It’s three weeks tomorrow since the beginning of the three-month Add1Challenge, here, later than expected, is the first of my promised progress updates.
What have I been doing?
The main development in my approach to Basque this summer has been working with native speakers on Skype. I have never done this before but I was keen to keep going during the summer break and through my teacher, Maider, I was able to make contact with two young Basque women based, as it happens, in London. I decided to go for half-hour sessions. As I’m employed full-time I feel relatively cash rich and time poor, so I opted to pay the language partners, rather than to do a language exchange. To date, I have had six sessions with Amaia and four sessions with Iranzu, so I’m averaging three sessions a week. I actually had two pre-work sessions at 8.30 am with Amaia before the Add1Challenge started but since then, I’ve been doing evenings. I feel too pressured in the morning and, if I have an extra half hour, prefer to go for a run.
Neither my Skype partners are professional teachers but both are intelligent, friendly and talkative. I have not found it difficult to keep them speaking in Basque, even though I don’t understand quite a bit of what they say. Sometimes time has been short, but the best sessions are when I’ve had half an hour before hand to “tune in” mentally and prepare some words and phrases relevant to recent and upcoming events in my life and the wider world. There is a lot of um-ing and ah-ing from my end as I try to speak and I have to make a lot of use of google translate. I don’t see that as a problem, though. They also help clarify words for me with the “write” function on Skype.
We often have a general conversation for a few minutes at the end of the session (not included in the half-hour tally). I think that helps build the relationship in a way that would be much more difficult given my current very basic level (which must demand quite a lot of patience from them). Amaia has only been in London for the summer and returns home a week today. She lives in Vauxhall, only two underground stops from my place in Brixton, so I am hoping we can meet up “in the flesh” for the final London session.
I will post a clip of me in action as soon as I have worked out how to do this (provided either Amaia or Irantzu agrees).
A second first (if you get what I mean) for me has been getting into Anki. I already had the programme on my laptop, but it has only been this summer that I armed myself with a smart phone. Now I am able to spend at least time on my daily commute (which lasts about 45 minutes one way) working on my cards. I often do this on the ten minute walk to or from Brixton Underground Station.
I have been continuing some passive reading of my French Assimil Le Basque unifié (initiation) book and my night class course materials en route too and from work. The course book is published by Habe (an official instruction body supported by the Basque Autonomous region in Spain).
More formal study comprises using Assimil, another course, the Routledge book Colloquial Basque and my course materials at my desk. Today I have started working through book one of Bakarka, yet another course, published by Elkar (French and Spanish versions available, I have the former). Adding decks to Anki (mainly from my Habe materials and from Colloquial Basque) takes quite a bit of time.
I have the Assimil audio playing when I go for a jog (half an hour, two or three times a week). I love internet radio. My old receiver broke earlier this summer and my new Roberts 93i arrived about a week into the challenge. Basque radio plays as I shave and shower in the morning.
How do I feel about my progress?
My Add1Challenge commitment was to study for one hour a day, five days a week. As is to be expected, life’s “events” haven’t stopped just for the Challenge. On the expected list: for the first three weeks of the Challenge (until today), Catalan friends have been staying at my place and we’ve been enjoying long meals and conversation out in the garden. As the evenings start to get shorter, it should be easier to spend more time in the evenings up at my desk. As for the unexpected: just after the start of the Challenge, my ninety year-old aunt, a great character and real lynchpin of our family, suffered a stroke and has since passed away. I have been making unexpected trips to Yorkshire, first to visit her and now for the funeral and memorial service.
Despite this sorrow, and the pleasant distraction of my Catalan friends’ three-week stay, I am just about managing to maintain my target of active speaking and study. My sense of progress in speaking varies from Skype-session to Skype-session. Often I feel very frustrated and stupid but – hey! – I am, after a fashion having conversations. I may be mangling much of the grammar covered in my September 2013 to July 2014. I may have to keep looking up core vocabulary. All the same, I have a sense of laying foundations as language patterns repeat themselves and I make connections within the system of Basque. I am catching more snippets of meaning and many more isolated words are standing out when I listen to the radio. Basque words (or at least a vague Basqueness) are drifting in and out of my consciousness as I go about other tasks. That’s a sure sign that things are brewing somewhere in my brain.
Initial thoughts on the “Add1Challenge” framework
I don’t doubt that even without the Add1Challenge, most of work I’ve been doing on Basque so far this summer would have happened. That said, the Challenge is helping with motivation. My sense at this stage is that the added value is less from the overarching three-month goal. I could make that commitment to similar effect on this blog alone. Of more direct use for maintaining daily momentum and commitment is the log of daily progress (“yay” or blank) in the Google Docs spreadsheet allocated to a sub-group of twelve challengers, including my two “buddies”, Sterling (learning Korean) and Hale (Japanese). I am casting an eye over whether other Challengers are meeting their targets and this helps keep me on the straight and narrow, even though I know that this is not really a competition with anyone but myself (people have made weekly study commitments of varying onerousness).
Each Monday, there is a three-way electronic catch-up “chat” between me, Sterling and Hale, with Brian sometimes chipping in. While it has been good get the messages, I am still not clear on the technology here. They are coming to me on “What’s app” on my new phone but once I drag them off screen I can’t find them again. It’s not clear to me whether they are somewhere on Facebook.
This brings me to the Facebook dimension. I have just checked the closed group now for the first time in several days and it’s great to see people posting video updates of themselves taking their first steps. People are also posting ideas and links to interesting articles and blog posts elsewhere on the web. A week yesterday (when I was out and about showing my visitors London) there was a 35-minute live Q&A session with Benny Lewis, which I missed because I was out and about showing my visitors London. It’s on YouTube, so I’ll catch up later (provided I can work out how to make YouTube play at 1.5x the speed 😉 .
So far, if truth be told, I have hardly engaged with the community via Facebook. This means that I am not engaging with the community at all. It feels to me that this is due to all the pressures on my time. Given my target, the time I have available has to go on the Basque study itself. I think I’m an efficient language-learning and I’m the only one on the Challenge learning Basque, so there has been no pressing need to engage in order to get on with the job. Facebook itself with all its juicy tidbits and links (perhaps especially in a closed group where we’re all so in tune) seems yet another potential distraction.
Final thoughts at the three week point
My friends’ departure has now freed up some time in the evening, so there is a chance to make a renewed effort with Facebook. I’m thinking of the maxim that “what you get out what you put in”. I may have to start scheduling a regular commitment (with a strict “surfing” time limit?) to reviewing and contributing to the closed group feed. With a week to go before the one month milestone, there is time to open up the communal dimension. That is the next part of my personal challenge. Meanwhile with the Skyping, the study and the passive exposure, it’s steady as she goes and so far, so good.