Dabble, dabble

The past few weeks, I’ve been dabbling with my various languages. I’ve not really studied a great deal in recent months, but I’m slowly picking things up again. I’ve been busy moving into a new apartment, buying a new car, and commuting to Columbus every other weekend (my girlfriend lives there).

It’s sort of funny, in that I seem to have a sort of on again, off again cycle when it comes to being a language nut (or at least, active about it). I’ll go a number of months really hitting languages hard, becoming almost obsessed with it, and then I’ll peter out, and switch my focus to other things. I know I’ve mentioned it here before, but just to reiterate: I used to worry that this “off time” would throw me back to square one, and my experience hasn’t really shown that to be the case, at all. It’s been months since I seriously did anything at all with French, and yet aย few days ago, while driving home from Columbus, I listened to about half of the French Assimil program, and understood an awful lot of it with no problem whatsoever. Sure, I’ll need to review and brush up a bit on it, but most of what I learned in the past is still in my head, lying dormant and waiting for me to knock the dust off. Realizing this was certainly a big positive, as it’s made me stress about language maintenance a lot less.

I’ve been reading some German stuff, mostly news and what not from Deutsche Welle. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Subway to Sally, particularly on my drives to and from Columbus. If you study German and haven’t heard of them, do check them out. They’re a bit more palatable to most people than Rammstein. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I also grabbed Lingua Latina, Pars I: Familia Romana through the library, just to check it out. I’ve read the first chapter so far, and it seems pretty intriguing. It’s all in Latin, and it starts out with extremely simple sentences (Roma in Italia est), slowly building up your comprehension as you go along. It seems like a pretty interesting way to go about learning; if I stick with it, I’ll probably end up getting the audio for it.

Returning from a hiatus

The past 3 or 4 weeks have been hectic for me, with “real life” (that is, not language stuff, alas) throwing some curve balls at me. I’d love to say that I’ve diligently carried on with my language learning endeavors, but I can’t. I’ve not picked up a grammar book or dictionary for weeks, nor have I even read much in foreign languages. My German deck in Anki has over 500 cards due!

While that’s certainly not a good thing, some good has come from it, and that is this: I’ve been reminded once again that one is allowed to set aside language learning for a while, and the world won’t come crashing down. That may sound silly, but for many months now, language learning had become a major part of my daily routine, and at times, I let it slide from “extremely enjoyable hobby” to “work.” On some days, instead of thinking “I want to work on Russian now,” I’d instead think “I need to / must work on Russian sometime today.” Particularly when tackling a number of languages all at once, such thinking quickly leads to feeling down about not meeting all of your obligations – real or imagined. Russian didn’t really care if I met with it on Tuesday or Wednesday, but in my mind, Russian did care, in a bizarre way. Russian felt neglected.

Thankfully, languages are much more forgiving than people are. Shelve them for a week or four, and they’ll wait around for you. Furthermore, while I do regret having been away from my languages for so many weeks, the break is proving to have been helpful, as I’ve been able to see that what I’ve learned so far won’t disappear if I miss a few weeks. For a long while, I was quite in the mindset that if I missed a day or two, what I’d learned would drain out of my head like water out of a sink. That hasn’t been the case at all. This past weekend I was out of town for a few days, with none of my Russian materials; I hadn’t studied any Russian for weeks. Yet I was still able to think a bit in the language, bringing to mind words, sentences, and bits of grammar that I honestly expected to have completely forgotten.

I’ve written a few posts like this now, I think, but I do think it’s a point worth stressing: don’t turn your hobbies into work, or you’ll learn to hate your hobbies. Perhaps this doesn’t apply to many people, but I know it applies to me. I tend to be serious about most things I do, which has its ups and downs. It’s good to work diligently at things; it’s another thing altogether to let those “things” dominate your life. When you’re regularly feeling guilty for not paying enough attention to “your languages”, it might be time to reconsider how you’re doing things. ๐Ÿ™‚

Has anyone else had similar positive experiences with taking a decent sized break from language learning? Before answering that in the comments, though, let me make it clear: you’re not going to learn any language by ignoring it all the time. But breaks can be beneficial, I think.

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?

First Steps with Dutch

I’ve been working with Assimil’s Dutch with Ease course the past week and a half or so, and I’m now up to lesson 21. I’ve usually been able to do a few lessons each day instead of the recommended 1 per day, due to how similar Dutch is to German. My knowledge of German, coupled with my native English, is making Dutch seem extremely easy. It almost looks like someone took German, removed almost all of the tricky grammar, and then mixed it with English; the result was Dutch. Often when listening to the lessons, it sounds like someone speaking a mix of German and English with a strange accent. ๐Ÿ™‚

The thing I’m having the most trouble with at this point is pronunciation. Some of the dipthongs are still puzzling me, and while I understand the pronunciation of g / ch, I’m having some trouble producing it myself. I’m not too worried about it though, as I’m fairly sure more listening and practice will take care of it. I’m also going to have to be careful about nailing down spellings, as many of them are similar to German words, but not exactly the same. I plan on transcribing the lessons by hand, which should help a lot.

All in all, I’m quite happy I started learning Dutch; I think it’s going to be fairly easy to get a good foundation in it (in comparison to say, Russian, which I’m still battling with). I’d like to find some good Dutch-only podcasts, so if you know of some, drop ’em in the comments.

Spreading Myself Too Thin

I wrote previously about a month ago about taking up Spanish on top of the other three languages that I’m studying, German, Russian, and French. While it started out well, as soon as other life responsibilities fell into my lap (like midterms), things fell apart quickly. I’ve not so much as touched Spanish in the past few weeks, and indeed, I’ve been slipping on all of my languages to some extent. I’m not happy about the matter, but I suppose I should report failures here as well as successes, so as to give a balanced view of things can go when trying to learn multiple languages. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’d still like to study all four, but I’ve not quite figured out the best way to do it yet. I mentioned staggering the languages in my previous post, but I doubt I’d stick to a strict schedule (Spanish on Mondays, German Tuesdays, whatever).

For those of you who are tackling multiple languages at once, how do you handle this problem?

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 how-to-learn-any-language.com 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 Mรผhe. 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.