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My language learning habits

I like the approach of habits a lot because it means I don’t need to think and choose what to do, which is incredibly energy consuming, I just do it and I know that I will enjoy it anyway. So let’s go.

Input habits

  1. BBC Radio 4. I know I’ve written about it repeatedly already, but I like it so much) I usually put it on 2-3 times a week while I’m cooking or eating. Lots of interesting stuff and more or less I keep up with the big world news. But it’s the variety of topics, opinions and stories that never cease to amaze me.

If you’re new to this group, I wrote about Radio and why it may be so useful for language learners.

  1. English and French podcasts, once a week during a walk. I mostly listen to Easy English or Easy French to get exposure to some more informal language. Two podcasts may seem almost nothing but in general I’m not a podcast person, I prefer light music or silence to constant talks, and with this practice I’ve listened to more episodes since June than for the previous years =)
  2. Reading before sleep, 3 times a week (40-80 min). This year I have finally made reading a real habit, more precisely I found a place for it in my routine and stuck to it, and I try to vary the languages. Now I’m adding German and I look forward to reading bits of classic literature in the original. Surprisingly, I liked short stories a lot. With them, the reading dynamic is, well, more dynamic than with novels or non-fiction. And with every story you get a sort of sense of achievement.

(4. Searching in English. This is in brackets because it’s a habit of many years – I mostly do my google searches and general reading/ watching on the Internet in English, unless I have to look up something on medical conditions and medicine. I could even say that I prefer the English information environment to the Russian one, I just feel better in it.)

As for series and films, I’ve reduced them a lot, mostly because I often get tired of the drama and fast-pacedness they’re so full of. Without them I definitely lack the input of informal language and slang, but as I don’t need them right now, I’m probably ready to make this sacrifice)

Output habits

  1. Language meetings. I have a study buddy and we usually have one French and one English a week. Sometimes we discuss a topic or summarise a video or an article we’ve prepared. Plus the catch up on the news.

I also have a meeting every 3-4 weeks with a wonderful lady, an English teacher from Hungary. With her it’s always a very fulfilling conversation that starts with a small talk and then just flows we never know where, always through a variety of topics. I call it the best test of my English knowledge))

  1. Diary and notes in English. I’m using an app called Daylio for this. I tried to journal every day, but finally decided on twice a week only (but still fill in for every day). A good exercise for memory and picking up some everyday words, my diary is. I also use English for to-do lists, my study diary, table with goals and many other notes, as it’s simply more concise.
  2. Speaking to myself, 2-3 times a week for about 20 min, mostly in English, but I add a bit of French now and then as well. It’s a new habit, I started it at the end of summer. To be honest, speaking has always been a problem for me in language learning. Not because it’s difficult to acquire the skill, but because by nature I don’t speak much. Oftentimes I prefer the role of a listener and add the shortest, (but not the simplest) remarks possible, hence my love for figurative language. When I’m tired I kind of lose the ability to speak, even in Russian, the words just don’t come. So, speaking to myself ultimately seems to be a good compromise between staying myself and still working on my speaking skills.

Working with the language

  1. Duo in French and now in German. I don’t use it as the main source of learning, but to pass the time, usually while cooking, mealtime or just waiting. Duo exercises may seem a bit mechanical, but if you look closely you’ll see that many sentences are constructed around some patterns, which I like a lot. In German, for example, instead of teaching cases, it just repeatedly shows noun phrases with them, like “ins Kino gehen” and “im Kino sein” for Accusativ and Dativ. Or the app makes you learn the word order by offering long sentences (already at A1.3). So because I naturally look for patterns in language input, this approach makes up a bit for not studying grammar explicitly.

I also make screenshots of the sentences I could personalise and then type them into a doc dividing them into different categories. That’s a habit of finding my language preferences – is this something I need in my life or not? Do I like it? – and focusing on the vocab that makes sense for me personally, instead of just “learning new words and phrases”.

  1. Regularly going to dictionaries and corpora to check myself and always reflecting on how I express myself – 6 tabs with them are always pinned in my browser. When I write, sometimes an expression comes to mind that I definitely haven’t studied, I don’t even know where I picked it up, but it sort of fits my idea. So I look it up. Or during our language calls, sometimes I have doubts whether something may be expressed with this or that word/ phrase, so I check with corpora. This is something teaching taught me long ago – don’t trust your language sense, memory is a tricky thing and our gut feeling about how a foreign language works is not always correct, even after years of studying it, so go and check your guesses, and it’s a very strong habit.
  2. Taking notes of new/ interesting vocab. I struggled with this one for a while as I was torn between the wish to take handwritten notes and the impracticability of it. Finally I decided on a Google doc and now I can quickly add something there from all my devices. I must admit it’s a rather messy doc but from time to time I go through it and transfer some expressions to Anki. Maybe creating cards there will be the next step.

(4. Doing crosswords in English. It’s not a strong habit yet, but sometimes when I have time to spare and I’m feeling a bit bored, I open an app called English Crossword Puzzle. With this lazy approach over a couple of years I’ve done 150 easy ones and 26 normal ones. I think it’s an excellent way to extract some vocab from memory. Well, it must be better than scrolling the feed or playing games =))

That’s it, that’s the list. A little bit here and there, and some opportunities to use all my language knowledge to the full. Of course, I’d like to add more habits, for example, regular writing and watching videos in French and German or going over my Anki cards, so I’m thinking where to fit them best and for how often.

As you may have noticed, there’s nothing about consciously learning words, or doing grammar, or working with textbooks. I sometimes do it, but not on a regular basis. As much as I like it, I just don’t seem to find enough time for it. Well, I hope to start a habit for the “real learning” next year, I just need to figure out which one exactly =) For now I rely on my brain for acquisition processes and I think it does a good job, especially with French)

Actually, I think that shifting from learning to a more natural process of acquisition is another habit I’ve acquired this year, which was hard as without “proper work with books” it seemed to be impossible to succeed in language learning (I think many teachers would agree with me, that’s the way we were taught). But I guess we should think better of our brains) And that’s usually well proven by bazaar traders or other service staff speaking several languages without much formal learning to attend to their client) Here’s also a good article about it.

To track my habits I use an app called Loop Habit Tracker and in it different colours for different categories of habits.

And what language habits do you have? Which ones would you like to introduce to your routine? Is there anything I’d like to borrow?

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

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