Ah, this time is my favourite time. After a full year, our thoughts now turn to 2014 and I hope you are feeling ready to make a change or keep a good thing going. My new ideas involve a few changes at Fluent and a renewed commitment to health and wellbeing in my personal life. And I think I want to improve my Russian a little, and get into drawing as a fun pastime!
What's the state of language learning on the eve of 2014 then? How do people learn, what's out there? Here are my thoughts on making the most out of the new year.
Setting the scene: 2013
These are tough times for language learners. The internet is your treasure trove for finding inspiration, tips and resources. But there is also a flipside: it's hard to sort the good resources from the rubbish ones and easy to spend a bit too much time and money. Additionally, I don't see a lot of learners documenting their language learning journey online. There are polyglots who collect languages, adding a new one under their belt every 6 months - impressive people, no doubt, but could it be disheartening to a complete newbie? Then you have people like me - tutors, who write from a perspective of seeing what works on real people. But where are you, guys? Where are the learners? I hope that in the coming year more people will come out and make their voices heard.
Just to give you an idea of how varied language learners in 2014 are, here are just a few of my students profiled in a few words:
- Boston man learning French and German, aged 72
- Statistics graduate from Yorkshire, never learnt German before age 24
- Mother of 1, moved to Switzerland for love and family
- Lawyer from Texas, having discovered love of travel & Germany in his 50s
- Social Media company entrepreneur at the start of a promising career in his early 20s
These are the people I don't see enough of - real people, dedicating time to language learning along their normal lives. If you're learning a language in the evening, at the weekend, in your lunch break, make your voice heard because you will inspire so many others. (And should you feel hesitant to start your own blog, don't worry - just email me and I'll help you post your article on Fluent.)
How to learn a language in 2014
After a year dedicated to telling you all about language learning, here are some of the trends and best tips if you're involved in language learning in 2014. I hope I'll hear from you!
Use your smartphone
During the last year, language learning through apps has become better than ever: Duolingo stands out if you're learning a mainstream language, because it even gives learners a flavour of pronunciation training using the microphone, along with good chunks of material and the necessary repetition. Personally, I use Voc Lab and also Russian Audio Flashcards. Chances are you're never separated from your phone. It's right there in your pocket - use it!
Switch the web to the new language
You can get user interfaces on Twitter and Facebook in all sorts of languages, plus of course Wikipedia which features its articles in lots of different languages too. Add to that the international google news search, cool dictionaries like Linguee and online radio stations from all around the world and you'll see why my second tip is that you switch some part of your internet environment into a new language. I've just done it with Facebook - don't understand a word, but I'm enjoying the new challenge and it's definitely going to teach me important things like "Like this" and "What are you up to?"
Be a human
Language learning means getting a new view of how listening, reading, speaking and writing work. It's more than just words and rules.
This is one of the reasons why I believe learning in a group class or with a real tutor will not just go out of fashion yet. I am not aware of many great language classes that run online and recreate the social interaction you find in a classroom, and it's just nice to know others are in the same boat. If you have never looked for a group class in your local area, make this a change in the new year and check it out (Fluent runs local classes by the way). Or even if you're too shy or prefer individual lessons, make sure you do more than just studying flashcards or computer programmes. It won't do, eventually.
Stay encouraged, make a difference
Yes, so we've discussed the internet revolution. But as a new language learner in the English-speaking world, I still don't think it's encouraging enough. You are faced with such large amounts of stupid myths about language learning, telling you that you're the person that cannot do this. Ever heard these?
We English are just bad at language learning.
Children are born to learn foreign languages, as an adult I've no chance.
My memory is bad.
Everyone's English is already so good: I would embarrass myself.
If you have, good. Challenge them. Forget them. Prove them wrong! I want to encourage less of this nonsense in 2014, so you have to get out there. Get an activist toolkit from Speak to the Future and spread the word that language learning is open to everyone who has a future.
So, how to start 2014?
I wish you a wonderful start into the new year, and can't wait to hear from you about new adventures in language learning. Here are 3 things you should do right now:
- Tweet about language learning - spread the word by clicking here
Check out your local adult college, Open University and language cafés to find a new class away from a screen
Put a language learning app on your phone - or even just programme it to remind you to study every day
And that leaves me with.. Happy new year!
Frohes neues Jahr!