As 2019 draws to a close and a 2020 is about to begin, let’s step back, take stock of a year of our language learning together and a year of language blogging and vlogging here at Howtogetfluent. Let’s look ahead too, to our plans and hopes for the coming year and – as a new decade begins – beyond (preview/review vlog at the bottom of this post).
My language learning and yours
My new language project for 2019 was beginners’ Japanese. I started in January with a thirty-minute-a-day-seven-days-a-week routine through to the end of September, when I hit the road for Asia and arrived in Japan for my first visit (there for the last two weeks of October). I’ve been updating you with a monthly post here on the site (with a YouTube vid each time, too).
Although I missed individual days, I generally stuck to the routine and increased it for four weeks in the summer, when I had some time off work. For that month, I did more Basque than normal, too.
I’ve been learning Basque since 2013 and the backbone of my practice this year continued to be thirty minute one-to-one lessons on Skype booked through italki. In 2019 I did 60 thirty minute lessons (to 29 December, inclusive. I have one more scheduled for 2019).
I have also had many hours of passive exposure to native level Basque audio radio while getting on with other things at home (mainly showering, preparing food and eating). The encouraging thing is, I’m understanding more and more.
I always stress the importance of “community” support in language learning. Public logging helps. I also attended two London Basque Society events. The first, at the end of March, was the a mini-version of the “korrika” race which takes place in the Basque Country every two years to raise money to promote the use of the language and generally to get people involved.
In December I attended the annual “Gabonetako bazkaria” (Christmas lunch). I really noticed some improvement in my abilities at this event. I was able to have pretty natural conversations on everyday topics (even though I didn’t understand everything).
In 2020 it’ll be full steam ahead for me with Basque and Japanese (with monthly updates on the site and YouTube channel. I don’t plan to begin any new language next year, though.
> Have you started a new language this year? How is it going?
German and Russian are two of my advanced languages. Both were in “maintenance mode”. I haven’t taken any lessons or booked any conversation sessions at all this year. I did use both languages at the Polyglot Gathering and the Polyglot Conference.
It was great to use German and Russian a little socially, too, in 2019. I was in Berlin in March for the fiftieth birthday party of an old friend whom I know from my days at Heidelberg University in the mid ‘90s. It was great to slide back into my old German life, if only for a couple of evenings and also to deal with my AirBnB hostess entirely in German.
I met up with a Russian friend here in London two or three times.
I’m now using my commuting time to follow the Pimsleur Japanese course and to use the Anki Flashcard app (or paper flashcards) to build up my basic Japanese vocabulary. That means I’m no longer getting German reading in on my way into the office three days a week We all only have so much time and energy for language learning but we need to be realistic too. The laws of physics can’t be messed with. It’s all about trade-offs (the topic of a Quick Tip Tuesday vid over on the YouTube channel back in March.
> Have you encountered trade-offs in your language learning this year? How have you dealt with them?
I have been reading a lot of Russian, though. I also follow several Russian YouTubers and enjoy several Russian TV series via YouTube. There’ll be more of that for me in 2020….and in German too.
The main innovation this year has been some vlogging in both languages (more below).
At the end of last year I lamented that I hadn’t got much writing practice in either German or Russian. I’m afraid the same is true this year for Russian. I did write quite a number of emails in German (with the teachers who helped develop my new German course). I still need to do much more writing in both languages, though, if I aspire one day to pass the C2 exams.
> This year, have you managed to juggle the the four key skills: listening and reading (passive) and speaking and writing (active)?
Language learner events of the year
In January I attended a small language-learner day in Edinburgh. It was organised at the last minute in the basement of a pub after a larger language event fell through. I was drafted in (with others) to put on a series of short presentations and we had a lot of discussion, too. I vlogged the event (and the run up to it, with my friend Actual Fluency’s Kris “the Dane” Broholm).
On 29th February/1st March 2020 there’ll be another event in the Scottish capital. This time it’ll be full weekend, called the Edinburgh Language Event (under the aegis of Richard Simcott’s Polyglot Conference). I’ll be a speaker again and I’m really looking forward to it.
In 2019 the Polyglot Gathering took place in May Bratislava for the third and final time. I’ve attended all six Gatherings so far and this one was the biggest ever. There were some really impressive talks. Next year’s event will be in Poland. I’ll be there (and I hope to speak again, too).
The seventh Polyglot Conference 2019 was in mid-October at the end of my first week in Fukuoka in the south of Japan. While many people who attend the event in Europe weren’t able to get to Japan, others were able to attend in this location for the first time and the vibe felt very familiar, with a Japanese tinge, of course. The 2020 Polyglot Conference will be in Mexico, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to attend.
My Polyglot Conference 2019 daily vlogs aren’t out yet, but watch this space, as they’ll be appearing early in 2020.
Language learning articles here on the site
In February 2018 I began a consistent routine of publishing an article once a week. I’ve continued with that throughout 2019, so this is Sunday post 52 of 2019 (although one or two of them did come out a bit late, on a Monday 😉 ). What, though, of the content?
Inspiration from interviews
Several learners shared their experience with us, in interview format: Julia (in French) on learning Swahili, professional German translator Karen on how she got certified to B2 (upper intermediate) level in Welsh and Simon Ager, founder of omniglot.com, on his study of all six Celtic languages.
The interviews about Celtic languages fitted well into the theme of “Indigenous Languages”, celebrated this year by the United Nations.
Minority and indigenous languages
Getting further into the spirit of the UN’s Year of Indigenous Languages, I did a report on Britain’s other languages (March) discussion at the British Library and shared another post that came out of my first ever trip to the Scottish Highlands: The visibility of Scottish Gaelic: a signage safari (January).
I’ve also belatedly started a new series on learning minority languages with two posts: Minority language resources: a guide and How to find minority language native speakers (both December). Look out for several more instalments in 2020.
> If you’re learning a minority language, what are the particular challenges or pleasures, that you’ve experienced so far? Let me know about it in the comments below!
Language learning methods and materials
Back in January, I finished the “Dr Popkins method?” series, in which I was telling my own language learning story and looking for common threads that might help you with yours. The last two posts: “Dr Popkins Method?” Keeping going at language learning and “Dr Popkins Method?” How I got fluent and you could too (both January).
There were two new instalments of ongoing series on reading: Foreign language reading tips: one technique, two helpful types of text (July) and Reading in a foreign language. Enough of stories? Time for the facts? (September).
As for general method, topics in 2019 included: Why learning a language in retirement is a great idea (May), How does learning new languages get easier? (September ), A talent for languages? Yes, no and what to do (October) How soon should you speak your foreign language? (October) and Sound more fluent: nine tricks (December).
In my review at the end of 2018, I said I wanted to focus on creating content on specific languages. I still haven’t done justice to two of my “advanced” languages (Welsh and French) but the two others (German and Russian) were centre stage in 2019, so that’s progress!
Focus on German and Russian
In the first half of the year there was a series of blog posts on getting from beginner to intermediate in German. While I was writing these, I was also working closely with a team of teachers, voice artists and a proof reader on my first ever course: Focus for Fluency: Into Intermediate German. It’s next launch will be in spring 2020.
In addition, I wrote three of posts for German learners of all levels: How to remember German noun gender (April), German modal verbs explained (April) and Joining it up: how conjunctions can transform your intermediate German (May).
I’ve long been a fan of using exams as a way to provide us with a “medium term” goal on the road to fluency and the final post on German this year The Goethe-Institut German B1 exam explained (November). In the second half of the, there were also two posts on Russian exams: Russian language exams: a guide (November), Russian TRKI 2nd and 3rd Certificate materials reviewed (December)
A2 Russian: the upper beginner skills, vocabulary and grammar that you need (September) was a level-specific post and a prelude to my second course launch of the year, the Focus in Five A2 Russian Grammar Revision webinars (which ran in August and will return in 2020).
Expanding the language learner resources and links pages for learning different languages was also something I wanted to do here on the site in 2019. Building and launching the German and Russian courses meant that not much happened, so this is an aim I’m carrying over to 2020. I did share special offers from other teachers and course creators to Howtogetfluent Email Club members. If you haven’t joined yet, sign up in the box below (it’s free and you get some video training too).
In 2020, I’ll continue the current publishing pattern till February and then take stock. Publishing less frequently would give me the tie to focus on the resources section.
> How would you like to see coverage develop here on the site in 2020?
Growing on YouTube “Dr Popkins’ How to get fluent” channel in 2019
Over on the YouTube channel, the basic schedule that’s been in place since February 2018 is a new video each Tuesday and Thursday. I’ve been a day late now and again but I’ve kept up the twice-a-week editing publishing pace as a minimum throughout 2019, with a total of 119 new vids this year (as at 30 December).
On 1 January 2019 there were 805 of us subscribed to the channel. By 30 December 2019, that had risen to 1,506. It’s a very modest increase for such a huge amount of work, but still kinda satisfying and a big thanks to all of you who support the channel by subscribing, tickling the alert bell and throwing me the odd thumbs up (enabling notifications and liking really do help to ensure that YouTube shows the content to others on the platform).
I marked the 1000 subs milestone in May with the Channel’s first ever “YouTube live”. I’m not naturally drawn to technology, so I was worried that the live wouldn’t work (or that nobody would turn up). In the event, everything went smoothly (and thanks to those of you who submitted questions, attended live, or caught up and commented later).
YouTube interview guests
Interview guests in 2019 included Kerstin Cable, Lindsay Williams and Shannon Kennedy from Women in Language (February), Tetsu Yung and Nicholas Viau (July) and Richard Simcott talking about the Polyglot Conference.
Richard also joined me as the first guest in a new short-form interview rubric “Learner in 10” in which he responded to quick-fire questions on how he learns languages. Guest 2 was Jitka Vršovská (2019 organiser of the Polyglot Gathering) and there are more episodes to come.
Kris Broholm talked about his new venture, the Polyglot Cruise and Dylan Inglis told us about how he used a gap year between school and university to make great strides with both Chinese and Basque.
Maureen Millward talked about learning Scots and her new short phrases and vocab course in the Scots language (May) and Alisia Zingerman of the TheHebrewHub.com discussed learning Hebrew and student programmes (TheHebrewHub) (August).
Stefano Suigo is an incredibly impressive polyglot and a super nice guy. He came on to discuss his language learning life (two parts, September and October)(“Learner in 10” with Stefano coming up in 2020).
> Are there inspiring learners that you’d like to see interviewed on the Channel (or here on the site) in 2020? Let me know in the comments below.
Quick tips and travel vlogs
There were various on-off Tuesday “Quick Tips” this year and also a Tuesday series on different aspects of “working one-to-one with a language teacher”. Another mainstay of the Tuesday slot was my monthly update on learning Japanese (ten episodes, January to October). The “update” format will continue in 2020.
My travel vlogs generally get fewer views than the language one, but I love doing them and still see them as one of the pillars of the channel. In the first half of 2019 there were eleven short travel reports from my trips to Dubai.
I was in Singapore with work in October and heading on to Hong Kong and then Japan. The decision to start vlogging the journey in German, Russia, Basque and Welsh wasn’t something I’d planned in advance. I was initially reluctant to expose my frequent mistakes to the world, but though I should practice what I preach about not being afraid to make mistakes.
It may feel to those of you who don’t enjoy travel vids or don’t speak the languages that the “Asia Diaries” series has got a bit out of hand since then. The thought has occurred to me as I struggle to edit them all (some thirty-five in total). The series will finish early in 2020.
My plans is to continue the current twice-weekly tempo until February and then take stock. It’s likely that I’ll then move to a less exacting regime. The same types of content will continue, though I’d like to experiment with tutorials on individual languages too at some stage.
> Have you thought of recording yourself to get some speaking practice (and as a way of getting constructive corrective feedback? You don’t have to publish on YouTube, you could use the platform’s private/unlisted settings to share to the select few (e.g. your teacher). You could do Instagram Stories in your language or tweet in it, or just record yourself on you phone once a month, so that you can track your progress.
Language enthusiasts’ event vlogs
Vlogs from language events have been more popular. First I covered the Edinburgh event (January) and continued at the Polyglot Gathering (May). For the third year, I went full on daily vlogging from there. Unlike in 2017 and 2018, though, I cut myself some slack and decided not to edit and publish each day’s vlog overnight. The vlogs focus on conveying the vibe and giving attendees a voice. Thanks to all who took part. You can also find a review piece to camera (with blog post), focussing on the content of the talks that I attended.
At October’s Polyglot Conference in Japan I was filming like crazy. Look out, then, for three daily vlogs from there in the new year (blame the “Asia Diaries” project for the delay). Ditto a vlog from this year’s Language Show, another annual event (that I’ve covered since 2014).
Viewers seem to like vids about language books and materials (surprise, surprise). One of the best-viewed of 2019 was of me unpacking a book haul (!)(February). The Vienna “bookshop safari” (August). Look out then, for a Tokyo bookshop safari and a Japanese book haul in the New Year 🙂
Into the 2020s: you, me and the Howtogetfluent.com community
It’s always great to hear from readers and views in the comments section under blog posts and on YouTube. You can keep in touch via Instagram and Twitter and the Howtogetfluent Facebook Group (which now has just over 300 members). You can join the discussion here.
I’ve only ever done a couple of experimental Facebook “Lives”. I wonder whether a few more of those would be a good idea for 2020? YouTube lives could be on the cards, too.
The main way I share content, ideas and offers with readers is (and will be) the free Howtogetfluent Email Club. You can join through the sign up box at the bottom of this post (and you’ll get my free language learning video training as well).
It was in the Club that I first announced my first courses, both of which launched this year. Focus on Fluency: Into Intermediate German is a ten-week mentored study programme for upper beginner German students who are ready to take the next step. It will launch for the second time early in 2020. Last summer, I ran the Focus in Five A2 (upper beginner) Russian Grammar Revision Seminars. These will be made available again later in 2020.
So, if you want to get to the front of the line for these courses (and other offers), join the Club! As a Club member, you’re always welcome to mail be with questions, feedback and ideas for new content. I love hearing from you all!
> It’s not just a year that’s ending but a whole decade. If you look back ten years, are you surprised where you’ve got in life and language learning ? What went right for your language learning life in the 2010s and what will you be trying to continue….or change in the new decade? Remember, while we all tend to overestimate what we can achieve in a year we also tend to underestimate what we can do in five or ten. With that in mind, dream big but plan in stages!
Oh, I nearly forgot my traditional end-of-year Christmas tree picture 🙂
Thanks for being a reader or viewer in 2019 and I hope we can continue our language learning journey together into the new decade.
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!
Here’s my 2019 review/2020 preview in vlog form, from sunny south London! 🙂