Let’s Talk “Failure”

Language learning can feel full of setbacks if we start with super-high, new-year style goals. In an ideal world, you take up studying, speaking and writing in Spanish, and 18 months later you’ve got a mountain of vocabulary and speaking confidence. Most online resources – including bloggers like me – don’t often acknowledge lost motivation and ‘lost’ skills.

Snow in Berlin

Instead of goals, here’s my language failures and ‘abandoned’ languages:

French ||
My first – and worst – foreign language! Like most British kids I started French aged 11, and I always liked the language but I really disliked learning it. There were two classes sorted by ability, and it really put a nail in my French ambitions when, in my final year, I was moved from the ‘good’ class to the ‘less good’ class. The mandatory classes ended when I was 14 and I never looked back – until Summer 2017 when I spent a month cramming basic French for a vacation using Memrise… that convinced me French was still tricky but that I could actually enjoy it.

German ||
My school made us take two languages, which was a nightmare for some of us. I was randomly assigned to take five years of German (other option: Spanish), and I liked it, but by the end I had a B grade and could tell someone I had two sisters and lived in a detached house. Since 2015 I have gone from apps, to evening classes, to intensive courses, to using German at my job. But those feelings of inadequacy are hard to shake – while my understanding is 100%, I often second-guess myself or feel self-conscious when speaking. I know lots of people who are fluent in English but they focus on tiny weaknesses or small errors. It sucks that imperfections and anxieties feel like failures, but it happens to everyone.

Spanish ||
The second foreign language I can actually speak! I started an evening course a year ago, and I am at the intermediate stage – so still optimistic. Nevertheless, every day I regret all the learning I’m not doing: I started a diary in Spanish – stopped that! I have a lovely tandem partner to learn with – but when did I last see her? Where are the handmade flashcards? Why am I not reading El País every day? Will I ever finish ‘El Ministerio del Tiempo’? When I do pick up my phone to learn, I enjoy it, and that’s the important thing.

Okay here’s one resolution for 2019: there’s limited resources to learn Swedish (because it’s not super useful) but there’s course for German speakers called ‘Sprich mal Schwedish’ and my Noble Goal for the year is to have a crack at it. (I don’t know, I can enjoy the Scandinoir better? I’ll have a leg up if Sweden ever invades?)

My advice: keep your goals flexible, don’t feel guilty about taking a break from a language, and download a dictionary onto your phone!

Everything You Need to Start Learning a Language

It is almost the new year and if you are thinking about your language goals, here’s all the most useful languageuntangled tips for apps, podcasts, books and vocab.

Everything You Need
to Start Learning a Language

Resources

Game Plan

German Vocab

A War By Two Names – Podcast Recommendations

Have you heard of the Falkland Islands? Or Las Malvinas? I am British and my awareness of this tiny territory next to Argentina has always been minimal. Among millenials – people I know – very little is known about the 1982 conflict, and the name ‘las Malvinas’ is known even less. In doing a little research, I found this video from The Guardian newspaper explaining why the military action was successful for the British, which is accompanied by scores of jingoistic and xenophobic comments.

I respect that the concern for the UK government at the time was that  British citizens – albeit a very small number of them – could potentially be forced into a dictatorship, but the issue is not black and white. It felt like a real wake-up call when the Duolingo podcast featured this story back in 2017, which examined one Argentinian soldier’s memory of the war. In what feels like a deliberately diplomatic stance, the episode covers an unlikely friendship between the young soldier and an English local.

In contrast, just last week NPR’s podcast Radio Ambulante put up an episode about two Argentinian soldiers’ experience of the war, which occurred six years into a dictatorship. (Available with transcripts in both Spanish and English). Their belief in victory was quickly shattered and hundreds of lives were lost.

I would be interested to learn more about the conflict, which is yet another example of how choosing to learn Spanish has challenged my assumptions about politics and history. Those depressing YouTube comments (yes, I know, don’t read YouTube comments) has strengthened my conviction to learn more, ask questions and look for more to the story.

9 Ways to Stay Motivated

The desire to learn a language is the first hurdle – and not every 14 year old in French class gets over that hurdle. If you have chosen advanced Spanish in school or beginner German as an adult, you understand the appeal of languages, what they bring us and why they matter. How, though, do we keep it going?

  1. Picture the long-haul. Accept that learning and refining a language can be a life-long (headache) journey.
  2. Understand your reasons for learning. Needing a language for work or life can be motivating but also intimidating – learning out of interest has freedom in that sense, but does not give you a driving force. Work out how to push yourself or how to encourage yourself in both situations.
  3. Use the native speakers in your life for their expertise and to remind yourself you can still chat with them!
  4. Find other people who are learning the language so you can commiserate (see quote below).
  5. Vary the tools you use, whether it’s reading and writing (books, newspapers, flashcards) or listening and speaking (film, TV, podcasts, apps, tandem partners, Meet Ups).
  6. If possible, give yourself breaks – be it one day or a few.
  7. Immersion is valuable, but so is making the learning time count. You could watch an episode of Narcos, or spend 15 minutes making notes on a podcast or looking up words from a newspaper article.
  8. Make use of professionals if you can, either in a classroom or through a tutor. They can correct you, explain well, and untangle the grammar. They can also praise progress when they see it!
  9. Go back and reflect on the basics. If you have completed any beginner or intermediate levels, go and test yourself online and appreciate what you have mastered so far.

… [I] never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.

Mark Twain, “The Awful German Language” 1880

Why are you learning your language/s? How do you find your motivation?

German Verb of the Week (No.1)

Verunglücken

Everyone is familiar with the satisfying German loan words like “Schadenfreude” and “Doppelgänger”, but I have come to love these neat German verbs which slip into a sentence and describe actions or experiences for which English would require a whole phrase.

Verunglücken means “to have an accident”, and if you break down the sections of the word, it relates to “unlucky”.

Use the word, but stay safe! Ich hoffe, dass ihr nicht verunglückt!

Image: Lilith (Cat)