How to Stop Worrying About your Language Talent [Infographic]

Today it occurred to me that we have not had an infographic on Fluent for a while, and I fancy sharing another good one with you. I do collect cool infographics related to language learning on my Pinterest boards, but every now and then it's cool to do a deep dive.

Before I jump into the points I'll be making, I just want to point out that my views on aptitude, attitude and training are not accepted by all. Linguists do often maintain that some natural aptitude for language learning exists. In fact, the military has apparently even started testing for it. I am personally not in the camp of people who want to promote a message of "There is a chance you have no talent for this project" simply because becoming the best ever language learner is not the point. If you do want to be an army quality translator in 6 months or become a finished product in a minimal amount of time, it might be that you aren't cut out for it. Let me tell you a story: I am not cut out for fitness. I grew up overweight, heck, I am not exactly slim now. But I can swim a mile, run 10k and do an hour of tough exercise these days. And I love it. My aptitude does not matter when it comes to enriching my life.

So cut out the target of perfection, and think about whether your practice is meaningful and right for you. Language learning aptitude may account for how quickly you pick up a language, perhaps even whether your speaking voice ends up beautiful and accent-free ten years into the future, but it will not account for not even trying.

There Is No Such Thing As A Polyglot Gene

Click to Enlarge

Today's chosen infographic is this illustration of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule. When I first read his book Outliers, this principle was absolutely fascinating to me. I had never even questioned the idea that some people are just naturally born for being great at what they do. We are often confronted with terms that reinforce this whole idea even more, for example "child prodigy".

But Gladwell came out with some data (in the realm of pop science, of course) investigating high achievers from a different angle, and found that practice is mightier than talent in most cases.

How Can You Overcome The "No Talent" Fallacy

One of the most common misconceptions about language learning that I encounter is this persistent idea that learning another language is a skill that is open to an exclusive group of people. The English blame their whole nation for being "rubbish at language learning." The active language learners on the internet look up to "polyglots" who are awarded rock star status. The real language learning masters though are invisible and just get on with it. Click to Tweet This

If you want to make real progress and become one of those people that other people consider talented, the secret is to practice. Gladwell says that there is even a number of hours you can put on that practice: It is 10,000. The hours add up with every second we spend deliberately practicing - and that means focus, repetition and engagement.

Watching Youtube is Not Practice

According to this infographic, you can see that watching an expert perform the task you want to master is not something that really helps you improve. Neither is mindless repetition. Just like you can see in educational settings, it's pointless to demonstrate.

Here are some interesting questions to get you thinking:

  • Will 100 hours of Duolingo give you real progress or make you feel frustrated enough to believe that you "have no talent"?
  • Is accountability the most important aspect of 10,000 hours of practice?
  • How many hours can we get into 6 months?
  • How many language learners are aware that practice in the second foreign language will require so much less work than practice in the first foreign language?

I would love to hear what you think. No matter what it is, here is the bottom line: You are NOT missing a talent for language learning. You are NOT making progress more slowly than others. Even The Beatles were not born as great musicians. Neither was Mozart.

Get back to basics. Practice deliberately, embrace the learner status and remember what you came to language learning for.

The Importance of Learning Skills

In my experience I have seen students succeed the most when their systems and learning styles were set up very well. Students in full-time education are in a learning habit, they take better notes and revise by habit which gives them an advantage. In fact, this was part of the reasoning behind how I wrote The Vocab Cookbook: It's designed to help language learners understand a good vocabulary learning process and apply it easily. The idea is to form habits that are easy for you, not creating extra burdens. Does it work for you?

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. If you are feeling stuck right now, why not subscribe to Fluent and check out our language book shop.

Speak More Language After the Weekend: Bank Holiday Deal

Activity suggestion for a Bank Holiday with Fluent Guides

Activity suggestion for a Bank Holiday with Fluent Guides

Another week has finished, and we are approaching the end of summer. Here in Britain, this means the dawn of a Bank Holiday. Bank Holidays are Mondays that you can spend in bed, or out exploring, or cooped up in the hobby shed.

If you're not British, you could of course try staying in bed all Sunday too!

Imagine studying languages in bed all day. Imagine using the time effectively to get started with a new notebook. Cuddling up on the couch with a new book...

Well. That can be done. From today to Monday, I'm holding a big sale on the Fluent Guides combo pack. If you missed out on Pre-Sale pricing the first time round, here's a chance to get the full package for only £20. Read on your Kindle, laptop, smartphone...listen to the lovely audiobook on a walk...you can do this your way. 

Yes, that's just 3 days. On Tuesday, we're going back to standard pricing so grab the sale rate before it goes.

As for me, I'm probably going to spend the bank holiday putting in the hours for my wedding and doing my Russian homework. Ooof!

Should You Study Russian and German At University?

It has been one year since the last occasion of A-Level results coming out in the UK. If you're not familiar with the system in this country, here's a quick summary. A-Level exams are the school leaving exams that determine a student's future path at university. The courses are chosen by subject and after age 16 none are compulsory, so students choose whichever subject they feel most passionate about. Last year, my guest blogger Tom Pandolfino wrote a wonderful article about what it is like to be taking these super important exams. Today Tom's back to tell you what happened next.

Russian and German at University: What Happened Next

As I start to write this blog post in my hostel room in Stuttgart as the rain comes crashing down, I have some time to reflect on my first year at university. In terms of both, studying and my free time away from it.

So, languages at university; my perspective...well, it’s intriguing.

Prior to embarking upon the wild yet tremendous journey that is university, I would have already described myself as a language learner who doesn’t "comply with the rules". What do I even mean by "rules"? Don’t worry. I shall explain.

By "rules", I mean a very traditional way of learning languages. The way the curriculum works for languages in schools in the UK is quite traditional. You learn a lot of grammar and rules and are tested upon that with not much emphasis on using the language itself. This is at least how I feel looking back on my time in school learning foreign languages. In school and at university, everyone tends to have stark differences in terms of learning attitudes. This is what the system doesn’t always quite recognise. By system I mean the curriculum for foreign languages in schools in the UK and institutions such as universities.

Making Mistakes Is a Good Thing

Naturally, people have different ways of learning, above all in regards to foreign language learning in the UK. For example, in my case I learn and enjoy learning the most through speaking and listening. But more importantly, by making mistakes because it is crucial and it is indeed a very good thing! It indicates areas of weakness and it allows for positive correction so that you can rectify your errors and try not to make the same ones again.

The school system unfortunately doesn’t acknowledge the power and importance of mistakes in foreign language learning, which is a great shame. It always appeared to me that the curriculum needlessly punishes young learners. For example, I remember having to learn grammar points for exams that I never fully grasped until later on. I was fortunate to have some fantastic teachers especially during my French and German A levels who took on a much better approach to language learning, based on acquisition and fun as opposed to regurgitation and constant grammar tables.

Languages? Why, You Must Be A Freak Or A Genius!

In the UK there appears to be a bizarre perception that "we just can’t simply learn foreign languages". Well, it’s rubbish. (Note from the editor: READ THIS TWICE OMG IT IS SO TRUE!!!!) Many people are always shocked at the response to when they ask me as to what I study at university. When they hear ‘German and Russian’, people in the UK are taken back and I am soon flooded with many questions and responses:

  • Why those two languages?,
  • What would you like to do after university then? ‘Why Russian?
  • I wish I could do languages, but in school I couldn’t. It was far too hard.

Personally, I do not mind any of these types of questions or responses that people give me. But it is this last one that really irritates me. I find it frustrating not that people have found languages or more specifically learning a language hard. But due to their poor experience of language learning in the system, it puts them off the subject for life. It is often due to their poor experience and perhaps lack of success in languages in school that has allowed for a false perception to manifest into the idea that language learning is impossible. This seems to a common occurrence with many individuals in the UK.

In school, the curriculum is such that concepts like verbs, cases, nouns, pronouns, the subjunctive etc. are just thrown at you. You are taught the tools of the language, the theory behind it. You are never quite taught to communicate or to truly apply them. These items of grammar are of course vitally important, but what is the use when you don’t understand what a case even is, or how the subjunctive should be applied in certain circumstances...

Is University Better Than School?

So what does my view on the school system thus far have to do with university anyway?

Well, in all honesty, to me they appear fairly similar. Yet at university, there is more of a focus on immersion in the languages that you study. You are strongly encouraged and advised to find out what works for you. For example, there have been many times when my lecturers have said that we really ought to listen to podcasts, TV, music and so on in the specific target language. This means that for many hours in the day we are absorbing the language in to our minds. Even though this may be passive learning, it still works.

If, for example, you imagine a sponge in a sink full of water; the sponge will still absorb the water, regardless even if you don’t squeeze it. So if it is taken into consideration that about 95% of my time spent in lectures and seminars is completely in German or Russian, and I do my passive work, I make progress. But at university there is a huge difference...the onus is completely down to you to do not only the work but also to be responsible for the immersion. I feel that they want us to create is a ‘foreign reality’.

My experience thus far at university leads me to believe that universities understand the fact that language learning is in fact ultimately down to you. Of course the seminars, lectures and lab sessions are important and useful. But if you don’t do any learning away from the classroom, you simply won’t learn enough. They seem to have cracked the mysterious language learning code...you have to learn a language yourself, it cannot be forced upon someone.

So that leads to two questions...

What is The Point of Studying Languages at University..?

So far even after just one year of studying at university, I feel that the freedom of learning that is given to you combined with the intensity allows you to progress very quickly and efficiently. But what I have found more important is that studying at university allows development of much more critical skills in terms of how you think and how to evaluate issues.

But What About Keeping Motivation..?

Just to put it out there, I am not a language learning veteran like some other guys on the internet who speak a whole plethora of languages (some of whom are just incredible: Richard Simcott, Benny Lewis, Olly Richards, Conor Clyne and Amir Ordabayev). But I have been learning languages seriously for about the past three and a half years with good success. The biggest hurdle for me is keeping up my motivation. I find that if I work a lot for a consistent period of time, I run the risk of burning out and losing my momentum completely. So I try to work in bursts of a couple of weeks. That means I try my best to work consistently for two weeks and then do more passive activities and make my learning less intense.

University has ultimately reinforced my belief that languages cannot just be forced upon people so that they learn. It is a long process, a journey which should hopefully be fun and somewhat memorable.

Tom Pandolfino is a student who has just completed the first year of studying Russian and German at University. As you can tell, he is experiencing so much success. In addition to being a language learner, Tom is also an accomplished musician and member of Blues Hawk. Check them out on Facebook - the next big thing in old school blues.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!

How I Got Back Into Language Learning

Today our regular writer Angel Armstead is back - she's gone through a busy time and had to take a break from language learning. Busy being the key word - this lady is rocking so many projects! Like I have found myself, sometimes we need to cut to progress. Ouch. So how did Angel get back on the wagon?

Always Good Intentions

I started my language learning like most people with good intentions. I had good intentions of learning multiple languages and traveling to those countries and meeting the people. I could imagine myself speaking multiple languages and traveling to multiple destinations. I have not let go of that dream but good intentions can only take us so far.

Never Enough Time

When I first decided on Japanese, Russian and Mandarin at the same time I had what seemed like limitless time. Ideas kept flooding in: I decided I would get back to work on my novel after becoming great at my languages. Then I found a way to create my very own video game. During all of that I decided to sell coffee in my own home business. And I went ahead and worked on these projects! Before all these projects, spending time in three languages seemed easy. My time is going to be even shorter when I go back out to college. But of course I need to be able to fund that dream somehow if I'd like to live it.

Sometimes You Have To Let a Few Things Go

I am not giving up learning Russian or Mandarin Chinese. For now I shall focus on Japanese and the blog that I'm working on to help people in Japanese. I will re-add Mandarin and Russian to my currently studying languages in time, but I will not add them at the same time when I do. There are a few things I still need to learn in Japanese before I can move on to another language. I did make it to the Intermediate stage in Japanese in college. Intermediate level can sometimes feel like the worst level to be at. I understand a lot and there's still a lot that confuses me. I want to move on to Mandarin or Russian only after I take a trip to Japan. I plan on doing the same for any later language I work on learning. Letting things go to focus on a specific subject can also help with interests outside of language learning.

Intermediate level can feel like the worst level to be at - I understand a lot and still get confused!

Click to tweet this: Tweet: Intermediate level can feel like the worst level to be at - I understand a lot and still get confused! (via @fluentlanguage's language blog)

Failure Can Be A Learning Experience

I don't really consider having to focus on one language a failure in my language learning. It does show me that time can be one of the biggest factors in how many languages you can learn. Some people do have the time and motivation to learn three or more at a time and that's great for them.

How I Got Back Into Language Learning

For some people language learning is a fun activity and it is for me too. But I think at times I don't take it seriously enough. I thought of other things that I have been able to learn and realized one of the things I could utilize to keep me going.

  1. Set Aside a Time to Learn/Listen to Your Target Language

This one is probably very obvious to most experienced language learners and it's what helped me with other things I learned. I now set aside time at midnight to either listen to a language lesson or watch a Japanese film/anime. I picked that time because I'm not the partying type and it's the time for the least amount of interruptions. It works very well because of that. Anytime the clock hits midnight I should be doing something in my target language. You have to be strict at times with your own self and maybe even friends and family. Maybe tell a close friend or family member so they can encourage you to stick to your goal. Remind yourself on why you wanted to learn that language in the first place and then get serious about and figure out when is the best time to work on it.

  1. Rediscover Sources You Love

There are a few other things that I used to do a lot that I've just gotten back into again. I've re-added using YouTube. There is a lot of bad stuff on YouTube but it's also a good resource for free language lessons. I've gone back to playing my games in Japanese and posting on my Japanese blog. I try to listen to Japanese music any chance I get. I also take flashcards everywhere I go. Since my language learning is done so late I have a lot of time during the day to glance at flashcards. YouTube is also a good resource for music from other countries.

Conclusion

I wrote this post for myself and because I've met many people who have started learning a language, then found that their career or education limited their time to learn. The problem was that they never got back to learning the language they wanted.

Sometimes when you get back to your language learning it means starting over to give yourself a quick refresher. I think many dislike that but it is sometimes the same in real relationships to feel that you have to start over if time has passed between the two of you. I will try to blog once a week my progress on getting back up to speed in Japanese, even though my blog was quiet while I focused on other things.

But even if you've procrastinated for years you still have time to make that decision to pursue that interest whether it's language, music or anything else you have an interest in learning.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!

Speaking Practice: When Was The Last Time We Just Talked?

Esther Barker lives on her own in a retirement community in Chicago. She knows her neighbours and the staff, but they may not always find time for a lifetime of stories.

In Brazil, young people are hungry for the big wide world. They dream of moving to America, speaking to Americans like Esther, but they don't have the chance to travel abroad.

And then the Brazilian language school CNA works out a way of bringing the two of them together online, and the idea resonates with so many people that over one million of them watch it on YouTube! This video was sent to me by a Facebook fan (thanks Kellie!) and it's just too cute to pass up. Here is where language learning is not the point anymore, and things become about just telling each other stories. 

How Does This Really Improve Language Skills?

We all know that in the real world there can be some limitations to the benefits of language exchanges, so what I loved about this programme in particular is the emphasis on sharing the finished video chat with a professional teacher.

Speaking to a teacher is a great way of helping them discover where your little weaknesses might be, but this is one step further and I love it! As the teacher, a video like this could help me go right in and target the gaps in my students' knowledge, to boost their confidence for the next time they get to talk.

When confidence and skill come together, that's when you really hit the ground running.

Our Stories are What Makes Us

Watching the video above, I felt moved and happy. It's wonderful to see an exchange in which both sides benefit so clearly from sharing with each other. And it's where two world's come together, where an old person's story goes from dull to cool, and where we scratch the surface of who these people are.

Esther can share pictures and talk about what Chicago used to be like. They can imagine worlds of travelling together and just...make friends, you know? One of the toughest things about language exchanges can be to forget that you are really only doing this to improve your new language. When it's good, you are not. When it all comes together and you find an exchange partner that you really connect with, learning the language becomes irrelevant.

What about you?

Would you start a language exchange with someone so different in age? When was the last time you talked to someone, and really just talked?

The Ones To Watch: 3 Top New Language Bloggers

Here at Fluent, you know that I love supporting learners from a teaching person's point of view. In future, I want to focus more on the teachers themselves, too, sharing ideas about what makes lessons great. And where do you even find students? And when are you good enough to teach a language?

But that's all Zukunftsmusik (awesome German word for "written in the stars") and today I want to introduce you to some other perspectives of language learning. At the start of the year, I published a call for every learner to consider blogging in How to Learn A Language In 2014.

If you are excited about starting up a language blog, check out my Quick'n'Easy Guide. Each learner is so different, which is what makes blogs so fascinating and worthwhile. You can have truly dedicated learners, committed to the Polyglot label. And then you have people like me -- language learning has been a huge part of my life, but these days I don't spend every day acquiring a new language. Instead, I teach, I travel, I study a bit of Linguistics and I use what I learn to understand the world around me.

Here are three blogs from people who have heard the call and are sharing their own perspectives.

The Challenge Oriented Learner

I always have a soft spot for native English speakers who live in a country where they don't have to learn a foreign language to get by in the world. These learners choose to learn foreign languages for really interesting reasons, like personal growth. Bill from HowToLanguages is an amazing example of this. He started learning German as a personal challenge, and if you are looking for someone who sets a goal and works towards it consistently, this is your man.

You can follow the blog at HowToLanguages. Here are some posts I really liked:

And Bill also posts several reviews, for example round-up one (Pimsleur is pretty American, but UK learners who are keen can find them on Amazon or Ebay too, or try Michel Thomas which is a similar concept). Like me, he is a fan of Teach Yourself for advanced learners.

The Introspective Learner

The second Blog to Watch is called The Foreign Language Learning Challenge, and features a great array of posts. It's fairly new so you won't lose hours to an extensive archive, but what I like about this one is that the posts are a mix of introspective (if short) pieces which really made me think, and actionable instructions.

You can follow this blog at The Foreign Language Learning Challenge and check out:

Transient

The Compassionate Language Learner

We have featured two sort-of typical language bloggers so far: results-oriented, confident and....male! But J, author of the Compassionate Language Learner is different. I met them as a participant in my great 50 Calls Project, where we shared stories of language learning as a female, someone who makes their own labels and maybe rejects some of that polyglot circus.

The Compassionate Language Learner is a blog with a unique perspective. What's it like to learn a language when your mind won't always do what you like it to do? How can a challenge's dark sides -- the guilt, the pressure, the sadness -- be overcome? J, I am so excited to hear more from you as a language blogger and I hope you'll be sharing more with us in future.

Support New Language Bloggers

I urge you to go and leave a comment on these new bloggers' little spaces on the internet. In this world where we can all have our little online corner, it's great to know that someone values what you are saying. Blogging is all about keeping going, and sharing what you can share.

Are you a language blogger? Do you write about other things? More of an instagrammer? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

New Podcast! André Klein On Storytelling and Being Creative as a Learner

The new Fluent Language Podcast is out now, and I'll be sharing an inspiring interview with author André Klein. We discussed so much - freedom, creativity and other big ideas. Find out how to make things real for you.

Now on Stitcher

If you're using Stitcher, you can now find the Creative Language Learning Podcast on there too. Make it a star by giving it some stars! Here's an easy link to Stitcher's website.

Sample Book Chapter: Mastering Writing In Another Language

The following text is a sample chapter from Fluency Made Achievable, one of the new Fluent Guides which are out just now! You can order the combo pack of both guides through my website now to gain confidence, improve techniques and become a successful language learner. 

Click here to find out all about the books.

Writing Training: Composition Tricks for Writing in a Foreign Language

For many language learners, writing is one of the most important ways that they connect with the outside world. You start the day updating your status on Facebook, maybe you sit in an office typing emails or you have to produce reports and essays for your studies. Recently, I had the pleasure of running a special writing-focused German class with one of my students. We looked how written language changes depending on the situation, how pronunciation and spelling are related and where to put all those pesky commas.

Let's think about writing skills today. Writing is so much as a part of language learning. It can be your daily practice or preparation for a core exam, for example.

On a practical scale, writing will serve the foreign language learner extremely well because it really shows up every part of your grammatical and stylistic weaknesses, and gives you a chance to improve on exactly where you are weak. But there is more to this act than just improving grammar or spelling: When you write, you are able to share your thoughts and make them last.

Like most big and intimidating projects, things get so much easier when you break them down into smaller tasks, and that is exactly what the composition process will do for you.

Today let's have a detailed look at writing great texts. It can be broken down into three stages: Before Writing, During Writing and After Writing.

Before Writing

When you are planning to write something in a foreign language, the planning stage is even more important than it already is. Writing something of more than 50 words requires structure, writing 200 words requires structure and research, and if you are working on something even longer, which is an inevitability for language stages above B2 (here is a very detailed official explanation of the stages), your writing will improve 200% from just putting 10 minutes into planning.

As a language learner, here are the questions to consider and answer before starting to write:

  • What is the writing style you’re working on? Letters, formal and informal language, journalist reports and creative writing all have their own style set of suitable vocabulary and phrases. The best trick here is to read and analyse the type of text that you are planning to write. Underline words and phrases that you can use in your own writing.
  • Is there a set of relevant vocabulary to prepare? You should have the most important words on hand without looking each up in a dictionary. Before you start, build a word cloud or mind map of relevant words and phrases. Research set lines that you can use over and over again, like greeting formulas in letters and classic story structures.
  • What is the structure of your project going to be? Sketching out a very rough draft of your letter or article is so useful here. It will help you make sure all the important points are covered, in a logical order and that you know how to end your piece of writing. At this stage, work with bullet points and notes. Right now, I am working off a scribbled note from a piece of paper — not surprising!
  • Check if you have covered the 5 core questions journalists work with when writing anything: Who? Where? When? Why? How? Answering those five tells a complete story, no matter if you are sending a postcard or analysing Shakespeare.
  • Note why you are writing your piece and what you want the reader to do. For a letter to a friend (an exercise you can find in any language exam!), the reader’s questions are going to be about how you are feeling, what happened to you recently and what you want them to write in return. But if you are writing to book accommodation on your next trip, the questions are a lot more practical: When do you want to come, who are you bringing, what do you need, how are you getting here? You should always include a part in your writing that tells the reader what to do next, if you are expecting a reply or if you want them to think about something. Even when you are putting a creative story to paper, the things you are describing are designed to make the reader feel or think certain things.

During Writing

Once the planning stage is done, you can start writing successfully. Connect the notes and bullet points you made before you started, and always keep in mind who your readers are going to be and what they need to know and hear. Don’t forget to think about your reader, and the kinds of expectations that they will have.

The structure of a good writing process is to draft, revise, edit and expand.

  • Draft a few sentences, some lines or the whole text based on the notes you made before.
  • Revise what you have written, read through it first time, check if all the important points are covered. * Edit your text, pay attention to words and verb endings and grammar, weed out mistakes. At this stage, reading the text out loud is one of my favourite tricks for finding little mistakes that are just too easy to overlook otherwise. Reading aloud and printing text that you typed on screen are going to make you a better writer, guaranteed.
  • Expand what you have written, see if there are extra points, descriptions and polite notes to be added if they suit the style of what you are writing.

For productivity and concentration during the writing process, my own advice for you is to: * Eliminate all distractions: Turn off music, go somewhere quiet, sit down comfortably. * Focus on your writing: Turn of the screen or close your eyes while typing if you are a good touch typist. * Turn off the internet: Do not allow yourself to do anything but write until the chapter, page or point is done. * Expect that it won’t be any good: It is more important to put something down that you can fix, than to produce nothing at all because you aren’t perfect yet.

After Writing

For me, it’s usually almost impossible to resist the urge to publish and “tick off” that piece of writing after I am done with typing it up. But having learnt more techniques for the short post-writing process, I admit that they are valuable too. Resist that temptation to publish or hand in your piece straight after completing it, and instead allow a little time to Revise and Publish. After writing, you are able to get feedback and this is part of the publishing process. It is perfectly acceptable to share the writing in various places, and here are a few ideas for what can be made of that story in future:

  • If you are keen to show your writing to native speakers, the journaling sections of Lang-8 and italki are great. I have also seen learners get decent feedback from Reddit and Facebook Groups, and a trusted teacher, friend, colleague or family member should also be available to help.
  • If you are seeking community, publish in a blog or newsletter.
  • Contribute to a Wiki, especially if you have produced a report or summary rather than an opinion piece.
  • Record or produce a film, radio play or podcast based on your writing. This is going to be particularly great if you produced something creative and plan to use it as a regular outlet.

Conclusion

Foreign language writing is like every other aspect of foreign language learning: The easier it is for you to do what you are trying to do in your native language, the easier it will be to make this happen in a foreign language.

Writing is more than just part of our everyday lives. It is a part of culture, creativity and self-improvement for millions of people.

To me, this is what makes the process worthwhile. It has encouraged me to find my own editors for my English, even though I write hundreds of words in this language every day. I will always count writing as an important part of who I am and how I communicate with people, and can’t wait to see what you produce!

If you want to find out more about what breaking down language into its core language skills can do for you, you have got to take a look at Fluency Made Achievable, my smart guide about them. The techniques above are so awesome that I will make sure you have easy access to them as a bonus chapter in my book, meaning you’ll be able to read them on the go!

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!

How To Run The Show in Language Learning

Reading a language learning blog is a funny undertaking, isn't it? You can find amazing community, new ideas and reviews of products that you have not tried yet. For many people, looking at the language learning successes out there is also a real motivator: When you feel like it's never going to be a thing to really learn 20,000 words in Japanese, it's nice to see others out there who have done it.

As a language teacher, I know how you feel. My Twitter and Feedly are full on inspiration for making lessons more interesting, helping students with grammar and being a better teacher. Websites and blogs are an amazing resource and I love reading about what other teachers have tried, what works and just how they go about language teaching. It's so reassuring to know I'm using an idea that works!

Focusing on Yourself

But every now and then, I have to take a break from all the blogs. The internet is noisy, and I start reading about how it's all about immersion, how "using English in lessons is a big mistake" or "no sensible learner uses paper anymore".

It's all "have to do this" and "useless if you don't do that". And I kind of have to shout "NO!! This is my show! We're using my style!" I am a teacher who likes to get to know and forge a real partnership with my student, I want to teach relaxed, happy people. I don't want a cramped-up forced immersion and I know that this method really does not work when I try it. The atmosphere of trust and joy in my lessons disappears when I turn army general, and I feel like a failure.

Conclusion? I am much better when I run the show my way.

Does that sound familiar to you? Too many blogs telling you to watch 5 hours of TV in the foreign language every day, or to only read articles that are way too difficult? Yes, thanks internet. I don't think you need to do that. In fact, I think what you need to do is chill out.

What is something you can do that you truly enjoy without stressing out? Even if it’s something that people don't blog about, if you like it, you're way more likely to do it more.

The Core Skills Idea

For example, take my strong belief that every language learner needs to work on all four core skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing. What if you could work out a plan that addresses each weakness systematically?

First reveal of the new book cover. Do you like it?

First reveal of the new book cover. Do you like it?

The idea of my book Fluency Made Achievable is to guide you through the right kind of self-assessment without telling you what you absolutely have to do. I provide ideas, methods, showing what works and what has crystallized throughout the years as good advice from language teachers and learners. But what I never want to do is have you feel like you are failing if you are doing things your way.

The book’s sequel, The Vocab Cookbook, will then address how you remember all of the vocabulary you pick up and help you develop good systems for learning it. Again, what I do is give sensible advice. Sensible is sensational but not sensationalist.

Run the show.

If you feel demoralised, and can’t believe you’ll ever improve just because the internet says so, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. I hope two books will help you to develop skills to conquer this, but most importantly I want you to feel like you're having fun here.

For me, it's all about trying out my new words on people, looking like an idiot and sticking post-its with vocabulary all ove the house.

What are some things that you love doing in your language study?

  • “Fluency Made Achievable” and “No Forgetting – A Smart Guide To Vocabulary Learning” are out now and available at www.fluentlanguage.co.uk/book

How Not to Learn Spanish!

Today I'm very proud to be featuring a guest post from Gareth Evans. I know Gareth as the marketing guy behind the awesome FlashSticks (which you know I don't stop enthusing about), and on discovering his language learning story I invited him to share his adventures in Argentina as a language learner. Gareth is on Twitter for FlashSticks and they’re always up for a natter on Twitter, so do say hello. And don't forget you can win them as part of the Sensational Fluent Pack until 10 August 2014.

This story is awesome - it has everything! Language, travel, adventure, classes... Gareth tells you all you ever need to know about learning Spanish. 

how not to learn spanish.jpg

How Not to Learn Spanish

I meant to become fluent in Spanish, I really did. After all, that was the whole point of the trip, wasn’t it? I definitely wasn’t running away from the tedium of the life I’d created for myself in London; it was all about learning another language properly, for the first time.

At least that’s what I told myself.

It was early 2012 and, on somewhat of a whim, which involved Googling “best places in the world to learn Spanish,” I made the decision to move to Argentina. The pictures I found and the stories I read about Buenos Aires jumped off the page. I was ready to immerse myself in Spanish. And that was going to be the way that I finally learned a foreign language to some sort of respectable standard, whatever that means.

First Steps in the Right Direction

In planning my indefinite trip, I was doing all the right things. I’d booked Spanish classes, and paid for them upfront, for 3 months, I’d found a flat share with a few fellow Spanish beginners, and a Chilean couple, and I’d signed up for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes, where all of the instruction was to be in Castellano.

All I had to do was turn up, commit to all of that and I’d be fluent by the time I left. Or at least that was the plan.

Bad Habits

I’m quite happy to admit it, in hindsight at least -- I was intimidated. After all, I was moving to a completely new city on the other side of the world, where I didn’t know anyone, and I was firmly putting myself out of my comfort zone. I like to think of myself as fairly brave when it comes to this sort of thing; I love to travel and I’ve been to about 30 countries. But I’d never quite travelled like this and it was scary.

Upon arriving at my apartment, I was greeted by two Dutch girls, who I would be sharing the apartment with; one left after a few days and I would live with the other for the duration of my stay, while the Chilean couple wouldn’t be moving in for another month or so.

On the surface, living with friendly Dutch people was great and it really helped me acclimatise to Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, however, both of them spoke about as much Spanish as I did, which was, essentially, nothing. English was, therefore, the universal language spoken in the house. And that was great for me in terms of having interesting conversations, but it hampered the speed of my Spanish acquisition significantly.

Spanish Class

I was not great at languages at school. Wait, that’s a cop out. The reality is that learning languages just didn’t interest me at school and, to make matters worse, my language teachers weren’t particularly inspiring.

Maybe it was my age, or maybe the instruction was better, but I seemed to pick up Spanish a lot easier in Buenos Aires. It wasn’t happening at warp speed like I’d hoped, but, in Spanish class, my Spanish really was coming along. It took me a while to get the knack of the grammar side of things, but I’m blessed with a more or less photographic memory, so the vocabulary side of things came reasonably easily.

On more than one occasion, my Spanish teacher told me she was impressed with my progress, especially given that my previous knowledge of Spanish consisted of things I’d picked up by watching the Flintstones, in Spanish, on my last trip to South America 10 years before.

The problem

I may have been progressing in a traditional, classroom-based sense, but what I wasn’t doing was actually speaking to people. You see, I made friends with a lot of European people from the language school I was studying at, as well as a big group of Americans. So, I either spent my time speaking English or, because pretty much all of these people were more or less fluent, I simply deferred to them in situations that arose where Spanish was a necessity.

I became lazy.

A glimmer of hope

After spending 4 months in Buenos Aires, most of my European and American friends were beginning to head home. I’d made some Argentine friends, but my gut told me it was time to move on.

So I did -- to Peru, probably my favourite country in the world.

When leaving Buenos Aires, I made the somewhat questionable decision to get the bus to Arequipa, Peru. Although those were a painful 3 days on the bus in some respects, yes I said 3 days, that trip did also completely transform the language learning journey I was on.

I spent 3 days sitting next to a Peruvian woman and was surrounded by Peruvians, being, quite overtly, the only tourist on this particular bus. After all, who else in their right mind would get a bus for 3 days out of choice?!

But I digress.

Over the next 3 days, I spoke more Spanish than I had in the previous 4 months combined. I got rid of my foreign language stage fright, mostly because necessity forced it, and I began enjoying speaking Spanish; perhaps for the first time.

The people I took that trip with were unbelievably friendly and supportive; they gave me praise when I got things right and they were helpful, correcting me when I got things wrong and explaining what I was doing wrong. And best of all, speaking English was simply not on the menu. I had to find a way to communicate.

Finally Getting It

It may have taken 3 days spent on a bus with a group of Peruvians, but I finally got it. The benefits of learning a second language finally dawned on me.

On that bus, the Peruvians I met truly appreciated my efforts to speak Spanish to them. Yes, it was clumsy at first, but, by the end of the trip, our conversations had begun to run a lot deeper than the normal pleasantries that one learns as a beginner.

We began to share stories, talk about life in England, discuss what life was like in Peru and I got a real insight into their family life. But most of all, I felt, for the first time, that I was really starting to understand that adage about seeing the world through a different lens when you learn a second language.

As the months ticked by, I returned to the UK around a year after first leaving for Buenos Aires. I don’t regret those months I spent in Argentina, but I certainly believe that leaving the city was actually the best thing I could have done. When I stood on my own two feet and pushed myself out of my language learning comfort zone, I soon found that my Spanish improved beyond belief.

I would classify myself as far from fluent; in fact, I’m not even sure what fluency really is and whether it’s actually worth worrying about. But what I can say, unequivocally, is that I’ve now fully internalised the benefits of learning a second language.

And that’s a big step for me.

From here, it’s just about finding as many opportunities as possible to continue to practice and trying to make language learning a part of my daily routine. It may be easier said than done, but I’m certainly giving it a go.

Thanks for reading this article on Fluent - The Language Learning Blog. Don't forget - if you sign up to our newsletter, you will receive a free Guide to the Best Language Learning Resources!