How has your language learning gone this year? As one year makes way for another, in this post let’s take a step back and look over how things went….and look ahead to share hopes and plans for 2019 (also in vlog form, down at the bottom).
But first, my annual year-end review and preview wouldn’t be complete without a picture of a Christmas tree. Here’s my 2018 “bark n spikes” (just made that phrase up….Why stick to language learning? Let’s make some up, too 😉 )
My language learning….and yours
2018 was the first year since 2014 my language learning hasn’t been dominated by preparation for one or two big language exams (Russian, German). I haven’t sampled any new languages either. That’s unlike last year (Icelandic) and the year before (Indonesian).
Instead, the main focus has been on creating more content on the site and the YouTube channel.
My advanced German got used (but not very much). There was a week in Berlin in April, catching up with some old native-speaker friends and used the language a lot, in a very natural context. Then: to Vienna for a week, not very social, but using the language to get around.
I’ve spoken advanced Russian even less than German this year. Just a few conversations at langauge learners’ events and meeting up with a Russian-speaking friend here in London a couple of times. Oh, and I attended a Russian Orthodox easter celebration, too, and used a bit of the lingo there.
Looking back at last year’s end-of-year post, my one obvious failure has been to get more Russian (and German) writing practice.
It’s hardly a surprise though. I didn’t make any measurable commitments or take any concrete steps. As so often, it’s not a question of not knowing what needs to be done. It’s a question of priorities.
Good intentions alone don’t cut it in language learning.
What I have been doing is getting lots of passive listening practice and reading a lot in both languages.
Most of the reading I do on my commute and otherwise for pleasure is in Russian or German.
Most of the viewing I do for relaxation is in one or other of these languages.
You can still get extensive exposure to a language even when it’s otherwise firmly in “maintenance mode”.
Has your language been in “maintenance mode” this year? Was that a deliberate decision or did it just happen? Have you it relatively easy to build in low-level exposure or is it a planning and timing challenge? Do you have tips to share (that’s what the comments are for 🙂 ).
I’ve continued with pretty regular on-line, one-to-one lessons in Basque, my lower-intermediate level language. i’ve also (except for a busy time of travel in October and November) generally kept up a regular habit of additional thirty-minute Basque self-study slots several times a week.
In August I ramped up the work on Basque, to help me get ready for an appearance in a Basque TV programme.
That was certainly one of the highlights of my language learning year.
A concrete short-to-medium term goal can be a real motivational spur to hard work on a language.
Learning a “lesser used” language can sometimes open more doors than learning a more widely spoken one.
I should add, though, that it didn’t really feel like the extra work delivered tangible dividends. When you’re trudging across the intermediate plateau, that’s quite normal, though. We just have to understand that things are moving under the surface.
Part of the game in language learning is understanding the long-term process and managing your own expectations and mood along the way.
If you’ve undertaken sustained hard work for a period this year, does it feel like it’s paid off or do you feel stuck?
Since the Basque show was filmed, I’ve also attended a couple of meals organised by the London Basque Society. These were a chance to use the language in a relaxed, natural context.
I love set-piece language events. I try to take some extra time off work to build a bit of a holiday around them. If that doesn’t work for you, though, what about local language meetups? (If there isn’t one in your area, could you be the organiser?)
The social dimension is such a help in language learning, make sure you’re making it happen.
The fifth Polyglot Gathering was held (like last year) in Bratislava. It was great to be back at the event (and in that city)…and to be a speaker once again.
As always, the Gathering attracted many enthusiastic language learners, including many first-time attendees as well as other seasoned regulars (I haven’t missed one yet).
This year’s Polyglot Conference was in Ljubljana. It was my first visit to this lovely city and the Grand Union Hotel venue worked really well.
This year, for the first time, there was a day-long “workshop” event to begin with, at which I spoke on ways of making reading and listening practice more active.
As usual, I also spent a day at London’s three-day Language Show. This event (trade fair cum conference cum training) was back at its old home of the Olympia conference venue. A highlight for me was having a go at simultaneous conference interpreting at the EU stand.
In addition to the social dimension, I’m enriched by the discussions of language learning method that feature in the “conference”-style events. It all feeds back into work on Howtogetfluent.
Can you use regular social occasions and set-piece annual events can give structure and meaning to your langauge learning week, month or year?
Meanwhile, here on the site…
Talking of methods, one of my aims for 2018 was to talk much more on the site about, erm, “how to get fluent”.
In 2017 I only published two general method pieces (one on Goldlisting and the other on reading). Otherwise, I’d mainly been reviewing language events and sharing insights from my own language learning projects. There was no consistent posting schedule.
Things have been different this year.
2018 kicked off with the launch of the free, five-part video course on how to learn any language.
Since then, there has been new content weekly (Sundays is posting day) and this has included tens of pieces on key aspects of language learning. Among other topics, there have been new explorations of (among other topics) pronunciation, shadowing, the value (or not) of group language classes, how to overcome shyness when speaking.
At the end of September the one hundredth post came out🍾🎉 . It was one of the most fun to write: a list of one hundred language learning tips.
Language challenges and exams have been a constant theme on the site since the beginning back in 2014. This year there was a survey of different German exams and I’m planning to look at Russian exams at the beginner and intermediate levels).
I always value feedback on the form, content and style of the site.
How do you think the articles could be better?
Are there particular formats or topics that you’ve found especially valuable or missing ones you want to see.
I do my own featured images and most of the photos are my own. To me, this is part of the distinctive style of the site.
A couple of weeks ago, the featured image was a roughly hacked-out shot of my head and shoulders against a purple background. After publication, a friend sent me a link to a background remover app. I think it was a hint. Can’t she see that I’ve got that urban, edgy vibe? 😉
One aim for 2019 is to build out a bigger body of resources and links to help you with specific languages (I’m afraid said that last year but it didn’t happen 🙄) .
I’ll also be writing more in detail on topics relating to individual languages at different levels (especially languages I’ve studied myself).
It’s been great to be able to publish interviews with two more successful advanced Russian exam candidates: Barbara and Aga (to go with the earlier one with Daria). I’m interested to hear from Russian exam candidates at all levels.
There will be more interviews in 2019 (look out soon for Karen, who’s shared tips this year on working as a translator. She’ll be telling me about studying for the Welsh B2 exam).
Although there was no big personal language project this year, I have been sharing my personal, long-term language story.
The “Dr Popkins Method?” series is a review of how I’ve got fluent in several languages, told with an eye to how the experience could help you (even if only in a contrastive way, as in “ugh, I’d never do it that way”).
It started with a splash in Tenerife…
Whether it’s made any more waves since, I’ll leave you to decide.
There are a couple more instalments to come, so keep an eye out on the site and the YouTube channel.
The question mark in the series title is not an accident, by the way.Will there actually prove to be a “method” to the madness, or not?
Ah, yes, the Channel.
2018 was the year I really got serious on the Toob. In February I begin the routine of producing at least two new videos a week.
Tuesday is (usually) “Quick Tip” day, while Thursday is the slot for longer explorations of an aspect of language learning, for interviews and for travel and event vlogs.
I’ve been lucky to have some outstanding language-learner guests this year. There were video interviews with Testu Yung from LangFest, language mentor Lydia Machova and Actual Fluency podcast host Kris Broholm.
“Quick Tips” have come at you from all angles, though latterly I did a themed five-episode series, “Embrace Effort” (looking at ways to use focussed reading and listening to learn more actively). Here’s the launch vid:
I quite like the “series” approach, as it gives me more time to develop a theme while still being “bite size”. What do you think?
My travel vlogs tend to get fewer views that the language learning ones. Sometimes I worry that maybe they’re weakening the focus of the channel. On the other hand, to my mind, language and travel do so go together.
There were three 2018 travel series: Athens at the beginning of the year, Vienna in the middle and the Scottish Highlands at the end.
The next travel series will be from Dubai, starting early in 2019.
I also started looking at travel practicalities, with a three-part series on How to use AirBnB (reprise as an article on the site coming up) and a couple of quick travel tips from Vienna. More occasionally travel tips to come.
I haven’t been using my languages much at all on the channel this year but I did my first vlog in Welsh (from Iceland). There were then two bilingual vlogs in August from the annual Welsh National Eisteddfod (cultural festival), this year held in Cardiff.
Last year I daily vlogged from the Polyglot Gathering. It meant staying up till three or four in the morning each day to hit publish before the following day kicked off. I swore I wouldn’t do it again but I couldn’t help myself and was at it once more at this year’s Gathering.
For the past three years, I covered the Polyglot Conference with a sole vlog, edited way after the event. This time, I vlogged daily from there, too.
Thanks to all who took part in the vlogs.
The red-eye late nights are worth it when people tell me that the vlogs have encouraged them to attend an event for themselves for the first time. The same is true when absent regulars tell me they almost felt as if they were there, thanks to the vlogs.
The Channel is still relatively small, but subscriber numbers have just hit 800 (up from 245 on 1 January 2018). On current projections, the one thousand subs milestone is on the horizon.
I’ll be continuing with the current Channel schedule till February. Then we can reassess how to go forward.
Thoughts and feedback (including constructive criticism), most welcome.
As a reader on the website, do you also enjoy the Howtogetfluent content on YouTube?
If not, it is it because you don’t you like the Channel’s style, is it that you just don’t really do YouTube….or something else entirely?
The Howtogetfluent.com community
One of the great rewards of running a site like Howtogetfluent.com is establishing new contacts with readers and viewers. I always read every comment under a post or video and welcome questions and suggestions for topics to cover.
I’m usually a late adopter with technology and it won’t surprise you to hear that it was only this year that I started an Instagram account (@drpopkins). I’ve particularly enjoyed the “stories” feature.. Instagram stories are the place for real-time site and channel new content updates in micro-vlog format (along with static updates on twitter @howtogetfluent and Facebook).
Last year I said I wanted to be in e-mail contact more often with members of the Howtogetfluent Email club (you can sign up and get the free, five-part video course on how to learn any language in the sign-up box at the end of this piece or here).
I have sent you more personal email updates on new content than in 2017, but I’d still like to do this more often.
If you’re signed up but haven’t had an email for ages, check that I’m included in your address book/contacts (so that mails don’t go to spam).
Also, if as a longer-standing subscriber you missed my request for GDPR sign-up confirmation in April/May, I’ll have had to take you off the list (so please do sign up again).
I’d also like to continue the type of one-to-one conversations that kicked off in late spring when I asked you to share your language learning problems with me via email and then went on to do some Skype calls with some of you.
Email Club members are a bright and accomplished bunch and the discussions were a fruitful exchange both ways (it seemed to me).
Encouraged by that response, I now also offer a bespoke, paid one-to-one consultation and mentoring/coaching service (one-off or package, all languages) and I’m working on paid courses to be offered via the site and Club in 2019. Watch this space.
What have been your big wins in language learning in 2018?
What’s been holding you back?
Do you plan changes for 2019?
Let me know in the comments below or drop me an email.
What about a new language project for me here on the site 2019? I have one coming up….and face it with a certain trepidation. Look out for the announcement early in January.
Thanks once again for being part of the community in 2018.
Here’s to our new language learning year together!
Happy New Year/Bonne année/Blwyddyn Newydd Dda/Guten Rutsch/Hyvää uutta vuotta/Boldog új évet/Feliz Ano Novo/Urte berri on/Selamat Tahun Baru/С новым годом/Καλή χρονιά!/Gleðilegt nýtt ár/明けましておめでとうございます!