Language Juggling

I’m going to have to change my methods a bit, specifically in how I approach dealing with all of my target languages. For the record, currently I’m studying:

  • German
  • French
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Dutch

German is still more or less a task of vocabulary learning. The others, however, still involve a lot more, and trying to balance them all out is proving to be more difficult than I expected it to be.

When I first threw Dutch onto the pile, I figured I could just do a bit with each language each day. But even if I only put in 30 minutes a day with each one – which I wouldn’t be overly happy with – it would still be 2.5 hours a day, which sometimes, I just don’t have. The end result has been that while I hit a few languages each day, the others are often ignored almost entirely.

Rather than giving any up completely, however, I’m considering making a schedule of some sort, like having set days for certain languages. If I put in the time with those for the day and still have more time, I’ll “allow” myself to study something else. Or perhaps I’ll just keep better track of which languages I’ve been studying on what days, and just make sure that I make contact with all of them on a regular basis. I think this may be a better idea than a strict schedule, as I fear I wouldn’t stick to a set schedule very well.

For those of you who have tackled numerous languages at once, how have you handled this dilemma?

Language Juggling

I must admit defeat – but perhaps not in the way you might be expecting. I have stuck to my New Year intentions, and have been doing a bit with each of “my” languages each day. I failed, however, in holding my language wanderlust at bay for a while – I’ve taken up studying Spanish along with my other three languages. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I found myself becoming more and more interested in Mexican culture (partly through my stomach, admittedly), as well as wishing I could at least say a few things to my Mexican neighbors, who live a mere 100 feet away down the alley.

So, I ordered Assimil’s Spanish with Ease, due to how much I’ve enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) working with their French course. After a recommendation from a friend at the forums, I decided to go through Michel Thomas’s Spanish courses (Basic and Advanced) before getting started with Assimil. It’s the first time I’ve used one of his courses without having had previous exposure to the language being taught, and I must admit: I’m quite impressed. I take some issue with how the courses are marketed, and I think Michel himself was a bit in love with himself, but I can’t argue with results, either – what I’m learning is sticking, and amazingly well.

Of course, adding another language to my list of things to study has made time a bit of an issue, especially when coupled with taking a full load of university courses. I won’t lie and say it’s easy, nor will I lie and say that I hit every language every day. But it does seem doable, at least thus far. With smart time management and a bit of staggering – German today, Russian tomorrow, or whatever – I think I’ll be able to keep it up. Either way, I’ll continue to report on how this goes.

Language Geek New Year Intentions

I know, I know – you expected to see “resolutions” in the title. I decided to copy Geoff’s lead, by using intentions rather than resolutions. Every New Year resolution I’ve ever made, I’ve failed miserably at; and as Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The empirical evidence I have on hand (that is, my memory of years gone by) says that if I make a language resolution, it’ll fail, so I’m going to avoid stepping into the quicksand altogether, and just not make any resolutions. It’s intentions this year.

So, the intentions:

  • In general, I intend to continue working on my three current languages, German, French, and Russian. This may seem silly, but I think it’s important to have that base intention. I suppose giving up language learning altogether would be a possibility, so…
  • For German, I intend to continue increasing my vocabulary, and reading native materials. I also intend to work more intensively using Hammer’s German Grammar and the associated Exercise book; I’ve neglected them too long.
  • For French, I intend to finish up working with Assimil’s New French with Ease, and start on Assimil’s Using French. I also intend to continue getting a basic vocabulary under my belt, using Mastering French Vocabulary as my primary source. While I’m not going to do so just yet, as I don’t think I’m far enough along, I intend on getting a French language exchange partner sometime during 2009.
  • For Russian, I have two specific intentions: finish working through New Penguin’s Russian Course, and finish working through Assimil’s Russisch ohne Mühe. I’d like to make it through at least one of them by mid-2009, and both of them by the end of the year. Even with regular university courses and my other language pursuits, I think this should be achievable, with a bit of focus on my part.
  • And finally, I intend to display my utter madness, by perhaps starting a new language in 2009. I won’t be doing it right now, as with Russian, I still feel like I’m floating in a vast, turbulent sea, with no life jacket. Once I feel like I’m in said ocean with a sad little boat, then I may start a new language. If I do start a new language this year, it will be Spanish.

What are your language learning intentions / resolutions / plans for the year?

And of course – happy new year! I hope you all had nice holidays.

When Foreign Becomes Natural

I’ve noticed something that has happened with my language learning, and I’m wondering if it’s happened to any other learners:

I’ve been learning German much, much longer than French. That being the case, I know a great deal more of German. The language has become increasingly transparent to me, and most of what I work on now is listening skills and vocabulary acquisition. In the case of many of the words I learn, I have a good idea of what they mean before I look them up, quite often due to them being related to words I already know. In other words, the more German I’ve learned, the less exotic it’s become.

French, on the other hand, while I’m becoming increasingly more familiar with it via Assimil, is still quite exotic. There’s so much about the grammar that I don’t know; there’s so many basic words I don’t know. I’ve definitely left the shore, but I’ve not yet explored much of the ocean, so to say. I’m not implying that I’ve explored all of the German ocean – that would be absurd – but I’ve charted a great deal of it. With the “French ocean”, I’ve explored very little, relatively speaking.

The result of this is that I find myself clamoring to spend more time in the French ocean than in the German. I like to devote a bit of time each day to both languages, but I get more of a thrill (for lack of a better word) during my French studies. My German studies have become mundane, in a way; not boring, by any means, but different than they used to be. For example, reading a German news article, while such an act used to feel like “language learning”, now generally feels like I’m just reading the news. I note the words I don’t know and look them up, but other than that, I don’t even really have to think about it. I read the news in German like I would in English.

Has anyone else experienced this? Have you had a language lose a bit of its initial charms after having learned a lot of it?

Language Learning Update: French and German

I’ve not posted lately, so I figured I’d write a short entry to document where I’m at learning wise:


I’m now on lesson 88 of Assimil’s New French with Ease. If you remember my last post about this, it’s clear I’m not doing the recommended one lesson per day. I know, I know – I’m supposed to. But in these later lessons, I’ve found that I prefer to spend more time with them, as what’s being covered in lesson 85, for example, is much more complicated than what was covered in lesson 30. I’ve also been going back and doing the active wave, mostly as the program recommends.

For the active wave, I first listen to the audio two or three times. I then read the French text as I listen to it again. Then I cover up the French and try to translate from the English back to the target language. When I stumble during this step (and I almost always do), I refer to the text again. I then recite the sentence without looking at the text. After I’ve done this with all of the lesson, I sometimes will translate from English to French again, but instead of speaking it, I’ll write it out and then check my translation against the French in the book.

This obviously takes a bit longer than what Assimil recommends for the active wave, but I’ve found that by really engaging myself with the material, rather than just doing a cursory run-by, I learn far more. I noted that in lesson 50, when the course instructed me to begin the active wave, it was stated that the active wave would “only add about 5 minutes to my daily studying.” My way takes more like 15 or 20, but, like I said – it seems more effective.

When I’m done with French with Ease, I have Using French on my shelf, waiting for me. Once I finish with French with Ease, though, I’m also going to start systematically enlarging my vocabulary. Perhaps I’ll check out Using French Vocabulary, the sister title to Using German Vocabulary, which I’ve been using for a while now.


There’s not a great deal to report in regards to my German learning. I’m still plugging away at Using German Vocabulary. I’m still using Anki, but I’ve also started experimenting with Iversen’s word list method. When I first read about the method in the How To Learn Any Language forums, I thought it sounded pretty awful. But after trying it, I must say – it seems to work. I’ve talked with Iversen via the forum, and I think he’s right – waiting until you “know” 5-7 words before you write the translations seems more effective than learning 1 word, writing it, learning another word, etc. I may start learning words initially with the word list method to get them into my memory, and then move them over to Anki.

I’ve largely seen success in adding word pairs to Anki, minus a few cards here and there, most of which I get wrong because they’re so similar. I’ve added context to troublesome cards, which amounts to maybe 15 or 20 cards. Considering I’ve added close to 1500 words from Using German Vocabulary, 15 or 20 troublemakers doesn’t seem too bad. 🙂 – Awesome Online Dictionary

I recently came across through my ‘net travels, and while it could be improved in many areas, it’s already one of my favorite tools. While the site has a regular dictionary look-up, what I really love is the overlay feature (or “web viewer” as they call it). You go to, select your target language, and enter a website URL; once the page loads, every word on the page is clickable. Click one, and a pop-up window appears with the meaning of the word. There’s also a toolbar at the bottom of the window that you can type a word into, to look up a word that isn’t on the page. (It’s also helpful to look up compound words, as many that are logical in nature don’t have a unique entry.) Here’s what it looks like:

Screenshot of in Action

Once you’ve made an account, Lingro keeps track of all of the words you look up. It also maintains a list of all of the sentences that the words appeared in, which makes it all that easier to add sentence items to your SRS application (I recommend Anki).

The site also has a rudimentary flashcard system, but it really is that: rudimentary. I’ve already poked the developers to add an “export” feature. 🙂

The dictionaries themselves are all open source, meaning they’re free, and they always will be. Furthermore, they’re largely user-built, so if you hit a word that isn’t in the dictionary you’re using, add it. If you’ve ever used the German dictionary, Lingro works more or less the same way. The definitions aren’t always as good as you’d find in a commercial dictionary, but the ease of use – click the word, get a definition – still makes it a worthwhile tool.

Lingro currently has dictionaries for English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Polish and Swedish.

Free access to Collins dictionaries

I was looking for a translation of a German word this morning (arbeitsreich), to see if I could find some examples of usage. At the top of the search results was this. The page answered my question, but more importantly, through it, I discovered that you can access Collins foreign language dictionaries online for free.

The dictionaries available from the site are:

Quite the bundle!