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Fluent in Four Months? A Self-Taught Language Learner's Quest... Watch

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    Fluent in Four Months? A Self-Taught Language Learner's Quest to Master Languages, Learning, and Laziness.

    Should You Read This?
    If you are interested in learning languages and need a repository of the best resources, techniques and advice, this is for you. Or maybe you want to learn more about autodidactic learning, or anxiety, procrastination, or laziness cause you to achieve less than you are capable of.

    The Goals:
    Hello everyone! I'm an autodidact who likes to learn things on my own. I love language learning, but in the past, I've gotten...let's say, distracted.

    2016 is my year.

    Repeat after me: 2016 is my year.

    My first target is at least B2 in Spanish and B1 in Czech in 4 months.

    The Challenge:
    But - and there's always a but - I struggle with anxiety-driven procrastination, and I'll need to address it in order to succeed. In other words, revision isn't enough.

    Committing to success means committing to conquering my habits. Incorporating mindfulness meditation, adequate exercise and water, and positive psychology into my routine are just as important as the goals themselves.

    Feel free to ask questions or leave comments.

    PS Kudos to who can tell me what super polyglot the blog's title references.
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    Ooh, good luck. I can sympathise with anxiety driven procastination.

    I have deactivated facebook temporarily as a result actually. I was spending a lot of time rereading messages and things because I was worried about them.

    Fluent in 4 months is an impressive goal! Hope you make it.

    And you're referring to Benny
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    Benny Lewis.

    Wish you all the best!
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    Yes you're referring to Benny, but I would take what he says with a pinch of salt. He has been criticised a fair bit by people for his over-optimism and his naive view on what ''fluency'' actually is.

    B1/B2 would certainly be achievable if you work your ass off I imagine, so best of luck to you
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    It's possible, but usually only if you are in a relationship and cohabit with a native speaker, in the country of the language's origin.
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    Replies

    Kudos to all

    I agree, Inexorably - I'm a bit skeptical of BL's claim - but what better way to test the claim than attempt it?

    Kvothe - Deactivating my Facebook was one of the better things I did last year. Haven't missed it. I used to do the samething and it ate up hours of my day - literally, six or more.

    DrSoc- I should edit this to say that the '4 months' goal only applies to Spanish, not Czech, as my focus will be on the former. Nonetheless, my partner is Czech, and we do live together, so we can see how much I can leverage this for the next few months.
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    Week 1 - Sunday

    General Update
    Still trying to get in the swing of the massive challenge I've set myself! Maybe I need to split up the 4.5 hour study session...

    Waiting for Uni Offers
    Many of us are at a particularly anxious moment in our careers right now: waiting for uni responses, plus other glals to juggle. I've been spending way too much time refreshing UCAS Track. To tackle this, I've introduced a basic structure to my morning: wWME. This stands for Wake, (drink) Water, Meditate, then Exercise. All of this takes half an hour, tops, on rush days. Maybe more when I wake earlier. Beginning the day this way doesn't guarantee productivity, but it does engender positive momentum.

    Organization: Sunday night- Preparing for the week ahead
    Updating my life, month, and weekly goals, and goals for the following day. Positive input: Productivity and procrastination book Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. Read the introduction for his inspirational story. What does he mean by eating that frog? You tackle procrastination by tackling the task that represents not just the biggest, hardest, grossest task that is likely to have the biggest benefit to you if you do it. And how do you do it? Break it down into its components, starting at the end result and working backwards.

    Language Learning - Czech

    I've picked up some interesting language-learning insights from working as a certified educator for dyslexic students. When learning a foreign language, we're all sort of dyslexic. There are new sounds and relationships between sounds and symbols to master.

    One activity I've taken from my tutoring is an activity called "What Says?" I tried it for the first time as a student last night. First, I begin with the understanding that matching the sounds of the language to its symbols - and reverse- are the first, most fundamental components of language to master. After studying pronunciation for about two hours, a few days later, my Czech first tests me on sound recognition. "What says /ee/?" And then I write the corresponding Czech letter (í/ý). Or, "What says /ch/?" And I write č." I do about 15 of these.

    It is important, when finished, to check these, so that you don't carry any mistakes into Part 2. These letters should be reflected in Part II of "What Says," where my partner read 15 Czech words and I wrote (my attempts!) at the spelling.

    A cool tool for this is Evernote. My partner keeps a record in our shared notebook, listing the phonemes (sounds) and words we practiced that day - with an embedded recording of the sounds and words so that I can review them on my own.

    Plus, it's a great excuse to capture his voice

    Resources mentioned
    Evernote
    Eat That Frog (free pdf of the book)
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    Week 1 - Monday

    Language Learning - Spanish
    Today was somewhat disappointing. After finally working up the resolve to get started on my study, various technical difficulties slowly sapped away my resolve.

    Disorganization is draining. I thought I had my resources ready, but I didn't, and gathering them sapped way valuable time and energy. Having not enough resources is a problem, but so is having too many. Tomorrow, I'll reduce - just my audio program, grammar book, and Anki. At least initially, this should keep things simple, keeping my motivation up and enthusiasm-draining delays down.

    Meditation
    Nonetheless, some positives: I've started the week with my second consecutive day of mindfulness meditation using an app called Headspace. It has a free ten-day programme with guided meditations to initiate users into a meditation practice. Its creator is a British monk turned millionaire.So far, I am coming to look forward to this respite in my day.

    In the final moments of my meditation, I am invited to reflect on how I feel after practice. What a sanctuary, this has been. Often, I exist in a muted panic... Ambition will do that to you. Always striving, trying to be good enough, catching up on gaps in my emotional, academic, and moral development, and trying to move forward at the same time. I haven't stopped to notice the strain that constantly striving puts on me. I notice myself, a bit outside myself. Always trying to capture everything, analyze, grow. But being in my body - noticing the self that exists in this skin, noticing, for the first time, the dimensions of the room I walk in daily - I feel okay.

    After meditating, I feel more capable, more competent, more centered and prepared to encounter the day. It doesn't last forever, but I know I can always access this sanctuary, with just my breath and my attention.Having tried to meditate many times before, I strongly recommend guided meditation to start.

    Resources
    Intro to Meditation - Guardian article
    Headspace app - Free for 10 days to get you started; subscription after.
    Other (Free) Mindfulness Apps
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    Week 1: Tuesday & Wednesday

    "I'm not stressed ... I'm stretched. "

    That has been my mantra these last two days. The enthusiasm fades quickly: the day-dream of myself speaking five languages, the impressed smiles of my boyfriend's relatives when they realize I now speak Czech, the Spanish movies I'll watch and the cool job I'll get ALL FADE AWAY when I'm at that desk, alone, for hours, in awe of just how much English I know and how insurmountable the challenge seems to take on a new tongue.

    ....In a few months.

    This is a mind game. In the last few days I've been excited, bored, overwhelmed, curious, and intimidated.

    I've made the following changes, now that I'm playing the mind game.
    • Take more breaks. Instead of aiming for a 4.5 hour block, I'm breaking it up throughout the day (one hour of testing via Anki or Memrise, 1 hour of listening, during meal times, etc).
    • I should be having fun at some point. If the activity is becoming something I loathe (like making new cards for Anki), is there any way I can minimize or alter it so that it's more fun? (I'm now using Anki just for very niche vocabulary, and Memrjse for the more general vocabulary. Less time on Google Images, more time revising).
    • Gameify everything. Levels, unlocking rewards, points...I love it all.
    • "Too many hands spoils the soup." There's a lot of advice on language learning. It's okay to step back from it and do what feels best.
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    2016 is so your year!

    I'm keeping my eye on this one- I'm hopeless at learning languages (should probably try harder really )

    Good luck! Your blog looks great so far
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    Week 1: Thursday & Friday

    Structured vs Unstructured Study: Finding The Middle Path

    Before I applied to law school, I went to art school.

    That should give you some idea of the poles of my personality: too much structure and I revolt, too little, and I'm anxious and irritable, spend more time worrying about whether I'm covering all my bases then, well, covering them.

    The challenge is to implement structure while allowing myself play and spontaneity, while accepting my changing moods, energy levels and welcoming unexpected tasks. Here's how I've approached it thus far:
    • I now divide my key tasks into half-hour or one-hour "blocks." These are the skils and tasks I need to carry out to reach my goal. AND the resources needed to get them done. For instance, my Blocks A-F consist of core language learning tasks: vocabulary revision; flashcard making; active listening; lessons; speaking, with or without a partner; reading and grammar. The benefit: These blocks can be rearranged - somedays I do A, B, C, D, other days, D, F, E, B. Either way, I know I'm getting everything done. I know that by Thursday and Friday, I'm a bit lazy. Yesterday, I didn't want to get out of bed. So, first, found some inspiration in the form of Luca Lampariello. Geared up, but still lazy, started with listening block, watching an American TV show with Spanish audio and subtitles.
    • Each block is further subdivided into different activities that constituting fulfilling the requirements of that block. For instance, vocabulary review can include finding synonyms; putting new vocabulary words in sentences; mind maps grouping similar words; write dialogues and translate them; find phrases and idioms with new words to put them in new contexts, and, of course, flashcard review.
    • I take a break every hour- whether it's 5, 15, or 40 minutes. I do my push-ups, text my boyfriend, send emails, check UCAS track...
    • A few things are scheduled, because it makes sense to make sure that some things are done before others. For instance, lessons are non-negotiable. Everyday. What time I do them may change, but they are done everyday.
    • Put everything in the calendar. From scheduling times to check my daily water intake to reminding myself to do my push-ups, I don't burden my mind with anything that Google Cal can handle.
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    (Original post by Tank Girl)
    2016 is so your year!

    I'm keeping my eye on this one- I'm hopeless at learning languages (should probably try harder really )

    Good luck! Your blog looks great so far
    Thank you! Are you at A level or uni? Are you studying any languages at the moment?
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    Week 1: The Weekend
    Why Making Progress on a Goal Can Lead to Abandoning It

    Key Concept: Goal Liberation or Moral Licensing
    a phenomenon in which the more progress you make on a goal, the greater the tendency to over-congratulate yourself for exercising self-control, and the greater the tempation to satisfy the other, "base-self" behaviours you've been surpressing. The result? You've earned the right to indulge, and so you take one step forward, and two steps back.
    (Source: Chapter Four, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More Of It, by Dr. Kelly McGonigal.)

    A willpower challenge consists of a battle between competing desires: my desire to gain fluency in Spanish, for instance, and the desire to enjoy my day simply and relax my mind by watching Netflix or doing research. After a few days of making progress on my Spanish goal, my brain tempts me to self sabotage by making me feel as if I've earned the right to pursue my other goal a relaxation. As Dr. Kelly McGonigal writes, "Progress...shifts the power of balance between our two competing selves." I experienced this at the weekend. By Friday, I just want to relax. And in a way, that's okay. Cal Newport writes in How To Become A Straight A student that we should choose our hard days: select them, expect them, prepare for them, and reward ourselves for working through them. I have the most motivation at the beginning of the week, so I choose Monday-Wednesday as my hard days. I taper off on Thursday and Friday, and Saturday is a lite-day. In practice, this means sleeping in, more time on TSR, and watching Netflix ... in Spanish, cómo no

    I relaxed a little too much this weekend.

    What's the cure?

    Remembering why we are pursuing this goal.

    So, on this rainy Monday, when I'd rather curl up and read, I need to tap into my motivation. Here are some reasons why I want to study Spanish/Czech/be a polyglot.
    • I've wanted to speak Spanish for years, and I've always gotten distraída. Proving to myself that I can accomplish a goal of this magnitude and tick it off my bucket list would mean the world to my self-esteem.
    • The job opportunities that would open up to me in Latin America. Having options means possessing freedom, and freedom is a big incentive for me.
    • I want a "second soul," and I've felt a strong affinity to Latin Am. To re-read Allende, Lorca, and Marquez in the original would bring me full circle.
    • The first day I'm watching a documentary in Spanish and realize I understand every word is going to be incredible!
    • People that speak other languages are cool - especially people that are self-taught.
    • I would LOVE to surprise my boyfriend's family with the ability to hold a ten-minute conversation in Czech this Christmas, order my own food at dinner, and make small talk with his grandmother. I'd love to be able to speak to his mom and sister directly, rather than via translation. They would see that I'm serious about being with my partner and in their lives for the long haul. It's a big step towards integrating.
    • If I can teach myself Spanish and Czech, and I can build on my French and master German too.
    • I want to enjoy the process of learning even more than the result. As a mature student returning to university to study law, I need to reassure myself that I know how to learn.
    • My partner would be very proud of me for my hard work, smarts, and self-discipline.
    • So I can take advantage of a free C1/Advanced Spanish class in uni, rather than waste time on a lower-level one.
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    (Original post by Assan)
    Thank you! Are you at A level or uni? Are you studying any languages at the moment?
    Sadly, out of education now- but I really want to do an evening course (or something like that) to learn a language- I'm thinking maybe Italian :confused:
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    This is so good and well written!
    I hope you achieve your goals! Good luck!

    I too am an aspiring polyglot. I'm learning French currently at AS level and I'm definitely going to carry on learning becasue I love the language so much! I am at about B1 in French (Probably B2 now since it's been a while since I took the test) and I only started learning properly exactly a year ago!
    I've encountered problems with my spoken French though because of my anxiety Communicating with native speakers can be difficult for me. Hopefully I can overcome this eventually.



    Next on my list of languages to learn are Spanish and German
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    (Original post by Tank Girl)
    Sadly, out of education now- but I really want to do an evening course (or something like that) to learn a language- I'm thinking maybe Italian :confused:
    I'm out of education as well. Although, hoping to return in the fall

    Why Italian? Of all the cool languages, sounds, cultures, what motivates you to make a commitment to this one? And what reward - what pay-off - will you get for doing it? Make sure you know that before you undertake your journey.

    Second, I would recommend that you take a look at Assimil. When I was looking to learn German, I gave it a shot. It was quick (20mins a day), amusing, and relatively effortless for the rewards received. I learned more quickly than in my high school French classes, and with less effort. I haven't used it to explore Italian, but maybe it's the approach for you.

    Some resouces for you to investigate
    Assimil Italian on Amazon
    I think you may be able to try it free here

    I think you can do it There are different ways to learn and it's ok if classroom-based language learning doesn't work for you. Just find something and don't give up
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    (Original post by StrawbAri)
    This is so good and well written!
    I hope you achieve your goals! Good luck!

    I too am an aspiring polyglot. I'm learning French currently at AS level and I'm definitely going to carry on learning becasue I love the language so much! I am at about B1 in French (Probably B2 now since it's been a while since I took the test) and I only started learning properly exactly a year ago!
    I've encountered problems with my spoken French though because of my anxiety Communicating with native speakers can be difficult for me. Hopefully I can overcome this eventually.

    Next on my list of languages to learn are Spanish and German
    I'm so very impressed! Can you tell me a few things?

    1. I'm assuming that if you're doing AS you did French at GCSE. When did you sit your B1 exam? After GCSEs? How did you prepare for it? Is there anywhere I can find past papers?

    2. I have the materials to take me for A-level French. On what rung of the CEFR scale do you think you'll be once you finish A-level?

    3. What is difficult for you when you try to communicate with native speakers? Is it listening, speaking, both, or neither? For me it's definitely listening comprehension, in French and Spanish. How did you achieve B1/B2 Listening? I'm really trying to watch a lot of Netflix in Spanish via VPN right now but I wonder if there's anything else I can do.

    Thanks for reading
    PS. It's important to me to lay a solid B2/C1 groundwork in Spanish over the next few months so that I can return to French and German. We're interested in many of the same languages; we should definitely share knowledge, approaches and resources!
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    Week 2 & 3 Review:

    Falling Off The Horse

    When your goal is to do something everyday, when you trip up once - nevermind more often - it can feel huge. One day passes, then the next; your inner perfectionist kicks in, and s/he starts focusing more on the fact that you messed up, than on the overall goals that got you started in the first place.

    For me, my Achilles Heel is travel. Changing time zones, jet lag, late nights, and a fuller schedule guards the door to my dreams like a dragon. I try to do battle but often, the challenge to my routine is too great.

    This post is a reminder to dust yourself off, pull up on the saddle, and get back on the horse. Rather than focusing on the days missed - and your perceived failure - re-focus on the goal. Commit to starting again, with wherever you left off as a new day one. Take this point as your point of departure.

    Finally, consider adjusting your goal. Have you included tasks and goals that would be nice to do, but are not essential to your larger goal at this time? If so, strip your goal down to its bare bones to win back time, and re-focus on the core of what it is you're trying to achieve.

    The goal is not perfect adherence to a routine; do not confuse the path to the goal as the goal itself. Like any other journey gone awry, just recommit to getting there, by whatever means you can.

    (For what this looks like in practice, see the next post.)
    (ETA: or not the next post... because my Evernote document wouldn't format nicely. TBC).
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    The Perils of Travel, Part II:

    (Week 4 Review/End of Month 1)

    Sigh. So, see the last post for the perils of travel. In Chapter 2 of that sorry tale, I got sick. Like vomiting six times in twelve hours, fever, shakes, aches AFTER just recovering from the cold, sick. My poor boyfriend, too. Not only that, but the internet in Beijing isn't that great and jet lag is real so all of that to say... Studying hasn't gone too great. And I'm annoyed.

    Not that I didn't do anything on my trip. I did. But I like to be consistent, or it feels that much harder to get back on the old horse and trot on to Triumph Land.

    But you know what? Such is life. Getting sick happens, travel happens, missing days of planned work happens, and Donald Trump as a serious contender in the 2016 primaries happens. And my job is to slap away my critical, perfectionist tendencies, and adjust.

    So first on my agenda today is this pep talk. A new day, a new month, "I got this." After this, the plan is to look at my new study schedule (see above) and see how much I need to do each day to get this done. And then the plan is to drink a lot of water, get well, and work.

    Good luck to everyone getting back on board after a set back.
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    Using Flashcard Apps Efficiently

    I haven't written in aweek, but that's a good thing, as I'm finally back on routine (mostly). It's 4:30am as I write this - a Skype message woke me after 1 and I haven't been able to sleep since. I give up, and I'm up and at 'em.

    Updates:
    • Czech has been put on the backburner, unfortunately. Maybe I'll try to incorporate much shorter sessions (20min) next week.
    • I am really seeing the value of studying practical Spanish, and foregoing the type of stuff I learned in high school (vocabulary lists full of words I never needed, too much grammar at the onset.). I highly recommend both SpanishPod101 and Assimil Spanish. My vocabulary is rapidly expanding and, unlike my GCSE French, it's useful. A tool that has really helped me is...
    • Flashcards. Twice a day. I have a system to make efficient use of this time.
    1. I keep a notebook and split the page ES (Spanish) and EN (English).
    2. I write the lesson's dialogue and it's translation in its respective columns.
    3. Then I highlight the phrases I want to remember, using different colors if there is more than one target phrase/word in the sentence. On that topic, and equally as important, I very, very rarely write down a single word or phrase as a vocabulary word. I always use sentences, because I assimilate syntax and conjugations, as well as vocabulary, making the process altogether more efficient as I get repeated exposure to more information with similar amounts of time and effort.
    4. The next day, I cover up THE SPANISH side of the page and quiz myself to see if I can remember the Spanish for the English translation. I THEN input the English sentence and its translation into my flashcard app. By using it as an opportunity to quiz myself, the task of creating flashcards goes from being passive to active, productive, and efficient.
    • I like SpanishPod101 because it comes with customizable SRS flashcards that - crucially - include audio and sample sentences. This mitigates the fact that their flashcards feature single words or phrases, versus sentences. Not only are there recordings of the target words, but there are also recordings of the sample sentences, introducing me to the cadence of spoken Spanish. I also really like that I can choose how I am quizzed - ie I like to focus on production and listening comprehension versus recognition, as I feel it is more challenging.
    • I said I use flashcards twice a day. The second time, I put the timer on for 40 minutes and cover as many decks as I can. That's it. The difference between this round and the last is that, whereas the first round of flashcards is for the purpose of creating new cards and refreshing the,previous day's material, the second round refreshes material learned in the more distant past.
 
 
 
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