Last September, my life got turned a bit upside down. First, routine tests revealed that my dad had cancer and he had to go into hospital for a major op. I decamped to stay at his apartment near Oxford so I could visit him hospital. We expected him to be out in five days, but he was in for a month. For a few days, things look pretty grim and it was just at that point that I got a call from my London housemate at 2am one morning. There’d been a burst pipe in my house and the ceiling below had collapsed.
Just what I needed!
It never rains, but it pours (as they say).
As I’m sure you can imagine, one result of these unexpected misfortunes was that my usual language learning routines were up in the air.
Come to think of it, that’s something that happens several times a year in more normal times as well, when I’m on an extended trip abroad with work, for example.
I’m sure you, too, experience periods of life crisis when it’s suddenly much more of an ask to keep up with a regular daily slot, whether it’s for focussed study or for plugging away at deliberate practice with your language (however you get it).
Yet there are often things we can do to keep the language gently ticking over through the turbulence.
Things that might even provide a dollop of language learning balm to keep us occupied when we’re on a long flight…
…or take our minds off worries as we sit in a hospital waiting room.
Here are three of my “easy fixes” for times like these:
I’m subscribed to several beginner level podcasts in Japanese and I can also use my phone to tune in to native-radio stations in my advanced languages.
If you’re following a language course, make sure you’ve got the audio in portable form.
Switch it on when you’re on the train, exercising or in the shower.
If you fancy live radio, try playing around with the site radio.garden
There, you’ll find a globe.
You can spin it round, zoom in and out and lock on to a station from any location you like and, after a few seconds, it’ll start streaming.
Great fun to play with and you might just find something new:
Something to read
As for packing books, when I packed for Oxford at short notice, my rucksack was already loaded with two laptops, folders and papers from work, ready for an indeterminate period away. On the language front, all I could carry was a 91-page novella in Basque.
Maybe it’s time I tried a Kindle.
Your emergency reading matter could be printouts of the dialogues from your language course, a magazine or something on that Kindle.
Something to scroll
Oh, and I like to keep a deck of vocab flashcards in my jacket pocket (and a flashcard review app like Anki on my phone).
If flashcards aren’t your thing, do you have a separate social media accounts where you just follow people who post in your target language?
Whether it’s a German Twitter feed, your fave Spanish Instagrammers or Russians on TikTok…when you just feel like scrolling, do it in the lingo 🙂
Of course, there may also be times when you’re simply not able to engage at all.
Days or weeks might pass when your language has to be fully “on hold”.
But, if you’re already a serious student, a complete pause in itself is nothing to worry about.
I often find that a total break can have real benefits at the level of sub-conscious consolidation.
Then, when things are back to normal and I’m ready to “get regular” again, my language learning anchors help stabilise the ship as the engines fire up.
But that’s a topic for a later post.
For now, I’m happy to report that my dad made a full and relatively rapid recovery.
Fixing the ceilings in my dining room and study has taken rather longer and has been massively disruptive (partly because I had far too much stuff piled up in my study and everything needed to be sorted and moved).
But, this week, after a five month wait, the plasterer has been round. He’s done a great job.
Next up: the painter.
Here’a a vlog on the “keeping things ticking over” theme. I shot it from my dad’s village when I was over there last Sepember.