The issue of parents teaching their children comes up often and I’ve even had someone guest post on the blog about it before. That’s great if you speak the languages yourself, but what if you are monolingual and still want to give your child the best possible head start in this wonderfully global world?
Christine, who blogs at AlmostFearless and who has been travelling with her husband since 2008, has thought long and hard about this while she raises her own son, and is even writing a book about the experience. If you want to help out, see details at the end of the post. Otherwise, enjoy her take on what parents can do to help their children learn languages that the parents themselves don’t speak fluently yet!
There was a profile of Ellen Bialystok in the NY Times a few years ago, and it came out just after my grandfather had died from dementia. In the article, Bialystok, a researcher who focuses on bilingualism talked about her discovery that bilinguals and trilinguals gained about 4-5 years before they started showing symptoms of memory loss from late-life diseases like Alzheimer’s.
This study stuck with me because my grandfather, a Finnish-English bilingual, had led a long healthy life, until he got dementia — but it only appeared in his last year. In fact he was at a condo in Florida outside of Palm Beach, that specific place because of the large Finnish population – they even have their own Finnish newspaper. It was through this strange bubble of Finnish speakers, both in Florida where he spent half the year, and in surrounding area around his home in Massachusetts, that allowed my grandfather to use both languages his entire life, decades after his immigrant parents died. Based on Bialystok’s research, being bilingual might have given him 4 extra years of good health. Read the Rest!
Last weekend, I stumbled upon an interesting event; Valencia’s Japan Weekend. I thought that this would be an excellent occasion to level upand use my Japanese in person for the first time! You can’t get better than an event just about the country whose language you are learning… right?
The theme of the exposition, was “Manga Hall”, and there were lots of animé characters, computer games, manga of course, and aficionados dressed up in cosplay. Me and my camerawoman walked around for a while, recorded an intro for the video and then started to see that unfortunately most people attending were Spaniards.
I went to the information desk to ask (in Spanish) if there was someone from Japan who could talk to me about Japanese culture or travelling in Japan – a nice little quick video to mark my first time ever speaking Japanese in person. But there wasn’t (misleading event name or what!) Read the Rest!
We are now coming into the final days of month two, so it’s time for another video! In this video I stuck to the topic of my travel plans in Japan, so I edited it to stay on that topic. As such, my italki teacher Yuri didn’t get a chance to show how good she is and how well she can communicate with learners – sorry about that!
I’ll take a break from uploading Japanese videos next week so that I can keep focused on improving my comprehension to interact with natives better, (which will be more of a theme next month, as me doing most of the talking has been the theme this month) as well as finally tidying up the last of my basic vocab and grammar issues so that I have a solid level to improve from for the final weeks of the project.
My upcoming travel plans in Japan – feedback welcome!
As you heard in the video, I am starting to think about precisely where I want to go in Japan and am looking into the logistics of everything. As such, my current plan is:
Leave Spain mid-December to spend a week in Ireland for xmas. Then fly to Thailand to be somewhere cheap and comfortable so that I can catch up on work for a few weeks. You’ll see when I announce my plans for the entire year early January why I really need to work a lot first!
Since I’ll get that work done, then I’ll be able to fully focus on Japan, and around 18-22 January I’ll fly to Okinawa and spend a week there. I heard that it’s where karate has its origins and if possible, I’d like to make a video (in Japanese) about it, in the same kind of way I made a video about Kung Fu in China.
Then at the end of January, I’ll fly to mainland Japan. My options for three weeks first are to:
Fly somewhere in the south, pick up a 21 day train pass (see below), and explore the country for 3 weeks, seeing as many cool places as I can – spending about 2 or 3 days in each place.
Fly into Kyoto (or some other specific city) and live there for a whole week to get to know it a little better. Then pick up a 14 day train pass to see some of the rest of the country.
Either way, at the end of those 3 weeks, I’ll then finally end up in Tokyo. I think it will be way more interesting to go to Tokyo at the end of my trip rather than at the beginning. I’ll spend about 8 days in Tokyo and then fly out.
This is only the first time I’ll visit Japan, so I can make a note of places I want to spend more time in on the next visit. Japan is pretty expensive, so if you are in tourist mode, five or six weeks is already going to be very expensive. I could spend those weeks in one place of course, but I would really like to take this chance to see as much as I can, and explore interesting cultural aspects of more than one place.
Something akin to the Eurail pass we have in Europe, the “Japan Rail pass” is a single ticket that you can buy which gives you unlimited access to the trains across the country in Japan, without any reservations.
Oddly enough, if you buy it outside of Japan it works out way cheaper than if you buy it in Japan. You can see details here.
While the 21 day pass price of 57,700 yen (about US$574) may seem expensive, in fact getting a single train can be dreadfully expensive. For instance, Osaka to Tokyo can be 12000-14000 (about US$120+) with a normal single ticket. Whenever I have it (whether it’s for 14 or 21 days) that’s the period when I would take trains, and wouldn’t get any extra ones beyond this to keep costs down.
So where to?
With the options open, the only question is where do I really want to spend the time? I definitely want to be more around the Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo areas, so I may even bite the bullet and give each city one week, pay for a normal train between two cities, and then spend one other week exploring off the beaten track a bit before arriving in Tokyo.
If you have suggestions, do let me know! However, I’ve found that asking the Internet where to go tends to get less than useful “come here because I live here” or “I visited just one village in Japan and it’s amazing so you should just go there” suggestions, but hopefully I can get good inspiration!
I do have to decide soon because accommodation options are nightmarishly expensive (even youth hostels), but slightly less so when you get them well in advance. If I can find free options (like Couchsurfing or house sitting) then I’ll go for those too. No matter what though, I’ll likely leave some days when I have the train pass completely open to whimsy.
And what to do?
There are hot springs, snow monkeys, sleeping in temples, particular people I’d like to see, maybe a really cheesy romantic getaway on Valentine’s day with my girl, but (for now) I’m open to suggestions! I’ll have my camera on the ready to share the experience on Youtube, and interview locals to ask them about it in Japanese of course.
When I finally make it to Tokyo, then I can definitely find someone to sit down and interview me in Japanese so you can see my level with the combination of 3 intensive months of studying, and a few intensive weeks of being in the country, since Skype calls have their limits and I’m looking forward to in-person interactions!
If anyone has connections they can put me in touch with then I’d appreciate that! Somewhere I can housesit or some touristy thing that could maybe give me a big reduction or let me visit for free if I share what they do in a video etc. Any connections like that! Hopefully I can experience as much of Japan as possible without also going bankrupt (living in Japan for the long term could be cheaper once you are renting a place with a normal contract, but this won’t be possible for me on this visit).
Sadly, late February I have to leave Japan, as there is somewhere I really need to be to do something really exciting that I’ll tell you about later.
All tips appreciated to help me form a more solid plan and take advantage of six whole weeks exploring Japan!
One of my (many) blog posts that stirred up controversy is my cry to timid people to stop being so shy. While the premise made sense to many who want to be more outgoing, a lot of people felt that I didn’t appreciate introverts’ perspective very well. As such, I’ve invited Adam from the Road to Epic to share his thoughts as a language learner and introvert.
Note that I still don’t agree with the extrovert/introvert divide as understood by many introverts, and say as much in a comment below to not take attention away from this great post. Despite my thoughts I know that a lot of you who can genuinely relate to Adam in not enjoying the social aspect of language learning in as high doses as people like myself, but who are still interested in improving your speaking skills, will find some food for thought here!
The Road to Epic a site about helping you find that path to living the life you really want to live and becoming the person you want to be. On it, Adam encourages people to live their own life, rather than follow someone else’s rules.
Over to you Adam!
Speaking a language is a skill. Like any other skill, if you really want to get good at it then it’s going to require practice. For languages that means lots of time talking, meeting new people, socializing, getting out there and making mistakes. If you’re an extrovert that all sounds great.
But if you’re an introvert – that’s terrifying.
Introverts and extroverts just don’t function the same as each other. As a result, trying to force an introvert to study like an extrovert or vice versa is never going to work as well as finding a learning style that’s tailored to how that person learns best.
Thankfully if you’re on the introverted side of things, all is not lost.
Am I an Introvert?
A little housekeeping before moving forward, being introverted and being shy are not the same thing. I’m going to say that again. In bold. Because it’s important.
Being introverted and being shy are not the same thing.
Introversion and extroversion relate primarily to how a person refills their energy tanks. In basic terms, if social interaction depletes your energy and alone time replenishes it then you’re an introvert. If being alone drains you and you need social interaction to feel energized then you’re an extrovert.
Of course there’s a broad spectrum here. This isn’t a binary system, and you can be a weak introvert or extrovert or even an ambivert, someone who’s roughly in the middle.
Shyness, on the other hand, comes down to a fear or dislike of social interaction. It’s possible to have a shy extrovert (someone who craves social interaction but is terrified by it) or an outgoing introvert (someone who loves social interaction but can only handle it in small doses). It’s a lot easier to stop being shy than it is to change where you are on the into/extroversion scale.
Personally, I fall into that outgoing introverts category I mentioned. I’m a personal trainer by trade, which means my entire living is based off of being social. I’m paid by commission and have to find my own clients, which means I have to be walking the floor chatting with people, introducing myself and essentially networking a good chunk of my day if I want to do important things like eat and keep a roof over my head. On top of that I spend hours each day with my clients.
It’s not just counting out reps and telling them not to give up, every one of my clients also becomes a friend and we talk quite a bit. My success is contingent almost entirely on being friendly, outgoing, approachable and comfortable chatting with strangers.
This is a lot like the situation most language learners find themselves in. Their success in language learning, like mine in meeting new clients, is tied heavily to their ability to get out and chat with people. That’s scary for introverts.
So how do I make it through every day? By understanding how to manage my energy levels.
Energy Management for Introverts
Imagine you have a cup of water. Every time you meet someone, that person takes a drink out of the cup (sorry mysophobes, bear with me here). They may take a little sip or a big gulp, but each person gets some. The only way you can refill your cup is by spending some time alone at the faucet.
That’s what being an introvert is like. The question is at the end of the day when you need to quench your thirst, is there any water left in your cup for you?
That water is your energy, and your ability to monitor it and understand how and when to refill it are the keys to not ending your day thirsty. Part of that is knowing yourself well enough to know what re-energizes you. If you don’t know where the faucet is how are you going to get more water? The other part is being mindful of how much is left in your cup and knowing when to step away from things to spend a minute at the tap.
Now energy management is easily an article in and of itself. The key takeaway is recognizing that your learning strategies need to take your energy management into account. If your strategy for learning hinges on you socializing with as many people as you can as often as you can and you never refill your cup, you’re bound to wind up miserable and being miserable is not terribly conducive to success in anything.
Introverted Learning Strategies
So what can we do to get the most out of our learning as card-carrying introverts but not end up with cups drier than the Atacama desert? Here are some strategies I’ve found particularly helpful.
Control Your Interactions – Everyone’s got a different sized cup. Initially you might not have a good feel for what size yours is – diving into an uncontrolled social situation like a party with no idea how big or small your energy reserves are is like going on a road trip with a broken fuel gauge.Couple that with the fact that most introverts consider large, uncontrolled social situations the most draining and it’s just asking to burn yourself out.Instead, at least at the beginning, try to focus your efforts on interactions that you’re in control of. That means ones where you can extricate yourself from things without too much trouble or situations where there’s a concrete ending. Set a time limit for yourself if you’re going to go to a larger event like a meetup. Letting people know you can only stay for an hour for example is a polite way to give yourself a finish line to reach.
Emphasize One On One Time – Introverts tend to strongly prefer deeper one-on-one conversations than more open larger group conversations. Previously, you had to go through the group conversations to find people to have the other kind with, but now the Internet has pretty much removed that step.Using services like iTalki you can easily find someone to chat with for a while to practice your speaking. I think iTalki is a fantastic tool in general for language learning, but for introverts it’s pure gold. Whether you find someone to practice with for free in exchange for helping them practice your language or pay a tutor for their assistance you get instant access to a one-on-one conversation with a native speaker.Best of all it’s on your terms, in the comfort of your home and with a clear time limit. It’s not the only option, you can find people on Couchsurfing and ask to meet for coffee or message people in a local Meetup group for example, but it’s one of the best ones in my opinion.
Don’t Be Afraid to Leave Your Comfort Zone – All this energy management stuff isn’t about staying cloistered up as much as possible to hoard your energy like Smaug and his gold. Learning and growth only happen outside of your comfort zone.You do need to push yourself a little bit to make progress. You just need to know where your limits are and when you need to take a little time out to collect yourself and fill your cup with some well-earned alone time.
Play to Your Strengths – That alone time doesn’t have to be unproductive though. If you’re recharged by time spent alone in your head, why not recharge studying the other aspects of the language you’re learning?Now I want to be clear, this is not free license to abandon speaking practice in favor of vocab, reading and watching movies. You have to speak to become better at speaking. End of story. If you want to learn to drive, you can’t just read books about it – you have to get behind the wheel sometime. Same goes for speaking a new language.That being said, there’s a lot of benefit to filling your ‘me’ time with both active and passive learning. While you’re recharging why not learn some vocab with Memrise, read something in your target language, watch a movie or TV in your target language, write a post for Lang-8 or listen to some audio you pulled from Rhinospike?That alone time, which an extrovert would find taxing, is your biggest asset to filling in all the groundwork while you recharge for your next round of speaking practice.
These are just a handful of things I’ve found that make language learning as an introvert easier and more manageable. Everyone’s a little different though and there’s definitely a lot of gray areas, so some things mike work better for you than others – try things out and experiment for yourself!
If you’ve tried any of these and found them particularly helpful or had difficulties with them, or have others you’d like to add, share it in the comments! I’d love to hear them.
[Quick aside: Starting next year, I'll be making a series of videos focusing entirely on language learning concepts, resources reviews, interviews, tips and tricks.
Since my personal Youtube channel is actually for my own learning progress and travel updates (I pretty much never discuss language learning in my videos, despite how much I do it on the blog), I'll start making separate videos to answer the many questions you all send me, on the new channel when I've finished my Japanese project.
So the channel "Benny Lewis" will be for videos in all languages, showing me using my languages naturally and for real with people (including the next month and a half of Japanese updates, and then the cultural updates from Japan in January, and never really discussing how to learn a language. The channel "Fluent in 3 months" will be almost only in English and all about the how, and focus much less on demonstration or natural use videos like the other channel does. I'll continue making videos on both channels though.
If you are interested in the "how" much more than me demonstrating me using my languages, subscribe to the new channel below (or alternatively, its Google Plus page), so that you don't miss those videos starting in January. Thanks!]
At this stage, I can handle straightforward question and answer exchanges pretty well, but my grammar and vocab still need serious improving, and will continue to be the focus for the next weeks. I’m also not so confident about explaining a concept for a few minutes and did a really poor job at describing what “Couchsurfing” was, especially when the lack of important vocab held me back.
As well as this, my accent and pronunciation need lots of improvement. I’m aware of such issues, but they will definitely take the back seat to higher priorities for now.
Despite this, I have a level that I’m pretty happy with (having said that, I was hoping to be at this stage about 2 weeks ago and still have to catch up on time lost due to being sick and having to work over 2 weeks), and can push myself onward.
This was the first ever conversation I had had with Adzsa, which also adds a new dimension to how the talks can go.
As always, this is nothing but a snapshot of my current level, and I will continue to push myself forward!
Question about comprehension
Since those subscribed to my channel(s) see the videos before they are shared on the blog, people had the chance to ask me some questions and one that came up was how I deal with improving comprehension.
Here is a copy of the answer I gave in the Youtube (technically Google Plus now) comments stream, but it follows the spirit of this blog post.
To improve comprehension, I do a LOT of in-context thinking. So for instance, you’ll notice in this video she said the word “nature” and I still wasn’t 100% sure about this word, so I didn’t understand it the first time. However, she then said that the X was beautiful, and I was thinking to myself (logically) WHAT can be beautiful from a photographer’s perspective in Ireland? The list of possible things X could be was dramatically reduced thanks to the addition of the word “beautiful” and then I remembered that it must be the word “nature”. I do this a lot; I don’t necessarily know my words 100% confidently, but I think logically about the context and take the words I DO know and make a confident guess with their help to see what the words I’m not sure about could be.
Other than that, listen as much as possible. I’m all about “speak from day one” because I feel people’s lack of confidence to speak is a major issue. but when that’s no longer a problem, and it’s comprehension, then the more you listen to native material and REALLY try to understand it (so not just hearing noise like a TV or radio in the background you aren’t focusing all your attention on), you can get better and better and comprehending.
I hope that helps! Keep in mind that you shouldn’t aim for 100% perfect comprehension, but instead “pretty confident” comprehension that you can work to improve. Trying to understand 100% of what you hear as a beginner learner will drive you insane.
I hope you enjoyed this update! After next week I will finally be in the last month of the project and am going to see if I can make these videos a little more interesting, so that you can see my progress beyond an on-the-fly Skype chat.
Of course, there’ll be plenty of demonstrations next year in Japan, but I’m sure many of you enjoy seeing slight improvement with each video! Share your thoughts below!
How can a long term traveller have a girlfriend? What about leaving a wake of broken hearts behind? And the one I’d hear far too often… aren’t you just like a sailor with a girl in every port?
I reached my 10 year travel anniversary over the summer and got even more people asking me about it, and it’s a post that I’ve been promising to write for a while. The problem is that while I could give my story, and conclude with a hopeful outlook, it still wasn’t the happiest story, which is why I have been postponing writing it for so long. Read the Rest!
Sorry that this video is so short! Starting next week, I’ll get back into weekly updates until the end of the project with maybe just one break (so that’s six more videos up until the week my 3 months runs out), but I hope this teaser snapshot shows you more or less how I’m doing right now!
The reason the video isn’t longer is because my Skype recording software crashed after 4 minutes, which is a pity because Yuri asked me interesting questions and we had a real exchange (you only hear her say a couple of words in this video), discussing how my parents visited me here in Valencia.
Starting next week, I can record longer videos with much more interaction, but I hope this 2 minute video gives you an OK snapshot of where I am on day 45. Next week I’ll definitely have caught up from the 2 weeks where I was sick one week and then had to catch up on work and travel collectively for a week, and will be on the way to making up for lost time, so I’ll be ready to show myself as a solid advanced beginner level. From there I can hopefully launch myself on towards higher goals asap! Read the Rest!
The above video (recorded 2 years ago) is for the great free vocabulary building and reading tool, Learning With Texts. (Click to see the full blog post with more details about it that I made a couple of years back, since this blog post is not about how the system works but about how I’ve upgraded it)
When I first discovered the tool, I thought it was an absolutely great idea! It took everything that I liked from LingQ (which is a paid site, with several limitations especially for which languages you can use it for), removed a lot that I didn’t like, and made it free!
The only catch was that the set-up procedure is way too complicated for most computer users (but not that hard if you don’t mind following a few technical steps), so I tried to make it work out of the box and installed it on my site. Read the Rest!
My award winning current Youtube channel, with real live examples of me using my target languages, several viral hits, as well as cultural and travel updates through other languages:
My BRAND NEW channel, where I will give pure language learning tips, strategies, product reviews, recommendations and encouragement, starting January 2014! Just click "subscribe" now to not miss out on any of this:
See the guy at the top-right and in the main image of all posts (other than guest posts)? That's me Benny! I have been travelling for almost a decade, while discovering new cultures and learning new languages and encourage others to try to learn their target language too. You can read more about my story and about this website here.