Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract (v2.April 2016) – Update 2

Hello World of Blogging! I’m back! And the first thing that popped into my mind while writing the title is: “How long ago does April seem? That was before summer, now summer is over and Autumn is clamouring for the driver’s seat with Winter in the wings watching carefully for its chance to stage a takeover bid. It’s been a quiet time on my blog since the end of May, since which time the only noise of any description has been an “I will be back, honest…” type of a post. As I briefly explained in that post, summer school hit! (It was hard work but a great learning experience too. More on that later.) Then, after it ended, I had a much-needed two-week holiday in Sicily with my horse. I am pleased to report that I did a lot of NOTHING – somewhat of a rarity for me!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand: my language learning. I am proud (in the circumstances!) to say that I did keep up my languaging over the summer. I managed a little bit most days until the 20th August, when I did a 30 mile run and consequently had no time for languaging, breaking my “Memrise Streak”.

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Once it was broken, and knowing it would be broken again when I went on holiday (if I am on holiday in Italy I am going to focus on Italian as vs. spread my focus among 7 languages!), I decided to concentrate on getting through the remaining two weeks of summer school, have my holiday and then get back to it in earnest. That said, I continued to dabble, just not every day religiously as I had been doing.

This (to remind me as much as you!) was the contract:

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In my first update, I had managed to more-or-less stick to the receptive skills practice aims (thank you, YouTube!) but hadn’t used Memrise, just a bit of Quizlet. I’d also given up on graded readers as clunky (e-readers) or an expensive habit (sourcing them in paperback/cd format) and therefore annoying/untenable.

Has anything changed since then? Well, two main things (which considered in combination might seem rather ironic…):

  • Time became even tighter than usual (you try combining summer school, training for a 30 mile run, maintaining a burgeoning greenhouse and garden full of stuff etc….)
  • I took up two more languages (blame Memrise)…!

I suppose I ought to add “I started using Memrise to that list… At the height of my Memrise-ing, it looked like this:

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So, as you can see, the extra languages I took up were Bahasa Indonesia (I should have learnt it while I was there, still have friends who live there who I could talk to in it!) and then Mandarin (given that the majority of the students at the Sheffield Uni summer school are Chinese, this seemed like a good idea!). So that brought me to a 7-language mission: Italian and French (not on Memrise), German, Spanish, Polish, Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin. I like Memrise – it appeals to my competitive-with-myself nature. (I am more interested in keeping up my “streak” than the “leader board” that is another Memrise feature!) It really pushed me to do some each day, when I was tired and actually really couldn’t be bothered! As mentioned earlier though, it can also backfire into lack of motivation to ‘just do it’ if the streak is broken and I know it will be at best intermittent in time to come.

More languages, less time. The basic result was that as far as Polish was concerned, I wound up mostly just doing my bit of Memrise each day. And I watched less German and Spanish than I had been. (Don’t tell my students I just started a sentence with “And” – spent the summer hammering it out of them… :-p ) However, it was nice to be actively learning vocabulary and trying to produce it rather than just watching/listening/reading. Obviously the ideal would be a balance of both, which is what I will be going for next! Indeed, it is time to update my contract in the light of the last few months’ developments on the linguistic front.

One thing I have found particularly challenging as far as Polish Memrise is concerned is spelling. For example:

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I can now spell this one correctly! And this one:

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What I have found is that ideally I want more repetition of recognition of the vocabulary, both reading and listening, or being given the English and having to select the correct Polish, before having to produce it, which seems to happen too soon for me. So that I can see it and hear it more before having to butcher the spelling. However, I am now used to the process of just gaily making a bunch of mistakes, having a pop, and getting closer each time and then eventually “getting” it. Rather than getting wound up about the mistakes and frustrated at the lack of further recognition opportunities. Then, an interesting (to me) problem I had was learning the go by plane, go by train type vocabulary, as it was a mixture of trying to remember the by plane/by train etc bit and then the ‘go by’ equivalent, of which there are 5 (I think) different ones/which one goes with which means of transport, then throwing trying to remember the spelling on top of that! It was hard!!! I think it would have been easier to learn the e.g. jechać ones then the złapać ones etc. rather than having one of these and one of those and a few random extras all thrown in together for my brain to attempt to sort out. Had I had more time, I’d have made my own little reference guide to help my brain along… They are coming together now though, I did a review this morning after a couple weeks break (my holiday) and some have settled nicely.

So that brings us to…

Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract v3.September 2016

I solemnly do declare that I will (attempt to) do the following each week:

  • My Memrise practice – daily in small quantities
  • Read/listen to/watch Italian/French/German/Spanish/Polish (Not going to happen with Mandarin or Bahasa for the time being… that will be version 5 or 6 maybe…)
  • Try and look at some grammar-related material for German/Spanish/Polish. (At the moment, as far as Spanish is concerned I just rely on Italian/French grammar and assume it will work the same way! There again, often Italian words will come out instead of Spanish and then I wonder why Memrise marks me wrong! Like when I put ‘Sono contenta’ instead of ‘Estoy contenta’…) This could be a good opportunity for use of coloured pens and notebook (as mentioned in previous update post!)
  • Seek out production opportunities (e.g. sending an email to my German friends, exchanging a few words with my Indonesian friends, trying out my Polish on my Polish brother-in-law etc. etc.)
  • Keep writing my journal in Italian but try to bring in a few sentences from German/French/Spanish and even a smattering of my very, very basic Polish.

Signed: Lizzie Pinard

Fairly basic really! Let’s see how I do in the next month…

How is your language learning going? Any more suggestions for me? (The useful ones on my last post are the reason I got on to Memrise! )

 

Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract (v2.April 2016) – Update 1

Well, it’s been a month (approximately!) since I undertook the following:

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Now it’s time for the confessions, I mean, update. 

Actually, it hasn’t gone too badly:

I can confidently and honestly say that I have read and/or listened to something in Italian, French, German, Polish and Spanish most days in the last month!!

  • Italian: I am reading Mangia, Prega, Ama which is a translation of Eat Pray Love. Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 18.58.42This mostly happens in my lunch break at work. I have also watched the film of it along with a few others. In other Italian news, my diary writing continues to take place very nearly every day. Watching/reading in Italian is like slipping into a comfy pair of slippers and a cosy dressing gown: nice and relaxing!

 

 

 

 

  • French: I am still plowing through Au Bonheur des Dames. Slowly. I think I will feel quite the sense of achievement when I finally finish! I am enjoying it, but being the lazy sod I am, it often gets neglected in favour of something easier (see next sentence)..! In addition to that, I occasionally dip into a series of books I have on my Kindle, which are much easier and more relaxing – seems particularly to happen when I have an early dinner in the garden!Have done two and a bit in the last month, I think. In terms of listening, am working my way through an audiobook and I have also just found a series on YouTube to watch in 45 minute episodes.
  • German: I have been listening to an audiobook in German, am now on the second time through as a way to try and pick out more than I did the first time round. I’m also still reading (very slowly) a series of e-books I’ve downloaded. Finally, I have been doing a fair bit of watching too – a couple of films and newly started a series on YouTube. My German was getting very neglected prior to this last month. I’d read a bit every once in a while and that was it. It’s nice to be getting back into it, understanding more and being able to produce!
  • Spanish: I “did” two A1 graded readers. The reading was easy, the activities weren’t. Not content-wise but the electronic design… I tried one on the Black Cat App and found it rather clunky. In any case, that was the only A1 book they had on there. I think it is in its early days… I also downloaded one via Ibooks and the main problem with that one was that the “submit” button often tended to be located in the same place that the iPad interprets as turn backwards one page. So instead of the answers being submitted, the book moved back a page. Then you go forwards again and of course all the answers have been deleted. Most frustrating! So I abandoned graded readers and moved on to a translation of Twilight 1 (Crepúscolo). Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 18.47.26I also found an audio recording of it on YouTube, having failed to source it as an audiobook anywhere else! (Just an amateur version.) I have also dabbled in some Spanish Winnie the Pooh and have just started a new tv series (dubbed), again both via YouTube. No “learning activities” but I am enjoying it all! And Spanish is beginning to feel more familiar and less badly tuned.
  • Polish: I am continuing my way through Harry Potter 1. Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 18.44.41It took me a while to relocate (re-download from an online account where I had previously bought it) the e-book so initially I was just listening to the audio recording. I say listening, it was more just letting it wash over me and enjoying the sounds and rhythm. Around the 6th May  (so a couple of weeks-ish in), my brain finally accepted Polish as a language rather than a random collection of sounds and letters with periodic spaces between them. To get to that point, I needed to use my Polish for Dummies book + notes I had made on pronunciation last year for some review, in combination with listening and reading along (once I got the e-book sorted) to Harry Potter. Since that point, I have started using Quizlet and am now up to 16 words/chunks on it! Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 14.43.22I haven’t, however, touched Memrise or my First 1000 words book. (To be honest I had forgotten that part of the contract – my brain was mostly focused on the reading/listening elements!) In YouTube world, like Spanish, I have also dabbled in some Winnie the Pooh… Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 18.48.46 The main thing for me with Polish has been to relax and not worry about not understanding the majority of it when I listen to and read Harry Potter. Sometimes I work out what is being said, which is gratifying, sometimes the audio skips and I have to find where it’s gone, but I can do that now (which I struggled with in the beginning!) – it’s all about the minor victories!

Overall, across all these languages, I haven’t done much in the way of actual studying though! A tiny amount of Polish via Quizlet and Polish for Dummies, as explained above, and a tiny fraction of the activities in the two A1 graded readers I did in Spanish. Frankly, life is too short to work my way through endless course books. Since I don’t have any particular hurry and am learning/maintaining the languages for pleasure, I am jolly well going to do it in a pleasurable way.

Things I have noticed:

  • Multilingual DVDs are a great invention. For example, there was one film where I started in Spanish and then flicked the audio to German mid-way through. Not only that, but it means one DVD can serve your learning purposes for several languages if you, like me, have the propensity to re-watch stuff you like more than once! We take it for granted but it hasn’t really been THAT long since video tapes went out of fashion! Score for technology.
  • YouTube is amazing! Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 18.56.27 I haven’t used it an awful lot for languaging before, mostly because since I became interested in it, I’ve mostly been in places where Internet is limited i.e. you get a certain per month quota so streaming endless content on YouTube wasn’t an option. Now, however, with a fast and unlimited broadband connection, YouTube is one of my main go-to’s.  That said, I’ve yet to find a ‘language learning video’ that I like. You know, the ones that are a video of someone teaching a piece of grammar or some vocabulary in your target language. If anyone knows any good Polish ones, though, please comment with a link!
  • My brain can quite happily cope with 5 languages in rotation! I can switch from watching something else in Italian, to watching something in Spanish then German, then French, then listening/reading in Polish. I think it has “channels” – I just have to flick the switch between them. Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 18.52.49Some of the channels function rather better than others! So, my Italian channel, as far as reading/listening is concerned, is similar to my English channel in terms of comfort/understanding levels. My French channel isn’t far behind. My German channel was a lot more sub-functional initially but is getting easier all the time, the more I use it. That said, there is a definite difference in my understanding of Italian and French, and that of German. My Polish channel barely exists, but a channel has been made – “under construction”! Ditto the Spanish channel, except it borrows understanding from the Italian and French channels…
  • Like one of my students in my upper intermediate course last term commented, I may not have met all my goals but I’ve certainly done a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t set them. So, I may not have met my contract but I’m pleased with what I have done!
  • Every little DOES help: Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 18.54.42YouTube clips of 8-10 minutes. Reading a few pages chapter while I’m eating my lunch etc. It’s all input! So I stand by what I’ve kept telling students over the years: doesn’t matter if it’s “only” ten minutes, way better ten minutes than nothing!

 

  • With Polish I have needed the support of listening and reading at the same time. I think that now I could just about manage to read without listening – my brain has an idea of how it sounds now! The next step will be reading and comparing with a version in English or Italian, to help build up my vocabulary (well, it worked with Italian!).
  • My German is coming back slowly but surely. Woohoo! After a month of consistent listening and reading, I can say stuff again. Not heaps, but much more than I could a month ago!
  • The amount of languaging I do depends on the weather. When it is a bit rubbish and I am stuck indoors, I do a lot. When it is sunny and I can be in the garden pottering about, I do very little! See my “life is too short” excuse above. For me, being outside wins every time. I do try to multitask though, for example when I am out running I talk to myself (in my head) in different languages, to exercise them at the same time as my body!
  • Resource management can get confusing. Partly because I do some YouTube watching on my computer and some on my iPad, so it’s difficult to remember where I’m up to. But also because Harry Potter chapters are quite long by audio, ditto Crepúscolo, and I rarely listen to a whole one in one go, but my iPad appears incapable of remembering my place in the audio recording. Yet, if I have an *audiobook* on my iPad (not sure why my audiobook of Harry Potter has decided to be in the music app rather than Ibooks where all my other audiobooks live) and my computer, and I listen partially in both places, it keeps track and puts me in the right place regardless of device. So, it seems to be a problem only with the ‘music’ app. (If you have any suggestions for fixing this, please let me know!)
  • I really enjoy languaging. (But I suppose I already knew that!)

What next?

Well, as I mentioned earlier in the post, when I feel sufficiently confident, start doing a little bit of side-by-side comparison of Harry Potter Polish and Italian/English/French versions (not all, just one of those will do!). I also want to email some German friends of mine in German (been a while since I did that!) Other than that, keep doing what I have been doing and see what else I feel like! I’d also quite like to use my notebook more… It’s one I bought but didn’t use for my M.A. and has been gathering dust since. It’s perfect because it has 4 sections, so that’s one for each language except Italian, which already has its own notebook from the few lessons I’ve had. So far, I’ve used it for Polish only! image1Need to work out what I want to use it for with the other languages. I suppose mostly I have just been enjoying input and haven’t needed a notebook for that… I also want use the lovely pack of coloured pens I treated myself to more – so far, again, just for Polish! (You can’t see it in the pic above but believe me, there has been purple, orange, pink, green… 🙂

Let me know if you have any suggestions for anything I could be doing with my languages by commenting on this post! Will be happy to hear from you.

Lizzie’s Language Learning Contract (v2.April 2016)

Capitalising on post-IATEFL momentum and motivation, I’ve decided it’s time to renew my language learning goals – and practice what I preach! I’m always telling learners, ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re busy, even ten minutes a day is better than nothing’ and encouraging them to maintain motivation. Meanwhile, what about me? Well, it could be worse, I suppose…

  • I DO write my diary in Italian (nearly) every day (I missed a couple of days while at IATEFL, for example!). My reading is slightly more sporadic – at the moment I’m listening and reading along with Per dieci minuti written and read aloud by Chiara Gamberale. It generally happens while I am having a bath in the evening but sometimes I am just too tired! (I’m also in the middle of a translation of the third book in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. But I haven’t dipped into that since I got back home from my most recent trip to Sicily, at Easter!)
  • I also have a stack of magazines that I don’t dip into as often as I should (read: erm, when was the last time I did so?!)
  • I’m reading in German a few times a week at the moment too, am quite enjoying the book I am in the middle of. It’s about horses and aimed at young teenagers (!) – good fun. 😉
  • I’m also in the middle of a book in French (Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola) but it’s been a while since I dipped into that properly – though I did read about one page recently!

It’s Polish that’s the real problem. I decided I was going to learn Polish in late May last year. Suffice to say, it wound up on the back burner. However, last night, for the first time in ages, riding the wave of post-IATEFL motivation, I dug out my ‘Harry Potter 1 in Polish’ audiobook and listened a bit, just enjoying the sounds and rhythm. (I had want to listen and read along but I’ve got to work out where my e-book of it is stored, was unable to find it quickly enough…) I still want to learn Polish. However, it doesn’t end there. I’ve also got a little bee in my bonnet telling me to try another project: Project “see how much Spanish I can pick up purely through using graded readers”. Unlike Polish, Spanish graded readers are fairly easy to come by – including those with audio discs, which are the sort I would go for. I think it would be an interesting experiment!

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Using the theory I’ve used on my learners, I am going to communicate my learning goals to you lot who read this blog in the hopes that it motivates me to achieve more than I would have otherwise. Even if I don’t always manage to meet my self-inflicted contractual obligations, it will hopefully still be more than I would have achieved if I hadn’t made them in the first place.

Lizzie’s Learning Contract

I solemnly do declare that I will (attempt to) do the following this week:

  • read and/or listen to something in Italian
  • read and/or listen to something in French
  • read and/or listen to something in German
  • use my 1000 first words in Polish
  • “read”/”listen to” Harry Potter in Polish
  • use Memrise and/or Quizlet for Polish
  • use my Polish for Dummies book
  • use graded readers in Spanish

Signed: Lizzie Pinard

That’s all! It’s not a huge ask. The first three are very vague, but that’s fine – it means they encompass any kind of input I wish to use (books, audiobooks, magazines, radio, tv etc) As as sub-goal, I will aim to vary it if I can…

Let’s see how it goes. There will be updates at various possibly semi-regular intervals!

Is anybody else trying to learn a new language at the moment? How are you going about it? Is it working?! 🙂

 

 

 

Learning Polish – being a true beginner (my newest challenge!)

Those of you who follow read my blog regularly will have seen a number of posts relating to my journey of learning Italian, something that I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. In my two 8-month stints in Palermo, I have managed to get myself from beginner level to intermediate level, though a lot of that improvement actually took place during the summer between those two contracts where I studied intensively and independently, partially to improve my Italian and partially to experiment with independent learning techniques.

This year, I am leaving Italy and returning to the UK, a move which I hope will be permanent. While I fully intend to hold on to my Italian (by speaking to Italian friends, reading in Italian and watching films in Italian, for example), I also decided that it was about time for a new linguistic challenge.

Enter Polish.

Why Polish? 

In no particular order:

  • I am a complete beginner at Polish. I can only say goodbye (but not spell it) – because once upon a time my mum had some Polish kids in her L2 unit at primary school. (Once I started secondary school, holidays did not coincide and so when I was on half term or holiday, I would often go into school with mum and listen to kids read and suchlike. The Polish children used to say goodbye in Polish at the end of the day when they went home.) = indubitably a challenge!
  • I have never tried to learn a language whose alphabet is different from English. Polish has some different letters, as well as using some consonant clusters that English either doesn’t use or doesn’t use in the same way. So, not as difficult as, say, learning Arabic would be but more difficult than French, German or Italian, which are the languages I have learnt to varying degrees so far. From a learning perspective, this is a challenge; from a teaching perspective, this should help me better understand the problems students whose L1 is further from English might experience.
  • My sister’s husband is Polish and his family don’t speak a lot of English, so it would be nice to be able to communicate basically with them when they visit. Of course, my sister is learning Polish too, for obvious reasons. And anything she can do, I can do better, right? Well, maybe not but we can egg each other on and practice together on Skype and stuff, I imagine. 🙂 And of course, when I visit them, I get practice opportunities!
  • Sandy Millin is moving to Poland to take up a DoS job there, and I would like to visit, as I have never been to Poland before. It would be nice not to be completely helpless if this happens! Also, a bit of healthy competition never hurt anybody! 😉

What I have done so far:

  • Downloaded a Memrise course in Beginners Polish.

(This was my starting point for Italian too…).

The good thing about this is the recordings that accompany the words and the memes that you have to choose to help you remember the words. The memes for my Italian course seemed all too often to involve random rather unhelpful busty blonde women, whereas the ones in this Polish course so far are quite useful memory aids. However, I have noticed that I can often remember the sound of the word via the meme, but then can’t remember the spelling associated with it. So on my list of things to do is get to grips with the sound-script thing. Fortunately this shouldn’t be tooooo difficult (famous last words?) because, as I understand it, Polish is written phonetically, with a very small number of exceptions. I need to stop applying English sound-spelling rules (dodgy as they are!) to Polish words.

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Beginner…that’s me!

 

  • Looked for resources: 

This started as a hunt for Graded Readers, but apparently these are thin on the ground where Polish is concerned. What wouldn’t I give for an A1 Black Cat Graded Reader in Polish now… Nevertheless, I have found a Polish for Dummies book which looks promising (I have been looking at the free sample!). It comes with an audio disc (or, as I would get the e-book, an audio download) in that it explains the pronunciation and some grammar stuff, as one would expect, but also apparently has lots of conversations recorded. I feel like it would be helpful for me to just read and listen a bit to start with, to help me get to grips with what Polish looks like vs how it sounds, because in my life, I have not heard a lot of Polish or seen a lot of Polish. Hardly any, actually!

For Dummies like me! :-)

For Dummies like me! 😉

I have also seen some Usborne Everyday Words flashcards, which I find rather appealing. Which reminds me, I must have a trawl through Quizlet and see if there is anything ready-made on there that I could use. I should also start to make my own in due course. The Usborne ones I saw have also reminded me that I could also post-it everything when I get back to the UK… 😀

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Yay, pictures!

 

Finally, I will confess, Harry Potter in Polish has crossed my mind as a possibility… or perhaps Twilight … using the same approach as I did with Italian initially, i.e. the original text and the translation side by side until I can manage without the original, but I think I need to get my head around pronunciation first!

Good old Harry Potter...!

Good old Harry Potter…!

What happens next?

  • Probably very little this week, being the last week of term and therefore very busy. If I can log on to my Memrise course a couple of times and do some review, I would be happy with that!
  • Once I am on holiday, download Polish for Dummies and start listening and reading. And work on the sound-spelling thing.
  • Then, when I get back to the UK, make myself a learning contract!

Of course, it’s going to be a bit different from last summer.

A) there is no time limit on the Polish, whereas with the Italian I wanted to get it down by the end of the summer last year.

B) I want to work on my other languages too – my French, my German and, of course, keep up the Italian. I am wondering what my brain will make of juggling 4 languages plus English on a regular basis. (Another experiment…) So I suppose my room will be little Europe rather than little Italy as it was last summer!

Let’s see what happens… I’ll aim to post another update in a month’s time! For that matter, I also aim to actually publish some of the pile of drafts that have built up on my blog ‘work-desk’ since IATEFL!! It’s been a busy time. The tumbleweed will get booted out of the way soon, though – watch this space! 🙂

Learning Contracts and Language Learning (part 3): another month of outcomes

On the 4th June this year, a day after I arrived back in the UK from la bella Sicilia, I considered the potential utility of learning contracts and then proceeded to make myself one, with the vague goal of maintaining my Italian while in a non-Italian-speaking environment. A month later, on the 4th July, I posted my first update. Time has done that speeding by thing again, and the day has come, 4th August, for update number 2!

The main theme of update number 1 was discovery. I had discovered how the activities I do link in with one another, I learnt more about various language learning activities e.g. dictations, I realised how difficult in some ways, and how easy in other ways, it is to stick to a learning contract. In my post, I explored all these discoveries and how I could apply them in my teaching. Since then, I’ve also written blog posts about it, for example one about graded readers and one about text-mining, as well as the one on dictations which I had already produced by the time of my last update.

This month, my main theme is development. Both linguistic development and contract development (albeit only mentally – I haven’t physically made any changes to my contract but mentally I have added a few activities).

Have I kept to my contract?

Yes! I haven’t missed a single day. NB: this does not mean I have heaps of spare time. (Il da fare non manca mai, davvero!) As well as working full time, I’ve also visited people overnight in other towns, graduated and in so doing spent time with the family, prepared for an online conference and so the list goes on. It just means I’m practising what I preached to my learners for the whole of last academic year: Anything is better than nothing. Use the time you do have rather than waiting for time you will never have. Be it listening to ten minutes of audiobook over breakfast, watching 20mins of a film over dinner, doing a few rounds of Quizlet on the bus on the way into town when going to the supermarket, or a few go’s of Scrabble, the ten and twenty minutes grabbed here and there all add up. On any given day, I manage to do a variety of activities.

This is my learning contract, dutifully copied and pasted into Evernote.

A reminder of my learning contract!

What has changed?

In my last post, I explained that I tended to do more than the contract stipulates, as the contract stipulates minimums. In addition to what’s listed, I now:

  • regularly use an app. for learning verb conjugations. Some things just need be memorised and verb-endings are one of them! The app is a fun way of drilling my verbs. It gives me a verb and tells me how I should conjugate it. E.g. riuscire, third person singular, present subjunctive. If I get it right, I get a green “correct” stamp. If I get it wrong, I get a red “incorrect” stamp and the correction. I’ve noticed that sometimes I just don’t pay enough attention. It asks me for 3rd person plural present subjunctive and I gaily key in 3rd person singular conditional or something. (It often seems to be subjunctive and conditional that I mix up in this way! Am improving though...)The app records running statistics, e.g. how many verbs I’ve got right out of the total number of verbs I’ve attempted (yep, that’s right 608 so far!), and then also breaks that down into different verb types (-are, -ire, -ere; regular/irregular, tenses). I’ve now got the total overall percentage to 62%. I have to admit, breaking into the 60’s was very exciting after spending rather a while languishing in the high 50’s!

    When I first downloaded the complete app (at a whopping £1.69), I got over-excited and ticked all the different tenses. Then I realised that wasn’t going to work and got rid of the absolute past and subjunctive pluperfect (less urgent to learn!!) amongst others. Hence the 2/5 statistic for it! Further down the list (not seen in this pic) can be found conditionals and subjunctives…  I’m a lot more rubbish at past participles than I had realised before using this app. I’m not too bad at imperfect, and obviously present is easiest…

Yay! 62%!

Yay! 62%!

  • regularly play scrabble – both the real live version (minus the board with my own special rules and scoring!) and the app version. I enjoy this, I drill myself stupid trying to think of all the words I know and working out which I can make with my letters!
    Bumper-scrabble!

    Bumper-scrabble!

    Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

    Scrabble App! (Rex verbi)

  • have broken down “extensive listening” into smaller components. In any given day, I aim to listen to some audiobook, watch some news and watch some of a DVD. I’ve become more aware of the value of variety and push myself to ensure I get it! I’ve also downloaded a free RAI app, to get 24hr news-on-tap in Italian:
RAI: News on tap!

RAI: News on tap!

  • have broken down “extensive reading” into smaller components. In any given day I try to read some authentic Italian i.e. original language Italian book as well as all the translations of more familiar things that I’m chowing my way through. Again, for the sake of variety. But also because I think it’s important to experience original language texts.
  • play Storyonics in Italian! 🙂 Storyonics is a storytelling card game. There is a pack of cards, each of which has 4 pictures on it. You pick a card and incorporate either all the pictures, or the picture ringed by the colour you’ve chosen, into your story. This morning I worked my way through the purple-ringed pictures and had lots of fun! I also recorded myself doing so. This is so that over time I can make comparisons between earlier and later recordings, and also go back and try to correct any errors I might notice.
Storyonics!

Storyonics!

  • make fewer new sets on Quizlet but on the other hand I have been adding to existent sets. I now have 7 sets on Quizlet. What I also now find useful is gathering examples related to a language point I’ve struggled with e.g. personal pronouns and learning those. The idea is that if I have learnt a few correct examples, when I’m not sure, I can mentally compare between what I’m trying to say and the examples and try to work out if I’ve got it right or not. So far so good!
My Quizlet sets!

My Quizlet sets!

  • have started doing my weekly reflections in Italian! I thought I had better since I always expect my learners to reflect in English…!  I write a reflection once a week, looking back over the week and what I’ve achieved, what I’ve noticed etc. I was doing them in English, of course, but two weeks ago I did my first one in Italian. I’ve done one more since and plan to continue with this.
  • have become vegan and done most of my learning about that in Italian – using Italian websites, watching documentaries in Italian, cooking recipes that are in Italian… E.g this frittata:
Vegan cooking in Italian!

Vegan cooking in Italian!

What progress have I made?

Lots.

  • My listening is heaps better than it was. I can understand most of what I listen to, without exaggeration. Recently I particularly enjoyed watching Life is Beautiful in original Italian with no subtitles and being able to understand most of it. I’m also currently working my through a 7ish hour audiobook of The Secret Garden in Italian (done 4hrs15mins so far!), which I’m loving. I find the news the hardest in terms of understanding, I probably only understand about 80% of it. Il Giardino Segreto, I understand about 90%. My DVDs also about 90%. I miss the odd word, essentially. I put this down to a combination of working on decoding skills through intensive listening activities such as dictations, using my graded reader as a listening activity etc. and lots of extensive listening. I did a listening test on an Italian learning website. I managed 93% on the advanced test. Not saying it was an especially valid test, and I don’t think I am an advanced listener by any means, but it still made me feel rather chuffed! 🙂 I was also chuffed to do the second part of the gatto e topo intermediate dictation recently, as in part 1 I got about 27 mistakes, whereas in part 2 I only had 9 mistakes. I don’t really know how good I am in the great scheme of things, but I do know I’ve improved substantially, so I’m satisfied!
Il giardino segreto!

Il giardino segreto!

  • I can write at greater length, expressing myself more easily and quickly. I now have 15 posts on my little Italian learning blog.
  • When recording myself speaking, I notice that I hesitate less than I used to now. I.e. I have longer runs of fluid speech before pausing for thought. Pauses are becoming more in line with thought groups rather than language lack. There are still some of the latter, naturally, but fewer than there were.
  • My productive vocabulary continues to grow. Interplay between Quizlet, my extensive reading/listening and chats on Facebook has helped in this department. Text-mining has become a regular feature of my learning.
  • I’m a lot more organised than I was in the first month. I know exactly what activities I want to do when, depending on what time I have available. I’ve got my resources organised so that I can maximise on any train journeys. I’ve even organised my iPad:
All organised!

All organised!

  • I can think in Italian rather than thinking in English and translating into Italian. Not all the time, but I have enough language that I’m comfortable doing to be able to do it a fair bit.
  • Still getting to grips with the magnetic poetry (which was on the to-do list for I made in my last post, for this month!), but I can report that I have found a new way of using it, which involves choosing 5 or 6 words at random, with my eyes closed, then using those as the basis for production (a story, a poem, whatever).

What have I learnt about language learning?

  • Sometimes success can be demotivating!! Counterintuitive but true. One of those ‘things clicking into place and an improvement jump’ moments seemed to be followed by ‘mmmm can’t be bothered to study…‘ (I just wanted to read and listen extensively instead!) But I got back on track pretty quickly, thanks to my contract, so that was alright. So perhaps another role they can play, then, is in ensuring that you don’t get complacent!
  • Variety really is the spice of life. My success in this learning malarkey is, I believe, largely down to the variety of activities that I do on a regular basis. Lots of input, lots of output, varied use of language.
  • Listening skills can be developed autonomously if you combine work on decoding skills with extensive listening. I have lots of ideas for active autonomous listening that I look forward to passing on to my students.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition! It really does help for some things. Apps like Quizlet and my conjugations app make it fairly palatable too.
  • Being organised helps! In the first month I lost a few days due to lack of it. This month, no.
  • Perseverance is key: doing a variety of activities for a few days and then kicking back and relaxing the rest of the time won’t make much difference. Doing a variety of activities every day for a month, and nearly every day for two months, really does!
  • Having somebody to talk to in the language (even if by “talk to” we mean on Facebook messenger!) really helps. Having that opportunity to use the language and get feedback (in terms of how the conversation goes, not necessarily error correction, though I enjoy that too when it arises!).
  • Speaking skills can be developed autonomously. Using voice-recording tools, telling stories doing storyonics, anything that encourages language production contributes positively, I think. Of course there is nothing like speaking to another human being and generally learners (who aren’t on holiday) do at least get that opportunity on a regular basis. Outside class-time, the activities alluded to above can also be useful.
  • For every little moment where you notice improvement, there a hundred where it seems like it’s never going to happen and you have to push through all of them!  Remembering those occasional ‘break-through’ moments, and knowing that the only way to get one again is to keep working, and sticking to the damn contract, are all useful in these circumstances.

What comes next?

  • Work, work and more work! I have under two months before I will be back in Sicily. I have to make the most of that time. My major motivation has become that I want to go back to Palermo and be able to talk with the Italians I know in Italian. And I want to be able to do so without making an utter d*** of myself in the process! I know I’ll make mistakes and I’ll continue to have moments where my tongue gets in knots and I feel like I’m back at A1 level again, but if they can become fewer and further between, those moments, then so much the better!
  • I want to sort out my pronouns, my prepositions and my conjugations. I want that percentage on my conjugation app to get up to 80% by the end of my next month. Pronouns I’m beginning to get my head around but need to spend more time looking at. On the other hand, I think prepositions will always be a work in progress…
  • I want to be able to understand more of the news bulletins that I watch. I want to be able to understand as much of the news as I do of other things that I watch/listen to. So that means more intensive listening work, as well as continuing to listen extensively.
  • I want to continue to develop my productive vocabulary. The current method (extensive reading/listening, FB chats, text mining, Quizlet), is working, so I will stick with it, but more so!
  • When I get back to Palermo, I want to apply everything I’ve learnt about learning autonomously to my learner autonomy projects and help my learners benefit from it all.

As for my research questions:

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 19.43.10

A reminder of my ‘research questions’

  • So far, the LC has helped keep me motivated for two months. Obviously this still doesn’t yet count as “a longer period”, so the jury is still out!
  • For two months, yes. Plus, plus! It’s made a big difference so far, in terms of making me do a variety of activities and discover links between them, then add to the variety according to what I’ve learnt. I think they are a powerful autonomous learning tool.

Let me know if you use learning contracts with your learners – I’d love to hear about it! In turn, once I’m back in Sicilia, and apply everything I’ve learnt in my quest to help my learners become more autonomous, I’ll report back from time to time too. 

As for my own learning, the next report is due on the 4th September. As I finish my full-time summer job on the 5th, I rather suspect that there will be a slight (day or two!) delay for that one…! 

Autonomous skill development (3) – text mining

This is the third in a series of posts whose goal is to explore ways of helping learners develop their language skills autonomously. The first two posts are specific to listening. The first post, which focuses on perception of connected speech can be read here and the second post on dictations as an autonomous learning tool here . This post doesn’t focus specifically on listening skill development but I have decided to include it in this series as it focuses on an autonomous learning activity. So I hereby declare the series focus expanded! 

The inspiration for this post is in part my own language learning and in part a workshop I attended this afternoon on developing speaking fluency. Text mining was one of the techniques mentioned, in terms of being a way of supporting learners to complete speaking tasks more successfully. As I understand it, learners use a text that has previously been exploited for listening/reading and highlight language that they do understand but wouldn’t use themselves unprompted. The idea is that they can then carry the language over for use in a speaking task on a similar topic. Beautifully simple. It was one of several techniques for lessening cognitive load and enabling learners to use more complex language. And, I imagine (and as was suggested), motivating for learners to be focusing on the language that they do “know” in a text, rather than only the language they aren’t familiar with, which is usually the case. I gather the idea, as explained to us today, originally came from this talk by Joan Saslow at IATEFL in 2013

So that was the workshop. What excited me is that “text mining” is something I have been doing myself, autonomously, on a regular basis this summer, in my Italian learning. Only, I hadn’t given it a label, it was just something I do and have found a lot of value in, particularly because of what I’ve done with the language mined post-mining. So the focus of this post isn’t on text mining as a means of working on spoken fluency in the classroom, but on text mining as an autonomous activity for bridging the gap between receptive and productive skills.

Aims:

  • Develop productive language resources
  • Expand vocabulary
  • Develop language awareness

Materials/tools:

  • Texts! Of any description – the more varied, the better.
  • Quizlet
  • A blog or similar

Procedure:

  • Encourage learners to read and listen extensively (for a start!). Ideally a range of texts – authentic original, authentic translations (i.e. books translated from another language into the target language, not for a language learning audience) graded readers, non-fiction, written, audio of whatever description, the more varied the better. (I’m currently actively in the middle of two books (one original Italian, one translation into Italian), two audiobooks (both translations into Italian), a science-y/technology magazine  (authentic Italian) and a graded reader (Italian for learners!), currently! As well as the inevitable dvd.)
  • Get them to highlight language that they understand but don’t produce, that could be useful for them to produce. (So that they don’t just highlight everything. Part of the trick is being selective. And how you select obviously depends on purpose, amongst other things. I don’t have a specific purpose for learning Italian but I select chunks because I can imagine myself wanting to express that meaning when I converse in Italian once I’m back in Sicily. I also select chunks if they include a structure or language point that I’ve come across and started learning about – so for example the subjunctive or use of prepositions. Of course when purpose is considered in this way, then it will probably vary from reading/listening occasion to reading/listening occasion. E.g. I won’t always be on the look out for prepositional phrases but for a spell I might be. Then I’ll move on to a new focus.)
  • Obviously if that was it, it would be a bit useless. A sort of “ah that’s a nice chunk…ok, bye bye chunk.” The trick is recycling. And lots of it. Of course seeing it used (or if not specifically it then a variation of it – that often happens) in further reading/listening is great – but if you’ve forgotten about it you might not notice it and you are also unlikely to produce it. In order to avoid this, I like to use Quizlet. I input the chunks – so already that makes me focus on them some more – and then I use the learn mode (generally on my iPad because I prefer the mobile app learn mode to the website learn mode) to help me memorise them a bit. That way, I’m more likely to remember them when I come across them again. And I do! Come across them again, that is.
  • Still not enough. Further steps much depend on the chunk. I have variously  i) tried to manipulate it if it is not a fixed chunk (could I make it refer to another time frame? could I make it stronger or weaker? how formal is it? what is a more/less formal way of expressing that? could I change the context of use/topic?) ii) tried to use in the little blog posts I write on my Italian post iii) tried to use in conversation – currently limited to Facebook chatting but once I’m back in Sicily…! iv) used it while talking to myself. And I really do think talking to yourself in the target language has value. It may mean you are crazy, I don’t know, but it’s a great way to experiment with language in a very non-threatening way. Doesn’t even have to be aloud, can be internally, in your head. I usually do it aloud when I’m cycling to and from work! I do it internally at various other times. v) used it during my weekly self-recording speaking sessions. vi) tried to use all my linguistic resources, including those acquired in this way, in my solitaire “scrabble” games. Over time, I become aware that these chunks, that I wouldn’t have produced before, have made their way into my active productive language resources.

So, it’s pretty simple really! But the keys are:

*The* keys! :-) Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

*The* keys! 🙂 Image taken from Google image search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification.

  • Variety of activities – for genuine recycling. And I think language learning contracts may play an important role in this: I didn’t do a wide variety of learning activities regularly until I made myself a contract, and it is only through making myself (initially) follow that contract that I discovered how useful variety is. They started off as discrete individual activities on a list, but by doing them and learning more about them and how to benefit as much as possible from the interplay between them, they have now become a sort of language learning web, catching new language for me. I think in terms of scaffolding learners, then my Experimenting with English project (or anything along similar lines) could be helpful too.
A web for catching language! image from commons.wikimedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification.

A web for catching language! image from commons.wikimedia.org via Google search for images licensed for commercial use with modification.

  • Being on the look out for “your” language. So that when you hear or see it, you get that little glow of recognition.
  • Being willing to talk to yourself and experiment with the language that way. And talk to others too, when the opportunity arises.
  • Some memorisation. (It’s useful! Insufficient on its own but valuable as a component of a larger approach)
  • Being selective – or you highlight the whole book/article/whatever. And I think this would be the most difficult thing for learners. However, perhaps this is another facet of the activity as described in the opening to this blog post, as a classroom activity for scaffolding speaking. Perhaps it can be used as a way of helping learners become better able to use it as an autonomous learning activity. I.e. get them to discuss what chunks they’ve chosen and why. How could those chunks be useful?
  • Having time off: I still do a lot of “just” reading. I’m not reading to stop every ten seconds to highlight. If a chunk really stands out, I’ll grab it. But because of how this seems to work, even when I’m “off” – I’m still very tuned in to noticing any language I’ve grabbed previously. But I don’t transfer it to Quizlet immediately necessarily. Sometimes I do –  if it’s a – to me – particularly yummy piece of language and my computer is to hand. But often I let a handful “build up” and then transfer them over and start working on them. So, it’s not intrusive to the reading.

I think on it as a sort of “active” reading/listening – rather than just letting it all wash over me, in the hopes that some might stick, I’m actually doing something to start making it stick.

Does it work?

For me, yes. Absolutely. My productive language resources have increased a lot since I started my language learning contract (i.e. doing a variety of activities including text mining) My receptive skills have improved too, but I think this approach has helped the gap between my receptive and productive skills to not widen in the process. “Process” is perhaps the key word. This is more of an on-going process than an activity, really. More of a mindset that I’ve developed, which I think is useful for approaching language learning.

For other learners? Further research is needed!  I shall be experimenting come October… Meanwhile, try it out with your learners and let me know!

Learning contracts and language learning

The concept

Have you or your students ever made a learning contract before? Up to now, I’ve mostly encountered the concept in association with teaching young learners/teenagers and it generally includes rules for behaviour, which the student and teachers should follow. The idea is that by involving the learners in decisions regarding what should and shouldn’t be done in class, they will be more invested in adhering to these rules and take more responsibility for their own and each others’ actions. If we extend the scope of these contracts to include language learning behaviours then I think (hope!) they could become a very useful motivational tool. As my students have identified, through the projects I’ve done with them, “making goals and communicating them to others is a good way to gain motivation” (Student Feedback).

There would be echoes of:

  • goal setting theory (Locke and Latham, 1990, in Dornyei and Ushioda 2012:loc 569, in terms of goal difficulty, goal specificity, goal importance and commitment)
  • motivation theory (e.g. Egbert, 2003, in Dornyei and Ushioda 2012:loc 2039, and Motivational Flow, which requires a balance of challenge and skills, opportunities for focus, clear goals, intrinsic interest and authenticity of task and sense of control over the task process)
  • learner autonomy theory (in terms of taking responsibility for own learning, making decisions regarding one’s learning etc. e.g. Benson, 2011).

So, I think (hope!) learning contracts, if the scope were extended to include language learning behaviours rather than just classroom behaviours, could be a very useful motivational tool.

How useful? Well, I hope to find out this summer…

The experiment

I’ve just come back to England for approximately three months. During this time, unlike the past 8 months, I won’t be regularly exposed to Italian by default, which means it would be very easy to just ‘not get round to’ working on my language skills and systems. This would be rather a shame as I would inevitably regress fairly significantly in the process. In a vain attempt to maintain my Italian, I am going to make myself a learning contract.

My research questions: 

  • Will making a learning contract help me be more motivated, for a longer period, to keep up my Italian learning while away from la bella Sicilia?
  • Will I actually do what is on my learning contract or will it have more power than that? What difference will it make?

My methodology:

  • Make the learning contract on this blog (therefore communicating it to a LOT of people!); copy it to Evernote as a checklist and check things off as I do them. Then uncheck them for take 2, recheck for take 3 etc. In order to keep track of what I’m doing.
  • Attempt to do what I said I’d do. (!)
  • Be aware of and make a note of when the learning contract influences my language learning behaviour.
  • Reflect on my progress with the language and with regards to the contract at regular intervals. (So the contract doesn’t get forgotten!)
  • See how rusty/otherwise my Italian is by the time I go back to Palermo!

My learning contract:

  1. Read extensively in Italian for at least 20 minutes every day. (I did this in Sicily, so it’s not a huge ask!)
  2. Listen extensively to Italian for at least 20 minutes every day. (This can include radio, podcasts, tv series, films etc.)
  3. Use my Italian graded reader regularly: To include reading it, listening to the audio, completing all the activities, reflecting on the process of using a graded reader for language learning. (I’m very curious to find out what it will be like! Will be a first for me!)
  4. Write on my Italian blog at least once a week. (If I do it more often, great, but a minimum of once a week.) I wrote on the plane yesterday, still need to upload it, so I have done so this week = a good start!
  5. Study grammar at least once a week. (Again, if more, so much the better but at least once is better than nothing!)
  6. Do intensive listening practice at least once a week. E.g. use this site . (Re frequency, as above!)
  7. Record myself (following muttering along to recordings or speaking freely, depending on my focus) at least once a week. (Re frequency, as above!)
  8. Use Quizlet to learn vocabulary at least once a week. Alternate between adding words and playing with words each week. (Re frequency, as above!)
  9. Read something from my Italian magazine at least once a week. (It’s a big magazine, full of lots of articles of varying sizes. It’s sort of science-y, technology-y, news-y in content. I’ve only read about two things so far!)
  10. Send a message to one or more Italian friends on Facebook once a week. (Dual benefit of keeping in touch with people and using Italian!)

Signed: Lizzie Pinard   Date: 4/6/14

Next update on my progress due: 4th July or as near thereafter as work permits!

Wish me luck! Let’s see what happens to my Italian in the next few months…

Depending how things go, I may attempt to transfer what I have learnt through this experiment to my teaching in the autumn! I.e. try learning contracts with some of my learners.

References:

Dornyei, Z. and Ushioda, E. (2012) Teaching and Researching Motivation. Pearson Education Limited.

Benson, P. (2011) Teaching and Researching: Autonomy in Language Learning. Pearson Education Limited.