I have mixed feeling about the month. On the one hand I did a lot of things, on the other I was ill again, like I hadn’t been for a long time (I guess I caught flu after a virus), and continued to have problems with sleep. But I’m happy to say that my mood was very stable despite not feeling well and, overall, there were quite a lot of bright moments in December. The good things culminated in us leaving Moscow for a holiday at the sea. On the 31st I was bathing in sunlight and enjoying the blue sky, the palm trees and later the serenity of the sea at sunset, which stood in sharp contrast with Moscow where the temperature rose, snow turned to slush on the streets and the heavy grey sky didn’t let a single ray of the sun through.
Another interesting point to make is about my productivity. Although it had been more or less stable (and growing, bit by bit) since September, I still didn’t have time to finish all I wanted in December. But I’ve become a nerd with counting hours and making plans, so I looked at my yearly and monthly stats (in a table with recorded weekly hours spent on different activities in 15+ categories) and found out that I would have needed another 125 hours to tick off my to-do list. 125! That is 5-week delay with my current productivity. That means my head keeps making more plans that I can realistically implement. But, at least, now I know how large the excess is and I can start learning to plan, say, a third less. Numbers rock! No wonder I want to become a data analyst =)
The month started with an interesting “marathon” on VK called Language Advent. The idea was to do something for one’s languages, no matter how small it was, and to post a report on one’s wall every day till 24th of December. It had never occured to me before the event that there was a whole community of polyglots and language enthusiasts on vk and that they gathered together for such things.
Because I was ill and I still impressed by my summer experiment that left me kind of exhausted, I decided to take it as easy as possible and focus on only English and French. But, seeing so many other languages on the feed (there were 25, I guess) I couldn’t help myself and spent one day watching Spanish videos, one with German videos and wrote one short text in Russian. Some of my posts:
This time I tried a different approach: whereas in the summer I sat and focused on deliberate practice (like studying “for real”), this time I kept my focus either on reading and writing for the blog (and then highlighting some language aspects and reporting on them) or on fun (like cat videos). The only thing I made sure of was to add writing practice for French and spend more time with English dictionaries. So I didn’t plan what I would do exactly on a given day. Instead I listened to what I was feeling like doing with languages, without thinking too much. Still, I was the only one who wrote so much, not sure why – it’s such a good opportunity for a bit of productive practice.
How was the experience? Well, in general much better than in the summer because I lasted all 24 days and didn’t exhaust myself. However, I found that the necessity to post every day somewhat disrupted my other plans and some of them didn’t happen. On the other hand, I started following some polyglot groups and about 10 people joined mine. I was quite impressed by people who managed to study several languages a day (according to their posts) and those with less frequent languages, like Irish, Hebrew or Khakassian. Also now I have quite a collection of pdf magazines and YouTube channels to check out – these were shared by the other participants.
Any conclusions to draw? Well, I liked this public event, sharing something and reading other people’s posts, but in the future I’ll need to manage my plans better so that other things don’t get postponed. Maybe I need to change something in my approach to planning in general so that I have free resources and time for such experiments. Another lesson leant: even though it’s easier to find time to do “at least something for languages”, I still want a more fundamental and systematic approach with exercises and doing unit after unit in a textbook. Ideally, it’d be great to figure out how to combine the two.
After the advent I decided to create a new group for French. This one will be mostly for me, where I can share some of my notes or collect information about a particular topic. But I’m curious if anyone will join it. It would be so nice to have a space to chat in French and find like-minded people =)
Although the Language Advent event actually was at the back of my mind quite a lot of time and I kept going online to see new posts, I managed to post steadily for the group, channel and here. 8 new articles, of which the last 4 on lexical chunks are quite lengthy. Curiously, they are what happens to my thinking when I start getting tired: instead of going after easy things, it goes in the opposite direction, which usually demands further use of resources. But I quite enjoyed writing the posts as I’d been meaning to tackle the topic for a while (especially idioms).
- Should you use Translators in your language learning?
- Learning proverbs
- How to learn to understand native speech?
- Shapes of You – Guessing Games to Practise Grammar or Lexical Chunks
- How to notice lexical chunks: collocations
- How to notice lexical chunks: idioms, catchphrases, sayings and phrasal verbs
- Sentence frames and social formulae
- Discourse markers
However, as much as I’m trying I can’t get my followers to engage in a discussion or an exchange of opinions on my posts in the comments. Probably, the audience is still too small for this, and in general people don’t want to take extra effort and switch into English writing. But it also begs the question whether I’m applying my efforts in the right place. Maybe, opinions are more easily given elsewhere. This is something to think about and experiment.
The discovery and the jewel of the month was a masterclass by Seymour Bernstein I accidentally found on YouTube. He gives a lesson on one of Chopin’s preludes, but, God, how he does it! “I’d like to think that I’m a student forever, even though I’m 92.” This attitudes shows so much in the video! There’s so much love and deep respect for music, the composer and the audience, one can just marvel at this level of humbleness.
Interestingly, Seymour Bernstein spends quite a while explaining how a particular sign (“hairpins”) should be interpreted compared to how it is usually erroneously read in the works of romantics, even though it’s just a few bars in the piece. One would think that a renowned pianist and music teacher can just rely on his knowledge for such things, but no, Seymour Bernstein talks at length about the research (!) he has done and quotes the places from letters from those times on the correct interpretation and refers to several other musical pieces (and plays them).
These explanations are aimed at pianists, and if you’re not one of them they might not seem that fascinating. But I would definitely recommend listening to the prelude in question. It’s just about 3 minutes and starts at 1:34. It’s not only the grand piano that sounds wonderful, it’s all those years of experience, wisdom and respect that you’ll hear, like you hear in great pianists.
I was so impressed by this masterclass that I made it one of my “gifts” to languages during Language Advent. Such music is definitely beyond any language barriers =) I should definitely watch more of this. I could even give it a go and try learning the prelude, applying the master’s suggestions. Pity I don’t have a grand piano at home.
As for my other musical experience, I played only twice (before I watched the above) and listened to Bach and Beethoven as before.
Books and Maths
Well, this is where my plans went awry.
I spent only 3 hours on 3d geometry and found out that my spacial thinking is almost non-existent – I had to cut carrots to solve a problem on shapes and a cutting plane… Those were like A1-A2 problems if we compare them with languages, but I couldn’t wrap my head around them at all. What a surprise.
With books, there 3.5 hours spent on Thinking, Fast and Slow (I’m taking notes on every chapter, so it is going very slow) and 3 hours on Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. This book is an easy read, but again, I was distracted by languages and couldn’t focus much on it. I hope to finish both books in January and write more about them.
Any plans for January?
Ah, it’s easy-peasy. I plan to finish what’s on my list and then I’ll see. But first, there’s the sea and the sun to enjoy! More photos will follow next month =)