One of the most frequent questions that I get asked by readers of this blog is What is the best book/course to help me to learn my target language? This is an open-ended question that depends on many things, and something that I have generally avoided discussing on the blog up to now.
While I strongly encourage people to speak immediately as this has been the key to my success, to say that I “speak my way to fluency” is a simplification of what I do in each language mission. Of course, I study too. Studying too much can actually be unhelpful, but you usually do have to put the time into absorbing the language by yourself in one way or another. A good balance between studying and actual practice can lead to the fastest progress.
I plan to discuss particular popular books/courses that I find very effective for making quick progress in many languages, but before that, I want to hear what you think the best one is!
Before I give my own opinion, I think it can actually be much more interesting to hear the opinion of the crowd, and “vote” for the best learning materials, as well as ask a couple of other interesting questions. So I have prepared a survey that will take just a couple of minutes to fill out. Please click here and answer the questions!
This is both for people who have been successful in speaking a language already and for those currently trying to reach fluency in their first target language. I will share the overall results (not individual's answers though, of course) with everyone in one week before I give my own opinions of particular courses based on my experience.
I'd really appreciate it if you answered these questions and shared your experiences with us! You can remain anonymous if you decide.
Hack to work with no distractions and study efficiently: Leechblock
Here's one of the many efficiency hacks that I include in the e-mail newsletter from a few months back.
Your PC can be an essential tool for studying a language. However, because of the Internet, the same PC can also be a huge black whole of time. You know the sites I'm talking about!! The ones that rhyme with ‘Blue Cube‘, ‘Space Hook‘ and ‘Sticky Media'… you could literally lose yourself for hours on those sites! This will take away from the precious time you are supposed to be focusing on learning your language, or otherwise working.
If you use Firefox (other browsers below), this is where Leechblock comes in. It is an extremely customisable plugin (time of day, different blocking categories and a host of other options). This is by far my favourite Firefox plugin; when I need to do some real work, write, or study a language on various websites, I activate this (usually for 2 hour blocks) and absolutely cannot access sites (which I have entered into its list) that will distract me from my mini-mission, until those 2 hours (or longer) elapse.
After using this plugin for almost 3 years I have now naturally “learned” how to be focused and simply don't go to time-wasting sites when I need to do work, whether it has been activated or not. But to be honest, I needed Leechblock to help me to learn this self-discipline. This was not possible for me when I initially needed to do something important on my computer. If you are regularly tempted by time-wasting sites when you should be studying, install this plugin!!
If you use Safari, the second part of this post explains some options. In Chrome you can use Site Block or Stay Focused. If you use Internet Explorer (I'm resisting the urge to give you a lecture…), use this toolbar.
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Travelling with some consistency, why I have a giant calculator
Just to wrap up last week's competition, where I gave the answers on Thursday, you'll notice I didn't mention anything about the giant calculator! I didn't include it in the explanation because I use it for completely different reasons. I never bring it out with me to meet people (although theoretically that could work, it would be quite cumbersome to walk around with).
Changing location so frequently has its downsides and believe it or not you start to miss consistencies and routines a little. When applied right, a pattern and familiarity can help you work better and enjoy life more. Obviously when everything is the same then that's just boring…
So when I'm in a new country with completely new friends, speaking an entirely different language, living in a completely different apartment etc. I like to have a few little reminders of my world to keep me sane. Familiar clothes, some small souvenirs I have at my bedside and finding particular food I like help a lot, but sometimes a very obvious reminder is in order!
The huge calculator usually sits on my desk beside my computer, alongside my giant pen (see photo above). I don't actually need a giant pen and I never turn on the calculator. They are just there to remind me that I'm in “the office” and need to do some work. A calculator and pen seemed “officy” to me, but making them so huge gave it that bit of personality and fun.
This was very helpful to get me in the right frame of mind to focus when most of my work was freelance translating. When you're “office” changes every three months, sometimes it's nice to have some little reminder and feel like you are in work mode.
After filling out the survey (there is space to leave particular comments there), let me know if you have any thoughts on my method of consistency while I travel! And does Leechblock (or other browser equivalents) help you to stay focused when you are studying/working online? Let me know below!
And, of course, share this post with your friends on Facebook so they can take part in the survey and discover a better way to work online!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.