Happy New Year 2021. What a year 2020 was! Despite all the upset, though, we kept learning languages together. As we make a fresh start, it’s time to look back on the last twelve months of language learning and talking about language learning and even to look ahead a bit.
My language learning and yours
In 2020 I didn’t start a new language but I very much continued with my beginner’s Japanese, my intermediate Basque and my advanced languages,
Project Basic Japanese grammar, vocab, some conversations
Until October, I continued to organised my Japanese learning around my core textbook. I begin Japanese from Zero book 1 (of five) when I started the language in January 2019. In October 2020 I finished the third book. Since then, I’ve been focussed mainly on a couple of other courses, both with companion audio resources.
When I started Basque, I made a big effort to “speak early, speak often”. For Japanese, I’ve gone back to focussing on internalising core structures and vocab first. Still, when my friend John Fotheringham invited me to join his Japanese Accelerator speaking programme in summer 2020, I was happy to try out my Japanese for the first time since my trip to Japan in 2019. I had 16 one to one conversations (thirty minutes or an hour) with native teachers on italki.com between July and October.
I’ve been updating on my Japanese progress quite regularly here on the blog (most recently here) and on the YouTube channel and I’ll keep you posted as I continue with the language in 2021.
Intermediate Basque speaking and listening
Speaking practice was my main focus with intermediate Basque in 2020. I had a total of 91 one-to-one conversation sessions with Irati, Gari and Rodrigo in Basque. The sessions, usually thirty minutes each, were spread out pretty evenly throughout the course of 2020.
Ah, the frustrations of being an intermediate level language learner! At times you feel you’re on your way and you are conquering the world. Other times it just doesn’t seem to flow and is extremely frustrating.
I also did an awful lot of listening to Basque native level talk radio, mainly when I was jogging or walking through the park (where you could find me at some point almost every day in 2020). Towards the end of 2020, I published a Basque update post here on the blog.
In a normal year, I’d havce attended two or three in-person events organised by the London Basque Society. Not in 2020. In October, though, there was an online meetup when several “New Basque speakers” (including me) each shared a little of our individual Basque story.
Advanced Russian, German, Welsh, French
In 2020 input practice (reading and listening) was the name of the game with my advanced languages (Russian, German, Welsh and French).
I’ve watched a lot of Russian YouTube.
With German, I mainly watch a number of TV series on ARD. Tatort is a famous (and long-running) German detective drama with self-contained ninety-minute episodes. From about September, I was watching at least half an hour of the show most nights just before I went to bed.
I always keep a couple of Russian and German novels by my bedside in German and Russian. I would benefit from more writing practice than I am in both languages (I said that in last year’s review….).
In 2020 I consumed more Welsh media than ever.
Since lockdown “home working” began for me in the middle of March, I’ve been cooking lunch in the kitchen. While home working means I’ve lost the time I spent using flashcards and reading on the underground train to work, my new lunch routine has meant that I could switch on the Welsh lunchtime news and current affairs show Dros Ginio on the BBC radio “Sounds” app.
I take a keen interest in Welsh politics and there’s always lots of Welsh language content in my Twitter feed.
I use my French much least of my “advanced” languages. Still, I’ve listened occasionally to FranceInfo, a rolling news radio station (using their app on my phone), particularly when I’ve been doing things like the ironing and the cleaning, that sort of thing in the house.
Over to you
How’s it going for you with language learning in 2020? Did you start a new language? Were there any particular challenges that you faced? Have you been stuck on an intermediate plateau or have you been trying new things, reaching new heights in your language learning journey? Did you practice across all four skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) in a balanced way or – by design or accident – focus on some skills more than others? Did the crisis shake up your routine? Maybe some opportunities to learn disappeared as a result but others opened up.
Visitor numbers here at Howtogetfluent.com doubled in 2019 and they almost doubled again last year. If you’re a relatively new reader, welcome. If you’re a regular, thanks for your interest and do let me know you’re there now and again in the comments 🙂 .
I published an unbroken run of weekly posts, often very full articles, for two years up to April 2020. I then took the deliberate decision to let up a little bit for the rest of the year to give me more time to focus on developing other resources on the site, including promoting my own courses.
All in all there were 24 new posts on the site last year (as against 53 in 2019 and 48 in 2018). This is post 191 and you can find a full list with links to eahc one on the “archive” page.
One of the first posts of 2020 was was Have you got the fluency mindset.
From January to March, the final posts in the series on learning minority and lesser used languages also appeared.
When the crisis hit in March, I looked at How to learn a language at home in the crisis.
For German, there were two large survey articles, one on the German imperfect tense (the “Präteritum”) and one on the genitive case. Both are part of a larger series looking at different aspects of German grammar that will continue in 2021. There’ll be more on methods and strategies for getting better at German across the various attainment levels, too. You can check out all the posts aimed at German intermediate learners here.
If you’re thinking of learning Welsh (or have started and wondered whether it’s harder than it should be) check out Is Welsh hard to learn.
Advanced Russian learners, did you catch my interview with Ivan, the fourth language star I’ve featured here who’s passed the hugely challenging TRKI 4th Certificate (advanced/C2) exam?
I hope to do more on Russian and to blog about French again in 2020. For Welsh, I’ll announce separate plans soon.
In my annual review post, I always like to show off the Howtogetfluent Christmas tree. This year, we had two. Hah! 🎄🎄
Language learner products and services
2020 was the first year that I really got to grips with building out the resources section of the site. I’ve organized the tab on resources a bit better and am now partnering more consistently with language material creators whose work I admire and can confidently recommend to you. In November I also promoted some great time-limited Black Friday offers from them. If you’re one of the readers who took advantage, do drop me a mail to let me know your views about what you bought.
In 2019 I launched my first products: my Russian upper beginner revision course, Focus in Five and my intermediate German course, rechristened in 2020 as the Weekly German Workouts and also They are now both permanently open for enrolment, so you can join any time.
If you’re looking for some bespoke help with your language learning, don’t forget that I offer one-to-one language coaching via Zoom (or equivalent), either a free-standing session or a series of meets.
The YouTube channel
It’s been a year of steady but very unspectacular growth on the “Dr Popkins’ How to get fluent” YouTube channel. There were just over fifteen hundred of you subscribed at the start of 2020 and two thousand four hundred fifty by the end of the year, right through to August. Thanks for your interest, “thumbs ups” and comments.
Till July, I continued an unbroken run of nearly two and a half years of uploading two videos a week. All this content creation (on top of an unrelated weekly blog post) was quite a lot of pressure and took a lot of creative energy. I’m proud of the achievement but the channel still hasn’t anything like the “traction” that many other language learning channels have achieved, often in much less time. I often feel I’m better at working hard than smart and my content clearly isn’t cutting it like it needs to do 🙁 I need to “box clever” a bit more! 🙂
Since the summer, I’ve sort of gone back to aiming to do one video week on a channel.
There were 80 videos in total during the course of 2020 (as against 119 in 2019).
At the beginning of the year, my Asia Diaries series was in full swing. I shot them in October 2019 when I was on the road working in Singapore and Hong Kong and then over in Japan for the Polyglot Conference.
My three Polyglot Conference daily vlogs they didn’t come out till spring 2020. They’re a lovely memento, for me and I hope for other attendees. If you’ve never been to a language learner meetup like this, then they’re a great way to get a flavour of what to expect.
It also it took me quite a while to edit the footage I shot at London’s November 2019 Language Show. That vid didn’t come out till October 2020.
During the lockdown, I did a lot more daily life vlogging than I’ve ever done before, much of it from the park (five minutes’ walk from my house). I know that’s not everybody’s thing and some of the vlogs never hit 100 views but vlogging is something I at times feel an “urge” to do and it’s lovely to get comments from a small but valued band of regular viewers. So I will continue to do the occasional slice of life vlog channel, even though I need to be more disciplined about the time I can pour into video editing. You can see the 2020 vlogs on the “Coronavlogs: London in the plague year” playlist.
Method and tip videos in 2020 included a couple on how to sound more fluent shot in a local cafe back in February, when visits to cafes were still possible. I’d like to continue that series from cafes again in 2021 but at the moment, that seems a dream for months ahead. Espresso? I’ve had two cups since 17 March 2021 🙁
I finished off my video mini-series on how to get the most of one- to-one sessions with a teacher. Another video I looked at different types of reading (territory already covered in a series here on the blog, the vid’s embedded in this article).
I plan to do a lot more tips and method type videos during the course of 2021. And the other thing I want to do a lot more of is looking at language learning products, reviewing them, recommending them when I can.
I used my Russian, German, Basque and Welsh in the Asia Diary vlogs and I’d like to start using my languages again on the channel again in 2021. I’ll perhaps experiment with formats and see whether any “resonate” (urgh…hate that word 😉 )
Whenever I talk about books, it seems to be something that people like, so my “Bookshelf Safaris, I’ve done two of them so far.
I want to continue those into 2021 “Book haul” videos when I get new books seem to go down well, too, and I enjoy doing them.
We had quite a few guests in 2020 including Kirsten Cable from Women in Language and the Fluent Show, Richard Simcott from the Polyglot Conference, a hugely inspiring language learner was back on the channel. The inspiring young polyglot, T.J. Huizar also talked about language learning and vlogging.
Are there people you’d like to see on (or back on) in 2021?
In my review of 2019, I said that I’d like to do more tutorial videos It didn’t happen and I want to make 2021 the year (not least because I need to experiment much more to find something “that works” on YouTube. I’m thinking of trying out some tutorials in basic and intermediate Welsh and in German in particular, and maybe do some content for English learners too.
I’m toying with setting up some separate small channels to cover these things, uploading some videos and seeing what happens rather than diluting the focus here on the” Dr Popkins’ How to get fluent” channel.
What do you think?
Language Learner Events in 2020
The last physical language learning event I attended before the COVID crisis started here in the UK was the Language Event Edinburgh (February 2020). I wrote a review post of that event on the site. I’ve just about finished three new Edinburgh vlogs shot back then. One upside in the long editing delay is that it’s now great to be looking back over footage of what it used to be like in the olden days when we could all mix and discuss our enthusiasm for language learning together.
Early last year, I did a blogpost looking ahead to all the language learner events that were in store for 2020 (or so we thought at the time). I then had to update it again and again as the year went on to note that one event after another had been cancelled or moved online.
First, the Polyglot Cruise (set for April 2020) was postponed until 2021 (it has now just been cancelled for 2021).
Then, at short notice, the Polyglot Gathering (end of May/early June 2020) moved online.
The Gathering team did a great job at creating an online environment and head organiser Peter Balasz kindly took time out to tell me all about it in a “looking ahead” interview on the channel.
I was happy with my own talk: “Four Skills, Twelve Tips”.
I hadn’t planned to vlog the event from home. I mean, how would one do that? At the last minute, surprise, surprise, I decided to give it a go. The format I hit on for my three Polyglot Gathering vlogs included one-to-one Zooms with a wide range of different speakers and participants and I’m really happy with the three vlogs that were the result.
As several of my vlog interviewees pointed out, moving the Gathering Online had its positive side. It made the event more accessible up to people from all over the world who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to attend.
The “move online” continued in the autumn as the Polyglot Conference went “Global”. The Gathering had opted for a a series of talks streamed live (and then available on catch up). The Conference went for a “Netflix binge” approach (as Richard Simcott described it in his pre-event interview with me). All the talks were pre-recorded and available on demand from the start.
I also “attended” some of the (London) Language Show’s virtual talks and – for the first time – was also “at” Berlin’s Expolingua.
Learning languages together in 2021
Will we get the chance to meet at physical language learner events in 2021? Will I be able to vlog them? After five years of even vlogging, is it in any case now better for me to focus my YouTube creation energies elsewhere?
Time will tell.
I’ve loved interacting with many of you in the comments section over the last twelve months, getting your encouragement and learning from you as well.
The best way to keep in touch is via the free Howtogetfluent Email Club newsletter. I aim to mail once a week (maybe I’ll achieve that more often in 2021 🙂 ). The newsletter is where I share my own language learning highs and lows, let you know about what’s coming up on the site and channel and occasionally share new offers on language learning products. You can sign up via the box below this post (and you’ll get my free Language Learner Pro video methods course as well). I read and respond to all emails (even it sometimes takes me a while).
In the coming year, I look forward to getting to know long-standing readers and views a little better and to making contact with some of you for the first time.
I’ll do everything I can from my side to try and create content which inspires and helps you.
I’m always aware that what I’m doing here could be so much better than it is.
But knowing what needs to happen and achieving it are two different things. As in language learning, sometimes all we can do is the best from where we are at the moment.
If we keep doing that, we keep at it, if we keep practising and keep getting good feedback, we’ll move onwards and upwards. We just have to give it time.
Let’s hope as we do that in 2021…and as time ticks on… the world around us goes back to something a bit more resembling normality.
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!
If you like your words in full technicolour, here’s the vlog of the blog, presented by Chewbacca 😉
Grahame B says
Hi Gareth, thanks for this very comprehensive review. Two comments and one request! First, I did your Weekly German Workouts course last year and I have built the principles into my daily language learning; I feel like I have made real progress for the first time in years. Thanks! Second, I for one would appreciate intermediate German tutorials on your Your Tube channel. Finally, the request. Is it possible to get hold of your contribution at the Language Gathering in 2020 (Four skills, twelve Tips) – sounds fascinating. Happy New Year, GrahameB.
Vielen Dank for your support, Grahame! Good to hear you’re still making progress with your German. I’m still not sure whether I should start a separate channel for German tutorials and just do (subtitled) vlogs/interviews in German here. Either way, I will try the tutorial format in 2021. My Polyglot Gathering talk is on their channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwazY4xS39Y I’ve done vlogs from the event every year since 2015 if your interested in what it’s like more generally. My personal fave is Day One from 2019, edited after one double espresso too many :)) https://howtogetfluent.com/polyglot-gathering-daily-vlogs/