Skip to content

Mini Marathon of Languages

At the end of July I was quite seriously stuck with my channel and VK group. I felt that I should write something there, after all I’d already started gathering some audience. But texts didn’t come, let alone inspiration.

One reason for this, I suspected, was the wrong focus. The channel and the group were supposed to be an addition to this blog and any experiments that I do in general. Instead, they had taken so much focus, time and energy that none was left for any other types of writing.

Then, quite suddenly, an idea struck me. Why not focus on learning my languages and write about how I do it in the channel and the group? That would be much closer to what I had initially intended to do. So I thought of a 12-day experiment where I’d dedicate three days to studying every foreign language I know.

I also thought I would be interesting because my language skills are of different levels, from A1 to C2, so my approaches to working on them would vary accordingly. So every my “report” on my studies could come with some pieces of advice/ rationale on what I did and why.

Well, in the end the experiment took 18 days because I had to take some breaks, but overall it was quite a success. I even look at it now as one of the most pleasant memories of the summer. It’s such a shame I can’t find so much time or energy for languages on a regular basis. They are so much fun!

At last I could sit down calmly and focus on the language in question. And, I should say, it’s a very big difference from trying to do 15 minutes in one app and half an hour in another, as I’d previously done with Spanish and German. In vain did I try to get used to the now so popular “bite-sized learning”… For me, as my experiment proved again, the best approach seems to be deliberate practice and long involvement in the studies.

Some statistics

Time spent and what was done:

  • French – 6 hours in total. I started with a random video of a French vlogger who talked about a ski resort called Tignes in the French Alps. So I continued exploring the resort and the region where it’s situated. Then I published an article here summing up some information and expressions. I also enjoyed making recordings of me speaking in French (like a diary).
  • Spanish – also 6 hours in total. Because of my previous approach where I had studied Spanish with Busuu, some coursebooks and the Extra series, I was a bit lost as to what I know and where I am withing the CEFR levels. So I decided on a new system of studies (slowly work through the A1 book and make sure I know all the topics well and can express myself on them) and started bringing order to my notes. With a book called Nuevo Prisma (A1) I revised the topic of Jobs (Unit 2) and started Daily Routines (Unit 3).
  • German – 4 hours in total. I guess my levels of Spanish and German are similar but, even though I studied German at university, I think I understand Spanish better and feel more comfortable with it. So I decided to focus on improving my receptive skills and read and listened to one A1-A2 book called Die Skorpion-Frau (which wasn’t easy at all). I was a diligent student, took notes on every chapter and made a list of words to take away from it (hopefully I’ll remember what they mean next time I see them). I then enjoyed a couple of videos in German (with subs) about Heidelberg (this is where the book is set).
  • English – also 4 hours in total. With English I tackled the issue I’d long had in mind: C2. I started with piling up information on the differences between C1 and C2, with examples of speech. Then I got a bit tired and decided to do some C2 reading and listening from CPE preparation book (Objective Proficiency). I got about 85% correct and I quite enjoyed the language.

I also really enjoyed taking notes, slowly, thoroughly, in detail and with some highlighting. Here are some:

Conclusions drawn

So over 18 days I spent just 20 hours on my languages and got tired close to not being able to take any new information in. That was quite a sobering experience because before the experiment I had thought I could manage to learn all four languages a week (if I really, really put my mind to it). Well, no. I can’t.

I’m lucky, though. The languages don’t actually mix up in my head – I can keep them “on different shelves” with some rare interferences between French and Spanish. I can’t complain about my memory either. I may not remember some words, which is to be expected without practice, but my passive knowledge doesn’t deteriorate much and I can reconstruct what I did, what I wanted to do or the contents of the learning materials I worked with 6 months before and earlier.

However, the overall cognitive load, when studying almost every day, turned out to be too much. I’m surprised and saddened by this discovery. Because, while I am with a language, it doesn’t feel like hard work or effort. It feels like something very familiar and easy to do (if compared to studying analytics or doing maths problems). Like something enjoyable and only making vocab lists is sometimes a bit boring.

On the other hand, what’s the hurry to learn all of them at once? Actually, for now there aren’t any practical reasons to learn them at all. It’s just for the pleasure of working with the languages. So I could experiment more with the frequency of doing the languages. Maybe two a week will be better, or even one. Or maybe just focus on doing mini projects and forget about regularity.

Also, while doing the mini marathon I came up with 26 different tips on how to learn languages. Without thinking too much. Whatever I did, I could see the rationale behind it straight away and turned it into a short text very quickly. I don’t think it makes sense to put all the tips into one article because they very much depended on how I studied the language on a particular day, my mood and my state. If you’re interested, check them in the channel or in the group.

And I think that’s probably how my teaching knowledge is organised: it’s all associative and practice/ case based. Because the approach and choice of activities depends on many things: on the learner, their needs, their previous knowledge, their current condition/ mood/ well-being and so on. When there’s a clear request from a particular person whose language I can hear, I know what can be done. But when it’s teaching mixed-ability groups or creating courses for general public, I feel at a loss.

Anyway, I’ve found that it’s much easier to write in the style of “reports” or after having done something that when I just have a topic in mind. Now I’m thinking how to use it to my own advantage to post more regularly in the channel and the group.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *