For the past few days, I’ve been learning German again, and this time more new elements have fallen into place. This is just a quick re-cap of how I’m doing. Remember – my goal is not learning fast. It’s learning by maximizing resources, and language learning on a budget. Here are seven tools I’m using to accomplish this.
1. Timing is everything: 3-2-1 Timer
This little beauty sits on my dashboard and I swear by it for going about my day. The language learning stint takes 20 minutes at the moment: I’m probably going to expand it sooner. When the timer goes “boink” (much like scientific progress!), I move on to another task – and most importantly, tick a box off in my other tool, which is…
2. Habit RPG – your to-do list, gamified
OK. I’m a thirty-something with a job and a family. But NEVERMIND CHECK THIS OUT MY AVATAR HAS AN AXE AND A WOLF. Habit RPG is the reason I’ve been getting many exciting (and boring) things done recently.
It’s simple. For every good habit, or a thing ticked off your list, you get experience points. And for everything you fail to do – your health suffers. So you get better at doing things in your real life – or your cute pixellated friend is in trouble.
It works for me. If you think that’s laughable, consider this: I’m on a ten-day language learning streak, and that’s not even the most impressive thing off my list.
Comments welcome with suggestions of names for the wolf (pictured above).
Right – so these are the things that help me keep my language learning snappy and on track. But what am I actually doing?
3 and 4. The trusted duo – Memrise and Duolingo
You must have heard about those two. In fact, you may have read about them on this blog here. When it comes to revising and learning new vocabulary (and, with Duolingo, simple skills in your foreign language as well), these two apps would be hard to beat. For starters, they’re free – a huge help to guerrilla polyglots.
Both these programs have their limitations, however – they are essentially very limited in the context they give you for language items (unless you’re into really exotic stuff). Stephen Krashen pointed it out quite mercilessly in his critique of Duolingo recently. So another approach is needed – one that allows me to read, and listen, at a higher level, at length and for pleasure. Enter…
5. Sueddeutsche Zeitung – or, why politics matters to bilinguals
I found this one in two simple steps. First, I looked up the list of national newspapers in Germany. Then I looked for the one whose political standing corresponded with mine. This is important for a number of reasons – I went into this before, so I won’t repeat myself. But ultimately, I prefer to read something I can engage with on a rational level, instead of reading (or listening to) something I’m irritated by.
Fortunately, there’s plenty more good about SZ. It’s insanely usable, with a clear and legible format. It’s got oodles of free video, and the clips are about all areas of life. And the people in the video speak about different subjects in a clear, but native manner – perfect for someone who’s fed up with slowed-down, inauthentic language of classroom recordings.
6. Chemnitz Dictionary – for comprehension work
This became my new best friend immediately after Sueddeutsche Zeitung – there just wasn’t a chance for me to understand every single word. Chemnitz is German-English (not ideal, but quick – I’ve got 20 minutes for this, remember?), thorough and works from the browser. A simple copy-paste job helps me make sense of what I’m reading, and a dictionary trainer (if I were to use it) would further reinforce the vocabulary I come in contact with. Feel free to substitute this for a dictionary of your own choosing, of course 🙂
7. Freerice – a little bit of feel-good (goes a long way)
This is a small psychological trick I play on myself. There are many ways I could become convinced to stick to this language learning circuit. Introducing a simple goal – 500 grains of rice donated, that’s 50 German words correctly identified – takes 4-5 minutes off my routine. And to be honest, it’s not the most productive element of it. But this is the one that makes me sit down and do it sooner rather than later: the motivating pill made of guilt and responsibility. Mixed in with all the other elements, it results in more stick-to-it-ness.
8. The missing ingredient: It’s the production, stupid!
That is the part of my routine which now I am beginning to miss, big-time. I speak to nobody (Duolingo doesn’t count.) I write nothing meaningful. This is a big imbalance in the whole guerrilla learning process, and one which I think could be adressed soon. Stay tuned – and I’m happy to read your comments about this. Not to mention ideas for names for the wolf!
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