Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘language learning’

On immersion

For the past six weeks or so I have been sharing a flat with a couple who only speak a few words of English and German. When I moved in my Polish was probably hovering around A2, having received a boost over the summer from my reading, writing and use of a grammar book. I was still quite hesitant about speaking, and had only really started to build my confidence during a weekend away organised by my flamenco teacher, again with a few people who didn’t speak any English but who still wanted to communicate with me. Both the people on the flamenco weekend and the couple I was living with were great interlocutors for me, patient, happy to rephrase and repeat themselves as much as necessary, and supporting me in trying to communicate my ideas. The woman I lived with was also very good at correcting me consistently which had a massive impact on my grammar.

One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren't dancing flamenco :)

One of two kittens entertaining us when we weren’t dancing flamenco 🙂

Six weeks on, it’s like I’m a different person. I feel like my Polish is probably now into B1. I can speak about most everyday things, my accuracy has improved in quite a few areas, and my confidence is at similar levels to my much stronger languages. I’m not normally shy about pushing myself to speak, which is why the last year has been so strange for me as I was very reluctant to speak Polish if I didn’t have to. I felt like I didn’t really know what language I was speaking in, and it was a real mix of Polish, Czech and Russian. I’m very glad to be past that point, and feel like I’m now in a very good place to continue improving.

On reflection, I’m also wondering whether having such a long (almost) silent period has also helped me to speak more fluently and more confidently at this point than at the same point with other languages. A year of building my vocabulary and listening to and reading whatever I could has certainly helped me improve my understanding, and I feel it’s also made me more accurate when I finally did speak, although I’m sure Czech and Russian probably also had something to do with it.

This is the most conscious I’ve ever been of my speaking progress, as I’ve either already been at least B2 when I’ve been immersed in a language, or I haven’t been in a complete immersion situation for more than a couple of hours at a time. Six weeks of having to speak Polish most mornings and evenings for at least a few minutes meant I had no choice but to communicate. Talking about things which were relevant to me and trying to explain things which had happened during a very eventful few weeks, sometimes with Mr. Google’s help, extended my language and provided a huge amount of motivation.

I know that it’s theoretically possible to create similar situations through the use of Skype conversation partners for example, but I’ve never had the motivation to do it before, confident that I’d eventually learn as much as I needed to through constantly plugging away at the language. After this experience of immersion, I think I might try harder to recreate it with the next language I want to study (not sure what yet!)

I’ve only had two or three Polish lessons, and I’m wondering just how much and how accurately I can learn without having any, even though I know I definitely want some at some point as I need correction. Watch this space…

How I’m learning Polish

Slowly. Without lessons. Mostly by myself. These things will hopefully all change as we move into the next academic year, but until then I’m…

Using Memrise

I started doing this as soon as I found out I’d got the job in Poland. I’ve been using a range of different sets, and spend 5-10 minutes on there every day.

Leeds University beginners’ Polish
The best Polish course I’ve found on memrise, though I didn’t find it until much later than the other sets linked here. It has a range of useful vocabulary sets, with words and phrases I’m highly likely to need. Unfortunately though, quite a few of the words don’t have any audio.

Beginner Polish
This was the first set I used, and I finished it a few months ago. It has a lot of useful vocabulary, but not so many complete phrases.

Beginner to Intermediate (no typing)
There is a lot of incredibly random vocabulary here, and I’m not sure I would describe it as beginner, though some of the words scattered through the sets are. The first 19 or so levels are quite useful, dealing with verb conjugations, but then set 20 is clause linkers, most of which I ignored. I’m about halfway through, and find that the lack of typing means words sometimes take a while to stick in my head. There are also some words which are a bit confusing because they are presented completely out of context, so it’s not always clear which meaning of the English translation they correspond to. Most of the words have audio though, which is helpful. There are times when I think ‘When am I ever going to need that?’ often shortly followed by said word being key in an article I’m skimming in the magazines left in the school kitchen, or appearing in film subtitles 🙂

Days and Months
Colours
I found these two sets when I was trying to find something more useful than the Beginner to Intermediate set. They are short and quick to finish, which was motivating.

For a long time I got a bit too lazy, and memrise was the only thing I was doing for Polish. It felt like once I’d reached my daily goal, there was no need to find the time to do anything else. Some extra practice came to me, like buying things from the counters in the supermarket or reading subtitles when I went to the cinema, but it wasn’t much. About a month ago, I decided it was time to change this, and have now added a few other things, starting with:

Harry Potter

Inspired by Lizzie Pinard, I downloaded the Polish version of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone audiobook way back in September. I enjoyed the books the first time round, as well as the films, but haven’t read/seen them for a long time, so this is a great opportunity to revisit them and learn at the same time.

Until about a month ago, I’d only listened to the first two chapters once or twice each, but then I decided that if I was really serious about learning Polish just doing memrise wasn’t going to cut it. I put the audiobook on my iPod, and before I listened to any podcasts each day, I had to listen to some Harry Potter. I’m about 2/3 of the way through the book now, and try to listen to each chapter at least twice, and often four or five times, before moving on to the next. Every time I listen I notice more of the vocabulary, and some of that ‘When I am ever going to need this?’ vocab from the Beginner to Intermediate memrise set has actually come in quite useful here! It’s also a great way to help me pick up on the pronunciation of words I had only seen and not heard before, and to notice the case endings which are used throughout Polish.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Polish cover)

Having enjoyed puzzling through Game of Thrones in Russian previously, I decided to buy the book of Harry Potter a couple of weeks ago. I tend to read one or two pages every night before bed. I finished chapter one last night, and want to go back and listen to the audiobook chapter again as I now understand so much more of the text. This is the last thing I do each night, and I read until I can’t keep my eyes open. Before that I…

Write in my journal

Writing is often the skill which is most neglected when learning a language. My receptive skills are pretty good in Polish, around pre-intermediate level I’d guess, because of the Czech and Russian I have learnt before. Unfortunately, my productive skills are lagging far behind this. I’m reluctant to speak because I end up producing a mix of Czech, Russian and Polish, though this is getting easier as time passes. A lack of practice doesn’t help.

I’ve had previous success with journal writing in Russian, and I try to do it with my students, so on the same day I started reading Harry Potter, I also decided it was high time I started writing a journal in Polish. By writing, I’m forcing myself to produce the language, but I have none of the time pressure of being in a conversation. I tend to only write the date and two or three sentences about what I did that day or some general fact about me if the day was quite boring. I’m trying to push myself to pick out something different to write about each day, even when the days are very same-y. This is also because nobody has read or corrected my Polish writing yet, so I don’t want to compound a particular mistake too much until they do! The whole process takes a while because I’m also…

Reading a grammar book

[The image is an affiliate link…I’ll get a few pennies if you buy through it]

Of course, saying it like that makes it sound really dull, but two things make it much more interesting. The first is that Discovering Polish is very accessible, with a limited amount of metalanguage and lots of examples to support rules. The second is that every time I pick it up it’s because I’m looking for a particular bit of grammar which I need for my journal but have no idea how to use. Whenever I start reading about it, I normally end up finishing a whole section or even a whole chapter. There are a couple of bits I’ve read more than once, and I’ve already noticed that these rules are starting to sink in. By reading more about the grammar, it’s also helping me to notice grammatical features when they appear in other places, like the Harry Potter book or…

At the cinema

I’m currently living right next door to the cinema, and have an unlimited card, so have been making full use of the combination of this and my summer holidays to go to the cinema as much as possible. However, the only dubbed film I’ve made it to is The BFG, which while it looked beautiful, was way too linguistically complicated for me to understand much of what was said. This wasn’t helped by me not doing any preparation before I went, like watching trailers or clips of the film in English first to know some of the language. It’s also a very long time since I read the book so I didn’t really remember the story, though I did manage to pick the main events up well enough from the images. It’s temporarily put me off watching dubbed films, though I know it shouldn’t because I got a lot out of watching Zootropolis a few months ago.

The subtitles are quite good for picking up bits and pieces of language, but I do have a tendency to ignore them completely after a while, especially if it’s a particularly gripping film. I should definitely go and see more dubbed films, and maybe even venture to a Polish film or two.

In the future

I really want to be able to communicate confidently in Polish and understand much more so that I can:

  • go to the cinema to see any film I like without needing to prepare first
  • understand everything at my flamenco classes
  • volunteer at Guides or Scouts
  • speak to parents and low-level students without an interpreter at school
  • deal with life admin without needing an interpreter
  • socialise more easily with monolingual Poles
  • and generally have as independent a life as possible here.

To do this, I’m planning to continue with everything I’ve described above, time permitting. I have CDs of the next two Harry Potter audiobooks which I found very cheaply in a second-hand DVD store, so that’ll keep me going for a while.

I’m also hoping that we’ll have higher-level Polish classes at school from October, which I should be able to join in with. This should give me more opportunities to speak. I have a few Polish friends here, but we almost always speak English, and it’s very hard to change the language of a relationship if you’ve started in a different one. I’m hoping to get a few more friends and to start the relationship in Polish if I can 🙂

I will inevitably come back to the blog at a later date to reflect on my further Polish learning, so watch this space to find out how it goes.

Thai Day 5

I’ve almost collected the set of teachers at Baan Aksorn 🙂 with a third new one today. It was a completely different lesson, and much more like how I approached learning Russian. This was mostly because I knew I only had three hours left, and therefore wanted to collect as much knowledge and language as possible to help me with my own self-study later.

We started with a list of things I thought it would be useful for me to understand/say which hadn’t come up in previous lessons, such as:

  • What’s your name? My name is…
  • Where are you from? I’m from…
  • What do you do? I’m an English teacher. I’m a teacher trainer.
  • How old are you?
  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t understand.
  • I can’t remember.
  • And you?
  • Can I sit here?
  • How to respond when somebody says ‘thank you’

I also asked about how to talk about the past and future because I know it only needs a couple of words in Thai. I’m not sure how many conversations I’ll end up having where I have to describe actions, but at least this gives me the option to do so.

When I asked about morning/afternoon/evening, I discovered that Thai divides the day into a lot more parts than English. We also looked at days of the week and how to say ‘last/next week/month/year’.

We talked a bit about family and showed each other some pictures. At this and various other points in the lesson the conversation was a mix of English and Thai, with my teacher sharing bits of information about herself and her family in Thai that I could understand, glossing any new words she used. This was great as it felt very personal, and gave me a good reason to concentrate because I was learning more about the person sitting in front of me, rather than thinking in the abstract. I could also try to edit and repeat some of the phrases to talk about my life.

When we’d run out of my questions, there were 40 minutes left. I decided the best thing to do would be to flick through the speaking textbook I had, with my teacher giving me a lightning quick guide to any new language that came up on the page which wasn’t immediately obvious. Thankfully my teacher was happy to do this. Because I have the CD I can go back and listen to the pronunciation myself later, learn the vocabulary, and do some of the controlled practice exercises, so we focussed on grammar and structures. In this way we covered:

  • Where is…? Which one…? Where do you…?
  • What is he/she like?
  • Who? Whose? With who?
  • and, with, also, but
  • Possessives
  • Suggestions
  • How long have you been here?
  • Comparatives
  • Happy birthday! It’s my birthday.
  • What’s this? What’s that? How do you say _____ in Thai?
  • Why…? Because…
  • Tag questions of the ‘…, right?’ variety
  • Basic conditionals for facts and advice. (If this, then this./If this, you should…)

There was no practice, and I remember hardly any of it, but that was exactly what I needed from my teacher. I’ve got plenty of time to practice it myself later, and I wanted to make the most of the short amount of time I had with an expert.

My teacher today was a big contrast to the other two teachers, although I’m not sure how much of this was because of the way I wanted the lesson to go. Very early, she told me not to worry too much about tones. I think it’s important to get the right pronunciation from the beginning though, so I’m glad that my first teacher was strict about this, even though it was frustrating at times. All three of my teachers were happy to answer my questions, but this one actually said to me it’s good that I was asking so many questions, and she thinks Thai students should ask more questions too. She checked at one point whether she was speaking too much English because of the explanations, which I was really pleased about, and she tried to tell me things in Thai whenever she thought I could understand. This was great because I sometimes have to fight to get my teacher to avoid English, especially because I can be lazy about it if I’m not forced to speak the language I’m learning. If I’d had lessons for longer, I’d definitely have wanted to rely a lot less on English, but the information cramming I wanted from my last three hours wouldn’t have been possible just in Thai.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • When you talk about siblings, whether they’re older or younger is more important than whether they are male or female. In fact, the word for sibling translates literally as ‘older younger’ rather than ‘brother sister’.
  • The word for cat is แมว. Go to Google translate and listen to it 🙂
  • There is a different word for ‘year’ if you are aged 1-12: ‘khuap’, not ‘pii’
  • The Thai day is divided into 8 different sections, varying in length from 1-6 hours.
  • In passing: all of the things listed above!

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

It’s good to have a mix of teachers because each one will prioritise different things for you, although you have to be prepared to be adaptable too.

Having clearly laid out notes from the teacher is incredibly useful as a reference.

The world's neatest notes

The world’s neatest notes, and yes, they are handwritten, not typed!

Flexible teachers are key – being able to respond to your student’s needs and moods is important for their motivation.

Having the teacher share bits of their life with you puts you on an equal footing and relaxes the atmosphere a lot. If they do this in the language you’re learning and you understand, it’s another high! If not, it motivates you to try to understand. This also helps to build rapport.

For every structure, you need an example. Otherwise it’s going to be very difficult to know how to actually use the language once you’ve left the classroom.

The end, for now

I’ve really enjoyed my experience of studying intensively, and of trying to put bits of my Thai into practice in the afternoons. I think I’ve got everything I set out to get at the beginning of the week. While it’s nowhere near the immersion that my students had in Newcastle, it was still valuable to reflect on the difficulties of learning a new, completely different language, which has few connections with any language I speak already. At the same time, it’s interesting to see how some bits of language are fairly universal, and that no matter how distant they may seem, you can still find some common hooks to hang things on (for example Thai and French). It’s made me think a lot about the role of the teacher in the beginner classroom, and having three teachers in such a short space of time has taught me something about how personality can affect the lessons too (in a good way!) The plan now is to take away what I’ve learnt this week and the resources I’ve been given, and continue to develop my Thai over the next three months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following my journey this week – I’ve certainly got a lot out of it. In case you missed any, here are all of the posts:

Apologies for the bombardment of posts! 😉 Normal service should be resumed next week as I return to Chiang Mai for the next CELTA.

(If you’d like to read about another teacher’s reflections on learning Thai, try these from Peter Clements.)

Thai Day 4

Things feel like they might be clicking, at least a little. Every time I woke up last night I had bits of Thai in my head, and there was some internal monologuing when I was having my breakfast this morning.

I asked to do numbers today as this is the set of vocabulary which I think is most useful on a daily basis. I was familiar with 1-10, but didn’t know the tones, I was getting very frustrated with myself because I was having trouble with falling and rising tones again. My teacher was also frustrated at times from the tone of her voice and the way she said ‘no’ to me. She would tell me which tone it should be, which I normally knew, but I just couldn’t work out where to start the sound or how to get it out of my mouth. I couldn’t ‘hear’ what I was meant to be producing confidently enough for it to come out. As before, copying them is normally fine, but plucking them out of thin air is really difficult. We spent over an hour on the numbers, including a little bit of controlled practice with me saying numbers based on digits in the book. This was a real challenge because of the different way Thai approaches large numbers (see below), plus remembering the word, plus remembering the tones. A lot of processing had to happen here!

We spent 70 minutes on numbers, then moved on to time. This was only 20 minutes, but felt like a whole lot longer! At this stage I discovered that I can produce the falling tone with very little problem when saying เที่ยง /thiang’/ (noon), probably because it has a diphthong (a vowel sound made up of a slide from one vowel sound to another) in the middle of it. Changing tones in a diphthong feels much simpler and more natural than doing it in a monophthong (single vowel sound). Using that as a reference point I was able to produce falling tones in other words much more consistently because I got the sound in my head and could play off it. Now I just need to find a word I can use as a reference for a rising tone. Using the numbers to tell the time also helped me to feel more confident with them, and it felt more useful doing this than producing random numbers large and small (that context thing again).

The last hour was with my second teacher again. We did adjectives, with a break in the middle for some diet-related phrases. I also asked for a sentence structure to go with the vehicles I’d learnt, so now I can say how I travel(led).

I’ve spent the afternoon in Ayutthaya, a town full of temples just north of Bangkok. During the day I’ve had a few opportunities to use my Thai, both actively and passively. I understood numbers I heard over the station tannoy and on an advertising truck that was blasting out over loudspeakers as I walked around Ayutthaya. On the train, I told the people opposite me where I was going and understood some of the vendors as they walked past. I ordered food at a restaurant using my new phrases and was understood, and I understood when the woman passed on my order to the cook, although it then turned out she spoke English anyway! I also said a couple of phrases in Thai to the people at the restaurant as they were trying to get me to book a room – I managed to tell them I’m studying Thai in Bangkok and I go back today. I did a boat trip, and heard the woman organising say the time it would leave to her friend. All of these bits of speaking and understanding were little highs, exactly why I keep studying languages 🙂

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • 1 is หนึ่ง /nung/, but every other time 1 appears in a number (11, 21, 31 etc) it’s อ็ด /et/
  • There are distinct words for 10,000 and 100,000, rather than being multiples of 1,000 as in many European languages. I think this is a feature of many Asian languages.
  • Thai time works in six hour blocks. The most confusing section for me is 7pm-11pm, where the hours are counted 1-5 again.
  • (I think) Conditionals just involve the use of ‘if’ plus a basic sentence structure, which can be as short as a single verb.

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

Numbers take a lot of thought, and we don’t practise them actively anywhere near enough in class.

I’ve thought this for a long time, since even at very high levels of proficiency in some of my languages, I still have to think hard to process numbers. For a beginner, it’s a real struggle.

Having reference words that you’re confident with the pronunciation of can make you feel much more sure about transferring that sound to other words.

Frustration is cyclical. Just because you’ve got it right once, doesn’t mean you’ll get it right the next time you say it. Repetition, repetition, repetition, as long as it’s improving your confidence. If it’s not, drop it, move on, and come back to it, or both the teacher and student will get depressed and frustrated. Something later in the lesson might just be the necessary trigger to solve the problem.

Sometimes my teacher was doing other things in the lesson, like filling in the register or making notes about non-lesson-related things. I know she was listening to me because she could correct me, but it was a bit demotivating, as I felt like I was boring her. I also know I’ve been guilty of doing exactly the same thing as a teacher in the past. I’m not sure how to keep the teacher engaged in the lesson more, since they/I have probably done this hundreds of times before and will again. It’s hardly the most cognitively engaging part of being a teacher to listen to somebody maul very basic bits of your language repeatedly, even though you know that sometimes, just sometimes, they’re capable of producing it correctly.

When I was producing sentences which I was 100% sure I would need to use in real life, I was much more motivated and engaged.

Being able to use some of the language today has made me feel like all the effort this week is worth it.

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 3

I was tired today, and it made a huge difference. It took me a while to get into the lesson, and I asked if we could do some writing at some point as I thought it would be more useful for me to consolidate what I know that try to cram in anything new, since I don’t really feel like I know a lot of what we’ve done so far, unless I already had a vague idea of it before starting the lessons. Because of my tiredness, I also noticed the slight impatience in the teacher’s voice at times, making me quieter when I was unsure, and more likely to use a high (questioning) tone than I probably would have been if I’d been more awake – I was very unsure of my pronunciation and was trying to check everything.

My teacher decided reading practice would be more useful for me, so we looked at one group of consonants, called ‘middle class consonants’. First I read them as their letter names – every consonant in Thai comes with an associated word, since some of them have the same pronunciation but different characters. For example, the /s/ sound can be accompanied by the word ‘pavilion’, ‘hermit/saint’ or ‘tiger’ depending on which character is used:

Three 's' sounds

Three ‘s’ sounds

Three of the consonants were then combined with the vowels, which was good revision from Tuesday, especially as it turned out I’d forgotten most of the vowel characters. Finally, they were combined with random vowels, meaning I had to remember tones at that stage too – a middle consonant plus a short vowel uses a low tone, whereas a middle consonant plus a long vowel uses a mid tone. That whole process took an hour.

In the next hour we moved on to the ‘high consonants’, repeating a similar process but with both middle and high consonants appearing in the final reading practice, adding further to the tonal complexity: high consonant + short vowel = low tone; high consonant + long vowel = rising tone. I got particularly frustrated with myself at various points during this process as I found it hard to get the rising tone right. I could repeat it again and again with no problem, but as soon as I had to produce another tone before it, I lost it completely. I also found it unnatural to have two consecutive rising tones, and tended to use a rising tone followed by a falling one. I need to remember to split it up more, and over-emphasise the initial fall to make the rise more dramatic.

I also found it difficult pluck the sounds out of the air when trying to remember vowels and how to combine them with consonants, added to the challenge of trying to remember which character represents which vowel. I kept having to return to the vowels page in my book to remind myself how to produce them. One thing that did help was thinking about the vowels in relation to each other. For example, อ is a more open version of โ. It was also helpful trying to link things back to the phonology of English, particularly when producing some of the ‘words’ during the reading practice. For example: แกะ sounds like ‘get’ without the /t/ sound at the end.

I’d had enough of reading at this point, and the lack of context for the words, many of which probably don’t have any meaning, was getting me down a bit. It was useful for familiarisation with the script though, and I definitely feel more confident with some of the characters than I did before.

I changed teacher at this point as my Tuesday/first half teacher had another class to teach, so I was back to my teacher from yesterday after a break. I asked to revise some of the vocabulary we’d studied, going back over the nouns from yesterday, then experimenting with making more sentences with the words from Monday. That took 30 minutes, and for the last 15 minutes I finally felt up to looking at something new.

One more vocabulary page added 11 more words, mostly extending my transport vocabulary, and then a brief grammar page introduced personal pronouns and possessive adjectives. With about 7 minutes left, there wasn’t time to add the adjectives from the next page, and I thought activation was more important. I tried to make some sentences using the pronouns and possessives, but was feeling uninspired, so asked my teacher to make questions I could answer. Because you use full sentences to answer a question in Thai, this was a good exercise in sentence manipulation, without me having to come up with the ideas myself.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • There are different types of consonant: middle class, high class and low class.
  • The types of consonant and whether it is combined with a long or short vowel determines the tone of the vowel.
  • The words for ‘today’, ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’, so I can already discuss the past, present and future, rather than being restricted to the present.
  • The words for ‘tiger’ and ‘top’ (as in clothes) are the same but with different tones, as are the words for ‘sit’ and ‘film’.
  • There are only five/six pronouns in Thai. I knew that ‘I’ is different for males and females (there is a longer and shorter one for females, hence 5/6), but I didn’t realise that the third person pronoun is the same for ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ and ‘they’.
  • The pronouns don’t change when used as possessive adjectives (unlike English with, e.g. ‘she’ and ‘her’).

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

Reading aloud is good for familiarisation with sound-spelling relationships. It’s also a lot of work, and I think it’s of very limited use in classes with more than 2-3 students.

Giving students thinking time when they’re reading aloud is very important, particularly in a different script – they need time to process decipher the characters, process the word, formulate the sounds in their head and mouth, then try to produce it.

Separating out ideas and language during productive stages is vital. It’s hard to marshall ideas while simultaneously trying to work out how to express them. This is the stage when I feel I translate the most – I work out what I want to/can say in English within the bounds of my language ability, then translate it to Thai slowly and laboriously.

It’s far easier to recognise new language than it is to produce it yourself. Answering questions is much easier (and more motivating?) than producing sentences.

When I decided to make a question rather than a sentence, but the teacher answered ‘good’ instead of answering my question, it depressed me a little.

The exercise of producing lots of self-selected sentences is motivating, as I can choose what words I want to add to my vocabulary and control the speed at which I do this.

You need to know your teacher’s name so that it’s easier to ask for help.

Playing with the language makes you feel more relaxed – I enjoyed the last 45 minutes of the lesson more than the first two hours, even though both were useful.

As I said yesterday, I’d still like more opportunities to play, not just with the words but with the way the materials are exploited. Reading things again and again is useful, but is a bit depressing after a while. Some variety in the way it’s taken off the page would be interesting. Maybe the teacher could point at random words for me to repeat, or have flashcards, or write things on the board for me to experiment with. Three hours of looking either at the paper or at my eyelids (I close my eyes a lot when I’m trying to remember things) gets quite same-y.

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 2

It’s a national holiday today so I had a different teacher, and she and I were the only people in the school. I didn’t feel too bad as she had another student before me, but I was very grateful for her for giving up some of her free time.

The lesson started with me briefly going over my needs again. I wasn’t able to practise the tones last night as the CD was mislabelled and I ended up with the wrong audio. Early in the lesson, the teacher drew a helpful picture showing how to produce each of the tones.

Thai tones

Thai tones

The teacher started by greeting me in Thai and asking how I was, but although I completely understood I had no idea what to say in return. She taught me the basic conversation, so I just (!) need to learn it and I’ll have no excuses for not replying in Thai now!

We then revised the words from day 1, with me trying to put them into sentences wherever possible. I added more vocabulary to be able to increase my range of sentences at this stage. Every sentence was painfully dragged kicking and screaming from my brain, with much consultation of my notes, questioning glances at the teacher, and overuse of the rising tone again. The teacher also covered the Thai words and tried to get me to remember them – I got about 75%, but that’s an unfair representation of how many I can remember from yesterday since I was already familiar with about half of them. Putting them into sentences helped a lot.

Yesterday the lesson finished before we had time to do the last set of words, all of which demonstrate the rising tone. The first of these, ขอ, will be very useful as it means ‘May I have…?/Give me….’ This gave me the first chance to make a sentence to help with my diet: ‘Give me steamed rice with boiled chicken.’

I was then taught how to make basic yes/no questions, with me dragging more of them from my head to ask the teacher. When I’d run out of vocabulary, I answered her questions and learnt the very useful phrase ‘Say that again.’

We moved onto a basic dialogue, mirroring the one we’d done at the beginning of the lesson, just covering ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ I was also shown the three levels of ‘wai‘ (pronounced ‘why’), the traditional Thai greeting.

Today's classroom

Today’s classroom

The last part of the lesson was two pages of vocabulary grouped into loose lexical sets and accompanied by pictures. There were 39 words between the two pages, and although I’d been exposed to some of them before, it’s a lot for a single lesson. Again, I was encouraged to put them into sentences and to ask questions using the words. The only writing practice I had was writing any sentences I asked for out in phonetics, the most ambitious of which is another diet one: ‘Give me a little pineapple juice with plain water’. I pretty much never looked at the Thai words and relied almost completely on the phonetics. I’m wondering whether I should have chosen the Thai only book yesterday, but it’s too late now.

At this stage, I kept going back and repeating the words myself, and also repeated my two diet phrases ad nauseum – I think I might have remembered both of them now, but I’m planning on reading and re-reading them multiple times this afternoon, and perhaps even trying them out at a restaurant if my mealtimes work out.

We had long gaps in the lesson when I spoke in English for 5-10 minutes at a time, for my needs analysis, describing what I’m doing in Thailand, talking about my diet, and about why I’m on it. The teacher also gave me some tips for getting around the city this afternoon, and told me more about the national holiday, Makha Bucha day.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • Yes/no questions are formed by adding a question particle to the end of a normal sentence.
  • ‘Can’ goes at the end of the sentence, away from the verb it modifies (which is in normal 2nd position in a subject-verb-object sentence). ‘Can’ is negated, rather than the other verb.
  • Adverbs like ‘a little’ and ‘a lot’ are put at the end of the sentence, after ‘can’ if it’s there.
  • How to write ร (r)
  • Many words are compounds of others. For example ‘face mask’ literally translates as ‘cloth close mouth’ – 4 words for the price of one!
  • Bangkok’s name is different in Thai (well, I knew this, but I didn’t know what it was!): Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ)
  • The polite particle added to the end of sentences has a falling tone after statements, and a rising tone after questions.
  • I need to be very careful to pronounce ‘steamed rice’ correctly, otherwise I’ll get spicy Chiang Mai noodles!

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner/121

It’s incredibly tiring, and regular breaks are important.

A variety of activity types is important to increase motivation – I feel like there could be a wider range of things done with the vocabulary in these lessons. For example, there could be flashcards so that we can play games instead of just reading them from the paper and trying to make questions and sentences.

In a 121 class, it would be nice to move around a bit – sitting down for such a long time put my leg to sleep!

Making your own questions and sentences is motivating because you can choose how to use the words and test the limits of what they are used for. It’s also very very very hard work!

Colours and diagrams can help make things clear.

It’s much easier to write things out in your own version of pronunciation, equating it to sounds/words you already know, than it is to try and use the official phonetics. Times that by about 100 and that’s how much easier it is to write it out in your own pronunciation than to attempt to use the still quite alien script.

‘Say that again’ should be taught immediately in a new class – it’s so incredibly useful.

As with yesterday, (about 50% self-directed) repetition and the use of English made a real difference to the lesson.

The teacher needs to be patient when listening to the same sentence repeated for the 20th…30th…50th time, and continue to pay attention because mistakes can still creep in. In fact, as you get tired they’re more, rather than less, likely to happen.

It’s important to move away from the written form and try to memorise things as quickly as possible, just using the written form to check/provide support, rather than constantly reading it.

I wonder whether more drilling would increase my confidence – most of the drilling I’ve had in the lessons has been self-directed. I’ve asked the teacher to repeat it. I wonder if they’d push that if I was more passive as a learner?

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 1

I got to Baan Aksorn school a few minutes late this morning, having not had time to find the school last night because I had to change hostels at the last minute. I was hot, sweaty, and not in the best mood because of the stress of the previous evening, even though it was only just after 8am. Thankfully that feeling disappeared very quickly.

My classroom

My classroom

I was welcomed immediately, and my teacher put me completely at my ease. She was welcoming and very patient with me. After I’d filled in the registration form, we chatted about what I wanted from the classes and decided which materials to use. The school has developed various workbooks. For beginners you can study reading or speaking. The speaking book can be with Thai characters, a kind of phonemic script or both. I chose the book with both, and we spent most of the first hour going through the consonant and vowel sounds, tidying up my pronunciation and clarifying some of the sounds I had trouble with.

ป and ต are still very challenging for me, and we got into something of a cycle of me attempting to repeat the sound with a 50/50 chance of getting it right. My teacher tried to tell me how to make the sounds, but it wasn’t always clear. Neither of those sounds appear in English as separate sounds, but they’re kind of like sounds which follow ‘s’ in the words ‘spot’ and ‘stop’. I’ve tried isolating them but can’t work out exactly how to do that, so if anyone has any thoughts on how to do that, they’d be much appreciated.

After a break (when I got to practise my Spanish and Czech on a Venezuelan who had worked in Brno!) we started to work on tones using lists of ‘words’, some of which don’t carry meaning, to demonstrate the five tones of Thai. Because I’m unsure of my pronunciation I have a tendency to use a questioning tone for many of the words, which is fine if it’s a rising tone, but not if it’s anything else! I could produce some of the sounds/words without a model, but I found it considerably easier when I could mimic my teacher. I tried to watch her mouth to see the changes, but this doesn’t help with tones or tongue position. She was good at using gestures and exaggeration to make it easier for me, but there’s definitely a lot of work for me to do in this area.

The final section of my lesson was based on real words grouped by tone. As we worked through them my teacher helped me to make simple sentences and gave me some grammatical information about patterns that accompany some of the words. This was great as it meant I could attempt to personalise the language a bit, and contextualise some of the words I’d already learnt on memrise.

The view from the classroom window

The view from the classroom window

The lesson was conducted in a mix of Thai and English, with all of the praise and some of the incidental language in Thai (like asking if I was cold when I put a scarf on), but all of the explanations in English. I can’t remember/imagine what it’s like to have a beginner lesson entirely in the foreign language – being able to check things in English really helped, and my teacher could compare sounds and lexical patterns for me, providing very useful scaffolding.

Things I know about Thai that I didn’t know this morning

  • It has a subject-verb-object word order.
  • There are two prepositions for ‘towards’ depending on if you are in the place the thing is going towards (maa) or not (pai) – hope that’s the right way round!
  • Every vowel exists in long and short form.
  • Adjectives follow nouns.

Reflections on learning languages as a beginner

Pronunciation is incredibly important.

Going through sounds at the beginning is an interesting way to start learning, and this is the second time I’ve done it (Russian was the first). I wonder whether it would work in English, or if it’s only good for languages with a strong sound-spelling relationship? We only have a limited range of phonemes, but perhaps you’d need to know the L1 of your student to do this, or they’d have to be willing to take the plunge with phonetics. You can use them as building blocks for words later, and pronunciation will be central right from the start. I definitely felt more confident with Russian pronunciation right from the start because of this.

Being able to mimic a natural model is hugely important – it’s hard to hold a sound in your head, and even harder to pluck it from thin air when you’ve had other sounds to think about in between.

Repetition, repetition, repetition…

…but it gets pretty frustrating if you can’t work out why what you’re saying is wrong.

Context helps so much – you need meaning to hook things on to in your memory.

It’s important to learn the patterns that go with words. For example, เป็น is one equivalent for ‘be’ in Thai, but it can only be used with nationality, character (e.g. kind), status (i.e. social position – mother, employee, student) and jobs. This could help to reduce mistranslations and/or over-generalisations.

Having a teacher who speaks your language is an incredible safety blanket. I have no idea how people in our English classes do it. Yet one more reason to value non-native teachers, since so few of us natives are competent in other languages!

When you’re writing a new script, it feels like drawing. It’s hard to keep the letter in your head, and even to think of it as a letter (I just nearly wrote ‘symbol’). Copying them takes time and thought, and often scribbling out and rewriting. When I was first learning Thai characters, I had to describe most of them as pictures to differentiate them. For example ด (d) is ‘up elephant’, ค (kh) is ‘down elephant’ and ต (t) is ‘tooth’.

It’s useful to record a few sentences that you can repeat at home.

In a 121 class, having a teacher who can write upside-down is very useful 🙂

I need to do some homework, including listening to the CD that was part of the materials the school gave me. See you tomorrow!

Update

Here are all of the posts:

Thai Day 0

Ever since I first found out that it was possible to study a language intensively, I’ve wanted to try it out.

48 hours ago I put two and two together and realised that my week off between CELTAs 1 and 2 in Chiang Mai is the perfect opportunity to finally do it. A few hasty emails letter, a quick-off-the-draw reply from a language school, flights booked at the last minute (less than 24 hours ago) and a hostel with a kitchen located, and I now find myself sitting at Chiang Mai airport waiting for a flight to Bangkok.

The plan is 3 hours a day of private Thai lessons every morning from tomorrow (Tuesday) until Saturday, making a total of 15 hours.

Because of my limited time frame, language learning experience, and the fact that I can be very picky about what I want from my classes, private lessons are the only way to go. I’m just hoping I get a responsive teacher, and one who’s willing to adapt to what I’m looking for.

The story so far…

Before I came to Thailand, I had a quick look at memrise, discovered that the alphabet was huge, and decided that since I’d only be here for a few months there wasn’t much point studying the language.

I changed my mind within a couple of days of arriving, and have since been studying using memrise. I’ve found three courses which have differing levels of usefulness:

Basic Thai

The first level is particularly useful, but I got very frustrated to start with because I kept having to type the words and got really stuck. It’s much easier doing this on an iPad than a computer.
I ended up giving quite a lot of the letters funny names to help me remember them. For example: สวัสดี (hello/goodbye) was ‘worm under a tree, flower in the wind, worm under a tree, up elephant with a feathered hat’ until I could remember it! There are some words which I’m much more able to write than say because that is where the onus of memorisation lies in order to continue with the level. However, I definitely know the words I know because I’ve had to repeat them so many times.
Another frustrating thing with this set is the complete lack of context – I now know a set of decontextualised words, but no full phrases.
I’ve nearly finished the set. Memrise says I’ve learned 53/79 words and have 41 in my long-term memory, although the last few to learn are random school words like ‘electric light’ and ‘blackboard’. A couple of days ago I didn’t see the point of these, but now they might actually be quite helpful!

Mrs Yanisa’s Thai for Foreigners

This is based on a set of books written to teach Thai to native speaking children in the 70s. The main character is called Mannii/Manee. It’s given me the basics of the alphabet, and quite a lot of reading practice. Unfortunately, there’s no audio to accompany the written form, which is a particular issue for me because of the tonal nature of Thai.

It’s been good for putting some of the verbs from ‘Basic Thai’ into slightly longer sentences, given me a basic idea of syntax, and I definitely feel more comfortable with the alphabet because of it. There’s a little more context, but the sentences are very random:

มานี พา โต ดู ปู
maa-nii paa dtoo duu bpuu (Maanii bring Dtoh look for crab.)

Fundamental Thai

This is the last of the three courses I found. It has much more useful vocabulary sets, like numbers and colours. For some reason numbers is level 6 – I never understand why this is left so late when it’s generally the first thing people need when they go to a new country. Unfortunately it suffers from the same issue as Basic Thai, in that you have to type the words to progress. Again, I’ve found it quite frustrating, and have been annoyed with myself when I miss one tiny part of the character.

With both Basic and Fundamental Thai some of the audio is missing, but what’s there is generally useful. Sometimes people have tagged the words with a Romanized transcription of the pronunciation too, although that can be more of a hindrance than a help at times.

The daily targets you can set on memrise have been quite useful, although I’ve only kept that up with Basic Thai and the Polish course I’m also doing, Polish being considerably easier!

Progress on memrise

Progress on memrise

Sitting at the airport I can now pick out some of the flight numbers from announcements, the first time I’ve really had the chance to try out the Thai I’ve learnt beyond the occasional hello or thank you. Yesterday I saw a sign outside a computer shop and recognised the word ‘and’: และ Such things make me happy 🙂 It also shows that despite the problems with the sets above, they’re definitely teaching me something.

What I’d like to learn

Having a teacher will hopefully help me to get to grips with the following:

  • the rest of the alphabet;
  • how vowels work (they can be before/after/above/below consonants, and I’m still pretty confused by this!);
  • the basics of the tone system, mostly within my own pronunciation (I know it’s not there at all yet);
  • being able to have a basic conversation in certain situations, like getting to know someone, coping with shop transactions, finding out about touristy things for excursions and stays;
  • dealing with my diet.

I know that it’s going to be very tiring to study to intensively, but at the same time I’m really looking forward to the experience. I’ve even bought a nice new notebook to fill with all of my Thai notes. 🙂

And as you’ve probably guessed, I’m hoping to blog about the experience too, so watch this space…

Update

Here are all of the posts:

How I’m learning Russian

I’d hate to have me as a student.

I very rarely do homework, so much so that my teacher has given up setting it for me.

I cancel about one lesson in four, normally the one on a Saturday. I’ve recently moved it to a Thursday in the hope that I’ll be more likely to have time then. I have two 90-minute lessons a week, the other being on Monday. We’ve never managed to make up a missed lesson, and since I pay on a lesson-by-lesson basis, this must create quite a lot of financial uncertainty, which I feel bad about.

At times, I hijack the lesson and tell my teacher exactly what activities I want to do. The last example of this was after she used a bilingual Quizlet set to introduce clothes words to me at the end of our Monday lesson. In a very rare spurt of motivation, I had twenty minutes on Wednesday night, and ten minutes on Thursday morning during which I managed to play with the words and kind of learn about 70% of them. I started the lesson by drawing pictures of clothes all over the board and writing the words next to them.

Russian clothes on the board

This took about 20 minutes. I then asked my teacher to define words for me, which meant she had to teach me verbs like ‘wear’, ‘get dressed’ and ‘put on’, and prepositional phrases like ‘on your head’, ‘on your feet’. She then turned the tables and made me define words for her. This whole process took 90 minutes, and meant we had no time to do anything she had prepared. I wrote notes throughout, and listened to and spoke more Russian than I had in any other lesson throughout the year. She told me: “You’re ready for it now.”

I constantly make demands about what I want from my lessons. My main demand is to have my lessons entirely in Russian (or as entirely as possible for a beginner/elementary student), but this is difficult because of the above statement/belief, that you have to have a certain amount of language to be ‘ready’ to speak/listen to more. This is not a choice I have in the real world, where I have to deal with whatever is thrown at me, and the person who’s speaking to me often doesn’t know how to change their language to help me understand.

We’ve also got into the habit of speaking English in class. In an average 90-minute lesson my teacher probably speaks about 10 sentences of spontaneous Russian which are not read from a piece of paper and/or accompanied by an English translation. I speak less than this, and occasionally read new vocabulary/sentences from the page, although this is not consistent – I probably only say about 50% of the new language that is introduced to me during any one class. Both of us have spoken a bit more Russian in the last couple of lessons because I’ve made more of an effort, but it hasn’t lasted long. The rest of the lesson is in English, including chats and all grammar explanations. I rarely have to produce any Russian that isn’t part of a drill based on an exercise from a worksheet. I’m trying to speak a bit more Russian in class now, but I don’t have a lot of the classroom language I need unless I ask for it to be translated, because I’ve never heard it or been made to use it.

Most of the published materials my teacher uses are taken from a text-only coursebook, with lists of vocabulary and dialogues, or a slightly more ‘designed’ coursebook with some pictures and tables. Both of them are through the medium of English. I have no idea how you find published materials to learn Russian if you don’t already speak English (this is true of a lot of none-EFL materials). We have occasionally used a website with some very entertaining short videos telling the story of John, a Canadian visiting Russia, which is available in various languages. The videos are very short – less than a minute each – and accompanied by subtitles in Russian or other languages if you want to read them.

We have never listened to any ‘real’ Russian in class, like music or videos, or any audio designed for the classroom. All of my listening practice comes from life outside the classroom, very rarely with support from an English-speaker to help me, but English speakers normally do the work if they’re there, rather than me! That means that most of the time I’m trying to piece things together myself, using what skills I’ve picked up from learning other languages, and the pre-intermediate Czech that I know. This has, of course, got easier as the year has progressed.

I demand context, trying to move away from isolated vocabulary. I constantly ask for the prepositions and cases that go with the verbs/nouns, even though I know I won’t remember them at the moment. I try to get as much new language in sentences as possible. Having said that, I find the Quizlet sets useful for building up sets of vocabulary in topics like the body or clothes. I’m trying to get exposure to as much language as possible while I have access to somebody who can mediate it for me. During a lesson which isn’t based on materials, we fill a notebook with random notes. There’s a lot of Russian here, but it’s almost all written – there’s very little speaking, very little controlled practice, and almost no free(r) practice at all, unless I instigate it. The bit of text you can see in the top-left corner of the page is the second half of twenty minutes worth of writing I did at home to force myself to produce an extended stretch of Russian.

My Russian notebook

In some classes, I give my teacher English sentence after sentence I’ve tried to say in Russian during that week, but didn’t know, ask her to translate them, then fail to learn them. This week we have a week off school and I’ve finally had time to dedicate to Russian. I’ve copied out the sentences onto cards (made from A4 pieces of paper cut into 16 rectangles, yellow because it’s a happy colour!), with pictures on the other side as prompts. There’s a huge backlog, and I have no idea how long it’ll take to actually learn them.

Sentence cards

Sentence cards with pictures

My teacher has a degree in teaching Russian. She is a native speaker of the language, who also speaks very good English and knows bits of other languages, so can occasionally tell me when grammar is similar to other languages I speak. She is a lovely person to put up with me. She puts a lot of time and effort into preparing lessons and materials. Here’s an example of a summary of tenses she made:

Russian tense summary

She’s also started making Quizlet sets for me after I showed her the site and she realised that it motivated me! I copy the sets she’s made and get rid of the English if I can, trying to make things Russian only. When I got ill and was given a special diet, she translated the sheet I was given by the doctor and made me a list of all of the food in Russian and English, with pictures for things I might not know. When I found out just before a lesson that my grandad had been taken into hospital, she took me for a walk in the park and we chatted, then wouldn’t let me pay for the lesson.

The last lesson we had was at my flat, and she decided to try something different. We labelled everything in my kitchen that I didn’t know the names of already. I’d been meaning to do this for ages but hadn’t got round to it. We did this entirely in English, with me asking ‘How do you say…?’ in English. I was never forced to use Russian, and I forgot to try. I could have practised using the words in sentences and spelling them – although I can read Russian confidently now, I still have no idea how to say a lot of the letters. We could also have played a describing game again, but I didn’t think about that until I was writing this.

Russian has taken over my kitchen!

Russian has taken over my fridge!

When I have time, normally in three- to four-hour blocks about every six weeks, I transfer the language in my class notebook to a vocabulary notebook, organised by topic. This is the first time I’ve tried this approach, and I mostly use it as a dictionary. Copying the words/phrases helps me to recognise them, but I haven’t really used the notebook to learn.

My vocabulary notebook - pictures

With pictures and colours where possible…

My vocabulary notebook - English

…with English where it’s not. (or when I run out of motivation)

My vocabulary notebook - mix of pictures and English

With colour-coding to show grammar patterns

I also use index cards to write out grammar and some vocabulary sets, particularly those connected to time. I try to have as little English as possible on the cards, and use regular layout and colour-coding to help me reduce the need for English. If there is English, I often write it in tiny letters that are difficult to see – I want Russian to be the first thing I see when I look at the cards.

Russian index cards

Verb conjugation, time and reflexives

Index cards everywhere! Time time time...

Time index cards, showing colour-coding

I then blu-tack them all over my flat. (Blu-tack is the one thing that I always take with me when I move to a new place!)

Index cards everywhere!

Cards start on the cupboard I look at when I’m getting ready in the morning/doing my physio exercises

On the front door

They graduate to the inside of my front door when I think I know them. (Loosely arranged by grammar point, e.g. verbs at the top, and with the really easy stuff at the bottom)

Surrounded with postcards to be more interesting!

Surrounding them with postcards makes me more likely to look at them (maybe…)

This is what my desk looks like in the process:

My desk when I'm studying Russian

 

Some conclusions

  • Both the teacher and the student(s) need to have a lot of willpower to conduct the lesson entirely in the target language.
  • The student also needs to be given the classroom language they need to be able to operate in the target language.
  • The teacher needs to be flexible, to respond to the language that the student needs, the time they have available, and the mood they are in.
  • The student needs to make an effort to study what has been learnt in class.
  • Language should be introduced in context, rather than as isolated items. It should be learnt as chunks to start with, then pulled apart for grammar later.
  • Seeing language once is not enough. Students need to manipulate it, play with it, say it, use it, in class to help them remember it.
  • The student needs exposure to real language in the classroom environment to prepare them for what they will encounter outside the classroom.

Some methodological terms which I can hear you shouting at me

Comprehensible input

Lexical approach

Repetition

Dogme

What did I forget?

What’s next?

March and April have been pretty busy, both personally and professionally. They came not long after I’d finished Delta, and this week off has been a great opportunity to catch up and get a handle on a lot of things. Most of the things you can see in the photos in this post were written out in a one-day marathon study session. Three days later I had another whole day of study, which meant I finally finished copying everything out and caught up. This is something I want to avoid in the future!

I have therefore decided that in May I am going to try something (new) for thirty days and study Russian for 10 minutes every day. This could include any of the following activities:

  • Using my sentence cards, where I try to remember them/write them out
  • Reading my index cards out loud
  • Testing myself using my vocabulary notebook
  • Playing on Quizlet
  • Reading one of the free magazines/newspapers I’ve collected – highlighting the words I can understand
  • Watching a YouTube video in Russian, like Cheburashka or Russian Winnie the Pooh
  • Listening to a song and reading the lyrics (I need suggestions for this)
  • Writing a short text in Russian, including to Ann (who I wrote one short email to last time she suggested this!)
  • Recording myself speaking, then listening back and correcting it

Any other ten-minute activities I could try? I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of the month!

Update: here’s part two of the post, showing what I did over the following few weeks.

How I’m learning Chinese* (and why I should be learning Russian instead)

I’m a bit of a language addict. When I’m not trying to learn a new language I always feel a bit like there’s something missing from my life.

In April last year my school offered a short beginner’s course in Mandarin which lasted for 10 weeks. I joined it, and decided that Mandarin would be my next language – it’s different to anything I’ve learnt before and is a real challenge, but at the same time, it has a logic to it that appeals a lot. It will also open the door to whole culture that has always interested me: I’ve always wanted to visit China, although I’ve never really wanted to live there. Unfortunately, as the course finished my life became full of other things, namely London 2012 and then Delta.

So it was that I forgot pretty much everything I studied last year. However, I always planned to pick up Mandarin again as soon as my Distance Delta course was finished. I even got two Chinese books for my birthday: Teach Yourself Mandarin Chinese*, and the Chinese Visual Dictionary. Last week I finally got started, with the support of my friend Catherine, who studied languages with me at uni and is joining me in my quest.

Catherine and I in Bavaria, where we hatched our Mandarin plan...

Catherine and I in Bavaria, where we hatched our Mandarin plan…

We’re using the 15-Minute Chinese book to get us started, and create some form of (almost) daily study habit, with the plan of moving on to the other books later. We’re going to Skype every Thursday and try out what we’ve learnt that week. I’ve created Quizlet sets for each page we’ve studied so far, which have been a very useful step in my learning, especially in terms of recognising characters. I’ve also been using two courses on memrise: Learn Basic Chinese: read a menu and HSK level 1 – introductory Mandarin. Memrise is one of my new favourite websites, and I’ve become a bit of an addict. They have just (a month ago) released an app, which I have on my phone and tablet, and I also use it online at least twice a day. So far I can introduce myself, count to 99 (although I’m still mixing up 6, 7 and 9 a lot) and talk a little about my family. I can also read a Chinese menu (I’ve pretty much finished that memrise course) and recognise some other basic characters. This is the first time I’ve tried to learn a language without classes or a teacher, and I’m hoping Catherine and I can motivate each other, as I find studying alone to be very easy to back out of!

So why should I be learning Russian then? Well, in September, visa-permitting, I will be moving to Sevastopol in Ukraine to join the team at IH Sevastopol as a DoS (Director of Studies)**.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Despite being in Ukraine, the city is mostly Russian-speaking, as it is the base for the Russian Black Sea fleet. To that end, I’ve been using memrise to learn the Russian alphabet, and have started to pick up a few basic phrases. It helps that I already speak some Czech, as some of the basic words are pretty similar once I’ve deciphered the letters. I plan on learning more before leaving the UK, but for now I want to focus on Mandarin as I’ve been planning to study it for so long!

I’m really enjoying the challenge of deciphering another (two) language(s), and I’m looking forward to my new adventures in Ukraine. It looks like a beautiful country and a very exciting job, in a school which is growing fast. It will be my first experience at management level too, although I’ll still be doing a lot of teaching. If you’d like to join me, the school is also looking for a teacher who enjoys teaching young learners. Let me know if you’re interested and I can put you in touch with the director of the school.

So for now, 再见 and до свидания. I’ve got some studying to do… 🙂

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

Tag Cloud