You're doing it wrong

General discussion about learning languages
MacGyver
Yellow Belt
Posts: 95
Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2016 12:36 am
Languages: .
x 169

You're doing it wrong

Postby MacGyver » Wed Mar 06, 2019 7:19 am

So the “The problem with learn x in x months” thread was locked for some reason, I can’t see why. Anyway to follow on from that…

In that thread I was mentioning how some advice had adversely affected my study. Mainly creating a tough schedule without really thinking about the how. Just assuming the learning would take care of itself.

zenmonkey wrote: I'm curious - what kind of program did you buy and what deadlines did they impose that you were missing? Were these self imposed deadlines? Or you were scheduling to spend 2 hrs a day and you were not finding the time?


I didn’t buy anything (other than textbooks). My problem was self imposed deadlines. I didn’t have a target, like achieve B2 in 3 months or anything like that. Rather, I would create a schedule based on I would do one chapter from a given textbook a day. I would do that for multiple resources, so for example Day 1 would be do chapter 1 from X, 2 lessons from freewebsiteY and z number of memrise lessons. Day 2 would be the next chapter, another 2 lessons, and more memrise, and so on.

There was little to no time in there for review, no float for missed days, etc. But my biggest problem was forgetting everything. Words, grammar the lot. I didn’t have a strategy for listening. I would go back and look at a chapter or lesson from a few days ago and I would remember nothing. Basically I was trying to study the same way I would have studied maths. I thought working through a textbook would get me where I wanted to be. Moreover, I didn’t know how to make a textbook work for me like I do now.

The biggest failing, for me, of the learn X in X months mentality was tying things down to a tight schedule.

First you need to learn how to learn, fail a few times to find the methods that do or don’t work for you. I found a far better schedule was to simply aim to do X hours or minutes a day.

What sort of fails or dead ends have you had. I see a language learning world out there full of lifelong beginners and false beginners. Most people here would have moved past that phase a long time ago, but you must have stumbled along the way.
3 x

User avatar
zenmonkey
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2012
Joined: Sun Jul 26, 2015 7:21 pm
Location: Germany and France
Languages: Spanish, English, French trilingual - actively studying German (B2/C1), Hebrew, Tibetan, Setswana.
Some knowledge of Italian, Portuguese, Ladino, Yiddish ...
Want to tackle Tzotzil, Nahuatl
Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=859
x 4952
Contact:

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Mar 06, 2019 9:04 am

MacGyver wrote:What sort of fails or dead ends have you had. I see a language learning world out there full of lifelong beginners and false beginners. Most people here would have moved past that phase a long time ago, but you must have stumbled along the way.


How much time do you have? :lol:

For me, language learning is like trying to build a flimsy skyscraper on quick sand. You're constantly shoring up the structure, trying to deal with weak foundations, while adding levels to the edifice. Stop and it's going to fall apart.

My biggest fails have been ... inconsistency. Doing a new language for an insufficient amount of time and then dropping it -- this includes Arabic, Mandarin, Croatian, Icelandic, Polish, Guarani, Aramaic ... and at least another half dozen that I worked on and dropped.

You know, since the building is falling apart underneath you, the best thing to do is to quickly learn, shore up your knowledge and move forward. This is where the advice "you can learn a language on 10 minutes a day, 3 times a week" is just terrible. With little time on task, one isn't improving but just spinning the wheels.

So my biggest deadfall would have to be not enough time on task, if my goal was to get past the beginner phase. For some languages, I don't actually have that goal. I'm quite happy to just entertain myself, like I did last week, reading about Asssyrian and not actually working on retaining the language.

So part of my own biggest failings are having a goal and not having a goal. Also, I find that if I hold too tightly to goals, it just makes the task daunting and I overwhelm easily.

Other failings:

  1. Going through the motion to get the streak. Lots of learning is points or streaks dependent - I can focus too much meeting those crtiteria (34 days of Memrise, yo!!) that the quality isn't the focus, lost in the name of quantity.
  2. Managing boredom - a lot of methods and material are boring. I have sometimes too low a threshold for these. In my personal experience I'd dropped Clozemaster, Pimsleur, Living Language, Rosetta, FSI and many others at different times because I found them deadly boring. The reality is that sometime it is just not a good fit for the moment. Going back to certain material can be beneficial at other times.
  3. Stacking on too much - Yeah well, I'd like an extra slice of pie too. Too many activities, too many languages ...
  4. Environmental factors - not enough sleep or exercise will screw up your learning. Always trying to work on that.
  5. Passive learner - allowing the content of a method or a teacher dictate the path forward without me focusing on my needs and weaknesses. I'm still working on this.
  6. Being lost in the material - having too many different choices so that I'm finally not consistent enough to complete an activity and that then becomes a weight in my self-perception.
  7. Over prepping - You want to know how many cards I made from German movies? Enough for 3 years of continuous review of 1 hr a day, if I only see each card 5 times. That only took the equivalent of a month of study...
  8. Discouragement - not trusting the method.
  9. Distraction - learning time spent not actually learning.
  10. Poor method choice - buying into someone's favourite method without really making it an effective learning tool.
  11. Not doing the time. Do the time, monkey.

I'm sure I'm missing something.
21 x
Tagged posts: Language Method Resource
Please feel free to correct me in any language, critique my posts, challenge my thoughts.
I am inconsistency incarnate.
Go study! Publisher of Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew alphabet apps at http://alphabetsnow.zyntx.com

sporedandroid
Orange Belt
Posts: 215
Joined: Mon Jan 07, 2019 6:54 am
Languages: English (N), Spanish (heritage/intermediate), Hebrew (pre-A1), Turkish (pre-A1, aiming for around A1)
x 176

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby sporedandroid » Wed Mar 06, 2019 9:16 am

When I was studying Icelandic as a teen I was against using flash cards because I thought it would encourage mental translation. I was basically forced to try out anki when I studied Hebrew since I find Hebrew vocabulary far harder to learn. It was still super hard to study. I was also partially inspired to learn Icelandic from Daniel Tammet who apparently learned it in a few days. That documentary was heavily sensationalized and it talked a lot about what makes Icelandic super hard and showing off how impossible it was. I wanted to see if it was really as impossible as the documentary said it was. This also coincided with me getting into Icelandic hipster music.

I wanted to see how quickly or easily I could learn Icelandic and see if I’m some language genius. I knew on some level rushing through lessons wouldn’t help, so I didn’t. Since I didn’t study flash cards, listening to and reading Icelandic was exhausting for me. It didn’t help that I kept practicing with material way above my level. I kind of had no choice because of how obscure Icelandic is. I also noticed huge fluctuations in my comprehension level and I felt stupid when I couldn’t understand as much. I just felt I could never rely on my brain. Since I got bored of the lessons and frustrated with the lack of progress I eventually quit.

I got into Hebrew for different reasons. I got interested in Jewish culture for some reason. Ashkenazi and mainly American Jewish culture. Yiddish or Biblical Hebrew probably would have been more appropriate, but I went with modern Hebrew since it has better resources. One other big reason I started to study Hebrew was because I was obsessing too much over one issue I won’t discuss here. I couldn’t think of anything else for a few months, until I started thinking about Jewish people.

I knew learning a language would be hard work and time consuming and that was perfect for me. It wasn’t a means to an end like with Icelandic. Whatever mental pain studying Hebrew would cause was preferable to the mental pain I was having at the moment. I wasn’t as obsessed with how quickly or easily I could learn Hebrew. I was just interested in Jewish culture and I needed to snap out of it. Although I still have a lot of anxiety related to learning languages, particularly with my voice. It really did help me snap out of it.

Since I didn’t want Hebrew to be as exhausting as Icelandic I changed my approach. I now view short term memory and mental processing as something I can’t rely on. I definitely need to use it when I’m learning something, but eventually I need to do something to cut down on how much mental processing I need. One thing I now do is go through words or phrases in anki that I mostly “know”, but I still notice I need time or effort to process it. What I do is not mark stuff as good if I don’t understand it as fast or effortlessly as I want to. It’s highly repetitive and it may be slightly redundant. But it actually works. I possibly “know” more Icelandic, but understanding Hebrew is far easier than Icelandic ever was and I actually feel like I’m making progress.

Anki can be dry, but I can get creative on how to use it. One thing I do is study anki when I’m watching a cringy Netflix show and can’t stand to watch it. So at that moment I prefer anki. I also like to anki when I’m waiting in line because it passes the time, but it’s non-addictive. I also like to imagine scenarios or concepts as I’m studying. It helps me deal with the pesky issue of mental translation and I sometimes even enjoy it.
9 x

MrPenguin
White Belt
Posts: 31
Joined: Thu Sep 08, 2016 10:33 am
Location: Norway
Languages: Norwegian (N), English (advanced, studying), Finnish (intermediate, studying), German (intermediate).
Previously dabbled in: Japanese, Spanish, French.
x 124

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby MrPenguin » Wed Mar 06, 2019 3:14 pm

The main mistakes I've made throughout (supposedly) 20 years of language learning:

-When learning German in school, I managed to get a pretty good grasp of German grammar and vocabulary (relative to my classmates). But I had no concept of learning through input, so most of the German I was exposed to was my own made up translated-from-Norwegian German. As a consequence, I can make myself understood, but it won't be in idiomatic German, but rather in really foreign looking, somewhat grammatically correct German. I still got a 6 (the highest grade) in my final year, which, I guess, goes to show just how low the requirements for high-school foreign language classes are.

-I've constantly defeated myself with impatience. I would start studying Finnish, and then, after a few days of studying, when realising that it would take years to get to a high level, I would immediately start debating whether learning another language would really be worth all that trouble, and more often than not, I would decide that my time would be better spent elsewhere, or perhaps with an easier language. Then, later, I would get the urge to learn Finnish again, and the cycle would repeat. A lot of unproductive years went by like this. The result is that it took me close to 10 years to go from beginner to intermediate.

-A follow on from the previous point: impatience. Whenever I studied, I would go overboard. Instead of pacing myself, and slowly building a habit over the course of weeks and months, I would sit down and study, with no plan for how long, or how much to learn, what to learn, etc., until I got really tired. A few days of this would be enough to kill my motivation. (An example: I started on Ørberg's "Lingua Latina per se Illustrata", and instead of doing what is normal (one lesson per week, read through once a day) I would just try to read as far as I could in each session (until I tired, or couldn't make any more progress), as though I would complete it like a normal novel.)


Hopefully, I've learned my lesson by now. I'll soon be coming up on 9 months of almost daily study, and while my pace is slow, I'm really enjoying my progress. Thank goodness for spaced repetition, allowing the slow and steady accumulation of knowledge. My 5-10 year plan to gain a reading knowledge of Japanese might actually succeed. :)
Last edited by MrPenguin on Wed Mar 06, 2019 7:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
6 x

David1917
Green Belt
Posts: 451
Joined: Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:36 am
Languages: English (N), Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Persian, German, French, Old English, Hindi, Arabic, Cornish
x 973

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby David1917 » Wed Mar 06, 2019 6:22 pm

I think the worst things people try to do that might cause undue stress on the learning process are:

a) Self-assess CEFR levels / aim for self-assessed CEFR levels
b) Bean-counting of hours
c) Expect that all timelines are absolute and equal for all people (FSI charts)
d) Compare themselves to others.

Just do it. Through trial and error, you will find methods that work for you. It will be frustrating. You'll make hundreds of anki cards and then realize that you hate anki. You'll buy a book off ebay and realize that the audio component is terrible or the book has too many/too few exercises for your personal taste. You'll meet someone who speaks your TL and you'll freeze in your tracks forgetting how to even greet them. You'll read something in Textbook B that totally consolidates, clarifies, and shines a light on something you had been seeing in Textbook A, it will be euphoric. You'll stop studying for 2 weeks because work is exhausting and you just want to watch something inane like 30 Rock to relieve stress. You'll finish Textbooks A, B, and C and then check out some native material. What do you get, and what do you miss? Focus on the things you missed. Rinse, repeat.

Unless you have a specific time restriction, like beginning a job/semester which has a language requirement, there is no reason to put undue stress on yourself. It can be fun to say "how much can I improve in 6 weeks?" or "how much Czech can I learn before my vacation to Prague this summer?" etc. But otherwise, just put your head down and have some fun. There will be ebbs and flows, and once you accept that the more enjoyable the process becomes.

Edit: Rewording of first line to triple-double clarify the intention of the post as advice for frustrated language learners, not as criticism of methods successfully implemented by others.
Last edited by David1917 on Mon Mar 11, 2019 5:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
14 x

David1917
Green Belt
Posts: 451
Joined: Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:36 am
Languages: English (N), Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Persian, German, French, Old English, Hindi, Arabic, Cornish
x 973

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby David1917 » Wed Mar 06, 2019 6:35 pm

The worst thing I did was fear the big plunge into native materials. I'd stockpile textbooks till the cows come home, and would converse with anyone I could, but if you handed me a novel in my TL, I'd squirm. "What if there's a word in there I don't know? How will I even enjoy this? I should wait. I need to know in advance that I will understand this book. Yes, I know there's no way to know if I understand it until I try to understand it but damnit there has got to be some sort of assurance!" I'm much better now, but I still do enjoy the art of textbook work, so I'll still do it. I still do math books for fun, too. It's like the "Daily Brain Games" desk calendar I have.

I think one also needs to assess "why" they're learning a language or 30 languages. What was the point of learning a language if I was afraid to read a book or watch a movie in it? Do I just want to converse? Do I care about the literature? What about the news? What about the history? I find that answering these questions early on helps tailor my studying as well as be satisfied with my progress. So that, I know if I explore Turkic languages, I'll be perfectly satisfied by being able to communicate basic traveler needs in Kyrgyz, and the same if I approach other Slavic languages. If I study Latin, I know I just need to read in it, so as long as I'm reading and understanding, I'm good. I don't need to be able to create something in Latin. And, as Zenmonkey wrote above, sometimes you just enjoy checking out a language and learning about its quirks like being a linguistic anthropologist for a day.
6 x

User avatar
zenmonkey
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2012
Joined: Sun Jul 26, 2015 7:21 pm
Location: Germany and France
Languages: Spanish, English, French trilingual - actively studying German (B2/C1), Hebrew, Tibetan, Setswana.
Some knowledge of Italian, Portuguese, Ladino, Yiddish ...
Want to tackle Tzotzil, Nahuatl
Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=859
x 4952
Contact:

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Mar 06, 2019 7:58 pm

David1917 wrote:I think the worst things people do are:

a) Self-assess CEFR levels / aim for self-assessed CEFR levels


Why do you think this is bad? Most people that learn a language don't take CEFR test and evaluate roughly how well they are doing and how far they want to get.

If fact, most languages don't have a CEFR test. These are really only available for a dozen languages and certainly not in most places. How is this the first thing on your list?
1 x
Tagged posts: Language Method Resource
Please feel free to correct me in any language, critique my posts, challenge my thoughts.
I am inconsistency incarnate.
Go study! Publisher of Syriac, Aramaic, Hebrew alphabet apps at http://alphabetsnow.zyntx.com

David1917
Green Belt
Posts: 451
Joined: Mon Nov 06, 2017 2:36 am
Languages: English (N), Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Persian, German, French, Old English, Hindi, Arabic, Cornish
x 973

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby David1917 » Wed Mar 06, 2019 10:34 pm

zenmonkey wrote:
David1917 wrote:I think the worst things people do are:

a) Self-assess CEFR levels / aim for self-assessed CEFR levels


Why do you think this is bad? Most people that learn a language don't take CEFR test and evaluate roughly how well they are doing and how far they want to get.

If fact, most languages don't have a CEFR test. These are really only available for a dozen languages and certainly not in most places. How is this the first thing on your list?


It's the most prevalent issue I see here, but the list was certainly not "in order of importance."

The issue I have is that it means nothing for practical goal-setting, it says nothing about your actual strengths/weaknesses, purpose for learning, or capabilities. The CEFR guidelines are vague enough in themselves such that the test varies across languages. Add in personal interpretation of the guidelines and the inherent lack of objectivity when it comes to self-assessment, and all of a sudden the code is totally meaningless.

I'd rather see people outlining their goals for applying the language learned and create a roadmap to get there. If you want to learn French to read Voltaire, then you'll want to spend more time on reading, analysis, and perhaps grasping the underlying themes in your own language first. If you want to learn French because you're marrying into a French family, you'll want to spend more time on speaking, listening, pop-culture, slang. If you need to learn French for work reasons, and part of that is a stipulation that you sit the B2 exam, then you will have to practice taking the test. If you say "I'd like to be around B2 in French by the end of the year," well, you've told me nothing.
4 x

User avatar
zjones
Green Belt
Posts: 462
Joined: Mon Apr 16, 2018 6:22 pm
Location: Northwest USA
Languages: English (N), French (B1 certified)
Language Log: https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... =15&t=9860
x 1236

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby zjones » Wed Mar 06, 2019 10:36 pm

MacGyver wrote:What sort of fails or dead ends have you had. I see a language learning world out there full of lifelong beginners and false beginners. Most people here would have moved past that phase a long time ago, but you must have stumbled along the way.


My fails:

- Lack of creativity and engagement in my learning. It can be easy to plow through resources, but if you're not engaged in the content then you won't remember it. Creativity in learning is fun and challenging, but it's different for everyone. I like to give myself challenges... for example, take a present tense text in Assimil and rewrite it as a narrative using the past tense. Choose 5 new expressions and use them to write a cohesive text about X subject. Diagram a specific sentence. Write a few paragraphs of fan fiction in my TL, and unashamedly send it to a random Redditor online for corrections. If I hit a wall or a dead end, creativity never fails to get me past the stagnation.

- Lack of structure. If I don't have a basic framework or bare minimum for my learning, I get really distracted. As a beginner, I used Assimil New French With Ease as my bedrock. These days I listen to RFI Journal en Français Facile every morning, and then I make a list of things I'd like to get done in French. (A fresh list every day!)

- Tracking time. I've tried doing this numerous times for challenges, and the odds are good that I'll try it again. I spent a lot of time and energy tracking my activities and time in a spreadsheet, and it always felt like a chore. I only track my time if it's automatically tracked by a device: for example, I record myself speaking in Dictaphone (Voice Memos in English, I think) and so all the time is already tracked in the app.

- Trying to convince myself that if I just started learning X, I would eventually come to like it. Big fat nope on that one. I had never been interested in the German language, and that didn't change at all when I started learning it.

- Getting caught up in my negative emotions due to high expectations. I believe that emotions are healthy and they have the potential to be harnessed to make the learning process amazing and efficient, but it's easy to get caught up in negativity. I spent a lot of time managing my high expectations and the resulting discouragement. However, I'm not sure that this is really a "fail" because I've learned a ton about myself and my learning style, which will be incredibly useful for any future endeavors.
5 x

User avatar
aokoye
Black Belt - 1st Dan
Posts: 1676
Joined: Sat Jul 18, 2015 6:14 pm
Location: Portland, OR
Languages: English (N), German (~C1), Swedish (beginner), Dutch (A2), French (~A1)
Language Log: https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... 15&t=10151
x 2812
Contact:

Re: You're doing it wrong

Postby aokoye » Wed Mar 06, 2019 11:38 pm

David1917 wrote:
zenmonkey wrote:
David1917 wrote:I think the worst things people do are:

a) Self-assess CEFR levels / aim for self-assessed CEFR levels


Why do you think this is bad? Most people that learn a language don't take CEFR test and evaluate roughly how well they are doing and how far they want to get.

If fact, most languages don't have a CEFR test. These are really only available for a dozen languages and certainly not in most places. How is this the first thing on your list?


It's the most prevalent issue I see here, but the list was certainly not "in order of importance."

The issue I have is that it means nothing for practical goal-setting, it says nothing about your actual strengths/weaknesses, purpose for learning, or capabilities. The CEFR guidelines are vague enough in themselves such that the test varies across languages. Add in personal interpretation of the guidelines and the inherent lack of objectivity when it comes to self-assessment, and all of a sudden the code is totally meaningless.

I'd rather see people outlining their goals for applying the language learned and create a roadmap to get there. If you want to learn French to read Voltaire, then you'll want to spend more time on reading, analysis, and perhaps grasping the underlying themes in your own language first. If you want to learn French because you're marrying into a French family, you'll want to spend more time on speaking, listening, pop-culture, slang. If you need to learn French for work reasons, and part of that is a stipulation that you sit the B2 exam, then you will have to practice taking the test. If you say "I'd like to be around B2 in French by the end of the year," well, you've told me nothing.


I do think that having a goal of attaining X test level/result can be useful, but primarily in the context of needing to reach that level in order to do something (like matriculate into a university). It's also only really helpful when learners realize that there's so much more to learning than "I just need to pass this test!" and that getting a hand on those other things is a large part of being able able to attain the desired test results (of course another part is knowing how to actually take the test).
1 x
Prefered gender pronouns: Masculine


Return to “General Language Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest