This is the corrected version of an article that I wrote for the Polyglot Project. Do consider that I’m not a native speaker.
I hope you like my article, if not, it doesn’t matter because it was a good exercise for me. I never wrote such a long writing in English before!
Comments are welcome.
Everything about the project: http://www.youtube.com/user/syzygycc
Who am I?
Hi, I’m Vera. I’m from Germany, and German is my native language. I’m not a polyglot, but I’m a learner of English and French. At first I was reluctant to participate in this project, but a friend asked me to reconsider. Also, there was a thread about this project in the forum of www.LingQ.com. The fact that Claude, who became a friend on YouTube, had extended the deadline finally persuaded me to take part. So, I decided to give this project a chance, and here is my submission. I’ll tell you my story of language-learning. I don’t know if it is interesting—that. I’ll let reader decide.
In January, 2008 my boyfriend told me that he wanted to learn English. We were planning a holiday in the United States of America for the Summer of 2010. Because of this, my boyfriend thought it would be a good idea to learn some English. He had never really learned English in school, because it wasn’t offered there. English wasn’t usually offered at this time in many German schools. Some years ago, he had taken a basic course in English at a school that’s similar to an “Open University,” something that is very common in Germany. So, having some basic knowledge of the language, he decided to seriously start learning English. When he checked the times of the English courses that were offered at the Open University, however, he found that they didn’t fit his time schedule.
I thought his learning English was a good idea, and it couldn’t hurt for me to brush up my English too. Thirty years ago I had studied English for eight years in school, but I never had the chance to use it, aside from two holidays. I have to admit that I disliked language-learning in school. I did what I was supposed to do, but I was never happy with the results. I was able to express very basic things; I was able to read technical instructions about computers and software, but I couldn’t follow an English TV or radio program, or read more complex writings. I never really enjoyed language-learning at this time. It was not a problem with the teacher—I actually had a very nice teacher. It’s just that I wasn’t interested. I think one of the problems was that my exposure to the language was just not enough. We had the books, the teacher and the language lab as resources, but I hated the language lab because of the terrible quality of the tapes. We spent our time learning grammar, vocabulary, reading uninteresting things, and doing exercises.
How to start?
At the end of January, 2008 I read a note about our British/German-Friendship association in the newspaper. They wanted to establish an English conversation group. So we decided to give this group a chance. Unfortunately, the group met only every second week, and the leader of the group organized it in a way that reminded me of my school days, and no wonder—he was a teacher!
I decided to buy a book that came with CDs in order to study on my own. At this time, the Hueber Verlag (a German publisher) had a special offer. There was a book offered with 3 CDs for only 12 Euros (about 16 US Dollars). I thought that this was a good offer, and I was willing to spend the money. I bought the book and put the CD’s’s on my MP3 player. I listened to the MP3’s and read the text of the dialogues in the book. There was a translation of the dialogues, a list with important words, short explanations of grammar, some small exercises (but not too much), and some cultural notes. I enjoyed these CDs because the dialogues seemed to be authentic and natural. They had different voices from different countries, and I never got bored with this enjoyable learning material. I know that I learned a lot with this book.
The authors recommend listening to the dialogue once or twice, without reading the transcript in advance. That’s what I always did. I then listened to the dialogue and I read it at the same time. Then I listened again for a few more times. I did some of the exercises, but not all of them. I liked the cultural notes that gave me background information about Britain. When I felt bored, I stopped doing the exercises and I continued listening to the dialogues. It was easy going because most of this was a repetition of what I had been learning at school.
First goal: Better listening abilities
When I came to the end of the book, I thought about how to continue. I knew at this time, that I liked listening a lot, and that I preferred to have a script of the audio because of my poor listening abilities. The script often helped me to get the meaning. I thought there must be some something like that on the internet and started to search for material. There are some podcast lists available on the Internet, and I found some podcasts. One of the first podcasts I enjoyed was the ESLPod. It is spoken very clearly and slowly, but not as other podcasts, such as „The Spotlight Podcast“. The script is only available for paying members, but I could understand most of the podcast without a script. It was ideal for developing my listening abilities.
In the beginning, I tried to find podcasts with free transcripts. I checked a lot of podcasts, but most of them did not provide a transcript. Then I found the EnglishLingQ podcasts. The script was available for free, and all I had to do was to sign up for a free membership. Honestly, I dislike signing up for websites, but I was very keen to get podcasts with transcripts. So I signed up in May 2008, and Wow—there was so much content coming with audio and text. What a huge surprise for me! I was very excited—I cannot describe how I felt. Maybe the way the gold diggers did in the good old days when they found gold in California? I was fascinated by the number and variety of content in the LingQ English library.
My surprise was much bigger when I figured out how LingQ works. The integration of numerous dictionaries, and the possibility of saving words and phrases of text in a personal database that you can use for your flash carding are very helpful. What’s even better is that you can import each text you want to study on your own! In new texts, all unknown and unlearned words are highlighted, and it is unbelievably helpful to see this in one view. I got addicted to LingQ and to language learning. It has become part of my life.
Second and main goal: Fluency
I began to think about my goals in language learning. My main goal was to be able to converse in English, to reach fluency. I did a lot of training for my listening ability when I listened to podcasts, but eventually there was a need to speak. You need passive vocabulary for listening and reading, but you need an active vocabulary for speaking. Passive vocabulary includes all of the words that you know. Active vocabulary includes all words that you can use actively, while speaking and writing. The passive vocabulary is bigger than the active vocabulary, and it is much bigger even in your native language.
After talking to myself for some time in order to train my brain to find the words that fit a given situation, and practising shadowing (speaking at nearly the same time as the speaker of podcast) in order to acquire the ability to pronounce the foreign language, I decided that it was now time to speak, in order to learn how to speak. At this time, I was a free member of LingQ for two months. I then decided to upgrade to a basic account. The basic membership allows you to save more words and phrases and, most importantly for me, it comes with a discount for buying points that I would need in order to sign up for a conversation with a tutor. I bought my first points and signed up for a conversation.
I can hear you asking, “why don’t you use a free language exchange?” I never thought about free language exchange. I was keen to get a detailed report about the conversations, and in my opinion it is very convenient to look up the availability of the English tutors and decide instantly when I could sign up to get started. It did not require having a lot of correspondence with a language exchange partner, and I liked this business model. I pay for something, and I know exactly what I’m getting. I also like the fact that there is no further commitment. I like not having to think about how to pay back what someone has done for me, and always thinking about what I could do for them.
Helping with German
At this moment Steve Kaufmann, the founder of LingQ and a polyglot who speaks more than 10 languages, has asked me if I could tutor German at LingQ. LingQ has helped me a lot, and I was glad that I could now help members from all over the world to learn German. Now, I earn points for tutoring German and I can use these points either for my own studies, or I can get cash for them. Guess what I do! I think you guessed right: I always use my points for learning languages. I’m now at the point where it costs me no money because of the points I accumulate through my own learning sessions.
At the same time, I started creating material for LingQ’s German library. I wrote and recorded articles, and I transcribed German podcasts (if the podcaster gives me permission) to be used on LingQ. The main problem is that it is difficult to find enough German podcasts that include a transcript along with the podcast (an exception being the „Deutsche Welle“ podcasts). I strongly believe that LingQ and Deutsche Welle have the greatest collection of German audios that are accompanied by transcripts on the internet.
Third goal: Less mistakes
After a few months using LingQ I realized that I was speaking much better than before. I made some mistakes, but I was able to express most of my ideas. I reached near fluency. I reached my goal in being able to converse. Next, I changed my goal slightly: I wanted to be able to speak more correctly. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to speak flawlessly. But I saw some potential for improvement. There was no pressure behind this—I just started enjoying writing in English. I write things, and then I then submit my writings to a tutor. The detailed report that I get back helps me to correct my weaknesses. This helps me a lot to improve my grammar. I know I’m still not perfect, but I get more and more used to the language. I’m now more aware of the structure. When I’m now reading texts on LingQ, I concentrate more on those structures and phrases that show me how the language works. What I do very seldom, however, is to read explanations in a grammar book. I like to pick up the grammar and structure from examples.
Fourth goal: Enjoy reading
Reading an English book was never fun for me. It was a duty. I had to do it for school or for my job. I wanted to figure out if it would be possible to enjoy an English book, and that’s why I decided begin reading English books some time ago. One of my English tutors recommended „Chick-lit“ to me, because these kinds of books are about daily life and are written in daily conversational English.
I didn’t want to read graded readers. I went to a book store and read the first page of a few books. After some minutes, I decided to take a funny criminal story written in daily English. The story was not too challenging, and the language seemed very authentic to me.
It was a good choice! I had a lot of fun reading the book. Now I’m reading the third book of this series and can read English at a good speed. I don’t read English as fast as German, but I’m more than satisfied with my progress. What I’m not doing is looking up unknown words. As long as I can follow the story, there is no need to know each word. It is much more important for me to feel the „flow,“ and to enjoy the book. When I read a book, I don’t want to be like a bookkeeper.
The state of affairs
At the moment, I’m at the level of a high-intermediate or low-advanced learner. My knowledge of English was proved on our holiday in the United States, as I had no problem in dealing with any situation. I was able to converse, complain about things, or ask questions about the environment or anything else. I’m still making errors, and my pronunciation has a German touch, but I’m understandable and can make my point. That’s all that I really wanted to accomplish. I never thought about reaching perfection. I’m very satisfied with the result of my efforts.
How I study English
I study English the following way:
For a minimum of one hour, I listen to different English podcasts—for example, “EnglishLingQ,” “Interesting thing of the day,” “Listen to English,” “ESLPod,” “Business English Pod,” or “6 Minute English.” Some of them are easy for me, so I can concentrate on structures and phrases. Others are more challenging and I can train my listening abilities and grab some new vocabulary. I think it is fine to have a mixture. As you can see, I use American English and Canadian English, as well as British English. I love all the accents. I do my listening while doing other things such as driving my car.
I work on two or three texts a week with LingQ, then I save a lot of words and phrases to the LingQ database. Usually, I do this for 30 minutes a day. I love to save phrases because phrases, show how to use the words in a correct manner.
I review my words and phrases for about 10 to 15 minutes a day. I don’t learn them—I do this very quickly. I only read the word and decide if I know it or not, and then read the translation. I made the following observation: if a word is important, I’ll encounter it again in another podcast. It will then stick with me without the need for „learning“ it. Our brain works in this way. If I don’t encounter the word again, it couldn’t be that important.
I read 10 to 30 minutes a day, either in a book or on English websites.
I speak three times a week for 30 minutes with one of my tutors. I have tutors from England, the States, and Canada.
I submit writings, if I’m in the mood to write an article. Some months, I submit about 1,000 words of English. In other months I don’t submit any writings. However, I write a lot on the forum of LingQ in English.
Sometimes I watch TV programs in English, but this is difficult, because my boyfriend is not able to follow them and he dislikes that. Maybe I can change this if his English gets better!
Starting with French
Recently I started learning French. In French, I’m a beginner. I learned some French in school, but I forgot almost everything in the past 30 years. I like the sound of French, and France is not only our neighbour country, it is a very beautiful country too. That’s why I think it is worth learning French. I bought five or six cheap books that came with CDs. I think I spent about 70 or 80 Euros, which is less than 100 US Dollars.
As a beginner, I learn in a totally different way. I started to listen to three different audio courses. The courses come with some short dialogues in French, as well as oral vocabulary lists, grammar explanations in my native language, and some oral tasks.
In a small textbook, there were transcripts of all the dialogues. I decided to type them into my computer. Typing a dialogue has two effects. The words stay better with me, and I learn how to spell words in French. It takes some time, but it is a good exercise. I think it is a good idea, if you start with a new language, to type some texts on your own. The main advantage of this was that I could import this text and audio into LingQ and save words and phrases, like I’m used to doing for English.
The other books that I bought are courses with a book and CDs. There is a lot of redundancy in this material, but I like that—especially at the beginning. The repetition factor can be high without your getting bored. And, you can get used to different voices. I typed the text of these courses as well, and added them to LingQ so that I can work with them.
What I now do for French is listening to audio CDs, reading the text, and saving words and phrases to review. Next, I’ll start to study with the material on LingQ. In the past year, a lot of new content was created by members and added to the library, and I’m keen to use it.
Before I’ll start to speak French I’ll do a lot of listening and reading. It is important, in my opinion, to acquire enough vocabulary to be confident and able to speak.
Language learning helped me
I wrote above that I want to help German learners. Therefore, I created a lot of material for learners of German. The funny thing is that learning languages has helped me to develop other abilities and to master totally different tasks. Language-learning for its own sake is great, but it has helped me in other ways too! For example,
I learned how to use Skype.
I learned how to write articles (looking how other people do it).
I learned how to download podcasts with a podcatcher.
I learned how to record articles with Audacity.
I learned how to tag the MP3 files.
I learned how to create a cover for a podcast with different paint programs.
I learned how to design podcast collections and share them on LingQ.
I learned how to write a blog (http://lingqvera.posterous.com).
I learned how to use Facebook, something I never thought about before.
I learned how to use Twitter (http://twitter.com/LingQVera). I never thought about it as well.
I brushed up my knowledge of HTML to individualize my Facebook account and my blog.
I learned how to record a video with my webcam.
I learned how to overwork a video with Camtasia studio.
I learned how to convert this video in a format for YouTube.
I overcome my shyness and shared videos in English and German on YouTube.
I learned how to use YouTube ().
I learned how to use Google documents (https://docs.google.com/View?id=dgpj8nz7_5dw7pkvgj).
I learned how to write a Wiki (http://lingq.pbworks.com/Deutsche-Startseite).
I learned how to record a screen cast with Jing.
I learned to use Pootle, a translation tool used for the translation of the interface of LingQ.
Isn’t that great? I’m sure I forgot things …
Language learning has brought me a lot of nice contacts from all over the world: other language learners, tutors and a lot of podcasters. It has opened my mind.
What is my advice for language-learning? Be as much in contact with the language as possible. The more exposure you have to the language, the better. Do language learning in the way YOU like! That’s why I like LingQ. It is so flexible, and everything I need is available on LingQ.
Have Fun! That is the best advice I can give. If you have fun, you stay motivated, and you’ll learn a lot more. That’s how our brain works.
The Polyglot Project is available for free! Look here: