Well, here we are on the eve of the New Year. I expect you too are looking back at all that happened in your world in 2017 and looking forward with anticipation to the New Year. Let’s take stock and plan ahead together!
But first…..a festive “kitsch-off”
Regular readers may not yet have recovered from the picture of I shared in my 2016 end-of-year review of the fireplace in the banqueting hall here at Howtogetfluent Towers decked out in in festive glory…. That was the one of the electric holly that lights (or, rather, lit) up.
Much to my distress, this year, after only a couple of days in place, the holly’s electrics packed in. So, I’ve added some fairy lights.
Whaddya think? Voting on the preferred option open for a limited period only 😉
If you’re of a sensitive disposition, you may like to scroll to the next section now to read about some language exploits.
Even the toughest among you may still be feeling sympathy for the poor Christmas tree I spotted cast heartlessly aside near the office as early as 28th December 2016. It featured in my roundup at the end of last year….
I was moved to announce the immediate establishment of the Society for the Protection of Unwanted Christmas Ephemera (SPRUCE) dedicated to the rescue of prematurely abandoned Christmas trees.
I can’t say the Society has had much effect this year (there are still places going on the executive board if you’re up for it 😉 ). Things are, to be brutally frank, going backwards. At least last year’s specimen had known a loving home, fleeting if it was.
Today, New Year’s Eve, I passed this sorry assemblage outside the local florist’s shop (which you will see is closed for the celebrations).
These poor b*gg*rs are NEW Christmas trees which she can’t even give away.
To get us over this, here’s a picture of the delicious Christmas pud my cousin cooked for us:
Thanks, Yvonne! 🙂
My language learning in 2017….and yours
In the first half of the year I had a very clear priority: my early July resit of my advanced Russian exam, the TRKI third certificate (C1) writing paper.
I lost some time in January and February but then found my pace. As the exam approached, my focus narrowed. I cranked up the targeted writing practice and extensive corrective feedback from my tutors as spring turned to summer. As a result, I was able to pass the paper.
The rules allowed me to “carry over” my summer 2016 passes in the four other sub-tests, so I qualified at last for the full certificate.
What a relief! I’d have been so down if I’d have failed a second time after all that work.
I don’t need the certificate for specific reason, so what was the point of jumping through the hoops?
I’m regularly contacted by readers who are preparing for exams in various languages at various levels and I’ll have a lot more tips and advice on language exams on the site in the coming year. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that exams have a great role to play to provide a short to medium term goal.
I did a darn sight more work on my Russian than would otherwise have been the case.
That oh-so-important corrective feedback from my teachers really highlighted in detail what my main problems with written Russian are.
> Make sure you’re getting corrective feedback whatever your language or level. Remember, practice makes not “perfect” but “permanent”, so you want to be sure you’re doing it right!
If you’re a native English speaker learning Russian, chances are that your recurrent errors in the language will be similar to mine. Look out for a post on them before too long. I’ll look again at the materials I used for B2 and C1 Russian as well.
Since exam week in early July, I’ve been maintaining my habit of reading in Russian on my four-times a week commute to the office.
I’m also still enjoying Russian TV series on YouTube. I tune my internet radio to listening to talk radio in the language quite often.
> Don’t neglect the extensive, relatively passive imput that you really need to get good at a language.
Aside from the odd comment on this or that Russian friend’s Facebook feed, I haven’t done any more writing, though. Argh….If you rest, you rust (and my Russian writing wasn’t so shiny in the first place).
I haven’t been speaking Russian either.
> Lots of imput PLUS lots of production (with corrective feedback) = fluency!
A task for Q1 2017: build writing and speaking Russian back into my routine. For a start, I’ve signed up to attend a Russian-speaking lawyers’ networking event in London that I found out about on LinkedIn.
Are there skills that you’re neglecting in your target language? How about squeezing in an extra New Year’s resolution to rectify that?
I tried an on-line automated course for the first time, but remain sceptical as to what it added over and above my work with my textbooks and, equally important, with my online teachers. It just felt like a distraction.
I still can’t say much in Icelandic – I didn’t put in the hours for that – but I have certainly started to get a feel for the basics. I loved visiting Iceland and when I return to the language, I’ll be armed with first-hand of experience of what it’s like in context.
Throughout the year, I’ve been keeping going with Basque, last mentioned on my update post in May.
In September, I finally decided to stop attending the weekly group lessons put on by the London Basque Society.
I still think group lessons can play a useful role those of us whose primary approach to languages is self-study.
All the same, fun though they could be, the Basque lessons just weren’t an efficient use of time any more. I’m not knocking group classes in general, though.
> The New Year could be just the time for you to enrol in one, provided it’s part of your wider learning plan and you remember that your teacher can’t learn the language for you.
Just as I was pulling out of the group class, my long-standing online one-to-one teacher stopped offering online lessons (impeccable timing, Joseba!). We’d had 101 thirty minute sessions over the last two years or so and it felt like the end of an era.
As Joseba was the only Basque tutor on italki, I had to trawl the internet to find a new teacher, Unái, who’s turned out to be great. Since then, another community tutor has appeared on italki and I’ve had some lessons with her too.
Even though I’ve given up on their group classes, I’m still an enthusiastic member of the London Basque Society.
A couple of weeks ago I attended their annual Christmas meal and caught up with two of my former teachers, some fellow students and some London Basques.
> Don’t neglect the communal dimension! Even those of us who are introverts can benefit enormously from building up a social life in your language.
I’d hoped to visit the Basque Country again in 2017, but that didn’t happen (too much travelling with work to fit it in).
I’m certainly not complaining about the work travel, though. All in all, 2017 has been a fantastic year for travel for me. Work trips got me places where I was able to engage with some great colleagues and was then able to take some extra time off to look around.
You may have seen the vlog from Beijing. Look out for one on Hong Kong coming up.
I shot a lot of extra footage in Singapore as well and got some great new footage. Maybe at some point I’ll do a follow-up to last year’s Singapore vlog, where the Chinese side of life on the island does feel rather under-represented.
In November, I was asked to deliver training in the law firm’s Dubai office. It was my first visit to an Arabic-speaking country. I had five days to look around afterwards. There’s a vlog on the way in which I go up the World’s tallest building and get on the back of a camel.
Back in the spring I was training colleagues in the office in Hamburg, Germany. Before going north, I took a week off to catch up with my friends from my three grad-student years in Heidelberg. I spoke a lot of German.
Otherwise, my German has been in maintenance mode for the whole of 2017.
I kept up a once-weekly italki conversation lesson until May but since then, it’s been occasional radio broadcasts and a developing “Tatort” habit (Tatort is a long-running German TV detective series).
Looking forward to the first half of 2018, I’m planning to continue maintaining my advanced languages and to keep on with my lower intermediate Basque.
I may focus on French in the second half of 2018….I’d like to certify at C1 level but we’ll have to see how things develop.
What about you? Did you set and achieve your goals for 2017? Will you be tweaking your methods or your routine for 2018?
> Don’t forget the power of goals that aren’t too far in the future. Three months is an ideal period.
Language events: see you there in 2018?
In May the Polyglot Gathering moved from the Berlin home of its first three years to the Slovak capital of Bratislava. There were some organisational innovations but a reassuring continuity too.
I vlogged daily from the Gathering. I knew what I was letting myself in for, as I’d done this once before on my Indonesian trip in September 2016. It was exhausting (think four hours video editing in the small hours each night) but hugely satisfying.
I’ve just done a four-minute summary video of the whole event for the Gathering website. They are now selling tickets for the firth Gathering. The venue will be the same. The dates: 30th May to 3rd June 2018.
This was my first time in Bratislava and my lens was roving round the city too . There’ll be a Smash & Grab vlog about the city and Slovak out on the site very soon.
Another event that changed venues this year was London’s Language Show. In Islington rather than Olympia it was an event in transition this year.
It was rather reduced from its previous glory but still well worth the day out. The Show is under new ownership next year, though and will be back in Olympia (West London), 9th – 11th November 2018..
Catch the vibe from the review and vlog here on the site.
The reason I was learning some Icelandic was that the Polyglot Conference took place there this year. As usual, I got to hear some interesting speakers. Even so, the spectacular venue itself felt a bit like the star of this year’s review and vlog.
Look out for a couple more vlogs from the country: a travel/culture “Smash and Grab” and my first venture into vlogging in Welsh.
Do you fancy attending one of these “Polyglot” events?
> You don’t have to be a polyglot to attend one of the “Polyglot” events, just to be enthusiastic for learning many languages or one. Sharing experiences with other language learners, can be a real help as we try to get fluent.
You could also try two other events that I haven’t been to yet: ExpoLingua in Berlin (a trade fair similar to London’s Language Show, November 16th-17th 2018) or the Montréal LangFest (21st to 26th August 2018)(more like the Gathering and the Conference).
The site – taking stock, plans and your new, free video course
In its early years, Howtogetfluent has focussed mainly on chronicling my own langauge exploits and showing how the lessons I learn can help you in your langauge learning.
At the end of 2016, I said I wanted to do more general pieces on language learning as well. This has been my intention from the site’s very inception but, once again, I rather failed in 2017 and I published only two such contributions.
For me as language learner, blogger and vlogger, I guess it’s all about priorities and choices around time and energy.
Once again, as in 2015 with my C1 Goethe Institute German exam project and in 2016 with the first attack at the TRKI third certficiate advanced Russian exam and my month’s intensive Basque course, I had set myself ambitious personal langauge learning goals. They were my priority.
And then there were all those work trips….and I was off on a completely different non-work project for the whole of August….and….and….
2018 will be the fifth year of Howtogetfluent and it’s high time the site moved up several gears.
So, I’ve decided there’ll be no ambitious personal language learning goals for the first half of 2018. My better languages will be in maintenance mode and Basque chugging forward in low gear.
My main focus will be the expanding what I offer you on the site and YouTube channel.
This means (as I’d hoped last year) aiming to write more – and more regularly – about general aspects of langauge learning and learning particular languages in detail.
I’m now excited to be launching a new free video course on how to learn a langauge. Look out for that at the very beginning of 2018 (if you’re reading this after launch, you can get it through the sign up in the box at the right or at the bottom of this post. If you’re already a subscriber and would like a slice of the action, drop me an email and I’ll forward it to you)(UPDATE 7 Jan 18: the course is now live, so if you’re interested, follow the link at the top of this para or sign up in one of the boxes).
In connection with the course, I’ve set up a Facebook Group, the Howtogetfluent Language Learners’ Club, where we can share tips and encourage each other. You can join here. I’ll continue to maintain the existing (less interactive) Facebook page as a noticeboard as well, of course.
I also want to keep in touch far more regularly with subscribers via the email list (aka Language Learners’ Club).
Another aim for 2018 is to expand the “Recommended resources” section of the site with more of the tried and tested products that I find most helpful.
Vlogging on YouTube: anybody watching?
Over on the YouTube channel, I’ve loved doing the reports from language events and I know that many attendees have enjoyed them. I’m always nervous about going up to people and brandishing my camera…..
Since I started vlogging, I’ve also done some fun (but generally little-viewed) conceptual vlogs with the help of some game participants at the language events. There was “Core vocablulary”, one of my first vlogs back at the Polyglot Conference in New York in 2015. This year I put out the German Pronunciation Challenge (shot at Polyglot Gathering Berlin, 2016) and “Alpha to Omega” (from the Conference at Thessaloniki in autumn 2016).
Subscriber growth on the channel has been depressingly slow. Overall viewing figures in general, pretty dismal.
At times just feel stupid spending hours and hours producing vlogs some of which have barely been viewed a hundred times (and some of those are me checking that things are all set to go 😉 ).
I guess I’m not posting vids regularly enough or really establishing enough of a connection with viewers 🙁 It’s something to work on and all (constructive) comments and suggestions on the channel are welcome.
Still, at the end of the day, I love making the videos, every view counts and I keep getting new ideas for shoots.
So, in 2018 the YouTube channel won’t be going anywhere…. Erm, best rephrase that: I’ll keep plugging away at it in 2018 🙂
Keep your eye on the prize!
Sometimes, keeping going at what can feel like a thankless labour of love is the best you can do, be it in vlogging or language learning.
> Whether it’s my written Russian, my spoken Basque or your own language learning project, the road to success involves one step after another, sometimes after sliding backwards or losing one’s way. We should expect to learn through mistakes and, strange as it may sound, through forgetting, again and again.
It’s still very well worth the inevitable frustrations.
Year in, year out, it never stops being a thrill to feel yourself gradually getting fluent….
I’ve loved working on the site for you in 2017. Let’s keep sharing our ups and downs and here’s to our language learning success in 2018, 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! and….in Icelandic: Gleðilegt nýtt ár.