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”?

 

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?

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!

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time And Stay Sane

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

It would be beautiful if you could always just sit and learn, wouldn’t it be? Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t work this way. It seems as if the time is never right. And even when you sit down, you often don’t know where to start. Or what to start with.

If you find yourself in this description, why not give yourself a rule or two to make your life easier?
And the process of learning more automatic! Having rules will get you learning and keep you learning. You won’t be doomed anymore to ask yourself the ultimate question, “What do I do now?”.

What Is A Rule?

 

Just to be sure that we get the foundations right, I would like to quote definitions of both “a goal” and “a rule”. I know it sounds silly but I have had my fair share of situations when someone tried to convince me that they are “basically the same”

Rule
The Merriam-website dictionary gives the following definition of a rule:

  • a statement that tells you what is or is not allowed in a particular game, situation, etc.
  • a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system (such as a language or science)
  • a piece of advice about the best way to do something

Goal
Business dictionary defines it as:

An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe

In essence, you can treat it as a logical loophole:

IF … then … and …

Of course, there can be some overlapping between these two. But that shouldn’t be a problem.

Great. But What Are The Rules In Practice?

 

A rule can be a number of things. Let’s go through some of the examples:

  • It can be a specific writing technique which you want to use in your freelancing

IF I write then I use a free writing technique.

Such a rule is simple and actionable. It’s not perfectly measurable, but I would say that it is good enough.

You can track your writing output throughout a specific period of time. You can also ask your friends about the quality of your writing just to make sure that it doesn’t deteriorate.

  •  It can be a philosophy which guides whenever you find yourself in a specific emotional state

IF I’m afraid to take a bold step then I’ll think about death and potential regrets

Once again, the philosophy is simple and actionable. It can also be measured easily by comparing the number of projects which were successfully concluded when you used this rule.

Of course, you have to compare the number of successes within a given period of time with a number of successes within a comparable period of time when you didn’t use this rule.

  • It can be a strategy which helps you to deal with your finances

IF I want to spend some money then I’ll make sure that it costs less than 15% of all my financial resources

This is a personal example. Whenever I make a financial decision, I double-check if I don’t spend more than 15% of the money I have. If the answer is positive, it simply means that I can’t afford it.

The rule is so deeply ingrained in my decision-making process, that very often I don’t even think about it! And I’m more than sure that these rules have saved me from dozens of stupid financial decisions.

Otherwise, I would be buying myself a vibrating rubber finger that massages your gums. Yep, this is a real thing.

What Rules Are The Best?

 

The best rules tend to meet the following three criteria. They are:

  • actionable
  • simple
  • measurable

The acronym SAM can help you to memorize these qualities.

Why this “trinity”?

Firstly, you have to be sure that the rules you have chosen can be easily implemented into your learning process. Complicate them too much and after a couple of attempts you’ll become bitterly discouraged and will drop them.

Secondly, if you don’t measure in some way how these rules affect your learning, how will you know if they are worth anything?

How To Use Rules In Your Learning?

 

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

Picture by: Allan Ajifo

To use the rules effectively, you have to know what problems you have.

1) Find a specific problem

Take a moment to think about it.

Once you find it, you can come up with a specific rule to aid your learning.

2) Choose a rule

Let’s choose a quite common language learning problem, i.e. “I don’t know which resources to use”.

What kind of rules could you use to solve it?

My take on this would be to separate language learning competences. Then I would attribute a specific rule to each of the competences I care about.

a) IF I practise listening then I’ll use X radio station

b) IF I want to improve my vocabulary then I’ll write down the words from a dictionary and read something

c) IF I want to read something then I’ll read X newspaper

3) Track your results

As I have mentioned before, you have to track your (potential) progress to know whether the rule is good enough to keep it. After checking data, there is just one more step to take.

4) Decide whether to stick to the rule or replace it

Not much more to add here. This is self-explanatory 🙂

Personal Example – How I Juggle 8 Languages Using Rules

 

Believe me, if I didn’t have rules to guide my studying process, learning languages would be a living hell. I would throw myself from one language into another. Without any clue what I’m actually doing. Luckily, I have experimented a little bit and discovered what works for me.

As a disclaimer, I must add that I use this rule for 4 languages. The other ones I either use regularly or teach.

a) One week – learn Russian and French

b) Every second week – learn Czech and Spanish

Of course, this is a simplified version but it helps me to go through the weeks hassle-free.

How Will Rules Change Your Life?

 

As you can see, using rules in your learning and life can be surprisingly easy! And extremely beneficial. However, beware of one weird misconception – some say that having rules makes your life miserable and strips it of spontaneity.

Of course, that’s a lie. Using rules doesn’t mean that you will become a soulless robot eating nothing but bolts and screws for breakfast. Treat them like walking with a compass and map. You wouldn’t say that these are stupid, right?

Now…think about the rules which you might use in your (language) learning or life. How can they improve your life?

How To Turn FaceBook Into The Language Learning Machine

If you had asked me a few months ago how I feel about Facebook, I would have said that it’s probably the biggest time-eater in the world. However, within the last few weeks, I changed my mind quite drastically.

Believe it or not, but know I think it’s one of the best language learning tools in the world. Make yourself comfortable my friend – you’re in for the story.

Facebook, or There and Back Again

 

There
So  About 4 years ago I was a full-blown Facebook junkie. I had to get my fix at least a few times a day. My hands would shake if I couldn’t. “I need more cat picture! I need more updates from friends! I need more of everything. Gimme! Arghhh!” So yeah, it was bad.

After some pondering and a lot of hesitation, I finally deleted it. The last straw for me was seeing a picture of my friend’s dinner with the following comment – “Yum, yum”.

I was a broken man. Rehab was excruciatingly hard for first 3 weeks. But soon thereafter my world became more peaceful. I felt less anxious and overwhelmed. The sun was shining brighter. And so on.

And back again
But I CAME BACK. I felt dirty. As if I was treading on everything I value. At least this time, I knew my time was under control because of the software I use to block the time-sucking websites.

Being a relative optimist, I decided to look at the bright side of my Facebook presence. I started participating in the language groups. I also refreshed contacts with some of the old friends.

Again In The Comfort Zone

 

At about the same time I was bothered by the fact that I don’t read enough. In other languages that is. I tallied up that per average I read between 300-1000 pages per week.

Sadly, over 95% of all the things I read is in English. What a wasted opportunity! I could be learning so many other languages if only I started reading in them. I knew that it had to change.

So I started with the question.

Why am I reading so much in English?

The answer came right away – because it’s convenient. Because it’s so damn convenient. I’ve subscribed to newsletters of over 15 websites. All in English. They come straight to my e-mail box. No effort whatsoever is required from my side.

What’s more, I read English books because

  • a) there are more of them than in any other language I know
  • b) because I got stuck in my comfort zone

Does it ring a bell? Do you find yourself consuming most of the media in just one language?
Then read on!

I knew that the first thing I had to do was to minimize the required amount of energy to take action.

Minimizing The Energy Required To Take Action

 

Minimize The Energy

Let’s say that you want to take up running.

You promise yourself that you’ll do it 3-4 times per week for at least 20 minutes (a great example of a SMART goal!

Noble thought, my friend! However, it seems that no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get a grip on yourself. Every morning you have to look at yourself in the mirror with disappointment in your eyes.

You really do want to do it. It’s no lie. But you’re tired. Or it’s too cold. Or can’t find your shoes. Or don’t know where you’d like to run. There are too many decisions you have to make before you go out for a run. That’s why it’s so hard to get off your butt.

Now imagine a different situation. This time, you’ve planned all the details beforehand.

What’s more, you go to bed with your track-suit on and leave your sneakers by the bed.
That’s a commitment! As a result, the initial energy required to take action is drastically minimized.

Why Use Facebook For Language Learning?

 

  • 936 million daily active users on average (for March 2015)

It means that most of us use it almost every day.
That, in its turn, means that you have already developed a habit of using it.
For many of us, it’s almost like an addiction.

  • over 30 million companies with active pages

Posts and news in hundreds of languages are at your fingertips!

  • it’s convenient

Timeline provides you with a stream of never-ending pictures and posts.
The only thing you have to do is scroll down.

All these things make FB a perfect tool for language learning!

Now, the question is – how to do it?

Unfollow Most Of Your Contacts On FB

 

“Give me a break, do I really have to?!”

Of course, you don’t have to. I haven’t unfollowed ALL my friends. But I was merciless in weeding out people who appear on my Timeline. I didn’t do it randomly. It was a process aided by the following questions:

  • Am I interested in a life of this person?
  • Do I believe this person has something interesting to say?

I unfollowed every person who didn’t fit the criteria.
In fact, I unfollowed about 98% of people who are among my friends.

Tough Decisions

It was hard – believe me. There is always this treacherous voice at the back of my head.
“Come on! Don’t you wanna know what’s going on in X’s life?!” Yes, the voice of the ever convincing Fear Of Missing Out.

“Maybe it’s right. Maybe I’ll miss something important? What if the Ebola Zombies invade Europe and I won’t know it!”

What if …x?! What if …Y?

That’s a risk you and I have to take. The truth is that you are behind the life’s wheel and you’re choosing the direction. Do you really want to let all that fluff and bullcrap into your life?
How many cat pictures can you watch?

Do you really care how somebody’s baby looks like if you haven’t even called this person in a few years?

Be brutally honest with yourself and get down to work.

What If I Can’t Do It?

 

Ok, maybe you’re not ready yet. I don’t blame you. I know it was damn hard for me.

Luckily, there is the option no 2.

Register a new FaceBook account and use it exclusively for language learning. Although, it’s better to use your main FB account. You might be asking yourself now – why all the effort?

What’s the next step”?

Start Liking And Following Pages!

 

By now your Timeline should look, more or less, like a wasteland.
From now on, all the pages you like will start appearing on your main FB page!

Here are some ideas of the pages you might want to follow if nothing comes to your mind at the moment.

  • Newspapers

All the biggest newspapers have their FB pages. Choose the ones you’re interested in and follow them! They update their pages many times per day.

They will provide your Timeline with an ongoing flood of news.

  • Most popular FB pages in …

I like this method since usually, the biggest pages are also the ones which care deeply about the quality of posts they share. Google “most popular FB pages in x (e.g. Russia, Turkey)” to find them.

  • Random pages of interest

Use the FB search field and try to type in words like “jokes”, “productivity”. Of course in your target language!

This way your Timeline will be full of posts of all kinds.

This way, you’ll make sure that the language you take in is diversified enough to guarantee you continuous growth!

Here is a small snippet of my 2nd FB account which I use for reading French and Russian news.

 

Language learning machine

The Final Touch

 

You have come the long way, congratulations! There is just one more thing you can do to get the most out of using FB.

Change the default language settings to any language you’re learning. It’ll only be weird for a couple of days. After that, all the writings and words become normal, or even boring.

What’s more, you’ll see them many times per week.
Thanks to this, you’ll learn them in no time!

Now, I have a question for you – have you ever tried to change the default language settings of programmes and/or devices you use to learn a new language?

Let me know in the comments or via e-mail!

How To Extend Your Vocabulary and Memorize More Words With Swearing

How To Extend Your Vocabulary and Memorize More Words With Swearing

I know, I know. The mere word “cursing” causes knee-jerking of all of those pure at heart. And that’s why I have to warn you before you move further into the text.

The article contains quite a bit of profanities/obscenities/vulgarisms/expletives. So to say it briefly – it’s not for the faint-hearted.

But to be clear – I have no intention of shocking anyone. But I do believe that cursing might be a VERY useful tool for memory improvement if used the right way. So approach everything you’re about to read with the open mind.

Ok, you have been warned.

Swearing Facts

 

Let’s start with the fun fact. Do you know that “fuck” and “shit” are among the 75 most often spoken words in American English? That’s right. Obscene language seems to be an inseparable and indispensable part of every language (Foote & Woodward, 1973).

Not shockingly, according to the Association for Psychological Science, an average person in United Stated utters about 80-90 swear words per day. It amounts to even 3,4 % of all the words used daily.
That’s why it’s hard to achieve full fluency without knowing at least a couple of swear words.

What’s amazing, in almost every country, there are individuals who have taken it to the extreme.
They seem to communicate only with help of swear words and grunting! But let’s treat them as a separate case.

Memorize More Words – Original Approach To Swearing

 

As an anecdote, I can tell you about my good friend from Russia (and an amazing polyglot). He has a very interesting approach to vulgarities of all kinds. Every time when he wants to start learning some language or get the taste of it, he starts with swear words.

If I’m not mistaken, currently he can swear in over 20 languages. He might not be able to quote Shakespeare in Greek but he surely can tell you to “go f**k yourself” in this language.

Once, he taught me to swear in Russian to such a degree that my conversational partner at the time was blushing like a nun at a dildo exhibition! What a great guy!

Anyway, that goes without saying that obscene language is avoided and treated as a taboo.
It’s nowhere to be found as a part of any language learning curriculum. Even though it is an important element of everyday speech.

Although, it’s hard to blame anyone for this state of affairs. Probably not that many people would be willing to attend the school where they would have to repeat after teacher “f*ck you!”.

So it seems that dirty language is doomed to stay in the shadows of every language learning curriculum.
But that’s good news. The forbidden fruit always grabs your attention.

Why?

Because such a language is characterized by EXTREMELY intense emotions. And exactly these emotions can help you to memorize new vocabulary much faster than before.

But first, let’s take a look at advantages of learning such a language.

Why You Should Learn How To Swear In Your Target Language

 

1) So you don’t make silly (and inappropriate) mistakes.

The line between saying the word you intend to say and the one you really utter might be very thin.

My colleague at my previous, corporate work had to present some data in front of our English supervisors. She tried to be very professional and business-like. But she couldn’t understand why the managers were chuckling all the time.

Of course, not ALL the time. It only happened when she was saying the word “account”. Or at least she thought that she was saying it. In fact, what managers could hear was “a c*nt”.

Believe me, they were very composed considering the fact that every 2 min my colleague was saying something along the lines – “a c*nt of one of the customers had to be closed/opened/verified”.

2) It facilitates communication (Black et al., 1985; Hall, Nagy, & Linn,1984).

Think about it. It would be weird if every time you bumped your toe against the cupboard, you said “oh, it hurts, and I’m so angry right now!” instead of hearty “that motherf*cker!”.

Intense feelings can be expressed and emphasized much more effectively with help of swearing.

How many times have you met a native speaker of some other language and asked him to teach you some cuss words?

What’s more, it’s also funny for the native speaker. Hearing somebody saying curse words with a funny accent in their native tongue can be really hilarious!

3) It deepens the comprehension of the language, the culture, and the people.

Once you understand why they say the things they say, the language becomes much clearer. Read more about benefits of language learning here.

4) It can improve your memory

Such a language carries a huge emotional load. And I will show you how you can use it to boost your memory.

How Swearing Works In The Brain

But before I share some of the techniques I use, let me explain why swearing can be a powerful learning tool.

Neuroscientists from Weill Medical College of Cornell University found that the amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotion and memory, was highly active when exposed to swear words.

What’s important for us, the amygdala is also connected to the memory function part of the brain.

The bad news is that the repetition decreases its activity. The more you swear, the less active this part is. That’s why some people never seem to be bothered by such a language!

How To Use Swearing In Language Learning

 

Below, you can find three techniques which I use quite frequently.

Learn swear words and dirty expressions from your target language

I know – duh. But I rush to explain why.
Many cuss words and dirty expressions contain every-day words. Once you realize this, you’ll be able to fish them out and memorize them almost instantaneously.

I’ll give you just one example so you get a general idea since I feel weird enough writing this article!

Imagine that you just started learning English and you come across the following phrase – “go f*ck yourself”. Once somebody explains its meaning to you, it’ll be hard to forget it. And besides the omnipresent “f*ck” you learn another useful word “go”.

If you are wondering, where you can learn some frequently used curse words in your target language, read on.

Translate swear words / dirty expressions from your native tongue into your target language

You already know them. You are also aware of the emotions which are associated with them.
Of course, most of the time such translations won’t make much sense. However, that’s beside the point. This technique is only meant to help you learn new words with bigger ease.

Example:

“I will tear you a new a**hole” translated into any language will almost certainly sound absurd. But you will learn how to say “tear” in your target language!

Get creative and abuse your virtual opponent

This technique allows you to vent and learn at the same time! Imagine the person you dislike/hate/ despise sitting right in front of you. How would you abuse him/her in a creative way? You don’t even need to use a very vulgar language!

Monty Python serves as a great example.

“I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster!”. You get the idea.

Basically, you can take any two words from your target language and try to turn them into a creative insult.

Write the short story in your target language

Think about some unpleasant situation and try to write a short story about. Throw in an obscene word and spicy comparisons every now and then.

“The night was dark as a truckload of a**holes when I …”.

Useful Websites

 

There are only two websites worth recommending

www.youswear.com/

How To Extend Your Vocabulary and Memorize More Words With Swearing

The best website of this kind which you will find. It contains swear words from dozens upon dozens of languages. What’s more, it also has a voting system to make sure that the listed swear words are in use.

They even have “a word of the day” if you needed more reasons to visit this website!

www.insults.net/html/swear/

Memorize More Words With Swearing

Not as good as the previous website but you still might find it useful. It contains swear words from over 40 languages. The number of obscene expressions is usually quite small but their translations are very reliable.

Be Careful With Swearing

 

Finally, as a word of caution – don’t try to use swear words in your target language without consulting them with native speakers.

As language learners, we usually lack a significant part of the emotional programming necessary to feel the emotion behind the words, how they affect others, and the proper context to use them.

We weren’t conditioned from a very young age to feel their emotional effect. And that’s why better tread lightly my friend. And good luck!

How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

So you want to go abroad for almost completely free?

I know, I know. It sounds way too good to be true. Usually, with this kind of offers, you wake up without your kidney in the bathtub full of ice. But don’t worry. It’s really (almost completely) free of charge.
And the only thing you need is a pair of hands.

Without further ado, I present you:

www.WorkAway.info

The site, founded in 2003, helps unite aspiring travelers with hosts abroad. What do they offer? Travelers are put up for free in exchange for work

All the pictures you can see in this article are the actual locations where people go to work and learn languages.

What Is WorkAway?

 

How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

Workaway is a database of families, NGOs, charities and other projects who’ve joined the project over the year. They are located around the world and are looking for volunteers to help them with a variety of tasks. Exemplary types of volunteering include gardening, animal-care, cleaning, cooking, and farming.

In exchange, you sleep for free on the premises, eat three meals a day with your host and can immerse yourself in a language of your choice.

Currently, more than 14000 hosts from 130 countries are present on the website.

How Does It Work?

 

First, you need to sign up (duh) and create a profile specifying your background and skills. Then you can start browsing the list of hosts for opportunities in any of the countries registered and contact them for more information. If there is some specific location you would like to visit, you can also search by country.

You can email hosts that interest you and chat with them to figure out if you’re a good match for each other. How To Go Abroad For (Almost Completely) Free To Learn a Language

 

Hosts are expected to provide information about themselves, the type of volunteering they require to be performed, the accommodation they offer and the sort of person they are expecting.

How much do I have to pay?

Almost nothing. A two-year membership is 23 Euros for a single person and 30 Euros for couples and friends.

How much do I have to work?

The typical Workaway agreement is to work 4-5 hours per day, 5 days a week in exchange for food and a room.

How long can I stay?

In theory, there is no limit on how long you must stay in a given location. However, usually, you are expected to stay with your host for at least three weeks (although you often can stay for almost as many months as you wish).

Can I earn something?

It differs with each host. But you definitely shouldn’t expect it. Remember – the deal is to work in exchange for food and accommodation. However, some hosts guarantee some pocket money or a commission.

What Can You Expect As A Member of Workaway?

 

According to WorkAway, you can expect the following benefits:

  • Contact 1000s of hosts in over 135 countries.
  • Create a unique profile telling hosts all about your skills and enthusiasm for helping.
  • Upload photos in your profile showing yourself and your skills.
  • Upload your own short video to show on your profile page.
  • Join your account with a friend’s to visit hosts and apply together. Whenever wherever
  • Create your own personalized host list of all your favorite hosts.
  • Find hosts on a map in your area or the area you are planning on traveling to.
  • Use your smartphone and log in to the mobile site to make changes or apply on the move.
  • Add yourself to our last minute Workawayer list so hosts can contact you for immediate volunteering opportunities.
  • Get and give feedbacks to and from hosts to build up your Workaway profile.
  • Contact other members to ask about their stay with hosts.
  • Link your travel blog to ours to share your interesting Workaway journey with our readers
  • Get to know like-minded travelers on the road with our “Meet up” function.
  • Enter our monthly photo competition and win money to extend your travels.
  • Help the Workaway Foundation Project and watch them grow (For more info see www.workawayfoundation.org)
  • Be a member of our unique traveling community and exchange amazing stories and ideas!

Safety

 

The website enjoys the highest reputation for quality and reliability. However, the safety is always a priority while traveling and you should treat it seriously.

Workaway has a page dedicated to safety information and encourages all its users, both volunteers, and hosts, to spend time getting to know each other before making any decisions. Any sort of contract or agreement should be decided between you and your host. The website is only responsible for connecting people.

That’s it. If you go somewhere nice, don’t forget to send me some pictures!

Accelerate Your Language Learning Thanks To A Great Strategy You Can Learn From Body Builders

Accelerate Your Language Learning

I would like to start this article with a hymn of praise for languages. Oh, how beautiful they are. Their sweet melody. Their hypnotizing rhythm. The ear-caressing flow of perfectly arranged words.

Ok. Joking aside. I’d like to pause again for a moment, just to think why learning a language resembles residing in one of the hell’s circles. You see, Dante was wrong. His vision did include only 9 circles.
There is actually the tenth one. It’s designed for beginners in language learning.

To successfully have a chat in a foreign language, you have to achieve so-called communicative competence. Sounds sexy, I know. But even without reading about it, you know that communicating in a language is damn demanding.

The simplified list of requirements looks like this. You need to quickly recall needed words (between 1k and 2k minimum). You need to know how to pronounce them (Phonology). You need to know where to put them in a sentence (Syntax). You need to know how they change (Morphology).

You need to when to use them depending on circumstances (Pragmatics). At the same time, you need quite a high level of comprehension to understand your interlocutor.

What’s more, if you happen to talk to somebody attractive of the opposite sex, you must remember to:

  • keep it cool
  • block excessive sweating
  • be at least remotely funny

And then there is a phase after each conversation when you have to swallow sadness, pick up the pieces of your self-confidence and convince yourself that language-learning journey IS exciting.

That sucks. We’ve all been there at one point or another. And the progress. Don’t get me started on this one. It’s excruciatingly slow in most cases.

Why?

Let’s take a look at the typical (unorganized) language journey.

Typical Effects Of Learning After A Few Years

 

Just a short notice – I didn’t make this up. These are actual words of one of my students.

“I can talk quite ok when it comes to vocabulary, listening, and pronunciation. I understand many things which I hear on the radio and TV. However, I make tons of mistakes in conversation and can only use a few tenses.”

That’s a bit shortened version. But it should give you some foretaste of the frustration. And all due to the typical classroom teaching language philosophy.

I, The Teacher, Will Correct The Cr*p Out Of Everything You Say

 

The common language-teaching philosophy is to correct or try to correct almost every mistake. That’s the way one-way ticket to becoming a mayor of the Looney Town.

Just try to imagine that you learn English (unless you really do!) and you say something along these lines – “Tim want to become doctor.”

Your tutor looks at you. His face slowly changes. And then the shitstorm ensues.

“First of all, you don’t say want, but wantS. Also, you always should remember that In English, an indefinite article is needed in front of professions. What’s more, you need to work on your pronunciation! You don’t pronounce x and y the right way…. “. And so on.

The chance is that after one lesson of this kind, you don’t remember most of these remarks. How could you? You can’t concentrate equally on talking and processing all the mistakes. Also, you probably haven’t uttered more than 30-40 sentences during one hour. The constant interruptions are not very helpful. At this pace, you’ll become fully conversant in about, well, 3-4 years?

I believe there is a better way to learn and to teach. The body-building champions can give us a great point of reference.

How Body Builders Train

“It all starts with body-part splits. The researchers were surprised to discover that every single one of these bodybuilders used body-part split-routines either five or six days a week. Every. Single. One. Not most of them or almost all of them, but every single one.”

(You can find the original article here)

A small explanation for those of us (including me) who keep their distance from gyms. Body-parts split mean that body-builders train a certain part of the body on a certain day.

You can imitate this process by conducting grammar and vocabulary drills.

Grammar and Vocabulary Grammar Drills

 

The main purpose of doing such grills is to concentrate on one thing and one thing only.
For a limited period of time, you practice just this one part of a language.

It means ignoring (as much as possible) all the other mistakes you make. If you decide to work on some future tense – so be it. Ignore the rest.

You can use this technique to activate and practise your vocabulary at the same time.
Simply prepare the list of, say, 20 words which you would like to practise and include it in your grammar drills.

Where Should You Start?

 

That’s always a very good question. But the answer is relatively simple. You should always choose the part of grammar which is essential for communication and the one that you are the worst at.

Personally, I recommend doing such drills 6 times per week. No, you can’t unwind on the seventh day. On the seventh day, you should put all the pieces together and actually have a conversation with someone. Unless, of course, you have a conversational partner handy. In this case, talk as much as possible.

Benefits

 

If you have done it before, I don’t have to convince you. For all the non-believers:

Secondly, to be a tad more mature, the said method allows you to significantly decrease the cognition burden on your working memory. You simply can’t process, analyze and correct all the mistakes you make. This method allows you to eliminate mistakes one by one.

It helps you join together and strengthen the elements that you already know, and build toward a higher level. It is like the big jigsaw puzzle when you can start plugging the missing pieces into the picture more and more quickly.

Language teachers can also use it. Instead of correcting all kinds of mistakes of your students, concentrate on one or two of them. Such approach will accelerate your students’ progress rate.

Results

 

I’ve experienced it for the first time with my German. I was doing drill after drill. And I felt like my progress wasn’t that great. And suddenly one day BOOM! Magic happened. Language fairy sprinkled some magic dust all over me and I started speaking with such confidence that I felt as if somebody else was speaking.

And I wish you the same! Let the language fairy be with you!

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