I know – it sounds absolutely childish.

The thing is that the absurd information is absorbed more effectively.
So why don’t you help your brain a little bit?

Come-Back Home

That was one hell of the day!
You’re absolutely ecstatic! You finish your job, catch the train back and come back home.

You open the door to your flat and suddenly everything goes totally silent.
You know what you have to do now.
The damn work.

5 Fun Ways of Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation


Today we have a fantastic post from Sean Hopwood, MBA – founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online localization and Spanish translation services. Check out his website, and enjoy the post!

As one of the most spoken languages in the world, Spanish deserves a place on your list of languages to master.

Many a native English speaker, however, has struggled with the Spanish tongue because it requires a greater level of flexibility than English. You’ll have to work hard at polishing your pronunciation if you want to be able to speak with a solidly good Spanish accent.

It also means not despairing or quitting on your dream of speaking Spanish like a native when yet another Spanish speaker fails to understand you.

If you’re aiming to take your Spanish skills to a higher level, read the following 5 fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation to find out innovative ways of speaking more like a local.

1. Pick Your Accent

 

If you’re just starting to learn Spanish, you may be having problems distinguishing between different Spanish accents. Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Cuba and all other Spanish speaking countries in the world speak their own version of Spanish.

Some are so dramatically different, they may not even sound like Spanish to you.

Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation
However, don’t feel overwhelmed. The first step in improving your accent is to pick a Spanish speaking country whose accent and dialect you want to focus on.

Does Spain resonate with you because it is in Europe? Or Mexico due to the dominance of Mexican Spanish in the United States? Simply listen to the dialects that are out there and choose one that works for you and stick with it.

Once you adopt the following fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation and perfect your accent, adapting it to the Spanish speaking country you are in will not be so difficult.

2. Monitor Your “B’s” and “V’s”

 

Many students of Spanish tend to have problems differentiating the Spanish ‘b’ from ‘v’. To the untrained ear, these two letters can sound very similar – so similar you might think someone asked you for a ‘beso‘ (kiss) when what they really said is ‘vaso‘ (glass).

Let’s take this step by step: to emit the perfect Spanish pronunciation of ‘v’, for a second let your teeth rest on your bottom lip as if you are going to say the word ‘vest‘ and practice pairing this ‘v’ with the Spanish vowels of ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ and ‘u’.

The Spanish ‘b’ is similar to the English ‘b’, as in ‘break’ or ‘berries’ and you may also practice pairing the Spanish ‘b’ with the language’s vowels.

Switch back and forth between these mouth positions when you pronounce words like ‘viento‘ (wind) and ‘bella‘ (pretty). If the two sounds sound similar, then you are doing something right.

3. Pronounce those Accents

 

Amongst the fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation is emphasizing Spanish accents. It may be all right for someone who is new to the Spanish language to ignore the little dashes written above a certain syllable in a Spanish word, but if you really want to perfect your Spanish pronunciation, it’s time you paid attention.

Word accents are especially important in Spanish because not only do they alter the meaning of the word, they can make all the difference on whether or not you’ll be understood.

For example, the word for ‘father’ is written as ‘papá’ with the accent on the last letter meaning you should emphasize the last bit of the word more. When you miss the accent, you have the evenly pronounced word ‘papa,’ which means ‘potato.’

Don’t make the mistake of calling someone’s father a potato by paying attention to word accents! One of the best ways to practice your accented words is to read out loud a lot. With practice, you will visually recall the words in your head as you hear yourself and others speak the accented words.

4. Tongue Twist Your Way to Good Pronunciation

Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation
Tongue twisters or ‘trabalenguas‘ is a wonderful way to improve your Spanish accent and pronunciation. The repetitive aspect of tongue twisters may make it hard for you to say the tongue twisting phrase quickly but they are relatively easy to commit to memory.

Each tongue twister gives your tongue a good workout and helps loosen it up so that it can easily adapt to Spanish pronunciation. Online, you can find a good many ‘trabalenguas’ that you can say daily to practice your pronunciation. Not only that, you will also be adding to your vocabulary. Here’s an example:

Tres tigres tragaban trigo, tres tigres en un tribal. ¿Que tigre tragaba mas..? Los tres igual.

Do you want to give it a try? Here are some websites with challenging ‘trabalenguas’:

5. Link Your Words

 

When you’ve been around Spanish speakers long enough, you’ll notice they tend to occasionally link or blend words together.

When will they do this?

When the last letter of a certain word matches the first letter of the following word. For instance, the phrase ‘dos sacos’ (two coats) would sound like ‘dosacos.’

 

Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation

 

Spanish speakers also link words when the last letter of a certain word is a consonant and the first letter of the following word is a vowel. The question “¿Estás enamorado?” (Are you in love?) would sound linked, as in “¿Estásenamorado?”

Another instance of linking words happens when the last letter of a word and the first letter of the following word are both vowels, such as in the sentence: “Ella está enfadada.” (She’s angry.) The untrained ear would hear it as one long word: “ellaestáenfadada.”

Learning how to link words is one of the fun ways of improving your Spanish pronunciation. Developing an ear for linked words also improves your listening skills and better prepares you as you practice linking and blending your words.

In the end, the goal is to comprehend what Spanish speakers are saying when they blend words.

Conclusion

These 5 tips are certain to help you perfect your accent so that you can communicate more clearly with your fellow Spanish speakers.

While focusing on your pronunciation is one aspect of improving your command of the language, don’t forget to keep up with the other aspects of language learning such as grammar, reading, vocabulary, and speaking.

Focusing your full attention on Spanish learning while tackling all aspects of the language will gradually help you achieve your dream of speaking the language fluently.

Author Bio:


Sean Hopwood

 

Sean Hopwood, MBA is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online localization and Spanish translation services provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications. By helping both corporations and the individual, Day Translations provides a necessary service at the same time as developing opportunities for greater sympathy and understanding worldwide.


 

How To Build Durable Habits In 4 Easy Steps Even If Your Motivation Is At An All Time Low

If you ask almost anyone, he will tell you this – “Building durable habits is damn hard”.

I find it really fascinating!
We have literally dozens of automated routines which we carry out throughout the day.

You wake up – you brush your teeth.
You hear your mobile buzzing – you reach for it to check a new text message.
You pass the confectionery, start drooling, run inside and shove your head into the nearest cake.

Yet, just a few of them are truly positive and life-changing.
I mean, it is understandable if you really think about it.

Our default mode is energy conservation.
My brain, your brain, every brain is the same.

It doesn’t give a flying f* about coming up with new ideas or creating new learning systems.
You have to trick it into doing it.

What Habits Really Are

 

Once again – your brain couldn’t be bothered less to learn Swahili or another language which you don’t have any contact with. That requires energy. And energy is in short supply.

Basically, any new activity which you take up is very energy-consuming.
There are no established, efficient neural networks which are able to diminish the energy costs.

Because this is exactly how you should start thinking about habits.

Habits are simply neural pathways. The more you strain them, the thicker they becomeIf they become thick enough, carrying out a giving activity goes into an autopilot mode.

It’s true for any kind of activity. Lick your foot every time you have a glass of water and soon enough you will find yourself doing it in the most unusual places.

How To Build Durable Habits

 

One of the frameworks which I teach my students is this (interested in other super-effective ways of creating habits? – click here):

  • 0) Be brutally honest with yourself
  • 1) Decrease activation energy of an activity
  • 2) Remove / minimize distractions
  • 3) Set goals at the absolute minimal level
  • 4) Tie a new habit to the preexisting routine / habit

Let’s see how these elements come together.

Be Brutally Honest With Yourself

 

 Build Durable Habits

 

Although it is not really a part of the framework, it is definitely a prerequisite.

You know that feeling when a person close to you regularly does something stupid?

You try to beg, plead and bargain to prevent him from doing it.
You appeal to his common sense. All in vain.

Usually, you get lackluster, “sure, I think I will try it”, in return.
Which, of course, is just another way of saying, “no way in hell I am doing that”.

But it’s easy to notice such a headstrong attitude in others.

But what about you and me?
Isn’t that just the typical the-pot-calling-the-cattle-black attitude?

It is. It always is.

We are masters of rationalizations. 

Warlocks of bullshit excuses.

I know I am.
I consider myself very good at creating habits.

Still, every now and then I discover that I am feeding myself beautifully packed lies and excuses.

Example?

My writing. In last 3 months, I wrote 3 articles

3 articles. This is a joke.
And the joke is definitely on me.

I have tried to justify it in dozens of ways.
And they all sound so right.

“I would like to write more but I …

  • have to concentrate on my learning
  • on my composing
  • go out more often and meet people
  • concentrate on reading more
  • concentrate on my company
  • don’t have enough time.

The list goes on and on.
I feel sick when I just look at it.

Only recently did I grab the hammer of truth and tear down this wall of mendacity.
In the last few weeks, I have been writing at least 4-5 times per week.
And it feels great!

How did I do it?

I followed my own advice!

It doesn’t matter what problem you have. The following framework should help you solve it. As long as you are honest, that is.

It’s also worth mentioning that some of them require some planning in advance.
But you know – it’s well worth it.

Decrease Activation Energy Of An Activity

 

Would you jump 5 times right now if you wanted to, or if there was some reward involved?
No doubt you would.

And one of the reasons why it would be so easy is the low activation energy of this activity.

The activation energy is the energy you need to start carrying out a given activity.
The lower the energy, the easier it is to start doing it.

But how does it exactly work?

Imagine that you live on the fifth floor and you would like to start running 4 times per week.
There is just one problem – your running shoes are in the basement.

Would you go up and down the stairs 4 times per week just to have a run?
Highly unlikely.

That’s why, your first task is to eliminate superfluous obstacles which prevent you from taking up your desired activity.

Would you like to read a book in your target language 4 times per week?
Great. Then always keep it handy.

Would you like to listen to songs in your target language every day?

Great, then download a truckload of songs on your mobile.
It’s much easier to play them if they are just one click away.

Remove Distractions

 

Durable Habits

 

Decreasing the activation energy of your future habits is a good start.
But it is not enough.

You also have to make sure that you either eliminate all the distractions or increase their activation energy.

I know. It sounds very basic and you have heard about it 3472 times before.
But this time, don’t just nod and do the things the old way.

This time, be a bit more strategic.
Plan ahead the plan of actions.

Distractions usually fall into one of 3 categories:

1) Technological distractions

 

The main culprits which pull you away from your work are mobile phones and the internet.
Shock, surprise, and astonishment! I know. It was hard to envision.

Turn off your mobile phone.

Block the time-devouring websites or temporarily disconnect your internet.
If it happens that you zone out and suddenly find yourself looking at the writing:

“Check your internet connection”

You will know that you tried to visit Facebook or other websites of this kind.

2) People

 

It always sounds wrong and cold but, anyway, here it is: people should also be classified and treated as distractions.

I know you love your wife/girlfriend very much but if she can’t help but interrupt you every couple of minutes, you should have a talk with her.

Negotiate some distraction-free time so you can learn peacefully.

3) Environment

 

How To Build Durable Habits

 

It is definitely good to learn in as many places as it is possible – it is beneficial for your memory, after all.
Just make sure that they aren’t too noisy so you concentrate on the task at hand.

How Effective Is Increasing of The Activation Energy?

 

I get it – you probably still have some doubts.

Is increasing the activation energy of activities really that effective?
Can it really help me eliminate the pesky habits?

Yes and yes!

Just take a look at the results of this research:

Walking one-third of a mile longer from home to the nearest tobacco shop to buy cigarettes was associated with increased odds that smokers would quit the habit in an analysis of data in Finnish studies, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Another great example of increasing activation energy to get rid of the unwanted behaviors is … donating organs.

Here is the excerpt from Money – Master The Game by Tony Robbins:

If you are in Germany, there’s about a one-in-eight chance you’ll donate your organs—about 12% of the population does. Whereas in Austria, Germany’s next-door neighbor, 99% of people donate their organs. In Sweden, 89% donate, but in Denmark, the rate is only 4%. What gives? Why such a disparity?

If you expect to hear some Jedi mind tricks which are used to manipulate the minds of Swedish and Austrian citizens, think again!
The secret lies in the wording on the form.

In countries with the lowest donor rates, like Denmark, there is a small box that says, “Check here if you want to participate in the organ donor program.” In countries with the highest rates, like Sweden, the form says, “Check here if you don’t want to participate in the organ donor program.”
That’s the secret! Nobody likes to check boxes. It’s not that we don’t want to donate our organs. That little bit of inertia makes all the difference in the world!

I hope you are convinced by now!
Let’s move on!

Set goals at the absolute minimal level

 

Being ambitious is good. No, it’s great!

But here is the uncomfortable truth which we all have to face – we suck at predicting pretty much anything.

We can’t reliably fathom how much time we will spend doing something.
We have no idea how much money we will spend the next month.

And we are terrible at predicting how difficult our goals are.

Example?

At the turn of each year, the flock of uber motivated people hit the gym.

Goal?
Work out at least 2…, no! 4 Times per week!

It doesn’t matter that the last time they worked out was about 4 years ago.
There is simply no time to f*ck around!

Of course, after about 1-3 months, depending on their motivation, they run out of steam.
Going to the gym becomes a thing of the past.

It happens to the best of us.
But why exactly?

Setting goals is, without any doubt, useful.

But goal-oriented productivity has one, gigantic flaw – It rarely acknowledges that you and I are human beings.

You have bad days. Days when just a mere thought of doing anything productive revolts you.

So you come back from work.

Instead of starting your language learning session, you put on your I-am-a-lazy-and-disgusting-slob pants and start watching The Game of Thrones with a bag of chips.

 

Building Durable Habits

 

And, needless to say, you feel like “sh*t”.

Repeat the above scenario a couple of times and you will find yourself ditching any budding habit.

Even though I have nothing against SMART goals, I don’t believe that the productivity based on ambitious goals will get you far.

The most effective learners rely on systems.

Systems, on the other hand, are built of habits.

In order to create a durable habit, you should start with being consistent.
And there is no easier way to become consistent than choosing absolutely minimal goals.

How To Choose Your Minimal Goal

 

What I would suggest is:

1) Choose the frequency of your habit
2) Carefully examine your resistance to a potential intensity of your soon-to-be habit

Do you know that overwhelming feeling of resistance when you think about some very ambitious goals?
That’s your brain saying, “Nah, thanks. We need energy – let’s pulverize some chocolate pretzels and snort them!”.

It’s really easy to evoke this feeling. Test it yourself!

Imagine that your goal is to run 4 km 5 times per week.
Or learn 150 new words every day.

Try to analyze incoming feelings and thoughts.

If these activities are beyond your current reach, you will experience the overall feeling of anxiety. The more ambitious the goal, the more resistance you feel.

That’s why, first of all, you should concentrate on being consistent in order to create durable habits
The rest will come.

Here are some practical examples.

1) I want to learn a foreign language regularly

 

Building Durable Habits
Depending on your current needs, you may choose one of the following goals:

Read one page of a book of your choice per day.
Learn 3 new words per day.
Listen to 5 minutes of radio.

If you feel the slightest prickle of anxiety, lower the bar even more.

2) If you want to run 3 times per week

 

Put on your shoes and walk at least 300 m away from your home.
Don’t run. Just walk

If you still feel like running after covering this distance – go for it. If not, just call it a day. You did your job for today.

How Minimal Goals Turn Into Durable Habits

 

As you can see, these are not ambitious goals.
You don’t set a bar. You basically put it on the damn ground.

That’s why your brain is really ok with it.

After all, such activities require almost no energy – hence the lack of resistance.

And this is where the gist of this method lies.
You should choose your goals so that they don’t trigger “No way in hell” response.

But am I really suggesting that you only do these tiny things throughout the day?
Of course not.

I love pushing the boundaries.

800 words per day? Hell yeah!
Getting headaches because of overlearning? Yes, please.

The thing is that the secret about doing anything regularly is showing up.

You have to let your neural networks strengthen enough so you don’t have to even think about doing something anymore.

Happen what may – just don’t break the chain.

Because this one day break is not a separate point in time, nor is it an unconnected incident. It actually affects the person you are trying to become.

Here is the amazing thing about being consistent – you build your endurance over time.

Even if you do as little as learning 3 words per day. Even if you run just 60 meters.

After some time, you get used to the intensity of your actions. And with the same amount of effort you can actually learn 6 words. And then 10. And then 50!

I still remember vividly the feeling of terror I felt when I thought about learning 20 words per day! It seemed like an impossible thing to do.

Many years have passed and these days, I consider myself lazy if I do less than 40-50 words per day.

Here is the quote to ponder:

‘We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training” – Archilochus

I will repeat once again. We suck at predicting almost everything.

Most of the time you might be convinced that you will perform some action. However, when push comes to the shove you fall flat like a hockey puck.

But if you do just a tiny bit day by day, you will create the system.

And make no mistake – having a learning system based on habits makes you a truly unstoppable human being.

Why?

Because systems are, most of the time, immune to any internal and external obstacles.

Years ago when I used to spend a lot of time at work.

You know the scenario. 10 hours at work, 2-hour commute.

You come home angry because the public transport sucks and a bunch of semi-retarded teenagers were blasting music through their mobile phones.

What’s fascinating is that even then, I grabbed a quick bite and started poring over books.

I didn’t really think about it. It was an impulse.
As if a little geek inside me was telling me to do it.

It’s admirable but it’s not as difficult as you might think. It’s just a habit.

The one which took some time, of course. The habit nonetheless.

In fact, according to a Duke University study, 45 percent of a person’s behavior stems from habit alone. And it’s difficult to change a habit if you don’t even think about it any more! – The Coaching Habit – Michael Bungay Stanier

The beautiful part of forming durable habits is that you actually learn to love whatever you do. The habit actually becomes a part of your self-concept!

Tie a new habit to preexisting routine/habit

Here is not so complicated logical loop:

Building a habit takes some time. And until a given activity becomes a habit, it’s not automatic. And if it’s not automatic, there is no certainty that you will remember to do it.

The solution?

Tie your new habit to preexisting routines.

Of course, you can try to rely on your willpower but such a strategy is rarely successful.
You don’t want to drive yourself to the point of decision fatigue.

Example?

Let’s say that you drink a cup of tea when you go back from work.
It might be a trigger for your new habit.

Learn a couple of words every time you grab your cup of tea. In no time, you will discover that learning new vocabulary has become an indispensable part of your tea-drinking ritual.

 

Building Durable Habits

 

Once you get used to learning new words every day, you can expand this mini-habit and tie it to other routines.

Although most of the time it won’t be necessary. Usually, after a couple of weeks, you will discover that your mini-habit turned into a durable habit!

You might actually start feeling anxious when you can’t indulge yourself in performing a habit of your choice!

Back To You

So what about you?

Are there any habits you are trying to build?

Let me know!

 

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning: 5 Reasons Why You Should Try To Take On Crazy Learning Tasks

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning

Setting big goals in language learning doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, right?

Especially learning, say, over 85o words per day!

After all, common sense tells you to do things step by step. Set small goals which are perfectly achievable. And learn systematically.

And I agree, at least at the beginning of the learning process.

But in past two years, I have begun appreciating tasks which are so demanding that they require all my focus and energy.

I believe that you have to go through your own baptism of fire to understand yourself and your learning strategies better.

Such tasks are part of my personal learning project – Impossible Tuesdays.

Every Tuesday I am trying to choose tasks which I feel really uncomfortable with and which take me to the limits of my mental abilities and endurance.

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning – What Are “Crazy” Tasks?

 

When I come up with a new crazy task I would like to take on, I use the following rule of thumb:

I multiply my usual learning tasks by at least 8-10 (I will get to “why” in a minute).

Sounds scary?

Good.

Your goals should be big enough to scare you.

For example, some of my previous challenges included:

Of course, we all start from different levels so you have to take it into consideration.

If you learn 5 words per day right now, go for 40 or 50.

Ok, so what is the logic behind becoming certifiably nuts?

5 Reasons Why You Should Take On Crazy Learning Tasks

 

1) They make you come up with new ideas/strategies

 

Coming up with original ideas is very difficult.
No. Scratch that.

Here is a novel idea – you should write a diary in a foreign language using a cucumber.

Original, right?
Effective? Not really.

So…coming up with GOOD original ideas is very difficult.

Cognitive resources are limited so it makes sense to use them wisely.
In everyday situations, there is no necessity to stimulate our brain to be “original”.

Let’s be honest – how challenging is learning 5 new words per day?

Not very.

You can use any learning method and you will still succeed.

However, the situation changes when you don’t have much of a choice and you have to go beyond your comfort zone.

When you have to learn more than you have ever done before.

Interestingly, even if you fail, you can still learn a lot by analyzing what went wrong.

2) They make you reevaluate strategies you have used so far

 

Setting Big Goals In Language Learning

 

When the push comes to shove, it shows which strategies suck and should be replaced.

If you are used to cramming vocabulary, such a number of words might seem overwhelming.

You might hear your inner voice saying, “I can’t do it this way!”
You’re right. You can’t.

Not by cramming anyway.

And only then you truly realize that you have to change your learning strategy.

Let’s take a look at the first of my challenges – learning over 850 words during one day,

If you had to learn just 20 or 30 words on a given day, would it change the way you approach learning vocabulary?

I highly doubt it.

It would be just another task which you can squeeze between checking your e-mail and watching a movie on Netflix.

However, learning 800 words is an absolutely different beast.
It poses a series of very interesting questions.

Such questions can really make your brain sweat and question the effectiveness of strategies you’ve been using so far.

3) They make you use the strategies you have heard of but couldn’t be bothered to use

 

Be honest with yourself. How many articles about productivity and learning strategies have you read so far?

20, 50, 100?

And how many pieces of advice have you used practically? I guess that this ratio doesn’t look favorably, right? I know it all too well. I tend to hoard hundreds of articles about different learning strategies. And then I struggle to use even just a few of them.

Because why bother?

After all, we are all set in our ways.

That’s why the period of preparation for such tasks gives me the opportunity to dust off the long list of mental tools I have gathered throughout the years.

Tools which I haven’t had the motivation to use before or simply didn’t need at the time.

4) They push the borders of what you previously thought is possible

 

Challenge breeds inspiration.

If you force yourself to do things which are seemingly impossible or you have no skills for, you give yourself an opportunity to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.

And more often than not, you will find the way to accomplish your goals

Choose one thing you´d like to try but are afraid to do wrong, and go for it!

5) They Boost Your General Life Satisfaction And Confidence

 

It’s time to be frank here. I didn’t enjoy these challenges. Want to know what was the result of learning over 850 during one day? A terrible headache. I have never had a migraine in my life but I assume that it’s exactly what it feels like.

Just the slightest sound at the end of this day was sending surges of pain throughout my head and made me feel as if my brain was screwed by a nail-pawed hedgehog.

Did I hate it? You betcha.
Did I feel damn proud the next day? Hell yeah!

You see, normally I am very self-conscious and critical about myself.

But I doubt that I’ll ever forget the pride I felt the next day after “over-850- words-per-day challenge”.
It was verging on unhealthy Johny Bravo-style self-love.

But I’ll be damned if I didn’t deserve it.

Conclusion

As weird as setting big goals in language learning might seem, I have found them time and time again to be one of the most reliable catalysts for self-improvement.

Sure, it´s comfy to do the same ol’, same ol’ day in and day out.

But if you don´t challenge yourself and try new things, how will you realize your true potential?

Now I would love to get to know your thought on this subject.

What do you think about using big goals as a way to optimize your learning strategies?

Is it a “hell yeah” or “a little bit over-the-top”?

 

A Simple Learning Plan To Get The Most Out Of Your Study Time

You know that feeling, don’t you?

You have finally mustered the motivation to sit down and learn. It’s better than that – you actually know what you want to learn! But somehow, you can’t get in the “right mood.”

There are so many things to do. Where should you start? The clock keeps ticking, but you still gaze emptily at your book (or screen).

Another tick of the clock. You start getting anxious. Your initial excitement starts dwindling. Another tick. “UMM, maybe today is not the best day to learn.” A few ticks later, you find yourself spiraling down into the blame and shame of watching dozens of silly cat videos on YT.

The thing is – it’s not your fault.

You didn’t even notice that Chaos and his buddy Disorganization had snuck right behind you and silently strangled your will to learn.

The truth is that in order to learn effectively you need a learning plan.

And no – it doesn’t need to be overly sophisticated.

Here is the simple learning plan I like to use to explain how effective learning looks like.

How to Create a Simple Learning Plan

 

1. Elimination of distractions

 

Let’s be honest for a second – you’re not a 17th-century hermit. Learning a language for 3 hours might not be as tempting as watching another “7 reasons why you should learn a foreign language” video on YT.

It’s perfectly understandable. It’s within our defective nature to be distracted. If you’re delusional, you will try to rely only on your strong will.

For all the others – I would suggest that you turn off your mobile phone and block distracting websites with software.

Done? Great.

There is one more thing to take care of. Eliminate the human factor. The true work is always done in solitude.

Take it from Franz Kafka. As much as he loved his lovely fiancée, he couldn’t stand her presence while he was working.

You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case, I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind.… That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.

 

2. Allocation of attention

 

Blocking or at least limiting the number of distractions allows you to focus more deeply on your learning task. On just one task. Not four or two – one is the number.
“But why? What about multitasking? I am good at it!”
First of all, no, you are not.
Secondly, let me ask you a question. Do you remember when you were little, and you believed in Santa and elves?

Only when you grew up, it turned out that your toys weren’t produced in a magic factory. It was a filthy sweat house somewhere in Asia. Being able to multitask is just another myth we like to believe in.

The Math Of Attention

Let’s say that your attention equals 1. What if you divide it between two tasks?
It seems reasonable to believe that each one of them would have an assigned value of 0,5, right?

RINGDINGINGING. Wrong.

It would be more like 0,3, at the very best. We weren’t born to multitask. Especially when it comes to cognitively demanding tasks. The sooner you come to terms with it, the better.

 

3. Encoding strategies

 

Simple Learning Plan

 

The next step is to define your preferred encoding strategies. If the only encoding strategy you have used so far is mindless cramming – please stop. A small panda dies somewhere in the world every time you do that.

The choice might be difficult. There are myriads of strategies to choose from. You should start experimenting with as many of them as you can to find the ones you prefer.

It might seem like a daunting task.

However, taking into consideration that you have 3-4 decades of professional learning ahead of you, I would strongly suggest that you at least get familiar with them.

You can use:

  • mnemonics
  • associations
  • metaphors
  • Mind Maps
  • distributed practice
  • stories
  • practice testing
  • visualization
  • acronyms
  • deep processing
  • visceralization
  • self-talk
  • chunking

And dozens of others.

They are not equally useful, and their choice may depend on the subject you learn. But one thing is clear – the more methods you master, the more effective (and fun) your learning gets.

4. Evaluation

 

Good learners always evaluate their learning effectiveness. The common mistake many people do is saying, “This method works for me.”

But how can you tell?

Do you track your effectiveness?

Pay attention to how much you remember after a certain period of time after your studying session. Examine how this result is correlated to your encoding strategy.

Creating a Simple Learning Plan – Summary

 

Learning is not just about finding motivation and merely sitting down. You and I live in a world that is hell-bent on distracting us. And it does that amazingly well.

What’s more, without reflecting on the effectiveness of the methods you use, you might find yourself spinning your wheels and making the same silly mistakes time after time.

Having a solid plan, however simple it is, is a step in the right direction.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Block Distracting Websites And Regain Control Over Your Time With These 5 Apps

Checking your e-mail doesn’t seem very harmful, right?
Or any other site for that matter. I mean, it’s only like 2 minutes and you’re back in the saddle.

Ok, maybe after next 10 minutes you’ll check another website. Just one quick article and you get back to work.

After 4 hours it turns out that you haven’t done anything. You also don’t know how you ended up watching a YT on how to cook dinakdakan.

You don’t cook. And what the hell is dinakdakan?!

Take a look at this quote:

We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.

Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine

23 minutes and 15 seconds. That’s a scary number if you ask me. Of course, this is just one of the statistics. I have seen plenty of other research indicating different numbers. But usually, it takes between 5-25 minutes to regain your focus. Having that number in mind, interrupting your workflow check a website or to send a text message doesn’t seem so harmless anymore.

It’s not our fault though. I believe that the technology is the true culprit. We are almost conditioned to check our phones or e-mail every couple of minutes.

We do so because we can’t allow ourselves to miss out on…what?

That’s the question! What possibly could we miss that is so important?

Nothing. Nothing will happen if we don’t check this one website. There is a really easy solution to eliminate this kind of distractions – block the websites which steal your time and distract you!

Don’t Give Yourself a Chance To Fail

 

Before I move to the list of my recommendations, I would like to warn you about the crappy argument I have heard so many times.

“Yeah, theoretically it sounds good but I actually want to do it ON MY OWN, with help of my strong will. I don’t want to rely on any stupid software!” (read more about forcing yourself to learn).

Ugh, BS alert activated. I feel sick every time I hear it. How has it been working out for you so far? We can rationalize basically everything. However, most of the times this is not logic talking. It’s fear.

I am scared. It’s cold and lonely here without the cordial, digital touch of the internet.
If you acknowledge this fear, your battle with distractions is already half-won.

You can also look at it from a different perspective.

If you wanted to lose weight, would you place candies and cookies all over your flat? Would you sniff them every now and then and lick the glazing to reassure yourself about how great your willpower is?

Hell, if you were a junkie would you put a syringe in front of your face and try to “wait it out”.
Don’t think so. It’s pointless to rely on your strong will in this case.

You can force yourself to be more productive.

Here is the list of the most popular apps you can use to block the websites. I have used all of them personally (maybe besides Mac ones!) and I can wholeheartedly recommend all of them.

They definitely stand out from the mass of other apps of this kind.

Freedom

Block Distracting Websites
Freedom is one of the oldest apps of this kind. It’s currently used by more than 1 million users.
Throughout the years it has gained the support of, among others, Nick Hornby and Seth Godin.

It works on: Macs, Windows, Android (beta), and iOS (beta), Iphone, Ipad

It allows you to:

  • Block distracting websites
  • Plan out sessions that recur at the same time every week
  • Go cold turkey and block the entire internet when you really need to get work done

Highlights: It’s worth mentioning that it is currently the only distraction management solution for iPad and iPhone. It’s also the only app which can cut off your internet access.

Cost: Basic version is free. The premium version (which allows you to cut off the entire internet is 10$). Well worth the price and my absolute favorite.

LeechBlock

Block Distracting Websites

LeechBlock is a simple free productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day.”

This is the add-on I use the most. It has saved me countless hours and helped me overcome my meme websites addiction.

It is also very easy to use – all you need to do is specify which sites to block and when to block them.

It works on: Mozilla Firefox

It allows you to:

  • specify up to six sets of sites to block, with different times and days for each set.
  • block sites within fixed time periods (e.g., between 7 am and 2 pm), after a time limit (e.g., 14 minutes in every hour), or with a combination of time periods and time limit (e.g., 10 minutes in every hour between 9 am and 5 pm).
  • set a password for access to the extension options, just to slow you down in moments of weakness!
  • block entire sites
  • block specific subdomains / paths / pages
  • block websites using wildcards (e.g., *.somesite.com) and exceptions (e.g., +allowme.somesite.com).
  • track of the total amount of time you have spent browsing the sites in each block set.

Cost: Free

My routine is to block the most distracting websites (in my case: YT, my own websites, FB, e-mail, Wikipedia, meme websites) from 8 am till 10 pm.

The only website I block only from time to time is my Gmail account. Sometimes I simply need to send an e-mail in the middle of the day.

RescueTime

Block Distracting Websites

Rescue Time is a great app for everyone who is really serious about their productivity. It is definitely the most advanced of all the apps mentioned in this article. Especially tracking-wise.

The bad news is that most of the cool features are a part of Rescue Time Premium. However, it’s money well-spent if you ask me!

LiteVersion allows you to:

  • Track time in websites and applications
  • Set goals
  • Get a weekly email report
  • 3-month report history

With Rescue Time Premium you can:

  • Track time away from the computer (meetings, phone calls, etc…)
  • Get alerts when you achieve your daily goals
  • Block distracting websites to stay focused
  • Keep a log of your daily accomplishments
  • Get access to more detailed reports and filters and unlimited report history

Cost: Basic version is free. The premium version is  $9 a month.

Self-Control

Block Distracting Websites

Self-Control is definitely not one of those flashy, packed with features apps. It only blocks distracting websites but it does it well and it’s reliable.

It works on: Mac

It allows you to:

  • block entire sites
  • block specific subdomains / paths / pages
  • specify a period of time to block for

Highlight: It works on Mac. That’s something, I guess!

Cost: free

StayFcsd

Block Distracting Websites

StayFcsd should be your no 1 choice if you are a Chrome user.

It works on: Chrome

It allows you to:

  • block entire sites
  • block specific subdomains / paths / pages
  • block specific in-page content (videos, games, images, forms, etc).

Highlights: The Nuclear Option. Probably the best feature of this add-on. It allows you to block all the websites on the internet for a given amount of time. Only for the desperate!

Cost: free

I hope these recommendations will help you save some time!

 

Triple Your Productivity Overnight with a Simple Strategy

How to triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy

Before I get to the meat of the matter and explain to you how you can triple your productivity overnight, let me say this:

willpower is dead.

Yeah, you heard me right. It is cold stone dead. At least for me.

Its demise came absolutely unexpected. There were no tell tales. No gloomy music heralding this event.

Because it wasn’t a process. It was an instant. It was enough to read one of the articles of Maneesh Sethi. It gave me a blueprint to refurbish my learning routine and tripled my productivity.

But before I get to that let’s take a look at two kinds of motivation.

Triple Your Productivity – Basics

 

Two Kinds of Motivation

 

If you are driven by extrinsic motivation you do things mainly to receive a reward. For example, you might decide to get a new job because it pays better.

If you are driven by intrinsic (internal) motivation, your need to do different thing stems from the meaningfulness of the work you do. You don’t need any reward or compensation.

I have always believed that it is enough to feel this internal fire in order to achieve big things.
But I was wrong.

I am quite sure that we are not motivated by good things. At least not as much as we would like to believe it.

What makes me say it?

Well, most things in life are pretty simple.

  • If you want to lose weight, you work out and keep a diet.
  • If you want to learn a language, you learn every day.
  • If you want to get a better job, you acquire additional skills or improve the ones you already have.

The final result is always crystal clear – you become fitter, more intelligent or successful. And you really DO want these things, don’t you?

Then why is it so damn hard to start acting?

Because the potential benefits are deferred in time. The day-to-day results you experience when you do any of the activities above are barely noticeable. So if good things don’t motivate us effectively, what does?

The fear of loss.

Triple Your Productivity with Betting

 

The logic behind this strategy is really simple. You will do much more to avoid a loss than to receive a reward. Given that the loss is almost immediate, it’s not that strange.

One look at the real-life castaways, or desperate mothers who lift cars, can tell us how the fear of loss (of life in this case) can motivate us.

But you don’t even have to look that far. Let’s say that you want to learn 60 new German words today. You can either try to do it on your own or bet with me.

In the second case, you know that if you lose, you have to give me your favorite watch. Do you think you would lose? No way! These are just 60 words!

The simplest form of this strategy looks as follows:

 

  1. Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
  2. BET with someone that you’ll achieve it in x hours or days
  3. Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver

Of course, there are some things you should take into account if you choose to use this strategy (and you should!). But first…

Here are just some random results I got thanks to betting within the last 18 months.

  • I created this very website (with over 2k subscribers) you’re reading right now
  • I have been interviewed  a couple of times (which is a weird feeling)
  • I have created a Beta-version of a vocabulary learning course
  • I have written a book proposal
  • I have learned Czech to a B1 level within a month
  • I have managed to double my income
  • I have lost over 10 kilos of fat and gained and then bulked up
  • I have read about 30% more than I do normally
  • I have increased the number of words I learn by 20%

And probably many other things I have already forgotten about.

Alrighty then. Let’s take a look at what a good bet consists of.

 

5 Elements Of A Good Bet

 

triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy

Picture by Abhishek Sundaram.

 

1) Do you know what you want to achieve?

What problem keeps you up at night? What bothers you?

Maybe you don’t learn regularly. Maybe you procrastinate too much. Maybe you are too fat.

Identify the most important things you would like to change and set a goal.

 

2) Is your goal achievable?

You can bet about anything you want but you have to be sure that the goal is within your reach.

It shouldn’t be too easy. Such goals will rob you of your satisfaction. But they shouldn’t be too hard either. Such goals may nip your enthusiasm in the bud. If you want to bet with your wife that you are going to run 5 km today, analyze how much free time you have on your hands today.

3 hours? Great, then it is certainly doable.

But wait!

When was the last you actually ran more than 1 km? During your studies?
Then I have bad news for you… I hope you see what I am getting at. Always make sure that you are able to deliver.

 

3) Can you prove that you did it?

This is the key issue. You probably like to think about yourself as a guy who is squeaky clean when it comes to morality.

I know, I do too.

But trust me when I tell you that all morality goes to hell when the deadline of your bet is breathing down your neck with a musty stench of failure.

The questions you should consider are:

  • What are you measuring?
  • How will you measure it?
  • How will you deliver proof?

Most of the time it’s perfectly possible to determine the answers.
If you decide to run 5 km, you can use an app to track your distance.

If you decide to learn 100 words today, you can send screen-shots of your ANKI interface.
The list goes on and on.

Sometimes it’s worth altering your bet a little in order to make it measurable.

If you want to bet that you won’t eat sweets all day, it will be nearly impossible to prove it. However, if you bet that you will lose 1 kg until the end of the week, there will be no doubt whether you failed or not.

 

4) Is your punishment motivating enough?

Listen, if you bet with your buddy that you will give him $10 if you lose a bet and you know that you earn $30/h then who are you fooling? When the push comes to shove, you will probably shrug your shoulders and pay.

The thing is that you should be REALLY afraid of losing. The perspective of the potential loss should infuse you with fear. Not the paralyzing kind of course. But the motivating one.

Bet $70. Or lend your car to a cousin you hate.

Come up with something which really makes you uncomfortable.

 

5) Can you be sure that the other person will execute?

As a rule, I don’t bet with people who are mushy softies. I don’t want to hear, “It’s ok, I don’t need your money because I know you tried’.

No way.

I want somebody who will take my money and laugh in my face while doing so! “Thanks for the easy cash sucker!”.

I have a small group of 3-4 people with whom I bet and that’s more than enough.

You can actually convince your friend(s) to bet with you as well. This way you will be motivating each other!

And now time for the bitter truth. Probably 17 out of every 20 people who will read this article won’t do anything (and I am being an optimist here).

Why?
Because of excuses.

Triple Your Productivity – Summary

 

I find it fascinating when people approach me and complain that they have so many plans, but they can’t get anything done. When I suggest this strategy most of them freeze and mumble one of the following reasons why they can’t do it:

 

  • Yeah, I know it works, I will definitely try it in the future (code word for “I will never try it”)
  • It won’t work because money is not that important to me (then choose a different kind of punishment!)
  • I don’t want to be forced, I prefer to rely on my willpower (how has it worked for you so far?)

What’s going on?! Don’t they want to change?

They do. OR at least they think they do.

But the thing is that most of them are simply afraid. Because once you place your bet, there is no turning back. You either deliver or pay up.

If you decide to use this method to boost your motivation, I’d love to hear from you and talk about your results!

Oh, one more thing. Do you know why I have written this article? Yep, bet (thank you, John!).

Good luck with your projects!

3 Fun Ways To Learn a Language by Teaching Others

3 Fun Ways To Learn a Language by Teaching Others

What is one of the most effective ways to learn a language (or anything for that matter)?

Teach somebody!

I tend to write a lot about concentrating on hard and intensive work in learning. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some fun from time to time!

You can’t deny that every language has some funny or quirky words. Explaining them to your loved ones or friends might be a great way to strike up a conversation! And let’s be honest, when I say funny, I don’t mean just-spat-my-soda funny. The best you can get, in most of the situations is probably a faint smile.

And as with everything, you can definitely overdo it.

Among some of my friends, I am known as the “fun fact” guy. I try to throw in some fun facts, whenever I can. The problem is that they are rarely fun for others. Once, during a family dinner with my ex-girlfriend, her aunt asked me to “say something interesting since you learn so much”. I sat for a while before I said, “Well, there is this little-known fun fact that Hitler had only one testicle”.

The silence which ensued was deafening. The rest of the dinner was awkward, to say the least. So please do it at your own risk!

Here are three ways to entertain yourself and (hopefully) others while learning at the same time

1) Teach them some foul words

 

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us are attracted to anything labeled “taboo”.
Use these websites to learn some swear words which you can later pass on to others.

2) Teach them false friends in your target language

 

Not everybody likes swearing. It’s perfectly understandable. But you can’t deny that false friends are one of the most fun ways to learn vocabulary.

I’m sure you have your share of embarrassing stories involving such words. Saying “embarazada” (pregnant in Spanish) instead of “avergonzado” is definitely one of the things which come to my mind.

One of my favorite awkward situations ensued when I was visiting the Czech Republic about 3 years ago. I stopped a group of Czechs to ask them in Polish, “gdzie jest najbliższy sklep?” (where is the nearest shop). I figured out that Polish and Czech are so similar that it should be clear what I mean.

Little did I know! “Sklep” in Czech means “a basement”. Basically, I came across as a creep looking for a place to devote himself to God knows what. Fortunately, I didn’t have a mustache!

Here are some lists of false friends to get you started:

GENERAL LIST of false friends between English and other languages – Wiktionary

FALSE FRIENDS OF THE SLAVIST – Wikibooks

 

DUTCHHeardutchhere.net

 

ESPERANTOWikibooks

 

FRENCHFrenchCrazy.com

 

GERMANEnglisch-hilfen.de, Coerll.utexas.edu

 

ITALIANReference.tjtaylor.net, Italian.speak7.com

 

NORWEGIANNorwegianlanguage.info

 

POLISHWiktionary

 

RUSSIANMasterrussian.com

 

SPANISHWiktionary, Elearnspanishlanguage.com

3. Teach them weird / funny-sounding words or phrases

 

My experience is that people love learning funny-words or peculiarities of different countries. Make a short list of them and start sharing it with your friends.

This is a good example of a quirky sound which falls into an “interesting” category.

 

Another good idea is to google “untranslatable (name of your target language) words”. Each language has a truckload of them.

They are not only fun to learn and memorable but also can expand your way of thinking.

 

 

What about different traditions or dishes typical of a given country?

For example, as the BBS explains, Kiviaq is a typical winter dish out of Greenland that is made from fermented seabirds

The delicacy is created by first preparing a seal skin: all the meat is removed and only a thick layer of fat remains. The skin is then sewn into a bag shape, which is stuffed with 300-500 little auk birds. Once full and airtight, the skin is sewn up and seal fat is smeared over all over the join, which acts as a repellent to flies. The seal skin is then left under a pile of rocks to ferment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months.

As you can see, it’s not that difficult to consolidate your knowledge by teaching and entertaining others. You are only limited by your own curiosity.

Feel free to add some funny or embarrassing stories which you have experienced during your language learning journey!

Common Language Learning Mistakes and How To Fix Them With Lean Language Learning

Common Language Learning Mistakes

You know how the saying goes – if you want to learn, learn only from the best.

But it doesn’t mean that you have to focus on learning only from experts in your particular field of interest.

The beauty of the knowledge is that it gives the most amazing results when one field of science (or industry) encroaches on another.

Let’s look at the automotive branch. Most of the companies in this sector have billion-dollar budgets. They have to make sure that every penny counts. In order to do so, they optimize the heck out of everything.

And I really do mean EVERYTHING. In the world, where one minute delay might be worth thousands of dollars, it is not that surprising.

And if multi-billion companies try to optimize everything, why wouldn’t you?
After all, you have million dollars of ideas and knowledge in your head!

Let’s optimize the language learning with Lean Management!

Lean Management in Language Learning

 

Lean management is an approach to running an organization that supports the concept of continuous improvement, a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.

Essentially, lean is centered on making obvious what adds value by reducing everything else.

In the world of excess, concentrating only on essentials might seem difficult. And it is. But discarding all the unnecessary elements in your language learning routine might be a very liberating feeling.

The clutter has one intrinsic quality – it creates the feeling of being overwhelmed.
It’s like being immersed in the deep waters of learning and choking on knowledge.

And you certainly do not want that. You want to be as stingy with your time and resources as the soulless capitalists who run the huge companies.

In order to do that you must grasp The Lean Language Learning.

7 Types of Waste In Lean Language Learning (aka the Common Language Learning Mistakes)

 

Managers at Toyota have come up with the seven types of waste:
  • Transport (moving products that are not actually required to perform the processing)
  • Inventory (all components, work in process, and finished product not being processed)
  • Unnecessary traffic – connected with incorrect workflow in an organization.
  • Waiting (waiting for the next production step, interruptions of production during shift change)
  • Overproduction (production ahead of demand)
  • Over Processing (resulting from a poor tool or product design creating activity)
  • Defects (the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects)

Some experts tend to add an extra one:

  • Waste of unused human talent

Let’s look at how you can reduce the aforementioned types of waste in language learning. Grab the shovel and start digging!

 

Overproduction – learning too many things at once

 

It’s very easy to dive head-first into the ocean of grammar constructions and foreign words. It’s also understandable, especially at the beginning. You are driven by enthusiasm! You want to absorb everything with your whole body!

But everything has its limits. Your memory as well. If you surpass them, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the ever-growing amount of cards and grammar constructions in ANKI.

Of course, the more you know, the easier it is to learn. What seemed to be an ocean at the beginning is merely a puddle as you progress.

 

Remedy:
Find the right amount of material you are able to learn every day. It might require some experimenting but it will allow you to find some balance in your learning. For example, you might choose to learn maximum 20 words and discard all the others.

Unnecessary traffic – incorrect learning plan or lack thereof

 

Most people who write to me regarding their problems with learning seem baffled when I ask them, “what is your learning routine/plan?”. The question seems like an assassination attempt on their freedom. “Dude! I’m a free spirit, you can’t tame me with plans!”

And that’s the problem. Without any plan, you stagger from one grammar topic to another. From one list of words to another. It’s hard to build anything permanent that way.

Usually, the most you can get is a hut made of bird crap and sticks.

 

Remedy:
Create a learning plan. Any plan. You don’t have to write it down. I know I never do.
It doesn’t even have to be good. Nor do you have to compose it yourself – you can always ask a tutor or more experienced learner for help.

But it will give you some guidance. You will stop wasting time by thinking, “what I should learn today”.

Of course, what you need to know changes with time. And so will your learning schedule.

 

Waiting – not learning every day

 

I know you know that you should learn languages every day. But do you?
Many people fail to do it. In my opinion, it happens because they don’t make language learning part of their lives.

If you don’t learn regularly, you will start losing progress and forgetting things you have already learned. Imagine that you have spent 200 hours learning your target language and PUFF!
After a few months, you barely remember how to introduce yourself.

200 hours down the drain! You could have spent more time with your spouse. Or you could have watched TV Series.

But you wasted it! Shame on you!
If you don’t respect your time? Who will?

 

Remedy:
Get into the habit of daily learning. Start with some minimum goal. Like, I don’t know, 5 minutes? It’s hard not to find 5 minutes to learn every day, right?

It’s crucial that you make it impossible for yourself to fail. Once you discover that learning your target language for X minutes is child’s play, increase the time. Try to always challenge yourself.

 

Transport and Inventory – getting too many language materials which you can’t even use

 

Technology can be your greatest ally if you use it wisely. But the second you stop paying attention it may turn into your biggest enemy. If your hands start shaking uncontrollably wherever you hear about a new app or program, you know what I mean.

Hoarding dozens of websites and/or books won’t help you with learning. The truth is that too big a choice can be paralyzing for your language learning productivity.

 

Remedy:
Try not to use more than 3-4 language learning resources. The chance is that you will never use more of them anyway. The only result of trying to do so is the feeling of being overwhelmed.

And if at some point in time you realize that you don’t like one of them anymore, replace it with another resource.

 

Defects – trying to speak perfectly

 

Trying to get everything right from the very beginning of your language learning journey is the recipe for disaster.

Come to terms with the fact not very sentence which comes out of your mouth has to be perfect. Not every word has to be pronounced flawlessly.

I know it’s hard to ignore the voices in your head which infect your thoughts with the feeling of burning shame.

But know this – it’s more than enough if people understand you. You can work your way up from there.

Remedy:
Always try to identify and concentrate on the most important things first.

At the beginning, the most important things are the ones which allow you to express yourself in a way that is understandable to a native speaker.

 

Over-Processing

 

Over-processing in language learning means that you spend too much time processing a single piece of information. I’m probably the best example.

Years ago I used to underline every English which I wasn’t familiar with. Then I wrote down all the meanings of this word from a dictionary. ALL of them! And all the related words.

You think that’s all? Hell no. I also marked the most important sentences and idioms in colors. In short – I started rewriting a dictionary. If this isn’t madness, I don’t know what is. I wasted so much time that I would like to travel back in time and punch myself!

 

Remedy:

Make sure that whatever you do, you skip the unnecessary steps. Being busy is not the same as being efficient.

Waste of unused human talent

 

If you learn a language in total isolation, it’s time you rethought your learning strategy. There are literally thousands of websites and communities where you can meet native speakers of your target language. Why not become friends with some of them?

 

Remedy:
Find somebody who you can talk to every day.

Everyday Language Learner has a great list of 12 Resources for Finding Language Partners.

Final Words

Make sure to go through your language learning schedule and fix everything you can in accordance to these types of waste.

Which out of these mistakes is the most serious one? Let me know!

Become Better At Grammar And Remember it Much Longer By Personalizing It

“…and that’s why, children, we use Past Simple to describe finished events in the past”

I started coming back from the mental vortex. I zoned out. Not that it was any surprise. It happened in almost every language lesson at school.

“Let’s take a look at the following example”, a cold, sharp voice cut through the air, “yesterday Johny went to the shop.”

I don’t know what she said next. I didn’t care. I preferred to concentrate on my physics homework.

“Why do these lessons have to be so boring”, I thought, as the frustration started growing inside of me.” And who the fu** is Johny?! He’s no friend of mine!”.

Maybe for you, it wasn’t English. Maybe it was German, French or Spanish. But you REMEMBER that soul-tearing boredom of language classes, don’t you?

Why Grammar Is So Boring

One of the problems with effective learning, be it languages or anything else, is that we try to learn new material in the exact form we get it. Teachers, authors of grammar books and course creators serve you some definition and expect you to understand it and (ideally) start using it right away.

But truth be told, it doesn’t happen often.

You can read a definition of the use of a given tense or grammar construction.
But will it really mean anything to you? Will it appeal to you?

No.

Courses and books are full of faceless and meaningless “Johnys'”. But you don’t care about them. But do you know who your brain cares about? You!

Anything which concerns you immediately becomes ten times more interesting! Why not use it to your advantage to become better at grammar (also check this article to memorize grammar faster)?!

Become Better At Grammar By Personalizing It

The process of memorizing can be depicted in the following three steps.

1) Encoding – involves initial processing of information which leads to construction of its
mental representation in memory

 

2) Storage – is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory

 

3) Recall – is retrieval of stored information from memory

 

As you can see from the model above, in order to maximize your chances of storing and retrieving information, you have to encode it.

Ok, let’s try to encode some grammar construction by personalizing it. I can’t promise that my examples will appeal to you. But I hope they will give you some idea of how to do it.

 

Example no 1 – French verbs with “être”

In French, the auxiliary verb is either avoir or être. French verbs are classified by which auxiliary verb they take, and they use the same auxiliary verb in all compound tenses.

Most French verbs use avoir. However, there are 16 sneaky verbs which require être.

I will list only half of them.

 

Become Better At Grammar

 

The usual strategy is to repeat such list until you “get it”. Or until you lose the will to live.
Whichever comes first.

But we will try to encode it with help of some nice and personalized story.

Let’s say that you’re an adventurer and together with your friend you’re hunting the mythical “Fluffy Monster”.

I have come there – to the cave of a fluffy monster (Je suis venu ici– à la grotte d’un monstre en peluche). I have wanted to do this since I was born (Je voulais faire cela depuis que je suis ). My friend has also arrived – he didn’t stay at home (Mon ami est aussi arrivé– il n’est pas res à la maison).

We have climbed the stairs and entered the gate (nous avons monté les escaliers et sommes entrés par la porte). We have killed the monster, reentered the gate and returnedhome (Nous avons tué le monstre et nous sommes rerentrés par la porte et sommes retournés à la maison).

The story is definitely silly but I dare you to forget it!

 

Become Better At Grammar by personalizing it
Example no 2 – When to use the Present Continuous tense in English

English tenses are notoriously difficult for non-native speakers.

For example, we use Present Continuous to describe:

 

  • 1) things that are happening at the moment of speaking
  • 2) temporary situations, when we feel something won’t continue for a long time
  • 3) annoying habits, when we want to show that something happens too often and we don’t like it. In this case, we usually use an adverb like ‘always’, ‘forever’ or ‘constantly’
  • 4) definite future arrangements (with a future time word)
  • 5) situations which are changing (i.e. is dynamic)

 

Ugh. Booooring!

But if you have a spouse, maybe you will find the following monologue more appealing and memorable.

“Recently I’m working too much (2) . Am I turning into a workaholic (5)? Maybe. But I’m meeting my boss on Friday (4) and I have to have something to show for it. Now when I am thinking about it (1), it’s all because of my wife ! She is always nagging me (3) – “do this”, “do that” !

Personalize grammar learning

 

Example no 3 – When to use the subjunctive mood in Spanish

 

The subjunctive mood is used to express everything except certainty and objectivity: things like doubt, uncertainty, subjectivity, etc.

One of the best ways to get accustomed to using it is to learn a list of clauses commonly associated with the use of the subjunctive. It is quite long so I will take the liberty of using just three of them in my example.

 

en caso de que …en cuanto …es aconsejable que …
in case …as soon as …it’s advisable that …

 

To remember them, try to imagine that your friend turns to you with a problem – his feet hurt. He is in a lot of pain. Luckily, you know the remedy. You look him straight in the eye and say:

It’s advisable that you lick your toes as soon as you come home – in case you feel lonely (es aconsejable que lamas tus dedos del pie en cuanto lleges a casa – en caso de que te sientas solo)

Give It A Try

As with everything – you will never know if something works until you try it yourselfSo go ahead! Infuse some life into your learning. Make it absurd, funny and personal,

Make it MEMORABLE!

Question for you Is there any grammar construction you have trouble remembering? How can you personalize it? 

The Most Common Mistake In Vocabulary Learning

Common mistake in vocabulary learning

Learning vocabulary is the most important and time-consuming part of language learning. If you suck at it, you might be wasting dozens of hours each month due to the ineffective learning strategy.

Better make sure that your vocabulary learning strategy is not based on … (drum roll)

Passive Rehearsal Through Repetition

 

The typical vocabulary learning routine goes more or less like this – you encounter a word you don’t know, you translate it and place it in a notebook, or even better – in one of SR programmes like ANKI.

It might look like this:

Common Mistake In Vocabulary Learning
You feel great.

Why wouldn’t you? You have just extended your vocabulary.

Next day, you start reviewing your vocabulary. You see the word “apple”, you say it in your mind, click to confirm that you recognize the word and move on to another one.

Oh…if you only knew how useless such a method is. The only worse method is probably watching TV and hoping that you will absorb the language one day.

You see, passive rehearsal through repetition has a very little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

I know it might be painful to take in such news but think about it. How many times have you rehearsed someone’s name, phone number or address, only to forget it a few minutes later?

Where does the problem lie? Passive rehearsal doesn’t ensure long-term storageIn fact, nobody knows what ensures transfer of information from short-term memory to the long-term memory.

But we DO know what helps A LOT! The answer is:

The depth of processing

 

Common mistake in vocabulary learning

 

The deep processing is the level of activity devoted to processing new information. The more effort you put into processing new information, the better the chance to remember it. Each new association is a new “mental hook” which you can attach to a piece of information. Such associations create a rich web of connections which makes later retrieval much easier.

The associations are even more important as the length of the words increases. It’s pure logic, isn’t it? It’s easier to remember “schnell” in German than “die Urheberrechtsverletzung” (copyright violation).

This phenomenon is known as the wordlength effect. Longer words take longer to rehearse (duh).

The studies of phonological memory span conducted by Baddeley and colleagues estimated that the average person’s phonological loop can retain approximately 2 seconds’ worth of speech (Baddeley, Thomson, & Buchanan, 1975).

DIY – How To Deep-Process Your Vocabulary

 

With some practice and a little bit of imagination, it’s not that difficult to do.
Let’s start with some basic facts – you have 5 basic representational systems.

Basic representational systems:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic (sensations)
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Gustatory (taste)

As you can see, you have a wide array of, let’s call them, “sensory” tools to deep-process the vocabulary you learn. Compared to that, passive rehearsal of words seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?

Treat these systems as your point of reference. Now, onward to the example!

EXAMPLE:

Let’s assume that you want to memorize the Spanish word for “to joke”.

Common Mistake In Vocabulary Learning

We have already established that saying the translation of this word in your mind is a waste of time.

Here is what you can do instead:

Say this word out loud!

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone_conduction

 

It’s ridiculously easy but also quite effective. Uttering words out loud combines both auditory and kinesthetic stimuli.

How come?

Due to conduction of the sound to the inner ear through the bones of the skull (i.e. bone conduction). What’s more, it can also help you to improve your pronunciation.

Of course, you don’t have to stop here. Why not sing the word with the voice of Michael Jackson or Louis Armstrong?! Sure, maybe they will lock you up in an asylum. But at least you’ll be the only patient with such an impressive vocabulary!

Create a picture of the word

 

You can imagine it. Although it is much better to find some pictures on the Internet. Let’s say, that you google “to joke” and find the following picture which you really like:

 

Common Mistake in Vocabulary Learning

 

Break down the word into smaller, familiar parts

 

Rarely will you find a word which doesn’t contain any familiar words or elements? You just have to concentrate a little bit to notice them! Let’s write down familiar parts of this word:

– BROmear (bro, you jokin’ or what?)

– broMEar – give me another joke!

– EAR – bro, you are always spitting into my ear when you tell jokes!

– bROMEar – they don’t like joking in Rome

These are just some of the possible suggestions! You can also associate it with:

– a cartoon character – Brome

– a species of grass – (Downy) brome

– a chemical element – BROMine

I think you get the idea!

Others

 

If you want, you can always additionally associate a given word with a smell or taste. I rarely do it, since such associations are usually much weaker than the ones previously mentioned.

The Final Effect

 

Common Mistake in Vocabulary Learning

 

This is how a card in ANKI looks like for this word. With the right associations, it’s incredibly hard to forget the vocabulary learned this way. Just remember not to overdo it! Try not to spend more than 5 minutes per word.

It seems like a lot of time, but considering the potential benefit of memorizing every word after the first try, I would say that it is well worth the time investment!

Question for you – have you ever deep-processed the vocabulary you learn?

The Guide To Effective Problem Solving For Beginners

Life is a long fall from the womb to the grave. On our way down we get our solid share of problems to solve. Some are petty. Some are not. But the latter will batter and bruise you if you don’t take care of them.

The funny thing is that solving problems is a problem itself. I mean, do you have any method to tackle them? Any tool, maybe? Do you just put on your helmet of optimism and hope and run head headfirst into the robust wall of problems?

I really hope you don’t. Like I did for a long time. I was like a retarded chimpanzee who tried to lick his finger and put it in a keyhole. But to no one’s surprise, that never worked.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

Because that’s the thing about repeating some actions (no matter how stupid they are!) for the long period of time – it’s hard to break the vicious circle. I guess that the helmet crumbles away after 10th or 20th time. And then you just keep on hitting the same wall with your bare head.

Until you suffer head trauma. Serious enough to actually convince you that it DOES make sense.
But it doesn’t.

REALLY effective problem solving should rely on some systems.

You need some tools. Not a finger. I am familiar with many methods and systems. But there is just ONE I use on the permanent basis.

It’s simple, elegant. And it has the power to transform you into the problem-solving beast.

But we will get to the specifics in a moment.

Fortune Favors The Prepared Mind

 

Do you know how penicillin was discovered?

In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming, a Scottish researcher was experimenting with the influenza virus in the Laboratory of the Inoculation Department at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He was also well-known for being as untidy as brilliant.

The long story short, Fleming returned from a two-week vacation to find that a mold had developed on an accidentally contaminated staphylococcus culture plate.

After examining of the mold, he noticed that the culture prevented the growth of staphylococci.
And voilà! The discovery was made. Some years down the road the penicillin became the most widely used antibiotic in the world.

Effective problem solving for beginners

Picture by: Marja Flick-Buijs

It’s often described as a pure accident. But was it really? How many other brilliant scientists would have paid attention to this “incident?”.
Not many, I guess.

You have to really set your mind on a question or a problem to deserve your “Eureka” moment.

It doesn’t happen just like that.

So where can you start?

The Problem-Solving List

 

The idea is deceptively simple. But it helps you to put some order into the way you solve your problems.

Take a piece of paper and draw a line across the middle. Or use the word document.
Whatever works for you.

Write down the problem you’re having on the left.
The right side is reserved for potential solutions or ideas.

That’s why, try to come up with as many of them as it’s only possible. Don’t hold back.

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes ideas which (seemingly) have nothing to do with each other can turn into a breath-taking answer to your problems!

Tools To Help You With Producing Ideas

 

Creativity is like a muscle. The more you use it, the better you become. But you have to start somewhere, right?

Here are two websites which help you produce some ideas. To be a bit more precise, they are random word generators.

Just choose the number of random words you would like to see and click the “generate” button.
And BAM! Magic happens! Ideas!

Treat these websites as your birdbrained buddy. He doesn’t know exactly what you want but he wants to help. So he feeds you some ideas to play with. Let’s take a look at the screen-shots to see what I mean.

  • Creativity Games

Effective problem solving for beginners

  • Text Fixer

Effective problem solving for beginners

It might look meaningless. But is it? Let’s move to some practical application.

Problem – You Want To Design An Extraordinary Lamp

Of course, you would like to come up with some (relatively) fresh design. But you just keep looking at the damn piece of paper with a blank expression on your face. Frustration sticks out its ugly head. Anger overcomes you. Damn you Muses! But before you break something, let’s use some of the words from the random word generator.

Words: ham, rib, gossip, sunburn, speaker, spotlight, boxing gloves, iceberg

Some potential ideas:

rib – I guess it would look cool if instead of a normal, boring lamp, you could have something skeleton-related. Maybe a skull impaled on a spike? Oh, and the switch button can be hidden inside an eye socket! Since we are at it, why not design the entire line of gruesome lamps?!

speaker – why not connect the speaker with a lamp? It might look cool! And will be useful as well!

iceberg and spotlight – I can’t help but combine them in my head. The result is a light house.
Don’t ask me why. Anyway, the lighthouse as a lamp sounds quite interesting. Doesn’t it?

What comes after the ideas?

 

Another part of the effective problem solving is testing your assumptions. It’s great to have some hypotheses. But how can you be sure that your solution will work?

The framework I’m using looks as follows:

  1. come up with hypotheses as quickly as possible.
    2. set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea
    3. test it
    4. measure results at the end of the experiment
    5. draw conclusions
    6. rinse and repeat

No Shortcuts: Being Creative Is Ordinary Labor

 

You have to come to terms with a fact that your initial ideas might be terrible or average at best.
If you have been neglecting your problem-solving skills for a long time, it might take some time before you get good at it.

Being truly creative requires showing up day by day. Yes, it will be frustrating. Yes, it will be messy. But however frustrated you might get, don’t forget that there is a pot of gold at the end of this story (you can read more about doing the work that matters here).

What Will You Do With This Knowledge?

 

What you know doesn’t mean a damn thing.

It’s the things you do consistently that really count!

I want you to think about just ONE PROBLEM which has been bugging you for a long time. Write it down and problem solve the heck out of it!

And, of course, let me know about your results!

If you don’t know how to push yourself to do it, read how to triple your productivity overnight with one simple strategy!

A Weird Fact About Effective Listening Skills

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

I know I didn’t.

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

What Affects How We Hear?

 

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

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

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

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

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

Does Your Mind Play Tricks On You?

 

 

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

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

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

Possible Explanation Of This Phenomenon

 

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

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

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

How Does It Affect Your Learning?

Effective Listening Skills

Picture by: Sanja Gjenero

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

1) Browse dictionary before listening

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

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

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

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

2) Read the transcription before listening

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

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

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

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

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

You can find them on IMDB.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

 

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

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

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

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

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