How Much Time It Takes To Maintain And Improve Many Languages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many?

It’s time to unveil the mystery.

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

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

My Current Language Levels

Here are my current levels:

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

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

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

C1 level

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

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

Time Breakdown

 

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

WORK

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

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

Main languages I teach are:

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

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

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

 

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

Total time: 24-35 hours

SPARE TIME – LEARNING PART

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

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

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

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

Quite a side-effect, huh?

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

Yep. Who needs drugs when you have languages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total time: 34-40 hours per week.

SPARE TIME – ENTERTAINMENT

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

 

Now it really gets weird!

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

That’s a wrinkle I couldn’t iron out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total time: 5-15 hours

The Final Result

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

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

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

Total time: 63-90 hours per week

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

ACTIVE vs. PASSIVE LEARNING

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

CHALLENGES

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

 

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

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

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

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

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

CREATING HABITS

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

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

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

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

Read more about creating durable habits here.

ALTERNATING LANGUAGES

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

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

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

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

Here are more tips about juggling many languages.

SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH LANGUAGES

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

And so on. Every little bit counts

AUTOMATING INPUT

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

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

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

The same goes for choosing movies or YT videos.

Me?

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

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

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

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

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

WHY I WON’T LEARN NEW LANGUAGES ANYTIME SOON

how much time to maintain and improve many languages

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

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

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

The main reason was always the pursuit of better memory.

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

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

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

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

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

Languages vs other branches of knowledge

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

How come?

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

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

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

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

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

The latter is infinitely more exciting and practical.

So what’s next?

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Question for you:

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

I would love to hear your opinion.

 

How To Master The Grammar Of Any Language And Why The Deliberate Practice Is The Fastest Way To Do It

I don’t like waiting.
It’s not that I can’t be patient – quite often I just don’t see the point.

Especially in the world of language learning, the typical response to any question seems to be, “it will come with time” or “you will learn it subconsciously”.

It’s especially true for grammar.

If we exclude just a handful of enthusiasts, we can definitely say that learning is one of the least favorite activities of most language learners.

It’s a big, dark and ugly maze. You have to learn how to handle it.
Otherwise, it will chew you up and spit you out. And then crap on your face while you are sobbing pitifully.

The common knowledge has it that you need plenty of time in order to learn your way around it.
You have to fumble about in the dark until you finally crawl out of it.

It goes without saying that the whole process takes the heavy toll on the language learner’s motivation.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.

The entire process can be accelerated at least several times thanks to the deep learning (a.k.a. the deliberate practice).

It’s the methodology which has been used by the world’s top performers for over three decades. It can help you break grammar into the easily digestible chunks.

In other words, the deep learning provides you with a step-by-step blueprint to go through any grammar in the most efficient manner. It can replace any teacher if you know how to use it.

But let’s start with the basics.

Problems With Typical Approach To Learning Grammar

Feedback Is Not (Always) Enough

 

Master The Grammar Fast
Try to imagine your average lesson. Not even group lessons – those are terribly ineffective (though enjoyable for some). I mean 1-1 lessons.

Have you ever noticed that even though you often get feedback from your teacher, you still keep on making the same mistakes?

Here is why.

Learning almost always takes place in the chaotic and cluttered environment.
At any given moment there are dozens of dozens of pieces of information fighting for your attention.

During your typical lessons, your teacher might correct you dozens of times.
“Wrong pronunciation, wrong conjugation, wrong (…)”.

You are getting bitch slapped to a pulp by the feedback.

The problem is too much information. If you get too many pieces of information, it’s very difficult to choose the ones which you should concentrate on. The ones which you will try to act upon.

In other words, just to geek it up a bit:

The information overload which may hinder the integration of the new information into long-term memory. – source

“Why not correct a student about just one aspect of the language?”, you might think.

This thought sounds tempting.

And let’s be honest – yes, if you correct just one or two things, students will start correcting those mistakes much quicker.

But there is a huge downside to this.

If you don’t make a student aware of other mistakes he makes, he optimistically assumes that they are not there!

That’s even worse! By the time you get through previous grammar aspects, your student will already have consolidated dozens of other mistakes!

It’s like the grammar-hydra!
Eliminate one mistake and 10 others take its place!

Passive Learning Is Not Efficient

Passive learning (i.e. reading and writing) won’t help either unless you invest significant amounts of time. So yes, it is possible to acquire decent grammar this way. However, if you want to learn many languages, it gets harder and harder to keep up with this input-heavy schedule.

But most of the times, seeing or hearing correctly composed sentences, won’t make you utter the correct ones on your own. (read more about passive learning here)

Unless you think that reading about surgical procedures makes you a skilled surgeon.
In that case – I rest my case.

What you have to remember is that the deep understanding of most of the skills comes from using them. You won’t just wake up one day and suddenly start spewing beautiful sentences left and right.

Acquiring Rare Grammar Constructions

While it might not be a big deal for some, it is definitely annoying for me.

Some grammar constructions occur very rarely. So rarely that learning them through context seems almost absurd.

How long would I have to read to actually learn some of them? How many hundreds (thousands) of sentences would I have to read to find one or two written in, say, past perfect continuous?

Crapload. That’s how many.
But if I can replace all these hours of reading and listening with just 2-3 hours of the deliberate practice, why wouldn’t I?

What Is Deep Learning (a.k.a. The Deliberate Practice) ?

 

Master The Grammar Of Any Language

 

Before I move on and show you how you can use it to improve your language learning skills, let’s try to define what deep learning is:

Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. – source

Some common characteristics of deep learning include:

  • it gives you a specific goal
  • it requires your full attention
  • it’s energy-devouring and exhausting but not time-consuming
  • it gives you feedback

Words, words, words!
But what does it all REALLY mean?

1) You need a specific goal

Choose a grammar construction you have problems with, and which is useful at the same time.
For the sake of this article, I will use declination of German definite articles. They are the stuff of nightmares for many and thus the perfect choice.

 

 

But that’s not over. There is one more thing which you have to remember about this goal.

If you can’t commit a given piece of grammar to your memory, it means that it’s too big.

Why?

Because the availability of working memory is crucial for implementing expectancy-based strategic actions. – source

If you fry your working memory, you can forget about effective learning.

The easiest test possible you can run in order to check whether this condition is met is to try to reproduce infromation you have just memorized.

If you can do it without the excessive number of groans then you are all set.

For the purpose of the article, let’s assume that I want to master the Akkusativ form for “der”, “die” and “das”. Let’s leave plural for some other time.

Quick sanity check confirms that I am able to comfortably reproduce the declination of the said forms.

2) it requires your full attention

As my beloved Hungarian proverb puts it:

“If you have one ass you can’t sit on two horses” .

You can’t do two things at once without sucking at both of them.

If you think that you can then you are definitely delusional.

But what does devoting your full attention really mean?

It means just one thing.

You should only pay attention to the correct use of the given piece of grammar.. If it happens that you make some other mistakes along the way – so be it.

“But doesn’t it mean that I will start consolidating some other grammar mistakes?”.

That’s a fair question but no – you won’t

The reason is painfully simple.

If you devote your full attention to using one grammar construction correctly, you won’t even notice other mistakes. This is how our attention works.

Here is a great video which exemplifies this phenomenon.

Have you seen that one already?
Watch that one know.

These vidoes have definitely a very sobering effect on all the people who claim to possess the superior concentration power.

And they definitely prove one thing – it’s hard to consolidate something you don’t see.

3) It’s energy-devouring and exhausting but not time-consuming

I am not going to lie to you.
The deliberate practice is boring and tiring.

And that’s bad news because in the era of modern technologies, everything must be fun and hip.
However, if you want to achieve results quickly, I am sure that’s a trade-off you are willing to make.

In a nutshell, you build awareness of a given grammar construction by creating dozens upon dozens of sentences with it.

This is what Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, wrote in one of her articles:

“What I had done in learning Russian was to emphasize not just understanding of the language, but fluency. Fluency of something whole like a language requires a kind of familiarity that only repeated and varied interaction with the parts can develop.

Where my language classmates had often been content to concentrate on simply understanding Russian they heard or read, I instead tried to gain an internalized, deep-rooted fluency with the words and language structure. I wouldn’t just be satisfied to know that понимать meant “to understand.”

I’d practice with the verb—putting it through its paces by conjugating it repeatedly with all sorts of tenses, and then moving on to putting it into sentences, and then finally to understanding not only when to use this form of the verb, but also when not to use it. I practiced recalling all these aspects and variations quickly.

After all, through practice, you can understand and translate dozens—even thousands— of words in another language.

But if you aren’t fluent, when someone throws a bunch of words at you quickly, as with normal speaking (which always sounds horrifically fast when you’re learning a new language), you have no idea what they’re actually saying, even though technically you understand all the component words and structure. And you certainly can’t speak quickly enough yourself for native speakers to find it enjoyable to listen to you.” – source

So how should you exactly practise the deep learning?

What I usually recommend is to create at least 100 sentences with the given grammar construction within next 5-7 days. But as always – the more the better.

Make sure that every sentence is different from the previous one and that YOU are the one who comes up with these sentences.

Here are some examples:

  • Ich habe den grossen Hund gehabt.
  • Er hat mir das schöne Haus gekauft.
  • Wir stellen den Teller auf den Tisch.

And so on.
Rinse and repeat.

You have to become the grim grammar executioner.
You might not enjoy your job but you know it has to be done.

The great thing about this kind of practice is that you don’t need any fancy tools.
A piece of paper will do.

Below you can find the worksheet I use to teach this concept to my students.

It looks like this:

 

Master The Grammar Of Any Language

 

4) It gives you feedback

In the perfect world, there is always someone who can provide you with feedback.

However, if you stick to the aforementioned rules, you should be able to produce grammatically correct sentences without any, or with minimal, supervision.

It’s only logical – if you try to do just one thing correctly, it won’t take long before you are fully aware that the construction you are using is applied appropriately.

You are better at monitoring your progress than you think.

Research has showed that individuals are able to monitor, control and regulate their behaviors in learning contexts, but all depends on the resources and the pedagogical approach used by the educators (Agina et al., 2011)

Quick Summary:

1) Choose a small chunk of grammar

2) Create at least 100 sentences with it

3) Make sure that you can use it well enough

4) Move on to another grammar construction

Why The Deliberate Practice Is The Perfect Solution

 

Master The Grammar Of Any Language

 

I like to look at every field of knowledge like one might look at the deep lake.

It seems enigmatic and sinister. You want to cross it but you don’t know how.

It’s the same feeling most people get when they see monstrous grammar books. Helplessness, fear and doubt peer at you from every page of the book.

“How dare you think that you might ever learn all of this?!”, they seem to whisper.

And it’s true. Without any specific plan, learning grammar of a given language to a decent level might take ages.

The deep learning gives you this plan.

Here are some advantages of this kind of approach:

It concentrates your attention

Your attention is restless and gets bored easily. Like a small child or a merry drunk.
You need to learn to tame it.

And this is precisely what the deliberate practice does. It focuses your attention on one thing and one thing only. It is especially important because

“Attention constrains learning to relevant dimensions of the environment, while we learn what to attend to via trial and error.” – source

It’s Time-Efficient

Concentrating your efforts on just one thing means one more thing – you save a lot of time.
Don’t want to wait till your butt overgrows with moss and you look like Keith Richards?

Then the deliberate practice might be right up your alley.

Can I Use It For Other Things Than Grammar?

Heck yeah!

You can use it for anything language and non-language related.

Learn how to produce 2 tricky sounds from your target language. – Once you learn how to pronounce them in the isolation, try to pronounce them, say, 100 times in different words.

Done?

Start practising these words in full sentences until the muscle memory is created.

  • Trying to improve your creativity?

Come up with 10-15 ideas (more about being creative here) for every problem you encounter. After 1-2 months you will start noticing an enormous shift in your way of thinking.

I know I did.

Conclusion

Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a grammar-savvy person, the deliberate practice has the potential to significantly accelerate your learning.

It’s not very complicated but don’t let the apparent simplicity of this metod fool you. It’s just one of the few techniques I have seen in my life which has worked every time and with every student.

Why not try it yourself?

Question – what can you potentially use the deliberate practice for to improve the quality of your life?

Active Learning vs. 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 in longer periods of time.

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 learning vs. 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 scared by cracks and blemishes.

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

Active learning vs. 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 down-time 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 blaun 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 learning vs. 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 The Perfect Learning Day Might Look Like

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 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 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 learning vs. 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 signal to your brain to actually start avoiding this activity in a 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 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 know.
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 other 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 Create Durable Habits

 

One of the frameworks which I teach my students is this (interested in other super-effective way 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

 

How To 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 sooo 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

 

How To Build 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 website 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.

 

How To Build Durable Habits

 

And, needles 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 you 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

 

How To Build 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 you 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 thing 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.

 

How To Build 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!

 

Optimize Your Language Learning – Optimize Your Repetitions (Part 2)

It’s time for the part two of my miniseries on optimizing your learning!
If you haven’t read the first part – click here. This time I will show you how to optimize your repetitions.

People like to see effective language learning, or any learning for that matter, as something really mysterious.

In fact, the opposite is true. There are just a couple of essential principles which you should follow if you want to become a quick learner.

Don’t get me wrong – effective learning gets more complicated the faster you want to learn. And the more durable memories you want to create.

Still, these principle can be applied by anyone, regardless of his sex, or age.

Because the very little known truth is that we all learn, more less, the same.

That’s right. Learning styles do not exist.
I know. It sounds shocking.

And it is probably even more shocking than you can imagine – one study showed that 93% of British teachers believe it to be true!

But you and I, my friend, are not glittery and special snow-flakes.

There are rules. And they are not to be treated lightly.

Let’s dig in.

How To Maximize Effectiveness Of Your Learning

 

Optimized Repetitions In Language Learning

 

Below you can find my list of the most important rules affecting your language learning progress. Obviously, it’s far from being complete.

There are other rules and limitations, but the ones below are definitely one of the easiest ones to implement.

In order to maximize your learning, you should make sure that:

1) Your learning is active (click here to learn more) 

 

If you only concentrate on reading and listening, you won’t get far. Your brain is terrible at memorizing things which you encounter occasionally.

Why?

I will get to this in a moment.

But first, let’s start with basics – 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, the first step in this process is encoding.

I can’t stress this enough – if you don’t encode the information you learn, probably you won’t retain them. You should always, ALWAYS do your best to manipulate the information you try to learn.

Let’s try to prove it quickly.

If I told you right now to draw the image of your watch, would you be able to do it?

Would you be able to reproduce the exact look of the building you work in?

Of course not. Even though you come into contact with these things multiple times per day.

You simply do not try to encode such information in any way! If human brain was capable of doing it, we would all go crazy.

It would mean that we would memorize almost every piece of information which we encounter.

But this is far from the truth. Our brain is very selective.

It absorbs mostly the information which:

a) Occurs frequently in different contexts

b) We process (encode)  – in the domain of language learning, the simplest form of processing a give piece of information is actually creating a sentence with it

c) Is used actively

2) Your learning (repetitions) are optimized

 

And one of the best ways to optimize your repetitions is by using SRS programs.

But what is Spaced Repetition?

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.

Alternative names include spaced rehearsal, expanding rehearsal,graduated intervals, repetition spacing, repetition scheduling, spaced retrieval and expanded retrieval.

The science behind SSR

 

How does the program know when to review given words?

Most of such programs base (more or less) their algorithms on Ebbinghaus forgetting curve (side note: it has been replicated many times in the last 50 years)

The curve presents decline of memory retention in time, or if you look at it from the different perspective, it demonstrates the critical moments when the repetition of the given information should occur.

 

Curve Of Optimized Vocabulary Repetitions

 

In theory, it takes about 5 optimized repetitions to transfer a word into the long-term memory.
But come on! Learning would be damn easy if this rule would be true for most of the people!

There are actually a lot of other variables which come into play:

 

  • difficulty of the learned material
  • understanding of the material
  • how meaningful it is
  • representation of the material
  • physiological factors: stress and sleep (among others)
  • the size of the material
  • processing of the material

 

And many others.
Still, SRS programs give you the unparalleled upper hand in language learning!

3) You constantly step out of your comfort zone.

 

Why use the words which you already know, when you can use dozens of synonyms? You should always try to find some gaps in your knowledge. Click here to learn more.

 

Of course, using SRS programs like ANKI is not to everyone’s liking. I get it.

But let’s look at the list of alternatives, shall we?

Alternatives To Using SRS programs

 

Optimize Your Repetitions

 

Every learner has to face the following problems in order to learn new words (effectively).

 

  • What process do you go through to learn a new word?
  • Do you write it down? Where?
  • How do you revise it later?
  • How long does it take you to learn it?
  • How many times do you have to see it before you know it?
  • And how do you know when you really have learned it?

 

These aren’t some petty, meaningless decisions.
These are the decisions which will heavily influence your progress curve.

Here’s an idea that a lot of people have: when you learn a new word, you write it down in a notebook. Then, every few days, you open the notebook and review all the words that you have learned so far.

This works well at first — you’re no longer forgetting everything you learn. But very soon it becomes a nightmare.

After you exceed about 1000 words, reviewing your vocabulary starts taking more and more time. And how do you know EXACTLY which words you should review or pay more attention to?

Usually after no more than a few months, you throw your notebook into the darkest corner of your room and try to swallow the bitter taste of defeat.

That’s why, it has to be said aloud and with confidence: you will never be as effective as programs in executing algorithms. And choosing when to review a word is nothing more than that – an algorithm.

There are many who oppose this idea of using SRS programs.
And it is indeed mind-boggling why. At least for me.

The results speak for themselves.
Currently I teach over 30 people – from students, top-level managers to academics.

And one of many regularities I have observed is this:
Students of mine who use SRS programs regularly beat students who don’t.

How big is the difference?

 

Optimize Your Repetitions in Language Learning

 

One student of mine, Mathew, quite a recent graduate of Medicine faculty, passed a B2 German exam in just 5 months. He started from the scratch and only knew one language prior to our cooperation.

In the same time, the PhD from the local university, barely moved one level up the language learning ladder.

The only difference between them is that Mathew was very consistent with using ANKI (and other strategies).

Really,. That’s it.

And it is not really that surprising.

The technology has been topping the greatest human minds for years now.

Different AI programs have beaten top players at games like: chess, scrabble and quite recently Go.
Last year, deep learning machine beat humans in IQ Test.

It might seem scary. But only if we treat such a phenomenon as a threat.
But why not use computational powers of computer to our advantage?

It would be ridiculous to wrestle with Terminator.
It’s just as ridiculous trying to beat computers at optimizing repetitions.

But should everyone use such programs?

 

Should You Use SRS programs?

 

Optimize Your Repetitions in Language Learning

 

I know that you can still be unsure whether or not you should be using SRS programs.
That’s why I have decided to create the list of profiles to help you identify your language learning needs:

1) I am learning only one language

If you are learning only one language, it’s reasonable to assume that you can surround yourself with it.
In this case, using Anki is definitely not that necessary.

However, things change quite a bit if you are learning your first language and you have NO previous experience with language learning.

In that case, better save yourself a lot of frustration and download ANKI.

2) I am a translator / interpreter (or pursue any language-related profession)

My imagination certainly has its limits since I can’t imagine a representative of any language-related profession who shouldn’t use SRS programs.

The risk of letting even one word slip your mind is too great.

Just the material I have covered during my postgraduates studies in legal translation and interpreting amounts to more than 5000 specialized words.

If I wanted to rely on surrounding myself with language in order to learn them I would go batshit crazy long time ago.

Honestly, who reads legal documents for fun?!

Even if you are not a translator / interpreter yet, but would like to become one in the future, do yourself a favor and download ANKI.

3) I learn 2 or more languages

Then I would strongly suggest using ANKI. Especially if you would like to become fully fluent in them.

The math is quite easy. Getting to C1 level in 2 languages, requires you to have a knowledge of about 20 thousands words. Of course, you should know at least 50-60% them actively.

This number might sound quite abstract, or maybe not that impressive, so let me put it in another way.

Knowing about 10 thousand words in a foreign language is tantamount to having an additional master’s degree.

And you know damn well how much time it takes to accumulate this kind of knowledge!

Of course, you can find an exception to every rule. It is not that mentally taxing to imagine a situation where somebody uses one language at work, and then another foreign language once he leaves the office.

Then maybe, just maybe, you can do without SRS programs.

Like what you have read? Read the first part of the series.

What do you think about SRS programs? Have you ever used any? Let me know, your opinion is important to me!

 

Optimize Your Language Learning – Limit Passive Learning Activities

“Repeat after me!”

Repetitio mater studiorum est

Spending time with my grandfather was always a little bit weird.
He didn’t want to talk much or play some stupid games.

Oh no.
He used to sit me in front of him and grill me about different school subjects.
Physics. Math. History.

But his personal favorite was teaching me Latin proverbs.

Most of them slipped my mind.
But among all those which stuck with me, this is the one I cherish the most:

Repetitio mater studiorum est – repetition is a mother of studying

These four words contain the wealth of wisdom, if you only interpret them in the right way.

On the surface, the problem with learning doesn’t seem that complex, right?

As long as you repeat things you want to learn, everything is fine and dandy.

But let’s be honest for a second. Like, really honest.

How easily can you recall words during conversations in your target language?
How often does your mind goes blank?

You desperately try to recall the word you need but there is nothing there.
Just the depressing nothingness.

Rings true?

There you have it!

So the problem might a bit more complex than we have thought after all.
Put on your “learning overalls” and let’s dig a little bit deeper to explain why repetition is simply not enough.

Let me start with basics.

Two Kinds Of Repetition

Optimize Your Language Learning

 

In its most basic form, the repetition can adapt two forms.

It can be either:

1) active

or

2) passive

But what does “passive” mean, especially in the context of language learning?

It means that you don’t engage with the information you get.

You don’t do it actively (duh).

That’s why activities like reading and listening fall into this category.

What terrifies me the most, is that the default style of learning, for most of the people, is passive learning.

“But why does passive learning suck donkey balls?”, you might ask.
Let’s get to it.

Why Passive Repetition Sucks and Hinders Your Progress

 

Before I get to the science, let me tell you about one friend of mine.
This story might sound familiar for you.
Actually, problems of about 90% people who write to me fit perfectly into the following scenario.

Anyway. So this friend of mine has been learning Russian for over two years now.

I haven’t heard her talk for a long time but I thought that her level should be at least decent.
Russian is not that different from Polish after all.

So imagine my surprise when I heard her speak Russian a few weeks ago.
She barely scratched B1 level.

My first reaction?
“No f***ing way”.

She’s been learning systematically for over 2 years and she can barely string a sentence together?

After some investigation, I got to the bottom of it.

Yes, her teacher visited her every week.
Yes, they did learn.

Or should I say, “learn”?

Because the process they went through barely resembled any kind of real learning.

They basically read some articles together.
For entire hour.

Almost no speaking at all. No meaningful conversations.
No active learning.

Nada. Null. Nothing.

If at any point of reading this description you told yourself, “Hey, this is pretty much how my lessons look like!”, then run.

Run the hell away from your teacher or language school.

A visit at the local strip-club seems to be a better investment than this.
At least you will know what you pay for.

The pyramid of effective learning

 

Science is very clear about passive learning.

It was proven long time ago that passive learning has very little effect on whether information is later recalled from long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

Many other studies have managed to successfully replicate the results of the aforementioned research.

So how does effective learning look like?

Take a look at the pyramid of effective learning.

 

Optimize Your Language Learning

 

There is a good reason why learning and listening are at the absolute bottom of retention rates.

Effective learning requires , so-called, effortful recall.

This should be the mantra of every learner. If you want to learn fast, you have to take control of your learning.

Without the control, your learning is like a boat with no sails in the middle of the storm.

You go one way and then the other without any sense of direction.

That damn boat needs a captain! You, that is!

Ok, so what does the effortful recall mean?

It means that the more effort you put into recalling a piece of information or to execute a skill, the more this act benefits the learning. (Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel).

Once again, there are a lot of studies which confirm effectiveness of active learning.
Here are results of some of the recent results.

“Tests that require effortful retrieval of information (e.g., short-answer) promote better retention than tests that require recognition (Larsen et al. 2008).”

Effortful retrieval of information improves recall 1-month later, compared with no test (butler and Roediger 2007)

It’s worth mentioning that you can mix these strategies together.
Why not reap the benefits from the synergy effect?

How does this information transplant onto your learning ground?

 

First of all, let’s do some simple math.
Considering the said effectiveness of given learning strategies, we might conclude that:

1 minute of talking is worth of 5-7 minutes of reading / listening. (read more about benefits of talking to yourself).

I know that reading and listening might feel productive but they are clearly not.
These are so-called feel-good activities.

I constantly shock students of mine by telling them not to listen to anything for the first 8-10 weeks of learning. Instead, I help them concentrate on active learning.

Only after this period of time do they start listening practice.
And the gains always amaze them.

There is also one, very little known fact, about your potential choice of learning strategy.
You see, if you don’t learn actively, you automatically condemn yourself to…

UNINTENTIONAL LEARNING

*gasp*

What Is Unintentional Learning?

 

Optimize Your Language Learning

Picture by: Zack Cannon

Now this is a truly fascinating type of learning.

Unintentional learning takes place when you acquire vocabulary accidentally. it is a by-product of repeating a given piece of information a certain number of times.

It’s worth mentioning that is it also one of the default and (most useless) strategies of almost every language learner.

The body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times in order to put it into your long-term memory. 20 to 50 times! (one of many sources)

Needless to say, it takes way too much time. And time is the luxury a few of us can afford.

Of course, One might argue that 20-50 repetitions are not that many.
After all, if you read extensively and listen, you should get to this number of repetitions after some time.

Right?

No.

Here comes another plot twist.

Unless you learn three thousands words, reading is a veeery slow and inefficient activity.

And until you reach this number, your odds of learning words contextually are slight.

Sure, you can infer the meaning, but there is a good chance that your guess will be incorrect.

And what about rare words which you might find useful?
What If I need to know the word “thimble” because that was my dog’s name and I feel the need to share it with English speakers?

How many thousands pages must I read to stumble across this word,say, 10 times?
Hell, I don’t remember when was the last time I heard this word in my native tongue!

What about other like: tang, udder, piston and so on?

I need such words frequently during interpreting or teaching. Relying only on passive acquisition would make me a terribly inefficient teacher / coach / interpreter.

So here you have it.
L2 Learners are simply at disadvantage as for number of repetitions of words.

Of course, every problems begs for the solution.

We will get to it later.

Is the incidental learning that bad?

 

No. Of course not.
Incidental vocabulary acquisition makes some sense.

Maybe even a lot.
But only on one condition.

You already know enough words (and grammar) to learn from context.
Typically, that’s about 5000 words for most of the languages.

But the problem is to learn these 5000 words before you run out of motivation…!

Final Thoughts

 

As you can see, the passive learning is a cardinal sin of most language learners.
The chance is that if you take a good, hard look on your learning habits, you will discover why your progress is so unsatisfying.

It still plays important roles in the learning process but only if you go through the critical phase of deliberate and active learning.

What about you?

How heavily do your rely on listening and relying in your language learning routine?

Grammar Cheat Sheet – 6 Reasons Why Every Language Learner MUST Have One

I love how language learners usually approach grammar.
Or grammar books to be more precise!

These vademecums seem to adapt the form of slimy, leprosy-ridden yet magical gnome.

You know that if you rub its butt long enough, it will grant you your wish.
You will be bestowed with knowledge and wisdom of the language of your choice.

The ultimate prize sounds great.
But somehow, it doesn’t really entice you to lay your hands on this filthy creature.
Not too often anyway.

No wonder.
One look at any enormous grammar book sends shivers down my spine.

Why?

Because opening a grammar book is like teleporting yourself into the middle of a language maze.
It’s hard to find your way out. Everything seems to be so random and chaotic.

Rules. Rules. More rules.
You take a left turn and you get punched in the stomach.
You tun to your right and you get kicked in the head.

Only when you take a few steps back and leave the maze, you begin to see things differently.
There are patterns. A lot of patterns.

And there is one object, almost the artifact, that can grant you this kind of perspective.

The Grammar Cheat Sheet.

A Case For Grammar Cheat Sheets

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner in language learning or a mean linguistic son-of-a-gun.

Grammar cheats sheets should be an indispensable part of your learning arsenal.

Before I dive into some of the main reasons why you should embrace grammar cheat sheets, I want to share with you a story about my youngest student.

Normally I don’t teach kids. It’s really a frustrating experience.
I am sure that most parents can relate!

Anyway, Adrian is 10 years old and really bright kid. Although amazingly lazy.

Our first lesson revealed that his collective vocabulary amounted to about 40-70 words.

After 4 damn years of his official English education he couldn’t say, well, anything.
Of course, he couldn’t even use the words he knew in a sentence.

Not a very encouraging beginning, right?

However, after explaining the most basic English and writing them on his grammar cheat sheet, something seemingly impossible happened.

He got it. I didn’t even expect it. But he got it.

11 hours into our English adventure, he is already able to build basic sentences in 4 tenses he knows.
Sure, it takes him some time. The sentences are far from perfect.

He still needs to resort to the grammar cheat sheet every now and then.
But still – 10 hours of directed learning beat 4 years of education.

I’ve had a chance to see more of such success stories with adults. But somehow, this story is the one that stuck with me.

6 Reasons To Create A Grammar Cheat Sheet

 

1) It gives you clarity

 

Grammar doesn’t look half as scary when it is on one piece of paper, does it?
Just take a look at the Japanese grammar cheat sheet (don’t worry if you don’t know Japanese – neither do I.)

 

Grammar Cheat Sheet

Source: Cheat Sheets

 

Everything is presented in a very clear and transparent form. One glance at this page actually makes we want to learn this language!

It also helps you to concentrate on all the most important aspects of the language.

It’s much easier to notice different patterns. And pattern recognition is something of tremendous value in enhancing memory, mind you!

2) It decreases activation energy

 

Activation energy is the initial energy needed to start performing an action.
The more time and steps it takes to start doing something, the greater the chance you won’t do it.

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

Source: The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

Guess what? It’s much easier to look up a couple of grammar constructions if they are on one piece of paper than:

  • a) recall the location of one of x grammar books you have
  • b) thumb though it just to realize that it’s not the right one
  • c) chew off a couple of pages in an outburst of rage
  • d) sit in the corner and cry deeply

3) It changes your approach to grammar learning

 

Most language learners flinch at the mere thought of browsing a grammar book.
Because it’s dull. Oh so stupefyingly dull.

The thing is that the more times you experience this unpleasantness the more you condition yourself to dislike opening grammar books.

The peak-end rule says that:

People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (…), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the “set” being judged.

Repeat this ritual sufficient number of times and you end up with the full-blown I-f**ing-hate-grammar syndrome.

Cheat sheets are clear and simple and thus should actually encourage you to learn grammar.

4) It promotes learning independence

Grammar Cheat Sheet

Having just a one piece of paper which provides you with the most important information about the languages can help you become more effective independent learner.

Whenever one of my students doesn’t know how to create some grammar construction, I always refer them to their cheat sheets.

On the surface, it might seem bizarre.
“What the hell is this dude getting money for?”

But the thing is that building a sentence is like doing puzzles.
Every piece of a puzzle is a word. Grammar tells us where the give piece should be placed.

That’s why, after taking a look at the cheat sheet a couple of times, every student becomes intimately familiar with it.

Using the language ceases to be some kind of voodoo magic.
It becomes a logical step-by-step process of putting puzzle pieces into their rightful place.

That’s also the reason why it’s much easier to convince my students to talk with themselves.

They don’t need me so desperately anymore.
The said piece of paper can actually substitute a teacher to some degree!

5) It helps you to relearn languages much faster

 

A lot of knowledge we acquire throughout our lives gets forgotten.

At least this is how we commonly refer to the phenomenon of not being able to recall information.
However, perhaps the more accurate word in this case is “inaccessible”.

The knowledge you have acquired probably still remains in your long-term memory.

Here is what the research conducted by Association for Psychological Science in 2009 has to say about it:

As it turned out, even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.

 

Psychologists Jeffrey Bowers, Sven L. Mattys, and Suzanne Gage from the University of Bristol found out in another research that:

(…) even though the volunteers showed no memory of the second language in the vocabulary test, they were able to quickly relearn and correctly identify phonemes that were spoken in the neglected language.

Maybe one day you will be forced to take a break from language learning. Maybe because of work, family, or general suckiness of life.

Either way, when all the bad things fade away, you will have your cheat sheet to quickly refresh your memory.

It will give you a nice, general overview of the most important parts of grammar.

6) It makes you a better speaker

Grammar Cheat Sheet

There is this great saying I love.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The same goes for grammar.

We are cognitive misers. We don’t want to use our deposits of cognitive energy if it’s unnecessary.
That’s why we cling to the grammar constructions we feel warm and comfortable with.

Seeing all the other constructions, which you don’t use at the moment, in one place can be thought-provoking. It acts as a reminder of other possible ways to express yourself and jars you out of grammar lethargy.

Because, all in all, this is what grammar is – the scaffolding which enables us to build neat sentences.

And you can’t really build even a ramshackle hut if all you got are some measly sticks.

The Most Important Rule For Creating a Grammar Cheat Sheet

 

There is just one rule you should keep in mind if you decide to create your own grammar cheat.

 

Make it clear and concise

 

Your cheat sheet shouldn’t be bigger than one A4 page.

It should only contain all the essential grammar rules.

Resist the temptation to jot down all the grammar exceptions and constructions nobody even uses.
Blah, blah. It sounds obvious.

But very often, once you start creating your cheat sheet, the urge to include as much information as it is only possible sprouts uncontrollably.

All so well known voice whispers, “Dude, don’t forget to increase THIS rule. And THAT one as well! Screw it! Rewrite the book! Muahahaha.”

Next thing you see, is a 40 page behemoth.

If you REALLY need more information, you can always create a second grammar cheat sheet for more advanced concepts.

However, usually it is unnecessary. All you need are the essential rules.
You will pick up the rest once you start surrounding yourself with a language (and using it).

Conclusion

 

For reasons I am yet to grasp, grammar cheat sheets are underappreciated and underutilized tools in language learning.

While it may take some time to prepare one on your own, it is usually much better choice than buying one.

Reason? Most of paid ones suck big time.

Don’t be afraid to put some time upfront. You will reap benefits of this investments for months (or years) to come.

If you have any questions about this article or tips on using grammar cheat sheets more effectively, please share them in the comment section below.

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

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.

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 give 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.

  • 1) Where should I take vocabulary from?
  • 2) How will I review the vocabulary over time?
  • 3) How will I find time to do it?
  • 4) How can I energize myself to stay focused?
  • 5) How should I break down the learning time?

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 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 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?

Terrible headache. I have never had migraine in my life but I assume that it’s exactly what it feels like.

Just a 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?

It is a “hell yeah” or “a little bit over-the-top”?

 

The Truth About Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics In Learning

Would you like to be able to memorize a whole book? What about those boring declination tables?

Silly question. Who wouldn’t?

One way or the other, you have heard of amazing memory feats of mnemonists – memorizing decks of cards or thousands of digits. And all this seemingly effortlessly.

Mnemonics definitely have power to stimulate imagination. And they definitely stimulated mine.

This dream, dream of being able to memorize anything I want, triggered the chain of events which made me embark on a bumpy journey/

Destination? To discover the true effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics and master my memory.

My First Experience With Mnemonics

 

I still remember the first time when I had to practically use mnemonics.

I failed one of my exams and I had to retake it. The problem was that I didn’t know when.
I was convinced that the day would be announced very soon.

The days went by and I didn’t even touch the course book. Somehow the notion of the retake blissfully slipped my mind.

One day I was sitting in the corridor, listening to the music and reading a book

Suddenly I heard a muffled voice, “aren’t you preparing for the exam?”.
“What exam?, I looked up just to see the grinning face of my good friend.

“It’s starting in 2 hours”, he replied. Somehow his grin turned into an evil smirk.

“That’s it”, I thought to myself.

“I will fail this exam and I will fail my studies. I will end up homeless and will have to fight sewer spiders for the food.”

After the first surge of panic passed, I started coming up with possible solutions.
I decided that my best chance is to use mnemonics.

I didn’t have much experience in using them. Sure, I had read two books up to that point but had almost no experience to back up the theory.

Desperate times call for drastic measures. I rolled up my sleeves and started learning.

A bit over 3 h later, I left the professor’s office.
I passed. I don’t know how, but I passed.

Thus my obsession with mnemonics was born.

My imagination was running wild. Where are the boundaries?

Is it possible for each one of us to become genius if we just learn to utilize mnemonic strategies?

I needed many years to learn the bitter truth.

No. Mnemonics will not make you a genius and allow you to effortlessly absorb tons of information.

“So are they useful at all?”, you might ask.
And what can they be used for?

I will get back to this in a moment.

What Are Mnemonics

 

Before we move on, it’s good to quickly explain what mnemonics are.

In short, mnemonics are devices to aid our overburdened memory.

They are used to facilitate effective encoding by associating new information with the knowledge which is already stored in your long-term memory (Johnson & Weber, 2006 as cited in Gibson, 2009).

Probably the most common mnemonic device is so-called keyword method coined by Atkinson (1975). It is used to make meaningful auditory and imagery links to remember a word.

For example, if you want to remember that “to buy” in Spanish is “comprar”, you might create a vivid picture of a man who compares prices of products before the purchase.

Not that complicated, right?

Let’s see now what science has to say about mnemonics.

What Science Thinks About Mnemonics

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

 

There is a large body of research about mnemonics.

However, probably the most interesting study up-to-date was led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky and released in April 2013 by the Association for Psychological Science.

In a comprehensive report, the group of authors closely examined 10 learning tactics and rated them from high to low utility based on the evidence they’ve gathered.

If you are expecting mnemonics to be among the most useful strategies, don’t hold your breath.
They didn’t even come close to the top of the list.

According to the authors, some commonly used techniques, such as underlining, rereading material, and using mnemonic devices, were found to be of surprisingly low utility.

Of surprisingly low utility?!

If you look at memory feats performed by mnemonics, you might reach a conclusion that scientists must be taking crazy pills.

For example, here is a video of  Dr Yip Swee Chooi.

 

 

What’s so special about him?

He learnt 1774-page Chinese-English dictionary by heart (in case you wonder – it took him almost 6 months to do it).

Another great example is  Simon Reinhard who memorized a deck of cards in 20.438 seconds.

 

 

Clearly people with untrained memory would not be able to even come close to these results.

Still, the report says clearly – mnemonics might not be the best use of your time.

Of course, I must be perfectly honest with you.
There are a lot of studies who show that using mnemonics might be very beneficial for (among others):

What’s even more important, some studies showed memory improvement with students with disabilities, as described by Fulk (1994) and Bulgren et al. (1994).

And these are just a few of them and they all state clearly – mnemonics are statistically more effective.

Effective than what?! And why didn’t I include these studies here then?

Problems With Studies On Effectiveness Of Mnemonics

 

Having read dozens of studies on mnemonics, I can divide flaws of these studies into following categories:

a) Statistical sample is not representative

 

Do you know how to recognize bad, bullshit science at the first glance? Look at the sample.

To generalize, any number below 100 participants means that researchers just threw your tax money into the gutter.

b) Control groups suck

 

Do you know what is the usual control group against mnemonics-using students?
Rote learning students.

Ugh, it’s like watching some bizarre boxing match.

“Ladies and gentleman, let’s gather around to enjoy this very duel – a retarded shrimp vs. quite an ordinary shrimp”.

c) Laboratory settings

 

99,9% of these studies are conducted in laboratory settings.

And there is quite a yawning gap between research in areas of everyday memory (i.e. field research) and lab-controlled research.

The Hawthorne effect is one of the things which comes to mind.

A type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed

It’s very hard to generalize such results to other settings

What’s more, so-called low ecological validity comes into play.

The laboratory is clearly an artificial situation.  People are directed by an ‘experimenter’ in a psychological experiment. They are removed from their usual social settings and asked to memorize different sets of data.

This is a very unusual experience which raises the question – how do this novel experience and settings really affect their behavior and memory?

Still, lab research is better than no research at all.

d) Time horizon

 

Most studies are conducted over relatively short period of time. It’s rarely spread over more than 3-4 weeks. As you will soon read, this is why most studies prove effectiveness of mnemonics.

e) Nature of the tasks

 

How would you feel about memorizing and recalling a list of unconnected words or digits? Seriously, be honest. How would you rate your willingness on the scale from “nope” to “never”?

The detachment of such tasks from everyday life, and their general lack of usefulness, have led some researchers to question whether their findings can be generalized to real life.

 

Am I saying that mnemonics are useless then?
Not at all. They can be insanely useful.

But you must understand what they are and what they aren’t.
I quoted the excerpt from John Dunlosky’s report for two reasons:

  • 1) It tested different learning strategies against one another.
  • 2) More importantly, it tested effects of those strategies in LONG-TERM learning.

And this is what mnemonics are not.

They are not a suitable tool for long-term learning. At least not in the form they are usually presented.

If you are not pressed for time, you can get by without any problems without using mnemonics

They are also not a panacea for all your memory problems.
This is just another tool in your learning arsenal.

If you have ever read anything by any author who promotes / sells anything mnemonics-related you might find it hard too believe.

Don’t worry, I also felt disillusioned. And I had good reasons.

(Results Of) My Experiments With Mnemonics

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

Picture by: Vlad

Since that pivotal moment of my life, my obsession with mnemonics had been growing in strength with each passing day.

There was no stopping me. I was the mnemonics preacher. Everybody HAD to know about how mnemonics are great,

After I won local memory championship, it only got worse.

I experimented with the ardor of meth-addicted junkie.

I created memory palaces holding thousands of words.

I tried to learn entire books by heart just to test effectiveness of mnemonics.

I have memorized tables, law regulations and tested my recall  at various intervals.

Effect was always the same.

Great recall rate at the beginning of my experiments. These early results were always accompanied by the feeling of overwhelming joy.

But it never lasted long.

My recall rate was still good after up to 2-4 weeks after creating mnemonic images and reviewing them. Although, I could notice some deterioration of my memories.

Inevitable drop in recall rate always came after more than 4 weeks.

And this is exactly why most scientific studies seemingly prove effectiveness of mnemonics.
They test them in labs in short periods of time.

Once again, I would like to stress that mnemonics can be immensely useful.

Useful both for recalling random information as well as helping you achieve high levels of expert performance. Just not for long-term learning.

Read on and I will show how they can be utilized best.

But first, to have a full picture of what you’re dealing with, take a look at limitations of mnemonics.

Limitations And Disadvantages Of Mnemonics

 

  • Gruneberg (1998) argues that the keyword method in general is inferior to rote learning in the longer-term retention of vocabulary.
  • “Campos and Gonzalez (2003) attribute ineffectiveness of keyword method to participants’ ‘lack of training. They investigated in four experiments the effectiveness of the mnemonic key word method using two groups of adults and adolescents. In all the experiments, the rote method was more effective than the keyword method for both adolescents and adults.”
  • Some people (especially adults) are reluctant to create vivid images and crazy stories.
  • Some people (especially adults) are unable and / or unwilling to resign from using previously learned strategies.
  • Using mnemonic devices in memorizing words is time-consuming (especially at the beginning).
  • Using mnemonics requires more effort (especially at the beginning) than rote-learning.
  • Mnemonics don’t guarantee understanding.
  • Learning with mnemonics lacks context.

 

So if mnemonics are not a great way for long-term learning, what are they good for?

How Mnemonics Affect Your Short-Term Memory

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

 

Short term memory has three key aspects:

  • 1. limited capacity (only about 7+-2 items can be stored at a time, or 3-4 chunks)
  • 2. limited duration (storage is very fragile and information can be lost with distraction or passage of time)
  • 3. encoding (primarily acoustic, even translating visual information into sounds).

 

And here is where the true power of mnemonics lies.

Mnemonic devices allow you to significantly boost all these three aspects of your short-term memory.

It might not seem like a big deal but it has tremendous implications for your (language) learning.

Why?

Because short-term memory is a necessary step toward the next stage of retention – long-term memory.

You can treat short-term memory as a bottleneck of your learning.

After all, if you can’t commit some information, even just for a few seconds, to your memory, how are you supposed to learn?

Some researchers claim that working-memory capacity reflects the efficiency of executive functions.

In other words, the ability to maintain and manipulate information in the face of distractions and other irrelevant information. ( Engle, R. W., September 1999).

 

That’s why the best way to think about mnemonics is to treat them as a relatively long-lived external memory with huge capacity.

 

I will get to the most effective use of mnemonics in a second.

First, I want to demonstrate you something. Let’s take a look at prodigies.

The Short-Term Memory Of Prodigies

 

Studies on the prodigies who reached professional-level performance in their domain (e.g., art, math, music) by the age of 10 show something very interesting.

When Psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz and violin virtuoso Jourdan Urbach administered an IQ test to nine prominent child prodigies (…) there were a wide range of IQ scores among the eight prodigies (from 108 to 147), and their cognitive profiles were uneven.

It turned out that the key to understanding their rapid learning in their domain was not their global intellectual functioning.

Most strikingly, every single prodigy in their sample scored off the charts (better than 99 percent of the general population) in working memory — the ability to simultaneously store incoming information while processing other information.

So how can you approach these levels of intellectual functioning?

Key Information Needed to Understand How To use Mnemonics Effectively

 

  • 2) Calling information to mind strengthens it and helps in future retrieval
  • 3) Understanding the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge.

 

According to Cohen and Squire (1980):

Procedural knowledge involves “knowing how” to do things. It includes skills, such as “knowing how” to play the piano, ride a bike; tie your shoes and other motor skills. It does not involve conscious thought (i.e. it’s unconscious – automatic). For example, we brush our teeth with little or no awareness of the skills involved.

Declarative knowledge involves “knowing that”. Knowing names of plants , dates, formulas – it’s all part of your declarative knowledge. Recalling information from declarative memory involves, so called, effortfull recall – i.e. information has to be consciously brought to mind and “declared”.

 

Knowing these things can help us stew perfect learning mix:

  • 1) Gather information 

It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn a language or how to master persuasion strategies. Gather the knowledge needed to achieve your goal.

  • 2) Memorize it with mnemonics

As I have written before, mnemonics can be treated as an extension of your short-term memory. Place as much information as you can on this external “hard-drive”.

  • 3) Start practising right away

Now that you know the theory of how to play piano or how to program, start putting your knowledge into practice.

Try to use as many pieces of information from your memory as you can.

Because every time you bring one of them to your mind, the magic happens. You start creating and strengthening neural networks responsible for the given action.

Repeat this action sufficient number of times and you will automate it. From that moment on, you will be able to perform it subconsciously and with minimal effort.

Let’s see how you can use it in language learning.

Mnemonics In Language Learning

 

Effectiveness and Usefulness Of Mnemonics

Picture by: Shannon Kokoska

 

When I launched my Czech mission, I already had a rough plan of how to achieve my desired level in record time.

This is more less what I did:

  • 1) I got familiar with grammar
  • 2) I memorized basic declinations and conjugations with mnemonics
  • 3) I memorized about 50 basic words with mnemonics
  • 4) I started producing a lot of sentence  by talking to myself and by using the aforementioned words and grammar
  • 5) I “rinsed and repeated” points 2-4. Each time I increased the number of words and grammar constructions

Of course, there was also listening and reading practice. If someone asks me what is the quickest way to learn a language, I show them this plan.

Ok, I also tell them to use ANKI.

Since we have established that mnemonics can be treated as your external memory, take a look at other practical applications of mnemonics!

(Other) Practical Applications Of Mnemonics

 

Mnemonics are useful whenever you need to memorize a lot of information on the fly and remember them for at least a couple of hours.

That’s why, you can use them (among others):

  • during parties and meetings to memorize names and information about other participants
  • during last-minute panic before the exam or company presentation to make sure that the information stays  in your memory!
  • during speeches.
  • to impress your wife and show her that “you don’t need no damn shopping lists” to remember what you should buy
  • to memorize random information which emerges during conversations

And so on. I think you got it!

Conclusion

Mnemonics have to be one of the most misunderstood learning tools of all times.

They are usually sold as the ultimate solution for all kinds of learning problems which is far from the truth.

As you can see, they can be extremely useful but only provided that you exactly understand what they do.

And what they do is “inflate” your short-term memory for some time.

Manage to review the knowledge you acquired with mnemonics by performing some actions specific to that knowledge.and you can rest assured that your progress will know no boundaries.

You will become that “robo-weirdo”.

And this is what I sincerely wish you.

Have you ever used mnemonics? Let me know!

 

How To Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview And Ace It

You keep looking nervously at your phone.

It’ll be alright, you keep telling yourself.
Still, your body doesn’t seem very convinced.

Your palms leave sticky stains of sweat on the tabletop in a final cry for help.

Just one more leap and your dream job will be yours…

But what to do to make this leap count?

Is it even worth making it?

Let’s dig into numbers!

How Much Is Knowing a Foreign Language Worth

 

Learning languages has a lot of benefits.

Among others, it can:

  • improve your memory
  • increase your attention span
  • increase your verbal and non-verbal intelligence
  • boost your problem solving skills

The list goes on and on.

What’s more, it turns out that it is also a great decision money-wise!

 

Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview

” Assuming an average starting salary of almost $45,000, a 2% “language bonus” average over 40 years, and also a 1% raise annually, you’d have an extra $67,000 by the time you retire. Since you can learn a new language (or two) pretty quickly, that’s a pretty good investment of time “.                           Source: The Economist

Of course, not all languages have the same value. German and French are worth $128,000 and $77,000, respectively, compared to $51,000 for Spanish.

Do you know Japanese or Russian?

In that case, you can count on much more!

Not bad, right?

Now that we’ve established that knowing a language is actually worth something, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of acing the foreign language interview.

The first station?

Mindset.

Don’t Be Yourself, Be Your Better Self

 

I have never bought corny slogans like “be yourself”. That’s a lazy way of thinking.

If I were a pimply, adolescent and were after a girl out of my league, such advice would be useless.
If the girl I like is my dream company then I don’t want to be a pimply loser. Nor should you.

Be ready to step up your game.

Trust me, I know a thing or two about language interviews.

I’ve been at the both sides of the table. I have interviewed and have been interviewed dozens of times in 5 languages.

The first thing you need to know is that the pre-interview preparation is what really matters.
No amount of luck will shelter you from the unwillingness to put in some hours beforehand.

All the tips are ordered chronologically for your convenience.

From the ones you should use days before the interview to the ones which will be useful hours before it starts.

Prepare Answers To The Most Common Interview Questions

 

It never ceases to amaze me. There is an infinite number of questions an interviewer might ask.
Yet, these are the ones they tend to ask the most:

 

  • 1. Tell me about yourself
  • 2. What do you know about or company?
  • 3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • 4. Why did you leave your last job?
  • 5. What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?
  • 6. What do you do in your current role?
  • 7. Why would you like to work for us?
  • 8. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
  • 9. What kind of qualifications do you have?
  • 10. Why would you like to work for us? 

 

Yes, that’s really it. Preparing answers to just these 10 questions should drastically boost your chance of getting your dream job.

Of course, the chance is that some companies have slightly different questions sets.

If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, visit:

The website gathers all kinds of information about different companies – interview questions, salaries and so on.

Once you prepare the answers, rehearse them aloud. Do it as many times as necessary.

How many times exactly?

It depends on your current language level, of course.

The rule of thumb is that you should be able to recite these questions without any hesitation and unnecessary pauses.

And there is a good reason for that.

If you stutter in the stress-free conditions, at your home, imagine what will happen when the stress kicks in during the interview.

You will crash and burn.

Prepare all the pleasantries

 

Imagine eating a delicious cake. Your palate experiences a surge of exquisite sensations.
What a bliss!

But then the last bite turns out to be a lump of dung.

How do you think you would recall this event?
Negatively doesn’t even come close to describing this experience.

But how does it relate to a language interview?

Many candidates are relatively well-prepared when it comes to answering the questions.
Very often they don’t know how to exchange common pleasantries.

But why is this petty element of an interview so important?

Because it’s the end of a certain experience.

The peak-end rule says that:

People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (…), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the “set” being judged.

If an interviewer sneezes, know how to say “bless you” in your target language.

If he says, “thank you for your time and have a wonderful day”, know how to say “likewise”.

Prepare Difficult Phrases To Trick The Interviewer

 

Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview

 

This step requires greater sophistication but it can be, without any doubt, called the secret sauce of acing the foreign language interviews.

I came up with this sneaky strategy years ago and have battle tested it many times.

Its implementation will immediately make you stand out from the crowd.

Prepare at least 10 phrases / idioms which are quite sophisticated. Next, repeat them aloud in the sentences until they become your second nature.

For example, instead of saying:

“I also think that …”, try saying, “Having said that, I would also like to add that … “.

Boring ? Maybe.

Does it sound more impressive? Hell yeah, it does!

The purpose of this strategy is very simple.
Such phrases are easily memorable. They distinguish you from others.

They will help to artificially boost your potential language level, regardless of how high it is currently.

What’s more, it doesn’t matter if you talk with a native speaker or not.

If the interviewer, who is a non-native speaker, doesn’t understand some phrase you say, 99 out of 100 he won’t ask you to explain it.

Why would he?

That’d be humiliating! He’s the guy who should know this stuff!

If you heard a guy saying:

“I don’t want to sound like a philodox* but I would dare to say that… ”

Would you ask him, what a philodox means?

I guess not.

If I didn’t know what the word means I would just start thinking why someone would fill some poor dogs**.

And what if you talk to a native speaker?

Even better, in this case, they will know what you said and would probably be in awe because of your amazing language skills.

* From the Greek philos, meaning love, and doxa, meaning glory, a philodox is a dogmatic person who is especially fond of his/her own opinions

** Phil dox? You know, it sounds like “fill dogs”, right? Anyone…? (Walks away disappointed). It was funny in my head!

Bear in mind that the aforementioned example is a little bit over the top since it’s a very rare word.

 

Prepare Difficult Grammar Constructions

 

Prepare a few sentences with more advanced grammar constructions which you don’t use normally and rehearse the hell out of them.

Try to build sentences which are as universal as it gets. You have to make sure you can use them at (almost) any point during the interview.

Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses To Dominate The Interviewer

 

Ok, I admit. “Dominate” sounds somehow wrong. I don’t suggest  that you pee on your opponent to mark your territory and show dominance.

Definitely not.

You see, every language learner has one language competence which prevails. Be it listening or speaking since these are the ones which count the most during the interview.

By knowing which of them is your strong suit you can direct the interview into the direction desired by you.

Listening as a strength?

 

If you are a better listener, try to limit your speaking time by asking questions.

For example, the interviewer asks you, “Where do you see yourself in 3 years?”.

You give a short answer and then smoothly parry with, “Actually, I’ve been wondering… I would love to stay in this company as long as it’s only possible but can you tell me what other employees think about it?”.

You nod enthusiastically as you listen and then ask another question, “So what do they like the most about it?”.

People love to talk about themselves so you can try to ask the interviewer about his personal experience in this company.

Just a word of warning. Don’t be creepy and /or socially awkward.

You should try to come across as an enthusiastic and inquisitive person. Not a nosy weirdo.

Speaking as a strength?

 

If you’re more of the silver-tongued devil, you should minimize speaking time of the interviewer. Try to give lengthy answers to every question.

And don’t worry about talking too much. It’s a verification of your language level, not an ordinary interview in your native tongue.

Dazzle the poor bastard with your linguistic prowess!

For example:

“Hi. This is X from the Y company. Am I speaking with Mr. X?
“Yes, speaking”
“I am calling to verify your language level. Shall we start?”

“Of course. Let me introduce myself and say a few words about my previous job / life / other fillers.”

Obviously, you can’t talk all the time. But at least try to minimize the chance of not understanding the interviewer.

And if you’re feeling really unsure the question? Then you can alway salvage yourself by posing a question back.

“So you would like to know……is that correct?”
Just ask the interview to reformulate the question and you should be fine.

Immerse Yourself In A Language Prior To The Interview

 

Don’t dive head first into the dark water. At least dip your fingers first!

Warm up before the actual interview by surrounding yourself with your target language.

For example:

  • Listen to some music in the morning
  • Watch a movie or listen to the radio
  • Talk to yourself or to some other person in your target language

I would suggest doing it for at least 1 hour. But obviously everything depends on how much free time you have on your hands.

Bonus Advice: Apply For Other Positions With Your Target Language

If you’ve found your dream job at some company, it would be a shame if you failed you just because stress ate you up.

That’s why you can put some extra effort and apply for other positions with your target language. Sure, you don’t want to work in other companies but, at least, you’ll get some extra practice!

 

As you can see, acing the foreign language interview is not about luck or simply having a perfect command of your target language.

It’s more about having the right attitude, being prepared and using the right strategies. Once you understand it the world is your oyster!

How to triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy

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.

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

The final result is always crystal clear – you become fitter, more intelligent or successful.

And you really DO want these things, don’t you?

Then why is it so damn hard to start acting?

Because the potential benefits are deferred in time. The day-to-day results you experience when you do any of the activities above are barely noticeable.

So if good things don’t motivate us effectively, what does?

The fear of loss.

How Betting Tripled My Productivity

 

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

One look at the real-life castaways, or desperate mothers who lift cars, can tell us how greatly 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 last 18 months.

  • I created the 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 learnt Czech to B1 level within a month
  • I have managed to double my income
  • I have lost over 10 kilo of fat and gained and then bulked up
  • I have read about 30% more than I do normally
  • I have increased the amount 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

Picture by Abhishek Sundaram.

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 you 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 a proof?

Most of the time it’s perfectly possible to determine the answers.
If you decide to run 5 km, you can use 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 bit in order to make it measurable.

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

 

  • 4) Is your punishment motivating enough?

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

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

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

Come up with something which really makes you uncomfortable.

 

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

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

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 who I bet and that’s more than enough.

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

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

Why?
Because of excuses.

Wading Through The Excuses

 

 

Who doesn’t love some good ol’ excuses from time to time?

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

 

  • Yeah, I know it works, I will definitely try it in the future (code word for “I will never try it”)
  • It won’t work because money is not that important to me (then choose 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

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 ask 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 comes to my mind.

One of my favorite awkward situations ensued when I was visiting 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

FRENCHOrbilat.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 ideas 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 sea birds

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

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 companies from 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
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 work flow organization.
  • Waiting (waiting for the next production step, interruptions of production during shift change)
  • Overproduction (production ahead of demand)
  • Over Processing (resulting from poor tool or product design creating activity)
  • Defects (the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects)

Some expert 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 with 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 learnt.

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 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 too 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 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.

 

Do you find this article useful? Share it with your friends!

Grammar Is Nothing Personal. But It Should Be (To Remember It Better!)

“…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 during 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 you 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 on 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 (J’y suis venu – à la grotte d’un monstre moelleux).
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 ne est pas reste à la maison).

We have climbed the stairs and entered the gate (nous sommes monté l’escalier et entré dans la porte).

We have killed the monster, reentered the gate and returned home (Nous avons tué le monstre et nous sommes rentré la porte et retourné à la maison).

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

 

Become Better At Grammar

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” !

Become Better At Grammar

 

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

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

Give It A Try

As with everything – you will never know if something works until you try it yourself.

So go ahead! Infuse some life into your learning.

Make it absurd, funny and personal,

Make it MEMORABLE!

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

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