Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Free courses in 2015!

FutureLearn are offering some more great looking courses next year. I'm especially excited about the following two, and have already signed up!

Introduction to Dutch
Learn to speak, write and understand basic Dutch, with this free, three-week, introductory foreign language course.

Cultural Studies and Modern Languages: an Introduction 
Explore the culture, language and national identity of eight countries through their books, images, slogans and monuments.

Can't wait to start! You can see all the language and culture courses here.  

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Toki Pona in 48 hours

Last week I spent two days at the Memrise office, learning Toki Pona with other like minded people. You can read the original blog post that Memrise put out here. Plus more about what Toki Pona actually is here.

The original post from memrise was, 'Is it possible to learn a new language in 48 hours?'...I came to the conclusion that it really depends on the individual; how good your memory is, how fast your brain is at absorbing new information and putting it all together to make sense (whatever the technical term may be for that!).

We started off the first day by introducing ourselves, and then all starting the same memrise course at the same time. It was interesting to see how fast some people got through that course! I think it was about an hour for some, and I'm not joking when I say it took me more than twice as long as that to get through it. We then started on the second course which I actually didn't complete. I was feeling a little fried by the end of it, and some of us went out for a walk to get a break. We were obviously on a limited time scale, so we were really cramming, which is not the most efficient way to learn things, for me anyway! I wouldn't normally spend hours at my computer so my head was feeling a little scrambled.

We played some games in the afternoon. At one point we sat in groups and translated English into Toki Pona, sending videos to other groups to see if they could translate it back. It was really funny, and some of the translations when you only have 120 words to play with were quite abstract. It is interesting that we could almost always get the gist of what was being said, if not a complete translation. We also got to skype with Sonja Lang (who created Toki Pona), and it was interesting to hear what she had to say about why she created the language, and her thoughts around it. There were also several copies of the Toki Pona book that we got to use/ look at.

I was feeling completely maxed out by the end of the first day. I also had a pretty long journey home (just under two hours), so I didn't get to spend much time revising what we had learnt.

The second day we were only suppose to speak in Toki Pona, and I was amazed at how many people could, and how fast they actually were. I could barely string a sentence together!

It was a more low key day. We spent it on a mixture of games, chatting, translating, making videos, reading the Toki Pona book and generally just hanging out together. Some people wrote a Toki Pona version of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', which was fun to listen to, but too fast for me.

By the end of the second day I think that most people were quite confident with speaking (and understanding) Toki Pona, but I wasn't one of them. Give me a week of intense study and I think I would have got there! I was much slower at remembering and recalling the words than most, so it confirmed what I already knew - that I'm a slow language learner. I also kept confusing it with Russian! This happened on both the memrise course and when speaking. I'm not sure why as I haven't done this when studying Russian and Dutch. Perhaps because of the intense nature of the course my brain was just reverting back to the foreign language it knew best? Other people were also doing this (someone next to me was mixing it up with Swedish, someone else German), so its obviously a common thing to do. 

However, it was a fun experience (even if I did need most of this weekend, and a lot of sleep to recover!), and I met some lovely people and got to chat about languages and language learning which is always enjoyable. I also got to meet Chris from Actual Fluency which was great :) ...I won't be continuing with Toki Pona though, except for maybe using it to chat online to the people I met. By the end of the second day I was just itching to get back to Russian, and it really just enforced the fact that I need to have some kind of (emotional) connection/pull/reason to learn a language.

Church in Yaroslavl, Russia, taken by Emma Sibley, 2007

Thanks to Memrise though for setting it all up. There were lots of videos and pictures being taken, so keep an eye on their blog if you're curious. :)

Edit: Links to Memrise, Guardian and other bloggers take on the experience here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Learning multiple Languages (at the same time...)

Should you (attempt) to learn more than one language at at time? This is something I've pondered for a while. I've read many discussions on why it's not a good idea, and a handful on why you can and how to go about it. What I've discovered is that there's really no one answer. I have a list of languages I'd like to study, some in more depth than others, and as an older language learner I'm feeling that I want to explore them sooner rather than later!

After reading Ellen Jovin's wonderful blog I felt like I'd been given permission to take a peek at some of the another languages on my list. Ellen chooses to spend about 3 months studying one language before moving onto the next, and while I have no intention of giving up Russian I'm also very curious about several other languages especially Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, Romanian, Esperanto and Toki Pona.

my slightly biased language shelf!

I was thinking of studying Esperanto, and read a number of articles on how Esperanto helps learners to improve quicker with other languages as well. I was also drawn to how fast people seem to be able to use it, and how you can become quite good at it in a relatively short time. However, I was getting strong urges to take a look at Dutch, and after finding a Teach yourself Dutch book for 75p in a charity shop (plus some great Russian books!), I decided to go with this instead.  I also really wanted to try out duolingo (after reading lots of great reviews), and not one of the other languages on my list is available there (yet).  Plus because Dutch is suppose to be quite close to English I was curious to see how true this was, and I thought it would be a complete change from Russian (I also read about how it's best to learn two languages that are not related if learning more than one at a time).

my great charity shop finds, cost me £3 in all!

So, I started very enthusiastically a couple of weeks ago, spending about 10/15 minutes on duolingo (which I do enjoy, finally feel part of that club! :D), doing a basic memrise course and (if time) working through a lesson in the Teach yourself book or at - all in a very laid back way. My only rule was that I had to get my Russian all done first. I have found Dutch easier then Russian, helped by similar words (sometimes the same words as in English), and the familiarity of the Latin alphabet. I have not struggled with confusing the languages which is a concern in some of the articles I read. Probably because I'm at different levels with them, and they are very different.

However, after a good start I began to get frustrated with a few things. My time is very limited, and some days I don't even get to my Russian. On bad days like that I will try and get on memrise to at least review my words, but that's all that happens. Over the past week I've had ill kids and been poorly myself, so my learning time has been very sporadic. This means that no Dutch gets done, and when I do get back to it I have to go over the same stuff as it's leaked out of my brain! So, the slow progress is annoying particularly when I feel I could get further in Dutch much faster than I have in Russian. I'm also unable to dig as far into Dutch as I would like, I'm reaching the point where unless I just want to carry on studying Dutch casually and for fun, I need to look at rules and grammar. But to find myself at 1am reading about when to use de or het is making my head spin! First world problems eh?!

So what to do? I love Russian, however hard it is, and no matter how terrible I am at it I can't stop! I'm also really enjoying Dutch though, and would love to progress further. I'm not sure if it comes down to realising what my limitations are and just carry on as I am, or tweaking things to maybe doing a couple of days of just Dutch a week, or dropping Dutch for now until my Russian level improves. I think it may just take some trial and error to figure out what's going to work.

Any tips? Leave a comment below! :)